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review 2019-04-13 19:49
Hercule Poirot: kogutud lühijutud
Hercule Poirot: kogutud lühijutud - Piret Orav,Johannes Aavik,Gea Mägi,Agatha Christie

It took me some time but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Hercule Poirot is my favourite detective of all times. It was fun to compare the stories with the TV show's episodes. I had no idea that they put some stories together for the show. Also, there was one story "The Capture of Cerberus" I couldn't place, I just don't remember a similar plot from the television show. 
The story I enjoyed the most was "The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding". It took place at Christmas, had a fantastic old-fashioned feeling, and I actually learned something new from this story. Great collection.

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url 2019-04-12 02:56
Free Kindle Book

I didn't think anyone would like this book, honestly. I wrote it as is. A collection of flash fiction stories based on personal experiences.

Some people seem to like it, others didn't. It depends.
For 4 days straight now the book has been No.1 on the Amazon's list of 90-min humor and entertainment short reads list.(free books).

Today, someone left a review saying she liked it. 
The idea was inspired by Robert Fulghum's "All I need to know I learned in kindergarten." So if you like that type of short tales, somewhat philosophical and humorous, this is the book for you.

The book is available for download until 13 April. 



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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-03-24 17:21
Bodies from the Library (comp. Medawar)
Bodies from the Library - Leo Bruce,Ernest Bramah,Anthony Berkeley,John Rhode,H.C. Bailey,Nicholas Blake,Tony Medawar,Roy Vickers,J.J. Connington,Christianna Brand,Agatha Christie,Georgette Heyer,A.A. Milne

This is a compilation of previously uncompiled detective short stories, most of them having appeared once in a periodical and then disappeared from view. They are ephemeral enough that that disappearance is hardly a literary crime, but there's a certain interest in seeing a really representative selection of what was coming out at a time when apparently turning your hand to a short detective story was a reliable way of making a bit of extra cash. The main selling point of this compilation is a largely unknown story by Agatha Christie (given pride of place at the end); other well-known names include Georgette Heyer and A.A. Milne. For me, the actual value of the collection was the 2-3 page biographical sketch of the authors at the end of each story. The collection redresses the historical female bias in the surviving material from the Golden Age by presenting mostly male authors, in many cases writing under a pseudonym, presumably to distinguish these stories from other, perhaps more "serious" work. I have not been impelled by any of these stories to run out and find the complete works of, say, Anthony Berkeley or Arthur Upfield, but it's good to have the list on hand for reference.

I see from Amazon that a volume 2 is to be coming out in July 2019.

I'm going to cheat now and just reproduce my brief and ungrammatical notes about the stories as I scribbled them while reading. Spoilers abound, so stop here if you're planning to read the collection.

Before Insulin (J.J. Connington) – An inheritance depends on the date of death of a young man with diabetes; mail fraud detected because of a heavy postmark through thin foreign paper.  Date of story: 1936, in a magazine collection curated by D.L. Sayers. A “fair play” story – relevant clues clearly laid out before solution given.

The Inverness Cape (Leo Bruce) - Brief story about a double bluff; young man ensures he is accused of murder because of a distinctive outfit, and also ensures he has an alibi because said outfit is being mended by a servant at the time (two outfits, of course, and his mistake is disappointingly simple, as he doesn't dispose of the second one properly).  Pub. 1952, one year before the author (whose real name was Rupert Croft-Crooke and was the biographer of Lord Alfred Douglas) -was convicted and imprisoned for (homosexual) indecency.  

Dark Waters (Freeman Wills Crofts) - an apparently perfect murder by drowning (covering up a financial fraud) is detected simply by the victim clutching a distinctive missing button from the perpetrator's overcoat. Not really a "fair play" story.

Linckes' Great Case - spy/senior aristocratic detective story about missing submarine plans, Georgette Heyer, pub. 1923. Characters more interesting than the plot, which had a very obvious and over-signalled solution (identical siblings whose existence was signalled by apparent massive mood swings and slight but significant changes in habits). Romance element intrusive, especially for such a short story.

"Calling James Braithwaite" - Nicholas Blake (i.e. Clive Day-Lewis). 2 part radio play (first half dramatizes the murder (very indirectly) the second has Blake's detective, Nigel Strangeways, coming to what is in fact a reasonably obvious conclusion.  It's a closed-room mystery, set on a small commercial vessel where several different parties have reason to despise James Braithwaite, the owner. One of these is his unhappy wife; another is a man who loves her (but we are more or less given to understand no adultery has taken place, so this early on seems likely to be a red herring. A third is the captain of one of James Braithwaite's boats which he allowed to fall into disrepair and wreck for the insurance money the captain (Maclean) was railroaded into bearing responsibility, and now is first mate to the captain of the current vessel, Greer, who is also the father of Braithwaite's unhappy wife.  There is a false alibi due to wrong time of death, somewhat reminiscent of Christie's Murder on the Orient Express.

