Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A FINE SUMMER'S DAY by Charles Todd

Those of us familiar with the superb Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge series created by the mother/son team writing under the name of Charles Todd well know that Rutledge is a dedicated but haunted survivor of World War I.  His experiences on the battlefield have created the man he is today, and will leave him little peace.

Now, with A Fine Summer’s Day we are introduced to a young Rutledge in the year prior to the war.  Not only that but we are given a touching picture of an innocent, idealistic England before the war.  Following the assassination at Sarajevo and growing rumors of conflict young men cannot wait to enlist, believing any war would be over shortly and they are eager to be a part of it before it is finished.

However, an oncoming war is not first in young Rutledge’s mind.  He has decided to propose to Jean Gordon, a woman he deeply loves.  His sister, Frances, and good friend, Melinda Crawford, aren’t at all sure she’s the right choice for him but only wish him happiness.  Further, he has been assigned to investigate the death of a man who presumably hanged himself.  Those who knew the departed said he was the least likely to take his own life, he had no reason to.  Suddenly there is another and then another unlikely death at different points in England.   Local constabulary do not welcome a man from Scotland Yard on their turf, yet Rutledge presses on believing that somehow these deaths are connected, but how?

When Jean presses Rutledge to enlist and be her hero, he responds with something to the effect that he is not a soldier who kills but a policeman who catches those who do.  Yet as the war becomes a reality he must choose between the Yard and his country.

Suspense, excellent writing, period detail, plot twists - who could ask for anything more?

- Gail Cooke

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins Audio Edition

Hailed as a stellar debut this psychological thriller has such a seemingly everyday plot that one is comfortably drawn in - after all how many of us board a train for our daily commute to the office?  And, how many simply pass the time by looking out the window?

Such is the persuasive power of British journalist Paula Hawkins that she allows us to contentedly settle in and then abruptly discomfits us with unexpected twists.  The principal narrator of this can’t-stop-listening-to tale is Rachel Watson who is unable to forget the past - she is obsessive about her ex-husband, Tom.  She is reminded of their life together on a daily basis when her train passes the Victorian home they once shared.  Rachel’s imagination runs away with her when a few houses down from her former home she sees an attractive couple apparently enjoying life together, happily having breakfast on their roof deck.  She so longs for the life they are having that she makes up names and conversations for the couple.

In actuality the couple’s names are Megan and Scott Hipwell.  Then one day Megan is not there, and Rachel sees on the front page of a newspaper that she is missing.  She is not able to help going to the police with what little she knows, and finds herself in the midst of a mystery.  The police determine that she is unreliable after Anna, Tom’s new wife, tells them that Rachel was drunk and in the area about the time that Megan disappeared.

Author Hawkins carefully and concisely alternates between accounts given by Rachel, Megan and Anna.  Suspense to the nth degree!  And heightened by superlative narrations by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey and India Fisher.  Each is an accomplished actress and together they bring this story to intriguing, shocking life.


- Gail Cooke


"There once was a girl in New Haven

 Who was a literature maven,

 Just mention Proust or Joyce

 And you had no choice

 But to listen to her ravin'"

Saturday, January 17, 2015

WOMAN WITH A GUN by Phillip Margolin


It took a bit of getting used to what with the seemingly unrelated characters and number of flashbacks, but once into it couldn’t put it down.  Stacey Kim has left hearth and home for the Big Apple where she’s sure she’s going to write a bestseller.  During a lunch hour she goes into the Museum of Modern Art where she’s transfixed by a photograph of a woman in a long white dress standing on a beach, toes almost in the water and holding a six-shooter behind her back.  The photographer is Kathy Moran who lives in Palisades Heights, Oregon where the photo was taken.

