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review 2018-09-05 13:08
A reluctant hero and an old-fashioned mystery in a world of small-town politics and corruption
The Mountain Man's Badge (The Mountain Man Mysteries Book 3) - Gary Corbin

I was provided an ARC copy of this book by the publisher and I freely chose to review it.

I am always in two minds about reading books in a series, especially when I do not catch it right at the beginning, but when I was offered the opportunity of reading and reviewing this book, I was intrigued and could not let it pass. It was, I guess, a combination of the unusual protagonist (a mountain man, as the series title proclaims), the details of the case (who can resist a good dose of local politics and corruption these days?), and the details about the author, who is an experienced and well-respected writer who has written for a variety of media, including the stage.  This is the third book in the series, though, but I was reassured that it could be read independently from the other books. So, what did I think?

Gary Corbin is a skilled writer, with a talent for creating unforgettable characters and settings and convoluted plots. Clarkesville, Oregon, is not one of those enchanted little towns we find in some heart-warming books, but quite the opposite. The descriptions of the mountains and the surrounding area are compelling and appealing, but this is a town with a terrible coffee house, sleazy strip clubs,  ignorant and prejudiced inhabitants, and rampant corruption (from low-level civil servants all the way to the top). The novel follows on from the adventures described in the two previous novels (from what I gathered while I read the book), and the main protagonist, Lehigh Carter, is one of those mythical American literary (and film) figures, the reluctant hero.  In the two previous books he became involved in several mysteries that ended up in the removal of the long-term sheriff and, after things don’t work well for the replacement (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, in case people want to read the three novels in order), he is asked to step in. But he is a lumberjack (with his own business) and not a professional sheriff —as he keeps being reminded by the elected assistant DA, the media, and plenty of others. And he has not been elected either. His job is further complicated when there is a new murder (in a town where such crimes are almost unknown), and the evidence accumulates against his fairly recent father-in-law (and their relationship was anything but friendly even before that). His relationship with his wife suffers, he is kicked out of the marital home, and he is pushed and pulled in all directions, pestered by those who should be working with him, and enmeshed in a spider web of lies and deception. There are enemies and betrayers all around him and he has his own doubts and insecurities to fight against as well. He has no qualifications to show for the job, makes beginner mistakes at times, lacks modern equipment and technical skills, and is being taunted by the commissioners for not having been voted into the job and being an amateur, even when they were the ones signing his appointment.

Although I lacked the background into the protagonist and other important characters in the novel (that I guess would give a more rounded pictures of the relationships between them and the motivations for their actions), I still liked his honesty, his humility, his self-doubt, and his willingness to put everything on the line to do the right thing and to protect his constituency, no matter how much it might cost him. This is not one of those action heroes who never miss a shot or put a foot wrong. He feels real and by the end of the novel, I thought I would happily have voted for him as the new sheriff.  I also liked his collaborators, Wadsworth, in his mentor-like role, and especially Ruby Mac (she is fabulous!). His wife is caught up in a difficult situation but eventually, I got to understand and empathise with her and her predicament (and I think she is one of the characters that have grown over the series, so I missed much of that). The politicians, the rest of the sheriff department, other inhabitants of the town, and Bailey —the TV news anchor— are all well-drawn and distinct, and they run the whole gamut of human emotions, qualities, and vices. Some have bigger roles than others, but they give a bit of variety to a place that is portrayed as mostly stuck in its traditions and not very tolerant or diverse.

The plot reminded me of the old-fashioned mystery books and series we all know and love, and, in my opinion, it works better as such than as a detailed police-procedural investigation. As mentioned, Lehigh is an amateur and does not always follow due procedure. He has a good nose and intuition but sometimes misses things and is let down at times by his insecurity and his lack of knowledge. Although the book is set in the present, the sheriff department seems to be stuck in the past, and other than using his mobile for taking pictures, very little technology is in evidence or regularly used; even the computers are ancient and keep malfunctioning, so this is not a story for those fascinated by the latest techniques and the most accurate point-by-point investigations. Much of the police work consists of walking around, interrogating people, and setting up traps to catch suspects and double-crossing staff. There is also an overreliance on evidence that has been overheard and later reported by witnesses. This requires regular readers of detective novels and thrillers to suspend their disbelief to a certain extent, as baddies are overconfident and reckless, and the witnesses never seem to think about taking pictures or recording anybody’s conversations, which is unusual in this day and age, when everything anybody does is recorded and shared, but it gives the mystery a timeless feel, and there are plenty of plot twists and red herrings to keep readers turning the pages at good speed.

