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Inspector of the Dead
Inspector of the Dead
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $12.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb second novel in the "Opium Eater" series, March 25, 2015
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A good historical novel can both entertain and teach a reader. Author David Morrell's novel, "Inspector of the Dead" is the second in his "Thomas de Quincey/The Opium Eater" series. The first novel, "Murder as a Fine Art", was published in 2013. Readers of both books will learn a lot about the England in the 1850's. It's advisable to have Wikipedia near-by when reading Morrell's books; they can be learning experiences.

"Inspector of the Dead" follows "Murder as a Fine Art" by about two months. The same main characters from the first book are in the second, supplemented by both fictional and real characters. Thomas de Quincey - that real-life laudanum-saturated writer - along with his daughter, Emily, are still in London, after having solved previous crimes. They're grudgingly "put up" by Lord Palmerston at his house, along with the two Scotland Yard detectives, Ryan and Becker, who had been injured previously. One Sunday in 1855, the four attended services at St James's - the local Mayfair church - and were placed in Lord Palmerston's private pew. They witnessed a terribly bloody murder in the adjacent pew where a woman is found dead, with her throat cut. But Lady Cosgrove's murder is not the only one that day; several people at her home - including her husband - were found grievously murdered.

More murders occur and messages left on the bodies allude to "Young England", a group thought behind some assassination attempts of Queen Victoria in the early 1840's. Is someone trying to assassinate the Queen fifteen years later and what do the cries and pleadings of a young Irish boy trying to find help for his imprisoned mother and his sick father and sister in 1840 have to do with the current murder spree? And this is all against the backdrop of the badly-handled Crimean War and the falling apart of the Liberal government of Lord Aberdeen. In the crisis, Victoria is forced to ask Palmerston - whom she detests - to form a new government, and be on guard for her life.

David Morrell does not write "cozy" mysteries. Death is frequent and is never gentle. Those readers looking for a "pleasant diversion" will be sorely disappointed by "Inspector of the Dead". But readers looking for historical relevancy - in the criminal, political, and personal - and not afraid of a rising body count - will enjoy this book. I don't think its essential to have read "Murder as a Fine Art" first, but I'd suggest you do so. The characters of Thomas de Quincey and Emily are so interesting that having read the first book might be an advantage in reading the second one.


Holy Spy
Holy Spy
by Rory Clements
Edition: Hardcover
13 used & new from $14.05

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seventh in the series..., March 22, 2015
This review is from: Holy Spy (Hardcover)
"Holy Spy" is British author Rory Clements' seventh novel in his "John Shakespeare" series. The series books, set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, are more similar to each other than not. All basically are concerned with threats to Elizabeth, both from within England and without. If the Spanish aren't sending an Armada off, then the threat might come - as it does in "Holy Spy" - from Catholic supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots. So the reader of all the Shakespeare books can assume Elizabeth and her survival are the plot points most often used.

But Elizabeth I is not the main character in these books. Oh, she pops up every now and again, but "Holy Spy" and the others star John Shakespeare - brother of a certain writer of plays - and Sir Francis Walsingham, who is in charge of the Queen's security and intelligence operations. In fact, Shakespeare and others working for Walsingham are called "intelligencers" because they are agents of Walsingham, sent out to pick up intelligence. And sometimes, as in "Holy Spy", they are sent out to create havoc among Elizabeth's many enemies. In "Holy Spy", Shakespeare manages to infiltrate a band of Catholics - the Babington plotters - who are planning to kill the "usurper" (Elizabeth) and place Mary on the throne. History tells us that Elizabeth managed to survive all these plots and reigned for 45 years. Shakespeare is also trying to clear his former lover, Kat, of the accusal of plotting to murder her wealthy husband.

So, if the plots are similar to each other, why do Rory Clements' books continue to be popular among readers of historical fiction? I think it's because with any good historical fiction, the discerning reader learns about the times and the characters - fictional and real - who made up that time and place. In fact, Rory Clements seemlessly weaves the real figures of the Catholic plotters and Francis Walsingham with the fictional John Shakespeare and his friends and helpers.

