Last Update 12/30/18

The Long Valley by John Steinbeck, 1938    

This collection of short stories includes the novella, The Red Pony. They are largely slice of life tales, although I noticed quite a few quite strong female characters, which was a pleasant surprise. The two best are “The Leader of the People” and “Saint Katy the Virgin.” Most are set as usual in the Salinas area of California, which featured in much of the author’s work. He was better at novel length but the shorts are still worth reading. Most are set in his usual location, Salinas Valley in California. 12/30/18

Isle of Strangers by Hammond Innes (as Ralph Hammond), Collins, 1951 

A young man singlehandedly sails a small boat across the North Sea to Norway when his uncle disappears. He is immediately enmeshed in the efforts by an unscrupulous industrialist to secure control of an entire island, using a faked plague and outright murder to get what he wants. Despite efforts by supposedly responsible adults to remove him from the scene, he persists and is eventually instrumental in exposing the scheme. This felt a great deal like the author’s adult novels of the period and despite the young protagonist, it does not feel like a YA novel at all. 12/27/18

In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck, 1936 

The communists were quite active in labor disputes during the 1930s and this novel examines one such effort among apple pickers. The organizers want them to go on strike and eventually succeed, manipulating things behind the scenes. But in those days, employers were able to control the local police and hire thugs and scabs to assault the strikers and do the work in their place. The story is quite gripping and initially it appears that the organizers are selfless and dedicated while the owners are grasping bullies. By the end of the story, however, it is clear that both sides are villainous and that it is the unsophisticated workers who are caught in the middle. 12/26/18

Cocos Gold by Hammond Innes (as Ralph Hammond), Tempo, 1963 (originally published in 1950) 

This is essentially a rewrite of Treasure Island. An orphaned teenager is staying with a man who once was involved with an effort to find a treasure, although no one believes his story. His former associates show up and pressure him into making another try for the gold, but things go wrong and he is killed. The young protagonist has a map, however, and some of the bad guys come aboard when he takes passage on an expedition to South America. A mutiny and various other adventures follow. The first half is pretty good but surprisingly the more active second half is not as involving. Still a pretty good YA novel. 12/23/18

Delta Connection by Hammond Innes, 1997   

The protagonist of Innes’ final novel is in Romania during the closing days of Ceausescu’s reign when he is inadvertently involved in the murder of a member of the secret police. He manages to escape to Turkey before being sent to Pakistan to replace a man who died under unknown circumstances. For part of this time he accompanies the daughter of an old friend who is also desperate to get out of Romania. After various convoluted adventures, they end up in a minor lost world, where the hero helps kill the psychotic ruler. Much of the plot requires that people keep secrets from one another unnecessarily and sometimes against logic. It was a sad ending to a frequently brilliant career. 12/20/18

 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 1939 

The Oklahoma dustbowl years resulted in a mass migration to California where the newcomers were ruthlessly exploited by landowners. The famous novel follows the Joad family, typical of the time, and their various travails, most of which turn out badly. Some of them die, some wander off, and some become fugitives. This is a long novel – I read it on the treadmill over the course of three weeks – and what makes it even more depressing is the rise of similar attitudes and situations today. Steinbeck would be shaking his head with  sad fury, I suspect. The writing is topnotch and the reader will find room for sympathy even with people we might not ordinarily consider sympathetic.  12/18/18

Target Antarctica by Hammond Innes, Chapmans, 1993 

This sequel to Isvik is the only time Innes reused characters. The plot this time involves salvaging a cargo plane stuck on an ice floe and using it to bring a mystery cargo back to the mainland. There is a mysterious company run by a Southeast Asian woman with an equally mysterious background. Greenpeace has agents following our hero, the pilot who is supposed to make this all work even though he does not know the endgame. In his later novels, Innes tended to overdo the buildup with unnecessary detail and this is another example. They don’t even set out for the ice floe until the second half of the novel. Readable and at times engrossing, but his best work was in the past by now. 12/11/18

