Category Archives: Reviews

And Then I Read: THE FINAL SOLUTION by Michael Chabon

I’ve liked all that I’ve read by Michael Chabon in the past, and this short novel or novella seemed like one I’d enjoy. It’s a mystery story featuring an unnamed but obvious Sherlock Holmes near the end of his life, living in a rural area as a beekeeper, as Holmes’ creator A. Conan Doyle suggested as his retirement. It takes place in 1944, and Holmes is presented with two intertwined mysteries, or perhaps three.

First, he meets and befriends a young refugee boy living with a family nearby. The boy cannot speak, and cannot understand English, but responds to German. The other unusual thing about him is his pet and constant companion, an African parrot who is a frequent talker in several languages. His most common offering is a list of apparently random numbers.

In the rooming house run by a minister and his wife where the boy lives, we meet a man who has an intense interest in the parrot, Bruno, This man, Mr. Shane, is apparently murdered outside the rooming house while attempting to steal the parrot, which cannot be found afterward. The boy is devastated at the loss of his friend. Holmes is called in to help solve the murder by local police, but his true motive is to find the parrot. He suspects one goal will lead to the resolution of the other.

I enjoyed reading this, but as a Sherlock Holmes homage or pastiche it doesn’t work for me, and here’s why. Doyle was always careful to keep us out of the inner thoughts and emotions of Holmes, except by inference and the insights of his companion, Dr. Watson. Here, Chabon tells much of the story from inside Holmes’ head, and we learn all about his sadness at the handicaps of age, his feelings and emotions about being less than he once was. It feels like a betrayal to me, and so antithetical to the Doyle stories, all of which I reread a few years ago, that I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked. That may be just my own reaction, yours may differ, of course. The story itself is well crafted and satisfying in other ways, but I can only mildly recommend it.

And Then I Read: TOLKIEN, MAKER OF MIDDLE EARTH by Catherine McIlwaine

A few weeks ago Ellen and I attended the fabulous Tolkien exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York City, and I bought this book about it. I’ve just finished reading and enjoying it. First off, if you can get to the exhibit yourself, do so! If you can’t, everything I saw in person is here as well as many other things of great interest to Tolkien fans.

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And Then I Read: HEX WIVES #1

Image © Ben Blacker and DC Comics. Written by Ben Blacker, art by Mirka Andolfo, colors by Marissa Louise, letters by Josh Reed, cover by Joëlle Jones.

Through the last few hundred years a coven of witches has been under attack from a group of men called The Architects. We see them first in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 during the famous witch trials, where the men are trying to kill the witches, who fight back with various amazing black magic powers, but are defeated and die. They keep being reborn in later decades into the 20th century, when one of the current Architects has a new idea. We then switch to a modern suburban development where the women we know are the witches are neighbors, but all seem unaware of their heritage and history. Instead, they act like dutiful wives obeying their husbands in every way, until arcane powers begin to manifest in one of them.

The issue is mostly setup, and I will see where it goes from here. The inspiration that might come to mind is the TV show “Bewitched,” but a closer model would be Fritz Leiber’s horror novel “Conjure Wife.” Look up a description of that to see what I mean. One thing that seems to be missing is a reason for the men to be so opposed to the witches. The Salem connection implies a religious reason, but that’s avoided. I will have to see what happens next to decide whether I want to keep on with the series. It has its moments.

Mildly recommended.

Rereading: LUCKY STARR BOOK 2 by Isaac Asimov

Cover art © Romas

My favorite science fiction novels for younger readers were the ones by Robert Heinlein, but his friend and fellow writer Isaac Asimov also wrote some that I thought were pretty good when I read them as a child. I didn’t know they were by Asimov until later, as he wrote them under the pen name Paul French. There were six short novels in all, this book has the middle two. I remembered some things from the Venus one, but nothing from the Mercury one, so I may never have read it before.

These are essentially mystery and action/adventure stories in the tradition of the science fiction pulp magazines. The mysteries are clever and the action is entertaining, but the characters are far from complex, more caricatures than anything. David “Lucky” Starr is the intrepid hero with a clever mind for solving mysteries, and his sidekick John Bigman Jones is there for comic relief, fight backup and to ask the Dr. Watson questions. The science they were based on was accurate for the time, but the Venus one in particular—of an ocean world—has been completely ruled out by later discoveries. There are less obvious science flaws in the Mercury story.

I enjoyed reading them, but they do not hold up all that well to my adult ideas about good writing. I may reread the others at some point, but it won’t be a high priority.

Mildly recommended.

And Then I Read: THE DREAMING #7

Image © DC Comics. Written by Simon Spurrier, art by Abigail Larson, colors by Quinton Winter, letters by Simon Bowland, cover by Jae Lee & June Chung

Quite a change of pace this issue with a new storyline, setting and mostly new or long-unseen characters. We first see Rose Walker (last appearance in the original series as far as I know) visiting her mother in the hospital where she’s dying and unconscious. In a nearby room is Lucien (I think) barely conscious, apparently brought to the hospital by Rose. Rose tells the story of her daughter Ivy’s romance with Dream (Daniel), an odd love story with an appearance by Desire. It’s an intriguing tale that gives us more information about what Dream has been up to and where.

The art by Abigail Larson is not so appealing to me, though it does have a romance/fashion model vibe that fits the storyline. I’m not sure if she is the new regular artist or not. The writing by Simon Spurrier is fine, though, and keeps me satisfied with the series.

I like the lettering by Simon Bowland in this series, but was a little disappointed in his font choice for Desire, as it’s so different from what did originally. I’m sure he had his reasons.