Wednesday, April 20, 2011

March Violet by Philip Kerr

By creating a detective who operates in Berlin in 1936, Philip Kerr is able to paint a picture of Germany in those years before the war. Bernard Gunther, is thirty-eight in 1936. Before he became a private investigator he was a policeman. Now his speciality is missing persons. Business is brisk in 1936—many people are missing, disappeared into prisons, work camps.

Bernard is hired by a wealthy industrialist whose daughter and son-in-aw were found shot to death in their bed and after they were killed a fire was set. Missing from a wall safe is a diamond necklace.

Rather than stay with the simple case, Bernard finds himself drawn into a much wider case which involves corruption and the Gestapo. Kerr is quite descriptive when describing the methods employed by the various police groups.

Eventually Hermann Goering hires Bernard to locate someone who he believes stole some papers hidden in the same safe that contained the diamond necklace. The job is not one that Bernard can refuse. Eventually Bernard is forced to go to Dachau as an undercover agent—his job is to find out where the papers are hidden.

Bernard is not fond of the Nazis, but he has few options when told to go to Dachau in that capacity. If he refuses he will still go to Dachau, but as a prisoner whose chances of getting out might be slim.

This is a noir piece of writing with lines that often are snide comments about the third Reich or lines that are overdone hard-boiled noir.

While the plot does become a bit over plotted the tenor of the times is captured and it is the first in a series so I expect that some of the excesses of language and plot will be tempered.

Mystery Challenge

The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

I read this book because I sat next to a Palestinian woman who told me that her parents were forced to leave their home in Haifa and had to move with their four children to another country. She was only four when they were displaced. When I said that I thought that most of the Israelis and most of the Palestinians wanted peace she said, "I agree, but there is one difference we are occupied."

In the course of our conversation she suggested this book as a good way to view the situation from two viewpoints. I read the book and it has stayed with me. Sandy Tolan spent seven years researching the material for the book. This is not a hastily collaged piece of journalism. There are pages and pages of bibliography—each fact is substantiated. Conversations that happened a long time ago are not made up of whole cloth, but the remembered snippets of speech from either the participants or observers.

The first part of the book outlines the history of Israel from the time of the Balfour Resolution to 2008. Tolan documents the realities for Israel and how those realities have forced them to resort to tactics that would be anathema to how they want to act. Tolan doesn't take sides. He shows how both sides feel that they are right and that is an intractable obstacle to peace.

This is ultimately about one house and two families. The Palestinian family—the Khairis— had lived in their al-Ramia home for decades and were forced out of the home when Israel forces moved into that area. Bashir al-Khari was a young boy when they were forced to leave. He grows to manhood believing that those who were displaced should be able to return to their ancestral homes.

Dalia Landau was born shortly after her parents left Bulgaria in 1948. They, like many others who immigrated to Isreal had suffered during
the Holocaust. Her family was told to select an unoccupied home in al-Ramia because the previous occupants had left. When she grew up that story seemed implausible.

In 1967 Bashir, desirous of visiting the home he knew as a young child, travels to his childhood home. Dalia invites him in and enjoins him to walk around and revisit the home. The Lemon Tree his father had planted still grew in the backyard and still produced lemons.

That first visit begins a long relationship between the two and while they have different perspectives on what should happen to the land they become close friends. Irrespective of their differences, and sometimes biting words, they persevere and continue talking.

Tolan's narrative is spellbinding as are Bashir and Dalia. For there to be peace dialogues must embraced.

Non-fiction challenge

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Non-Fiction Challenge

I've decided to add another challenge ! I love reading non-fiction so I've entered a non-fiction challenge. At this point I don't know what level.


The Convent
by Panos Karnezis

Visualize a 16th century Spanish convent located in a remote area. It is after WWI and only a few nuns still inhabit the convent. The Mother Superior of this small group is Maria Ines— the other nuns, Sister Ana, Sister Carlotta, Sister Teresa and Sister Beatriz.

One day a suitcase is left on the convent steps—inside the suitcase is a newborn baby boy. The child means something different to each of the nuns. For Maria Ines he is God's gift, redemption. For Sister Ana the baby represents a demonic visitation. Sister Carlotta pays little attention to the baby. She's mostly concerned with a pack of stray dogs she's rescued from city streets. Sister Teresa is most interested in the gramophone records she has hidden in her room. Sister Beatriz is the only nun helping Sister Maria with the care of the baby.

Because Sister Maria believes that the baby is a gift from God, she wishes to keep him in the convent rather than have him brought up in an orphanage. Another character in the monastic mystery is the Bishop. He visits the nuns once a month, says mass, hears confession, stays over, and then returns to an unnamed city.

