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The Case of the Baited Hook

The Case of the Baited Hook - Erle S. Gardner

Mason received a phone call late at night; it was an unlisted phone known only to Della Street and Paul Drake. To make a long story short, he ended up receiving a man and a woman in the middle of the night in his office. While thanks to his foresight he managed to learn the identity of the man the woman was wearing a mask and was wrapped in a cloak making her a complete mystery. The lawyer was suckered lured into representing her in case she ever gets in trouble - while still being in the dark about who she is.

Next morning an aged woman came to him for a consultation. She gave him a long and romantic story involving a Russian noble couple fleeing the Revolution, Russian Revolution
a sinking ship (NOT named Titanic),

Titanic
a house for orphaned children with some shady business practices,



and a trust fund with mismanagement problems.


Trust fund
One of the funds trustee happened to be the identified night visitor, so Mason expected the enigmatic woman to show up at any time. He was wrong as he remained in the complete darkness regarding to who his client is - makes it hard to defend the girl, does not it?

This is one of the very rare stories where Mason was able to untangle the mystery before it got to the courtroom. As a result the usual courtroom drama is not here, but the book more than made up for it. The identity of his client remained unclear for a really long time. Mason's switchboard girl Gertie got her screen time and at one point her interaction with Mason (she was under the police surveillance at the time) was hilarious. Mason put in place a high-society snobbish woman - while defending another woman, so please do not call him sexist. I also loved the way he handled uncooperative stock brokers.

So far I managed to say everything except for the mystery itself. It was good, quite on the level with the rest of the series. Given all of these the rating is my usual for the series: 4 stars.

Reading progress update: I've read 1%.

Blood of Elves - Andrzej Sapkowski

It only took me 4 hours to move this book from planning-to-read to currently-reading. 

Calamity

Calamity (The Reckoners) - Brandon Sanderson

I would like to start by discussing writings of Brandon Sanderson in general even though I risk having a lynching mod of his fans showing at my doors. The guy writes fairly fast and he already delivered several complete series. I wish he would teach Speed Writing 101 to George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, and J.V. Jones, but I strongly suspect they will fail the final exam. Coming back to Sanderson, he creates very original and interesting magic systems. He is one of the best modern fantasy writers when it comes to one-on-one duels/battles. 

 

He also cannot write a good second book of a trilogy even if his life depends on it. His trilogies look like this: an excellent first book followed by unbelievably boring second partially due to a fact that he leaves the best characters behind or kills them. Finally the last book is an improvement, but still nowhere close to the first one in terms of excitement and quality. 

 

This trilogy is one such example. The first book was an equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie (a good one, not recent generic superhero crap, or a reboot).

The Matrix

It contained a very memorable first line, excellent characters, great action scenes, and David's awful metaphors. The second book came. We left a couple of interesting guys behind (I challenge anybody to call Tia - who prominently featured here - at least two-dimensional character and she is as one-dimensional as they come), there was a lot of talk and minimal action, and David' metaphors became stale. It did not help any that Alcatraz from the similarly named series used them as well. 

 

Finally we came to the last book. It does contain more action than the second one and the characters missing from the second installment made a much-needed comeback. In this sense it is a definite improvement. On the negative side the action lacked something that makes it really great and there were still lots and lots of mostly pointless talks. 

 

As to the plot: after the events of the previous book the Reconers are few and scattered. The survivors keep themselves busy trying to neutralize a very powerful Epic (Epics can be briefly described as X-Men gone bad) who used to be their ally. Now the person in question just wants to watch the world burn.

Some people want to see the world burn

I mean it literally. For starters the Reconers must get some equipment and to do so they need to infiltrate a stronghold of their previous supplier. In the trilogy "infiltration" means using lots of explosives and really heavy guns - the type that only very strong people can carry. From there they will have to move to a city made entirely out of salt (poor Atlanta). 

 

I already mentioned that this book is better than the previous one which I rated with 4 stars. This also means I have to rate this one similarly as there is no way it deserves a perfect rating. Quite a few people said the ending was bad because the resolution of the main conflict was way too simplistic. I agree about the resolution, but I do not think the ending is bad; just unsatisfactory. 

 

Some fun references follow. I mentioned Alcatraz used bad metaphors straight from David's collection. In this book one Epic used a talent straight from Alcatraz books: the guy could talk any imaginary language. Speaking about Epic talents, Larcener's one comes straight from X-Men's Rogue. 

