Reviews

Night Night, Sleep Tight by Hallie Ephron

Just out is the paperback Night Night, Sleep Tight by one of my favorite writers, Hallie Ephron. Yes, she is one of those sisters whose formative years in Hollywood and genetic framework brought them all eventually into the wide world of entertainment. Hallie is the award-winning and bestselling mystery writer and book reviewer for the Boston Globe who shapes the skills of coming writers in workshops allover the country......but I digress.......this new one is a killer!

Back in our youth we all heard the gossip of the beautiful blonde movie star with the abusive gangster boyfriend who was in the headlines when her 12 year old daughter killed the lover. Right. A similar thirty year old murder serves as the glittery backdrop to a young woman's 1986 probe into the death of her father. I loved all the then and now quirks and secrets as they are elegantly woven into a thrilling page-turner chock-a-block with glamour, gossip and sandal. Perfect for Oscar night reading.

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

Review by Richard Goldman
Originally published 1938, movie by Hitchcock 1940

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
— Opening line of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

My goodness, who has not seen Alfred Hitchcock's haunting and beautiful version of Rebecca with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine? And let's not leave out the diabolical Judith Anderson and the scheming George Sanders. Well, if you haven't seen the movie you really should--or even see it again.

But right now I'd like to talk about the book which, remarkably, I had not read until just a few weeks ago. I got started on reading Rebecca because I'd recently read Laura by Vera Caspary which was also the basis for a well-beloved movie and that project started because Mary Alice and I are planning on teaching a course about mysteries on the silver screen. Anyway, having read Laura (which I'll write about later) and noting the interesting differences between book and movie I got interested in Rebecca which led to watching the TV version made in 1997 and then the original Hitchcock version from 1940.

A quick catchup for those not familiar with the story: The fabulously wealthy, aristocratic Maxim DeWinter is hanging about in Monte Carlo recovering from the tragic death of his beautiful, accomplished socialite wife Rebecca when he meets a rather mousy companion to a vulgar American woman (the perfectly named Mrs. VanHopper). Falling in love (he and the companion not the vulgar American) the couple marry and return to Maxim's ancestral home, the incomparable Manderly on the Cornish coast. Once there the second Mrs. de Winter (who is never given a name) quickly realizes that she is in no way prepared for her role as the mistress of a great house and begins to wonder why her moody husband, who remains obsessed by Rebecca, ever married her. Then there is Mrs. Danvers the housekeeper who worshipped Rebecca and views our heroine as a usurper unworthy of Manderley. Conflict follows, there is a murder mystery, love triumphs and there's a terrific ending.

I'm happy to report that the book was a pleasure to read. Not dated in the least it brought to life the eccentric cast of characters in strong, concise writing. The beauty of Manderley and it's surrounding gardens and coast are beautifully rendered.

The Hitchcock movie follows the book pretty closely although naturally some scenes are deleted or shortened for the sake of keeping the flow in the movie. Interestingly, the role of Max's sister who is a bit motherly in the movie as played by Gladys Cooper, is a good bit more astringent in the book.

Another interesting change which I think shows Hitchcock's thinking at work is that in the book there is a butler. Well, of course there's a butler, no house like Manderley would ever be run by the housekeeper. By making this change in the movie I think that Hitchcock sharpens the conflict between Mrs. DeWinter and Mrs. Danvers.

There are some other rather significant changes which I don't want to discuss so as not to spoil the reading or watching for those of you new to the story. Suffice it to say that nobody, not even Daphne DuMaurier, could beat Hitch for a dramatic conclusion to a story.

River Road by Carol Goodman

Finely crafted novel with a genuine mystery but so much more set at a State University of New York campus in the Hudson Valley--not so far from the author's own university.

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Miss Fisher hits all

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is a not-to-be-missed TV series from Australia found on AcornTV. The books from which the three seasons draw stories are a trifle more naughty. It is all Jazz Age glitz, British sale plots and a terrific company of actors to make it a fresh and fun addition to your TV viewing. Here's a nice article about the costumes which are to die for....

A Painless Introduction to WW II History

or, how I found out what was really going on before and during the War by reading historical mystery.

Many details you learned about WWII will fall into place when you read the two books by the writer with talent for the storytelling as espionage thrillers, Francine Matthews. The first novel just blew me away in how it fit into so many cracks in our understanding of what really happened in Europe in the run-up to WWII and what the H@#$ the US folks assigned to England were doing, seeing and feeling. Jack 1939 details a European tour by John F Kennedy at the behest of Roosevelt to really see and hear what was happening. As he was traveling through Europe to research his Harvard Senior thesis this secret mission was easy. Its the Nazi plot to affect the US elections among other crimes that are revealed with care and cunning. The thesis became While England Slept. This one is a five ticket ride that any history lover will savor too.

Daughter of Ashes by Marcia Talley

Reviewed by Mary Alice Gorman
Hardcover September 2015

Buy it at Mystery Lovers Bookshop

Daughter of Ashes is a sunny 14 in the wonderful Hannah Ives mystery series. I must admit she had me at the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the winds off the Chesapeake, We spent a fabulous weekend once at the Robert Morris Inn in Oxford MD where we sailed, read Michener's Chesapeake and ate millions of Oysters. But I digress.....The new vacation cottage that Hannah and her husband buy is the rich setting for this puzzle and the formidable research skills of spunky sleuth Hannah, The fixer upper reveals a mummified body of an infant and the games is afoot. I love the whole series for the contemporary views of our human history that unfolds through the skills of author Marcia and Hannah.....but this one may be my favorite.....and I discover the sublime pleasure of Samuel Smith beer that week end....mmmm.


Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything by Nancy Martin

Reviewed by Mary Alice Gorman
Hardcover November 2015

Buy it at Mystery Lovers Bookshop

Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything is Nancy Martin's new cozy mystery and it is a charmer. Yes there is a problem in that MissRuffles is a dog and the family and Mule Stop, Texas community is in disarray at the prospect of such an important fortune going to the dog. Dog sitter Sunny who is new to Texas will have to find the murder, keep the dog safe and look after the famous roses maybe with a little assist from a cowboy lawyer who fills the jeans nicely. With wit and whimsey, Nancy offers a view of the local characters no doubt gathered during trips to visit her grands in Texas. It is a fun and fancy Texas tale that will keep you smiling long after you close the book.

The Dictator by Robert Harris

Robert Harris wraps up the life of Cicero in this final volume in a trilogy that began with Imperium. The last chapter covers the ascent of Caesar and the final act in Cicero's political career.

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The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

Lisa Lutz takes a risk with a completely new style of writing and turns in a winner with this fast-paced thriller about a women with a serial identity problem.

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The Ex by Alafair Burke

Reviewed by Mary Alice Gorman
Hardcover January 2016

Buy it at Mystery Lovers Bookshop

In The Ex Alafair Burke amply demonstrates her talents as a writer in showing that a picture can't show what you see and listening to each word can't tell you what you hear. A man is arrested for murder, or is he framed? An old flame takes the case but what happened twenty years ago? What really happened at the triple murder scene and what does the daughter know? Twists and turns say, "start this one when you can stay awhile." A riveting effort.

China Dolls by Lisa See

An absorbing story of the lives of three Asian women in San Francisco from the world’s fair, to the opening of the first Oriental Club, through WWII and on through the days of the chop Suey circuit

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