COP TO CORPSE – Peter Lovesey

“Hero to zero. Cop to corpse. One minute PC Harry Trasker is strolling up Walcot, Bath, on foot patrol.  the next he is shot through the head. no screams, no struggle, no last words.  He is picked off, felled , dead.”

This time the assassin has miscalculated.  He kills at night when there are likely to be few witnesses but this time he kills in the shopping district.  The sound of the shot sets of a burglar alarm and the police get to the site quickly.

Another officer, looking for quick promotion, decides to investigate on his own.  He is attacked and left in critical condition.  The city of Bath has lost three police officers and they could lose a fourth.  It is at this point that Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond is placed in charge of the case.  To this point no one has found a connection etween the three dead officers. They didn’t go through training together, they never served together, they had different levels of experience.  But training and experience do not prepare anyone to elude a sniper and disquiet is beginning to spread throughout the ranks.  Diamond doesn’t believe that the victims are chosen at random.  When he interviews the widows, he becomes convinced that the sniper has carefully chosen his victims.

When Diamond is following up on some evidence in a secluded area, he is nearly killed by a person on a motorcycle clearly aiming to get Diamond out of the way.  Even his own team cannot be counted on for support when he tells them that he hasn’t ruled out the possibility that the sniper might be another police officer.

Peter Lovesey has written twelve books in the Peter Diamond series, each showing development in the Diamond character.  As Diamond gets older and he moves upward through the ranks, the problems he confronts reflect his life and his rank.  Because the author makes Diamond so real, it is perhaps best to read the books in order of publication.  On the other hand, they work well as stand alones, too..

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STAGESTRUCK – Peter Lovesey

   Clarion Calhoun is a rock star whose concerts filled stadiums.  She has performed live and loved every minute of it.  But…rock stars age and fans can be fickle, so it is sometimes necessary to get a name back in lights in an unexpected way.  Clarion Calhoun is a rock star whose curriculum vitae includes “stage training”, although the where and the when of this training is lost in the fog of selected publicity.

The vehicle Clarion chooses as a showcase for her talent is I Am A Camera, the play upon which Caberet is based.  There isn’t any singing in the play but Clarion is convinced that she has the acting ability to produce a better than good Sally Bowles.  The venue she chooses is the venerable and well thought of Bath Theatre Royal, a stage that has seen actors the calibre of Ralph Richardson, Joan Plowright, and Alec Guinness.  Clarion believes absolutely that she is their equal.  That the run of the play is sold out convinces the actress, the director, and the trustees of the theatre of Clarion’s popularity and ability to generate money.

Everything is pointing to the great success of the run, financially and theatrically, until dress rehearsal when a significant problem appears.   People had taken Clarion’s word and that of her manager,  Tilda Box, that Clarion is a natural to play Sally Bowles.  She has the poise, the charisma, the stage presence to pull off the character.  And, yet, the minute she says her first line it is immediately obvious that what she doesn’t have is acting ability.  Clarion couldn’t make it in an elementary school play.  The reputations of the theatre people who have been selling her to the public are going to suffer considerably.

There is nothing that can be done to keep Clarion from being center stage opening night and those who know the disaster that is Clarion the actress have to hope that not everyone walks out.  The play has barely started when, instead of reciting her first line, the star of the show begins screaming and tearing at her face.  Somehow, in some way, a caustic substance has been applied to Clarion’s face and deep burns show immediately.

The case doesn’t, at first, appear to be something the police need to be involved with but  CID Superintendent Peter Diamond is called to the office of the Assistant Chief Constable, Georgina Dallymorek and  told he needs to clear things up at the Bath Theatre Royal.  Dallymore is a member of BLOG, the Bath Light Opera Group, and she has just won a part, albeit in the chorus, in Sweeney Todd.  The Theatre Royal is their venue and problems need to be resolved quickly so rehearsals can begin when I Am A Camera ends its run.  And, as a sort of “by the way”, Georgina tells Diamond that Horatio Dawkins, the newly promoted sergeant who has been foisted on Diamond and his team, is the “movement” director of the play.  In other words, Georgina will not listen to any complaints about Dawkins.  Diamond immediately responds by naming the new member of the team Fred, a name Dawkins knows he better learn to answer to.

