Last week I was unpleasantly surprised to notice that two reviews of Murder with a French Accent, an Alex Kertesz mystery disappeared overnight from the Amazon page of Janet Hannah books. I knew from previous experience that contacting Amazon was useless but still, two at once – this couldn’t be standard procedure. So I asked Amazon to please return the deleted reviews.
Amazon promises a reply within 48 hours, and they did actually reply. The “person” who responded ( it signed with a female name, but judging by the level of reading comprehension it might have been an early generation computer) said that it couldn’t identify “the review” in question from the information I provided ( author name and title of book) but would be happy to research it I would provide a shopping list of unobtainable additional information. This could have kept me busy for quite a while. This person/computer probably counted on my giving up before I started, otherwise she/it might have spent more work hours replying to increasingly disgruntled mail from an aggravated author than it would have taken to simply consider the initial request and maybe actually solve the problem.
Two things come to mind:
1. Letters to Amazon has the makings of an amusing parlor game, in which the author or customer makes a simple request and the other player who comes up with the most ridiculous reply wins the round.
2. The only solution to the problem of vanishing reviews is the posting of additional reviews by readers. It would be nice if some one who read Murder with a French Accent would post a review before the number goes down to zero. Or maybe not, considering that the remaining review gives the book a score of 5 out of 5.
Overnight the number of reviews of Murder With a French Accent on Amazon has dropped from 3 to 1. The good news is, the remaining review gave it a top rating of 5 stars.
Murder with a French Accent
Probably every city dweller in the developed world has had a thought or two about our dependence on technology. It’s no use reminding yourself that your ancestors managed without refrigerators when yours goes on the blink in mid-summer. And when several modern necessities betray you at the same time – your computer crashes, your car won’t start, and the boiler bursts – you might even start to panic.
So imagine the disaster when a group of cyber-terrorists sabotage the inter-connected electrical grid in a number of European countries and the U.S., and do it in a way that means it will take a long time to resume service. In “Blackout”, first published in German in 2012, Marc Elsberg provides a detailed analysis of the devastating domino effect of loss of electricity on modern life. All systems, from food production to medical care and sanitation, from transport and communication to manufacturing, grind to a halt within days. After more than a week without power many thousands have died and the world is headed for a deep economic recession.
In an afterword, Elsberg says that many professionals concerned with the security of infrastructure such as electrical grids and power plants have consulted him in light of the extensive research he did for this book. I hope it helped.
Aside from the unpleasant timeliness of the subject, it’s not a bad thriller, although Elsberg’s technique of jumping around among a large number of actors in many places makes the writing choppy.
A talented Italian hacker manages to figure out who the culprits are and how they did it, getting stabbed, shot, and chased by the German police in the process. And on the way, he meets a nice girl.
An American microbiologist dies on stage as he is about to lecture at a scientific congress in Prague. He was apparently stabbed by local criminals in the course of a robbery, but Professor Hildegard Kraus from Heidelberg and her colleague Alex Kértesz from Jerusalem, who hear his last words, wonder whether one of the assembled scientists might be the real killer. Whoever it was has also taken the watch the victim had borrowed from Hildegard, a treasured keepsake with an extraordinary history and, perhaps, the ability to do more than tell time.
From Wednesday, June 20th through Sunday, June 24th, Mystery Time will be available as a free Kindle book on Amazon.
Booklist said, “…Hannah has hit upon an engaging premise; a mystery series starring a research scientist working at the University of Jerusalem. She has the makings of a good series: a sympathetic hero and an intriguing, nicely evoked setting.”
Pattern Recognition, published by William Gibson in 2003, scores high in originality. It’s a mystery story, in a way, about a group of fanatical fans of an on-line series of film fragments. It’s not clear why these fragments are so interesting, and I didn’t understand the techniques that supposedly allowed for their production, but the fans share a compulsion to find the identity of the “maker” who is responsible.
The story is told from the point of view of “footage” fan Cayce Pollard, who is an extreme example of a trend detector; she’s one of those people who know instinctively whether or not a fashion item or brand logo is cool. Her reaction to uncool is visceral, and an extreme case, like the apparently innocuous Michelin tire man symbol, can actually induce a panic reaction or make her feel sick.
I don’t know if there are people who have such extreme reactions to esthetics, but the idea is thought provoking. In the modern developed world we often seem to be spending inordinate amounts of thought and money on non-essentials such as fashion of all sorts, but in fact this seems to be a basic component of human nature. It’s likely that people living at subsistence level have the same adverse reactions to things that seem ugly, and indulge those reactions whenever they can. Is it possible that esthetic sensitivity contributes to survival?
I don’t know if it’s officially a separate genre, but there are quite a lot of thrillers that chronicle the adventures of people searching for (possibly non-existent) ancient artifacts. Sometimes the premise is that they are real, and will change the course of history if they are found. In every case, they provide a powerful motive for epic clashes between good guys and bad guys.
The Moses Stone, published by James Becker in 2009, is one of these stories that takes a more measured view. The Moses stone of the title, the tablets containing the Ten Commandments, is probably only an ancient copy (it’s written in old Aramaic). Maybe that’s why it has a only a very minor supernatural power – when uncovered after two thousand years, it’s dust free. That seems like a bit of a let down, more suited to the daydreams of a tired housewife than to such a unique religious artifact.
It’s an entertaining plot. The good guys are a British policeman who becomes involved when a couple of British tourists are murdered in Morocco, and his archeologist ex wife. The Israeli Mossad is on their side but bloodthirsty Arab and British bad guys are also looking for the prize.
However, if you would like an even more exciting true story, read The Gold of Exodus, a 1998 book by Howard Blum. This chronicles the adventures of two bona fide nuts (used here as a term of respect and admiration) who become obsessed with finding said gold and follow the trail wherever it leads them, finally sneaking into a Saudi Arabian army base. They didn’t find the gold, but at least they survived.
The Lying Game, published by Ruth Ware in 2017, has a lot to recommend it. It’s well written and has an intriguing plot and a nicely described setting in the rural English area around a girls boarding school. That said, I wouldn’t like to read any more of her books. The reason is, I just went through 446 pages of the heroine’s non-stop emotional torture.
Her story begins when she arrives at boarding school at the age of fifteen because her mother is terminally ill. She immediately hooks up with three other girls, and together they form about as obnoxious a clique of teenage girls as you could hope to find. One of their amusements is making up lies to make fools of outsiders. She begins to narrate the story seventeen years later, by which time she apparently regrets at least some of her early behavior.
She is now married and the mother of a six month old baby girl. In keeping with the fraught emotional level that seems to characterize her life, she loves all three of her school friends and her husband and her baby. She’s called back to the area of her old school when the question of what happened to the father of one of her friends while they were at school together seems to be answered with the finding of his body. Naturally, the friend lives in an old mill house that is gradually crumbling into the river.
It was a bit of a relief, toward the end, when it seemed that actually she might not love her husband all that much.
PS. A newly edited version of Death of a Gypsy is now available in the Amazon Kindle store.