Thursday, September 25, 2008

River God and The Seventh Scroll By Wilbur Smith

Wilbur Smith is a favorite author.
Smith created characters from and about South Africa (where he was born). He wrote about the people of South Africa, he wrote about the gold fields, the diamond fields, greed, lust, and love and sex. He created many family dynasties and would write a series about them. Some were sea faring folks others were bound to the land. Very prolific writer; I have read everything he has written.
I have two special novels that I reread frequently. "River God and a sequel "The Seventh Scroll". Picture the opulent Egyptian empire with it’s Pharaoh, his Queen, the people and the treasures. Political intrigues and an astounding eunuch slave called "Taita who is an artist extraordinary, an engineer, architect and all round genius. The main characters (aside from Taita) are Pharaoh Mamose, Queen Lostris and Tanus commander of the guards. The Hittites with their horses and chariots are expanding their lands and the Egyptians are no match for them so Mamose takes his whole empire and they move up the Nile into what is now Ethiopia. Pharaoh dies of war wounds and is embalmed before the voyage begins; the Queen makes the decisionto take the body and the treasure and find a suitable resting place for Pharaoh. Tanus kind of takes over (he long before took over the beautiful queen Lostris) and the people kind of do a "Moses" thing in the wilderness while they train the army to use horses and chariots. Lostris has a son (actually Tanus' son that the people recognize as the Royal Prince)but during the several years of the trip up the Nile Lostris has two more children that came about when the ghost of Mamose visited her in the night (of course Tanus is the father) When the son gets older, he and Taita hunt for a suitable tomb for pharaoh and his treasures. After they entomb the body they go back to Egypt and deal with the enemy.
The follow up story "The Seventh Scroll" is a fascinating account of different people trying to find the secret of the location of the tomb through the scrolls that Taita hid in Queen Lostris tomb in Egypt. What a yarn! An evil sex crazed German industrialist, an angry and evil Hunting guide, a beautiful Egyptian archaeologist and several wealthy collectors. Marvelous puzzles and great adventure. The discovery of the tomb and the way they manage to enter it and the many traps and puzzles they encounter on their way inside the maze of the tomb is very fascinating, exciting and original. I Read these again and again!

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries By Elizabeth George

Ms George created an interesting Scotland Yard team; "a refined,well healed, and sophisticated" Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his "gritty, rumpled, working class Sgt. Barbara Havers. Although they first came out in novels, WGBH Boston television picked them up and they have run for at least five series and a sixth is coming. Good interplay and I think that fans might disagree as to who is the better detective.

"A Great Deliverance" is the first book and DVD where Lynley and Havers are made a team

I watched the earlier TV series and now I have almost every one in my collection. While I was searching for a picture of the couple I found a splendid website and forum that fans will enjoy. Try it

Monday, September 08, 2008

States of Grace by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Count Saint-Germain is in Venice during the time of religious and political upheaval. Martin Luther is proselytizing, Calvinists are on the move, Henry VIII is breaking away from Rome and the Catholic Church, particularly, in Spain, is hunting and hanging and burning heretics on the flimsiest of evidence of information. The printed page, pamphlets and books are beginning to make their way throughout Europe and the Church is looking carefully at every publication to make sure what is written conforms to Church dogma and teaching. They are none too happy about people learning to read in the first place – folks begin to think and ask questions.
The Count has several printing presses and publishing businesses that augment his extensive and profitable shipping business but as a “foreigner” he must take care as to who he publishes; there are those that are jealous of his wealth and position and he is followed at all times by those who would report to the clergy.
This is an interesting , exciting and action filled adventure. Saint-Germain travels from the canals of Venice where he leaves money and instructions for the running and support of his Venezian business and a musical protégé who is also his mistress, in trust, in the hands of a factor. He travels to another town surrounded by water; Amsterdam ,because another person an intelligent woman he has published is in trouble and is a suspect of the inquisition. This is a long and arduous journey and requires the protection of professional soldiers.

Vampires fear running water and water weakens them. Saint-Germain has special compartments in his boots filled with his native earth which enable him to walk in daylight and in the rain. He also, has his own gondola in Venice which has a dirt filled keel
While in Amsterdam, the factor, a prominent Venezian, cooks Saint-Germain’s books, diverts the money and gambles it away and at the same time creates an ugly situation that will recall the Count back to Venice where as a foreigner, he has very few legal rights. Good story; “no good deed goes unpunished”

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

White Smoke By Andrew Greeley

Our splendid library has many used paper backs and used books for sale and I find a lot of books that I either missed or want to reread. I have always thoroughly enjoyed the novels of Father Andrew Greely he is a very thoughtful and prolific writer. I admire the man and agree with his politics and his strong position on the rights of women and even some of his more liberal philosophy on religion: lest I offend, I will say nothing further. Greeley’s novels are frequently mysteries that include romances and sexual encounters between lay people (and sometimes priests – once even a Cardinal); the author has a thing for beautiful breasts and nipples but then, why not, he is a man. He seems to use human love as a metaphor for love of God and humanity and I think that he worries that the Church stresses love and deification of the Pope and the institution of the Church rather than the love of God (who Greely calls “She”).