Diamond gets a lesson in all things Bath Royal Theatre from Titus O’Driscoll, the dramaturge (the person responsible for the research and development of plays [ I had not come across that word before]).  Titus is a wealth of information about the physical layout of the theatre including the location of the dressing rooms and the way in which  that impacts on the movements of the actors.  He  knows every person involved in the production of  I Am A Camera from director to stage hands.  It is clear that Clarion’s make-up was tampered with and the most likely person  to have  access to that is Denise Pearsall, the dresser.  Most theatre people are proficient in applying their own stage make-up but Clarion is a newcomer and Denise is assigned the job of getting her ready to go under the lights.  There is also Gisella Watling, the understudy who is so good in the role that someone from the National Theatre is coming to assess her talent.  It doesn’t seem that Denise has anything to gain by harming Clarion but Gisella does.

Titus also gives Diamond a history of the myths and superstitions of the theatre.  Titus has an extreme reaction to the sight of a dead tortoiseshell butterfly.  The butterfly is an omen that something terrible is going to happen. Then there is the resident ghost, the gray lady, who is often seen in one of the boxes that overlooks the stage.

This is the twelfth book in the Peter Diamond series, everyone solid in details and very enjoyable to read.  Diamond isn’t as crass as Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel nor does he have a sidekick like Peter Pascoe.  But Diamond’s team are good cops and loyal to their boss and Diamond takes care to keep them safe as they work their jobs.  The only thing that keeps this from being a five star entry is that it isn’t hard to figure out the villain but it is a very good book.  Those who haven’t met Peter Diamond are in for a treat.

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SKELETON HILL – Peter Lovesey

SKELETON HILL was originally posted in July, 2010.  I am re-posting to acquaint readers with Peter Lovesey and his character, Peter Diamond.  Diamond is a high ranking officer in the police department that serves Bath, England.

SKELETON HILL – Peter Lovesey

  SKELETON HILL is the 10th Peter Diamond book and it is one of the best. The book opens on a reenactment of the Battle of Lansdown, fought on July 5, 1643, during the English Civil War. Two of the Cavaliers have been killed early in the battle and the force has moved on to continue to engage the Roundheads. They are within speaking distance so Dave, a veteran of the battles, asks Rupert, killed for the first time, if he would like to have a lager before they have to rejoin the main group and get killed again. Dave has hidden the cans in soft earth near a fallen tree but, to his dismay, only two of the six cans are there.

What they do find, besides the two cans of lager,  is a long bone, very much like a femur. Rupert Hood is a history lecturer at a local university who suggests to Dave that the bone may actually belong to a man killed in 1643. They decide to rebury it and leave the body in peace.

A few days later, Miss Hibbert and her grayhounds come to the police station with a large bone that looks like a femur. Miss Hibbert wants to know if she may keep it and give it to her dogs. No, she cannot keep it. It is human and it has been in the ground no more than 20 years.

The skeleton is female and without a head. By the end of the story, Peter Diamond and his colleagues will deal with two murders, golf, and a kidnapped horse among many other things. This is a very good story with large doses of understated British humor, another 300 pages I didn’t put down.

Peter Diamond is best met in the first book in the series, THE LAST DETECTIVE.  This series can be best enjoyed in order.

The Sealed Knot is an historical society that stages reenactments of the British Civil War throughout England. The money earned goes to research on the period as well as education programs in schools and universities. The name comes from the secret society that was formed to reestablish the monarchy.