Since Stacey has made no progress on a book since coming to NYC she decides to go to Palisades Heights and find out more about the woman in the photo.  Now, flashback to 2005 when Kathy took the picture.  She was walking along the beach at about 2 a.m. when she saw just married Megan Cahill standing there in her wedding dress.  Of course, she takes out her camera which she just so happened to have along and takes the photo which will later make her famous.  It seems that Megan’s terribly wealthy husband, Raymond, was shot to death just hours after their wedding.  An outside prosecutor, Jack Booth, is called in to help investigate Raymond’s death.  And, another one of those “it so happens” - Jack has quite a history with Kathy, a history to which he wants to add more chapters.

Return again to the present when Stacey arrives in Palisades Height and there’s another murder.  She has decided that in order to solve the new case, and discover the real story behind the photograph, she must solve Raymond’s 10-year-old murder.  And all the time we thought she was a budding novelist.

Despite a convoluted plot, some less than real characters I found myself turning pages late into the night to find out who did what and why.  Thus, either a four minus or three plus for this Margolin and hoping for better next time (I know he can do it!)

- Gail Cooke

ROBERT B. PARKER'S THE BRIDGE by Robert Knott Audio Edition

The estate of the much missed Robert B. Parker asked actor, writer, producer Robert Knott to carry on the exciting tales of itinerant lawmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, and as The Bridge illustrates there couldn’t be a better choice.

The story opens with Virgil and Everett back in Appaloosa where things have been unnaturally quiet.  You know what they say about the quiet before the storm and, yes, a dark storm suddenly appears bringing with it a crafty scheme to be executed by a bunch of night riders.  These unwelcome visitors appear at the Rio Blanco camp where a 300 foot bridge is under construction.  The first to look into the intruders are Appaloosa Sheriff Sledge Driskill and his deputies.  The weather worsens and the Sheriff and his deputies vanish.

Virgil and Everett are about to investigate what’s going on at Rio Blanco camp when Beauregard Beauchamp arrives in town with his Theatrical Extravaganza which includes a mysterious fortune-teller who has Everett’s best interests at heart.  As if the missing lawmen, a theatrical troupe weren’t enough a gang of disreputable soldiers appear bringing with them even more trouble.

Every once in a while the narrator of an audio book seems pitch perfect in every way - that’s the case with film and television actor Rex Linn who delivers a bang-up narration.


- Gail Cooke

Friday, January 16, 2015


"There was a fellow living in Bern
  Who never knew which way to turn,
  He just had no conception
  Of a sense of direction
  So would drive home via Lucerne."


For those of us who grew up (not literally) watching Dick Cavett’s show on TV nothing more needs to be said other than “Hey, he has a new book out.)   Most of you have already bought it, read it, and shared it with friends.  Now, for those of you who weren’t so blessed - you’re in for a treat.  There’s not been a like talk show host before or after DC, and I don’t see one in the future.  He’s erudite, witty and kind (most of the time).  He was the kind of host who actually listened to his guests rather than trying to top them, and if it looked like they were faltering he’s lend a helping phrase.

Brief Encounters holds a treasure of laugh-provoking stories and essays from all over - his early life in Lincoln, Nebraska (yes, believe it or not he was at times a bit of a rowdy), his years at Yale (a bit too much of that for this gal whose fondest memory of college is the Dartmouth Winter Carnival), his career, and his opinions on everyone from Dick Cheney to Eddie Fisher to a fond remembrance of Stan Laurel (which left this reader misty eyed).

His stories of being a gag writer for the top talk show hosts of a certain day (Yes, there are oldies in Brief Encounters -but kids if you don’t know who they are (or were) you should.) The only thing missing in this book is the sound of that voice and his laugh.  (Yes, there is an audio edition.)  But the pleasure I found in the hardcover was being able to go back to a favorite vignette and read it to captive friends and spouse).

As Cavett wrote re the uniqueness of comedian Jonathan Winters, “There was Jonathan, and then there was everybody else.” I’ll say of him, “There is Dick Cavett, and then there is everybody else.”  Enjoy!

- Gail Cooke