Happy Birthday, Archie!

My annual tribute to one of my favorite fictional characters (if not my all-time favorite).

On Oct 23 in Chillicothe, Ohio, Archie Goodwin entered this world–no doubt with a smile for the pretty nurses–and American detective literature was never the same.

I’m toasting him in one of the ways I think he’d appreciate most–by raising a glass of milk in his honor.

Who was Archie? Archie summed up his life thusly:

Born in Ohio. Public high school, pretty good at geometry and football, graduated with honor but no honors. Went to college two weeks, decided it was childish, came to New York and got a job guarding a pier, shot and killed two men and was fired, was recommended to Nero Wolfe for a chore he wanted done, did it, was offered a full-time job by Mr. Wolfe, took it, still have it.” (Fourth of July Picnic)

Long may he keep it. Just what was he employed by Wolfe to do? In The Black Mountain he answers the statement, “I thought you was a private eye” with:

I don’t like the way you say it, but I am. Also I am an accountant, an amanuensis, and a cocklebur. Eight to five you never heard the word amanuensis and you never saw a cocklebur.

In The Red Box, he says

I know pretty well what my field is. Aside from my primary function as the thorn in the seat of Wolfe’s chair to keep him from going to sleep and waking up only for meals, I’m chiefly cut out for two things: to jump and grab something before the other guy can get his paws on it, and to collect pieces of the puzzle for Wolfe to work on.

In Black Orchids, he reacts to an insult:

…her cheap crack about me being a ten-cent Clark Gable, which was ridiculous. He simpers, to begin with, and to end with no one can say I resemble a movie actor, and if they did it would be more apt to be Gary Cooper than Clark Gable.

I’m not the only Archie fan out there:

  • A few months back, someone pointed me at this post, The Wit and Wisdom of Archie Goodwin. There’s some really good stuff here that I was tempted to steal, instead, I’ll just point you at it.
  • Robert Crais himself when writing an introduction to a Before Midnight reprint, devoted it to paying tribute to Archie. — one of the few pieces of anything written that I can say I agree with jot and tittle.

In case you’re wondering if this post was simply an excuse to go through some collections of Archie Goodwin quotations, you wouldn’t be totally wrong…he’s one of the fictional characters I like spending time with most in this world–he’s the literary equivalent of comfort food. So just a couple more great lines I’ve quoted here before:

I would appreciate it if they would call a halt on all their devoted efforts to find a way to abolish war or eliminate disease or run trains with atoms or extend the span of human life to a couple of centuries, and everybody concentrate for a while on how to wake me up in the morning without my resenting it. It may be that a bevy of beautiful maidens in pure silk yellow very sheer gowns, barefooted, singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and scattering rose petals over me would do the trick, but I’d have to try it.

I looked at the wall clock. It said two minutes to four. I looked at my wrist watch. It said one minute to four. In spite of the discrepancy it seemed safe to conclude that it would soon be four o’clock.

She turned back to me, graceful as a big cat, and stood there straight and proud, not quite smiling, her warm dark eyes as curious as if she had never seen a man before. I knew damn well I ought to say something, but what? The only thing to say was ‘Will you marry me?’ but that wouldn’t do because the idea of her washing dishes or darning socks was preposterous.)

“Indeed,” I said. That was Nero Wolfe’s word, and I never used it except in moments of stress, and it severely annoyed me when I caught myself using it, because when I look in a mirror I prefer to see me as is, with no skin grafted from anybody else’s hide, even Nero Wolfe’s.

If you like Anglo-Saxon, I belched. If you fancy Latin, I eructed. No matter which, I had known that Wolfe and Inspector Cramer would have to put up with it that evening, because that is always a part of my reaction to sauerkraut. I don’t glory in it or go for a record, but neither do I fight it back. I want to be liked just for myself.

When a hippopotamus is peevish it’s a lot of peeve.

It helps a lot, with two people as much together as he and I were, if they understand each other. He understood that I was too strong-minded to add another word unless he told me to, and I understood that he was too pigheaded to tell me to.

I always belong wherever I am.

