Maigret in New York by Georges Simenon

file_000-6The trouble with Maigret in New York is clearly stated in the title.

Inspector Maigret should stay in France, preferable in Paris.  I suppose over the course of 75 novels Maigret was bound to leave the country at least once, but I much prefer him when he is at home.

Certain books are associated with certain places–that becomes part of the fun, maybe part of the comfort, of reading them.  Detective fiction is essentially escapist reading which makes the Parisian setting all the more valuable.  Take away the setting results in a less satisfying read.

Still a pretty decent read, though.

Maigret in New York is something of a cross between the usual, dry witted police procedural readers of Simenon expect and a more free wheeling Dashiell Hammet type of tale.  Maigret meets the Continental Op if you will. The plot gets lost and then gets lost again just as it’s about to be found.  In the end Maigret goes home before we’ve found out exactly what was going on.  He reaches a point where he doesn’t care anymore and leaves, generally sick of America anyway.

Which are the fun parts of the book, Maigret complaining about Americans and American culture.  What makes this more fun is that he is complaining about 1930’s America when he could still escape into a theatre showing a Laurel and Hardy film.

Since I escape America of the 2010’s  into Inspector Maigret novels, I enjoyed this one but with is was set in Paris.

Top Ten Favorite Reads for 2016.

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Clovis sitting on my reading sofa.

I’m going to stick to my guns here, enforce my long time rule for selecting the top ten list which is “Do I want to read this book again someday?”  The answer must be yes to qualify. Which means there are many books that I loved reading that will not make the list. Lots of books are great books, great reads, but not something I’ll ever read again.  Plot driven books, the sort that rely on surprise to keep your interest. Once you know how it all turns out, you know how it all turns out.  There’s no need to read it again.

To make this list, a book has to offer something more than a terrific first read.  It’s tough standard which means some good stuff, a few bits of great stuff, will be cut, but that’s my rule.

Here in no particular order are my top ten favorite reads of 2016.

  • The Lonely City by Olivia Lang A wonderful non-fiction meditation on living alone in the big city, Chicago and New York. Ms. Lang provides fascinating biographical information on the artists she writes about, men who lived and worked largely alone, but it’s the lyrical writing that won me over.  The Lonely City contains some of the best writing I read all year.
  • News of the World by Paulette Jiles I loved this account of an old man trying to take a seven-year-old girl, raised by Indians, home to her white family across several hundred miles of post Civil War Texas.
  • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino A catalogue of the cities Marco Polo visited as an ambassador for the great Khan. I loved it and will definitely be come back to it again.  And since it was so much fun, I now have several more by Italo Calvino in my TBR stack.
  • Please Look After Mom by Kyun-sook Shin   I have been somewhat haunted by this story of a South Korean family looking for their vanished mother since I read it last summer. While there is an element of suspense in the story, it’s really the tale an entire society masked as the tale of one particular family.
  • The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks I am very late to the party here.  The story of how a small town bush crash affects both the town overall and the lives of a few key people.  Told from multiple points of view in a way that works to make the whole even greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Mother Tongues by Theodora Ziolkowski  A very small book by a very small press The Cupboard.  you’ll have to visit their website if you’d like to get a copy.  The is a fictional collection of source material the Brothers Grimm decided not to use in their collected tales.  I loved it.  And I love the cover.
  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante I may not be sticking to my rules here. This is the third book a series of four.  The chances that I will one day re-read them all are slight, I realize. But, in a way, read through to book three should count for something, so I’m listing the third book here.  I intended to start book four today, but found that I don’t have a copy.  Guess I’ll have to go to the book store tomorrow.
  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Seven Places of the Mind by Joan Didion Classic non-fiction, mostly about California in the 1960’s.  I find quite a bit of non-fiction on my top ten list his year.  The best writing I read in 2016 was found in non-fiction.  This was a surprise, frankly.  If you’ve never read Joan Didion before, this is the one to read. I loved it.  More please.
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson I just finish Ms. Woodson’s new novel Another Brooklyn which is very good, but not as good as Brown Girl Dreaming. I’ll be teaching it to my 7th grades late this year.  Wish me luck
  • The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher M.F.K. Fisher invented writing about food.  Maybe not, maybe someone did it before she did, but no one every loved food as much as she did.  Not even me. The opening section on her first oyster is not to be missed. More excellent non-fiction writing.

I’ve already started 2017 with two contenders for the top ten list: The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon which I loved and Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Castorbridge which is holding up pretty well. this is the third time I’ve read it.

Since I’m not running the TBR Dare anymore, I was planning on joining in The Tournament of Books this year but The Dare has been resurrected by Annabel and Lizzaysiddal.  They have even given it its own website here.  I admit, I was both flattered and happy to see it continue so I immediately signed up.  However, according to the rules, which are still as loose as ever thank you, I could put all the tournament books on hold now so I can still join in.

You can see why I have never 300 books in my TBR stack.

The Highwayman by Craig Johnson

I admit it.

I have a thing for Netflix’s Walt Longmire.

The strong, silent type–wounded by a tragic past–handsome in a casually masculine way suiting his late middle age.  He’s a sexier John Wayne without the political baggage.

