Review: Murder In The Crooked House

Murder In The Crooked House


Author: Soji Shimada
Translated by: Louise Heal Kawai
Pushkin Verigo
ISBN #978-1782274568

“Murder In The Crooked House” is the sequel to Shamada’s “The Tokyo Zodiac Murders”. The original book came out in 1982, and was revised in 2016. The English translation became available in 2019. It falls into the genre of the locked room mystery, and is very well executed.

The setting is in the remote northern tip of Japan, with the action taking place in the Ice Flow Mansion (The Crooked House). This is a literal name – the house is built on a snowbound cliff, and consists of a maze of sloping floors and two oddly placed staircases. It was built to the specifications of millionaire Kozaburo Hamamoto, and features a drawbridge to Hamamoto’s private bedroom, along with a collection of Tengu masks, clock-work dolls, and life-size dolls collected in Europe.

Hamamoto hosts a Christmas party, to which he invites a select group of people. A very strange group of people, who really don’t want to be there. Then there is Hamamoto’s daughter, Eiko, an educated but not so pleasant individual.

Strange things begin happening – a chauffer is found dead in a locked room, his body in a very strange position with both arms above his head – and one arm chained to his bed. A life-size doll is found dismembered in the snow outside of his room – with the head quite a distance away. The police are called, but they cannot solve the puzzle.

There are more deaths, and a young female guest wakes up hearing noises outside her window. When she goes to look. She sees a grotesque man’s face staring at her through her window. She screams hysterically, which draws Eiko (who is sleeping in the next room), Hamamoto and others to the room. The window is opened – and here is no sign that anyone was there. No footprints in the snow below, no nothing!

The police are very embarrassed that they are nowhere near solving the murder. The Chief Inspector contacts his superiors for help. To his consternation they send Kiyoshi Mitarai, a fortune teller and psychic that was famous for finding the culprit behind the Umezawa family massacre. However, to the policemen already on the scene, he comes off, at first, as a joke, someone not to be taken seriously.

This is a wonderful mystery, filled with improbable clues and characters with their own problems and perspectives. It is written in the style of a play, four acts, with multiple scenes in each act. As a help to the reader, there are sketches of the house and its rooms interspersed throughout the book. The tone is very Agatha Christie, focusing on honor, revenge, and murder. The sleuthing itself is very “Sherlock Holmes”. I found much of the book to be very “western” in orientation. I would have preferred to have more of the Japanese culture brought in, but that does not distract from the book. My only quibble really is that I wish the female characters had been presented in a better light.

I highly recommend this book, and it will certainly be on my list of books that I want to re-read from time to time.

© July 2019 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction prohibited without written permission of the author.




Review: Death Of An Art Collector

Death Of An Art Collector –
A Nero Wolfe Mystery

Author: Robert Goldsborough Road
ISBN #978-1-5040-5754-7

“Death Of An Art Collector” is book fourteen in the Nero Wolfe Mystery series by Robert Goldsborough. The series is meant to be an homage to author Rex Stout, and the original Nero Wolfe mystery series. I am an ardent fan of Rex Stout and the original Nero Wolfe series, and was pleased to see the series continuing. That was before I read this book. I was very disappointed with what I was reading. I have only seen this one other time, and that was when I read two books from an author that I truly admired that were published posthumously. In that case, it was clear that the books were written by someone in the publishing company that had not actually read the authors previous books (this was a series also).

On the pro side, the original character are intact, and no new characters were added. The background, as far as era and the brownstone Wolfe lives in, were reflected realistically. That is about all the pro there is to talk about. Reading other reviews, I see that the original two books in this series were actually interesting and well written. I will go read them. I also see that the series went downhill from there.

This book very much feels like a template that was just filled in. There is no emotion to it, the storyline is good but not presented well, and the dialogue – well, all of the characters sound the same. Very boring.

The working premise is that art collector Arthur Wordell has fallen to his death from the 20th story window of the building he has his office in. Is it an accident, suicide, or murder? Coincidental that Archie Goodwin and his girlfriend attended a dinner at the Guggenheim, and sat at the same table as Wordell and his daughter Nadia, the night before Wordell’s death.

This could have been an interesting book. The Guggenheim wants Wordell’s extensive art collection, Wordell is not fond of the architect’s inclusion of a spiral staircase in the museum, Wordell’s estranged wife wants part of the collection, Wordell is at odds with the individual that he hired to curate his collection … the list goes on! Oh, and Mr. Wordell is notoriously not easy to get along with. And there is no will.