 

I still remain convinced the first book is better off as a standalone. Besides it did provide some closure. 

Reading progress update: I've read 22%.

The Case of the Baited Hook - Erle S. Gardner

The beginning is so complicated I have no clue how to give a plot outline in my review - and keep it reasonably short.

Reading progress update: I've read 53%.

Calamity (The Reckoners) - Brandon Sanderson

Of cause I had to stop reading right before the the infiltration mission. Using kitchen blenders.

The Case of Rolling Bones

The Case of the Rolling Bones - Erle Stanley Gardner

We all know the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

The Prodigal Son

Unlike his Biblical counterpart the guy in this tale named Alden Leeds struck gold – literally. So he became rich and came back to the loving embrace of his family. After all, who would not want to have a rich relative?

Rich Uncle

Especially a dying rich relative? Leeds however disappointed his heirs-to-be by not only staying alive and kicking, but also deciding to get married. Obviously for the relatives marriage meant kissing their dream of getting rich quick goodbye. Such people can become really dangerous really fast.

 

Luckily for Leeds he had a niece who had a rebel idea that the guy was entitled to spend his money the way he wanted, even by marrying a woman who looked like a typical gold-digger. She hired Perry Mason to protect the interests of her uncle. As everybody familiar with the series knows Mason is not shy about charging for his services – and delivering too, but that is another story. This time Mason really earned his money, the hard way.

 

First he had to extract Leeds from the mental asylum where his loving relatives put him. The moment the guy was free (he escaped before Mason overcame the legal obstacles) he became a prime murder suspect with police happily adjusting the evidence to secure the conviction.

 

Mason had to untangle a very complicated tale involving Gold Rush, loaded dice, a blackmail, a former bar dancing girl, a doctor with dubious reputation, and of cause deadly loving relatives. I always say the amount of red herrings in a Perry Mason mystery is very high. This time it was close to overload.

Red Herrings

It did not help any that Mason himself threw a couple of them just to keep the police busy and happy. The mystery can be solved before it is explained if you manage to see the truth behind all the red herrings, but I wish you good luck with this.

 

Two other things are of note. A private detective Paul Drake, another main character of the series who does the legwork for Mason finally was able to get to eat in style - the way high-class lawyers eat - a couple of times. He usually had to have a low-quality sandwich while Mason was eating in a good restaurant. I always felt pity for him because of this.

 

Mason usually tends to leave the prosecution look somewhat foolish in the courtroom thanks to his brilliant performances. This time he literally humiliated the guy who fully deserved it to be honest. The moral of the story: do not get Mason pissed-off. It is hard to do, but if you manage it – watch out.

 

To summarize: a good entertaining mystery which most probably will keep you guessing to the end. It is quite on the level with the rest of the books of the series.

Reading progress update: I've read 15%.

Calamity (The Reckoners) - Brandon Sanderson

The beginning of this installment is not as epic as that of the first one (bad pun intended), but is much better than the second.

Sword of Destiny

Sword of Destiny - Andrzej Sapkowski

This is a second collection of short stories featuring Geralt of Rivia. If I understand correctly it was written before The Last Wish, but chronologically comes after that one. The stories of this anthology are longer and less funny although one of them can be considered to be entirely humorous. 

 

As most of the people already know Geralt is a witcher. This means he hunts monsters for living. He is also considered to be a mutant by many as his training included undergoing some chemical (herbs) and magical treatment that left him not-quite-human. So what does the guy do in this anthology? He is being lovesick - he is madly in love with Yennefer, he does his damned to escape what he thinks is his destiny, he follows his Codex which does not allow him to kill intelligent monsters. Have you notice something is missing in this description? 

 

Exactly, the monster hunter does everything, but hunting monsters. This makes even one of the characters wonder how the heck he made his living with his nonexistent work-related income; it feels kind of like this:

Lazy

Unsurprisingly Geralt is broke most of the time. 

 

I would like to talk about the love part of the book. What is a cornerstone cliché of a romance novel? The one without which the whole genre would not exists at all? It is a standard situation when two people are deeply in love with each other, but both of them keep creating obstacles that prevent them from being together, knowing exactly what they are doing. I mean imagine two people meet each other, fall in love, get married right away within a couple of pages, and fall into a standard married routine. Who in the right mind would read such a boring book? 

