Saturday, February 22, 2014

Short Reviews: Kartography, Murder Among Friends, Too Many Cooks

With time being at a premium nowadays and the review pile towering up, I have decided to write short reviews for the books read.


I first discovered Kamila Shamsie in the late Nineties when I read her book Salt and Saffron. It was an amazing book and I was happy to have discovered a new fresh voice. Unfortunately this book which tries to combine the ethnic and sectarian strife in present-day Karachi with the civil-war of 1971 - which lead to a division of Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh - simply fails to live up to its potential. Through four young people, Ali, Maheen, Yasmeen, and Zafar whose affections and allegiance are tested as the east and the west wings of Pakistan clash , Shamsie tries and partly succeeds in showing us a country divided against itself. However, the relationship between Karim and Raheen, in contemporary Pakistan, is most tiresome.

First Line: The globe spins.

Title: Kartography

Author: Kamila Shamsie

Publication Details: London: Bloomsbury, 2003.

First Published: 2002.

Pages: 342

Other books read of the same author: Salt and Saffron



One of the founding members of the Crime Writers Association Elizabeth Ferrars was a prolific (Scottish) British writer.  Born Morna Doris MacTaggart in Burma in 1907, Ferrars wrote more than 70 books in a career spanning over seven decades. Despite such a prolific output, Ferrars remains largely unknown.

Murder Among Friends, first published in 1946, begins on a day in war-time London. Alice Church is invited to a party by Cecily Lightwood and introduced to a motley crew of writers and publishers. It soon becomes apparent that the party has been thrown for the dramatist, Aubrey Ritter, who needs cheering up as his wife had committed suicide a month earlier. However, the minutes drag by but Ritter, who is presently staying in a flat above that of Cecily's, doesn't make an appearance. Than a couple of things happen simultaneously: a voice cries out Murder even as somebody rings the bell of the house asking them to put out the light:

Thus, in Cecily's room, she knew that all of a sudden there was a commotion. She knew that she herself jumped to her feet and then that everyone crushing together, crowded out into the passage. She knew that the bell started ringing and was reinforced by the impatient clattering of the knocker, and that that voice upstairs, followed by a rush of feet on the staircase, sent a wave of panic through everyone in the room. (27)

A murder has occurred and the police arrest Janet Markland, one of the guests at the party. However, Alice is not convinced of Janet's guilt and she meets the other guests, all friends and acquaintances of Janet, and tries to get a picture of the woman charged with murder. The book is interesting in as much as it tries to show how little we actually we know about our friends: their secret desires, their hidden motives. However, despite the book being a study of characters none of the characters really appealed to me and thus this turned out to be just an okay read.  However, I look forward to reading more of Ferrars.

First Line: ALICE often tried to remember her first impression of Janet Markland.

Title: Murder Among Friends

Alternate Title: Cheat the Hangman

Author: Elizabeth (X) Ferrars

Publication Details: London: Collins, 1946. (The Crime Club)

Pages: 191

Other books read of the same author: None


Too Many Cooks is the fifth Nero Wolfe detective novel by American mystery writer Rex Stout. Serialized in The American Magazine (March–August 1938), it was published as a book in 1938.

Nero Wolfe hates leaving his native New York and travelling by trains. Yet, he accepts an invitation to address Les Quinze Maitres, an international group of 15 master chefs, meeting at the Kanawha Resort, which sees him making a journey of 14 hours. A journey,  and which I may add, sorely tries Archie's patience. However, rather than delivering a lecture on the subject of American contributions to fine cuisine, Wolfe finds himself investigating murder among men beset with rivalries both personal and professional.

This is the third Wolfe novel I read and the best so far as the mystery is concerned. There is a grand scene in which Archie goes all protective when Woolf is shot. The book also depicts the strained relationship between the Blacks and the Whites during the Nineteen Thirties in the US and to its credit doesn't shy away from the ugliness that, at times, characterized the relationship. A few dialogues uttered by a character are so obnoxious that one feels like kicking him - hard. There is also a bunch of recipes at the end and a particular recipe does tell us something about the after-lives of a couple of characters. All in all, an interesting read.

First Line: WALKING up and down the platform alongside the train in the Pennsylvania Station, having wiped the sweat from my brow, I lit a cigarette with the feeling that after it had calmed my nerves a little I would be prepared to submit bids for a contract to move the Pyramids of Cheops from Egypt to the top of the Empire State Building with my bare hands in a swimming-suit; after what I had just gone through.

Title: Too Many Cooks

Author: Rex Stout

Series: Nero Wolfe #5

Publication Details: London: Collins, 1938 (The Crime Club).

First Published: 1938.

Pages: 302.

Other books read of the same author: Some Buried Caesar, The Mother Hunt.


Submitted for various challenges.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

First Read: Dr. McCoy - From Sawdust to Stardust

Like last year, my first read of this year too is a book that would make me feel guilty: Terry Lee Rioux' biography of actor DeForest Kelley: From Sawdust to Stardust. Dr. Leonard McCoy, the iconic character, portrayed by Kelley was my favourite amongst all Star Trek characters when I first saw the series around 25 years back and yet subsequently when I saw this book at a book fair around a decade back, Bones had become a distant memory and I did not buy it. Last year when the Star Trek bug bit me again I went round cursing myself for not having purchased the book and feeling mightly guilty about abandoning one of my favourite characters. Thankfully, the book was still available on some online stores and I ordered a copy though it did burn a sizable hole in my pocket.

The book is a chronicle of Kelley's life right from the time when he was a youngster growing up in impoverished circumstances under the watchful eyes of his Baptist preacher father who felt that even going to dances, movies, smoking and drinking were sinful activities with grave consequences. Stifled in such an atmosphere (though he never lost the values that his father inculcated in him and his elder brother) Kelly rebelled by going off to California, becoming involved in theatre, and finally getting a toe-hold in Hollywood. But just as things were looking up came the disruption as US entered the second world war and all the young men were drafted. It was a pattern that would follow Kelley all his life. Just when success seemed to be within reach some disruption would occur which would throw him back to square one: once more to struggle and prove himself. Thus even during the early seventies as Star Trek was becoming a huge success in its syndication avatar and the channels were reaping in the profits, Kelley was reduced to doing dinner-theatre, a situation which made him declare famously: "I am the star of a ghost."

Kelley was the only one among the Star Trek super seven who did not write an autobiography/ memoir etc and so this book does actually cover a lacuna but somehow I wasn't too satisfied after reading it. It might be because somewhere the author doesn't seem to give us what really transpired. For instance, the author writes that George Takei who played Sulu wasn't too happy with the "Don't call me tiny" scene in the third Star Trek movie. It was finally Kelley who convinced him to do it though Takei remained unconvinced about it. It would have been nice over here to have Takei recall that discussion but there is nothing. In fact, among the original Star Trek actors only Nimoy and Nichols seem to have anything to say. What about Doohan, Koeing, Takei, Shatner, Barret? Did they have nothing to say about this man who otherwise seems to have been loved and respected by all? Perhaps it is time for another biography to be written.

Overall an okay read that could have been better.

First Line: Reverend Ernest David Kelley began his ministry to the congregation of Convyers, Georgia, on January 12, 1930.

Title: From Sawdust to Stardust: The Biography of Deforest Kelley, Star Trek's Dr. McCoy.

Author: Terry Lee Rioux

Publication Details: NY: Pocket Books, 2005.

First Published: 2005

Pages: 362

Other books read of the same author: None


Submitted for various challenges.