Library Girl's Guide To Books

Reviews and Musings From A Reading Life.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

           Noir: Private Eyes, Dames, Liquor, Guns & Murder!

  (Part One)

                                                                               


I have loved Noir movies since I was a young girl but had never read any of the books these movies are based on until my book club decided to read The Big Sleep. I sure didn't know what I had been missing! This is Part One of my Noir reviews. 

First Up:  The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely    

                                by Raymond Chandler                   
                                     
I reviewed The Big Sleep in an earlier review but I can't do another Noir review without mentioning it.

Raymond Chandler had a huge stylistic influence on American literature. He, Dashiell Hammett and a few other writers created the "hard boiled detective novel" as we know it today.

Chandler was an oil executive who lost his job during the Depression and, at the age of forty-four, started writing hard boiled detective novels. He wrote short stories for various crime magazines and in 1939 published The Big Sleep. His protagonist, Philip Marlowe, is a tough talking private eye with a stoic demeanor and a sharp tongue. He loves cigarettes, liquor and has a strict moral compass that saves him in many situations, especially when women are involved. There are seven Philip Marlowe books but the last few were written by other authors after Chandler died.The opening paragraph sets the scene: 

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder blue suit, with a dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark little clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

What a wonderful opening paragraph!

The story begins when Marlowe is called to a mansion owned by General Sternwood. The General wants to hire him to see who is behind the blackmail threats he has been receiving about his younger daughter, Carmen. The General is very ill, wheel chair bound and spends his time in a steamy orchid greenhouse because of his health. He has two grown daughters, Vivian and Carmen and they are both out of control. He mentions that Vivian is married to Rusty Regan but his son-in-law is missing. He has supposedly run off with the wife of Eddie Mars, who owns a casino where Vivian can frequently be found. The General is fond of Rusty and wants to find him but he does not hire Marlowe to look for him.

Vivian is a femme fatale with a gambling problem who doesn't like "masterful" men. Marlowe makes a great observation when he meets her:  I sat down on the edge of a deep, soft chair and looked at Mrs. Regan. She was worth a stare. She was trouble.  She wants to know if her father has hired him to find her husband, Rusty. Throughout the book everyone wants to know if Marlowe is looking for Rusty Regan.

Carmen, the younger sister, has become involved with a pornographer who is blackmailing her father, General Sternwood. Something isn't right with Carmen and Marlowe is trying to figure her out. When Marlowe begins investigating, he finds out more than he expected.

The plot is complicated with lots of symbolism and characters but the writing is unforgettable. Chandler transports the reader to 1939 Hollywood with bootleggers, pornographers, crooked cops and steamy rain soaked streets Some of the dialog isn't politically correct and some of the words might be difficult to understand in our current time but this is one terrific book! 


Farewell, My Lovely




In this second Philip Marlowe novel, that Chandler considered to be his best, we once again find Marlowe in the wrong place at the wrong time.  As he is trying to find the missing husband of a client, he sees a huge man, Moose Malloy, about to enter a bar that is for blacks only in 1934 LA. 

Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.


Malloy has just gotten out of prison after eight years and he is looking for his lost love, Velma. Velma used to sing at this bar and he is desperate to find her. Marlowe tries unsuccessfully to stop him from entering the bar and he is soon coerced into finding Velma for Moose. Soon there is a shooting and Moose is on the run. When another client hires Marlowe to find some stolen jewels, there is another murder and Marlowe is in the thick of it as he becomes a target. His search for Velma gets him into all kinds of trouble.

Once again we have vintage Chandler with a wonderful setting on the streets of 1940's LA,  crooked cops, a blonde, It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window,  a murdering gang of jewel thieves, drugs, Marlowe's kidnapping, I got up on my feet and went over to the bowl in the corner and threw cold water on my face. After a little while I felt a little better, but very little. I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance. I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.

Chandler's plots can be confusing but his language is what makes his books so wonderful.
This is the second Chandler novel about Philip Marlowe that I have read and it won't be the last.