I cancelled Netflix after season three thinking that was all the episodes we were going to get only to find out last week that season four has just come out.

Shoot.

The Highway by Craig Johnson is my first Longmire mystery.  I’ve no idea where it falls in the series, how many books came before it nor how many have come after.  It was okay.  A decent airplane read, one most readers will be able to finish in a five or six hour flight.

But, the television show was better.

While I found The Highwayman entertaining, it was too Scooby Doo for me.  If you watched Scooby Doo as a child, you’ll recall that each episode featured the Scooby Gang arriving at the scene of a supernatural mystery.  The team would investigate the spooky crime in a somewhat comic fashion until events finally revealed the all to human cause of the “supernatural” mystery.image

The Highwayman begins with a supernatural mystery, a ghost of sorts.  Walt Longmire arrives on the scene, Henry Standing Bear in tow.  The two try to solve the mystery and save a fellow deputy in the process.  Walt disbelieves the supernatural story but Henry insists the spirit world is real throughout.  In the end the culprits are unmasked and both Henry and Walt are right.

It was fun, but too close to Scooby Doo for my taste.  And why is it assumed the reader will accept the Native American Spirit World as real in ways no one would ever ask us to accept a Judeo-Christian Spirit World?

So while I probably won’t be reading any more Longmire mysteries, I will be renewing my Netflix subscription as soon as my cable contract runs out.  #ShouldHaveStuckWithHulu.

 

Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin

I didn’t feel right at home when I began Mary Ann in Autumn.  I thought I would. I expected to.  I always have before.  Each new addition to the Tales of the City books felt like bumping into a bunch of old friends I hadn’t seen in a while.  All of us grabbing a cup of coffee together so we could have a chance to catch up.  (Since we all know each other from San Francisco none of us actually drinks coffee.  Lattes, mochas, cappacinos, a chai maybe, but never just coffee.)

Mr. Maupin abandoned Mary Ann Singleton several books back.  She left San Francisco, her “husband” and their adopted daughter and headed off to New York City hoping to make it big in television.  She didn’t, but she married well and settled down to the life of a Connecticut housewife.  That’s tantamount to treason for someone from San Francisco.

It’s clear in the first few pages that this will be Mary Ann’s farewell book.  She begins by going back to the old homestead, 28 Barbary Lane, where we first met the main cast of characters living with the magical Mrs. Madrigal in the 1970’s when we read Tales of the City in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Mary Ann is looking for a past that’s gone.  Someone else lives there. They’ve fixed the place up.  Most of her old haunts have changed hands and changed names.  In an echo of the first novel’s opening line she considers going to the Buena Vista for an Irish coffee.  She’s not wearing a mood ring this time around, but if she were it’s color would be misty blue.  (You can look it up here.)

My problem is that Mr. Maupin has been saying  farewell to these characters for the past three or four novels.  We’ve been  saying goodbye to 28 Barbary Lane every couple of years since Significant Others (book 4) came out.

Then, some 60 pages into the book or so, Mary Ann gets a phone call from a stranger who asks if she remembers someone long dead and a mystery is a-foot.  I’d forgotten that Mary Ann’s story lines always involved some sort of mystery, something like a high camp Hitchcock.  A child pornographer who wears clip-on ties, a homeless mystic who might be the Rev. Jim Jones, a secret cult engaging in cannibalistic communion high in the rafters of Grace Cathedral.  Absurd plots that Mary Ann stumbles into while looking for Mr. Right.

And I felt at home again.

And I’m looking forward to another new Tales of the City book sometime soon.

 

I first ran this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B. five years or so ago when this book first came out. Since then, Mr. Maupin has said goodbye to Anna Madrigal in his most recent book The Days of Anna Madrigal. I think that’s everyone so I’m not expecting any more Tales of the City books, but you never know.  I used to re-read this entire series every couple of years, back when there were only four then only five books. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.  But I will still buy it; should another book come out.  Buy it and read it over a grande vanilla frape or maybe one of those Turkish coffees with mint you can get at Philz. You really must try Philz Coffee next time you’re in San Francisco.  The one near the Asian Art Museum is the best.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

imageI consider David Copperfield to be a great book, one of many  masterpieces by Charles Dickens.  It’s a long book, a very long book, telling nearly the entire life story of its narrator and title character.

People may prefer different sections of David Copperfield over other parts of the book, the bits with Francis Micawber are the best parts by the way, but you can’t really judge the book as anything other than one work.  You don’t have four opinions, one per quarter;  you have one opinion.

I think that’s the best way to read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. They have been broken down into four separate books but they are really one novel.  The cast of characters introduced in the first book has not grown much by the end of book three, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.  The issues the main characters face are still basically the same, the conflicts introduced in childhood continue to haunt the imagenarrator’s life in book three.  This is a life story; life goes on.

I’ve finished reading book three and plan on completing the series sometime this summer or in the early fall.  I feel like I should just post a link to my earlier reviews, or maybe invite you to come back later when I’m done with all four and can try to make sense of them in a more complete way.

