book: Snowdrops (2010) by A.D. Miller

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English lawyer Nick Platt, working in Moscow during the early years of this century as a facilitator for western bank loans to dubious Russian projects, rather thrives in the cutthroat, amoral society he finds there.

One day he encounters two sisters, Masha and Katya, and soon convinces himself he has fallen in love with Masha. Almost immediately they’re in the throes of an affair, with Katya as the close friend who seems always in tow. When the two young women suggest Nick should Continue reading

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book: Crime of Privilege (2013) by Walter Walker

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A roman a clef, a mystery story, a legal thriller, a travelogue? Crime of Privilege doesn’t really fit fairly and squarely into any of these genres, although it has aspects of them all — and, indeed, more. What it is is one of the most engrossing, involving novels I’ve read all year.

No-longer-quite-so-young George Becket is among the lowliest of the lawyers working in the (presumably fictitious) Cape & Islands DA’s office on Cape Cod, his standard fare being OUI cases. The only real friend he has in the department is his office-mate, Barbara Belbonnet. Both are aware that they got their jobs only because of their social connections: Barbara because the Belbonnets are old Cape Cod bluebloods, George because, years ago, he witnessed a borderline rape committed by two scions of the politically powerful Gregory family and, although he didn’t lie about what he’d seen, his failure to volunteer information ensured that charges were never brought.

The victim was, though, the daughter of Continue reading

snapshot: When the Bough Breaks (1947)

UK / 78 minutes / bw / Sydney Box, Gainsborough, GFD, Rank Dir: Lawrence Huntington Pr: Betty E. Box Scr: Peter Rogers Story: Moie Charles, Herbert Victor Cine: Bryan Langley Cast: Patricia Roc, Rosamund John, Bill Owen, Brenda Bruce, Patrick Holt, Leslie Dwyer, Cavan Malone, Torin Thatcher, Catherine Lacey, Edith Sharpe, Muriel George, Jane Hylton, Noel Howlett, Sonia Holm.

Lily Gardner (Roc), recovering in hospital after the birth of her first child, Jimmy, receives the unwelcome news that her husband is a bigamist—legally Jimmy has been born out of wedlock. She decides to go it alone, reverting to her maiden name of Lily Bates, forswearing men and getting a job at a department store. There she’s befriended by scent-counter colleague Ruby Chapman (Bruce). During the day she leaves Jimmy at a childcare center, where he’s tended by rich Frances Norman (John). Eventually it all gets too much for Lily and she allows Frances and Frances’s husband Robert (Holt) to adopt the lad.

Patricia Roc as Lily Gardner/Bates, getting the bad news about her marital status.

Eight years later, though, she meets Continue reading

book: The Queen of Bedlam (2007) by Robert McCammon

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It’s 1702 in the fledgling city of New York — still a small town, by today’s standards — and young legal clerk Matthew Corbett takes it upon himself to weasel out the mystery of a serial killer who’s been nicknamed the Masker, because of the way he mutilates the faces of his victims. Before he knows it, Matthew has been recruited as one of the world’s first private detectives by the indomitable Katherine Herrald, and Continue reading

o/t (and late): leisure reading for June

I’m late posting this monthly listing because of

(a)   this goddam deadline I’m facing;
(b)   some computer shenanigans (which, after great expenditure of time and money, proved to be the responsibility of the mouse—sounds as if it should have been obvious, but in fact it was far from so); and
(c)   er, forgetfulness—it was only when I unearthed my To Do list just now, some while after the delights of (b), that I realized I hadn’t done this post.

’Way fewer books than usual in June because I’ve been deliberately opting for longer books (the Lucarelli’s the big exception here) in order to cut down the amount of time spent writing up my book notes. Yes, I know, but, when you have a deadline as tight as the one I’m under, it all helps. The links are to those notes’ appearance on Goodreads; most but not all have been cross-posted here.

book: If You Were Here (2013) by Alafair Burke

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A mystery thriller that constantly entertains yet somehow never quite detonates.