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The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan, Robbie Daymond

The Dark ProphecyThe Dark Prophecy

by Rick Riordan, Robbie Daymond
Series: Trials of Apollo, #2

Undabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs, and 31 min.
Listening Library, 2017

Read: October 5 – 11, 2017


I’m not sure how to give a plot synopsis here — basically, it’s the continuation of the Trials of Apollo. He has another task to accomplish — another of the new emperors to take down before the third one, in the next book. It’s the same ol’ set up that has served Riordan so well — and will continue to do so for years to come.

Basically, Apollo/Lester has to go and find another Oracle. To do so, really, he has to face a lot of people that he’s hurt/disappointed over the millennia. He learns a lot about himself, matures a bit. That part was good — and the whole thing was entertaining. But it felt stale. I liked The Hidden Oracle a lot and was excited to see where this series went. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ll finish the series, but with greatly diminished expectations.

Not that it got into details, but there was a lot more intimated/flat-out said Apollo’s sexual history than I’m comfortable with for a MG book. The previous books in the Percy-verse suggested sexual orientation and activity, there was some romance, but this went much further than any of those. Honestly, it went a step too far. If this wasn’t a part of the Percy-verse, or was clearly marketed toward older readers, it wouldn’t have been that bad and I wouldn’t have said anything about it. But that’s not the case here.

As far as the audiobook goes, it was rough. Robbie Daymond was very aware that he was reading amusing material and he read it like each line was a punchline. It was the vocal equivalent of mugging for the camera, if you will. Now, there were a couple of serious and poignant moments, and Daymond pulled those off well, but otherwise it was tough to listen to.

I didn’t like the narration, and didn’t think the story/writing was as crisp as the first book in the series. But it was still entertaining enough. This isn’t the one to start reading Riordan. But it’ll do for his older readers.

—–

3 Stars

Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan

Ghost HeroGhost Hero

by SJ Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #11

Hardcover, 325 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2011

Read: October 13 – 16, 2017


So, Lydia Chin is approached by a potential client who is clearly lying about his identity about some paintings that are rumored to be in New York, and potentially on sale soon. This client really wants to establish a name for himself in Contemporary Chinese Art, and owning these paintings — preferably before they go on sale — will go a long way toward that. Here’s the trick, no one knows if they really do exist, or where they might be. Still the rumors persist, and in the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” kind of thinking, they’ve got to exist. The trick is that the artist was killed in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The client wants her to find them, prove they’re real (ideally), and help him get the leg up on the competition.

Like I said, Lydia doesn’t trust the man, and doesn’t understand why he picked her, but his cash is good and she’s curious (about him, the paintings, why he might want the paintings). So she takes the case, but doesn’t know where to start. Luckily, her partner, Bill Smith knows just the guy to talk to — another Chinese PI. Second generation ABC, from the Midwest, Jack Lee has an art degree and mostly looks into stolen and questionable art. Really, he’s the ideal PI to look for these paintings — and it turns out that someone else thought so, too and already hired him to do that. The three decide to work together on this, each playing to their own strengths.

From there, they dive deep into the New York Art Scene — at least those that brush up against Chinese Art — there are people who care about art, people who care about influence and money, and those who really, really care about art. Some care so much that Jack Lee gets shot at more than once. There are other threats as well — the idea that Chau might still be alive is a pretty hot political topic, and various governmental entities seem interested in what Lydia is up to.

The case is pretty interesting — and the various people that the trio interacts with are so interesting, so colorful, occasionally so despicable. The solution that Lydia cooks up is worthy of Blackadder’s Baldrick, but I kind of liked it. It works as a solution in a novel (I hope nothing like this would happen in real life). The ultimate reveal was a bit too obvious, but I still enjoyed it — and the rest of the mystery made up for it.

I’ve said time and time again, I love reading the back-and-forth between Lydia and Bill — adding Jack to that seems like a gamble. Thankfully, it worked wonderfully, he fits in with the two of them so wonderfully well that you wish he’d been around for a couple of novels previously to this. It almost doesn’t matter if the plot behind the book was entertaining, just get the three of these guys around a beverage or two and it’s worth it.

On the one hand, I’m kind of with Lydia in not understanding why someone would come to her to look for this — art isn’t her thing. On the other hand, she dealt with art dealers in China Trade, Chinese heirlooms in Reflecting the Sky, missing jewels in The Shanghai Moon (which yeah, is sort of precious minerals, but the art aspect of the Moon seems as/more important than the gems). So it’s not like she’s an utter novice. Sure, going to Bill Smith or Matt Scudder would seem like a bad move — but Lydia’s a good choice for this case (not as obvious a choice as Jack Lee, I grant you). And how could I not think of another PI in New York?