I will say that the ending does tie up the story – no one and nothing is left hanging. I will also say that unless you are an ardent fan of the original series, this book is not for you. It is not well written, will not draw you in, and will basically waste your time.

© July 2019 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction prohibited without written permission of the author.

Review: The Burglar

The Burglar

Author: Thomas Perry
The Mysterious Press
New York
ISBN #978-0-8021-4679-3

The protagonist in this book is a twenty-four year old woman named Elle Stowell with the unlikely profession of burglary. Elle has a lot going for her – she is short, petite, beautiful, and smart. Why is this important? Elle targets high end homes, and, quite frankly, this allows her to canvas the neighborhoods (primarily as a runner) to see which houses look like a good target. Her size allows her access that bigger people would not have.

This works well for her until she enters the master bedroom (her target in every house, as this is where people tend to keep important items) of a wealthy art dealer, and finds said art dealer and two young women, all three of which have been shot in the head.

Elle is now a target herself, and the chase is on! She has no clue who the dead people were, or why they were murdered. There will be more murders to follow, one a little too close to home. She uses her skills as a burglar and her computer savvy to catch the people behind the murders.

The story has a great plot that technically moves along nicely, but there is a small problem of lack of meaningful dialogue. And one does have to suspend ones view of reality to believe that someone Elle’s age would have the knowledge that she has, and the perspective that she has, at her age. There is little to no emotional content in this book. And the play on her name gets old really, really fast! The ending is anti-climatic, and not really very believable.

This was a fun read for me, but not something that I intend to re-read, as I do with mysteries that I really like.

© June 2019 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction prohibited without written permission from the author.







Review: “Stutterer Interrupted – The Comedian Who Almost Didn’t Happen”

Stutterer Interrupted –
The Comedian Who Almost Didn’t Happen

Author: Nina G
She Writes Press
ISBN #978-1-63152-643-5

“Stutterer Interrupted – The Comedian Who Almost Didn’t Happen” addresses the disability of stuttering. Okay, that is a given. That it is written from a first-person perspective and addresses real-life experiences, is impressive. Nina G is indeed a comedian, but she is also a professional speaker and Disability advocate, and a counselor for students with disabilities at a California Community College.

This is a very interesting book, in that it is written as a series of stories reflecting Nina G’s life and experiences. You find things out, like the fact that she comes from a traditional Italian family, and that there are other disabilities within her family (her father has a hearing loss, as did his father, and his father’s mother). Also, Nina G has a second disability, in that she is dyslexic.

One warning that I would have about this book is that it does contain some strong language. However, having said that, the language is part of who Nina G is, and not an attempt to shock her readers or appear to be this big, bad person.

One of the first things noted is that those who stutter are often interrupted by people who want to supply a word or finish a sentence. I have seen this happen, and it is not right. Have patience, and be respectful, people!

There is also the fact that stutterers are treated differently from everyone else. And everyone wants to give them advice on how to stop stuttering. I can tell you that I would not handle that well!

Through her stories we see the world through Nina G’s eyes. It is hard being the “weird” person. It is hard trying to fit in. It is hard when one of your worst stuttering moments happens when you have to introduce yourself. Which may explain why she is a huge Howard Stern fan! Or not.

It is an interesting journey to watch, as Nina G goes through college, makes the decision to go into comedy, and begins to work with organizations that address disabilities. She is finding herself in many different ways. (And she marries a fellow comedian.)

At the end of the book are chapter notes, and a list of resources for the stuttering community.

There is a lot of back and forth between mini-rants and solid intellectual presentation. All in all, this is a serious subject addressed in a straightforward manner.

© May 2019 Bonne Cehovet
Reproduction prohibited without written permission from the author.


Review: The Adventures of Bang Bang Man

The Adventures of Bang Bang Man

Author: Philip Nork
ISBN #978-1095329665

Author Philip Nork has written a very interesting series of books dealing with life, and the choices that we all make. Each of his characters is very personable, and deals with life’s eccentricities in their own way. In his latest book, “The Adventures of Bang Bang Man”, we follow along with Matthew Davis, a divorced thirty-something father addicted to betting on the horses, and using food as his own personal path of self-destruction.

