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A Fair Exchange Is Robbery
A Fair Exchange Is Robbery
by Jeffrey Ashford
Edition: Hardcover
22 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars AN ODD ONE, February 6, 2004
This is an odd, dark novel that is more John Grisham thriller than conventional British whodunnit. Gavin Penfold is an IT security expert at a large bank, living a successful and primly conventional life. On his way home late on a Friday night, he and his new Jaguar are hijacked, changing all that. The hijackers accidentally hit a pedestrian and leave Gavin to face the music after forcing him to consume a huge amount of whiskey. He is eventually charged with DUI and the hit and run accident.
The CID officers Penfold encounters do not resemble the stereotypes we are accustomed to in British mysteries. There is no aristocratic chief inspector who writes poetry in between murder investigations; no female detective inspector driven to prove herself by solving crimes at all costs. There aren't even any mild-mannered (but canny) rural constables to plod after the truth. The detectives Gavin meets are run-of-the-mill civil servants. Some are lazy womanizers, some are misanthropic bullies, and some are dedicated, hard-working policemen. The soliciters and barristers don't resemble Grisham's heros any more than the detectives resemble their BBC counterparts.
No one is murdered in this book. The main casualites are Gavin's illusions and his innocence. The ending is short, cynical, and unsatisfactory.


One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark (History of the American West)
One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark (History of the American West)
by Colin G. Calloway
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $35.96
78 used & new from $2.89

41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars VASTLY INFORMATIVE, February 3, 2004
Colin Calloway has written an impressive debut volume for the University of Nebraska Press' History of the American West series. It weaves the latest archeological discoveries together with Native American oral history into cotemporary European accounts to produce a panoramic overview of 15,000 years of human existence is western America. His narrative ends at the point where coventional school textbooks begin -- with Lewis and Clark. This book has expanded my understanding by showing me that "The West is not a land of empty spaces with a short history..." Calloway wants us to see western history as a "long and unbroken continuum" that stretches backward in a vast spiral of years and forward beyond our own lifetimes.
Most of us have a static view of Native American culture in the West; a 19th century snapshot with tribal characteristics and territories frozen in place. Calloway gives the reader a motion picture full of swirling migrations and altered identitites -- the result of altered climate, technology, as well as of European intervention. He integrates important events in native history into the timeline of world history in a way I have not previously encountered. As the Revolutionary War raged east of the Appalachians, a great smallpox epidemic that reduced native populations by 50-75% was raging to the west. The land Lewis and Clark explored was far emptier than it had been just a generation earlier.
The diffusion of corn-growing into cooler regions of North America, starting in the sixth century C.E. initiated a revolution in Native American life. At the time the Normans invaded England, the Cahokias were building monumental earthworks and plazas amid fields of corn at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi. It was probably the largest city North America had seen until New York surpassed it at the end of the 18th Century. The Cohokias, like the Anasazi of the Southwest, had vanished before Lewis and Clark pushed west. The arrival of the horse on the plains in the 16th century coicided with climatic changes that expanded buffalo populations. Some native groups that had adopted the agrarian life forsook their cornfields, moved out onto the plains, and morphed into nomadic warrior cultures. The Sioux, Apaches, and Cheyenne were farmers before they were buffalo hunters.
Although ONE VAST WINTER COUNT is unapologetically academic, it is well written and very readable. Without interrupting the narrative flow, Calloway identifies his sources and earmarks points of scholarly disagreement. The book devotes less space to native cultures of the Pacific coast than to others. Calloway's explanation is that he had to rely heavily on the record created by Europeans (who came later to that region). He says he chose to make his primary focus "centers of action and interaction". He ends the book by pointing to the depopulation of the rural West, the exhaustion of water resources, and the return of the buffalo as signs that the endless spiral of winters may be making another turn.