The book is written in the third person by a limited omniscient narrator, a technique that works well to allow readers to learn more about the characters, their feelings, and motivations (and some are not nice at all), while at the same time keeping the information necessary to solve the case under wraps, and helping to maintain the suspense and keep us guessing. There is an effective use of description and credible and lively dialogue that add to the characterisation. The book flows well, and there is sufficient information about the previous events to fill in the gaps and allow a reader starting here to follow the plot, although I have the feeling that those who have read the previous books will enjoy it more fully. (I am never sure how much information about previous books might be enough for new readers but not too much for those already familiar with the books. My experience reading series is that, unless you read all the books in quick succession, you need reminders of the previous plot, no matter how well you think you remember it, but different readers will be different on that respect). Although there is some violence, it is not extreme or shown in detail, and there is a good mix of intriguing, creepy, and light-hearted and humorous moments to suit most readers.

I enjoyed the book and feel curious, both about what had happened before and about what the future will bring Lehigh and his team. I was also intrigued by the samples of some of the author’s other books included at the end. I recommend this book (perhaps the whole series, but I cannot comment on the previous books) to readers who like mysteries in non-standard settings, with a good mix of characters and plots, and with a background into small-town politics and corruption that feels eerily relevant.

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text 2016-07-12 06:30
To fail alone or succeed with collaboration?

I use to want to be a playwright.

 

I took a program at Playwrights Theatre Centre in Vancouver and with the help of professional dramaturg's and the other members of the group developed Harry's Truth, A Play in One Act.

 

"Harry" even had a "reading" - professional actors read the play aloud. I was blown away and, believe it or not, so were they.

 

The next step was to take it to production, maybe in conjunction with a couple of other one act plays by other playwrights - make an evening of it.

 

Whether that would have happened or not I'll never know. You see, I'm not much of a collaborator and theatre is all about collaboration. By the time Harry's Truth was ready for production I'd about had it with the affected (def.: artificial, pretentious, and designed to impress) people I'd been working with, and believe me the definition fits when it comes to theatre people.

 

If you come right down to it I'd rather go it alone and fail than have to work with someone and succeed, which is probably one of the reasons I'm where I am at this point in my career, alone and a failure. Hmm.

 

Recently I came across Harry's Truth when I was searching the hard drive of my old laptop. I clicked and remarkably it opened. Nine years had passed and as I read it I thought this isn't half bad.

 

The play asks the question, "are there cosmic truths?" Harry thinks there are and he's discovered one which will make life easier, simpler and more fulfilling. He wants to share this epiphany with those he loves but not only do they not want to share in his enlightenment, they feel threatened by what he has to tell them. Much is at stake – careers, lifestyles, power – if Harry pursues his truth.

 

Seven scenes, forty-four pages and eleven and a half thousand words later Harry has his answer - the truth doesn't necessarily set you free, but it can sure make you unpopular.

 

Harry's Truth is now available as an e-book (should that be e-script?) at Smashwords. Until July 31st you can download it free as part of Smashwords SummerWinter Sale. Go to https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/649522

 

Actually, five of my novels are also available free at Smashwords during the same promotion. You can go to my website http://rodraglin.com for direct links.

 

In a week or so it will be available on Amazon as an e-book and eventually a paperback at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003DS6LEU

 

Stay calm, be brave, watch for the signs.

 

30

 

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review 2014-01-04 23:15
Summing Up - W. Somerset Maugham

The Summing Up (International Collectors Library, Garden City, New York; 1st edition 1938)

 

I must write as though I were a person of importance; and indeed, I am- to myself.
-W. Somerset Maugham(1874-1965)

 

The Summing Up is an introspective attempt at bringing together Maugham's thoughts on subjects that had primarily interested him through the course of his life- ideas on literature, art, religion, ethics, and philosophy- in a conclusive, coherent manner.
Maugham began by stating that this book was neither intended as an autobiography nor a book of recollections. In fact, he clearly noted that certain aspects of his life would remain unmentioned, private; and provided no license for any biographies in his lifetime. He felt that to give them weight would detract from the important life points upon which he wished to focus.

 

He was always bothered by setting down his thoughts in the first person, considering that he was more comfortable speaking through the characters in his novels.


"Fact and fiction are so intermingled in my work that now, looking back on it, I can hardly distinguish one from the other."


Mixing fact and fiction, Maugham's characters and themes were "created" from many of his acquaintances and experiences. Not one to be enamored of celebrity or fashionably co-mingling with the famous, he felt that "the prestige you require by being able to tell your friends that you know famous people proves only that you are yourself of small account." Maugham was more interested in the socially obscure, "since they have never been in the public eye, it has never occurred to them that they have anything to conceal. They display their oddities because it has never struck them that they are odd."  To him, the less distinctive group proved a writer's more fertile ground.