The book opens with a post-divorce (twenty-five year post-divorce) Davis, trying to deal with his issues with the help of his psychologist, Dr. Darla. Part of his history consists of selling his business twenty-five years ago and going into gaming full time (betting on the horses). Oh, and by the way – Davis in the ensuing twenty-five years has eaten his way close to six hundred pounds. Perhaps that had a part in his recent heart attack. Now things get interesting – Dr. Darla is going to be gone for a month, so she leaves Davis with a journal to write his thoughts in.

Davis starts out by noting how he went from living in a beautiful 3,600 square foot, five- bedroom home to living in a one bedroom condominium in a bad part of town. His condo is filled with references to horses, and with actual horseshoes. His clutter is to say “unique”. That and the plethora of racing forms, of course. His TV is set to a cable horse racing network. (Really!) He notes that he is a loner, and that all the friends he has are online. He feels as if he is a lost person. Having written all this down he rips the pages out of the notebook, crumples them up, and tosses them on the floor.

Davis decides to take back his notes and continue on. It is through his journal that we go back into his past, back to his parent’s divorce, back to why he always pushed people away. Back to his devastating relationship with food and solitude. It is quite interesting to see how Davis deals with his own self-confidence, or lack thereof, and how the world is to blame when things don’t work out. Where and how he looks for recognition is very telling.

As I continued reading this book, I could not help but see that there were parallels with my life. (I think that most, if not all readers would also see a parallel of some sort with their own lives.) It is engrossing to read about someone who’s life is an epic fail, for obvious reasons. And how they interact with other people. The reader is watching Davis’s entire life play out in the pages of the journal.

“The Adventures of Bang Bang Man” is well written, has a cohesive storyline, exhibits humor and passion, and walks between two different worlds – the world of Davis’ youth, and his world as a fifty-something adult. There is so much really interesting information here about horses, racing, the Internet, how people view money, how we attempt to maintain control in our lives, and so much more! It is a veritable “How To” on relationships, how we view them, and how we can best interact in them.

This is a book well worth reading – for the pleasure of reading, and to see how things may not really be as we think they are.

© April 2019 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction not permitted without written consent from the author.

Review: Plotting Your Novel With The Plot Clock

Plotting Your Novel With The Plot Clock

Author: Joyce Sweeney, Jamie Morris, Tia Levings
Giantess Press
ISBN #978-0-578-47780-0

“Plotting Your Novel With The Plot Clock” is a short (70 page) book that packs a wallop! It addresses the issue of how to handle the plot for a story in a manner that moves the story forward in a manner that keeps readers hanging in there. In his foreword, Ryan G. Van Cleave, Head of Creative Writing, Ringling College of Art and Design, notes that one of the biggest challenges aspiring fiction writers face is that of effectively handling plot. I find this type of plotting interesting, although I personally am a “pantser” – my stories are written by the seat of my pants, without a lot of intricate pre-planning.

The first thing that caught my attention with this book was that there were three co-authors. Duh! The reason that it caught my attention is that I have co-authored two books myself (with writer/coach Brad Tesh), and I know that it can be difficult to present more than one point of view. Do you present in different sections? Do you cover different topics? Do you comment on a section that your co-author wrote? I like the way it was handled in this book – all three co-authors express their opinions and tell their stories in every chapter. Specifically, the authors see their collaboration as weaving their voices into a braid, with Joyce voicing the central skeleton of the Plot Clock structure, Jaimie guiding insights into plot twists, and Tia woven in as student action – a writer applying these elements to a story being actively plotted as the book progresses.

The interesting thing about the Plot Clock is that, by definition, it is circular, rather than linear. Points around the clock include: Starting Point, Ordinary World, Inciting Event, Binding Point, Tests & Challenges Failed, Low Point, The Change, Tests & Challenges Won, Turning Point, Climax, and Denouement.

Each chapter includes a discussion of the process of the Plot Clock points, with wisdom from each of the co-authors.  Included are chapters on Stories & Plot, The Hands of Time, The Depths of Story Time, Case Study, Q&A, Templates, and Resources and Acknowledgments. I particularly liked the templates, because they included a Basic Pot Clock, a Complex Clock Plot, Tragedy on the Plot Clock, a Clock Plot with four basic points, and a blank Plot Clock. This allows a pantser like me to make use of this structure without being completely enmeshed in it.

I recommend this book to both pantsers and plotters – there is something here for everyone!

© April 2019 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction prohibited without written permission of the author.