 I listened to both of them on audio and the narrator, Ray Porter, was perfect.  





The Postman Always Rings Twice

                                                   by James M. Cain


This short novel published in 1934 is a prime example of classic noir. Frank Chambers jumps off a truck at a run down diner in California. He is always one step ahead of the law and drifts from town to town.That is until he sees Cora, the sexy wife of Nick Papadakis, who owns the diner. Nick is a brutish boor and is no match for the sexy Cora. Frank is immediately attracted to Cora. Nick, a Greek Immigrant who is seeking the American Dream, sees a young man who can help him in the diner and  he hires Frank on the spot. Cora sees Nick as her ticket out of her horrible life. It isn't long before Frank and Cora are involved in a steamy affair and decide to kill Nick.  Although Frank is a big-time loser, he would never have thought of killing Nick. He wants Cora to run away with him but Cora wants him dead and she wants the diner.  As in another Cain novel I have read, the woman gets her lover to commit murder, even if he has never been the murdering type. Oh, the power of women!

When this book was first published it was banned in Boston and other cities because of the sex and violence in it. I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.

There are twists and turns, a trial, and an ending that might surprise you. The title of this book is puzzling to many because there is no postman or ringing, so it is left to individual interpretation. It is said that  Albert Camus used this book as inspiration for The Stranger. I have seen two movie adaptations. The first was with Lana Turner and John Garfield and the second one has Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson. both are good.

 I listened to this book on audio and Stanley Tucci really brought the story to life. 

Double Indemnity

11036868                        by Jame M. Cain    

Insurance agent, Walter Huff, goes to a home in the Hollywood Hills to do a renewal on an insurance policy for wealthy Mr. Nirdinger. While he is there, he meets Phyllis, Mr. Nirdinger's beautiful, younger wife. Next thing you know, Phyllis is contacting him and asking questions about the policy that would be a red flag for most insurance agents. Not Walter, because he is completely enamored with Phyllis. Soon they are concocting a murder plan to get rid of poor Mr. Nirdinger, on a train, so that they can split the insurance money and be together. The story is told by Walter in the first person as he looks back on what has happened.

I had killed a man, for money and a woman. I didn't have the money and I didn't have the woman. 

Cain likes to take ordinary men and put them in a situation where they will kill for a lover, even if they have just met the beautiful woman.  I have found that to be a little bit difficult to believe in the Cain novels I have read, so far. The story line is good and the plot has twists and turns, so this is a worthwhile read. Cain is an important noir writer, so if you like noir, you shouldn't miss him.

I listened to this book on audio and the narrator, James Naughton, was very good.

Loved the movie with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray as Walter. Yes, that Fred MacMurray from My Three Sons, only now he is playing a killer!  Great casting.



Saturday, July 22, 2017

I work with teens in my library but lots of adults come in asking for recommendations for Young Adult books. Besides The Hunger Games  and Twilight, there are many wonderful Young Adult books.  Here are some of my favorite YA books that adults will love. How many have you read?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Product Details

