Eight Million Ways to Die is the fifth in Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder detective series. You don’t need to have read any others in the series to follow this one. Scudder is a former New York City cop who quit the force after accidentally killing a child while pursuing two thieves. By the time the book begins, he has long since left his family, and has been living for years in a mid-town Manhattan hotel.
Dopefiend by Donald Goines opens in a shooting gallery on the east side of Detriot. The time is around 1970. The obese drug dealer, Porky, sits in an easy chair watching his customers shoot up, nod off, scratch themselves, and bleed. Goines, himself a heroin addict, describes the scene in disturbing sensual detail, with the dirty works and clogged needles soaking in water glasses, the blood-stained floor, and the stench of human filth rising from junkies too far gone to take care of themselves.
The Billion Dollar Whale, by Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, describes the looting of Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund by con man Jho Low and his associates. Although this story has been in the news for years, and many are familiar with its outlines, the book provides rich details about a series of financial crimes whose scope and audacity is breathtaking. Jho Low came from a family in Penang provice, Malaysia, that had enough money to send him to boarding school at Harrow, where he met the children of some of the world’s richest families.
Black Money is the thirteenth book in Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer series. It opens with Archer discussing the terms of a new case over lunch at a tennis club in the fictional coastal town of Montevista, CA, an hour or so south of Los Angeles. The client, Peter Jamieson, is twenty-four years old, rich, depressed, and increasingly fat as he eats away the sorrows of a broken engagement. Jamieson wants Archer to investigate his former lover’s new fiance, a supposedly wealthy Frenchman named Francis Martel, who Jamieson and a number of others suspect is a fraud.
Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time is the fifth in a series of mysteries featuring inspector Alan Grant. The book is perhaps best known for the praise it received from mystery writer and critic Anthony Boucher, who called it one of the best mysteries of all time. That’s high praise to live up to, but the author began the book with higher aims than most mystery writers ever aspire to, and she made it clear in the first chapter that she wasn’t going to follow the traditional path to achieve them.
The Girl on the Velvet Swing tells the story of the 1906 murder of famed American architect Stanford White, who was shot to death before a crowd of New York’s elite at the opening night performance of a play at Madison Square Garden, one of the city’s architectural landmarks, which he himself designed. After the shooting, White’s assailant, the young millionaire Harry K. Thaw handed his pistol to a fireman and calmly walked to the police station in the company of a single officer.
This book, set in London in 1941 during the blitz, begins with a man on the outs, Arthur Rowe, strolling through a church fair fundraiser. He plays a few penny games, then has his fortune told. By a stroke of bad luck, he utters the wrong words to the fortune-teller. In exchange, she tells him the weight of the cake in a nearby stall. Whoever guesses the weight correctly, wins it, which is a big deal, because it’s made with real eggs, which are a prized rarity in wartime London.
It’s hard to write of a review of Alan Watts’ books because there’s so much in them. It’s like trying to summarize the ocean. Each time I re-read one of his works, I come away with something different. So I’m not going to try to encapsulate all that Watts says. Instead, I’ll just described what impressed me in this reading, using mostly Watts’ own words, since he can express himself better than I can paraphrase him.
Hallas’ novel opens with Richard Dempsey returning from a long day’s work at the diner to an empty house. Before he enters, he knows from the darkened windows that his wife has left him. Inside, he learns she’s taken their son and the family savings. She says he’ll never find her, but he knows she’s always dreamed of going to Hollywood. This is Oklahoma in the late 1930’s, in the midst of the Great Depression and a crushing years-long drought.
I received the UK edition of this book as a gift a few months ago (it won’t be published in the US until later in 2019). I twice tried to start it, and twice put it down after a few pages thinking, “I can’t read this. This reminds me of the most depressing parts of the DC punk scene back the eighties and early nineties, the guys who spent their last dollars on beer instead of heating their apartments.
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