Isvik by Hammond Innes, St Martins, 1991 

The possibility that a two century old sailing ship may be preserved in the ice of Antarctica leads to a small expedition whose members do not get along well. At least one of the men aboard would prefer that the ship be destroyed to obliterate the evidence of an old murder, and almost none of the characters gets along with any of the others. The expedition does not even leave port until almost two thirds of the way through and there is very little about their actual adventures within the ice floes. The protagonist resolves to leave on more than one occasion but does not, and his motives are never clear and sometimes inconsistent. About average for Innes. 12/8/18

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, 1937  

Two unlikely friends wander around doing farm work during the Depression. One is small and smart and lazy. The other is big and strong and industrious but has the mental capacity of a five year old. The latter, unfortunately, does not know his own strength and his efforts to show affection to animals often ends with their death. The latest job becomes particularly tragic because he becomes fond of a child and his friend eventually has to quietly kill him to prevent his being tormented by a mob of furious men. 12/6/18

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck, 1935  

This is an anecdotal and comic novel about a group of impoverished men living in Southern California during the Depression. They are all essentially arrested in childhood, with no self-restraint, no conventional morals, no sense of private property, and virtually no common sense. They spend money – usually on alcohol – as soon as they receive any and even a considerable legacy does nothing to change their lives in the long run. Although there is a great deal of humor, it is usually painful to see their lives unravel, although in truth they are probably quite happy with their lot. 12/2/18

High Stand by Hammond Innes, Atheneum, 1986

A lawyer is puzzled when a client disappears, revealing that his gold mine has run dry and he is broke. He follows the trail to the Yukon where he finds his client, as well as drug smugglers, nasty timber companies, and high adventure. The title refers to a plot of trees which are valuable as timber, but which also represent family secrets, a curse, and a power struggle. The first third moves very well, the middle third falters a bit, and then there is a final satisfying rush to the end. This was one of the best of the author’s later novels and is reminiscent of his earlier Killer Mine. The climax is a bit weak, however, and leaves several loose ends. 12/1/18

The Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck, 1932  

Steinbeck’s first book is actually a collection of interwoven stories set in the same community, similar to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. The title is the small California region where they all settle. Some are mentally ill or at least unusual, a common theme in the author’s work. Some are physically extraordinary. Some have tremendous imaginations and some are merely plodders. Many of them have secrets, not all of which are exposed. There are no real villains and the reader will realize that Steinbeck has affection and sympathy for all of them. Sometimes they have happy endings and sometimes not. This was a positive pleasure to read. 11/25/18

To a God Unknown by John Steinbeck, 1933 

Steinbeck’s first actual novel is a strange one. A family from Vermont relocates to California to join four ranches into one. The dominant brother is Joseph, who is one very peculiar character. Although nominally Christian like his siblings, he believes his father’s spirit resides in a tree near his house and makes token sacrifices to it. One of the brothers is killed when caught with another man’s wife and Joseph’s wife slips and has a fatal fall shortly after the birth of their sun. Joseph’s obsession with the land and his inability to see other people as individuals warp his character enormously and his own personal fall – suicide – is inevitable. 11/25/18

Solomon’s Seal by Hammond Innes, Knopf, 1980 

A disgruntled accountant gets involved with a family which has a long history in the South Pacific. The disposition of a house and its contents turns up a stamp collection that has an odd history. While in Australia on another matter, the accountant gets caught up in gun running, an attempted insurrection, a sorcerous curse that might even be real, and the history of the family that include murder. He survives all of this, falls in love, discovers the true story of the stamp collection – which turns out to be much more valuable than he realized, and rescues the family business from bankruptcy. A few rough spots along the way where the protagonist does not seem to be acting consistently, but good overall. 11/21/18

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck, 1937 

This famous novella is about the relationship between a young boy living on a farm and his pony, although the pony dies half way through. But he gets a new one in the second half. Heart warming and a perennial school favorite, but I never thought that it measured up to the author’s major works. The Bantam edition has a short story from The Pastures of Heaven included to pad it out and justify its sale as a book. 11/18/18

The Last Voyage by Hammond Innes, Knopf, 1979 

This attempt at an historical novel is far and away the author’s weakest novel. It is cast in the form of the lost diary of Captain Cook, who on this trip discovered the Hawaiian Islands but did not discover a Northwest Passage, which was his objective. Upon returning to the island he attempted to take a local chieftain hostage in order to trade him back for a stolen boat, but the attempt went awry and he was stabbed to death. Most of the story consists of Cook’s rather uninteresting observations during the voyage. 11/16/18

