Archive for June, 2019

The Sentence is Death

Saturday, June 29th, 2019

By Anthony Horowitz

The Short Take:

Horowitz follows up his first meta murder mystery with a worthy sequel. Once again he (Horowitz) is the narrator, filling the role of a willing-scribe Watson to the Sherlock of ill-mannered PI Daniel Hawthorne. This time it’s the murder of a divorce lawyer they’re investigating, with a generous cast of suspects.


If you’re familiar with the BBC series Foyle’s War, Injustice, or Midsomer Murders (early episodes on the last one) you know this man writes a good mystery (and they’re merely the tip of his prodigious output). In this delightful followup to his last mystery, Horowitz again inserts himself as himself (at the time he was writing for Foyle’s War) alongside a completely fabricated murder tale.

As before, Horowitz is expected to follow a murder case (to be) solved by Hawthorne and turn it into a novel. Once again, Hawthorne keeps his distance emotionally and refuses to share anything about his past. So you get the mystery of Hawthorne alongside the murdered lawyer.

Horowitz offers breezy prose with a generous helping of wit and humor. Plus, the mystery is challenging enough that you’re unlikely to guess the murderer, even though Horowitz plays fair and does not hide any of the clues. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these first two books. In The Sentence is Death, Horowitz states his deal with Hawthorne is a three book contract. Here’s hoping that is true in real life, too.

A Little Plot:

Divorce Lawyer Richard Pryce is found dead, killed with a bottle of highly expensive wine (and not solely by a bonk on the head). The chief suspect is a literary, snobby writer recently humiliated in a nasty divorce case ( her victorious husband was Pryce’s client).

There are a lot of other secrets woven through the plot besides whodunit, by the way.

For more about Horowitz and his many works, click here.

Washington Black

Monday, June 17th, 2019

By Esi Edugyan

The Short Take:

Excellent story about a child field slave who is chosen as the manservant of an eccentric naturalist and inventor, and the adventures that ensue. At times disturbingly brutal, it’s also filled with great wonder.


Life that begins on a sugar plantation in Barbados is bound to be laden with pain, humiliation, and fear. Eleven-year-old George Washington Black, called Wash, knows this well. His only refugee is Big Kit, a large, fierce woman whose protection comes with its own set of risks.

Wash is a brilliantly drawn character and his evolution over the course of Edugyan’s novel is full of thoughtful evaluations of his surroundings, exceptional understanding of others, and growing self-awareness. His transformative journey begins when he becomes the manservant of the plantation owner’s brother, Christopher Wilde. Wilde treats him more as an assistant and servant than as a slave; and their relationship continues to evolve.

When a tragedy strikes that could end Wash’s life, Wilde initiates an escape that sends them on a remarkable journey which includes stark arctic wilderness and Moroccan deserts. However, don’t be misled by the cover art. This no Around the World in 80 Days.

Despite all the unexpected opportunities that come Wash’s way, fear of recapture is never far away. Even as he strives for true freedom, he recognizes that as a black man his world will always be limited, his talents largely unrecognized. All Edugyan’s prose sings, but in Wash she has created a soul that sings as well.

A Little Plot:

Young Wash Black is made the manservant of Christopher Wilde. When Wilde discovers Wash’s artistic talent, he becomes much more and his universe begins to change and expand, not unlike a hot air balloon.

Furious Hours

Saturday, June 1st, 2019

By Casey Cep

The Short Take:

This absorbing non-fiction book debuts an author who knows how to keep you turning those pages. It includes a string of maybe-murders, the audacious trial of the man who killed the maybe-murderer, and Harper Lee’s efforts to write a true crime book worthy of the name. And it satisfies on every level


Cep has taken a sprawling fraud and murder case and made it thrilling and completely fascinating. What’s particularily interesting about this is that Harper Lee set out to do the same thing but struggled with the details for ages and ultimately quit. Lee’s research and ensuing doomed efforts play a big role in this book but it is Cep’s masterful storytelling that keeps you engaged.

The book is divided into three parts, with overlapping elements the advance the story. The first concerns Reverend Willie Maxwell. Several of his family members met with suspicious deaths and every single one of them was heavily insured — by the Reverend. The second section revolves around Tom Radney, the lawyer who helped the Reverend collect his death benefits but also defended the man who shot him.

The last section is devoted to Harper Lee, but is not limited to her interest in this trial. Cep covers her whole like, including the writing of her one novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. In particular, her contributions to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood are covered in length, and they are eye-opening.

Another thing that makes this book particularly rich and interesting is Cep’s inclusion of important background information, like predatory insurance sales practices and the voodoo religion. She gives you the whole story, and what a great story it is.

A Little Plot:

The dashing Reverend Willie Watson takes out a lot of life insurance policies on family members. A number of them die mysteriously. Even though he’s a black man in 1970s Alabama, he stays free. Is it voodoo?


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June 2019