Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Invisible History of the Human Race - how DNA and history shape our identies and our futures

A recent television drama series, Code of a Killer, on ABC2 was based on the first case of using DNA fingerprinting techniques to solve a murder. DNA testing has become an accepted part of our lives. DNA is often used by archaeologists to test biological samples from skeletons to help determine their age. Studying a person's DNA can also be used medically to detect family patterns of diseases. Part of the book is also spent looking at eugenics and how theories of eugenics influenced the leaders of the Nazi Party.

In the Invisible History of the Human Race, Christine Kenneally, investigates how our DNA can help tell us of our past. Her theory is that a study of our DNA cannot only help us understand our biological history but also our social history. Increasingly DNA tests are being used as a tool to assist researchers determine family connections as well as exploring the paper trail of history. DNA is also used to investigate how peoples, such as the Vikings, settling in England mixed, over time, with the local populations.

This is not necessarily an easy book to read for those of us without an advanced science background, however it does contain some interesting theories to think about, particularly in relation to historical research.

The Pigeon Tunnel - stories from my life

John le Carre has been writing books, largely spy stories, since 1961. The Spy who came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy are perhaps his best known novels. Many of his novels have been adapted for the cinema or for television.

David John Moore Cornwell was born in Dorset in 1931. When he began writing books he adopted the nom de plume, John le Carre. The Pigeon Tunnel is a collection of stories recounting events that happened in his life when he was working for a time in British Intelligence during the Cold War as well as when he has been researching the background for a new book. The stories provide a glimpse into the life of David Cornwell but particularly of John le Carre, author.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Nightingale before Christmas

Each year Caerphilly seems to have a variety of festivals. This time it is the Caerphilly Designer Show House competition where a number of designers each have a room of a house to decorate before the house is open to the public during the Christmas festivities. Money raised during the Open House is designated for the Caerphilly Historical Society. Meg's mother has one room to  decorate while Meg is the on-site co-ordinator of the project. What could go wrong at such a busy time of the year apart from murder and attempts to destroy some of the show rooms. As well as trying to find time to attend other Christmas activities in the town Meg works overtime assisting the police with their investigations as well as trying to establish the motives for the murder and the destruction of part of the house. Another Meg Langslow Mystery, this time with a Christmas theme.

No Nest for the Wicket

No, this book is not about Cricket but is about Extreme Croquet - this game really does exist. Meg is playing extreme croquet when an opposition player hits Meg's ball off the course. When looking for the ball Meg discovers a body lying at the bottom of a slope - and so the story begins. Another entertaining encounter with Meg's extended family and the townsfolk of Caerphilly (ficticious town in Virginia) as attempts are made to first discover the identity of the victim and then solve the mystery of her murder.
Another Meg Lansgslow Mystery by Donna Andrews. This is one of the early titles in the series so it was interesting to revisit the earlier lives of the characters compared with their lives in the more recent books in the series.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A great reckoning

Armand Gamache has a new position as head of the Surete Training Academy in Louise Penny's latest novel, A great reckoning. The corruption which infiltrated the Surete has affected the training of new police recruits and not everyone is happy with Armand's appointment to rectify this situation. When one of the staff is murdered Isabelle Lacoste and her team arrive to investigate but to show impartiality a RCMP officer is also appointed to observe the investigation. One of Commander Gamache's first tasks in his new role was to check the application forms for the new intake of students. The choice of Amelia Choquet as a student amazes Gamache's colleagues, especially when she is considered as a prime suspect for the murder. However it soon becomes obvious that some of the investigators also consider Gamache to be the murderer.

Armand and his wife continue to live at Three Pines though he occasionally spends nights in his rooms at the Academy. Back at Three Pines a map of the village and surrounding area has been found hidden in a wall. Gamache takes a copy back to the Academy and when some of the students show an interest he gives them the task of determining the significance of the map and the reason it was hidden.

A reason that I enjoy reading these books by Louise Penny is not only for the resolution of the plot but for the continuing story and development of the main characters at the Surete and at Three Pines.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Owls well that ends well

 I recently discovered a series of short reviews that I had written about the first six Meg Langslow Mystery books by Donna Andrews which I am adding to the blog.

When Meg and Michael purchased a house they also inherited a house and barn full of accumulated junk. A garage sale seemed to be the solution but complications arose when various members of Meg's family offered to help and also set up stalls. The sale itself progressed relatively smoothly until the body of a local antique dealer was found in a trunk. When a colleague of Michael's is arrested for murder, Meg investigates among the mayhem. A Meg Langslow mystery no. 6

We'll always have parrots

Meg travels with her fiance Michael to a fan convention for Porfiria, Queen of the Jungle--a cheesy cult TV show on which Michael has a minor role. Michael hopes the weekend will give him a chance to talk Miss Wynncliffe-Jones, the show's temperamental leading lady and executive producer out of enforcing a certain provision in Michael's contract.
Of course, Michael's not the only person whose career the dictatorial star has manipulated. So when the star is found murdered, the police have plenty of suspects. Trouble is, Meg doesn't believe they're going to arrest the right one. Soon she finds herself following the murderer's trail through a hotel filled with egotistical actors, costumed fans, and a motley flock of monkeys and parrots who, rebelling against their role as live scenery, have escaped from their cages to take an active (and noisy) role in the festivities. A Meg Langslow mystery no. 5 by Donna Andrews.

