The Final Deduction by Rex Stout

The Final Deduction cover

The Final Deduction by Rex Stout was first published in 1961. Althea Vail is a rich woman, married to a much younger man and when she turns up at Nero Wolfe’s door saying that her husband has been kidnapped it seemed to me that this was going to be an obvious plot to figure out, in fact I nearly rolled my eyes.

However there are plenty of twists and turns and I just love being in the company of Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, not forgetting Fritz the chef, I wish he could come and cook for me!

I hadn’t realised until I read this one that in US-ian the word kidnapped is spelled with only one ‘p’ (apparently) unless they got it wrong all the way through my copy of the book. I found it very difficult to NOT read it kidnayped – you live and learn.

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

I’ve read quite a few of Auster’s books now but Brooklyn Follies is still my favourite one. I was looking forward to reading The New York Trilogy so much, maybe too much, because it didn’t come up to my expectations. It was first published in 1985.

The three novellas which make up the trilogy City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room are really the same story retold differently each time and none of them work, for me anyway. There are really no likeable characters which is always a mistake and I found the paranoia and madness involved in the stories to be uncomfortable reading which led to nothing really.

There are plenty of nods in the direction of writers whom Auster presumably admires but I would categorize the whole thing as Smarty-Arty-Farty, which is often just tedious but some people really go for that sort of stuff. I’m just glad that this wasn’t the first Auster book which I read because I probably wouldn’t have gone on to read any others.

Ice Palace by Edna Ferber

I’ve been neglecting my CPR Book Group recently so I thought it was about time I got around to reading another book by an author in need of a bit of a boost. Edna Ferber was a very successful author in her day, which was the 1920s and 30s but she had a long career and her last book was published in 1963. She was a Pulitzer prize winner. I hadn’t even heard of Ferber when Anbolyn at Gudrun’s Tights mentioned her as a possible candidate for The CPR Book Group which is a place where people can nominate authors whom they consider to be neglected or even particular books which they think deserve more attention than they are getting.

I read and enjoyed Show Boat which was made into a musical of course but Ice Palace was written in 1958 and was her second last book.

It’s set in Alaska in the 1950s, a time when Alaska was a territory and not a state, which meant that they were suffering from that old bugbear taxation without representation. Although Alaska was being plundered for all her minerals, fish and such goodies, it wasn’t getting any benefit from all the industrialisation which was going on around the territory. The workers all came from ‘Outside’ and they didn’t even receive their pay until they got back to the States so the wealth was being taken out of Alaska in all ways.

I must say that it took me a wee while to get into this book but after about page 60 I did begin to enjoy it and I learned a lot about Alaska along the way.

Quite a lot of characters seemed to be thrown at me in the beginning but the main ones are Christine Storm and her two granfathers who are completely different from each other. Czar Kennedy is a rampaging capitalist whilst Thor Storm is a conservationist, naturalist, historian and anthropologist, well educated and decent.

Christine’s upbringing is shared by her two grandfathers who have her for three months at a time and Bridie Ballantyne helps out too. Christine is an orphan, in fact according to this book the female mortality rate in Alaska must have been very high!

It’s a book about greed, ambition, murky politics and dodgy people as well as decent ones. In some ways it was way before its time as Christine has no ambition to be the First Lady which is Czar Kennedy’s wish – she wants Alaska to get statehood and plans to become the Governor one day. Fortunately she’s not at all like Sarah Palin!

All in all it’s well written and an entertaining informative read, for me anyway as I knew very little about Alaska but it did seem to end very abruptly with things left up in the air, as if there was going to be a sequel, but I don’t think there was although Ferber did write another book after this one. Definitely one to be given a bit of a boost.

If you have a favourite author or book which you feel should be more widely read don’t hesitate to mention them.

Sunset Park by Paul Auster

I quite enjoyed this book but nowhere near as much as I enjoyed Brooklyn Follies. There’s a lot of baseball trivia in it which I suppose will go down well in the US but it didn’t do much for me.

After being involved in a traumatic event Miles Heller drops out of college and disappears from his family home in New York to begin again in Florida. He finds work with a team of men who go around clearing houses which have been abandoned due to the dire financial circumstances which the world is in at the moment. He decides to photograph the abandoned contents and it becomes something of an obsession so he has thousands of photos, it’s a way of gaining control I suppose.

Miles has weaned himself off just about all the comforts of life except his camera and books and it’s when he’s re-reading his copy of The Great Gatsby in a local park that he meets Pilar a young high school student who happens to be reading the same book. It’s a life-changing meeting. I suppose the book is about people not being in control of their lives, ‘stuff just happens’.
Or as Robert Burns said ‘ The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.’