 

Geralt and Yennefer is exactly such couple. The troubles they go to NOT be with each other boggle the mind. As you might guess these situations feel a little old. They felt old during Shakespeare time actually. 

Romeo and Juliette

At least in the Great Bard's tale it were families that kept the kids separated. 

 

It was not a bad anthology despite my criticism, but it did resulted in a lower rating by half a star. I am also willing to cut some slack due to a fact that it was the first written installment of the series. The next book promptly goes to my to-read shelf. 

Reading progress update: I've read 62%.

The Case of the Rolling Bones - Erle Stanley Gardner

A fire alarm drill at my place of work. Annoyance? Hell no, a good excuse to get some reading done :)

The Tower of Fear

The Tower of Fear - Glen Cook

Review updated on October 2, 2016.

This is a buddy read with my fellow die-hard Glen Cook fans 
Fans

A city-state of Qushmarrah used to be under a ruthless rule of an evil wizard Narkar until the day it was conquered by Herodians - a rival nation. Herodians would not have a chance against Narkar, but at exactly the moment of their attack an assassin struck a death blow against the mighty wizard. His wife managed to froze the two in time right at that moment.

And so Herodians with the help of desert mercenary nomads called Datars succeeded. Both now rule the city under an uneasy truth. Some of the native citizens resent the foreign rule and their undercover resistance movement bides their time to overthrow the foreigners. Meanwhile to their complete surprise the simple people realized their life became better after Narkar's demise.

Thus in one city we have Herodians, Datars, the Living (the resistance), and the Witch (a wife of a fallen wizard and a mighty magician herself) all with different goals and agendas. I do not need to mention that there are some individuals who pursue their own goals to complicate the picture even further. The simple people are stuck right in the middle as usual in such situations .

It follows that the situation is ripe for double-crossings and back-stabbings. I keep repeating that when it comes to these Glen Cook is on his own level: I really cannot recall any author who does it better. With the setup above the guy delivers. There are places where it is hard to keep track who is allied to whom at the moment and who just double-crossed his supposed ally and why.
Double-crossing

The characters are great; practically none of them are pure villains and once you get to know their motives you begin to understand that most of them are just trying to do that is best for their people. For this reason it is hard to hate practically any of them - with some minor exceptions of real jerks. Of a special note is Aaron: a simple carpenter. He is probably the closest to a good guy ever created by Glen Cook, but he is still not Mary Sue.

This is a standalone novel - something of a dying breed in modern fantasy. The page count of my copy is exactly 300 pages, but it turned out to be enough for a good world-building, some great characters, all the backstabbing action, and even some romance. It reminded me in spirit of The Book of South of The Black Company, so any fans of that should read this book. Even The Witch feels like a Lady Jr. The story has some minor weaknesses that prevented me from giving a perfect rating, but it surely rates 4 very solid stars.

The Case of the Perjured Parrot

The Case of the Perjured Parrot - Erle Stanley Gardner

Parrots became strongly associated with pirates. No modern pirate dares calls himself such without a parrot sitting on his shoulder. Other traditional accessories like a pegleg and an eye patch are optional, but the bird is a must. I think Long John Silver from Treasure Island started the trend.  

Long John Silver

This tale however is not about pirates. 

 

The most interesting part about the story is that the original development has little in common with what happened afterwards thanks to traditional for Perry Mason novels plot twists. A guy whose millionaire father was recently murdered came into Mason's office asking to help him to keep the inheritance. The millionaire in question was married a second time and it was fairly obvious the woman was married for money (you see the rich people have this problem: they can never be sure their spouses have any romantic feelings for them). Now the widow would stop at nothing to keep the money from her stepson who was sure he is about to get the short end of the deal. 

 

Where does the parrot come in?

A parrot

He was the only witness of the murder of his owner. As Mason mentioned the bird cannot be sworn in the courtroom and thus can lie its head off during the trial without any legal repercussions. The problem was, it practically spelled the name of the murderer, but can you trust the bird? Even though as far as being smart parrots share the highest ranking among all birds with crows. The police seems to think so, Mason does not. 