The Elusive Bullet - John Rhode (one of several pseudonyms of Cecil ("John") Street).  A professor with a horror of conjecture does a little bit of investigation into what seems to be a slam-dunk case of murder by firearm in a railway carriage. The solution turns on the existence of a flagstaff just beyond the end of a firing range.

The Euthanasia of Hilary's Aunt (Cyril Hare, pseudonym of Judge Gordon Clark). A short stinger - a ne'er do-well nephew prepares a sleeping draught to euthanize his terminally-ill aunt, but miscalculates because he is unaware of her true marital status. She disabuses him and then insists on taking the sleeping potion, leaving him without the reward of his misdeeds

The Girdle of Dreams (Vincent Cornier). "Often implausible, sometimes preposterously so, Cornier's work in nonetheless always entertaining."  Eh - the wise old professor tracks down the provenance of a Renaissance bride's girdle, and links the only possible descendant to various obscure tropical poisonous substances which enabled said descendant (in disguise as an old woman) to rob a prominent jeweller.  No particular character development or any hope of the reader actually discovering the methods, so this is just an "isn't that curious" kind of story. I have little doubt the obscure facts alleged in the story are fundamentally correct, but little reason to care.

The Fool and the Perfect Murder (Arthur Upfield).  Australian, set in the outback.  One remote rancher kills another, then disposes the body according to a set of procedures suggested by a drifter. Upton's half-aboriginal detective, "Bony" (Napoleon Bonaparte), catches him because he trips up by overdoing it and by missing a medical detail.  Interesting mostly because of the racial details; I didn't think the warning about political incorrectness at the beginning was  wholly necessary; as far as I could see the narrative voice evinced high respect for the aboriginal peoples.

Bread Upon the Waters (A.A. Milne, of all people). A short stinger - a nasty young man resolves to commit a money-related murder, and decides to muddy the matter of his own motive by doing a motiveless murder first, and then ensuring his detective-fiction-obsessed uncle (the object of his own schemes) gets involved. He gets his comeuppance because he has developed a relationship (and, it turns out, enough to establish a money-related motive) with his first victim.

The Man with the Twisted Thumb (Anthony Berkeley). This story of a pair of aristocratic Englishmen and an ex-governess, mucking about in spy matters they don't understand in Monte Carlo, has a Wodehouse feel to it - the dialogue is quite flip - with perhaps a nod to Lord Peter Wimsey, though neither of the young men is particular brilliant, and the solution is provided by a relative in the Secret Service. There is a nascent romance, which doesn't seem to be stifled in any way by the tendency of the young man in question to knock people out (using his Oxford expertise) at a moment's notice.

The Rum Punch (Christianna Brand). Framed by domestic concerns - story counts down the days until Sergeant Troot is due to take his wife and kids on vacation - a story of domestic conflict and deceit, and the use of the "woman's weapon", poison. Women don't come off well in this story; 2 of the 3 main ones are murderous, and the third dangles two lovers.
Blind Man's Bluff (Ernest Bramah) - short play set in WW1; an unsavoury couple and their Japanese associate scheme to acquire government dispatches being taken by a young American to French allies. Much revolves around the jiu-jitsu skills of the Japanese person (difficult to remember that in this war he is an ally against the Germans). Carrrados, the author's recurring blind detective, foils the scheme.

Victoria Pumphrey (H.C. Bailey) . A young woman of more ancestry than means finds herself stuck in a dead-end typing job in a lawyer's office.  While there, she runs into a former butler who has done very well for himself financially, and who is trying to establish a claim for an inheritance for a protegé (whom we never see). Miss Pumphrey takes a trip to a country house to meet the old dying gentleman and an Autralian claimant of dubious veracity. She meets and spars flirtatiously with the Australian, but has to engineer a house fire in order to provoke the old gentleman to disappear - upon which, since she has met the family, she is able to verify that the old gentleman is long dead and his house servants have been playing a fraud. "This is how Miss Pumphrey entered upon the profession of which she is the most distinguished practitioner" - but the afterword about the author H.C. Bailey does not mention any sequels.

The Starting Handle Murder (Roy Vickers). A “gentleman” commits a well-planned murder (on a train) of another gentleman (whose behaviour and nickname is ‘Balmy’), thus ridding his long-time love of an abusive husband, and acceding to her affections and improved money & social position.  Many years later, an unresolved loose end involving the theft of jewellery leads to the likely conviction/hanging of a groom and likely jailing of his innocent girlfriend.  The gentleman, in compliance with his code, turns himself in. There’s a twist in the last sentence. This one is short, but I thought it was fairly trenchant in its comments on pre-WWI class attitudes that were fading away by the time this story was published.

The Wife of the Kenite (Agatha Christie). A grim tale of revenge taken by a woman against a brutal war opponent; the resolution is foreshadowed if you read Judges 4 (Deborah’s revenge), but it doesn’t take long to get there.  Set in South Africa, with the villain being German and the outraged woman Flemish. Apparently Christie had recently visited South Africa, so there was some scene-setting and use of Afrikaans terms like kraal and stoep.