There was one thing I was disappointed in: I was truly hoping/expecting that this book would contain a clue (if not more) about why this was the last book to be published in the series — and given the 6 years that have passed since then, it seems pretty likely that this was it for the series. I’m assuming that it wasn’t planned, but can’t find any information about it (which means that someone’s going to come along in half an hour with a link to 15,000 words about the reason for this.) Update: A few hours after posting this, Rozan assured me that the series is not over, which is great to hear

A fun, fast-paced read that is enjoyable, engaging and all around entertaining — which is pretty much a great way to describe any novel from Lydia Chin’s point of view. Give this one a shot and then pick up the others (or pick up the others, and then this one — either way).

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Tilt-a-Whirl (Audiobook) by Chris Grabenstein, Jeff Woodman

Tilt-a-Whirl (Audiobook)Tilt-a-Whirl

by Chris Grabenstein, Jeff Woodman (Narrator)
Series: John Ceepak Mystery, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 18 min.
Audible Studios, 2007

Read: July 18 – 20, 2007


Danny Boyle grew up in Sea Haven, NJ — a tourist trap of a town on the Jersey Shore. He likes the life — hanging out with the friends he’s had since high school, goofing around, eating and drinking more than he should. He’s got a nice Summer gig — working as a Part-Time police officer. The downside is his partner — John Ceepak, an Iraq War vet and former MP. He’s so by the book, he might as well have written it. The Sea Haven chief served with Ceepak and offered him a job when he was done with the Army. After an incident (IED-related), Ceepak can’t drive anymore — which is where Danny comes in.

It’s not an ideal working relationship, but Danny can put up with Ceepak’s eccentricities well enough. Until one day their pre-shift breakfast is interrupted by a girl covered in blood, standing in the middle of the street screaming. Ceepak jumps into action, and Danny tries to keep up. The girl takes them to the local amusement park, to the Tilt-a-Whirl ride, where her father lies shot dead. They’d snuck in before the place opened and had been held up by some junkie hiding near the ride. Or so she reports later. Her father owns half the real-estate in NY and NJ (or so it seems), sort of a would-be Trump, so his murder is big, big news.

Ceepak and Danny have to deal with media attention, annoying lawyers, gang members possibly trying to go straight, local politics, a Crime Scene Investigator that’s more of a hindrance than a help, and Danny’s inexperience if they’re going to solve this murder and let Sea Haven get back to what it does best in the summer — taking in every tourist dollar that it can.

The book is told with a light touch — Danny’s a smart-aleck and is (truthfully) too immature for his job; which is bad for the populace of Sea Haven, good for the reader/listener. But the lightness never gets in the way of the seriousness of the initial murder, and the crimes that follow.

Woodman is exactly the narrator that this book needed — he’s able to sound the right age for Danny, the right attitude, everything (apparently, he does a lot of YA Audiobook work, that makes sense to me). Until I heard Woodman, I hadn’t thought what a challenge it might be to get just the right narrator for this. Thankfully, I noted that with a strong sense of relief, because man…he was so good.

The Ceepak books were one of those series I fully enjoyed, and had forgotten how much I had liked them since I (apparently) finished the series. This audiobook helped me remember how much I missed reading them. If you haven’t gotten around to them, you should — either as an audiobook or text — Ceepak and Boyle are some of the most entertaining police officers around.

—–

3.5 Stars

Open and Shut (Audiobook) by David Rosenfelt, Grover Gardner

Open and ShutOpen and Shut

by David Rosenfelt, Grover Gardner (Narrator)
Series: Andy Carpenter, #1
Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs, 50 min.
Listen & Live Audio, Inc., 2008

Read: August 21 – 22, 2017


I honestly can’t believe I’ve talked to little about Andy Carpenter and David Rosenfelt here — it works out, when you look at timelines and whatnot, I’ve been reading him a long time before I started blogging. Still, it’s hard to believe since it’s one of my favorite series, and has been going for so long. Yeah, maybe the series is getting too long in the tooth, but for something to get to book 16+, it’s got to have a pretty solid foundation, right? That foundation is Open and Shut, where Rosenfelt introduces the world to Andy Carpenter, dog lover extraordinaire and pretty decent defense attorney.