 

This installment was somewhat disappointing for me. Mason solved the vast majority of the case and explained everything - except for the final surprising twist - during the coroner inquest. I am not very familiar with such, but according to the book they tend to be short: simplified version of the real court hearing. As a result Mason did not get his chance to cross-examine the people on the witness stand - something he is an undisputed king of. Such cross-examinations make up for the most excitement of the series and their absence here is very much noticeable. 

 

As you can easily guess the mystery which can be solved during a simple proceeding cannot be very complicated and this is exactly the case here. It made me feel like the last part of the book was too slow at getting to the point and even the last very much unexpected plot twist had not help much. I called it unexpected, but I actually suspected something like this might happen. I sound too vague, but I cannot clearly speak about something that happened on the last page of a mystery novel, can I? 

 

The story is still by no means bad and fully deserve solid 3 stars. It is just that the series has much better entries. 

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Vladimir Nabokov, Dan Chaon, Robert Louis Stevenson

The story is widely known and very influential. It was retold and replayed countless number of times by practically everywhere and everybody, including one of the best cartoon series of all the time, Looney Tunes:

Looney Tunes

For this reason people writing blurbs for the book decided it is quite fine to take a lazy route and give spoiler right away. At least in my opinion something revealed only in the last chapter should be considered a spoiler. 

 

I am going to assume there are people who have no clue what the book is about and only tell the very beginning without revealing the contents of the aforementioned last chapter. Imagine a typical old-fashioned respected Victorian doctor:

Victorian doctor

He lived a typical for his class life when his friends began noticing his mysterious connection to a highly disagreeable (I am trying to use the appropriate for that time term) man called Mr. Hyde. The first obvious conclusion was a blackmail - it seems a good doctor led a fairly wild life when he was a youth. Once again let me remind you that most probably his life was wild only in the eyes of his Victorian contemporaries. So it seems Mr. Hyde knew something about the doctor because the latter never failed to hush up the crazy adventures of the former. The truth turned out to be much more gruesome. 

 

I would not qualify the book as horror as it is not scary. It does have a great atmosphere though and a couple of scenes are quite spooky. The writing style while somewhat aged is still quite good and makes an easy read. 

 

Having said this I need to mention I was really bored by the end. Why? The tale has a clear message; it was so clear I would not even talk about it to avoid spoilers for those rare individuals who do not know the story. Anyhow, by the end I had a strong impression that the delivering of the message was a little heavy-handed. I am not trying to tell the author was driving it home with a hammer; far from it. He was using more serious tool for this:

Sledgehammer

This made reading the last chapter quite a chore with the only saving grace being the overall length of the book - it is fairly short. This is the reason why I lowered my rating for otherwise classic horror story. 

Reading progress update: I've read 84%.

The Tower of Fear - Glen Cook

Double-crossings... double-crossings everywhere.

The Last Wish

The Last Wish - Andrzej Sapkowski

“People," Geralt turned his head, "like to invent monsters and monstrosities. Then they seem less monstrous themselves. When they get blind-drunk, cheat, steal, beat their wives, starve an old woman, when they kill a trapped fox with an axe or riddle the last existing unicorn with arrows, they like to think that the Bane entering cottages at daybreak is more monstrous than they are. They feel better then. They find it easier to live.”

 

It is my personal belief that when it comes to myths nobody beats Ancient Greeks. Those are widely known and appear from time to time in literature (Cerberus - I mean Fluffy - in the first Harry Potter book for example). Thanks to Tolkien however the majority of fantasy written since his magnum opus borrows heavily from Celtic mythology. I can only think of Arabian jinns as another mainstream example of a mythological being. 

 

While not as well-known as the examples above when it comes to myths and fairy tales Slavic people can give others good run for their money. Consider the following guys and girls:

 

Koschei the Immortal. 

Koschei the Immortal

A traditional bad guy; as his name implies he is immortal and as such cannot be killed by any conventional means. His downfall is his weakness to young beautiful women. He usually kidnaps one only to have her extremely pissed-off boyfriend/fiancé coming and beating the crap out of the poor baddie - using highly unconventional means: love conquers all and such. 

 

Dragon. 

Slavic Dragon

Not only Slavic version has 3 heads, he also has the ability to put one back after in has been chopped off. So a poor hero battling such guy would finally cut off one of his heads and starts working on another only to find the first one is back in place and fully functional. 