He gave the convent an old car so that they can get to the city to purchase provisions. Sister Maria is the chief mechanic. When she was a young woman she was in love with a naval cadet—became pregnant,and had an abortion while he was in the war. When he died she dealt with both the wish to die and the wait for God's punishment. She spent a year in Africa and accepted penance for her sin by refusing an offer of marriage and deciding to take her final vows as a nun. The baby represents God's forgiveness. When she recognizes that some of the nuns question keeping the child her judgement becomes tainted.

The question remains—who is the mother and why was the baby left on the convent steps? When Sister Ana discovers a bloody sheet she is convinced that a ritual had been held and the devil is afoot. She visits the Bishop and relates her fears. He is well aware of her ambitions and after a visit to the convent he must decide on what is best for the child and all concerned. But a series of revelations—for the reader—limit his choices and the choices of some of the characters.

One must completely accept a series of improbable events, but the story is interesting and even though the twists at the end are what a reader might be anticipating, the story moves along at a quick pace. I did want another chapter—and then and then...

Mystery Book Challenge

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green

Anna Katherine Green's mystery was first published in 1878. Her detective, Ebenezer Gryce, reminds me of Sherlock Holmes. Both are able to deduce remarkable conclusions from scant evidence and astute observations. However, Ebenezer Gryce predated Sherlock Holmes by nine years.

In this story, the first in a series—Horatio Leavenworth, a wealthy unmarried gentleman who lives with his two nieces in a 5th Avenue mansion is found dead in his own library. This is a locked door mystery. Because the library door is locked, the key missing and the weapon—his own pistol— is found in its usual place, it is assumed that the culprit is either a family member or one of the "servants."

His two nieces, Mary and Eleonore, both had motives for the murder. The two cousins brought up together are not accorded equally under Leavenworth's will. Mary stands to inherit all his money while Eleonore will receive a small stipend.

An inquest, held at the scene of the crime—usual for that time period—uncovers circumstantial evidence pointing to the guilt of Eleonore—or at least implicating her in the murder. To add to the melodrama in the household a member of the staff, Hannah Chester, disappears the very night of the murder.

Mr Everett Raymond, a young lawyer and an assistant to the family lawyer, narrates the story. Because the head of the firm is away on business, Mr. Raymond arrives at the house to render some legal advice to Mary and Eleonore. While there the body of Mr. Leavenworth is discovered.

Ebenezer Gryce, the detective, is broadly painted as an eccentric character in both his looks and behavior.

Green touches on a number of motifs throughout the book. Mr. Leavenworth is obsessed with an intense dislike of the English and forbids his nieces from even contemplating a relationship with someone who is English. Mary has surreptitiously married an Englishman who she sends away because she doesn't want to lose her inheritance. Her uncle is clear about what will happen if she ignores his wishes. His estate will go to Eleonore and Mary will receive nothing. She has a strong motive for wanting her uncle dead.

Early on in the book Mr. Raymond and Gryce pair up. Gryce notes that he is not a gentleman and it's more difficult for him to deal with the wealthy and upper class. Another motif—class and money distinctions.

It is the detective using his deductive skills, avoiding the lure of circumstantial evidence and apparent motives , who hones in on the real killer.

All ends well—save for those who have died. The nieces mend fences, Mr Raymond smitten with Eleonore begins to court her, and tthe detective displays his adroitness.

I read a free digital download because my library didn't have a copy of the book. Then I discovered that there is a recently released Penguin Classic edition with a forward by Sims. In the foreword Anna Katherine Green's lineage from, "Gryce to Holmes to Poirot" is explored as well as" another of Green's creations, spinster Amelia Butterworth to Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple."

I throughly enjoyed The Leavenworth Case and my delight was enhanced by reading of the first accorded both the novel and Anna Katherine Green—first detective novel by a woman in any country. Her career spanned five decades.

I is An Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World by James Geary

Perhaps I've interpreted metaphor in too narrow a light or perhaps I've seen the use of metaphor in divers places and not named it metaphor. Geary's book is a journey into the pervasive use of metaphors in all areas of communication.

In the first few chapters Geary explores the meaning of metaphor and the implications of that meaning. Having taught children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I found his explanation of why these children and adults cannot understand metaphors or figurative language illuminating.

His explanation of why young children only comprehend simple metaphors is also a succinct look at how we grow into metaphors. You must have experiences in order to make connections.

" And, just as the appropriate set of associated commonplaces must be in place in order to understand a complex conceptual metaphor, you must know something of an analogy's source if you are to understand how it informs, or misinforms the target."

And he reminds the reader that, "Metaphors, whether in poems or advertisements, only work with our active collusion. Metaphors are born plotters and we are their eager co-conspirators."

Take a Chance Challenge
Non-Fiction Challenge: Art Category