Plant Them Deep (Rose Destea a Rose Novel)
Plant Them Deep (Rose Destea a Rose Novel)
by David Thurlo
Edition: Hardcover
48 used & new from $1.80

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars DEEP-ROOTED CONFLICTS, December 28, 2003
This is the best Thurlo book I've read. I disagree with those who call it "cozy". It shows the intractable conflicts that cleave Navajo society today: tradition vs. science, development vs. conservation, spiritual well-being vs. material comfort. PLANT THEM DEEP is a dramatic shift from the Thurlo's police procedurals, in which Navajo detective Ella Clah is the protagonist, or their hokey vampire series. It is told from the perspective of Rose Destea, Ella's feisty, traditionalist mother. Ella and her brother Clifford, a hataalii, play supporting roles this time. The story has plenty of crime and suspense, even as it focuses on the traditionalist side of Navajo culture -- its manners, herbalist lore, and healing ceremonies.
The Tribal Council hires Rose, a long-time "plant watcher" to conduct a survey of endangered native plants, especially those used by traditional herbalists, to assist them in evaluating the restoriation plans of mining and utility companies. She immediately runs into determined opposition from a young Navajo plant biologist and other modernists, both tribal and Anglo. Rose discovers that scarce medicinal herbs are being systematically dug up all over the reservation. Suspense builds when another plant watcher dies under mysterious circumstances and her best friend falls grieviously ill. In short order Rose must find a rare herb to help cure her friend, solve a murder, and catch a plant thief.
PLANT THEM DEEP may not be full of mayhem and bloodshed, but it is full of the clash of competing values. Rose Destea is clear on where she stands, but readers must draw their own conclusions.


Heretic (The Grail Quest, Book 3)
Heretic (The Grail Quest, Book 3)
by Bernard Cornwell
Edition: Hardcover
88 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars IS THAT ALL THERE IS?, December 27, 2003
HERETIC is the third(and perhaps last)novel chronicling the adventures of English longbowman, Thomas of Hookton, during the early years of the Hundred Years' War. It will be more enjoyable if one first reads ARCHER and NOMAD. The siege and capture of Calais is glimpsed briefly at the beginning, but most of the story involves the capture and defense of Castillon d'Arbizon by Thomas and some of his comrades from NOMAD. There Thomas and his evil cousin Guy Vexille have their final confrontation. It is the search for the Holy Grail that drives the central characters in HERETIC.
As usual, Cornwell gives the reader a trove of detail about the way war was waged and life was lived in the mid-14th century. We learn about the wearing of plate armor, about special-purpose arrow points, the fortification of medieval castles, and the loading and firing of primitive cannon. We watch a craftsman doing wax-replacement casting. What is missing, for this reader, is Cornwell's usually brilliant evocation of landscape. Gascony does not come alive the way Normandy and Durham did in the earlier books.
HERETIC also gets bogged down by too many grails, counterfeit and (perhaps) otherwise. Cornwell explains how the grail came to a remote fortress in Gascony by quoting a legend that connects it to the heretic Cathars, but fails to trace its whereabouts during the first Christian millennium. Nor does the "true" grail, once found, exhibit any special properties to verify it authenticity. Why let it be found at all, if you aren't going to provide some supernatural fireworks a la Tolkien or Indiana Jones? Cornwell's message seems to be that the grail's only power was its hold on men's imaginations. When Thomas takes the predictably high-minded course, one is likely to wonder, like Peggy Lee, "Is that all there is?"
Earlier Amazon reviewers assume that HERETIC concludes the Thomas of Hookton series. This is reasonable if you think the story of the grail was the real heart of the story. If, however, one believes that the real subject of Cornwell's series is the apogee of the English longbow as a weapon of war then we might expect to follow Thomas at least through the Battle of Poitiers. He certainly deserves a more rousing send-off than HERETIC.


The Fugitive Queen (Ursula Blanchard Mystery at Queen Elizabeth I's Court)
The Fugitive Queen (Ursula Blanchard Mystery at Queen Elizabeth I's Court)
by Fiona Buckley
Edition: Hardcover
58 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars AN ELIZABETHAN SUCCESS, December 26, 2003
Since QUEEN OF AMBITION, the last Buckley mystery I reviewed, Ursula Blanchard has given up spying for her half-sister, Queen Elizabeth, married Hugh Stannard, and settled into a contented retirement far from court. The queen and her chief minister, William Cecil, recall Ursula to active duty as THE FUGITIVE QUEEN opens. The lure is the gift of a dowry estate in Yorkshire for her ward, Penelope Mason. In return Ursula is to carry a personal message from Elizabeth to Mary of Scotland, who is imprisioned in Bolton Castle near Penelope's new property. Cecil also wants her to ascertain the extent of Mary's involvement in the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley. What seems at first to be a straightforward mission quickly gathers complications of kidnapping, murder, and conspiracy. Ursula, her daughter Meg, and Penelope are all at grave risk before the story's conclusion.
I am once again impressed by Buckley's skill at recreating Elizabethan society -- this time in rural Yorkshire where the Roman religion still has many secret adherents. She feeds the reader, almost unnoticed, the historical context of Mary of Scotland's fall from queenship to troublesome prisoner. Ursula is an effective secret agent without overstepping the constraints her gender and her status would realistically have put upon her. This is historical mystery-writing of a very high order.