The Girl Who Knew Too Much 

                                       by Amanda Quick

           I am not a big romance reader but I do enjoy Amanda Quick's (Jayne Ann Krentz) Historical Romances. Most of them are set in the 1800s but this book is set in 1930 during the Golden Age of Hollywood. I love everything about old Hollywood so I was really looking forward to reading this book. I listened to it on audio and the reader, Louise Jane Underwood, was adequate but not one of my favorites. 
        The story begins in New York City where Anna Harris is working for a wealthy socialite as her personal assistant.  Anna returns home to find her employer dead on the floor and the words "Run!" written on the wall with her blood. Anna runs out of the room, in a panic, and sees that the safe is open. Inside it is a valuable necklace, a notebook and money. Anna also finds a note that says "don't trust anyone, not even the FBI."  Anna grabs the money, that her employer owes her, the notebook and gets into the Packard that her employer has also given her. She drives across the country, changes her name to Irene Glasson and begins working for a small newspaper in the Los Angeles area. One night, Irene is called to meet with a woman at the Burning Cove Hotel. The woman promises her a scoop on a great story about a famous movie star. The Burning Cove Hotel is known for its discretion and famous stars often stay there. When Irene arrives, it is only to discover that her contact has been murdered and is floating in the pool. 
         Then she meets Oliver Ward, the owner of The Burning Cove Hotel. Oliver was a famous magician who was badly injured in his last performance and now owns the hotel. He wants to prevent  a scandal for his hotel and Irene wants to find out what is happening, so they form an uneasy alliance. Of course, this being a romance, sparks fly but Irene/Anna doesn't know who to trust.        Everyone seems to have secrets, including Irene's deceased employer.  As more deaths occur, she realizes that she is in danger, too. 
         This was an enjoyable book but not my favorite Amanda Quick novel.  The killer was unexpected, so that was nice. Can't quite put my finger on why I didn't like it that much.  Not a horrible book but not a great one, either.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Women in the Castle: A Novel by [Shattuck, Jessica]

The Women In The Castle

by Jessica Shattuck

Over the last couple of years, there has been a surge in fiction books set during WWII. When I saw this book, I wondered if I wanted to read another book about the Nazis. Don't get me wrong, I love historical fiction set during WWII but that seems to be mostly what I have been reading lately. I am glad that I did read this book. It is a fine example of literary fiction. I listened to it on audio and the narrator, Cassandra Campbell was perfect!

The book opens with a Prologue. Marianne von Lingenfels is at her husband's ancestral castle in Northern Germany helping his aunt, Countess, prepare for the Harvest Party that will be attended by elite Germans. Marianne's husband, Albrecht, comes from a long line of German generals and his family is prominent in German high society and very well respected. At the Harvest Party, the men disappear to meet in private and that night, Marianne becomes aware that the men are planning something. They are part of a group that, on July 20, 1944, are going to try and assassinate Hitler. Marianne promises the men that she will take care of their wives and children if their assassination attempt fails. It does fail and the story begins.

It is 1945 and the women in the title are Marianne, Benita and Ania. No nonsense, Marianne is the leader of the group. After the war,  she finds Benita and Ania and brings them, and their children, to live in the now crumbling castle. The castle has fallen into disrepair after the war but at least they have a place to live. The women are very different from each other and they have secrets. The plot of The Women In The Castle is complicated and difficult to summarize, without revealing too much of the story. These very different women form a family during this difficult time but it isn't easy. Marianne, who has had a privileged upbringing, thinks that their shared experiences of losing their husbands in the Resistance will cause them to bond.  But Marianne soon learns that everything isn't black and white and things are more complicated than she could have imagined.

 This interesting, thought provoking book asks, can you really love someone if you don't know everything about him or her or what has been done in the past?  Can the past be forgiven? As you get to know each woman and learn of the devastating things each has endured, some of these questions become a little clearer. Readers get a feel for what life was like for ordinary Germans after the war and I liked reading a book with this different perspective. I did find that the timelines were sometimes confusing and the story got bogged down somewhat with too much detail. I also had a little bit of trouble bonding with the women but I still recommend this book.

This book has been compared to The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I disagree. The Nightingale was the best book that I read in 2015 and, while I liked The Women In The Castle, it was slower than The Nightingale.  I would compare it more to All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer, another fine example of literary fiction.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The  Hollywood Daughter 

Product Details                             by Kate Alcott                                                                                                                 
The Hollywood Daughter is an interesting book. I love stories and gossip about "Old Hollywood" and this book had lots of references to that, but it focused heavily on the main character's obsession with Ingrid Bergman. Like everyone, I loved Casablanca but, beyond that, I wasn't really that enamored with Ingrid.  The story begins in 1958 where Jessica Malloy is living in New York and working at a boring job, while she submits her writing to various magazines, hoping she will get published. Out of the blue, she receives an invitation to attend the Academy Awards. Her best friend, who still lives in California, convinces her to come back home to attend the awards ceremony. She tells her that their old Catholic school, St. Ann's is being demolished and they must go and see it one last time. Jessica wants to do this, especially since Ingrid Bergman's movie, The Bells of St Mary's was partially filmed there. So, she  reluctantly agrees, and heads back to Beverly Hills to confront painful memories from the past. 