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DAMAGE CONTROL – Denise Hamilton (Reviewed by Gloria Feit)

On the very first page of the prologue to “Damage Control,” the
terrific new book by Denise Hamilton, the reader meets high school
student Maggie Weinstock.  Fast forward sixteen years:  Maggie is now
Maggie Silver, divorced, and 33 years old.  The crux of the plot stems
from that earlier time frame, when Maggie, in her first two years of
high school, met the Paxtons, who became the “golden ones” in her
young life.  Before “BFF” became part of the vernacular, their
daughter, Anabelle, was that and more – she was everything Maggie
admired and, to some extent, envied.  And her good-looking brother,
Luke, was a Surf God.

Maggie now works for the top crisis management firm in L.A., doing
corporate PR.  The newest client to whose case she is assigned is a
U.S. Senator with a wife and grown children, a probable candidate for
vice president in the next election, whose 23-year-old female aide has
been found murdered, in a scenario reminiscent of the one involving
Gary Conduit and Chandra Levy a decade ago.  The senator is none other
than Henry Paxton, Anabelle’s father, who had been a father figure and
a role model to Maggie all those years ago.  Welcome to the wonderful
world of “damage control,” or spin.

This novel provides a fascinating glimpse, in a schadenfreude way,
into a world about which most readers know little.  Maggie suspects
that her past involvement with the Paxton family is what brought the
assignment to her desk.  She believes, and tells her colleagues, that
no member of that family is capable of murder.  The response is that
“everyone’s capable of murder if you give them the right reason.”  But
she is determined to prove that no member of the family is guilty.
The backstory of Maggie’s friendship with Anabelle, and how it ended,
is the lens through which Maggie views the Paxtons.  In the end, it’s
all about the secrets we keep from one another.  As with the earlier
books by Ms. Hamilton, comprised of the five books in the Eve Diamond
series as well as “The Last Embrace,” a standalone, “Damage Control”
is thoroughly entertaining, and is recommended.

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My sister’s brother-in-law died last week after a long and hard fought battle against cancer. He was 63.  His death was especially poignant because his type of cancer was directly linked to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. He wasn’t drafted.  He enlisted when he was 18, right after graduating from high school. Wikipedia describes Agent Orange: Agent Orange is the code name for one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.[1]

The same article describes the effects on American soldiers who were exposed to the chemicals:Some studies showed that veterans who served in the South during the war have increased rates of cancer, and nerve, digestive, skin and respiratory disorders. Veterans from the south had higher rates of throat cancer, acute/chronic leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, soft tissue sarcoma and liver cancer. Other than liver cancer, these are the same conditions the US Veteran’s Administration has determined may be associated with exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin, and are on the list of conditions eligible for compensation and treatment.[35]

The article continues:While in Vietnam, the veterans were told not to worry, and were persuaded the chemical was harmless.[49] After returning home, Vietnam veterans began to suspect their ill health or the instances of their wives having miscarriages or children born with birth defects might be related to Agent Orange and the other toxic herbicides to which they were exposed in Vietnam.

Agent Orange got its name from the stripes painted on the barrels that dropped the dioxin into Vietnam.  Some of the veterans who died from exposure were not in Vietnam; they were to soldiers who loaded the barrels onto the planes.

Jim fathered five children, all of whom were born healthy so he was much luckier than some.  His wife, children and their spouses and some of his grandchildren were with him when he died.  He lived a life of which he could be proud but it was a life shortened  by an instrument of war aimed at the enemy but literally blown back on those fighting another war for which there was no reason.  He married his high school sweetheart after he returned from Vietnam and after more than forty years of marriage she must now create a life without him.

The Paris Peace Accords, ending US participation in the fighting, were signed in January, 1973.  Children born that year are nearly forty years old themselves and it is unlikely they know much about a war which was a watershed in our history.  The country was so polarized over Vietnam that the rifts it created have never been repaired.