Grenadine’s Spawn by Robert Ruark, Doubleday, 1952 

The sequel, not surprisingly, to Grenadine Etching. Grenadine the wonder woman is dead at last, but she left five children behind, and this book presents portraits of each of them. One has gone into the army after a checkered youth. One was a gigolo, turned movie producer, turned soldier. A third is a successful if unorthodox novelist. The fourth is a scientist working on antigravity and the last is a gangster’s moll. This is really a collection of mildly interesting spoofs rather than a novel. Ruark reinvented himself after this book and became much more successful. 11/10/18

Summertime Island by Erskine Caldwell, NAL, 1968

As usual, Caldwell brings a disparate group of decidedly unusual characters together in order to comment on racism and other aspects of rural southern society. In this case, several people convene on an island, strangers to one another, and find themselves interacting in intense, sometimes violent, sometimes sexual ways. None of the problems are solved, although they are addressed, and the reader is not likely to find most of them particularly admirable. The prose has become more conventional as well. 11/7/18

A Lamp for Nightfall by Erskine Caldwell, Signet, 1952 

I believe this is the only novel by Caldwell that does not take place in the South. This time it’s rural Maine, but while the characters may be more educated and more affluent, the same prejudices and shortcomings are present. Instead of black people, French Canadians, Native Americans, and a few others get the snub. An approaching wedding throws all of this prejudice into the spotlight and the tensions steadily rise. There is somewhat more sympathy for some of the characters than usual, but the bigotry is just as repellent as ever. 11/7/18

The Black Tide by Hammond Innes, Doubleday, 1983 

When his wife is accidentally killed after an oil tanker appears to have been scuttled nearby, the protagonist takes a job for a crooked businessman in order to track down the man he believes was responsible for the sabotage. This takes him to a missing oil tanker which has been seized violently and which is getting a make over in preparation for some mysterious mission. The mission turns out to be a plan to wreck two filled oil tankers off a European port as a terrorist act. It comes close to succeeding, but is thwarted at the last minute when one of the two captains has a change of heart. I really disliked the protagonist of this one – he is pigheaded and ineffectual – but the story line is pretty good. 11/5/18

The Big Footprints by Hammond Innes, Signet, 1977 

This was as close as Innes ever got to SF. The story is set in the near future where a recent war has given rise to the East African Federation. The new government is busily slaughtering all the wildlife to feed the populace but one man is determined to expose the truth to the world. He is particularly interested in the elephants, who are nearing extinction and who enjoy a kind of animal ESP and a mystical knowledge of a possible refuge. Lots of arguing and posturing but not a whole lot of adventure and the political shenanigans do not feel realistic. Innes included international politics more frequently toward the end of his career, but rarely well.  10/26/18

The Courting of Susie Brown by Erskine Caldwell, Signet, 1953 

This is the best of the three story collections I’ve read by Caldwell. The title story is particularly good. Caldwell had a definite talent for taking a small event and using it to illuminate his characters. There is a feeling of realism even in the occasional outrageous situation. The depressing depictions of human nature are somewhat ameliorated this time by bits of humor and occasionally a hint that the author was even fond of one or more of his characters. 10/24/18

We Are the Living by Erskine Caldwell, MacFadden, 1954

A second collection of the author’s short fiction, although I was disappointed to find overlap between the two, both of which are relatively short in any case. This one tends to be a little sexier on average, and there are some humorous pieces which was not the case with the earlier collection. No real standouts here. Given the anecdotal nature of Georgia Boy, my favorite of his books, I’m rather surprised that his short fiction impresses me considerably less than do his novels. 10/21/18

North Star by Hammond Innes, 1974 

The indecisive, morally compromised protagonist of this adventure story is generally unconvincing. He was witness to a major crime but has to be forced to testify. He is threatened with a frame up, and refrains from telling the police about it, which makes it much more effective when the card is played. He gets moved from situation to situation without ever resisting more than perfunctorily. During the course of the novel he finds his father, whom he believed dead for decades, and learns of a plan to destroy an oil rig and pollute the coast of Scotland, but he still refrains from telling the authorities. He claims to be a communist but his political and economic views are very capitalist – he even arranges to buy a trawler as a business venture. There is almost no action at all until the final chapters. Innes seemed to lose his early gift for storytelling during the long gap in the 1960s when he wrote at a much slower pace. 10/19/18