That’s as far as I’m going with it! It’s definitely worth reading but I have to say that I didn’t like the ending much. Has anyone else read it?

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Yet again I find myself thanking Judith of Reader in the Wilderness for recommending an author, Barbara Kingsolver this time. This is the first of her books which I’ve read and I didn’t know anything about it at all, so it was a great surprise when I realised that it’s about something that I’m interested in.

As a 12 year old Harrison Shepherd is transplanted from Virginia to coastal Mexico when his Mexican mother walked out on her American husband (Harrison’s father) to shack up with Don Enrique whom she hoped would marry her.

Harrison is shunned by the villagers, only having the servant Leandro as company. As well as teaching Harrison how to cook, Leandro shows him how to swim underwater using goggles and he discovers the lacuna, an underwater cave, and the experience is so important to Harrison that he decides to write it down in a notebook and so starts a habit which he keeps up for years.

In the next part of the book Harrison meets and works for the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and then goes on to become cook and secretary for Trotsky! Exciting times!

Harrison eventually ends up back in America, North Carolina to be precise, as a 20 year old. What is it about North Carolina? The place seems to haunt me, in newspapers and on the radio – it’s everywhere!

I suppose I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t – The McCarthy era that is. And Harrison doesn’t come out of it well, obviously, given his background.

Even although I’ve seen plenty of McCarthy ‘trials’ on the tv with poor souls squirming under the questioning of evil ignoramuses, I still find it hard to believe that such a thing could happen in a developed country, and so recently too. The thought of it sends shivers down my back.

I think people still use the term ‘un-American’ even nowadays and to them it seems to be synonymous with ‘evil’. My theory is that because America is a very ‘young’ country some people get quite paranoid at the thought of change – possibly because change happens so quickly there – not realising that people and places can’t stand still and may not develop the way they would like it to.

I happen to live in a part of Scotland which had a communist Member of Parliament for years in the 1960s-70s. (Willie Hamilton, due to the large number of coal-miners who lived in the constituency). There is still at least one communist local councillor in the area and roads in a nearby town have been named such things as Gagarin Way. Nobody freaked out about it, after all it’s a democratic country but it just wouldn’t have been possible in the ‘land of the free’.

Barbara Kingsolver won the Orange prize with The Lacuna which I believe amounts to £60,000 and although I haven’t read any of the other short-listed books, I can’t imagine that they would be as good as this one.

I learned a lot, including the fact that the US government attacked First World War veterans with tear gas and used tanks against them, threatened them with machine guns and slashed veterans and their families with sabres! Also that there had been rationing in America during World War 2, although obviously not to the same extent as the rationing in the U.K.

I’ll have to look out her other books now!

Oracle Night by Paul Auster

School for Love cover

Sidney Orr is a writer who is recovering from an illness which has kept him in hospital for months, he had nearly died. Released from hospital he tries to re-build his strength by taking walks around his neighbourhood and on one of these walks he finds a stationery shop called the Paper Pagoda which is owned by a Chinese man. Amongst his purchases there is a blue notebook of an unusual size and shape which has been made in Portugal. Sid feels compelled to buy the notebook and begins his writing again using it.

Oracle Night has several storylines going on in it, which can be a bit annoying because you are just getting involved in a story when it suddenly stops, never to be resumed. There are also copious footnotes giving the back story to various characters as they are introduced, sometimes running to four half pages at a time. It means that you are going backwards and forwards quite often. I’ve never seen footnotes like that before, not even in history books.

This is the third book by Paul Auster which I have read, and although I did find the writing technique a bit strange, I still enjoyed it. My favourite book of his is still Brooklyn Follies but there are still plenty more of his books for me to read, so that may change at some point.

Invisible by Paul Auster

At 308 pages and nice clear print this was a quick read which I did enjoy, although not quite as much as The Brooklyn Follies which is the only other Paul Auster book which I have read.

The book is in four parts and the story begins in 1967 in New York city where Adam Walker, a young undergraduate and would be poet, meets Rudolph Born and his girlfriend Margot at a party.

Adam becomes entangled in their lives and witnesses a horrible crime which haunts him and changes his future completely.

There are three different narrators moving the story on to Paris and an island in the Caribbean with the story ending in 2007, and along the way there is the ultimate taboo subject of incest involved: well maybe.

It isn’t what you would call comfort reading, but it wasn’t supposed to be I’m sure.

When my mother-in-law was alive, I used to read books before giving them to her because she was easily shocked. This one would have had her screaming for valium!

On a personal note I was pleased to see Hedy Lamarr getting a passing mention in the book. I’ve always been a fan of vintage films and she was my favourite actress when I was a wee girl. She was also very different from other actresses as she had a career as a scientist too.

I’ll definitely be reading more of Paul Auster’s books.