Last Update 5/26/23

The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope,  1867   

I struggled a bit with this one, which is quite long, mostly because I did not like the central character, for whom we are supposed to feel sympathy. I finally spent two solid days on the last five hundred pages.  He is an impoverished clergyman who mistakenly cashes a check that does not belong to him. Technically this is theft, and although he might have gotten off easily if he had hired a lawyer to deal with the charge, he is too proud to do so. In fact, he is an egotist with a martyr complex who insists that his wife and children suffer along with him. There is a secondary story involving a young man who is determined to win the hand of a woman who was jilted by her fiancé and who has forsworn marriage. They are connected through the daughter of the clergyman, who also refuses to marry, citing the scandal surrounding her father. Almost every character is pigheadedly stubborn and I lost patience with them all. 5/26/23

Presidential Year by Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth, Ballantine, 1956 

I was interested to see how well this novel of presidential politics would hold up sixty years later. For the most part it’s rather dated and the various political shenanigans involved are in the news rather than hidden in books. They did predict that television would completely alter the process of campaigning – and this was written before the famous Kennedy-Nixon debate which confirmed that suggestion. The protagonist is a bit too naïve to be entirely believable, and of course things are too politely handled when compared to how our politicians interact today.  5/22/23

The God of Channel 1 by Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1956 

This appeared under the name Donald Stacy. The protagonist is Molly Hill, the woman who effectively manages the appearances of a very popular television personality named Dahl. Dahl appears to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown, but it is actually a kind of paranoid response to a high pressure business. Ultimately he pays off his wife so that they will be permanently estranged, ad he manufactures an incident so that he can accuse Hill of being disloyal and intent upon destroying his career. Disillusioned, she finally allows him to buy out her share of the business for far less than it is worth an sets out to find a new life for herself. 5/10/12

Edge of the City by Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1957 

This was a movie novelization. A drifter comes to New York City and gets a job as a stevedore on the waterfront. His boss demands a kickback, and is also a violent racist. One of the other teams is run by a black man – Sidney Poitier in the movie – and their rivalry eventually leads to murder. By then the protagonist has become a good friend of the murdered man, so he sets out to bring the killer to justice. I saw this movie several decades ago but it did not impress itself on my memory and I have never bothered to look for the dvd.  5/20/23

Turn the Tigers Loose by Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1956 

Pohl ghostwrote this novel of bomber crews during the Korean War. The listed author, Colonel Walt Lasly, undoubtedly provided the technical background. It’s very predictable and mostly episodic. The pilots have to deal with a cowardly member of their squadron, manpower shortages, equipment problems, difficulties finding their targets, and they have to avoid getting shot down in the process. The novel has a very narrow focus and the only glimpse of Korea we get is when the Americans date some local women. The novel is too concerned with minutiae and not enough with storytelling. 5/18/23

A Town Is Drowning by Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth, Ballantine, 1955 

One of three non-fantastic novels written by this team. Various characters get caught by flash floods generated by a hurricane. They include businessmen, a resort owner, a grocery store manager, housewives, and others. Some live and some die. The story is pretty routine – a low level disaster story. It reminded me a bit of early John D. MacDonald. The only real human conflict involves competing bids for an abandoned mill that has potential as the site for a new factory. This gets resolved when one of the two parties dies. Pretty mediocre. 5/12/23

The Mill of Many Windows by J.S. Fletcher, Ward Lock, 1925 

This is usually listed among the author’s crime novels, but it really isn’t. The story involves a traditional mill whose owner is ruthlessly autocratic in a day when trade unionism is on the rise. There are diatribes against communism and capitalism – Fletcher seemed to be disenchanted with both systems. The death of the patriarch leads to a crisis because his son and heir is not interested in the business, has progressive ideas, and has refused to marry the daughter of their greatest rival. A strike is looming and some unlikely people are part of the organizing effort. Rather dull and I would not have bought this if I had realized it was not a mystery novel. 4/15/23

Anjani the Mighty by John Russell Fearn, Borgo, 2010 (originally published in 1951) 

The second of Fearn’s Tarzan clone stories is about the same as the first. His European friends return to Africa for another visit to the lost city of Akada, but this time they learn of a sister city with another treasure. They also encounter Tocopo, who is Anjani’s evil twin brother. The usual adventures follow without any originality. Tocopo is defeated, of course, but escapes in order to reappear in subsequent adventures but I don’t think Fearn wrote any more in this series. 4/12/23

The Gold of Akada by John Russell Fearn, Borgo, 1998 (originally published in 1941) 

This is a Tarzan clone by the prolific Fearn, who wrote in several genres. The story is straight out of Burroughs. An expedition is seeking the lost city of Akada, rumored to hold a fabulous treasure. One member of the expedition plans to murder the others and take the treasure for himself. One of the guides also has his own agenda, hoping to obtain an artifact that will give him nearly supernatural authority in Africa. They encounter Anjani, a white child raised by the local people following the death of his family. Anjani joins the expedition and foils the European villain, but the native miscreant is still at large and will have to be dealt with in the sequel. Fearn was a very limited writer but undeniably a good story teller. 4/4/23

One More Sunday by John D. MacDonald, Knopf, 1985 

MacDonald’s penultimate novel, not a mystery, aims at a new target. The story is about a megachurch that is so riddled with infighting, blackmail, moral turpitude, rivalries, sinfulness, and even illegalities that it is surprising it manages to stay successful. The author clearly disapproved of the lot of them – there’s not a single admirable character among the staff. A crisis looms because the patriarch is terminally ill and his son is really not up to the job of taking over the leadership of the church. But he is determined to do so anyway. A rather depressing story. 4/1/23