Something of Value by Robert Ruark, Doubleday, 1955

I first read this long novel about the Mau Mau rebellion when I was in high school and it was my first close look at the problems caused by Britain’s colonization of Africa, specifically Kenya. Two young men, one white and one black, grow up under the patronizingly repressive British government. Years later, they will become bitter enemies when the simmering frustration leads to the Mau Mau rebellion and the murders of many white residents. The author makes it clear that this is not a case of good vs evil but rather of one evil against another. There are heroes and villains on both sides of the conflict. The actual outbreak of organized violence comes relatively late in this long novel, which spends a great deal of time illustrating how oblivious the British were to the tensions they were placing on the Kenyans, and also a great deal of time on the superstitions that caused the latter to distrust their rulers. 10/16/18

Jenny by Nature by Erskine Caldwell, Signet, 1961 

This is another depressing story of the rural south. Jenny rents rooms in her house and her tenants include a midget and a single woman who drifts into prostitution. The neighbors, particularly a crackpot church group, is appalled and tries to get her to throw the latter out. Then she allows a mulatto woman to rent a room as well, and that causes a powerful local man to apply pressure which results in murder and the destruction of the house. There is a hint of light at the end but not enough to counter the depressing chain of events that it follows. 10/14/18

A Woman in the House by Erskine Caldwell, Signet, 1949

This collection of short stories is fairly typical of the author’s novels. There is very little humor and most of the characters lead tragic or at least unhappy lives. There are quite a few stories about children, which is a bit of a change. The title story may be the best in the collection although I also though “Indian Summer” was quite good. They tend to be slice of life type stories, single brief episodes with a limited number of characters. They also tend to be quite short. I have two more of his collections but I notice some overlap.10/9/18

Grenadine Etching by Robert Ruark, Ace, 1947 

This was the author’s first novel, a spoof of historical novels. The setting is pre-Civil War south. The title is the name of a remarkable young woman raised by a voodoo witch whose powers are entirely real. Grenadine herself becomes a full grown woman at nine and has almost superhuman powers even without the voodoo. I hadn't read this before and was surprised to discover it is really a fantasy.  Funny for a while, but it begins to get old quite early and is quite a slug once they leave for Cuba and a series of unlikely adventures. 10/7/18

The Golden Soak by Hammond Innes, Avon, 1973 

After his business fails and his wife leaves him, the protagonist relocates to Australia where a relative of his wife has a cattle ranch and an abandoned gold mine. He becomes obsessed with rumors of the discovery of a major copper strike years earlier, lost when its discovered disappeared. There are rumors that the body is somewhere in the closed mine, but a deliberately placed explosion makes exploration impossible. This is a rather relentlessly depressing book filled with repulsive characters. Even the protagonist is less than admirable. 10/6/18

 Place Called Estherville by Erskine Caldwell, Signet, 1949 

Another very depressing novel about life in the rural South. The protagonists are mulattos, brother and sister, trying to find a place for themselves despite being despised by both the white and black populations. They are psychologically and physically assaulted on multiple occasions, belittled, insulted, and deprived of what we would think of as basic human dignity. Nicely done but painful to read. 9/30/18

This Very Earth by Erskine Caldwell, Signet, 1948

Almost every character in this novel about a poor southern family is reprehensible, pathetic, or dead by the end of the story. After his wife dies, Chism Crockett moves his father, one son, and three daughters from their farm to the city where he steadfastly refuses to find work. One daughter marries an abusive man who refuses to get a job, and is eventually murdered by him. Another supplements her meager wages through prostitution. The remaining daughter is still in high school, but is the target of her lecherous brother-in-law. The son is only eleven when his father gets him drunk and introduces him to rape. Although very powerful, it is relentlessly depressing and the conclusion is hardly uplifting. 9/24/18

