Blog Posts by David

  • Big-ma Thrills in Rollins's Sigma Novel

    "Blood Line" by James Rollins
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    James Rollins is an author who obviously enjoys writing hyped-up thrillers, parting the curtains on seemingly futuristic technology that has already come to pass, while employing tried-and-true plot devices that never fail to vouchsafe-- okay, guarantee-- the reader's attention.

    For instance, even with all his razzle-dazzle and flash-and-burn scenarios-- including subterranean evil-genius laboratories and heebie-jeebie little robot warriors, which summon memories of Karen Black's TV movie, "Trilogy of Terror"-- he puts a lovable dog on center stage.

    The canine-- Kane-- has even earned a miltary rank in the Army Rangers, although you may well wonder why he's still just classified a major.

    Maj. Kane is the partner of a captain who's assisting the Sigma special force, headquartered under the Smithsonian Castle.

    President James Gant's daughter, Amanda, has fled with her husband, after receiving a mysterious, dire

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  • The Plaza-- Toujours Une Glamagaza

    "Inside the Plaza" by Ward Morehouse III
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    During the 1980s, The Plaza hotel-- famously located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park
    South--ran a Don-Draper-worthy advertising campaign: "Nothing unimportant ever happens at The Plaza."

    Merely perambulating along the corridors and through the lobby, popping in the shops, gazing at the glamour, renders a sense of elegance and history that exists in few American locales.

    For the hotel has witnessed a vast Who's Who of the 20th century stroll beneath its glittering chandeliers and marble columns since opening in October 1907.

    Who wouldn't want to take afternoon tea under the stained-glass ceiling in The Palm Court, or dine on something lobstery in One C.P.S. (formerly The Edwardian Room), with one of the World's most romantic street-window views-- carriages lined up along Central Park?

    Trader Vic's restaurant and The Persian Room nightclub have come and gone, but the hotel-- as author Ward

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  • Happy 90th, Judy!

    "The Wizardry of Oz" by Jay Scarfone and William Stillman
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    June Tenth marks the 90th anniversary of Judy Garland's birthday, and what better way to celebrate than with this lush and luscious volume about the behind-the-scenes creation of her best-known film?

    (For those seeking an equally extravagant journey through the full Garland film oeuvre, turn to John Fricke's "Judy: A Legendary Film Career" [reviewed this past summer].)

    Originally set at a cost of $1.4 million, the lavish production of "The Wizard of Oz" was completed for more than $2.7 million, almost 100 percent over-budget. (For a picture of the final production report, see "M-G-M: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot" [also reviewed earlier].)

    Nevertheless, as this work meticulously demonstrates, no expense was spared, as evident in the exacting details of costumes, make-up, sets, and special effects.

    One of the chief delights of this volume is to focus on the intricacies of those costumes,

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  • Dig that Diva, Digging Up the Dirt

    "The Diva Digs Up the Dirt" by Krista Davis
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Does she ever-- literally and figuratively.

    Plus, she has a reality TV crew encamped in her backyard, but all's well that ends well with that subplot.

    The title Diva, Sophie Winston, writes a domestic-advice column, sort of "Dear Abby" meets "Hints from Heloise." She also works as an events planner in and around Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia, an historic area with plenty of historically oriented and metro-DC happenings to keep her on the run.

    Indeed, the plethora of local gatherings can easily support another Domestic Diva, Natasha, Sophie's childhood bete noire. Not that much has changed in their relationship. Natasha's competitively manic proclivities have intensified, up to her latching onto Sophie's ex-husband, Mars.

    Sophie has been tolerant of her neighbor and rival Diva, which hasn't gone unnoticed by Mars, who-- in a manner of speaking-- may have traded up for the shinier, flashier model when the

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  • McKenzie's Museum Mystery in Minneapolis

    "Curse of the Jade Lily" by David Housewright
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    " 'This is going to be fun,' I said. 'Like those old "Thin Man" movies on TCM with William Powell and Myrna Loy.' "

    Thus speaks Rushmore McKenzie in David Housewright's latest McKenzie (no one calls him by his first name) mystery, and he's right on the button.

    McKenzie gets his Asta in one bind after another, but he always comes up sarcastic, if not smiling.

    The ex-cop and lifelong resident of St. Paul, Minnesota, is back in is element, investigating insurance fraud, which (thanks to a big reward) has already landed him in a comfy early retirement in which he indulges his penchant for pricey kitchen gadgetry and his Batmanian sense of justice.

    A newly established local museum is missing one of its on-loan artifacts, the titular Jade Lily. The Lily's insurer hires McKenzie to accommodate the thieves' monetary request, in exchange for the pilfered piece.