"Holy Spy" is a long book but an incredibly well-written one. The series reader returns once again to the Elizabethan age and is reunited with the characters so well crafted in previous books. "Holy Spy" is another excellent book in the series.


The Language of the Dead: A World War II Mystery
The Language of the Dead: A World War II Mystery
by Stephen Kelly
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.60
43 used & new from $12.45

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Murders in wartime..., March 22, 2015
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Sometimes it's difficult to imagine people dying during wartime in ways other than battles, but deaths - natural or otherwise - are certainly on-going. In his debut novel, "The Language of the Dead: A WWII Mystery", Stephen Kelly looks at a village in Hampshire where death is delivered by hand and by airplane.

In what I think might be the beginning of a mystery series, Kelly introduces the reader to a small village near Winchester, England, in 1940, where an old man has been found brutally murdered. Chief Inspector Thomas Lamb is called in to investigate the murder and brings along his own aides, one of whom is a fellow he served with on the Somme in World War One. Bad feelings between Thomas Lamb and Harry Rivers remained from their days of service together. Several other police officers pull together work the crime scene and look at both the victim and a local man suspected in the murder. But soon other bodies turn up - all somewhat connected with the first victim - and secrets are exposed by the investigation.

The murder mystery is somewhat convoluted by the book's end, but the best part of the book are the characters and the on-going war. The villagers are preparing for the German invasion of England - which, of course, never comes - and Stephen Kelly takes a nuanced look at these residents. Death from the sky - both by Luftwaffe bombers and those British planes sent up to do battle with them - is also a fact of life during the bombings in The Battle of Britain.

I can heartily recommend this first novel by Stephen Kelly. I presume it will be followed by more and I'll be on the lookout for the next one.


Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World's Greatest Art Heist
Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World's Greatest Art Heist
Price: $17.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A 25 year mystery..., March 20, 2015
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Boston author Stephen Kurkjian's, "Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World's Greatest Art Heist", is a work of non-fiction without an ending. The "ending" would be a joyous reunion of the paintings stolen in 1990 with the museum from which they were stolen. That doesn't seem likely to happen; it's been 25 years since two thieves dressed as police officers, brazenly walked into the Gardner Museum and walked out with a haul of 13 works of art, including a Vermeer and a couple of Rembrandts. Neither the passage of time, a reward of $5 million with few questions asked, or just the good taste to return the paintings and vase to the museum have resulted in their return. When you visit the museum today, the frames on the walls of the stolen paintings stand as mute testimony of their absence.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has operated under rather odd rules since its establishment in 1903 as the place to display Gardner's diverse collection of art. Evidently nothing can be changed within the gallery rooms from the original placement of the art by Mrs Gardner. It's a bit of a mish-mash today with different periods of art displayed somewhat randomly. The couple of times I've visited, I've had to resist the strong urge to move paintings around in an attempt to "classify" the periods. Basically, the museum operates under somewhat strange rules. For many years, security of the millions of dollars of fine art was also rather laxly handled. It costs a lot of money to provide modern security and the Gardner was always short of funds. The result of these security lapses was the robbery on March 18, 1990.

According to Stephen Kurkjian, it seems the answer to the robbery and disappearance of the paintings and vase lies with the Boston crime families. Several criminals - most with the names of "Bobby" or "Robert" - have been touted over the years as either the masterminds or the robbers themselves of the heist. Reasons range from lessening the prison sentences of others by "trading" information to actually making money by selling the art. However, any semi-sophisticated art thief knows how difficult it would be to fence the goods. And, in any case, "the goods" have completely disappeared with nary a trace in the last 25 years.

Twenty five years is a long time in the criminal world. Prison terms and death - either natural or not - have taken a toll on the cast of potential players in the crime. Everyone seems to have an idea but nothing has come to light. At this point, the Gardner would love to have the pictures back, with no messy questions asked. Will that happen? Will Stephen Kurkjian have an ending to his book? And will the FBI begin to work with local law enforcement? Keep your ears open...


17 Carnations: The Royals, the Nazis and the Biggest Cover-Up in History
17 Carnations: The Royals, the Nazis and the Biggest Cover-Up in History
by Andrew Morton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.17
61 used & new from $16.62

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Empty lives...and empty promises., March 19, 2015
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I enjoy Andrew Morton's books - always taking the information he doles out with a grain of salt - and this one, "17 Carnations: The Royals, the Nazis and the Biggest Cover-up in History", was no less gossipy than his others. The problem I have with this book is the title.