Crouching buzzard, leaping loon

Meg agrees to tend the switchboard of Mutant Wizards, where her brother's computer games are created, and handle all the office management problems that no one else bothers with. For companionship, besides a crew of eccentric techies, she has a buzzard with one wing---who she must feed frozen mice thawed in the office microwave---and Michael's mother's nightmare dog. Not to mention the psychotherapists who refuse to give up their lease on half of the office space, and whose conflicting therapies cause continuing dissension. This is not what Meg had in mind when she agreed to help her brother move his staff to new offices.
In fact, the atmosphere is so consistently loony that the office mail cart makes several passes through the reception room, with the office practical joker lying on top of it pretending to be dead, before Meg realizes that he's become the victim of someone who wasn't joking at all. He's been murdered for real.
An eccentric cast of characters are suspects for the muder investigated by Meg (and her father) in another entertaining  and amusing mystery. A Meg Langslow mystery no. 4 by Donna Andrews.

Revenge of the wrought-iron flamingos

Every year, Yorktown, Virginia, relives its role in the Revolutionary War by celebrating the anniversary of the British surrender in 1781. This year, plans include a re-enactment of the original battle and a colonial craft fair. Meg Langslow has returned to her home town for the festivities--and to sell her wrought-iron works of art. Except, of course, for the pink-painted flamingos she reluctantly made for her mother's best friend--she's hoping to deliver them secretly, so she won't get a reputation as "the blacksmith who makes those cute wrought-iron flamingos."
Besides, she has taken on another responsibility--making sure none of her fellow crafters ruin the historical authenticity of the fair with forbidden modern devices--like wrist watches, calculators, or cell phones. She's only doing it to keep peace with the mother of the man she loves. And Michael himself will don the white-and-gold uniform of a French officer for the re-enactment--what actor could resist a role like that?
Meg's also trying to keep her father from scaring too many tourists with his impersonation of an 18th century physician. And to prevent a snooping reporter from publishing any stories about local scandals. Not to mention saving her naive brother, Rob, from the clutches of a con man who might steal the computer game he has invented. It's a tough job--at least, until the swindler is found dead, slain in Meg's booth with one of her own wrought-iron creations.
Now Meg must add another item to her already lengthy to do list: "Don't forget to solve the murder!" A Meg Langslow mystery no. 3 by Donna Andrews.

Murder with puffins

In an attempt to get away from her family, Meg and her boyfriend go to a tiny island off the coast of Maine. What could have been a romantic getaway slowly turns into disaster.
Once there, they are marooned by a hurricane and that is only the beginning of their problems. Meg and her boyfriend arrive at the house only to discover that Meg's parents and siblings, along with their spouses are all there. When a murder takes place, Meg realizes that she and her boyfriend can no longer sit by a cozy fireplace, but must instead tramp around the muddy island to keep try and clear her father who is the chief suspect. A Meg Langslow mystery no. 2

Murder with peacocks

Donna Andrews introduces a cast of quirky characters who will pull her heroine in different directions as she plans three successive summer weddings.
When Meg Langslow is roped into being a bridesmaid for the nuptials of her mother, her brother's fiancee, and her own best friend, she is apprehensive. Getting the brides to chose their outfits and those of their bridesmaids (and not change their minds three days later), trying to capture the principals long enough to work out details, and even finding peacocks to strut around the garden during the ceremony--these are things Meg can handle. She can brush off the unfortunate oaf who is smitten with her, and take philosophically her disappointment when she learns that the only eligible man in her small Virginia town is of questionable sexual preference. But even Meg is taken aback when the unpleasant former sister-in-law of Meg's soon-to-be stepfather disappears and is later found dead. A Meg Langslow mystery no. 1 by Donna Andrews.

Die like an eagle

The junior baseball season was about to begin and Meg and Michael's twin sons are ready to play for the Caerphilly Eagles. Unfortunately it is soon obvious that politics exists in this junior baseball carnival competition. While most of the families just want their young children to enjoy learning the game the head of the league, Biff Brown, is determined that his team must win at all costs. When the body of Biff Brown's brother is discovered before the first game of the carnival many people think that perhaps the wrong man was murdered. Meg becomes involved in solving this puzzle with the assistance of her extended family who are always ready to assist. Another entertaining Meg Langslow Mystery by Donna Andrews (no. 20).