My only niggle with the plot is that Buckley, at two critical junctures, has groups of people who are trying to escape detection in the dead of night do so on horseback. In the quiet of the 16th century countryside, the creak and jingle of horsemen would cary quite a distance and alert watchers would feel the vibration hooves striking firm ground even further. One would travel on foot if escaping notice was of primary importance.


Medusa: A Pacific Northwest Mystery
Medusa: A Pacific Northwest Mystery
by Skye Kathleen Moody
Edition: Hardcover
81 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OVERKILL, November 5, 2003
If all six of Skye Moody's Pacific Northwest Mysteries are as bloody as MEDUSA, it's a wonder that her fictional Seattle isn't depopulated by now. I hesitate to estimate the exact body count because the deaths come steadily and numerously as Seattle raindrops. The attrition on law enforcement types alone is staggering, not to mention the mortality rate among bad guys, children, and innocent bystanders.
Robert Ludlum has met his match in Ms Moody who mixes enough criminal conspiracies in with the bloodshed to fill several normal thrillers. Smuggling, child abuse, pornography, protection racketeering, industrial espionage,and toxic pollution are all crammed together with countless murders into a single hyperactive plot. The heroine, Venus Diamond, behaves like a cowboy vigilante, conducting illegal entries, thefts, and wiretaps.
Moody writes good, edgy dialogue and makes effective use of Seattle and Puget Sound as a backdrop for her story. Her female characters - both good and bad - are complex and interesting, but her men tend to be cartoonishly black or white. My objection to her plotting is its literal overkill.


Death at Hallows End: A Carolus Deene Mystery (Carolus Deene Mysteries)
Death at Hallows End: A Carolus Deene Mystery (Carolus Deene Mysteries)
by Leo Bruce
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.00
38 used & new from $0.01

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars CLASSIC DETECTION, November 4, 2003
Although this book was just published for the first time here in the US, it was written in 1965. Its style and its hero, Carolus Deene, hark back to an even earlier time -- when gentleman sleuths like Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Doctor Gideon Fell solved mysteries for the sheer intellectual challenge they posed. Deene, independently wealthy, teaches history at Queen's School in the city of "Newminster" to quiet his conscience and gets involved in murder investigations for recreation.
A solicitor he knows slightly vanishes while on a business trip to the remote village of Hallows End. He'd gone there to deliver a will to an important client for signing. By odd coincidence, the client, who was visiting relatives, apparently dies of a heart attack on the same night his lawyer disappears. Carolus is asked to find out what has become of the missing solicitor.
Leo Bruce, a pen name of the late Rupert Croft-Cooke, scatters suspects, false scents, and mysterious events before the reader with gleeful abandon. Some of the characters are straight from central casting, like the pompous headmaster of Queen's School and Deene's housekkeper who cooks "chocolate suffle" and "patty mason" for his supper, but the suspects are a diverse and eccentric lot who defy easy stereotyping. The book is a good read for those who enjoy a classic mystery of deduction. Few readers are likely to come up with the full solution before Deene explains all in the final pages.


All Roads Leadeth
All Roads Leadeth
by Peter Turnbull
Edition: Hardcover
26 used & new from $0.15

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars AN ENJOYABLE TRIP TO YORK, November 1, 2003
This review is from: All Roads Leadeth (Hardcover)
ALL ROADS LEADETH is a well-written police procedural with an interesting plot involving interlocking crimes. DCI Hennessey and Sergeant Yellich of the York CID are called to examine a twenty-year-old skeleton found in a pile of rubble beside a country house undergoing renovation. This leads them into an investigation of other unsolved disappearances that in turn lead to a London villain who has a macabre way of punishing informers.
Peter Turnbull keeps the reader engrossed without resort to wholesale slaughter or reckless behavior by his sleuths. Instead he offers realistic characterization and solid police work mixed with fascinating tidbits about the old city of York. One learns about the lives of Hennessey and Yellich beyond their work. Turnbull even saves one small surprise for the very end.