Review: Behind The Fortune Teller’s Tent

Behind The Fortune Teller’s Tent –
A Complete Guide to Fortune Telling
At Parties And Events

Author: Jay DeForest
Foreword: Carrie Paris
Living Magick Publishing
ISBN #978-1-7336651-1-7

Behind The Fortune Teller's Tent

This is a book that has needed to be written for a long time now. It is one that I wish had been available when I first started as a professional reader. Fortune Telling (working with the Tarot, Runes, Palmistry, and other modalities) as defined in the author’s note is the reader’s ability to use their own tools, skills, and intuition to help their client examine their present circumstances, reflect on what got them there, and consider their options for moving forward. This is a profession, and takes professional skills and know how.

I was very pleased to see that one of the most creative lights in the world of cartomancy (fortune telling) wrote the foreword. Through a lovely personal story, she makes the point that we are all born to our calling. If we feel uncomfortable in whatever field we are working in, perhaps we need to look elsewhere for our true path. She makes a major point when she notes that a professional Fortune Teller must be able to balance magick with business.

Before I talk about the book, I want to talk for a moment about the author. I know Jay personally, and he and his wife Jadzia are stand up people. Together they have written many books and created a wide array of teaching material. They read locally (in the Portland, OR area) on all levels (privately for individuals and parties, at fairs, and at corporate events. Jay owns and operates a company (Portlandia Fortune Tellers) that employs a large team of readers that cover events throughout the year. He and Jadzia founded the yearly Northwest Tarot Symposium (NWTS), which is in its fifth year in 2019.

I love the tone of this book – it is that of personal story, of personal experience. And it works! I felt immediately at one with the material, and could not put the book down! Jay talks about skills, mindset, and ethics – and the willingness to put in the work. It is work in a business sense, and it is work in an ethical sense in that there is still stigma attached to doing readings of any kind, and anyone who wants to be a reader needs to know how to get past that. Jay also notes that before getting licensed as a Fortune Teller (using this explicit terminology), check out the laws in your area. It may well be that if you want to call yourself a Fortune Teller that you may face more legal restrictions than if you simply called yourself a reader.

The book starts at the beginning … literally! The reader is asked to look at whether this occupation is right for them. They need to understand that they will be working and that they have to respond to the questions that are being asked. And that they may be doing “cold readings”, where no questions are being asked.

I loved the story about the Portland Women’s Expo! Jay and Jadzia were booked the entire day, and came away with the wisdom that it is important for a reader to take care of themselves: to keep water and/or juice handy, as well as snacks, and to take frequent, quick breaks.

Jay also goes into the role of the reader at an event. He points out that the reader has been hired to cover a certain number of hours, and that they need to be there to do just that the entire time. It is also important to understand and follow the rules that the event organizer(s) have set down. I do not do events myself, but I have friends who do, and they emphasize asking questions up front, rather than assuming anything.

Jay spends an entire section of this book describing different kinds of events so that an individual that wants to read professionally can determine what their personal niche might be. This will save a lot of time and angst! Bottom line here – be open to business opportunities!

When I first started looking at reading professionally, I had no clue where to begin as far as setting up a business, local licensing, etc. Quite frankly, I was scared to death! Also (whispers) … the Internet was just getting started, and I did not have the resources that are available now. The chapter on setting up a business (including a business bank account) is a must read for anyone wanting to become a professional reader.  Included is information on setting up a professional website (you do not want to know what my first website looked like!). There is more – items like “booking agreements” (contracts), insurance, and what to charge.

Now that you are in business, how do you stay in business, as well as grow your business? Jay talks about having a vision for your business, being dedicated to succeeding, and being resilient. He addresses marketing and advertising (usually not easy modalities for any of us), how to attract clients, how to manage bookings (as in remembering to show up for them!), keeping your accounting straight (and getting paid), and finding fairs and festivals to read at.

There is an entire section devoted to you as a reader and your attitude about yourself. You need to be confident, dress the part (not necessarily in costume), knowing your place (you have been hired to do a job), understanding what different events want from you, and getting “in the zone” for doing readings. Important things that we may not think about are setting boundaries around our reading area when doing an event,  and how to deal with people like drunks, skeptics, deniers and more.

If you are someone who has not done fairs or events before, then the section on tools of your trade will be an important one for you. Here Jay discusses how to develop what he terms a “reader kit”, including such things as a tablecloth, a reading cloth, a set cushion, promotional materials, tissues, and pen and notebook.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is at the beginning of their journey as a professional reader, as well as to those already walking the path. There is something here for everyone!

© March 2019 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction prohibited without written permission of the author.