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review 2018-04-15 03:16
Out in June
City of Devils - Paul French City of Devils - Paul French

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley


                Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom opens in 1935 at a club in the city of Shanghai.  Jones is going to met a gangster, and, of course, the shit hits the fan.  It is a Hollywood version of what Shanghai was like during the interwar years. Yet, there is some truth to it.  The city did have Badlands, and there were clubs that not only hired but catered to expatriates from America and Europe.  In his book City of Devils, Paul French presents the truth and while it does involve show girls there is a great more drugs, murder, and the looming threat of war.


                French details Shanghai, in particular Joe Farren and Jack Riley, two men who were sometimes engaged in legal business and sometimes in not so legal business.  Joe Farren started as a Fred Astaire or Vernon Castle type.  Escaping Vienna and touring Asia with his wife and the dance troupe they eventually started.  Farren is the dapper man, the married man with his wife Nellie.  He does resemble, at least in French’s description. 


                Riley is more of a gangster type.  American, blunt, and physical as opposed to dapper.  But not stupid, not stupid at all. His washing up at Shanghai isn’t so much to do with his performance ability. The two men are sometimes partners, sometimes rivals, sometimes enemies.


                In the story of the rise and fall of the two men, French also describes the imploding of Shanghai as an international colony forced upon the Chinese as well as the coming Second World War.  It isn’t just crime that causes the problems but also the Japanese and the shifting of power.


                At points, French introduces newspaper columns and Chinese views on what is occurring – either the view of the white men or the invading Japanese.  It is those bits that are the most moving and wonderful because they move the book beyond a simple history of the underworld.


                French writes with passion and vigor.  His prose is quite engrossing, and he does the best he can with limited sources.  What is most interesting (and hardy lest surprising) is that the women were harder to trace than the men.  It is to French’s credit that he shows the women as more than just molls or enablers.  In fact, a few of them are movers and shakers.


                The book is both engaging and engrossing.

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text 2018-04-14 22:20
Reading progress update: I've read 196 out of 309 pages.
Inspector French: Sir John Magill's Last Journey - Freeman Wills Crofts

there are a lot of place names--cities and towns--to keep track of here. Crofts is not shy about having suspects and witnesses being spread all over the place--often in motion, and needing to account for boarding a train here, making a weird pit-stop there, proceeding on to place number three, detouring unexpectedly yet again...to say nothing of maybe finally being caught in a lie, and really being in two different places on the night of the murder! apply that sort of whirlwind tour of, in this case, Northern Ireland, points nearby in England, and even into Scotland, to a group of scattered characters, and I'm glad there's a map. Inspector French has been a busy little bee, on this case.


I'm following it all, and I kind of enjoy these trails and detours French has to make on cases like this--but yes, Crofts may not be for everyone, especially if you don't like a novel that glues the reader to the detective more than most; the beginning of an Inspector French novel may have scenes and drama, and even a bit of humor burbling out of the mouths of folks who will soon be snarled up in a murder investigation (although this book basically attaches the reader to Inspector French with the first paragraph), but the plot is very one-track-minded in terms of presenting the whodunit purely as a tricky trail the detective must follow to the end. it's a bit limiting, if you prefer suddenly being at a garden party, or watching a romance subplot blossoming, or just taking a break from scenes that don't involve police doing their jobs. it kind of reminds me of TV shows--very successful ones, mind you--from Columbo, to Law & Order, that basically rely on the same techniqiue: you will get some character traits of the detectives, they will be made human enough...but once Columbo shows up, or once the cops and lawyers start doing interviews around a big city and then wind up in a courtroom, it's all very linear. I think these Inspector French novels are the precursor to "when in doubt, follow the cops and let the case unravel through their eyes with the audience piggybacking along".


I don't regret not having another Freeman Wills Crofts novel handy--his bag of tricks is very familiar to me now--but I have enjoyed seeing how different his approach is compared to authors (you know who the Queens of Crime are!) who have, probably for understandable reasons--like keeping the lens wider so that it allows for a better look at more-fully realized characters, and cop-free scenes that remind us more of our own regular lives--remained vastly more popular than Crofts.


and I did read, plus think very highly of, Antidote to Venom--Crofts' intriguing version of breaking away from his own formula. that was cool.

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text 2018-04-14 01:54
Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 309 pages.
Inspector French: Sir John Magill's Last Journey - Freeman Wills Crofts

this is the last of the Inspector French novels I had stashed and ready to be read, and therefore will likely be the last I read for a while; even if I get to The Cask any time soon--which would be a good bet, given its stellar reputation--that earlier Crofts effort doesn't feature Inspector French.


this one I'm starting now features the following Dedication by Crofts: 'To My Many Good Friends In Northern Ireland'. Indeed the plot synopsis--and the map featured before the novel proper starts--suggest I will be transported to Belfast, and other spots not too far away from Belfast. very excited!

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review 2018-04-05 19:00
A flawed but useful survey of the French army in the First World War
Paths of Glory: The French Army 1914-18 - Anthony Clayton

Most English-language memoirs and histories of the First World War typically focus on and reflect the experiences of the British “Tommies” on the Western Front.  Such an approach often marginalizes the far more critical experience of the French army, which as Anthony Clayton argues diminishes their contribution to Allied victory in the conflict.  Clayton’s book is an attempt to rectify this.  In a succession of chapters he intersperses a operational narrative of the French army on the Western Front with descriptions of its commanders and their strategies, the soldiers and their equipment, and the challenges they faced in the four years of trench warfare.


All of this serves as an informative summary of the French military experience in the First World War, one that is enjoyably written and generally accessible for the interested reader.  Yet the book is not without its flaws.  Foremost is its predominant focus on the French military experience in northeastern France.  While understandable, Clayton takes this too far by reducing his examination of the army’s involvement on other fronts to a single chapter and generally ignoring the broader context of French politics and society.  Civilians are typically addressed only in terms of their direct interactions with the troops, while the heavily politicized world in which the French high command operated is treated often as background noise.  Such a narrow approach deprives his analysis of critical elements necessary for understanding the forces at work in the French army during this period.


Also problematic is Clayton’s handling of non-European troops fighting in the French ranks.  While acknowledging the presence of thousands of North African, Senegalese, and Indochinese soldiers, the author never gives them the attention he grants to conscripts from France itself, often offering little more than stereotyping claims of questionable veracity.  These beg for a reference to Clayton’s source, yet there are no footnotes or endnotes, only a bibliography of the sources used.  Such an omission minimizes the utility of the book, one that in the end leaves it to serve as a useful survey of the French army in the First World War and little more.

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text 2018-04-03 18:34
Irish crime novelist Tana French: upending the whodunit genre has its rewards

Article about Tana French when she mentions the next book she is working on.


She and Breatnach, who have two daughters, bought a place after property prices fell. "That was sheer dumb luck," she says, sounding slightly apologetic. "We were broke when everyone was getting rich, and we got money when everybody else was sort of crashing." French is now working on her seventh book. "It's slightly different this time," she says, "in that the narrator isn't a detective." I stifle a gasp. What, no one from the Dublin Murder Squad appears in it? "There is no overlap," she confirms. "There's a dead body in there. There is a murder. But the narrator isn't a detective, he's just a guy. A young, nice guy who has always had a pretty charmed existence. But when he is at the lowest point in his life, he suddenly finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation. He has to figure out what to do about it, but also how he wound up there in the first place."

Source: www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/irish-crime-novelist-tana-french-upending-the-whodunit-genre-has-its-rewards-20170731-gxmbne.html
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