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review 2018-05-17 04:21
Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité - LIVING IN REVOLUTIONARY FRANCE
Where the Light Falls: A Novel of the French Revolution - Allison Pataki,Owen Pataki

"WHERE THE LIGHT FALLS: A Novel of the French Revolution" very much lives up to its billing. Upon turning the page, the reader quickly finds him/herself in Paris during the winter of 1792. The deposed King and Queen of France are imprisoned, awaiting trial for treason. The city is in tumult as men with radical ideas and a penchant for dispensing violent, retributive 'justice' have taken control of the national government. Along the streets in a horseborne tumbril are several condemned persons being taken to the Place de la Revolution. Despite the bitter cold, thousands of people eagerly await the spectacle soon to take place before their very eyes. "They sound impatient, shrill with the heady prospect of fresh blood to wet the newly sharpened guillotine blade." The spectacle then takes shape as - one by one - each condemned person is prompted to walk up onto the stage where 'le guillotine' awaits. The condemned person's head is placed within the guillotine's clutches. The audience views the scene with bated breath and fevered anticipation. A blade forming the top part of the guillotine set above the condemned person's head is released and with a swish, swiftly severs the condemned person's head, sending it into a basket set close by. Charles Dickens could have taken some lessons from the 2 writers of this novel, in terms of conveying a real, tangible sense of the early stages of what came to be known as 'The Terror', the darkest period of the French Revolution. 

The novel then goes on to relate the stories of Jean-Luc St. Clair, a lawyer from Marseille who moved with his young family to Paris, where he works in an office handling claims involving deposed nobles; Andre Valiere, a young army officer of the ancien régime who has forsworn his noble heritage to join the Army of the French Republic; and Sophie de Vincennes, a young widow living under the close eye of a vindictive uncle who has powerful connections within the government. Her fate would later become entwined with Andre's. 

The reader is carried from the depths of The Terror to the steady rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, who first made a name for himself as a military commander without equal, leading French armies to resounding victories against the Austrians in Italy and later in Malta and Egypt. All the while, France is in turmoil with the demand for justice breeding more paranoia and instability. "Jean-Luc, Andre, and Sophie find themselves bound together in a world where survival seems increasingly less likely - for themselves..." 

This novel has all the hallmarks of a Class A thriller. It'll leave the reader breathless, a little dizzy, and glad to have read it.

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review 2018-03-21 01:40
SCANDAL IN WASHINGTON DC (1923)
Our Man In Washington - Roy Hoopes

"OUR MAN IN WASHINGTON" is one of those novels that blends reality with fiction so well that the reader won't be altogether sure of up from down, much less left from right. 

The story begins in Baltimore, Maryland during the spring of 1923. James M. Cain, a journalist and aspiring writer (who had done some work for the Baltimore Sun on labor issues), makes the acquaintance of the famous journalist, satirist, and cultural critic H.L. Mencken. Cain is hoping to get a job working for Mencken, who is rumored to be at work in creating a national journal that would bring together several of the nation's finest writers to contribute stories emblematic of the country's cultural values and lifestyles. Both men decide to collaborate on a book that would lay bare the rumors of scandal and corruption in the Harding Administration (i.e. graft, bootlegging, sex, and murder). 

In the process, Cain and Mencken spend the whole of the spring and most of the summer of 1923 investigating leads both in Washington and Baltimore, as well as becoming acquainted with some of the principal characters in, near or out of government who would later go down in infamy as the truth began to emerge about some of the scandals associated with the Harding White House. Both men also are able to have arranged for them separate off-the-record interviews with both President Harding and his wife (aka 'The Duchess'). 

There is a lot more to "OUR MAN IN WASHINGTON" than being both a thriller and a mystery novel. There is passion, subterfuge, and in Gaston B. Means, a real-life shady private-eye/fraudster/thief/confidence man who made this book even more compelling. And I must admit that the book's cover art captures perfectly the spirit and essence of early 1920s America with images of Warren G. Harding, Mencken, Nan Britton (President Harding's mistress who is said to have borne his daughter), Teapot Dome, and the presidential seal --- with the front page of the Sunday, May 7, 1922 issue of The Washington Post serving as backdrop. Anyone who enjoys a political thriller with the elements of a mystery novel will enjoy reading this book.
 