Levkas Man by Hammond Innes, Avon, 1971   

The protagonist accidentally kills a man and decides to flee from England. He discovers that his estranged father, a paleontologist, has gone missing in Greece, so when he is recruited for a smuggling operation in that same area, he decides to kill two birds with one stone. His father is actually on the brink of a major discovery about primitive humans, but the Greeks are concerned because he was a communist in his youth, and a rival scientist wants to steal his discovery and proclaim it as his own.  The story is slow paced, wanders off into technical discussions far too often, and the motivations of the characters are frequently opaque. This was the author’s longest book to date, but also one of his least interesting efforts. 9/22/18

The Sure Hand of God by Erskine Caldwell, Signet, 1947  

An uneducated woman tries to get along in a small Southern town by odd jobs and sexual liaisons while raising an almost adult daughter. She decides that it is important to marry off the daughter to prevent her from ending up in the same squalid life, and she is not particularly discriminating in choosing potential husbands. Mildly funny, more than mildly tragic, and darkly satirical as is most of Caldwell’s fiction. Caldwell's books are not going to brighten up your day, no matter how well writtten they are. 9/15/18

The Strode Venturer by Hammond Innes, Signet, 1965 

An ex-naval officer gets involved with a family owned business in which one brother – rather an outcast – has a radical new vision for the company based on the discovery of a newly born island that is rich in manganese deposits. His two brothers prefer things the way they have been, despite the steady loss of income, and eventually try to dissolve the company. The outcast gets stranded on the island and is presumed dead, but of course he isn’t and eventually there is a climactic board meeting at which the good guys prevail. I found this one rather dull. 9/14/18

A House in the Uplands by Erskine Caldwell, Signet, 1946

The protagonist of Caldwell’s first completely serious novel is a woman who married into an old but decaying family. Her mother-in-law clearly hates her and her husband plays around but seems reluctant to sleep with his own wife. He is also a compulsive gambler and eventually thus leads to his downfall and his death. Despite a late attempt to give him some redeeming qualities, the husband is such a horrible person that his decline is not remotely tragic. His wife is so ineffectual that I had little sympathy for her. The only likeable character is a friend of the family who tries to help, and he only does so because he’s in love with the wife. Not up to the author’s usual standards. 9/12/18

Atlantic Fury by Hammond Innes, Dell, 1962  

There is incompetence but no real villain in this story of a disastrous attempt to evacuate a military unit from a remote island off the Scottish coast. The officer in charge is a ditherer who does not get along with his executive officer, who is more competent. The latter also has a secret. He has stolen the identity of a dead man and is actually the brother of the protagonist, who was court martialed for insubordination many years earlier. The evacuation is hampered by a surprise storm with hurricane force winds and a series of unlucky coincidences that eventually cost dozens of lives. The sense of impending doom dominates the story, which is brilliantly plotted and carried out. 9/7/18

Tragic Ground by Erskine Caldwell, Signet, 1944

The inhabitants in a poor section of an unnamed major city live in squalor and dream of getting away. The story focuses on one family. The father is lazy and weak spirited, the mother is a lush who rarely leaves her bed. He fights with the next-door neighbor and she harasses the social worker she is convinced is after her husband. The younger daughter has run off to a whorehouse and only the older one seems likely to get her life together, marry wisely, and move away. As usual Caldwell uses humor to mask the other tragedy he is describing. Not a book to make you optimistic about the world. 9/3/18

The Doomed Oasis by Hammond Innes, Knopf, 1960 

A lawyer travels to the Middle East to find out what happened to a young man whose estate has been entrusted to him for disposition. He discovers a complicated web of political, military, and commercial interests in the possibility of oil in a small independent Arab kingdom that is on the verge of collapse due to the destruction of its irrigation system. He gets involved in a siege, a war, and various political intrigues before an international crisis finally brings things to a head. There are some good sequences in this one, but most of the siege takes place off screen and the protagonist's personality seems quite at odds with the choices he makes. 9/2/18

Georgia Boy by Erskine Caldwell, Signet, 1961 (originally published in 1950)

