Blog Posts by David

  • "I Still Dream About You" by Fannie Flagg: Book Review

    "I Still Dream About You" by Fannie Flagg
    Random House, 315 pp., $26
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Fannie Flagg is one of our finest Southern writers. Her most recent novel prior to this one, "Can't Wait to Get to Heaven," is quite simply a modern American classic, a treasure to be re-read.

    "I Still Dream About You" may be Flagg's most personal literary work to-date, however, as she spotlights a sixtyish former Miss Alabama from humble beginnings (living over the lobby of the Dreamland Theatre, in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama-- the author's home town, where her father worked as a movie projectionist) who dreamed big yet never fulfilled the promises that life seemed to hold for her.

    Moreover, Maggie Fortenberry has watched helplessly as her beloved hometown has crumbled from its halcyon days as "The Magic City" into a so-called revitalized version of itself that bears little resemblance to the graciousness and glamour of its glory years.

    Indeed, Maggie believes she has been

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  • "Christmas Mourning" by Margaret Maron: Book Review

    "Christmas Mourning" by Margaret Maron
    Grand Central, 289 pp., $25.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    From first chapter to last, Margaret Maron's sixteenth Judge Deborah Knott novel exhibits a masterful integration of her large cast of characters with a mystery grounded in the past of many residents of not-so-rural-anymore (and fictitious) Colleton County, North Carolina, about twenty-five miles southeast of Raleigh.

    Moreover, the story opens one week before Christmas, with festivities woven merrily into the plot, marred by the death of a popular high-school senior, who flips her car on a straight road en route home from a party.

    Then, another high-school student-- not as popular, with a far-from-sterling reputation-- is discovered shot dead alongside his older, also ne'er-do-well, brother.

    Because both students were classmates of a myriad of Deborah's nieces and nephews (after all, she has eleven older brothers), and because Deborah and husband Dwight well recall the deceased

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  • "A Stranger in Mayfair" by Charles Finch: Book Review

    "A Stranger In Mayfair" by Charles Finch
    Minotaur, 308 pp., $24.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    At a time when most men-- particularly those of noble birth and ample means, residing in 1867 London-- are settling into middle-aged routine, Sir Charles Lenox is throwing over his thoroughly contented bachelorhood as a private detective (strictly pro bono), often assisted by his physician friend, Dr. Thomas McConnell, and his Man Friday (official title: butler) Graham.

    However, Lenox has been recently elected to the House of Commons; Graham is elevated to the post of Lenox's private secretary in Parliament; and the Good Doctor and his wife are fast awaiting a blessed event.

    Moreover, Lenox has married his lifelong friend and next-door neighbor on Hampden Lane in Mayfair, the widowed Lady Jane Grey.

    As this fourth Lenox mystery commences, Sir Charles and Lady Jane are on the threshold of returning from their summertime honeymoon in Europe to a conjoined household.

    Upon their

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  • "Three Bedrooms, Two Baths, One Very Dead Corpse"
    by David James
    Kensington, 268 pp., $22
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Amanda Thorne isn't exactly a gay divorcee, but her ex is-- gay, that is-- yet they're still in love and chasing a murderer in Palm Springs, California, where they're both realtors.

    Before proceeding: This review is neither an example of blatant self-promotion nor nepotism, although the author's name was admittedly an attention grabber. However, it's the nom de plume of mystery writer David Stukas, neither relation nor acquaintance.

    Now: The mayhem reaches a pitch when Amanda-- trailed by a dozen or so eager real-estate agents-- discovers the body of a local environmental activist in a house that she's listing.

    Because the deceased was deathly opposed, so to speak, to the development of the nearby mountains, he drew the ire of plenty of uber realtors, notably two aging she-dragons whose two favorite words are "Max" and

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  • "Devoured" by D.E. Meredith: Book Review

    "Devoured" by D.E. Meredith
    Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 291 pp., $24.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Call it "CSI: London, 1856."

    A rash of grisly, horrifyingly prosaic murders is afoul in the snowy metropolis, victimizing proponents of progressivism in scientific thought.

    Concurrently, a spate of little girls are turning up dead, many of them mutilated.

    Thus, the morgue is overflowing at St. Bart's, and forensic pathologists Prof. Adolphus Hatton and his diener, Albert Roumande, are feverishly laboring to aid Scotland Yard in solving the crimes.

    This, at a time when science and clerical thinking are clashing violently over creationism vs. the fossil record in geological strata. Over the Divinity of Man vis a vis the discoveries of Charles Darwin and others regarding the evolution of species, from lowly ants and beetles up to finches and tortoises, topping off with apes and man.