Until then I can say that I’m still loving the books, enthralled by the characters, hoping they can work things out somehow.  I’ve no idea how all of this will end and I’m not exactly looking forward to it.  When you spend this much time with a character, it can be hard to say goodbye.

 

 

Earthsea vs. The Apocalypse

The deck really was stacked against Desirina Boskovich.  Though her short stories Heaven is a Place on Planet X and To Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood are both terrific fun, there’s really no way she could win against an Earthsea story by Ursula K. LeGuin.  Not while I am the judge.

I’ve been pairing sets of short stories against each other in a tournament of books sort of way this year.  It’s been a fun way for me to check off some of the  short story anthologies in my TBR stack, in keeping with The TBR Triple Dog Dare.    For this round, I paired science fiction against fantasy and fantasy won.

Though to give full credit where full credit is due, Ms. Boskovich had me thinking about breaking with The TBR Dare so I could read the final story.  Ms. Boskovich’s stories are part of The Apocalypse Trilogy of books edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey.  They are The End is Nigh, The End is Now and The End has Come.   The editors invited authors to contribute stories for one volume or to contribute a set of three stories one for each.  One about the approaching end of the world, one about what happens when the world ends and a final one about after the end of the world.  I have the first two and I wish I had the third one so I could finish Ms. Boskovich’s set of stories.  I’ll have to wait for April 1.

Her idea is pretty good.  In the first story, a race of aliens arrives on earth with the stated intention of taking all of humanity to their home planet which is a paradise.  They have one condition, that everyone on earth continue on with their lives as though nothing has changed for several weeks.  To make sure nobody does anything out of character, the aliens select a group of humans to become enforcers, vaporizing anyone who does something they would not normally do whether it be getting married, taking a trip, or giving up drinking.  Many people are so tempted to do what they’ve always wanted, check off that bucket list before everyone leaves for paradise, so the enforcers are quite busy.  The two the story is about figure they will probably eliminate at least 10% of the population.

They hesitate to wonder if that’s what the aliens really want.

Okay, it’s not great literature, but it was fun reading and I would like to find out what happens in the final story.

But these two were up against Ursula K. LeGuin’s short story On the High Marsh from her collection Tales of Earthsea.   I don’t know why everyone isn’t reading and re-reading the Earthsea books.  I’ve been a big fan since I was in middle school and more-or-less stumbled on A Wizard of Earthsea which I read because the cover was just so cool.  I read all of the first trilogy and have kept up with the subsequent books though I often feel like I’m the only one out here reading them.  Sometimes I think Ms. LeGuin is writing them just for me; I never seem to see mention of them anywhere on the book blogs.

The Earthsea books are about wizards and other workers of magic.  They put knowledge and learning over strength and prowess.  To become powerful in Earthsea spend more time alone in your library studying your books.  I confess, this fantasy has a lot of appeal for me—the wizard living alone on an isolated island, a small stone house overlooking a sea, maybe some animals for company, lots of time to read and re-read.  The adventure comes to the wizard or the wizards heads out in his boat to find adventure, usually relying on his own knowledge to succeed.  I know this isolated house with the great library would become very boring very quickly in reality, but it’s a great fantasy, one I would expect more book lovers to indulge in, but I think it’s just me most of the time.

See what I mean about the cover? How could I not read this one. Don’t you want to visit this island city? Minus the dragon, of course.

Tales from Earthsea is a bit uneven, but this story was right up my ally.  Small inn on an isolated island,  a wizard escaping his past arrives to cure the local livestock of a mysterious illness, he becomes attached to the inn keeper, a rival wizard arrives next to bring the first to justice.  Excellent characters, setting, writing.  Maybe the plot is a bit sparse, but I don’t care.  I’d love to visit Earthsea for real, I settle for a tale or two.

Victory goes to Ursula K. LeGuin.  I’ve one more story left in Tales from Earthsea so she advances to the next round.

But Ms. Boskovich, if you stumble upon this little blog, more please.

The Yellow Dog by Georges Simenon

yellow dogInspector Maigret is not bothered (dot com.)

Someone accuses him of dragging  his feet with the investigation, someone else says the police have arrested the wrong man, another refuses to answer questions…

Inspector Maigret simply shrugs his shoulders and moves on like nothing matters anyway.  He’ll solve the crime soon enough. #MaigretIsNotBotheredDotCom.

It’s a great state of mind for a noir detective to be in, one that makes for fun reading, too.

The Yellow Dog, translated from the French by Linda Asher, is set in the working sea-side town of Concarneau which has seen better days.  I think all of France has seen better days in Simenon’s Maigret novels.  The action begins when a wine merchant is shot, probably accidentally as the killer must have been aiming at someone else when the merchant stepped in the way.  Soon several of the towns most important citizens are threatened, one nearly poisoned, another shot at.

Maigret finds two witnesses/suspects who were present at several incidents: an aging waitress and a yellow dog.  Both are connected to a former resident of  Concarneau who has been seen in France after serving time in an American prison.

At 134 pages, The Yellow Dog,  is the perfect diversion for a rainy afternoon.  Simenon delivers, like he always does, a tight, satisfying plot with few diversions.  A puzzle of a crime solved by a master detective who simply cannot be bothered.