Chicago Blues: A Collection of Crime Stories About the Real Windy City

This was a great collection of crime stories with the one common ingredient being the use of the theme “blue”. Sometimes it refers directly to the musical connection that Chicago has with the blues and blues men and women who have and still do populate Chicago.

Other times, the blue refers to the Chicago police and the thin blue line, sometimes very thin indeed, that separates the good guys and the bad guys. In other stories, the great rattling El train that races all around the city is the focus – particularly, the Blue Line.

The diversity in the stories also extends to the geography of Chicago as a city. The stories range from Rogers Park in the North, all the way down Cottage Grove in the South and over to Wicker Park and beyond in the West. It includes the suburbs: Lake Forest, Hinsdale and Rosemont all make an appearance. This makes it one of the books that represents the city so well for me.

The characters are Mexican, Polish, Irish, German, African American, Jewish and Indian. The melting pot is shown in all its color and cultural composition. This too is unusual for most current stories about Chicago.

I had a few favorites in this anthology. “O Death Where Is Thy Sting?” is a great story about a long lost blues recording. “Your Sweet Man” is a very complicated family love story. “Guarding Lacey” is an important story about girls and human trafficking. “The Sin Eater” is a great Irish Catholic tale set in the western part of the city, Back of the Yards – a hard scrabble neighborhood. My other favorite is set under the El in my old neighborhood of Uptown, on Lawrence avenue in a bar at the Crossroads.

I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed this book. But rather than that, I really recommend you grab it. One rider, this has a weird look on the e-reader. The text download’s in large, unevenly spaced paragraphs. I treated it like jazz and accepted it for what it is, but I would love to see the editors/publishers fix this for future readers.

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A Season in Hell by Jack Higgins

A typical military/spy/English thrill a minute, action packed book. Plenty of twists and turns with the story moving right along. This certainly is not a book for deep reading or thinking and that is as it should be. Every book does not have to rise to the heady heights of “literature.”

This is just a ripping yarn where a wealthy woman with pockets deep enough to fly all over the European continent, teams up with ex-military and current intelligence operatives to pursue the truth behind her step-sons death.

When the law can’t get it done, she works with the English Underworld, the French Underworld and the Sicilian mafia. Of course a trail of death and destruction lie in her wake but the truth will out.

I personally needed this book as a simple break from reading literary fiction. Sometimes I just want to dive into a simple action or adventure book that doesn’t last too long, that I can pick up and put down and that fills my need to read. This is one of those books. No more and no less. I had read other Higgins books and there are a few I really loved so it was an author that I knew and was familiar with.

Just like a chocolate chip cookie, you know what you get – comfort food with words. Cover to cover comfort food.

Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane

I rekindled my new found flame with Dennis Lehane when the book Gone Baby, Gone turned up on my book buying list. I was excited to read it and thrilled and surprised when two characters from the last Lehane novel I read, Angie Gennaro and Patrick Kenzie, popped back into my life.

These two inner city Boston private eyes have their offices in a belfry in a church near their respective apartments. Since I am reading out of order, the author was kind enough to fill in the blanks for those of us who do that, by letting me know that they were now a couple. Once again, Lehane does a brilliant job of painting a vivid picture of the city of Boston and surrounds.

I am not going to give much away because I want readers to go out and get this book. But, the story begins with the abduction of a four year old from her bedroom in a rough Boston neighborhood. Mom is a hard drinking, party girl who’s story is that she left her daughter alone in an unlocked apartment to go next door and watch t.v. And drink with a neighbor. In fact, she left her alone in an unlocked apartment to go drink at an extremely unsavory neighborhood bar.

While the story moves along at a cracking pace and involves good and bad cops, neighborhood toughs, drug dealers, organized crime and a host of other issues, what is never far from your mind is the fact that the clock is ticking and there is a four year old out there who is at risk now and was at just as much risk at home. The book even begins by reminding you how many children go missing in the United States each day.

