Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Moonstone By Wilkie Collins

First published 149 years ago this compelling novel has the all of the ingredients of a serious and fascinating mystery. I did not know anything about Wilkie Collins until Dan Simmons wrote a novel based on the Charles Dicken’s novel about Edward Drood. Simmons used Wilkie Collins, a friend and companion of Dickens as the narrator of his story (“Drood”). Apparently Dickens and Collins collaborated on a few novels but Wilkie Collins, in spite of a heavy opium habit (due to poor health) was an able and strong writer himself. He is said to have created the first literary mystery detective as a major character in a novel when the detective appeared in “The Moonstone” as Sergeant Cuff of Scotland Yard. He also was among the first to use the device of having each of the major characters in the story start and narrate each chapter by telling the story, only, from what they actually saw and did and know.
It worked very well for this mystery about a diamond that was stolen from a temple in India by one of Her Majesties Officers and brought back to Britain along with the curse that was supposed to be attached to it.

Collins created wonderful characters and the dialogue and descriptions are very interesting and exciting. Like Dickens, Wilkie Collins toured America and gave readings; his writing was influenced by Dickens, I am sure and I would guess that Dickens may have profited from his association with Collins. This was an amazing read and a first rate mystery from an important writer of the time.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Increment By David Ignatious

Once you begin reading this novel, you will not put it down until it ends!

A young Iranian, nuclear, scientist working a secret project to build a nuclear weapon, sends an encrypted message to the CIA. The team leader and his staff must determine, first, if the message is real and then what does the message mean. Analysis of the message indicates that the message has to do with measurements of uranium enrichment which could mean that Iran is building a bomb and perhaps working on a heavy water reactor to make a plutonium bomb. This causes considerable excitement in the agency but the team leader, Harry Pappas remembering only too well how misleading and poorly interpreted “intelligence’ got us into the Iraq fiasco insists on learning much more about the sender and the message before the information is carried “up the ladder”. The sender has given the CIA a way to respond; a response is crafted and after a time a second message is received along with a technical document, a lab report about the malfunction of a neutron generator which reinforces the idea of a bomb and the creation of a trigger device. Still vague information; they need to meet the sender, learn about him (or her) and set up a way to find out what the sender is trying to say.

One of Harry’s senior staff members is very ambitious and has connections in the White House. He is convinced that Iran has a bomb and the means to trigger it and that this is a serious threat to the U.S. and the Middle East. He has already told the CIA Director and the national security advisor and now wants to go to the President. Pappas, reluctantly, agrees and the war hawk mentality quickly sets in among the politicians. Pappas is criticized for his conservative thinking while the President, the head of the CIA and the NCA have taken over and are thinking about bombing the Iranian facility within the next few days. A very tense and action filled scenario develops as Pappas , secretly, gets agents into Iran to learn the identity of the message sender, find out his intent and learn just what the Iranian’s actually have.

David Ignatious is very knowledgeable about the Middle East and he writes about something that could very possibly happen if hot headed politicians are allowed to push us into another war. This is a very contemporary novel about a very real threat.

Pemberly Shades By D.A. Bonavia-Hunt

The old Rector of Pemberley has died and a suitable person must be found to take over the benefice. Although Mr. Collins is presently out of favor with Darcy’s Aunt Catherine and his living might be in jeopardy, he will, certainly, not be a candidate.
An old school chum of Darcy has a brother who has taken orders. Fitz has never met him but the brother has asked that the man be considered. After a meeting with his friend it is agreed that the brother, Stephen Acworth will spend a few days at Pemberley to see how things workout.

As Steven Acworth settles in, everyone is surprised and disappointed in the strange behavior of the man. A mild mystery develops as Acworth interacts with all of the families as Darcys celebrate a birthday by inviting the Bennets, the Bingleys, Elizabeth’s sisters and Fitz’s relatives and neighbors . Lady Catharine and her daughter and Mr. Collins were included in the company. It was fun to read about all of the characters from “Pride and Prejudice” as Ms Bonavia-Hunt visualizes how they developed in the three and one half years since Elizabeth and Fitz were married. We meet every one of them and , also, some new characters all of whom have differing feelings towards Stephen Acworth. Some light humor, a few tense moments and a surprise but an interesting and easy read about some familiar characters.

The Jane Austin Miscellany By Lesley Bolton

This is a small 128 page volume of quotes from Jane Austen’s novels and the many movie adaptations of her stories. Nice illustrations by Charles Edmond Brock and his brother, Henry Matthew Brock who illustrated some of the original Austen novels in 1895 through 1907.
An example from Charlotte Lucas in “Pride and Prejudice:

“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar before-hand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”