Although this is another story of poor rural Georgia, it is quite unlike the author’s previous novels. For one thing, it is anecdotal, a series of stories about a single family rather than an organized novel. For another, the humor is more general and much lighter. The problems involve things like getting goats off a roof or getting caught flirting with a neighbor. There are some obvious bits of satire but they are not as bitter as they might have been. They’re all told from the point of view of a young boy. I liked this a lot more than Caldwell’s better known work. 8/27/18

The Land God Gave to Cain by Hammond Innes, Dell, 1958 

Ian Ferguson travels to Labrador to prove that his late father was not crazy when he claimed to have received a radio transmission from an exploration party that had been reported dead. Despite the active opposition of almost everyone he encounters, Ferguson perseveres and is eventually part of a small search party that eventually discovers the truth. There is a nice red herring. The man we are most likely to suspect of being a killer was actually just trying to cover up a crime to protect the murderer’s daughter, whom he loves. Lots of trekking through the snow and medium level adventures. 8/26/18

Black Sheep by Will Jenkins, Burt, 1946 

Another predictable western. Steve Burt was labeled the black sheep of the family after his father’s death, mostly because he knew that his uncle was involved in rustling. He leaves town but returns a few years later, only to be promptly framed for murder. He ends up being appointed deputy sheriff, but the sheriff is killed and he is on the run again. Naturally he defeats that bad guys and gets the girl. There is actually a small but nice twist at the end when we find out that an offstage villain has actually been dead all along. 8/22/18

Trouble in July by Erskine Caldwell, Penguin, 1940  

I’m not sure you could sell a tragicomedy about lynching today, but Caldwell did it decades ago. A white teenager tries to seduce a young black farm worker and the local busybody decides it was rape. All the white men go on the rampage to hunt him down, except for the local sheriff, who doesn’t want to alienate any segment of the electorate by actually doing something either way. And he’s not unsympathetic to the black man either. Fierce, bitter comedy mixes with clear portrayals of ignorant and brutal racism. This is a very disturbing novel. 8/21/18

Kid Deputy by Will Jenkins, Alfred King, 1935 

The Kid  of the title is a young jeopardy who ventures into an outlaw dominated valley to rescue his friend, the sheriff, from the reader of the outlaws, who happens to be his father. This is a really bad western with little action, and what there is feels like a comic book. It’s a coming of age story, but The Kid doesn’t change very much and the other characters are all stereotypes. Not naming the protagonist probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but the results are terrible. 8/20/18

The Wreck of the Mary Deare by Hammond Innes, Pocket, 1957

This is probably the author's best  known novel. A crooked shipping company secretly offloads a valuable insured cargo and then plans to sink the original ship and collect both ways. Unfortunately for them, the acting captain is an honest man and he survives an attempt to kill him when the crew abandons ship. A passing smaller ship puts the protagonist aboard and he gets caught up in the ensuing drama as the ship is beached on a reef. Now it's up to the two men to prove what really happened, clear the captain's name, and bring the bad guys to justice. One of the best adventure novels. 8/18/18

The Naked Land by Hammond Innes, Ballantine, 1954 

A smuggler turned missionary in Morocco has hired a doctor, who arrives rather dramatically via shipwreck. Because the doctor is trying to avoid Communist agents – and for other reasons – he uses a false identity, which gets him into trouble with local gangsters and revolutionaries. This necessarily involves our hero as well despite his intentions to remain above the fray. The impersonation causes continued complications, as does the interference of a persistent crook and a local man who is determined to free the country from its French rulers. This is one of the author’s better novels. 8/15/18

Journeyman by Erskine Caldwell, Signet, 1948 (originally published in 1935) 

Another bitterly comic novel of poor Southerners. This time the plot focuses on the arrival of a lecherous and dishonest wandering preacher who forces himself upon a family and makes no secret of his plans to seduce every attractive female within range. He eventually bilks some of the characters out of everything they own. As despicable as he is, the methods he uses to develop his schemes are so transparent that I had little sympathy for his victims. 8/14/18

Outlaw Guns by Murray Leinster, Star, 1950 

This is a fairly standard western, although it is set late enough to have automobiles and gangsters. The hero is trying to clear his dead brother’s name – he was accused of rustling – and avoid a horde of people intent upon killing him  He teams up with some outlaws for a while, rescues a damsel in distress, outwits a crooked sheriff, and unmasks the secret leader of the bad guys. Also published as Wanted! Dead or Alive! 8/12/18