Doctor Wortle’s School by Anthony Trollope, 1880 

A surprisingly tolerant novel about a school and community scandalized when it turns out that a married member of the faculty is not actually married, due to uncertainty about the fate of the original husband of his “wife.”  Eventually the husband is sent back to Missouri to discover whether the man is dead or alive, while Wortle battles the scandalmongers among his neighbors, patrons, and superiors in the church. I liked this a lot even though it is one of Trollope’s lesser known works. The characters are interesting and the novel is comparatively short, so the plot is more under control.  3/29/23

Condominium by John D. MacDonald, Lippincott, 1975

MacDonald took a break from Travis McGee to write his longest novel, which makes use of his increasingly common theme of poor real estate development in Florida. A rapacious developer has built a string of condominiums that make him rich and he finds innovative ways to extort more money from the residents. Unfortunately he also skimps on construction quality and the buildings are decaying almost from the day they open. A tenants' group organizes to fight back, but both sides are going to be caught up when a violent hurricane threatens, with winds the condominiums can not withstand. 3/25/23

Seven by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1971 

Seven stories of suicide, murder, betrayal, adultery, lust, arrogance, hyper rectitude, and other often ugly human emotions. I didn’t think this was as good as his previous collection, End of the Tiger. A couple of the stories have very weak endings and none of them have the kinds of clever plot twists that made so many of his short stories sparkle. They are generally a bit longer. “The Willow Pool” is quite good – a college student is traumatized and may have committed a murder. 3/18/23

End of the Tiger by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1966 

This is a quite varied collection of short stories, adventure, crime, and the mundane. Several of them are quite clever – I had not read much of his short fiction before this. The emotional punches are sometimes more intense than in his novels, and some of the plots are quite complex. A common theme is trouble averted by observing a bad example. Bullies frequently get trounced. Bad decisions come back to haunt people.  Settings include race tracks, fishing boats, and picnics. The one novelette included is actually the least interesting story in the collection. 3/15/23

Harry Heathcote at Gangoil by Anthony Trollope, Dover, 1874 

After visiting Australia, Trollope wrote this story of a young English immigrant who married and operated a small sheep farm in a remote area. Harry is rather pugnacious and irritates his neighbors, including one family who would be called rustlers in the American Old West. The conflict rapidly boils toward a violent conclusion. This was comparatively short for Trollope and can actually be read in one longish sitting. It is entertaining but lacks the depths of character and situation which characterize his more significant novels. 3/9/23

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith, 1766

I had never read this before and found it pretty dull and occasionally over the top. A family has various problems with money and other circumstances, aided and abetted by the activities of an evil squire. Their house catches fire, a daughter disappears and is assumed dead, and the father is sent to debtors' prison. It all comes out well in the end thanks to the arrival of a friendly man of means. This felt more like a soap opera than anything else and I found the prose leaden. 2/27/23

The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope, 1864 

The fifth book in the Barset series. A widow and her two daughters live on suffrage from a rich uncle. He favors the older daughter and wants her to marry a cousin whom he also likes, but she is not interested. He has little interest in the younger, who is engaged to a man who expected a substantial amount of support from the uncle and begins to have second thoughts. He marries someone else from a distinguished family, but the marriage is a disaster. The older sister eventually marries a poor doctor whom she loves, the younger sister's admirer has several successes, but he does not convince her to marry him and she has no suitors as the story ends. The uncle realizes the error of his ways and corrects them. This was a very long novel but seemed to pass relatively quickly. 2/26/23

Fangs by William Dobson, Signet, 1980

There was a brief popularity of nature gone wild novels in SF back around this time. This really isn't one of them. It's a straightforward suspense adventure story about a deadly king cobra that gets loose in a major city. It insinuates itself into buildings and kills a few people before the protagonist is able to track it down. The suspense is minimal and the story rather flat. Dobson is British writer Michael Butterworth, who produced several tie in novels for the Space 1999 television show. 2/6/23

Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope, 1861

A very long novel not in a series with a large cast of characters and a very large number of subplots. The main one involves a codicil to a will that leaves a small farm to a dying man's younger second wife and her son. The rest of the estate goes to the son by his first wife. The son is ignorant, intolerant, and holds a grudge because he failed in his challenge to the codicil, even though he was left well off. The other plots mostly involve complicated love affairs and triangles, and some tension between generations, one a young man who is too lazy to work hard, one who is too industrious to relax or consider other people's viewpoints. There really is not enough story for such a long book, so there are extensive accounts of Christmas parties, fox hunting, and other social events. Halfway through we learn that the codicil was in fact forged, and that removes any element of mystery. This is not one of my favorites of his novels. 1/31/23

The Star Stalker by Robert Bloch, Pyramid, 1968 

I think this is the only mundane novel Bloch wrote. Despite the title, it is not about a psychopath. It is not a suspense novel. Set during the era of silent movies, it follows the career of a young writer who wants to work in the movie business. Through luck and hard work, he manages to enjoy a fairly successful career, but at times he has doubts that he has made the right decisions in his life. More of interest because of the era and situations it evokes than anything else. 1/12/23

A Key to the Suite by John D. MacDonald, Gold Medal, 1962 

Although there is a murder at the end of this short novel, it is not a mystery or even a suspense story. The setting is a business convention where some of the attendees have conspired against an executive whom they believe is going to recommend the elimination of some jobs. They hire a prostitute to seduce him, planning to use quiet blackmail to alter his position. The seduction works, but an angry boyfriend complicates the issue and the executive is not inclined to allow his weakness affect his professional decisions. The murder is inadvertent but also unprovable and the killer gets away with it. 1/3/23