    Traditionalists would rather not upset the proverbial apple cart. After all, Church and State are

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  • "Ghost in Trouble" by Carolyn Hart: Book Review

    "Ghost in Trouble" by Carolyn Hart
    William Morrow, 276 pp., $19.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Bailey Ruth Raeburn just can't leave Adelaide, Oklahoma, behind, no matter how enticing Heaven may be.

    Heaven can wait when the mortal storm gathers back in her hometown, and she's summoned by the Department of Good Intentions to protect the endangered and to bring the wicked to justice.

    In this third volume of one of three ongoing mystery series by Oklahoma City author Carolyn Hart, the chipper redhead who's looking a divine twenty-seven once more (when she and her husband perished in a boating accident, they were both "up in fifty") is assigned by the Department to put aside hard feelings for a former nemesis who's in peril at an oil baron's estate.

    Widow Kay Clark had reignited an old flame with Jack Hume, an adventuresome gent who left the family business following the tragic deaths of his first wife and their daughter.

    However, Jack's in for it himself, and Kay is plumbing

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  • "Swift Justice" by Laura DiSilverio: Book Review

    "Swift Justice" by Laura DiSilverio
    Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 290 pp., $24.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Here's a debut mystery with plenty of pep.

    And Pepsi. It's the protagonist's preferred beverage. At least it's the high-octane variety, not the wimpified caffiene- or sugar-free varieties.

    Charlotte "Charlie" Swift-- somewhere in her thirties-- of Swift Investigations in Colorado Springs has been plying her trade for five years. She doesn't work well with others (read: bosses); otherwise, she would have signed up for police work after eight years with Air Force Special Ops.

    So, Charlie's flying solo and loving it until her Anti-Self appears one day in the bare-bones strip-mall corner office. Yes, this Antithesis is all bright designer colors, from pedicure to milady's dome, even if she's a bit on the squishy side in the physique department.

    Gigi Goldman, Mom to two teenage bratosauruses, aims to be a P.I., as her husband's ditched her and

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  • "Beautiful" by Stephen Michael Shearer: Book Review

    "Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr"
    by Stephen Michael Shearer
    Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, 464 pp., $29.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    "She was the most beautiful woman ever in film, without question," observed Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies.

    F. Scott Fitzgerald went even further, calling Hedy Lamarr "the most beautiful girl in the World."

    It was only natural that she gravitated toward motion pictures, although her otherwordliness made her seem out of place in ordinary settings. Still, she played romantic leads with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Charles Boyer, Robert Young, William Powell, and Robert Taylor, along with her two favorite leading men, James Stewart and John Garfield.

    However profitable each and every one of her MGM movies was, she should have been playing femmes fatales and exotic figures of history, myths, and literary classics. She was requested for-- and wanted to play-- Ilsa in "Casablanca," but MGM refused to

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  • "Busy Body" by M.C. Beaton: Book Review

    "Busy Body" by M.C. Beaton
    Minotaur, 278 pp., $24.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Agatha Raisin returns, right on "shej-YULE," as the British would say, and the accent is indeed on the "Yule" in author M.C. Beaton's twenty-first novel featuring the "infuriating, rude, pushy, but never boring" (in the words of someone who knows her well, Sir Charles Fraith) P.R. maven turned P.I. success.

    Beaton makes merry (in the mystery fashion) from one Yuletide to the next, although Agatha's attempts to celebrate at the first one come to naught, so she throws in the red-and-green-fringed cup towel at the next.

    Betwixt and between, there's a perplexing murder on La Raisin's plate, one for which she's hired on by the prime suspect, during the investigation for which one of her dear friends nearly bites the dust of an odd Cotswolds village wherein everyone seems to have a secret, and outsiders simply aren't appreciated.

    Would that scare off the intrepid Agatha? Never! It's "Sod them all"

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  • "The Shimmering Blond Sister" by David Handler: Book Review

    "The Shimmering Blond Sister"
    by David Handler
    Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 249 pp., $24.99
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Mitch Berger-- New York City newspaper film critic now e-zine-ing in his reviews from his awesomely located oceanside cottage near historic Dorset, Connecticut-- can reference films and their dialogue like Roger Ebert channeling Pauline Kael channeling Bosley Crowther.

    He's all up into Alfred Hitchcock's oeuvre, including the not-quite-up-to-snuff-for-Hitch ("Spellbound" and "The Paradine Case," although you must admit: the leading cast members in both are all at the prime of their gawgeouness) to the superior ("North by Northwest," and a big high-five to that, worth it for the train ride as much as for the cropduster and Mt. Rushmore scenes).

    So, anyone who writes about someone who is so into Hitchcock-- and all film noir-- ought to be able to construct a decent mystery, and author David Handler most assuredly can.

    A well-constructed mystery ought to be

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