The lives of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, were, in the end, sad and empty ones. Most biographies of the couple - whether they are written in a positive or negative light - cannot come to any other conclusion. David and Wallis were interesting often in the terms of how they and their actions affected those around them. Whether in their birth families, Wallis's marriages and David's long-time affairs with married women, or their own courtship and marriage, what those two did sent out ripples into the lives of others. That they were basically thoughtless, self-absorbed individuals who made a thoughtless and self-absorbed couple, never seemed to affect their own actions. And that was the crux of the problems.

Okay, what does Andrew Morton claim was the "Biggest Cover-Up in History"? It was the hiding - by the British government and it's allies - of the Windsor's "dalliance" with the Nazis in the 1930's and 1940's. There were reports by government agents on the couple's associations with both the German Nazis and the home-grown ones in Britain during the 1930's and - more seriously - with Axis powers in Spain and Portugal in the early years of WW2. The Duke and Duchess had visited Germany several times, met Hitler, and were close with Joachim von Ribbentrop, German's ambassador to Britain. In fact, the "17 Carnations" in the book's title, allude to von Ribbentrop's - supposed - gifts to Wallis from the days they were - again supposedly - having an affair. There is no proof that Wallis and von Ribbentrop ever had a physical affair so the title of the book loses a bit of its effectiveness.

Andrew Morton also looks at the big, big claim that the Duke of Windsor was "flirting" with Hitler, in the early war years, pretending to go along with the German idea of putting David back on the throne - the one he had abdicated in 1936 - as a "puppet ruler" if the Germans successfully invaded England. That the Duke and Duchess would allow themselves to stay in Spain, rather than go to Lisbon and safety after leaving their French homes, was - supposedly - considered a possibility by both the British government and the Windsors, themselves. This would have been an act of treason, one of more than a few Churchill and his government considered the Windsors of committing, or thinking of committing. I'm not sure anyone quite understood the Duke of Windsor, who remained embittered his whole life after he abdicated for the "woman he loved". He hated his family for not treating Wallis and him in the respectful manner he wished to be treated. Again, neither of them seemed to have any idea of other people's needs. That his abdication had thrust his shy brother into the kingship he clearly didn't want, was obviously not important to David.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor continued their heedless journey into irrelevance, leaving others to pick up the pieces. Some of those pieces were contained in the secret files sought after the war. Were the files found in homes and castles in Germany? Did they exist in the first place. I truthfully couldn't quite tell from Andrew Morton's book what was the truth. We may never know, I suppose. But the one thing Morton does do in his book is tell the sad, empty life of David and Wallis Windsor.


Summer Infant Baby Zoom Wi-Fi Video Monitor and Internet Viewing System, Link Wi-Fi Series
Summer Infant Baby Zoom Wi-Fi Video Monitor and Internet Viewing System, Link Wi-Fi Series
Price: $168.44
28 used & new from $100.00

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay..., March 19, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
We found it difficult to assemble. The picture quality is okay. There are a lot of baby monitors out there - and a lot of nervous parents - I'd tread carefully in finding the right one for you.


Belkin QODE Ultimate Keyboard Case for iPad Air 2 (Black)
Belkin QODE Ultimate Keyboard Case for iPad Air 2 (Black)
Price: $127.29
29 used & new from $108.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bad instructions..., March 12, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I like Belkin products for my Ipad and Iphone. They're usually well made and well functioning. This case/keyboard, however, arrived without clear instructions on how to set it up, connect it to Blue Tooth, or even, how long to charge it. In an attempt to be, I suppose, graphically "savvy", the packaging contained a cardboard sheet of visual instructions. These instructions were not nearly what I needed and I am fairly good about setting up computer things. I did go on line and read through the "Questions and Answers" on the Amazon page and managed to pick up some more basic info. But I shouldn't need to do that; instructions should clearly take the user through the process. And not just by using drawings. That doesn't cut it.

