Thursday, December 5, 2013

Reading Roulette: Eighth Pick

I read a bunch of books last month that were connected to this project when I was working my way through National Book Reading Month. The way things are going, though, this may be the last pick of the year!

The Laughter of Dead Kings, Elizabeth Peters (2008)

Who stole the mummy of King Tut? The brazen crime bears the earmarks of one Sir John Smythe, the international art thief. In fact, John Tregarth is the longtime significant other of Vicky Bliss. Innocent, he vows to clear his name by hunting down the true criminal.

Vicky loses faith. But her boss, Munich Museum director Anton Z. Schmidt, "the finest swordsman in Europe," pays their luxurious way from London to Munich then Cairo, also to defend his own reputation. Once Schmidt deflects his new paramour Suzi, who only wants his body to spy on John, the entourage swells with the Egyptian officials responsible, cousins - wealthy Ashraf and poorer Feisel - plus mummy-expert mistress Saida.

The Arab security guard, then a female middleman, both turn up dead. Dead hands, from her and from Tut, separately accompany notes, his is a ransom demand for millions. Kidnappers, murderers, and danger dog their way.

This is the sixth (and final, presumably) book in the Vicky Bliss series, which was one that my mother and I read with the same enthusiasm. When this book came out a few years after my mom's death, I immediately purchased it, thinking of her. Since then I've found myself unable to sit down and read it, knowing that I can't really share it with her. But I think that maybe it's been long enough. Maybe I can read it for both of us. RIP Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Mertz.

The Last Policeman, Benjamin Winters (2012)

What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway? Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.

The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.

The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman offers a mystery set on the brink of an apocalypse. As Palace’s investigation plays out under the shadow of 2011GV1, we’re confronted by hard questions way beyond “whodunit.” What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?

I'm pretty sure I came across this as part of my collection development work, and added it to my list. That happens quite a lot.

Old Man's War, John Scalzi (2005)

John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday. First he visited his wife's grave. Then he joined the army. The good news is that humanity finally made it into interstellar space. The bad news is that planets fit to live on are scarce-- and alien races willing to fight us for them are common. So: we fight. To defend Earth, and to stake our own claim to planetary real estate. Far from Earth, the war has been going on for decades: brutal, bloody, unyielding.

Earth itself is a backwater. The bulk of humanity's resources are in the hands of the Colonial Defense Force. Everybody knows that when you reach retirement age, you can join the CDF. They don't want young people; they want people who carry the knowledge and skills of decades of living. You'll be taken off Earth and never allowed to return. You'll serve two years at the front. And if you survive, you'll be given a generous homestead stake of your own, on one of our hard-won colony planets. John Perry is taking that deal. He has only the vaguest idea what to expect. Because the actual fight, light-years from home, is far, far harder than he can imagine--and what he will become is far stranger.

I've seen Scalzi speak at two conferences now, and follow his Twitter feed and blog, but haven't managed to read any of his books yet. That changes now!

Why am I doing this?

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