Last Update 12/1/22

A Man of Affairs by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1957 

An extended party on a Caribbean island gets tense. It was designed to convince the owners of a company to allow a financier to buy control and essentially loot the company. There are sexual and professional tensions. One of the guests dies when he is attacked by barracudas. But the real conflict begins when the financier has a heart attack, his associates want to delay news of his death until they can unload their stock, and they decide that no one will leave the island unless they are willing to keep the secret. The protagonist has no intention of letting them get away with it. More entertaining than I expected given the plot summary. 12/1/22

The Deceivers by John D. MacDonald, Dell, 1958

This is an expanded version of "The Faithless Ones." Two couples live in adjacent houses and are friendly. Both couples are mismatched, one intellectual and one earthy. Circumstances leave the two intellectuals alone for an extended period of time and inevitably they end up in bed together. This leads to a violent beating, an accident that might have been suicide, a custody battle, and a reconciliation for the other couple. The plot was a bit too obvious to keep me entertained and I didn't feel any real sympathy for any of the four people involved. 11/27/22

Beasts and Superbeasts by Saki, 1915  

Clovis, the recurring character from Saki’s previous collection, is intermittently present this time as well. The most famous of his stories is here. “The Open Window” appears to be a very effective ghost story, until the startling twist at the end. I won’t reveal it in case any of you have failed to read it yet. The quality level is consistently high, and I was reminded of John Collier's gift for making even minor plots seem lively. Many of the stories deal with a petty villain getting their just desserts. 11/6/22

Kept in the Dark by Anthony Trollope, 1882 

This is a short novel. An engaged woman realizes that her fiancé does not love her, is in fact not even very interested in her, so she breaks things off. Later she falls in love with and marries another man, but she never mentions her earlier engagement. When he eventually finds out, he is  so angry that they separate until they are finally reconciled through a third party. Even for the Victorian era, this seems a bit extreme given the personalities of the two people. One of his lesser works. 10/29/22

Contrary Pleasure by John D. MacDonald, Popular Library, 1954 

This was another of MacDonald’s mundane novels. An extended family which jointly owns a failing textile mill contains a variety of troubled people. One man has doubts about his masculinity. A college student keeps bad company and steals money. A woman discovers that she no longer has any interest in her family. A rival company offers to buy them out, but that would leave them with no common purpose. A wandering sibling decides to get married and come home unexpectedly. The various characters have individual stories which run in parallel and only occasionally intersect. I was alternately fascinated and bored. 10/24/22

Cry Hard, Cry Fast by John D. MacDonald, Popular Library, 1955   

Another mainstream novel by MacDonald, although with a touch of crime. There is a massive pileup on a highway, with multiple deaths and injuries. He tells us the story of various people who were involved, including gangsters, a woman who has just abandoned an affair and her job, a couple whose marriage is coming apart, an abusive man and his family, a young woman looking for excitement who finds more than she bargained for, and even some of the police who respond to the accident. This reminded me of his earlier novel, The Damned, but it’s not nearly as good. 10/9/22

Cancel All Our Vows by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1953 

This was one of MacDonald’s mundane novels, reminiscent of John Updike. Various couples socialize at a private club and elsewhere. Their marriages range from steady to rocky, although there are dramatic changes during the course of the novel. The men are all assumed to be expected to cheat a little and the women are not. Sometimes the author seems to be pointing out the hypocrisy and sometimes he seems to be supporting it, so you can read this in a variety of ways. I never liked any of the characters, so I wasn’t much interested in their triumphs and defeats, but the prose is as usual very compelling. 9/30/22

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope, 1860

Fourth in the Barset series. A very long story about the interactions and power struggles between two groups – the traditionalists who are obsessed with churches and “proper” behavior, and the generally younger set who engage in dancing, hunting, gambling, and other activities anathema to their enemies. Several people including a young vicar are caught between the two groups and have to deal with conflicting loyalties. The determination of a young aristocrat to marry beneath his station adds fuel to the fire. A general election in Parliament alters the lives of several people quite drastically. The richest woman in England marries a simple country doctor. A frigid and not very bright young woman is almost jilted by her aristocratic fiancé. Shady loans threaten to ruin lives. A stiff necked but impoverished churchman deprives his family of offered assistance. A man who has callously used his friends in the past discovers that the consequences are catching up with him. I find Trollope much more readable than other writers from this period. 9/22/22

The Damned by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1952 

MacDonald mixed mystery, adventure, and drama in his work, not to mention occasional fantasy. This one has no mystery at all. A long backup at a ferry leads to the interactions of various characters, two of whom will die, all of whom will have their lives changed dramatically. They include a pair of twin strippers, a stage comedian, a man fleeing from a confrontation in which he killed another man, a woman hovering on the edge of prostitution, a deeply disturbed gay man and his new wife, who has just discovered that she has married a monster, a ruthless politician, and a businessman swept away by a sexual obsession he now regrets. Not all the bad people get punished. Not all the good people have a happy ending. Quite moving at times. 9/20/22