Ten years ago McKenna Jordan was a bright young up-and-coming Assistant DA. Then two things happened in quick succession: she got involved in a controversial case where a white cop had killed a black man, and her best friend, Susan Hauptmann, disappeared. McKenna, now a journalist, has never really thought about the fact that there might be a connection between the two incidents.

But now an amateur phone video of a woman saving someone’s life in the New York subway convinces McKenna that Susan is alive after all these years. As she tries to work out where Susan might be and what actually happened, she becomes aware that powerful, unseen forces are putting into gear a mighty cover-up, and they don’t care if people have to be killed to keep the secret.

People like McKenna . . .

That’s the setup in brief. But then Continue reading

reblog: The Black Legion (1937)

***Over at Silver Screen Classics, Paul Batters has produced a great write-up (complete with clips) of a splendid movie that has great relevance to our own times. In The Book, where obviously I had space for only a brief account, I concluded of The Black Legion that “Politics and noir often don’t mix well, but this succeeds admirably as both ripping yarn and exposure of the basic rottenness of such organizations.” It’s a movie that merits more attention and, as I say, Paul Batters does it proud.

Silver Screen Classics

by Paul Batters

poster_-_black_legion_02Cinema has always been used as a medium to outline social issues and concerns and bring them to the attention of audiences. Of all the major studios, which produced ‘social message’ films, Warner Bros. perhaps did them best during the classic era and certainly produced some interesting social message films during the 1930s. Films such as Mervyn LeRoy’s I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932) were so successful that they became influential in challenging the penal system’s use of chain gangs. Even the gangster genre would step into the realm of the message film, examining the shaping of the mobster and the social ills that created crime in films such as Dead End (1937) and Angels With Dirty Faces (1938).

What made them successful, particularly during the 1930s, was that the stories were often drawn from real events (or at the very least inspired by…

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book: Pretty Baby (2015) by Mary Kubica

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Chicago charity worker and her self-obsessed workaholic husband Chris have a 12-year-old, Zoe. They’d have had more children except Heidi was, for medical reasons, forced into an emergency hysterectomy, so that was that. There are tensions — many of them over Chris’s hot workmate, Cassidy, whom Heidi suspects of Having Designs — but they at least approximate a happy family.

Then one day, in the rain, Heidi spots a young homeless woman with her tiny baby, and becomes obsessed by the pair and the obvious desperation of their situation. Before too long she’s invited the girl, Willow, and the baby, Ruby, to live in the family home, to the horror of Zoe and Chris. Even though Continue reading

book: Carte Blanche (1990/2006) by Carlo Lucarelli

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Welcome to the declining days of Italy’s fascist republic, with the invading allies having already occupied half the country. It’s not the easiest of times to be a cop, because the partisans want to kill you and the fascist bureaucracy will quite happily throw you to the wolves if they think it gives them the slightest prospect of saving their own skins.

It’s a particularly hard time to be a cop if you happen to have integrity — if you really want to catch criminals rather than solve cases in the way that’s most politically convenient, to hell with matters of innocence or guilt.

That’s the position Commissario De Luca finds himself in. No wonder he’s cursed by insomnia.

Vittorio Rehinard has been murdered — stabbed through the heart and then gelded. It soon emerges that Continue reading

book: Dark Places (2009) by Gillian Flynn

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A quarter of a century ago on a remote Kansas farm, a couple of days into 1985, Libby Day’s mother and two elder sisters were slaughtered in an In Cold Blood-style killing. Libby herself escaped into the winter’s night and, despite losing some digits to frostbite, survived to give the testimony that damned her elder brother Ben to life in prison for the murders.

In the decades since, there’s been for Libby no happy ending, no reconciliation with life: she lives a borderline-criminal existence on the fringes of society, reveling in her own meanness of spirit. And the fund that was collected all those years ago for the brutally orphaned Libby is now at last running out.

So, when a group of rather sick true-crime aficionados called the Kill Club approaches her with offers of actual cash to reinvestigate the old crime and that testimony of hers, she jumps at the chance. Initially it’s just the money that appeals — how long can she string them along? — but soon she begins to doubt her own assumptions and her memories of that fateful night and becomes invested in finding out what really happened.

Of course, that could be dangerous work . . . Continue reading