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review 2019-03-24 12:24
A multitude of stories that make up a feel-good novel in an extraordinary setting.
Goddess of the Rainbow - Patrick Brigham

I received a paperback ARC copy of this review and that has in no way affected the content of my feedback.

This novel (because yes, although it is composed of what appear to be separate vignettes all taking place in the same period of time and in the same location, it does amount to more than its parts, as the description correctly points out) chronicles a Greek town, Orestiada, and its inhabitants’ adventures at a point of crisis. It has been raining for weeks, the river is growing, and things are coming to a head, and I am not only talking about the weather and the flood.

The author cleverly weaves all the seemingly separate strands, first setting up the multiple characters and their circumstances (we do have a varied catalogue of mostly adult and middle-aged characters, many locals, but also a British man who has lived most of his life abroad [as an unofficial spy now turned writer], a Syrian illegal immigrant, a busload of Russian women, another busload of Israeli women, and people from all walks of small-town Greek life, from farmers to mayors, from factory directors to artists), and then wrenching up the tension, as if the weather was having an effect on the whole population, and things that had been bubbling up under the surface were now ready to explode. And although in some cases the actual resolution is not as spectacular as we might have expected (after all, we have attempted murders, personal threats, cars plunging into a river, racial slurs, a group of Russian women coming to meet the single men of the town in a collective dating experiment, old flames meeting again…) there is a silver lining after the storm and readers leave the town with a warm and hopeful feeling.

What did I like? The story made me think of the best soap operas centred in a community, where over a period of time we get to know the characters and we care for them. It shows the writer’s great skill that despite the episodic nature of the story, we feel quite close to the characters (some more than others, but still, they are all distinctive and feel real in their everyday preoccupations and lives) and care what happens to them. Iris, in some ways the central character, as she is the goddess of the rainbow in Greek mythology, is the messenger of the town, and no matter what her personal circumstances are she keeps delivering parcels, messages, and bringing her upbeat outlook and optimism to all she meet. She is a favourite of mine, and I was happy things worked out so well for her. But I became fond of most of the characters, even the less likeable ones, as we are offered enough information about them to understand them, and the good-will of the town and its people is contagious. The story is narrated in the third person but each chapter is told from the perspective of the main character it talks about, and that means we get to see them not only as others see them but as they truly are.

The novel creates a good sense of what the place and the homes of the characters are like, without going into long descriptions. Those that are included capture more the mood rather than the detail, and are, like the rest of the book, pretty humorous (with a touch of irony but fairly affectionate). Here Maria, the local artist, who has to produce work that she does not like but is to the taste of the local market, is reflecting upon what the houses of the citizens who came to the exhibitions of her work every year would look like:

Afterwards, these stalwarts would return to their homes —inevitably filled with expensive vulgar baubles, nick-nacks, coloured glass from Venice, and a blue-faced woman enigmatically smiling from the sitting room wall like some demented oriental Mona Lisa.

Together with a collection of pissing dog prints, their overcrowded living rooms were neve complete without a large china bust of Socrates. A translated set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica —carefully secreted an unopened on a half-hidden bookshelf— and their illusion of sophistication was complete.

The humour can be dark at times, especially when it comes to a couple who want to get rid of each other and will not stop at anything to make sure they achieve their goal. Here one of their business associates is thinking about one of his men:

The assassin liked Dragomire because he didn’t mind shooting people when he carried out a bank robbery, which in his view was very professional and to be admired.

I guess we all have our standards and rules of conduct. (By the way, I’d advise law-abiding Bulgarians to keep away from this book, as it does not paint a great image of its people, but the overgeneralisations seem in keeping with the view neighbouring countries might have of each other, not always flattering).

Was there anything I didn’t like? As I said, I enjoyed the atmosphere, the character,s and their stories. I received a copy of the book, in paperback, a long while ago but hadn’t had a chance to read it. Therefore, it might be that the book has undergone revisions and transformations since, so my objections might well be unjustified now. The paperback had some formatting issues (no page numbers, some empty pages and strange distribution of text), there was the odd typo here and there (nothing too jarring even for an early copy), and then there were some peculiarities in the way the story was told. As a non-native English speaker, I am always wary of commenting on style. In this case, I wondered if some of the grammatical structures that sounded slightly odd to me might be an attempt at adopting the rhythm of conversations and speech in Greece, and I soon became accustomed to it and got to like it, but I’d advise readers to read a sample of the book first, to check for themselves.

A feel-good book about a rather wonderful place, one of these towns that, although far from ideal, end up earning a place in our hearts.

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review 2019-03-24 09:20
Here Be Dragons by Sarah A. Hoyt
Here Be Dragons: A collection of short stories - Sarah A. Hoyt

A beautifully written collection of original short fantasy/science-fiction stories.  I loved all the stories in this collection in one fashion or another.

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