That concern over what is happening to the child made me anxious and that anxiety in turn, kept me up reading long past the hour that I should have been asleep. There area ton of twists and turns in the plot that keep you guessing right up to the final page.

This is my second Dennis Lehane read and I see consistency in his books and his writing. I knew I would be back to read other books by this author and I was not disappointed. I can assure other readers that they won’t be either. Just be prepared to stay up past your bedtime!

The Eye of Shiva by Alex Lukeman

Sometimes you need a good thriller to cleanse your reading palette. Although this book is the the eighth in the series, there is no need to read the previous seven first. This book can easily be read as a stand alone but it certainly whet the appetite to know that there were more books out there with these characters.

They are all part of a group called The Project. Some terrorists have found and been using ancient gold coins to fund their operations and buy weapons. The story starts out with immediate action – a terrorist cell seizes workers in the U.S. Embassy in Cebu in the Philippines. It turns out to be a red herring operation, designed to create a world wide conflict.

The real conflict involves both personal and political scores between India and Pakistan, notably, high officials within the Indian military who have scores to settle. Central to this, is

ancient treasure. This was inadvertently discovered buried on the Khyber Pass and itself, was the subject of an ancient feud centered on the area around Kashmir.

This was a a quick read at a cracking pace that keeps the interest. It doesn’t let up on the gas and there is no lull in the action. It ‘s also a great road map as to how ancient conflicts are able to sustain themselves for centuries.

For those looking for a reliable series in the thriller genre, any of the books with the stories and characters involved in The Project, will be sure to entertain. It appears that each will be able to stand alone so reading them out of order won’t hinder your enjoyment.

Take a break from whatever your normal genre is and treat yourself to some action. You will come away reinvigorated and ready to tackle the next big novel on your list.

Beirut Noir ed. by Iman Humaydan

I loved this book. In fact, so far, this has been my favorite in the Noir series. I did wonder at times what may have been lost in translation between Arabic and English but that did not deter me from continuing to read nor did it detract from my enjoyment of this book.

I think the editor made excellent choices in the material. It represented sections of the city of Beirut and while war was an important theme, and how could it not be given the sheer number of years that conflict has permeated the landscape, it was not the only theme.

One of the fun aspects was understanding the experience of natives who both stayed in the city and those that left and returned after time away, often in former colonial enclaves. It was great to see the influences of all the cultures and religious experiences that have shaped Beirut.

My picks? “The Bastard” by Tarek Abi Samra; “Beirut Apples” by Leila Eid; “Rupture” by Bachir Hilal; and “The Thread of Life” by Hala Kawtharani. My least favorite was originally written in English and is called “Dirty Teeth” by the Amazin’ Sardine. Still, the writing was very poetic and I have to say, there were some very beautiful endings to some of the stories.

There is a certain poetry and movement to Arabic writing that once you get into the flow (as in the flow in English) you come to appreciate it. I was also happy to note the role – even tangentially, that Australia played in a few of the stories. Having lived in Australia and made several Lebanese friends, I was able to look at and appreciate things they had shared about being Lebanese and being Australian.

Loved it. Recommend it. Keep and open mind and an open heart while reading it.

Marseille Noir edited by Cedric Fabre

Marseille Noir ed. By Cedric Fabre

For me, this is a solid 4 ½ star read. One of the things I love about the “Noir” series is that selections are edited by individuals from that city so the stories are very representative of that place. The second thing I love is that the stories were originally written in the language of that city and country and then translated into English.

The variety is there: stories by both men and women. Stories from the point of view of natives of both the city and France as well as immigrants to those cities and that country. It is worth noting that Marseille, as a port city on the Mediterranean, has been influenced by Corsicans, Italians, Greek, French, Africans of all persuasions and Middle Easterners.

I loved the stories that showed the “seamy underside” the most. I guess that appeals to my interest in the stories of gangsters and underworld figures. There are plenty of great dark undertones that readers of noir will be expecting.

