Friday, August 23, 2013

Inferno by Dan Brown

cover of Inferno by Dan Brown
Dan Brown: the mere mention of his name can turn some people into raving lunatics. Brown can't write. His stories are contrived. His plots are thin and poorly imagined. His grammar and language suck. His research is superficial. I could go on and on with the rantings of these folks. What I don't understand is why these folks feel compelled to read Brown's books? If the books irk you so much, save your money and your time. Walk by the book display. I think that some folks just love to complain, and I think that others like to believe that they are part of the intelligentsia that only reads literature. Others may be suffering from petty jealousy because they would love to be a best selling author. Let me just say that i am not part of the attacking hoards. I like Dan Brown's books. Heck, I even loved some of the them.

Inferno came out in May, but I didn't get a chance to read it until my vacation last week. I wasn't a huge fan of Lost Symbol, but the concept of Inferno seemed to return to Brown's earlier themes of symbology in classical works. In this case, the classical work is Dante's Divine Comedy. Robert Langdon awakens in a hospital in Florence, realizing that he lost two days. He can't remember how he got from his class at Harvard to a hospital in Florence. As he tries to figure out what happened, with the help of young, super-intelligent, Sienna Brooks, Langdon realizes that he needs to look at Dante's journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory, and Heaven to find a biological threat to civilization. As Langdon races through Florence to recover his lost 48 hours and to discover the secret of Inferno, he is hunted by mysterious police officials dressed in black. Langdon races through Florence and Venice trying to escape deadly assassins. That's enough to be said about the plot.

Inferno is full of the fast-paced thrills and puzzles that Brown gave us in The DaVinci Code. I thought it was a much more entertaining read than Lost Symbol, which I guess is a recommendation. The ending was a bit of a disappointment, and it just seemed to be more like the balloon deflating from a slow leak than the heart stopping pop that I was hoping for. I like the earlier Brown books much better. I think that the more time he puts into the books, the more confusion he adds to the mix. That said, I'm still looking forward to the next Dan Brown book. The only problem is that it will probably be years from now before it will be published.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

N or M? by Agatha Christie

cover of N or M? by Agatha Christie
Although Agatha Christie is mostly known for her murder mysteries, mostly starring Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, she was also a very good espionage writer. Those books are few in number, but one of my favorites is N or M?, which features Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. Tommy and Tuppence were only in a handful of Christie books: The Secret AdversaryPartners in CrimeN or M?By the Pricking of My Thumbs, and Postern of Fate, which was the last book that Christie wrote. Tommy and Tuppence start out as young people fresh from World War I with no prospects. They get involved in a spy case, looking for the mysterious Jane Finn. They open a detective agency in Partners in Crime, which is a collection of short stories with an overall unifying theme of working for Mr. Carter and looking for a man known as No. 16. For each case in the book, Tommy and Tuppence took on the personality of a well-known (in 1929) fictional detectives. With N or M?, Tommy and Tuppence are now middle aged. World War II is in full force, and the Berefords want to get in on the act of helping their country, but they are dismissed as being "past it." War is for the young, like Tommy and Tuppence's twins, Derek and Deborah.

N or M? starts with both Tommy and Tuppence down in the dumps because they don't have a role in the war. When someone comes knocking at their door, we all know that it is adventure. This time, it's in the shape of Mr. Grant, who has been sent to solicit the services of Tommy for a boring desk job in Scotland. When Tuppence gets called away to tend to a sick friend, Mr. Grant lets Tommy know that Scotland is a rouse. He's really going to a boarding house in Leahampton called Sans Souci to look for a Nazi spy. The spy can be one of two main people known as N and M. N is a male, while M is a female. Tommy is not to tell Tuppence a thing, and a few days later, he goes off to "Scotland." Imagine Tommy's surprise when he arrives at Sans Souci, as Mr. Meadowes, to find Tuppence already in residence as Mrs. Blenkensop, Tommy is elated. Tuppence figured out that Mr. Grant didn't want to talk in front of her, so she plotted the phone call with a next door neighbor. As Tommy and Tuppence investigate the inhabitants of Sans Souci, they realize that people are not as they appear. Just as Tommy and Tuppence are playing a role, any of the other house guests could be someone else. The only one who seems above suspicion is Mrs. Sprot with her two-year-old daughter, Betty. Christie cunningly hides the identities of N and M, and I was greatly surprised by both reveals. There are no murders in the book, but there is lots of adventure.

I loved N or M?, and it makes me want to re-read the first two Tommy and Tuppence books. The latter two are not very good, so I'll just avoid them for now. As Christie would say, you are not past it until you are dead, and you should never believe everything people tell you.

Keep your eyes open for the part where Christie has a character talk about amnesia that is brought on by the stress of life. This is obviously an reference to the amnesia adventure that Christie had. She rather famously went missing in 1926 when her husband Archie Christie was divorcing her. The claim was that Christie suffered amnesia from the stress of the divorce. You can read more about that here.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Dancing Floor by Barbara Michaels

cover of The Dancing Floor by Barbara Michaels
I was randomly reading the books by Barbara Michaels; but there are only a few left on the list that I haven't read, so I put them on the back burner. However, the local library had a copy of The Dancing FloorThe Dancing Floor is one of the last books that Michaels wrote under that pseudonym. The book was published in 1997, and only Other Worlds was published after it. Other Worlds doesn't really count, because it's not Michaels' typical romantic suspense book.

In The Dancing Floor, Heather Tradescant goes to England in memory of her father. He had recently died, and he and Heather had always planned to tour the gardens in England that were designed by a famous British gardener of the name Tradescant. Heather is at a loss, and she really wants to see Troyton House. However, Frank Karim, the rich owner is reclusive, and it doesn't look like Heather will get a chance to see the gardens. However, she finds her way into an old, thorny-hedge covered maze at the back of the house, and in a fright at one of the statues hidden in the maze, barrels out onto the lawns of Troyton. Frank is quite taken with Heather's last name, and thinks it's a sign that she should help him in the restoration of the garden. However, there is a force that seems to be trying to hurt Heather. Could it be because of the Witches of Pendle? Frank's son, Jordan, doesn't seem happy to have Heather around, and the security guard, Sean, also seems suspicious of her, although that doesn't stop his womanizing ways. Then there's the neighbor, Giles, who used to own Troyton, and is having issues with his troublesome wife and his hooligan young son, Bobby. As accidents happen to Heather, she starts to wonder if they are natural or supernatural.

Some of the later Barbara Michaels books were disappointing, but I found enjoyed reading The Dancing Floor. It reminded me more of some of the earlier romantic suspense books that Michaels/Peters wrote, only without a really strong occult feel to it. I'm really glad that I picked up the book at the library because it was a very enjoyable read.