Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book Review:”Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie

This Hercule Poirot mystery from the 1930’s is one of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries.

It begins with Poirot having just solved a very difficult case for the French Army in Syria. From there he travels to Istanbul (Stamboul) on the Taurus Express. On that train he encounters Mary Debenham and Colonel Arbuthnot.

He arrives in Istanbul and discovers that he must change his plans. He intended to stay some days in Istanbul, but now he must get on the very next train to Calais, the Istanbul-Calais coach, part of the Simplon Orient Express.

Unfortunately there are no sleeping rooms available on the train. Fortunately his friend, M. Bouc, forces the conductor to give Poirot the only berth where the passenger has not yet arrived.

The full train sets off for Calais. On the second day out Mr. Ratchett approaches Poirot and asks for his protection. Poirot refuses on the grounds that he does not like Ratchett’s face. The next day Poirot awakes to discover that the train has been stopped by a snowdrift. Shortly thereafter he learns from M. Bouc that Ratchett is dead, stabbed in his berth, and it is worse. The murderer is still on the train.

The story is told wonderfully and the solution is a classic. The entire story is impossible, as both M. Bouc and the Greek doctor declare several times. Despite that while reading the story it is easy to forget just how absurd it is. The interactions, the series of clues, the way each clue comes in without being forced in all combine to give the mystery a magnificent force.

Well worth reading for anyone that enjoys mysteries or interesting characters. Not for those that can’t abide stereotypes. Also not for those that want something more active than talk, which is just about all folks can do without getting off the train when it is stuck in a snowdrift.

Book Review: “Lyon’s Pride” by Anne McCaffrey

This is the fourth book after “The Rowan” and occurs shortly after the events in “Damia’s Children”.

The story starts with Rojer and the Genesee. His brother Isthian is on the way to relieve him. Their sister Laria is now serving as Clarf Prime helping the Mrdini and providing FT&T service. Zara, another sister, is finishing up her studies as a healing Prime with Elizara. The book follows these four threads as the pursuit of the Hiver ships continues.

This is quite likely one of Anne McCaffrey’s better “airport” books. The dialogue is enjoyable, the character interaction interesting, and the plot is both simple and transparent. The characters themselves are seldom more than mildly engaging, which is good as there are highs and lows in this book that could have been overpowering with more engaging characters.

Book Review: “Crisis on Doona” by Anne McCaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye

This is a sequel to Anne McCaffrey’s “Decision on Doona”. It takes place 25 years after the events of the first book and was written almost as many years after that book.

The treaty agreed upon at the end of “Decision on Doona” is reaching its expiration date. Todd and Hrriss have grown up and are working to get the treaty turned into a perpetual treaty. Unfortunately, the xenophobic nationalists on both sides are engaged in covert efforts to have the treaty voided. Admiral Landreau’s plot has reached fruition and early in the book Todd and Hrriss face many charges of smuggling and other treaty violations.

This book is inoffensive rather than interesting. The character interactions are enjoyable, but the plot is flaccid. The opponents are routinely foolish, the necessary plot points turn up at the predictable points, and in the end the hero(s) get the(ir) girl(s). It is a story that barely matters in the third book.

Readers that particularly enjoy McCaffrey’s style might enjoy this book, but it is neither important to the series nor memorable itself.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Book Review: “The Oresteia Trilogy” by Aeschylus, Dover Thrift Editions

This book contains three plays by Aeschylus, “Agamemnon”, “The Libation-Bearers”, and “The Furies”. “Agamemnon” is the famous tale relating the death of Agamemnon at the hand of his wife Clytemnestra. “The Libation-Bearers” is the well known tale of the death of Clytemnestra at the hands of her son Orestes. “The Furies” is less well known. It relates the criminal trial of Orestes for the murder of his mother.

As with all the Dover Thrift Editions books this one is an excellent choice for those that don’t know if they will like the work or want it available at a low cost. Furthermore the translation by Morshead scans fairly well for a modern reader.

All three of these plays have more talking and less action than modern plays. I thought these were rather interesting particularly “The Furies”. The challenge there is how to regard a matricide that is also the required vengeance for the murder of the father. The back and forth between arguments for the prosecution and the arguments for the defense is an interesting setting for the philosophical arguments, while the conclusion, with Orestes found not guilty and the criminal trials being devoted to the Furies, ably demonstrates the fundamental ambiguity found where a series of crimes are committed.

I place “Agamemnon” next as it is almost as interesting as “The Furies”. The interest here comes from Clytemnestra’s deceptions, Agamemnon’s poetic appreciation for his home, and Cassandra’s grim foretelling.

The least interesting is “The Libation-Bearers”. It is little more than two people nerving each other up and then plotting the murder of their mother. Because she wronged them.

Book Review: “The White Gryphon” by Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon

This is the second book in the Mage Wars series. It takes place about ten years after the Mage Wars are over. It is set in the same world, Velgarth, as the tales of Valdemar. It is part of the ancient history of that world.

The k’Leshya are building a new home on the coast of the sea when the local Haighlei Emperor sends emissaries to expel them from his territory. In the process of diplomatically gaining recognition as junior allies Skandranon, Zhaneel, Amberdrake, and Winterhart get dragged into some less than diplomatic murderous plots. Making things more interesting there is a time limit. Everything must be cleared up and decided at the Eclipse ceremony.

Overall, this is an enjoyable book, though it isn’t better than the average.