Within the next few days, I will post a review of Tim Hallinan’s most recent book in the Poke Rafferty series, THE FEAR ARTIST.  Set in present day Thailand, Poke has to deal with events related to the war in Vietnam that was over before he was born.  If I gave stars, THE FEAR ARTIST would get ten.

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AIR TRAVEL: A Very Funny Take On Its Joys From Murder Is Everywhere August, 2010

Thanks to Stan Trollip

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Love to fly

Since I left South Africa for the United States in 1970, I have flown a great deal – probably close to 3 million miles.  Other than being addicted to airline food, I have had nothing bad happen to me. Touch wood!However flying has become very stressful, particularly since 9/11.  The hassles of security and associated delays have taken most of the fun out of flying, even if you are not strip-searched and your hand luggage scattered over the airport floor by surly TSA (the US Transportation Security Administration) personnel.  Planes are fuller than ever, seats narrower and closer together, and the person sitting next to you always seems to overflow the real estate he or she rented for the duration of the flight.One no-frills South African Airline, Kulula, has decided to reverse the trend.  Somewhat in the style of the US Southwest Airlines, it tries to make flights more entertaining.  Not only is the crew more relaxed about the in-flight announcements, but even the maintenance personnel have joined the party by repainting the aircraft so that each flight could be a learning experience.Here are photos of a Kulula plane.


As I mentioned, Kulula staff also try to make the atmosphere during a flight more relaxed and enjoyable.  Here are examples of what has been heard on Kulula flights:

On a flight with a very “senior” flight attendant crew, the pilot said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve reached cruising altitude and will be turning down the cabin lights. This is for your comfort and to enhance the appearance of your flight attendants.”
On landing, a female flight attendant said, “Please be sure to take all of your belongings.  If you’re going to leave anything, please make sure it’s something we’d like to have.”
“There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 4 ways out of this airplane.”
“Thank you for flying Kulula.  We hope you enjoyed giving us the business, as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride.”
As the plane landed and was coming to a stop at Durban Airport, a lone voice came over the loudspeaker: “Whoa, big fella.  WHOA!”
After a particularly rough landing during thunderstorms in the Karoo, a flight attendant announced, “Please take care when opening the overhead compartments because, after a landing like that, sure as hell everything has shifted.”
From a Kulula employee: ” Welcome aboard Kulula 271 to Port Elizabeth .  To operate your seat belt, insert the metal tab into the buckle and pull tight.  It works just like every other seat belt; and if you don’t know how to operate one, you probably shouldn’t be out in public unsupervised.”
“In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, masks will descend from the ceiling.  Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face.  If you have a small child travelling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs.  If you are travelling with more than one small child, pick your favourite.”
“Weather at our destination is 50 degrees with some broken clouds, but we’ll try to have them fixed before we arrive.  Thank you, and remember, nobody loves you, or your money, more than Kulula Airlines.”
“Your seats cushions can be used for flotation; and in the event of an emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and take them with our compliments.”
“As you exit the plane, make sure to gather all of your belongings.  Anything left behind will be distributed evenly among the flight attendants.  Please do not leave children or spouses.”
And from the pilot during his welcome message: “Kulula Airlines is pleased to announce that we have some of the best flight attendants in the industry.  Unfortunately, none of them are on this flight!”
After Kulula 255 had a very hard landing in Cape Town, the flight attendant came on the intercom and said, “That was quite a bump, and I know what you all are thinking.  I’m here to tell you it wasn’t the airline’s fault, it wasn’t the pilot’s fault, it wasn’t the flight attendant’s fault, it was the asphalt.”
On a Kulula flight into Cape Town on a particularly windy and bumpy day, the Captain really had to fight it during the final approach.  After an extremely hard landing, the flight attendant said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to The Mother City.  Please remain in your seats with your seat belts fastened while the Captain taxis what’s left of our airplane to the gate!”
Another flight attendant’s comment on a less than perfect landing: “We ask you to please remain seated as Captain Kangaroo bounces us to the terminal.”
An airline pilot wrote that on this particular flight he had hammered his plane into the runway really hard.  The airline had a policy which required the first officer to stand at the door while the passengers exited, smile, and give them a “Thanks for flying our airline.”  He said that, in light of his bad landing, he had a hard time looking the passengers in the eye, thinking that someone would have a smart comment.  Finally everyone had gotten off except for a little old lady walking with a cane.  She said, “Sir, do you mind if I ask you a question?”  “Why, no Ma’am,” said the pilot.  “What is it?”  The little old lady said, “Did we land, or were we shot down?”
After a real crusher of a landing in Johannesburg , the attendant came on with, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please remain in your seats until Captain Crash and the Crew have brought the aircraft to a screeching halt against the gate. And, once the tire smoke has cleared and the warning bells are silenced, we will open the door and you can pick your way through the wreckage to the terminal.”
 Part of a flight attendant’s arrival announcement: “We’d like to thank you folks for flying with us today.  And, the next time you get the insane urge to go blasting through the skies in a pressurized metal tube, we hope you’ll think of Kulula Airways.”
Heard on a Kulula flight. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to smoke, the smoking section on this airplane is on the wing.  If you can light ’em, you can smoke ’em.”
A plane was taking off from Durban Airport . After it reached a comfortable cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement over the intercom, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.  Welcome to Flight Number 293, non-stop from Durban to Cape Town , The weather ahead is good and, therefore, we should have a smooth and uneventful flight.. Now sit back and relax… OH, MY GOODNESS!”  Silence followed, and after a few minutes, the captain came back on the intercom and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so sorry if I scared you earlier. While I was talking to you, the flight attendant accidentally spilled a cup of hot coffee in my lap. You should see the front of my pants!”A passenger then yelled, “That’s nothing.  You should see the back of mine!”
I hope to see you all in South Africa sometime soon.  I think you will enjoy the scenery, the food and wine, and the South African sense of humour.
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HALF-PAST DAWN – Richard Doetsch

