Wednesday, May 3, 2017

#9--Winter 2017 Reads Worth My Time and Yours

What's worth your time to read? For me this past winter has been a collection of fiction and non-fiction books that have ranged from the Beatles' London through birds, lots of history, Vietnam and economics. William Shaw created two characters, Breen and Tozer, who populate swingin' London during 1968-1970 in three amazing mysteries/police procedurals. Breen is Detective Sergeant Cathal "Paddy" Breen introduced in "She's Leaving Home." He's a 30 something figure whose father , recently deceased with dementia, lived with him in a small flat after ending his career as an Irish construction worker. Breen, raised in the post-war London of hunger, rationing, and conservatism, is befuddled by the rise of the pop groups, drugs and sex in his London. When the body of a strangled girl is found covered by a mattress around the corner from the Beatles Abbey Road recording studio, Breen is assigned the case.

Tozer is Helen Tozer, a young woman constable trainee, from a family cow farm in coastal Devon who wants to be a police detective, so she is assigned to work with Breen. She also wants to enjoy everything about London and she can drive while Breen can't. The case illustrates the worlds in conflict between men and women, music and drug lovers and the traditional police, city livers and rural farmers.

The stage moves fluidly into the second book" The Kings of London" to 1969 with Breen and Tozer working on a murder, arson incident involving the son of an ambitious government figure who would like for the police to declare his son's death a suicide and close the case with as little publicity as possible. That doesn't work with Breen and his investigation leads to death threats, violence against him and a much closer relationship with Tozer. The third book in the series"A Song for the Broken-Hearted" has Breen recovering from injuries (gained in the second book) at Tozer's family farm in Devon. Tozer has left the police force to help her father run the farm but she is still driven to solve the horrible murder of her sister that happened a few years before the first book and led her to join the police.

Breen, on long term medical leave, is bored and begins an investigation into that cold case when a second murder occurs locally and has horrible similarities to Tozer's sister's murder. The investigation that draws Tozer in opens up British history in the 1950s in Kenya, Africa and the Mau-Mau uprising and an amazing conclusion.

Bernd Heinrich,emeritus professor of biology at the University of Vermont, has been writing about ravens, owls, trees, running and general biology for decades, so I decided to read his latest, "One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives" and this was a great introduction to a great science observer and writer. He presents his year-round life in a small retirement cabin in Maine as he observes many species interacting with fellow birds and other specie birds as they search for food, mates, nesting sites, housekeeping routines, battle and death. He also is an excellent illustrator of life around and inside his cabin.

"World, Chase Me Down" is the crackling debut novel based in fact by Andrew Hilleman that presents the case of Pat Crowe, who as a butcher living in 1900 Omaha, seeks justice and revenge by kidnapping the son of the largest meatpacking millionaire and holding the teen for $25,000 in gold.The story moves across country and oceans as Crowe is tracked by Pinkerton agents, the law, the British army in the Boer war until he has his day in court as the most wanted man in the world.

Several history books gave me a break from the novel and they are definitely worth the reading effort. John Halliday has one book to his credit, "Flying Through Midnight, and it is a real winner. An Air Force pilot, Halliday is shipped in for a year's tour to Thailand in 1970 but he notices his planes have no markings, his fellow pilots have no patches, badges, names, insignias on their uniforms.He discovers they are part of a secret group flying over Laos and the Ho Chi Minh Trail dropping lighted torches to mark the beginning and ending points of North Vietnamese transportation groups to be bombed and strafed by USAF fighters, bombers. The book is his one year diary of how he changed his life, mental stability and flying prowess in order to survive the "Church of the Air Force".

Nancy Isenberg's "White Trash: 400 Year Untold History of Class in America" was also a worthwhile read as she presents the history of the early settlements in Jamestown, Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts and the role of land and labor in distinguishing the classes of  white people from England, Scotland and the rest of Europe. She follows this thread through the Colonies, Revolution, Andrew Jackson, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction to TV roles for Andy of Mayberry, The Beverly Hillbillies, Hee-Haw, Green Acres and the roles of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. More Later!