Anyway, I hope I am setting the keyboard up correctly and that it will be useful. Belkin products mostly are very useful. I just wish I "trusted" this a bit more.


Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $12.99

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "'It was a beautiful sight', he said..., March 10, 2015
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The "beautiful sight" referred to in the title of this review was the thought of a passenger standing on deck of the "RMS Lusitania", on May 7, 1915 as he witnessed a torpedo in the water coming directly at the ship. The torpedo was covered with a silvery phosphorescence which made it glow softly as it approached the passenger liner off the southern coast of Ireland. It was beautiful, but deadly, and strangely silent. The resulting strike by the torpedo sank the Lusitania in less than 20 minutes and 1198 "souls" were lost that day. Some 700 others survived. And although the US didn't enter WW1 until nearly two years after the sinking of the Lusitania, the attack on the British passenger liner spurred thoughts of vengeance and war.

The sinking of the RMS Lusitania is the subject of author Erik Larson's latest work of non-fiction, "Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania". The book starts off a bit slowly as Larson gathers the facts of story and weaves together a tale that sets the course of the Lusitania to intersect with the German U-boat 20. Larson writes alternating chapters - "Lusitania", "U-20", and "Room 40" in the Old Admiralty Building in London, among others - as the run-up to the attack moves slowly towards it climax. The reader knows that the "Lusitania" was sunk - no surprises there - but how Larson builds to that climax is writing that very few authors can do as well as Erik Larson.

Submarines - both German and British - became important tools of war by 1915. Germany had fewer than the British, but the Germans seemed to be far more venal in their use. Larson describes the interior of the German submarines and the dangers inherent in their design. Life for 20 or so men crowded together in small, smelly quarters as they hunted ships to attack was not easy or pleasant, but obviously appealed to some men. The captain of Unterseeboot-20 was Walther Schweiger, who was well regarded by both the German naval command and by the men who served under him. He was a "hunter", who was careful with the use of the seven torpedoes he carried on his submarine. He didn't want to waste them on smaller ships; he was hunting the big ships with a lot of cargo, a lot of tonnage.

But why was the RMS Lusitania hunted down? It was a British passenger ship, making a normal run between New York and Liverpool, carrying only civilians. Such passenger ships should have been "off limits" to German submarines but the German government had already warned potential passengers on the May 1st departure of the Lusitania from New York that it was a target of possible attack. An ad appeared in local New York newspapers but most of the passengers who set sail that day weren't worried. The ones who were worried were soothed by the ship's captain, William Turner, a no-nonsense long-time captain for the Cunard line.

The ship's journey across the Atlantic was tracked by the Admiralty, who was also keeping tabs on German submarine activity in the area. In a little-known office - Room 40 - code breakers and officials kept track of U-20. They knew it was "out there", but since U-boat captains were often out of signal range of their bases, the British could not take advantage of intercepting messages.

Returning to the passenger watching the torpedo as it came toward him; I can't imagine much more of a surreal moment. He and many other passengers and crew members had known their ship was moving into treacherous waters as they approached the coast of Ireland. Erik Larson takes all these people and government entities and makes suspenseful what shouldn't ordinarily be suspenseful. "Dead Wake" is a gem.


Mark Rothko: Toward the Light in the Chapel (Jewish Lives)
Mark Rothko: Toward the Light in the Chapel (Jewish Lives)
by Annie Cohen-Solal
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.08
50 used & new from $13.56

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mark Rothko..., March 9, 2015
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Author Annie Cohen-Solal, in her new biography, "Mark Rothko: Toward the Light in the Chapel", asks the provocative question, "Why, when during the previous centuries Jews had generally been absent from the visual arts, did the dawn of abstraction coincide with their entrance into the world of art, with Jewish collectors, critics, artists, dealers detecting, supporting, and following the lessons of the first Modernists?" And she answers it in her book by looking at the life, career, and world of Mark Rothko.

Rothko was at the turning point when American artists began to be valued as much as their European counterparts. He was part of a group of painters - Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, among other contemporaries - whose art transcended the past and moved these artists into the mainstream of accepted art. Their art was finally purchased and exhibited at the MoMA - which had the mindset of "European-art-is-best" - in the 1940's and 1950's.