This review was originally posted September 27, 2011

“Friday, 6:00 A.M.  – Half-past dawn, the world slowly came to life.  The sun crept along the freshly cut grass, over the scattered toys on the back lawn, and through the rear windows of the modest colonial house…Above his right eye was a scabbed -over wound, a wound he had no recollection of getting….As he began to probe his memory, something on his left wrist caught his attention….The tattoo was detailed, intricate, created by an artist’s hands….As he studied the detail, his mind searched back, and the absence of memory scared him….But the surprise of the tattoo and the facial wounds was quickly forgotten as he removed his robe.  The shock of what he saw sent panic running through him,  and he nearly collapsed to the tile floor…. his eyes were drawn to the kitchen counter…to the newspaper that lay there.  He zeroed in on the large center photo…the photo of a bridge, the guard rail missing….And above it all, the headline screamed across the page:  New York City District Attorney Jack Keeler Dead.”

That’s the slowest part of the book.  Jack Keeler has no memory of the day before.  He doesn’t know where his wife Mia, an FBI agent, is.  He doesn’t know where his daughters are.  To the world, he died in an automobile accident.

Frank Archer is a retired New York City cop.  At 6:35 that same morning, he enters the kitchen to see his wife sitting at the dining room table crying.  He knows someone is dead.  He sees the newspaper headline that confirms that someone is indeed dead.  Jack Keeler and his wife, Mia, were killed when the car they were in fell into the Byram River.  Bullet casings found at the scene suggest foul play.   As Frank tries to process the information, his cell phone rings; the caller ID shows the call is from Jack Keeler.

Under Frank’s questioning,  Jack remembers that evidence in one of Mia’s most important cases has disappeared (I hate the term “gone missing” as if things walk away of their own volition).  The case is so sensitive that Mia has not discussed it with her husband.  The situation becomes markedly worse when Jack finds an intruder going through his home.  Frank and Jack subdue the man and put him in the car, planning to take him to a place where he can be kept under the eye of a friend of Frank’s.  But before they get to the destination, the man, even with his hands bound in duct tape, escapes from the car and jumps off a bridge, preferring death to facing the wrath of whomever sent him to Jack’s home.