 

Maugham shared his memories of his childhood with brevity (much more of it was written in Of Human Bondage), his natural writing instinct and developing flair for writing easy dialogue. He acknowledged strong literary influences by writers such as De Maupassant, Dryden, Voltaire, Swift, among others.

 

Of particular interest to me, and which left an indelible impression, was the attention he gave to explaining his philosophy, for this was the backbone of all Maugham's works. Of the worthiness of his writing (or writing in general), he contemplated that "it is hard not to ask oneself whether it is anything but futility to write plays and stories and novels..when men in millions all living on the border-line of starvation, when freedom in great parts of the inhabited globe is dying or dead, when a terrible war has been succeeded by years during which happiness has been out of the reach of the great mass of the human race, when men are distraught because they can see no value in life and the hopes that had enabled them for so many centuries to support its misery seem illusory." He would later reflect that he felt born to such a purpose: "some of us are so made that there is nothing else we can do. We do not write because we want to; we write because we must."

 

With confidence in his moral standards, religious and agnostic views, of human behavior- humanity's bad vs good attributes, of purpose in life, Maugham's words ran fluent with clear meaning, in spite of the obvious constraints he exercised to ink the personal convictions he strongly held.
"It may be that in goodness we may see , not a reason for life nor an explanation of it, but an extenuation. In this indifferent universe, with its inevitable evils that surround us from the cradle to the grave, it may serve not as a challenge or a reply, but as an affirmation of our own independence."

 

The Summing Up is a marvelous (albeit miniature) self-portrait , colored boldly with feelings and opinions. I felt it was too short to do justice to an author successfully accomplished in so many literary forms (novel, short story, personal narrative, literary and art criticism, drama, book travel, essay). Maugham ended the book with a quote by Fray Luis de Leon: "the beauty of life is nothing but this, that each should act in conformity with his nature and his business."

 

As a Maugham fan, I do feel that he might have undeservedly sold himself short in The Summing Up of his life. It is, however, a great starting point to gain insight into the philosophy that shaped such novels as the Razor's Edge, Of Human Bondage, Cakes and Ale, The Moon and Sixpence.


********
Extensive biographies have been published without Maugham's stylized eloquent input( Maugham by Ted Morgan, 1980 ; and The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography by Selina Hastings, 2010) - posthumously, and authorized through his estate, after some legal foot-work.

 

 

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review 2013-01-27 00:00
The Improper Playwright - Margaret Summerville This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath, May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.(Romeo and Juliet, 2.2.121-2) Margaret Summerville gives her books a lighter touch (or the ones I've read) this is another gentle and farce story with two characters that seem at odds but have more in common then they both think. Lady Verity de Lacy is a playwright in secret, she writes many plays but doesn't have the courage to send any of her works until her recent play, and with a little push from her maid, she sends off her play the the top playwright and ex-actor Lord "Brutus" Ranley. Ranley worked as an actor for many years, becoming well known after his portrayal of Brutus cemented his name in his acting glory. Once his uncle passed and with no other male heir. Ranley became a peer losing himself in the glitter filled world of the ton. Causing him to lose touch with his actor friends and letting his playwriting slide. When his friend comes a calling for his new act (as he co-owns a theater) he brushes it off as he's to drunk to care. His friend at a lost and anger at Brutus's lack of concern, sees if he's done anything only to come across Lady Verity's play. Thinking this V. De Lacy is a nobody puts Brutus name on the play and that's where the story and game of wits hits off like a cannon. I liked that nothing is at it seems. When Lady Verity finds out that her play has been ripped off she's pissed and confronts Ranley who knows nothing (as he was drunk) and while this may have been off putting for Verity, she takes it in stride thinking that Ranley is not a cheat but a funny fool that only wants Ranley to bang his head against the wall. This was a funny romance as both have a natural talent for acting you see more of that world then the world of the ton. The show of how actors are treated in the grand scheme of things in the ton was good as their always given some second fiddle part as mistresses or etc in other regencies. Verity not only has to keep her playwriting under wraps but when she's forced to marry the boring and uptight Dorchester, she finds herself drawn to Ranley who understands her, her Romeo to her Juliet. Ranley finds himself at a lost with Verity who doesn't act like any other miss or woman he's come across. The romance is slowly developed over time with it playing center stage. All the characters but of course Ranley and Verity were both wonderfully done giving you a sweet romance with two very liked hearted couple finding love with crazy schemes and Shakespeare!
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review 2011-09-02 00:00
The Playwright - Carolyn Levine Topol Ok m/m romance about a playwright whose writing partner and roommate signs him up for The Male Room online dating site, hoping to help him get over a broken heart years before. The insta-love was more insta-lovey than usual in the this one.
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