Monday, May 30, 2011


A Marcus Didius Falco Novel
Lindsey Davis

It has been several years since I last read one of Lindsey Davis' excellent crime novels set in ancient Rome. I ran across Nemesis on the new book display at the local library the other day. Marcus Didius Falco is the detective character, or "informer" as Davis calls him. That job description makes him seem kind of sinister, but the sinister part is actually played by Anacrates, the Emperors chief spy.

 Davis has an amazing depth of knowledge about the daily lives of ancient Romans which she uses to flesh out her stories. She uses the food, the customs and mores, the architecture, even the water and sewer systems to draw the reader in to the lives of her characters.

Nemesis is the twentieth book in the Marcus Didius Falco series. It may seem like a large investment of time, but I recommend reading them in order from book one, The Silver Pigs. It isn't necessary in order to follow the plot, but the development of Falco's character, his life story and the family that he gathers around him through the series are well worth the effort. Like Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, Falco and his clan will grow on you.

 I have missed a couple of books in the series: Saturnalia (2007) and Alexandria (2009) as well as Falco the Official Companion (2010). I expect you will be seeing reviews of them here soon. Can a movie be far behind?

This post is in the 70th
Book Review Blog Carnival
Published at Man of La Book.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The James Boys

A Novel Account of Four Desperate Brothers
Richard Liebamann-Smith

Suppose that the outlaws of song and story Frank and Jesse James, were the  younger brothers of psychologist and philosopher William James and novelist Henry James. They were roughly contemporaneous and had the same last name, after all. In the spirit of the zombie and werewolf genre of classic nineteenth century literature spoofs, Richard Liebmann-Smith has tinkered with history just enough to make Henry James a part of the disastrous Northfield Minnesota bank robbery attempt and bring Frank and Jesse to Boston, pretending to be visiting scholars from land grant colleges in the Midwest.

Not being to sure what William James was  about, going in, or whether he was actually the brother of Henry at all, (he was) it was no stretch of the imagination for me to believe that their two younger brothers, Wilkie and Rob, real or not (they were) had switched sides in the Civil War and become Confederate irregulars and then outlaws in Missouri (they didn't).

Liebmann-Smith has written a fast paced adventure story with plenty of sex and violence to satisfy jaded twenty first century readers. William Pinkerton, of the National Detective Agency plays the part of the bumbling comedic cop and Elena Hite, the made from whole cloth daughter of a  railroad baron,  serves as the love interest.

The James Boys has woven fact and fiction in a seamless manner. Henry's gastrointestinal disorders, William 's bouts with depression, Jesse's love of publicity, Frank's casual violence and Billy Pinkerton's inability to nab the notorious James Boys. Though Frank and Jesse were really not related to William and Henry they should have been.

This post is in the 69th
Book Review Blog Carnival
Published at Proud Book Nerd.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Jim Lehrer

Jim Lehrer does a lot more than look sincere on PBS's The News Hour five nights a week. He is an expert on old intercity bus lines and even owns and occasionally drives his own bus. Lehrer is also a novelist with twenty titles to his credit (several of them having to do with buses) a playwright and  a screen writer. He also has written a couple of memoirs.

Super is Lehrer's twentieth novel, published in hardback last year it is now available in a paperback edition, as per the Amazon link at the left. The action all takes place on the Super Chief, the iconic train that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles during the golden age of streamlined railroad trains - and of Hollywood. It is a crime novel, well sort of, in which a Santa Fe Railroad passenger agent, pretending to be a railroad detective, solves the mysterious death of a passenger on the train.

Various movie stars, and at least one impostor, are part of the cast of this novel, most notably Clark Gable. Harry Truman also makes an appearance. The young passenger agent is kept quite busy, keeping the former President comfortable and pitching his idea for a movie set on the Super Chief to the Hollywood contingent. Unfortunately for him, this book is set in the 1950's, as airline travel is beginning to take passengers away from the railroads. His movie idea is seen as passé. Also unfortunately for him, one of his passengers is about to be shot in his compartment.

Despite his gravitas as a newscaster, Jim Lehrer's novels are mostly light entertainment. He does include some themes of social significance. In Super a former Manhattan Project employee confronts Truman about the growing number of cancers affecting those who were exposed to radioactive materials from atomic bomb testing. This is a minor subplot in the book, though.

Super made me a fan of high speed rail. Back in the fifties, many people were pleased to find that they could fly to their destinations, not just due to the reduced travel time, but because they felt badly srved by the monopolistic railroads. Now we feel badly served by the monopolistic airlines - but all we have instead is Amtrack.