Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Wicked Design: A Belinda Lawrence Mystery - Book Five by Brian Kavanagh

A Wicked Design: A Belinda Lawrence Mystery (Book Five). Brian Kavanagh. Fontaine Press. September 2013. 192 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781925086065.

Belinda Lawrence receives a shocking telephone call from her mother. A former lover and successful architect, Brad Delaney, he had a meeting with Belinda’s fiancĂ© Mark Sallinger the night before Brad was murdered.  Belinda, however, has no idea of this meeting.  All she knows is Brad was found in a local river, with his hands tied behind his back, and stones on his body to weigh him down.  While she clearly had moved on past Brad, she was determined to find out who killed him.   Her mother had secret designs that she would eventually marry Brad and thereby stay in Australia where her Mom could eventually share life with grandchildren.

At the funeral Belinda is convinced something is odd about this death.  Brad’s brother, a Socialist fanatic, says he’s sad about his death but at the same time says there wasn’t much love lost between them, citing “materialism” as the reason for his dislike of his brother.  Then there are other guests who are obviously important politicians.  It turns out that Brad was working on a special project for the city’s Parliament House and had found something worth a fortune that was to be part of the new Dome on the building.  Now, he’s gone, however, there are many, many people interested in finding out what he found in order to profit from it in various ways.

The treasure Brad found has not only monetary value beyond belief but also is highly symbolic of the party holding power at the time.  Belinda’s best friend, Hazel Whitby, is her usual sexy self and uses those romantic ploys to distract doormen and the like while Belinda goes sleuthing.  There’s a talkative Major, some antique dealers, a professor and more who all seem innocent with their words but whose body language belies their supposed disinterest in finding this treasure and historical artifact.

Brad is not the only one who will die and even Mark Sallinger comes under the radar as a suspicious “person of interest,” who was determined that Brad would never enter Belinda’s life again beyond that of an acquaintance. No, you can’t figure out “who done it” no matter how you try as Brian Kavanagh knows how to throw wrenches into the plot exactly when one thinks the mystery is about to be solved.  It also seems there’s a historical party war going on that is pitting democracy against a more socialist leaning reminiscent of fascist governments ruling before, during and after WWII.  Belinda’s life will be seriously threatened before the mystery is solved and the ending is quite shocking and not even close to what the reader thinks will solve the political and criminal mystery!

Each novel by Brian Kavanagh gets better and better, but A Wicked Design… is certainly the best of all his works.  Intense, complex plots with unpredictable characters interact so that the reader will have to read this novel in one or two sittings, as it’s very, very hard to put down once it’s started.  There’s also a nice touch of history and its symbolic value in government that’s informative and intriguing as well!

All in all - very nicely done, Brian Kavanagh!  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father's Twentieth Century by Margaret Talbot

The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father’s Twentieth Century.  Margaret Talbot. Penguin Group USA.  November 2013. 432 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9781594631887.

The Entertainer… covers a large swatch of twentieth century entertainment as history and also a biography of the author’s father, Lyle Talbot.  It’s quite obvious that Margaret was deeply fond of her father, although her grandmother didn’t quite like the influence he had on his daughter.  But the tales she heard from her Dad clearly fascinated her and made her realize that the history of entertaining was one to share with the world because of its unique evolution over time and with the additional development of new technologies so rapidly  occurring during the 20th Century.

To begin with the reader is introduced to the world of the “story” as her father shared events and characters galore in his long career; he was already sixty when his daughter was born.  This is the world we learn began with side shows, circuses, traveling stage shows, hypnotists with real and criminal skills, silent screen movies, “talkies,” big screen movies, and so much more until one gets the full picture that just also includes America’s development.  An interesting part that is sometimes unrecognized is how much small rural towns contributed to the spread of entertainment, whether it was good or bad.  The monotony of life led to a demand for such entertainment which also served as morality plays, stories in which common people could identify with similar characters, and just downright plain silliness to lighten the financial and work burdens of most Americans. At times the entertainment was quite bawdy and probably should have been banned but wasn’t as there was little preoccupation with ratings in the 1920s and 1930s and even later.

Then we read about Lyle Talbot’s career which spanned every type of possible acting from gangsters and romance stories to cowboy tales and more.  Lyle Talbot never really made it big in the sense of his own performance but certainly worked with the “big” names in the industry, from Mae West to Clark Gable and more.  He also acted in well-known TV serials and actually performed in Hollywood and New York great shows, including Lincoln Center. A multitude of famous and not so well-known films are listed with leading and minor actors and actresses.

Margaret Talbot prefers to focus more on the varying talents of her father and other actors and actresses.  While she glosses over the difficulties of such a lifestyle, including her father’s weakness for less than savory women and absence because of constant traveling that goes with the job, she does create in the reader the sense that acting skills had to change as well as the means by which entertainment was offered.  She tells some funny stories about how her father flubbed certain performances such as when he was supposed to feign a punch on another character but wound up knocking him out and more like this account.

This is a book for any person with even the faintest interest in entertainment, whether that be in pre-movie entertainment, movies, TV movies and serial shows, and the theater.  All in all, Margaret Talbot has offered a panoramic history and depiction that should be required reading for everyone in the industry and those who love the same for all the reasons so obvious in Margaret Talbot’s tribute to one of the greatest industries in the world!