Short Reviews from Recent Reading

One of my challenges is that if I read a lot, I don’t always have time to stop and review a book I’ve finished,   and these books tend to pile up because reading is more relaxing than writing about what I just read.

pix-sweden-713021_640-houseI finally read the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I wish I hadn’t. Although I enjoy mysteries, I don’t enjoy people being tortured and mutilated as recreation. If you like thrillers, this is likely to keep your spine tingling, especially near the conclusion .

Much of the book is set in Sweden.  The two main characters are Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who was convicted of libel, and a brilliant but unconventional helper, Lisbeth Salander, who is a genius at internet research, legal and illegal, and a master analyzer of the data she finds. Mikael has been hired by a wealthy Swede, Vanger, with a large and dysfunctional family to find out who in his family killed his missing niece years ago. Mikael is to live on the Vanger estate under the pretense of writing a biography of Vanger, with access to most of the family.

The only character I liked very much in this book was Lisbeth, who was a ward of the state whose appointed guardian was raping her as a condition for giving her access to some of her money. The only part of the book I sort of enjoyed  was when Lisbeth used her wits to fight back and get her revenge and get free of him.

I pretty much agree with this New York Times review of the book.  It shows me again that being on the Best Seller List does not mean a book is worth the time spent reading it. It seems to me that too many people are putting poison into their  brains. I will not read more by this author. But if you don’t mind rape and torture scenes as a mystery is solved, and seeing  some sexually abusive sadists in action, you might be able to stomach this better than I did. To each his own. I don’t recommend it.


I recently finished The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King. I checked it out from the library because I needed a book to take to a waiting room and my Kindle battery was dead. It’s another book I think was a waste of my time. The major problem was that the characters were not developed very well and I didn’t really care about any of them.

The plot was also unrealistic, at least to me. It was set in San Francisco, and the victim, William Gilbert, was an eccentric Sherlock Holmes fan whose living room was like a replica of Holme’s Victorian sitting room. The murder appears to be related to a manuscript Gilbert believed was an undiscovered Sherlock Holmes story by Doyle and he was trying to authenticate it when he was murdered. Suspects included his  friends in the Sherlockian Dinner Club that met once a month, some of whom knew about the manuscript and had even read it.

The manuscript described a murder that very much resembled Gilbert’s murder, right down  to the place the body was discovered. The reader is treated to a chance to read it along with Detective Kate Martinelli – a story within a story. Unfortunately, when I read this I wasn’t in the mood for long descriptive passages, intricate subplots, and having to work to keep all the characters straight. To top it off, I’m not a Sherlock Holmes fan. There was just nothing in this book  to grab my attention and make me care. I finished it because I had started it, but I had to force myself. The book gets mixed reviews on Amazon.  I suppose we get out of a book what we bring to it. If you like all things Sherlock Holmes, this book may interest you more than it did me.

pix-the-white-house-269734_640I was more interested in  Elliott Roosevelt’s mystery novels. I just learned they were actually written and researched by William Harrington, who also wrote novels I’ve read listing Margaret Truman as the author.  I  just did a bit of research on both Ellliott Roosevelt and William Harrison and have concluded neither is someone I would enjoy knowing.

Harrison was a competent researcher, and from what I’ve read in memoirs of other figures mentioned in Murder in Georgetown, many incidents mentioned may well be true. They are certainly realistic, except for the part about Eleanor Roosevelt getting personally involved in solving murders.

Much of the book was set in the White House in 1935. Prohibition has ended, but it’s obvious the White House didn’t take it very seriously even when it was law. We meet Joseph Kennedy, who sees that the White House always gets the best booze when it’s important, and the author often brings him into the story .

A major part of the plot turns out to be bank corruption at the highest level. The real killer of Sargent Peavey, a member of the federal treasury board, tries to frame a young Jewess, Jessica Dee, who had been smuggled into the country from Poland.   Mrs. Roosevelt had recommended Senator Huey Long hire Jessica as a secretary.  Since he was  F.D.R.’s main political opponent, Eleanor was hoping Jessica could keep her informed about what was happening in Long’s office.

When Jessica was arrested for Peavey’s murder because her earring was found at the scene, and some other non-conclusive evidence, Mrs. Roosevelt works with the detectives to try to find the real killer.  She doesn’t believe for a moment Jessica is guilty,

The reader witnesses some of the political intrigue behind the scenes in the Roosevelt White House and is party to the local gossip. We learn that politicians and the people who are involved with them are as crooked as we suspected.

I learned outside this book that Elliott himself, the credited author and the son of Eleanor and F.D.R, was involved in his own share of scandal,  and that was not fiction. He ( and Harrington as well) probably shared the casual morals of his characters. It seemed most characters believed it didn’t matter what you did, as long as you were discreet enough so that no one who wasn’t supposed to know ever found out. Jessica could have been cleared much earlier had she been willing to reveal whom she had been with when two of the three murders with the same weapon had been committed.