Campbell’s Kingdom by Hammond Innes, Ballantine, 1952 

A man terminally ill inherits a piece of supposedly worthless land in Canada, where his grandfather believed oil can be found. A dam project plans to flood the area and it is nearing completion. The conflict leads to subterfuge, legal challenges, and sabotage before the good guys finally strike oil, only to have the entire area flooded hours later. But there is a flaw in the dam, which results in a disastrous flood and eventually vindication of the hero, whose cancer spontaneous cures itself. This was one of the author's best adventure stories even though there is less melodrama than usual. 8/9/18

God’s Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell, Signet, Penguin, 1947 (originally published in 1933)

I enjoyed this novel of poor Southerners a good deal better than Tobacco Road, his other famous novel with a similar theme. There is a family obsessed with the idea that there is gold somewhere on their land, so instead of raising crops, they dig enormous holes everywhere, always setting aside one acre for which they have promised any income to God. They pull various other people into their mania. This book was challenged as pornographic when it first appeared because of the frank sexual relations among the characters. The courts ruled in favor of the book and the findings – included as an appendix in this edition – are quite interesting. 8/1/18

Air Bridge by Hammond Innes, Avon, 1970 (originally published in 1951) 

The protagonist has somewhat unwillingly gotten himself on the wrong side of the law. This leads to his working with a man who is obsessed with perfecting a revolutionary new kind of aircraft engine. Our hero is eventually blackmailed into stealing a plane, but in doing so he forces a friend to parachute down into the Russian Zone of Germany. His conscience bothers him so he goes to look for him and has various adventures before the obsessed man commits murder to protect his business operation. He also stole the plans from a man now dead whose daughter is determined to get them back. The protagonist is such a miserable person that this didn’t entirely work for me. 7/21/18

Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell, Signet, 1959 (originally published in 1932)

This is one of Caldwell’s two most famous novels and is possibly the most depressing book I have ever read. It’s set somewhere in the rural South during the Depression and most of the characters are on the verge of starvation. They live in hovels, are uneducated, have no ambition for a better life and no respect for one another, and perform acts of casual cruelty throughout. The chief protagonist ends up dying in a fire. The prose is great but this was really difficult to read because of the horrible portrait it draws, though it is fortunately quite short. 7/12/18

The Angry Mountain by Hammond Innes, Ballantine, 1950

A businessman visiting Soviet occupied Czechoslovakia gets caught up in intrigue when an old friend is arrested by the secret police. Most of the story takes place in Italy when the friend’s escape somehow goes awry and the protagonist discovers that a war criminal is masquerading as another old acquaintance. The climax takes place against the backdrop of an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. This is my least favorite Innes. I disliked the protagonist immensely, the plot involves a lot of coincidences and the refusal of characters to provide information to each other that would have made things easier for both parties. They escape by taking off in an airplane over a runway that somehow has been untouched by falling boulders, lava flows, falling ash, and seismic activity. 7/11/18

The Survivors by Hammond Innes, Bantam, 1950

The protagonist gets caught up in a whaling expedition in Antarctica during which a man is lost overboard, either suicide or murder. The chief suspect in the latter case is the son of the man who owns the company. This man’s estranged wife is also present and she is the daughter of the dead man. Through some secretive maneuvering, she now holds controlling interest in the company, which makes her a prime target for another killing. An attempt at murder disables three small ships and places their crews on the ice, and when the larger factory ship tries to reach them, it sets the stage for an even greater tragedy. Literally chills and thrills ensue. 7/8/18

Dallas by Will F. Jenkins, Gold Medal, 1950 

Novelization of the movie about an ex-Confederate officer who adopts a false identity to avoid pursuit while he tracks down the bandits who killed his family. Gary Cooper starred. The bandits are three brothers, one of whom pretends to be a respectable citizen. After a rather standard series of adventures, the hero is able to kill all three brothers, marries the girl he meets along the way, and is granted a pardon for his past crimes. There is a good deal of sympathy for the Confederacy sprinkled throughout the story. 7/3/18