Cohen-Solal examines Mark Rothko - born Marcus Rothkowitz in 1904 in current-day Latvia - in as much of a religious context as that of an artistic. For Rothko was a Jewish artist, and his religious beliefs and practices were important to his art. Mark Rothko emigrated from the Pale of Settlement in 1907 as conditions for the Jewish population became increasingly tenuous. His family settled in Portland, Oregon where his father died a few years later. Rothko was raised as an observant Jew - though curiously his elder brothers and sister were raised somewhat more haphazardly - and he was active as a teenager in the Russian Jewish neighborhood of Portland. He received a scholarship to Yale - that bastion of WASPness - but left after two years. After finding himself in the 1930's as a budding artist, he moved to New York City, and made his way steadily up the art world ladder into acceptance, and eventually some wealth.

But Mark Rothko was a contrarian, too. He accepted a commission to provide art for the new Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building, but pulled out and returned his advance when he visited the restaurant. He disliked the clientele, the menu, the ambiance, and, hell, the WEALTH of the place. Several panels of the art he had made were placed in Houston in the Rothko Chapel, built by the Menil family. His post-war years were his most fruitful but his persona began to change. He separated from his wife and two children in the late 1960's and committed suicide in 1970. His fame and his work have long outlived him.

Annie Cohen-Solal returns, in the end, to the city in Latvia he and his family had left more than 100 years before. His children opened a museum dedicated to Marcus Rothkowitz. He - and his art - had come full circle.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 13, 2015 1:56 PM PDT


Gone to Ground
Gone to Ground
by Marie Jalowicz-Simon
Edition: Hardcover
19 used & new from $15.46

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "U-boats in Berlin...", March 8, 2015
This review is from: Gone to Ground (Hardcover)
For a reader of history, the term "U-Boats" generally refers to smallish submarines that the German navy used with such success in both WW1 and WW2. The boats - called "Unterseeboots" - claimed tons of cargo losses and lives of Allied ships in both wars. But that's not the only use of the term, "U-Boat". It also meant those people - mostly Jews in Berlin - who tried to escape the Nazi roundups and shipment to the camps and ghettos in "the East". These people lived under-the-radar, moving from place-to-place, trying to find a bed to sleep in, food to eat, and a bit of protection. They had to plot their movements and their conversation. They had to figure out who to trust, to survive. A word or reference to the wrong person might indicate she was a German Jew and using faked documents marking her as a Christian.

"Gone to Ground" is the memoir written by a Berlin Jew, Marie Jalowicz, 50 years after coming out of hiding during the war. Jalowicz, from an educated middle class family, went "to ground" after her father died and she was on Nazi lists to be sent east. Marie was able to call on friends, who set her up with other friends and acquaintances from 1941 til 1945. She moved around Berlin - the book has a map on the back cover of all the places she stayed during that time - and even tried to reach Palestine by getting faked documents that got her as far as Bulgaria. She was forced to return to Berlin in 1942 and continued to move around, until she found a place with people in an apartment house where she lived - still fearful for her life - until the Russians arrived in 1945.

One of the interesting points in the book were all the people who offered her refuge. Many were Communists - living with their own head's down - and some were die-hard Nazis, who took a liking to Marie because she claimed she was half-Jewish. Most of the civilians were themselves trying to eke out a living and a proper diet as the war ground slowly on towards defeat. After the war, Marie Jalowicz married a fellow she had known before the war. He had emigrated to Palestine, but returned to marry Marie and raise a family in the eastern section of Berlin. Marie became a noted professor at Humboldt University, but never really talked about her experiences as a "U-Boat". It was only shortly before her death in the late 1990's that she recorded her life story in the war years. Her son, a journalist, edited the tapes and put together this book, "Gone to Ground".

After reading this book, I again had the thought that Marie Jalowicz - like many other Holocaust survivors - lived her life during these years with no knowledge that if she hung on for another four years, she would be freed. How can a person live without knowing that bad times did have a limit? What makes a person go on?

I'm giving this book 5 stars because I think it was well done, but I don't think it will appeal to the regular history reader. It's somewhat dense, but I think living during those years must have been a dense and dark time.


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