I had several favorites. My top ones were probably “Extreme Unction” by Francois Thomazeau; “Silence Is Your Best Friend” by Patrick Coulomb; “What Can I Say?” by Rebecca Lighieri; The Problem With the Rotary” by Phillipe Carrese and “Green, Slightly Gray” by Serge Scotto. But in so saying those were my picks, I can say with confidence that every entry was strong.

Loved this edition. Great set of short stories and don’t leave out the forward on any of these books because they are fantastic at setting the scene. Likewise, at the end of each volume is a profile of each writer so that you can seek out those you might like to follow.

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

I am going to say some things about this book and I am going to say some things about some of the younger and more critical readers of this book. I’m not going to engage in an ugly online debate defending my opinions. They are what they are and you are free to have your own opinions.

I will start off by saying that this book will be a classic. Time will make that so. The level of debate the book has engendered will make it so. It is brilliant and it has layers and layers of ideas that need to be discussed, deconstructed and enjoyed alone and in tandem with “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

Many of the most critical reviews I have read were generated by younger readers. Part of it was inspired by the desire to keep Atticus Finch on the very high pedestal that was created by Gregory Peck’s portrayal. I have to admit that in the reading, there were moments that I too was upset at the portrayal of Atticus. But then I stopped, I thought about it and I changed my mind.

Atticus Finch is a man of his times. He is part of the Reconstruction/Jim Crow South. We don’t have to like it. But it is so. He has always lived in Alabama. These are his people and in this book, he is of an age where he prefers that things change little or if they do change, they change slowly.

Scout is now a grown woman. She has moved to New York to pursue her career and she has had the opportunity to see that the changes occurring during the period of the civil rights movement have not brought to fruition any of the fears expressed by the folks back in her little southern town.

She has worked with, lived beside and ate in diners with blacks and the whole world hasn’t come to a halt. All that has happened is that Scout’s appreciation of the changes around her have deepened. So it is with shame and horror that she discovers racism – not in her town, she’s always known that – but in the people who populated her very own home.

Calpurnia harbors feelings that, though unspoken, the message is clear – Scout is now a Southern White Woman, a Finch, and no longer in need of or under what Scout always saw as a loving protection. Scout is treated with deference by black’s that she has known for years in ways she is not entirely comfortable with.

There are many ideas to be considered in this book: one should have a copy of the Constitution handy and be prepared to consider the arguments that were being put forward around the tenth amendment circa the early 1960’s. Likewise it helpful to understand law and how it is really applied and practiced. Not the idealized version of the movie.

It would be beneficial to have a true understanding of the NAACP and the work they were doing in the north and the south. It would be equally as beneficial to read a history of the early 1960’s to understand the breadth of issues that were being discussed and debated. It is not enough to have watched “Mad Men.”

One of the main things I have noticed when reading criticisms by younger readers and immigrants to this country is the expressed outrage at what was written. There seems to be a tendency to want to re-write the history and say that the views expressed in these pages are not at all representative of the populace. And that would be wrong.

The views expressed were the predominant views of the day. This book is very reflective of those times and of the fear and the anger and the crazy beliefs that prevailed. But this book is more than history.

The other part of this is story is as old as time itself. It is the story of every young person who goes away and walks the world, comes home and is confronted with the views of their parents, now seen through their adult eyes rather than those of the child. And sometimes, those views clash. And that is personal growth.

I think some readers were as outraged by Scout’s growth as they were by Atticus’ attitudes and beliefs and Calpurnia’s real feelings. It is very hard to see everything you thought you knew about a book you loved put into a different perspective. We also need to understand that probably most readers are Northerners, entrenched in the myth of the northern conquest of the South. Read deeper – the north was not as light nor the South as dark in terms of ideals as the history books might lead us to believe. I wish I had a dollar for every person who doing genealogical work wiped their brow while declaring they fought on the Yankee side or “right side” instead of the Confederate side or “wrong side”.

These are companion books. Hard stuff, but companions. Truths can be hard. I encourage people to read both, discuss, read the history and take your time before making a knee jerk opinion on this book. In my opinion, a 5 star, must read classic.