 

Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga

I saved the best one for last. This Slavic witch lives in a hut on chicken legs which can turn around using them if you know the right words (and feel lazy to walk around to get to the front door like most passing by heroes do). The lady flies in a mortar using a broom for steering. For an icing on a cake she often has a drop-dead gorgeous granddaughter. As far as mythical creatures go, you really cannot get any cooler than this. 

 

Coming back to the book: this is the first one of the series on which three very successful games were based. The last one won practically every imaginable gaming award so it is fairly safe to say the majority of the people know at least the main idea. Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. This means his job is to hunt monsters - most of them are based on Slavic mythology. He is not entirely human as he undergone a mutation as a part of his training, and as a result tries to find his place in a society where witchers are not as needed as they used to be. 

 

This tension brings all kinds of conflicts making Geralt rethinking his outlook on life and coming to the terms with the fact that people can be the biggest monsters there are - see the first paragraph of the review. The guy tries to stay neutral in the internal struggles between people and mostly failing at that. The best he can do is to choose the lesser evil, but it is completely unclear which evil is lesser in the long run. 

 

It all sounds kind of gloomy and the book actually is, but it also has its share of humor found in unexpected places. Speaking of which, in the last story called The Last Wish (I forgot to mention that this book as well as the next one is a collection of several short stories) I really pitied the jinn. I mean I would be equally pissed off in his place; poor supernatural creature. I will not spoil it, but people that have read the book know exactly what I talk about. 

 

People familiar with Slavic fairy tales can find retellings of quite a few of them - often with a hilarious twist. Their knowledge is not necessary to enjoy the book, but it definitely would not hurt. The book is quite good and it gives a nice introduction to the witcher's world and Geralt himself. I have my sights on the next installment. 

The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe

The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe - Erle Stanley Gardner

It is much easier to give a brief outline of the plot of this book than its predecessor. I doubt the outline would be any clearer in this case though. Trying to get out of the rain Perry Mason and his secretary Della Street ran into the nearest shop. Waiting for the rain to stop and doing a study of characters they spotted a woman doing good old shoplifting.

Shoplifting

She was also spotted by a security guy who confronted the woman only to find Perry Mason defending her – for the reasons I cannot even begin to guess. She seriously needed an attitude adjustment – in my humble opinion.

Attitude Adjustment

 

Let me give you a good advice: never ever argue with a lawyer about the law. Perry Mason was about to sue the store for damages and slander, but a timely appearance of the woman’s niece settled the matter as she bought whatever her aunt lifted wholesale – spending her last money I might add. A little later the niece showed up in Mason office for a consultation.

 

Here is where things start getting complicated. The aunt had a brother. The guy had to start working early in his life to support his siblings. From what I understood he still had to do it even though his sister was well into mature years. He worked as a jeweler and had a reputation of being a good specialist for the money he charged. He also had a habit to let it go from time to time by going to a casino, getting completely drunk and spending all the money he had on him. To avoid spending all, the moment he felt the spell is coming he took some very limited amount of cash, put all of his stones in a safe and left the key to it with his kleptomaniac sister.

 

This time his friend brought him a client who wanted to do something nice out of her big diamonds.

Diamonds

The jeweler had his “vacation” coming, so he supposedly left the diamonds in his safe and left for the places unknown. Later on the client decided she wanted the diamonds back. They were not in the safe. Now the niece thought her aunt took them, considering her kleptomania and her possession of the safe key. The jeweler’s friend however (the guy who played a middleman) thought it was his friend who forgot to put them in the safe and went to gamble on them in a casino. It was Mason’s duty to protect the family from a theft accusation, but the moment he became too nosy and stumbled – literally - upon a dead body he had to do what he is the best at: protecting his clients from a murder charge.

 

The usual case of Perry Mason involves just one dead body, but this time it was an exception as there were more. This complicated everything, a lot. Let me give you a slight spoiler to explain. This time there were several guns involved with several bullets shot from them.

Guns

Unless you keep track of them all – I suggest writing everything related to them down – you will be as lost as the Court and Mason’s nemesis police Sergeant Holcombe even after Mason explained everything. I am not kidding.

 

I still was able to figure out one murder – and get hopelessly lost in the rest. Given all the red herrings and my enjoyment my usual rating for a book of the series – 4 stars – applies.

Reading progress update: I've read 84%.

The Last Wish - Andrzej Sapkowski

A really fast read.