White Smoke was published in 1996; it tells the story of the death of a Pope who made a good start trying to “reform” and change some of the rules of the church but was hindered by the Curia and m any staid Cardinals who fear that change will reduce their power and the control that the Church has on the laity. Powerful right wing business men
The conclave is assembled to elect a new Pope. Cardinal Sean Cronin (of Chicago) and his henchman Bishop “Blackie” are in Rome to support a liberal Spaniard who just might be able to remove some of the rules and regulations that hinder priests and bishops and the laity from “common sense” actions on many matters. The conservative press, various conservative Catholic organizations who depend on wealthy business men for funding are opposing the Spaniard for a conservative Cardinal who will keep the status quo.
There is a romance, a rekindling of a marriage between estranged reporters, there is an assassin who will attempt to kill the new Pope, a kidnapping and a daring rescue attempt of one of the reporters who has discovered serious financial problems in the Vatican’s major banking relationship and lots of detail and information about the election of a Pope and the politics that go along with it.

Devil May Care By Sabastian Faulks

Here is Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming. James Bond 007 is on a new assignment; we are back in the late 60’s, the time of the cold war with Russia, The US is involved in Vietnam and not a little upset that Great Britain will not send troops or support the war.
Beautiful women, a powerful enemy with the standard physical anomaly who has a keen hatred for all things British and is determined to destroy the UK with drugs and force them into a war with Russia. Neat gadgets from Q and plenty of action in Iran which is called Persia, an underground factory uses drug dependent natives to process opium.
A pretty good thriller but I think 007 and his antics are kind of out of date now. When he was fresh and original it was great but we all get a little long in the tooth after many years.

Aztec Fire By Robert Gleason and Junis Podrug

Gary Jennings the creator of so many fine novels about the Aztec and Mayan nations died in 1999 but he left a fertile field of research and ideas for other authors to use. This was a fun but implausible thriller; a story about a young peasant, slave to the conquering Spaniards, who was brought up in the knowledge that he is descended from the oldest Aztec civilization. Brought up by two “uncles” who trained him, educated him and taught him about the old civilization, Jaun Rios, secretly, learned to become a gun smith and munitions expert and joined the ranks of those Aztecs who were trying to overthrow the Spaniards. He is found out and has to kill two soldiers and runs for the hills to join the revolutionists.

The novel turns into a odyssey; Jaun is captured and sold into slavery on a galleon that takes him to South East Asia, Hong Kong, where he runs into pirates, opium dens, a South Sea jungle of cannibals and is enslaved, again, to a Muslim Sultan. The history and the detail of the various places and cultures were enjoyable but we strayed away from the conquered Aztec nation until the last few chapters. Just Ok

Saint-Germain: Memoirs Chelsea Quinn Yarbo

A collection of short stories and a novella are very interesting and entertaining but also helps a reader to better understand this melancholy, philosophical, sometimes world weary 3500 year old vampire. Saint-Germain is portrayed as a gracious benefactor of a downtrodden person in Greece, as a respected teacher (but still a foreigner) at a university in Padua where he teaches students “alchemy” which in those times was the study of healing by potions and salves. There we learn more about his travels in Egypt and his fondness for women. Strangely, when he was “resurrected” from death, he found that he was totally unable to achieve an erection, although penetration is impossible he loves and satisfies many women and they adore him. There is always conflict and suspicion; the church hierarchy and jealous public officials keep him on the move.

While there is certainly a connection to the well known “Dracula” (Saint-Germain “does not drink- wine”) the author tries to move Brahm Stoker’s character to a more positive image emphasizing how the vampire deals with such longevity, with so many people passing through their lives and seeing history repeating itself and at the same time, living like a vampire.

I will read a few more about Saint -Germain.

Atonement By Ian McEwan

This is a marvelous story of Love, conflict, misunderstanding, class distinction and the horror of war.
Briony Tallis is a precocious thirteen year old who sees life as a continuing novel or play where she relates every happening or action that takes place to the novels she has read and her limited and immature understanding of the things that go on in the world. She aspires to write; she has tried a novel and has just finished a short play.
Briony observes her older sister, Cecilia and a young man , Robbie, having a confrontation at a fountain; Robbie is the son of one of the house servants and has been on the grounds many years . Briony’s father has seen to Robbie’s university education; he went to the same University as Cecilia. In Briony’s mind, Robbie is forcing Cecilia into a compromising, sexual situation, he is even forcing her to remove her clothes. It is, really, something else that is explained very clearly by the author; Briony, now, sees Robbie in an entirely different light. She feels that her sister must be protected against Robbie.
Robbie sends a letter to Cecilia that Briony reads; not the kind of letter a thirteen year old should see and later in the library, she spies Cecilia and Robbie in a passionate embrace which totally sets Briony against Robbie.
That evening, a serious happening occurs and Briony accuses Robbie of the deed. This lie, this angry outpouring from a confused and jealous child sends Robbie to prison and changes the lives of all involved.

We follow the lives of Cecelia who will always love Robbie, of Robbie who was given the choice of prison or going to war and of Briony who, finally realizes how badly she acted but can not find the means to atone.

Ian McEwan fills his characters with intense emotion and takes great care to help the reader understand them. He writes a graphic description of the final days of Dunkirk. The ending is sad and belongs to Briony.