Monthly Archives: February 2009


Ross Thomas is better known for his classic Chinaman’s Chance and The Eighth Dwarf, but in 1981 he published The Mordida Man where he takes the political caper to a new level. The President’s brother, Bingo McKay, has been kidnapped. The President receives Bingo’s ear wrapped in a Gucci box. Clearly, this is job for “The Mordida Man,” Chubb Dunjee. “Mordida” means bribery in Spanish and Dunjee has to spread the money around to mount a rescue of the President’s brother. However, like most Ross Thomas novels, nothing is exactly what it seems. There’s plenty of suspense and intricate plotting in The Mordida Man. It’s astonishing that an author who won the Edgar for Best First Novel in 1967 for The Cold War Swap and another Edgar for Best Novel in 1985 for Briarpatch is out-of-print and nearly forgotten.


Okay, so I was wrong. The judges loved Hosea’s killer gumbo and hated Fabio’s too sweet drink. Fabio was sent packing and we’re left with Stefan the Super Cook, Hosea the Weakest Link, and surprising Carla, winner of last week’s competition and a new Toyota Venza. One of these three chefs will be crowned Top Chef tonight. I can’t believe the judges would pick Stefan with his arrogant attitude. Hosea is just too inconsistent. So I’m picking Carla to win the $100,000 grand prize.


I know I’m violating Patti Abbott’s “one author, one book” rule, but C. J. Sansom’s Sovereign was so good, I couldn’t resist reading the newest Matthew Shardlake mystery, Revelation. It takes place in 1543, after the surprising events of Sovereign. One of Shardlake’s friends is brutally murdered and dumped into a fountain. Shardlake investigates and learns that this murder is the third in a series of murders based on the murderer’s interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Once again, C. J. Sansom delivers a moving portrait of London on the verge of chaos with political conspiracies and religious violence. This is a historical mystery novel of the first rank. GRADE: A.


Sovereign is the third Matthew Shardlake mystery. It’s set in England in 1541. Henry VIII is on the throne and busy chopping people’s heads off. He decides to take a journey to York to pacify the rebellious locals. Shardlake, a lawyer, is recruited by Archbishop Cranmer to settle some petitions in York and to interview one of the captured York conspirators, Sir Edward Broderick. C. J. Sansom’s meticulous historical detail renders the majesty and the misery of a Royal visit. A murder is committed and Shardlake is drawn into the investigation. As Shardlake learns more about the conspiracy, he is attacked and nearly killed. Then three more attempts are made on his life. Not only is the plot suspenseful, the tension of the mystery is heightened by the historical context. If you enjoy historical mysteries, Sovereign should go to the top of your list. GRADE: A


THE READER deals in sadness. It starts as an affair between a woman who works as a ticket taker on the Berlin trains and a 15 year old boy who is half her age. Before making love, the woman–played by Kate Winslet–makes the boy read to her. The summer affair comes to an end and years later, the boy–played by David Kross–now a law student, attends a trial of Nazi prison camp guards. To his shock, he discovers his former lover is being tried. There are some moral questions, some awkward decisions, some missed opportunities, and an overwhelming sense of melancholy in this film. Ralph Fiennes is largely wasted. David Hare’s script likes to jump around annoying. I don’t think Kate Winslet will win an Oscar for this role. GRADE: B.


I picked this up at Sam’s Club for $27.46 (Amazon has it for $31.99). Essentially, it’s a four DVD compilation of the best of the Borg episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager. Apparently, 200,000 Star Trek fans voted online for their favorite Borg episodes. Sam’s Club had two other DVD collections: Q (who I never cared for) and Captain’s Log where each of the actors who played a Star Trek Captain picked their favorite episode and, of course, the fans picked their favorite episodes (I bought this set, too). Other Star Trek DVD collections include Alternate Realities and Time Travel (hopefully, they’ll show up at Sam’s Club so I can buy them, too). If you’re a Trekkie, or even a casual fan, these sets are great values.


“Emma Lathen” was the pen name of attorney Mary Jane Latsis and economic analyst Martha Henissart. Their “hero” is the supremely confident John Putnam Thatcher, senior vice-president of the Sloan Guaranty Trust, the third largest bank in the world. Banking on Death, the first book in a 24 book series, deals with a trust set up decades ago by an industrialist. He leaves a considerable fortune to his family. But one of the family has disappeared. And, just as the trust is about to be distributed, that missing family member ends up murdered. The investigation is fairly routine. What makes all of Lathen’s works special is that through the unwinding of the plot, the reader learns about interest rates, bonds, stocks, trusts, wills, and other financial instruments, painlessly, through osmosis. All of Lathen’s works blend business and mystery. My favorite Lathen novel is Accounting for Murder.


I had some eye problems last summer and it prompted me to consider a future where I might not be able to read. I decided I needed to get acclimated to audio books. I’ve listened to audio books from time to time, especially when I’m taking a long driving trip. But, given the choice, I’d rather read a book than listen to it. Tim Harford’s The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World is eight hours long in the unabridged audio version. I can read the book version in about two hours. However, I’m going to persist in listening to audio books on a regular basis…just in case.