Dead Soul (Charlie Moon Mysteries)
Dead Soul (Charlie Moon Mysteries)
by James D. Doss
Edition: Hardcover
79 used & new from $0.01

5 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars DROSS FROM DOSS, October 29, 2003
Charlie Moon, the sleuth in DEAD SOUL, is not the second coming of Joe Leaphorn and despite what the Denver Post may say, the book does not "do for the Utes what Hillerman has done for the Navajo". Moon is more nearly the second coming of Batman -- a Ute lawman-turned-rancher who changes into a superhero when evildoers are abroad. He is hired by the Ute tribal chairman to investigate the murder of a Colorado senator's Ute driver. Moon's ranch, morbidly named the Columbine, abuts the Senator's ranch. Apart from hanging out with his aunt Daisy (a Ute shaman), Charlie spends all his time consorting with white people of both sexes. Before he tracks down the killer, buildings explode, bodies litter the landscape, and conspiracies hatch like prairie chickens. A Catholic healing ceremony helps Moon turn back into a happy rancher at the end.
If this review sounds flip, it is because it is hard to take a book set in the southwest seriously that doesn't know the difference between a mountain lion and a bobcat. A mountain lion named "two-toes" figures prominently in the story. Yet the jacket flap calls this dangerous creature, which may be killing cattle and stalking Moon's ranch hands a "bobcat". (a bobcat is a 15-25 lb predator that lives on rodents and birds) The cat silhouetted on the jacket might be a bobcat, or even an arctic lynx, but it is certainly not a long-tailed mountain lion.
Maybe the people who created the book's jacket didn't bother to read its contents. I recommend that you follow their example.
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Hoagland on Nature: Essays
Hoagland on Nature: Essays
by Edward Hoagland
Edition: Hardcover
50 used & new from $0.60

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE FRUIT OF A LIFETIME WELL SPENT, October 28, 2003
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Although HOAGLAND ON NATURE has a magisteral ring to it -- like an arcane treatise on the law -- it is, in fact, a collection of graceful personal essays written over a span of four decades by the man John Updike calls "the best essayist of my generation". Joyce Carol Oates has included Hoagland's "Heaven and Nature" in her collection of the 55 best essays of the 20th century. It is a sad commentary on American reading habits that this wonderful book languishes, unreviewed until now, in 1.2 millionth place on the Amazon popularity chart, while readers throng to read and review books about vampires, crooked lawyers, and pre-pubescent wizards. The unnatural novel triumphs over essays about nature.
The "nature" explored and described in these essays is neither cute and disneyesque, nor is it merely the pristine wilderness of the grizzly and the caribou. Hoagland's nature is messier, more frightening, more antic, and altogether more fascinating than that. He has roamed all seven continents, employing a discerning eye and stylish pen to capture for his readers the minute, the majestic, and the human he encounters along the way. Titles like "The Courage of Turtles", "O Wyoming", "Wowlas and Coral", and "Up the Black to Chalkyitsik" only hint at the breadth of his experience and interests.
Hoagland's companions of choice are "bedroll scientists", government trappers, and people who live in remote wild places all year round. He admires woodsmen but not outdoorsmen, and has little use for armchair scientists (busy "shining their epaulets") or amateur conservationists (obsessing on "showy predators and hearty herd beasts"). He is a spiritual heir of Henry David Thoreau, holding the Transcendentalist view that man is part of nature, rather than standing apart from it. Hoagland writes about the garter snakes that live under his cabin in northern Vermont and about the seasonal changes in the woods nearby. He describes the struggle of native Alaskans and the Todas of the Madras highlands in trying to adapt to a changing world. He chronicles the tragi-comic history of the inept red wolf of east Texas. The collection ends with several short appreciations of other nature writers: Gilbert White of the 18th century, Thoreau and John Muir of the 19th century, and Edward Abbey of the 20th century.
One of the pleasures of reading this book is Hoagland's supple use of language. He can, by turn, be pithy and epigrammatic: "Geography has glamour in America." and "Henry Thoreau lived to write, but Muir lived to hike."; or poetic: [about a pond] "Amber or pewter-colored, it's a drinking fountain for scurrying raccoons and mincing deer, a waterbugs' and minnows' arena for hunting insect larvae, a holding pen for rain that may coalesce into ocean waves next year."; or apocalyptic: "No permission is given in Isaiah, Job, or Genesis for the holcaust mankind has visited upon the natural world, whereby the rhinoceros may soon be as scarce as the unicorn. No stretch of grief or the imagination, no precedent in science or logic can get a handle on this catastrophe -- half of creation extinguished in a single life span."
What Hoagland on Nature never is is dull!


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