Reviews


Book Title: Main Chancers by Warren Karno

Available from Whiskey Creek Press

Warren Karno has created an authentic but light-hearted thriller that will keep the pages turning.  Obviously a cruise aficionado, Mr. Karno uses his knowledge of exotic destinations to good effect, allowing the reader some fun armchair travel while solving the complicated mystery.  Pay attention to the listing of characters at the beginning of the book–there are a lot of movers and each has his or her own agenda.  Some may surprise you!

Synopsis:

Just lately, life has given Miles Graham a pretty rough ride.  A cheating spouse, a messy divorce, financial ruin–he is ready for fresh start somewhere.  He chooses New Zealand and a slow boat to get there.  Once on board, he finds himself unwinding into shipboard life in the company of his fellow passengers.  There is the delectable Miss Penny Merrylees.  The equally stunning Rachael Pliesing.  Sir Charles and Lady Lavender Greville, and a host of others.

Though life on the ship seems idyllic, Miles is soon convinced that there is more to the Grevilles than meets the eye.  Why are they so eager to get others involved in a seemingly simple financial transaction for their son David?  Joseph Silverman, another passenger, is helping them with the details, but is he really on their side?  Meanwhile Miles tries to get something started with Rachael who is alternately attentive and then mysteriously absent.

Miss Merrylees has her own assignment on board–to find a rich husband.  She attaches herself to Joseph, and he falls into her trap.  Or does he?  Belowdecks, the crew also have a mission.  Harvey, the first class cabin steward, has been keeping a close eye on the Grevilles for some time, and he has a trap of his own to spring.

After a costume party, the story takes a more macabre turn, with murder and intrigue taking place both on ship and shore.  Miles has lost half of his remaining money in a swindle and he teams with Penny to chase the scammers through Singapore, Manila and Mindanao.  Along the way, he is kidnapped and beaten, but after another shipboard acquaintance lends a hand, he finally tracks down the con artists.

Comments:

This book was an entertaining read, and I was never sure which way the plot would turn next.  Each of the characters had a public and private face, and the author used many point of view changes to keep the reader abreast of the action.  From the wily Grevilles to the money-grubbing Miss Merrylees, I felt I had gotten to know each character personally by the end of the book.  I was cheering on Miles as he chased the scammers, and hoping at least one of the women would reward him by the end.

I have never been on a cruise and so I found the descriptions of life aboard ship especially enjoyable.  The author cleverly brought an upstairs/downstairs element into the plot, with the crewmembers scheming right alongside the passengers, while presenting a supremely professional facade.  The off-shore locations were brightly exotic or sometimes dark and disturbing, but Karno is a deft hand at painting the backdrops and incidental characters, as this excerpt shows:

The stewardess led me towards the tail to a seat on the left.  The passengers were definitely not your usual lot.  The women all wore yashmaks.  The men wore scars.  Spielberg couldn’t have arranged a more unsavory selection.

I was the only white person aboard and I tried a smile as I walked down the aisle but it didn’t work.  We were more than halfway when the hostess pointed to a seat.  The seating was in threes on either side of the aisle and my three had a very large man on the aisle side and a thin, rat-faced man at the window, to whom I gave away another smile, but he didn’t want it either.

I lowered myself into the narrow metal-framed seat.  Obviously the big fellow wanted the armrest as nothing in his body yielded as I sat down.  I decided I could sit with my left arm across my chest, no problem.  As for the rat at the window, I felt instinctively it would be good to let him have the armrest too.

Garlic and sour body odors came off him in waves; it was clearly not going to be a fun flight.  Still I’d found a plane that would take me to the Island of Mindanao, something the hotel staff said couldn’t be done.

My only complaint would be that the coincidences that drive the story seemed a little, well, coincidental at some points, but that is a common plot device in mysteries and did not detract from my enjoyment of the book.  Main Chancers is a fun, light-hearted read, full of intrigue, without taking itself too seriously.


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Author: H. Beam Piper

Title: Four Day Planet

Genre: Science Fiction (Pulp)

Synopsis: Residents of the lawless frontier planet Fenris must cope with days that each last a quarter of a year.   One young man, Walt Boyd, a cub reporter for the local paper, courageously tries to unravel the truth behind a price-fixing scheme for the one commodity that Fenris exports, tallow wax.

Review: Piper is not well known as an author, but his influence can be found in the works of Jerry Pournelle, Charles Stross, Elizabeth Moon and Ursula le Guin.  Though he has been consigned to the “pulp” stack by modern reviewers, his works are in no way hurried or poorly developed.  Four-Day Planet is an adventure story peopled with memorable characters, a gripping story and believable action.  It is a perfect introduction to the works of H Beam Piper.

Rating:  7 out of 10

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Something I’ve been meaning to do for awhile, now made more urgent and poignant by the death of Michael D Johnson–a once weekly ebook review, to appear on Fridays. Most of the books reviewed will be freely available from Gutenberg or Manybooks, but I may throw in some others that require purchase. (Assuming I can get the ARCs for free, anyway…)

This week: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
Available from manybooks.net

This book, described by the author as a “shocker,” was first published in 1915.  It features the very clever and intrepid South African mining engineer, Richard Hannay, and a host of other repeating characters.  Although Hannay has taken up residence in London, he is soon caught up in a web of espionage and peril, in the lead up to the first World War.  An exciting read, full of rather unbelievable escapes and coincidences.  Hannay is modest and forthright, and not afraid to use his fists if necessary.  Full of period details–motor cars, servants, and stately residences on the beaches of England.  The first of five books by Buchan starring Hannay, that see him accept a commission during the war, make General, get knighted, and even marry and start a family.

This book has been made into a film on three occasions, with my favorite being the 1978 version starring Robert Powell as Richard Hannay.  The story is modified for the film and includes the famous “Big Ben” scene, which is not in the book!

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