Carpenter is a hard-working lawyer, taking on many cases that don’t pay much, but do some good. He’s obsessed with New York sports and his golden retriever. He’s going through a divorce — and has started dating his investigator. He’s got a great sense of humor, is known for a hijink or two in court, and seems like the kind of guy you want in your corner. His father is a big-time D. A., the kind of Prosecutor that people hope/assume theirs is — honest, hard-working, tough on crime. So it shocks Andy when his dad asks him to take on a client for a retrial on a murder case — a murderer his dad put away and his currently on Death Row.

Andy goes ahead with the case, not sure that he should. But it doesn’t take long before he starts to believe in his client’s innocence. About that time, things get interesting and maybe even a little dangerous.

Almost all the elements that go into a typical Andy Carpenter novel are here — even if they’re just being introduced at this point. The jokes are fresh, the clichés have yet to be developed. It’s a good mystery with some good non-mystery story elements. And, best of all, some really fun courtroom moments — not just antics on Andy’s part, but some good depictions of legal/trial strategy and the like. I’ve been thinking lately that the latter Carpenter books have been giving the courtroom short shrift, and seeing what Rosenfelt does here just solidifies that thinking.

Gardner’s narration didn’t blow me away or anything, but it was good work. I can easily believe him as Andy’s voice and can see him really growing on me (not unlike George Guidall and Walt Longmire). He’ll keep you engaged in the story, and deliver a line or two in a way that will bring a smile to your face.

Give this one a whirl, folks — text or audio — you’ll enjoy yourself.

—–

3.5 Stars

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

BonfireBonfire

by Krysten Ritter

eARC, 288 pg.
Crown Archetype, 2017

Read: October 6 – 10, 2017


When you grow up in a place called Barrens, you want to get out — especially if it’s an area with limited job options, a struggling agricultural industry, and nothing else to commend it. Although, the name alone would probably justify wanting to get out even if the economy and culture were richer. But as is the case with too many small towns like this, few manage to get out. Abby Williams headed for Chicago two days after she graduated from high school, went to college and law school, becoming an associate at an environmental firm — and only sometime after that did she return.

She returns with her friend (a gay black man, who tends to stick out in the small, rural Illinois town), a first-year associate and a couple of students to investigate some claims about the water in the local reservoir. The town’s only major employer is called Optimal Plastics, which has been dogged by rumors of shoddy environmental practices and health problems for years — including before they came to Illinois — and the team is going to see if they can make these rumors and concerns stick this time.

As they dig into records, tests, regulatory reports and whatnot, Abby notices something. Optimal Plastics is clean. Absolutely clean — on paper, there’s never been a company so clean and responsible. Which just seems impossible, no one is this perfect. Abby smells blood in the water and goes on the attack.

At the same time, in a small town, you can’t help but run into people you don’t want to see again — which is pretty much everyone from High School. The girls who used to torment her, the guy she had a large crush on, the people she wasn’t so sure about. It takes mere moments for her to get embroiled (or re-embroiled) in the same relationships, problems, gossip that she’d escaped from. From “the old crowd” (that was never Abby’s crowd), she gets her insight into Optimal Plastics — all the good they’ve done for the town, the numbers of people they employ, the money they pour into the schools, and so on. So much good that no one wants to take a good look into them, the price is potentially too high.

This reminds her (not that she needed the reminder) of some problems potentially tied to the company back when she was in high school — girls that seemed inexplicably sick. What else could it be from? She’s told time and time again by her friend that what happened over a decade ago doesn’t matter,what matters is what the company is doing now. Abby’s not convinced, and keeps digging at this — even if she agrees with him, the ghosts that haunt her will not allow her to let it go. Abby becomes more and more focused on this aspect of the investigation — flirting with and maybe crossing the lines into obsession.

Oh, and did I mention her father? As you may have picked up from the fact I mentioned earlier that she hadn’t returned to Barrens since high school that she’s not that close to anyone there — including her father. The exploration of and changes to their relationship is one of the more emotionally satisfying storylines in the book.