This was not a thriller – just a picture of discrete police investigations, including some in the White House, and some visits to dives and dark alleys. The reader sees more questioning than dangerous pursuits of criminals. I prefer novels like this that let me see what the investigators see so I can draw my own conclusions and see if I was right.   In this case, I had it solved by the time the police did,  though I  didn’t have all the motivations until the last scenes.

This book is out of print and there are some cheap copies left on Amazon as I write this. If you enjoy murder mysteries with some political intrigue set in the White House, I think you might enjoy Murder in Georgetown.  Since I’m currently so busy, I was glad that I could read a couple of chapters at a time to relax without feeling I had to rush to the end. If you need a real page-turner, this is isn’t it, but it’s just right if you want to take reading breaks during the day and be able to go back to what you were doing without being frustrated.

The Litigators: An Escape from Corporate Law

How would you feel if you had to work a hundred hours a week at a job you hated for a boss you despised because your father had pressured you into it? What if that job were bringing in three hundred thousand dollars a year with the promise of more if you kept up the pace to become a full partner in the law firm? What would you do?

The Litigators is the story of  Chicago corporate lawyer David Zinc’s  breakdown and escape from his high-pressure law firm.  He snaps one morning as he’s about to take the escalator up to his office. When he can’t force himself to get on, he sits on a bench to try to figure out why  he suddenly feels like he is having a heart attack. Five years of his deadly dull and meaningless work with colleagues he couldn’t stand, have made him physically ill.

David finally makes it to an elevator going up to his office on the ninety-third floor, watching others get off on the way up. He was sweating and hyperventilating by time his floor approached. When he arrived, his colleagues urged him out of the elevator, but his head was spinning and he fled back into it before it started down.

He sat down in the corner of the elevator and other riders were a bit freaked out to see him there. When he finally got to the ground floor,  he  felt better because he’d had the guts to leave and the pressure was off. He thought about what the important people in his life might think, and then  he became afraid his boss might send security after him. He decided to flee the building as quickly as he could, though he had no idea where to  go.

In a Bar

He finally ducks into a bar he sees and begins to drink to get drunk (though he has never done so before.) When his secretary calls to ask where he is, he brushes her off. When his wife calls to say the office had called twice trying to find him, he doesn’t answer. He spends most of the day in the bar with Abner the bartender.

Before the author introduced us to David, he first introduced us to the shady “boutique” law firm of Finley and Figg and the two partners, Oscar Finley and Wally Figg. Their specialty was personal injury cases, and they never let ethics get in the way when they were trying to recruit or sign up clients.

We also meet their secretary,  Rochelle Gibson, who had no qualifications except she’d been a client whose case had been butchered  and she had threatened to sue the partners. She hung around the office so much that the three got used to each other, and she was there when the real secretary quit. Since the phones were still ringing and the partners were busy yelling at each other, Rochelle just started answering and was soon the new secretary, peacekeeper, and real manager.

Back to David, who at almost five o’clock is passed out at the bar. Abner wakes him up, tells him it’s time to leave and go home, and puts him in a cab. But David doesn’t want to go home and face his wife. He sees an ad on the side of a bus for Finley and Figg and tells the cab driver that’s where he wants to go.

Shortly after that a disheveled David Zinc walks into the office of Finley and Figg and says he loves the place and want to work there. When asked why he left his corporate job he says, “let’s just say I hate the work, hate the people I work with, and hate the clients.”

Rochelle comments he should fit right in at Finley and Figg, and over Oscars objections, they let him stay to see how things will work out.  Around eight Wally calls Helen Zinc to come get David, and Helen proves to be fairly understanding — at least enough to wait until he sobers up before they really talk.

I love the way Grisham brings the most unlikely people together. David had a Harvard education and impeccable law credentials and  had been on the path to a partnership in the large firm of Rogan Rothberg. Finley and Figg was a two bit ambulance chasing firm. Finley and Figg had felt no need or desire to add another lawyer, but David makes  an offer to work at a price they could afford,  on a trial  basis.

David joined the firm just before Finley and Figg were on the verge of what Figg considered their ticket to wealth —  a class action suit against a large pharmaceutical company.    David becomes the ethical voice of reason in the firm who gets stuck with the dirty work and and gets paid little for it.  It is watching these unlikely  characters interact so that each meets his own  goals that makes this book so much fun to  read.

I won’t tell you any more. I found the ending very satisfying and consistent with what we might expect of the characters as Grisham portrayed them, and you, too, will know them well before you are far into the book.

David is called upon to use all his  education and experience his new position, and his character and the genuine concern he has for his clients give the book heart. As he saves himself, his presence is a catalyst in saving Figg, Finley, and Rochelle. As in most of Grisham’s books, we see plenty of courtroom drama, and a bit of humor. I highly recommend the book.

 The Litigators: A Novel