    More to the point, the thieves have requested

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  • Star-Crossed Lovers at Center of Mystery

    "Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder"
    by Catriona McPherson
    Reviewed by
    David Marshall James

    Catriona McPherson's mysteries are as dense in bits and pieces as a High Street tearoom fruitcake, seeped in period Scottish flavor, and crowned with a generous dollop of humor.

    Her title character, Dandy "Dandelion" Gilver, is the mother of grown children, wed to a country estate owner who is as fond of the outdoors as she is of drawing rooms, yet they share an understanding of one another's interests and often go off in preferred directions.

    Thus, Dandy has banded with a neighbor, Alec Osborne, in detection-- two heads being better than one, particularly when one of them is male, this being the late 1920s.

    Gilver and Osborne's latest case finds them in Dunfermline, Scotland, sorting through a most tangled web of personal histories concerning two department-store families: One owns Aitken's Emporium; the other, House of Hepburn.

    Aitken's, the longer established of the two,

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  • New Mystery Horses Around Southern California

    "Hush Money" by Chuck Greaves
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    If you select the correct spectacles through which to read this first novel by former California attorney Chuck Greaves, you'll view a frolickingly fun mystery/thriller.

    Those designer specs should definitely bear a "JE" logo-- for "Janet Evanovich," that is-- because the outlandish antics in "Hush Money" serve the story better than they do the hardness of reality, all in the name of good fun.

    First novels of this genre tend to be either overwritten or undercooked. "Hush Money," which never loses its forward thrust, tips the scale to the former.

    The embossed, engraved calling card here is protagonist Jack MacTaggart, a onetime public defender who has moved onboard with a prestigious Pasadena law firm, where he's defending seriously ill patients against penny-pinching insurance companies.

    As the story opens, a senior partner-- the one who helped him onboard-- asks him to pinch-hit in a case of alleged insurance fraud,

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  • A Yacht to like in New Mystery

    "Final Sail" by Elaine Viets
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    Elaine Viets's "Dead-End Job" novels form a model of how a mystery series ought to develop, allowing the characters to evolve (if they're so inclined) without drifting far from the original premise.

    Here, that premise is Helen Hawthorne's escape from a failed marriage and a seriously misguided court judgment against her, stipulating that half her future earnings go to her ex-- whom she caught in the midst of a seven-minute joyride on a patio lounge chair.

    Not in this lifetime, deemed Helen, who took off from her native St. Louis, ultimately settling into a retro apartment complex in Fort Lauderdale, where she remained under the radar by taking a series of cash-under-the-table jobs, the better to maintain all her cents.

    However, as the series has tracked on, Helen has re-emerged, reimbursing the IRS and being dragged into another mess with the ex, back in St. Louis. On the plus side, she's landed a decent spouse, and

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  • Ethan Gage Buckles Up His Swash in New Adventure

    "The Emerald Storm" by William Dietrich
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    The new century is awash with conflict, with superpowers grinding and grasping for global domination.

    And it's just 1803.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same: One of the themes of William Dietrich's fifth Ethan Gage adventure, certainly intended as entertainment, with any historical lessons to be gleaned therefrom pure lagniappe.

    As for the aforementioned superpowers-- England and France (well, some things do change)-- they've got their teeth sunk into colonial bread on every continent and many islands, large and small, betwixt and between.

    Even so, Napoleon Bonaparte wants the whole enchilada-- well, eclair. However, France has guillotined much of its manpower through the Reign of Terror, and the protracted upheaval of the country's revolution has upset the order of its military infrastructure.

    If only the Emperor could sail across (fly over? tunnel under?) the English Channel and invade

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  • Stroby's New Thriller Comes Up Aces

    "Kings of Midnight" by Wallace Stroby
    Reviewed by David Marshall James

    This compact, tanked-up thriller picks up the saga of Crissa Stone, in all her many aliases, from whence last we met her, in Wallace Stroby's "Cold Shot to the Heart."

    Crissa is what could be called a highly methodical thief-- she does her field work before carrying out a job, weighs the risks versus the benefits, and then is as thorough as possible about mopping up her trail and "cleaning up" her ill-gotten gains.

    As this novel opens, Crissa is workin' South Carolina along with two male accomplices, literally knocking over ATM machines in late-night bank heists.

    When that jig comes to an unexpected close, she's headed up to New York to launder the money and to receive some investment counseling from her attorney (the most confidential kind), who's also her contact with her soul mate, who's doing time down in Texas for armed robbery.

    Little does Crissa realize that she's about to become enmeshed in another

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