Panther! by Alan Ryan, Signet, 1981   

Although most of Ryan’s subsequent output was horror, his first novel was a thriller involving the escape of twenty panthers in New York City. A movie producer brought them there as a stunt, but he goes crazy and lets them loose. It takes far too long for the action to actually begin, and all of the victims are people introduced solely to be killed. There is no suspense, no likeable characters, and no surprises along the way. It was not a promising debut novel. He wrote mostly horror fiction from this point on. 9/3/22

The Chronicles of Clovis by Saki, 1912 

Saki’s first two collections all featured Reginald, but the third switches to a man named Clovis. Clovis is sometimes a major figure, sometimes just a minor character, and sometimes absent entirely in a collection of mostly polished and complete short stories. The book contains a number of his best pieces, like “Tobermory,” in which a cat learns to speak and embarrasses his owners. “Hermann the Irascible” is a futuristic satire which pokes fun at the suffragettes. “Sredni Vashtar” is the classic story of a boy whose pet ferret kills the repressive aunt who is making his life unbearable. “The Music of the Hill” describes the consequences of disrespecting a Greek god, even today. “Filboid Studge” pokes fun at advertising. The other stories vary widely in theme, including witchcraft, snobbery, and social mores. Only a handful are disappointing. 8/26/22

Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope, 1858 

Third in the Barset series. This one is mostly about the love affair between the son of an impoverished member of the nobility and an illegitimate young woman raised by her uncle, the local doctor. The plot holds no surprises. As soon as we learn about the fortune accumulated by one of her mother’s relatives – who does not know her identity – we know that she is going to inherit it and thereby make the marriage not only possible but favorably viewed even by those who were previously opposed. The obsession with money and class is rarely portrayed as skillfully as in this case, however, and despite being a very long novel, it goes by with remarkable speed. 8/7/212

Reginald in Russia by Saki, 1910

Saki (H.H. Munro) wrote a second collection of sketches about a roguish character named Reginald, this time focusing on his visits to pre-revolutionary Russia. They have somewhat stronger plots than the first volume, although most are still not really stories as we use the term today. The prose is much more readable and the quick wit and inventiveness of his later work shows itself developing with these. His next book was really the effective launch of his career but these are still interesting and occasionally amusing. 7/29/22

The Bertrams by Anthony Trollope, 1858

This is not part of either of the author's two series, although it shares some minor characters in cameos. Two young men who grew up together live very different lives. One is trapped in a career as a vicar and is dominated by his mother and sisters, unable to marry. The other is brilliant but unfocused and falls in love with a beautiful woman, who declines to marry him until they have sufficient money, which she acknowledges will likely take years. Her beau has a rich uncle, but the older man believes that money is not valued unless it is earned. The young man more or less agrees and they are all friends in their misery until a series of setbacks leads to a break. The vicar meanwhile cannot marry the woman he loves for similar reasons. Everything comes out all right in the end, but I found myself disliking some of the people whom Trollope apparently thought I should admire. 7/25/22

The Vanished Legion by Donald Keyhoe, Age of Aces, 2011

Donald Keyhoe is best remembered for his UFO nonsense, but he wrote lots of pulp adventure fiction. This large volume collects all nine of his novelettes about the Vanished Legion, a group of men seriously injured during World War I who were reorganized into an elite strike force after they were officially declared dead. They thwart the evil enemy in various ways, but all of them involve major gun battles. Keyhoe was not untalented but these stories mostly feel like variations of the same theme with little new to genre fans. 7/21/22

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines by John Burke, Pocket, 1965

This is the novelization of one of my favorite movies. Burke, who has written other novelizations as well as SF and horror, does an above average job. In addition to the movie plot, which is a humorous look at an early and improbable air race, with a cast of idiosyncratic characters and strange machines. Burke adds detail that fits in well with the original material, and while the movie is still better, the book is an enjoyable experience in its own right. Most novelizations are not. 7/17/22

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope, 1857

The second Barset novel has another struggle between factions of the Church of England, this one with even higher stakes. Much of the tension results from people refusing to listen to what others are saying and imposing their own prejudices and avoiding any opportunity for a simple explanation. This is, alas, endemic in our society even today. The book was almost never published because it was considered too crude. Everything turns out well in the end. The chief villain was played by Alan Rickman when it was brought to the screen and I have ordered a copy. 7/11/22

The Warden by Anthony Trollope, 1855 

First of the Barset series. I read and enjoyed this in high school, and I liked it this time as well. The conflict is around a will that splits a legacy between a charity and its administrator, a church official. A local agitator raises a question about the equity of the split, and that results in a legal battle that is eventually superseded by a moral one. No one on either side gains much in the end, and arguably most of them have lost a great deal. Trollope’s paternalism is a bit hard to swallow, but within the context of his story it is a reasonable stance to take. Good intentions do not always result in good results. 7/1/22

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