I’m from a small town, I get the feeling of never actually escaping from it — returning to the same place you left. But I’m willing to bet that even readers from larger towns/cities can relate to this. You can take the girl out of High School, but you can never take High School out of the girl, I guess. Ritter deals with the emotional realities and hazards like a pro — there’s not a beat that seems false or forced. The manner in which Abby makes connections, interweaves her look into what happened years ago with what’s going on right now is great (for the reader). The secrets she uncovers are chilling and unthinkable — yet entirely believable.

Would I have liked to have seen more with her colleagues reacting to Barrens, helping her follow the leads she’s interested in, or just interacting with her at all? Absolutely — but I’m not sure how Ritter could’ve done that without more effort than it’s probably worth. Could she have done more with her Chicago-friend sticking out in Barrens? Yup, but it might have distracted from the overall plot (but if she’s going to remark on it as often as she does, she should do something on it — it comes across as urban snobbery). I think that’s almost something I could say about everything in the book. I don’t know that I needed a lot more of everything, but I think every bit of the story, the characters, the mystery, etc. could use a little bit more development, a little more space. Not much, just a little bit.

I liked Abby almost immediately — from the fairly disturbing Prologue, on through to her struggles in town and questionable choices, you root for her and hope that she finds an element of peace. Her coworkers are great. It’s hard to decide what you think about some of her old high school friends right away, and probably best no to decide too much about anyone in town until The Reveal at the end.

The writing is crisp and compelling — Ritter has some really nice turns of phrase as well. There’s a couple of times that Abby is drunk and/or the influence of alcohol plus other things that were just excellent. Abby’s inability to keep her perceptions in line, to have a coherent recollection about everything she experiences through this time — that’s just excellently executed.

I won’t say that it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year — if there’s a plot point here that you haven’t seen, I’ll be surprised. If there’s a character, character arc, or anything like that you haven’t seen before, I’ll eat my hat. Does it matter? Nope. The way that Ritter tells the story, how she treats the characters and shows them to the reader — how she executes things, that’s the key. It all worked really well, I was thoroughly entertained, even held in suspense. Even if in retrospect I decided that I’d seen it all before, I didn’t see a lot of it coming — or I’d seen story elements X and Y a few dozen times, I hadn’t seen them combined the way Ritter did. This is a solid first novel, and I hope there’s at least a second on the way.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Crown Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

3 Stars

Planet Grim by Alex Behr

Planet GrimPlanet Grim

by Alex Behr

eARC, 222 pg.
7.13 Books, 2017

I’ve been dreading the day when I had to write about this book for a month or so now — I just don’t know that I’m up to it. While I can’t say that I enjoyed every story, there was something in each of them that impressed me. I’d do better discussing this book over a beverage with someone who’s read the stories rather than in the abstract.

In a few sentences — at most a couple of paragraphs — Behr gets you into a world with fully realized characters, completely different situations — many of which you’ve never even thought about before. You will be disturbed, moved, saddened, surprised, fascinated, and occasionally, struck by a darkly comic moment.

I want to stress the “dark,” — Planet Grim is probably underselling it. There’s not a lot o flight to be found in these pages. I’m not suggesting that you’ll end up depressed at the end of every story, but you won’t be chuckling or uplifted. These are real people going through some pretty real problems and situations. It’s hard to slap a genre tag on these — there’s the barest hint of SF (but not really, you’ll see); these would all nicely fit in with a noir novel (without the knight errant); technically a lot would fit in “Women’s Fiction” (but . . . no); so I guess you stick it in the “General Fiction” section, but hopefully that doesn’t mean you overlook it.

A piece of advice: do not read more than two or three of these stories in one sitting. Actually, I think the volume of stories in this collection is the biggest problem with it. If there were seven of these stories in one volume, I’d probably be raving about it and demanding more. As it is, I was a little overwhelmed — there’s just too much to deal with (which is why it took me 5 weeks to get through it).

I’ve said it before here, and I’ll probably say it again, I”m not a huge short story guy. A few more collections like this could change me. There’s not a dud in the batch — there are a couple that I think I didn’t fully appreciate (or even “get”) for one reason or another — but there’s not one that’s not worth a second or third read. Alex Behr can write, period. If you give her a chance, she’ll convince you of that. I can’t say that I enjoyed this book, I don’t know if I liked it, but man, I was impressed with it, I’m glad that I got to read it, and I know it’s some of the best writing I’ve come across this year.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.