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review 2018-01-28 17:00
PERVEEN MISTRY & THE PERILS ON MALABAR HILL
The Widows of Malabar Hill (A Mystery of 1920s Bombay) - Sujata Massey

A few minutes ago (it's 11:20 AM EST as I write this), I had the satisfaction of finishing reading "THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL." It's centered around India's first woman lawyer, Perveen Mistry, who had received her legal training at Oxford. The time is February 1921 and she has returned to her home in Bombay, where she has a job working in her father's law firm. 

Perveen has been given the responsibility of executing the will of Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim who owned a fabric mill and had 3 wives. In the immediate aftermath of Farid's death, the 3 widows are living in strict purdah (a type of seclusion in which the widows never leave the women's quarters nor see and speak with any man) at the Farid residence on Malabar Hill. Whilst carefully reading the documents, Perveen notices that the widows have signed off their inheritance to a charity. What strikes Perveen as odd is that one of the widows' signature is a 'X', which is a clear indication that the widow who affixed the 'X' probably was unable to read the document. This leads Perveen to wonder how the 3 widows will be able to live and take care of themselves. She begins to suspect that maybe they may be taken advantage of by the legal guardian entrusted by Mr. Farid to handle their financial affairs. Perveen has the welfare and best interests of her clients, the 3 widows, in mind.

Perveen goes on to carry out an investigation. She makes an arrangement with the widows' legal guardian, Feisal Mukri, to come to the residence to visit the widows and to speak with each of them separately. In the process of doing so, tensions are stirred in the Farid residence and a murder takes place there that makes a straightforward matter of executing a family will into something much more perilous and uncertain. There is also something out of Perveen's recent past in Calcutta that intrudes into her present life. 

"THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL" is a novel whose prose resonates on every page. It has a lot of twists and turns that will engage the reader's attention throughout. Sujata Massey is a writer who not only knows how to craft and tell a richly compelling novel. She'll leave the reader wanting more. And after almost 14 years of reading Massey's work, I'm already eager to begin reading the second novel in the Perveen Mistry Series. 

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review 2018-01-06 04:25
Go Set a Watchman: A Novel - Lee Harper

In sum, "GO SET A WATCHMAN" bears out Thomas Wolfe's saying 'you can't go home again.' Jean Louise (better known as 'Scout' from Harper Lee's best-selling novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird") journeys back from NYC (where she has lived for some time) to her family home in Maycomb County, Alabama. It is the mid-1950s and the South is in ferment. 

Jean Louise has much to reflect upon and revisits different stages of her life in a Southern society that increasingly becomes too restrictive to her liking. There is family conflict that lays bare the eccentricities and contradictions in people. "GO SET A WATCHMAN" is not a great novel, but it was worthwhile to read as a way of getting a glimpse into a moment in U.S. history when a society based on the 'old verities' and racial segregation found itself compelled to take steps to make a better society for all its citizens.
 

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review 2017-08-01 02:11
Red Year - Jan Shapin

Rayna Prohme is a woman with a mission. Together with her husband Bill, a journalist, the couple travels to China, which is in the throes of a great, internal struggle between the Kuomintang (led by General Chiang Kai-shek) and a group of regional warlords. The nascent Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is allied with the Kuomintang - and together, their goal is to crush the warlords and unify China under one government.

 

The time is 1927. Both Rayna and Bill are committed leftists. Rayna sees the revolution in China as a struggle for freedom that can both unify and strengthen it, much in the same way that the 1917 October Revolution (and the subsequent Russian Civil War) culminated in the creation of the Soviet Union. Rayna is in her early 30s, a redhead from Chicago, and at times rather headstrong. But that is only because she believes in the freedom struggle and in Russia's role in China. That is how she manages to make the acquaintance of Mikhail Borodin, the head of the Soviet mission. Rayna ingratiates herself with Borodin and develops a deep attachment to him. Their relationship is a rather understated one - at least that is the impression I formed about it. Rayna also strikes up a friendship and working relationship with Madame Sun, the widow of the great Chinese democrat and revolutionary Sun Yat-Sen.

 

All the while, Chiang gathers up his forces and brutally breaks the power of the warlords. In the process, the Kuomintang and Communist alliance shatters. Stalin orders the Soviet mission out of China. Rayna at this point is set on going to the Soviet Union to learn to be a fully pledged Bolshevik, which she feels will make her more useful to Borodin and to China. What next ensues in the novel makes for an interesting set of events that are both bewildering and momentous. For that reason, I would strongly urge any reader of this review to take up "RED YEAR" to get the full story, elements of which reminded me of André Malraux's novel, "Man's Fate", which was also set in China during the 1920s and has the same philosophical, revolutionary themes.

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