Jack had been a New York City police officer until his partner was killed and Jack had to shoot the two teenagers who had tried to kill both cops.  Jack was overwhelmed with guilt because of the age of the two killers, overlooking that they had shown no remorse or guilt when they attacked Jack and his partner.  Jack decided to continue the fight against crime by going to law school, building a significant reputation as a prosecutor, and being elected district attorney.  Frank had come to the police department after spending time in the military.  Jack had refused to use a gun after the shooting of the teenagers; Frank was never without his gun.

As Jack tries to find Mia, he learns that the missing evidence in Mia’s case is the key to the attempts to kill the Keelers.  Bodies begin to mount as another man, a man without conscience or a moral core, makes the Keelers  well aware that he holds them responsible for the missing items.  Whatever it is, it is tied to a gift  .

HALF-PAST DAWN is that time when the best of things and the worst of things happen.  In the story, it is the worst of times for the Keelers, two of the more sympathetic characters in mystery fiction.  The book itself is unusual.  Some of the chapters are marked with a day and time.  Others have the name of a character.  The first suggests the story has a real time aspect to it.  The sections devoted to a character are valuable for filling in the background.  Yet, the book also plays out in something of an alternate universe.  What seems true might, instead, be designed to pull the reader in a different direction.  The book is tightly written and stays true to the story even when playing with the characters.

HALF-PAST DAWN is different from the books I usually read so I am glad that I received a copy in the mail.  I recommend it.  The story is too compelling to be abandoned before the last word and, even then, it doesn’t let go.

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THE PROPHET – Michael Koryta (Reviewed by Ted Feit)

Although football is a main topic throughout this novel, in this small Ohio town (dominated, it seems, by the high school team) it is anything but a game.  Typical of many rust belt areas, when the steel plants closed the population dwindled.  But life goes on, especially for two estranged brothers, both of whom played for the Cardinals in their youth: Adam Austin, a fullback who was on the last championship eleven, and Kent, who starred as a quarterback after Adam’s graduation, and is now the head coach.

Their subsequent lives have been dominated by an unfortunate occurrence one night when Adam was preoccupied with his girlfriend and Austin couldn’t leave his football duties to accompany their sister, Marie, home from school.  It was Adam’s responsibility, and she never made it home.  At some point after she went missing the family learned that she had been murdered.  Neither brother forgave himself, especially Adam, who maintains the boyhood home with Marie’s room as a shrine.  When the culprit is finally captured on a fluke in Cleveland and sentenced to prison time, Kent visits with him in jail and tells him he forgives him, an act which Adam hardly condones.

Thus, the stage is set for a repeat performance when the girlfriend of the star receiver for Coach Kent’s team asks Adam to locate an address for her father who apparently has just been released from prison.  Adam gets an address and the girl goes there, only to be brutally murdered.  It turns out that Kent had recommended Adam, who has a PI license, to the boy, who had passed along the information to the girl.  Each of the brothers feels responsibility, leading to a series of events through which they seek to redeem themselves for present and past actions.

The author has written a suspenseful crime story based on good and evil, selfless acts, and atonement of sins.  At no point does the reader know what will happen next, even when it is on the one yard line with goal to go.

Highly recommended.

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As is clearly obvious……

my ability to type is severly compromised.  My ability to control the mouse also leaves something to be desired.  What was posted was supposed to be a trial run on typing and it was not supposd to be an actual post.
My apologis to Tim for mentioning his wonderful book in the middle of complte nonsense.

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FEAR ARTIST – Timothy Hallinan

less about poke rafferty, an american living in Thailanf than it is about an american, poke rafferty, living in thai.  the emphasis is on poke as an american

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