Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Saturday Night Toy Fever

I have received a lot, A LOT, of emails about my walk down memory lane and the toys of the 70s and early 80s that I have been posting photos of over the last few days. I will see if I can come up with a few more photos for my loyal readers from the basket in my parent's spare bedroom.

It only took about an hour after posting yesterday for Mark Polonia to email me and identify that semi-nude action figure as "Big Jim," sort of an outdoorsy GI Joe thing. When Mark wrote that he had the RV, a bolt from my brain shocked me into realizing that I once had it too. Google "Big Jim RV" and see if you remember it as well.

Joe Sherlock rightfully identified the "Starroid Raiders" by the Falcon there, some cheap action figure knockoffs that I believe are still in a box in my attic. More info when the weather cools enough that I can go back into my attic.

While I'm looking for toys, here is my latest BOOK BEAT column for "Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence," the quarterly magazine of the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference.

WOLVES EAT DOGS by Martin Cruz Smith
Arkady Renko has been featured in five novels from Martin Cruz Smith, though I hesitate to call them a series as each outing has been so different. We have seen the Cold War era in GORKY PARK and RED SQUARE, Russian exiles in POLAR STAR, the Cuban perspective in HAVANA BAY, and finally the “New Russia” in the latest, WOLVES EAT DOGS. Our morose but dedicated Russian police detective follows a trail of murder and suicide to the most deadly location of all—Chernobyl, the site of Russia’s nuclear disaster some years past. This fascinating world of radioactive animals and “black villages” add much to the police procedural presented. An interesting read throughout.

CAPTAIN ALATRISTE by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Clever swashbuckling thriller owes a great deal to the tales of Dumas and others as a down-on-his-luck swordsman inadvertently gets involved in international politics and the Spanish Inquisition, with nothing but cold steel, his tarnished honor, and an adoring orphan boy to fend off his enemies. Arturo Perez-Reverte clearly enjoys every clanging sword-clash of the genre, and is obviously paying homage to Dumas’ Musketeers most specifically (he also penned THE CLUB DUMAS which was similarly themed, and made into a less-successful film called THE NINTH GATE). It is written like a classic page-turner of old, with modern sensibilities and pointed use of real-life people and events.

Philip Pullman’s second Victorian-era mystery in his series brings back plucky heroine Sally Lockhart and her diverse band of London friends and acquaintances in another fun entry with dark undertones. In this adventure, several years after the events in THE RUBY IN THE SMOKE, Sally matches wits with a cold-hearted industrialist who has a byzantine moneymaking scheme built, as it turns out, on no small measure of human suffering. To square a friend’s debt, Sally embarks on unraveling her antagonist’s massive empire, leading to a surprisingly downbeat conclusion. Although skewed towards the Young Adult market, I find this series to be quite enjoyable—and perhaps better suited, based on some themes—to adults.

THE BEST REVENGE by Steven White
Steven White’s long-running Alan Gregory series deals with a psychologist who gets mixed up in a diverse number of criminal cases; casting a wider net than Jonathan Kellerman’s popular Alex Delaware character, who deals with child psychology, but more or less treading the same clinical ground. This interesting case puts Gregory between two patients; one, an FBI media hero with a secret life, and the other a Death-Row inmate who gets released when information arises that he was innocent after all. How these two people’s lives are related, and how they interact with Gregory, is at the crux of this engrossing mystery. Though I felt the change from Gregory’s first person narrative to an omniscient narrator to tell certain portions of the story was a bit uneven, the overall storytelling kept me reading

Until later, give me a shout at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

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