Growing up, Jessica's father worked  as a publicist for David O. Selznick's studio and Ingrid Bergman was his main client. Jessie was obsessed with Ingrid. She and her best friend would pore over movie magazines trying to find gossip about Ingrid and other stars. When Ingrid becomes involved with Roberto Rosselini, leaves her husband and child and has a baby out of wedlock, everything falls aprt for Jessie and her family. 

The Hollwood Daughter takes on  McCarthyism, the Catholic Church and how careers and lives were ruined by the "Red Scare" in Hollywood.  I liked lots of things about this coming of age story but the focus on Ingrid Bergman became tedious for me. But, I was curious to find out who sent Jessie the invitation to the Academy Awards and why, after so many years. I listened to the audio book narrated by Erin Spencer, and her narration was very good. If you enjoy stories set in 1940's and 1950's Hollywood you will probably find something to like in this book.



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My "To Be Read" List Is Growing!

If you love thrillers as much as I do, you will want to check out these new books. I am really looking forward to Paula Hawkin's book Into The Water,  She wrote The Girl On The Train.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Murder At The Brightwell: An Amory Ames Mystery

Murder at the Brightwell: A Mystery (An Amory Ames Mystery) by [Weaver, Ashley]

Murder at the Brightwell   (Amory Ames Mystery #1)

                                                          by Ashley Weaver

Five years ago, Amory Ames probably made the worst mistake of her life when she broke off her engagement to Gil Trent to marry handsome, charming and charismatic Milo.  Despite the fact that they are married, Milo has spent his time in Monte Carlo and other exotic locations being photographed with beautiful women while Amory stays at home wondering when her husband might grace her with his presence. When Gil suddenly shows up at her country estate asking for her help, she is surprised. It seems that Gil's sister, Emmaline, is engaged to an unsavory man named Rupert Howe and Gil wants to stop the engagement. He asks Amory to accompany him on holiday to the Brightwell Hotel where a group of his friends are gathering. Gil thinks that Amory, because of her own seemingly disastrous marriage, might be able to talk some sense into Emmaline.
          At first Amory is hesitant but then decides that if Milo is going to travel all over being photographed by gossip columnists, with beautiful women on his arm, then she should have some fun, too. It is after all 1930's Britain and she is a modern woman.  She agrees to accompany Gil, separate rooms of course, and they board the train for the seaside and the Brightwell Hotel.
         When they arrive, Amory meets the rest of their colorful group and it isn't long before there is a murder! When Milo surprises her with his arrival, Gil is accused of the murder, and then another murder occurs, the plot thickens. When it appears that someone might have tried to kill Amory, too, she takes it upon herself to investigate. Soon she is butting  heads with a detective who is less than thrilled with her interference. Amory grudgingly allows Milo to work with her on trying to solve the murders and the fun begins.
         This book has been compared to The Thin Man series because of the often witty banter between Milo and Amory.  Their relationship is complicated and, although she clearly has some unresolved feelings for Gil, Amory wants to believe that her wealthy, playboy husband loves her.
        Murder at the Brightwell is the debut novel for this author. It was an enjoyable mystery that had enough red herrings to keep me engaged.  I loved the period details, the description of the clothing, the people and the  Brightwell Hotel. Readers of Agatha Christie and other light historical mysteries should enjoy this first book in the series. I am looking forward to reading the next book to see what is going to happen with Milo, Amory and their investigations.

           Noir: Private Eyes, Dames, Liquor, Guns & Murder!   (Part One)                                                        ...