Tag Archives: Mystery


Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Trespasser 

Written by: Tana French

Narrated by: Hilda Fay


Tana French shows that evidence is the fundamental proof of guilt or innocence.  French’s “The Trespasser” offers a glimpse of what it must be like to be a woman in a man’s world. To be a female detective on a murder squad is a perfect venue for exploring the perfidy of men in power positions.

French’s story shows how power distorts the relationship between the sexes.  In a culture that reinforces male dominance, women use the same tools as men to acquire power; however, with a substantive difference.  Intellect, sex, and prejudice demean women while men reap reward and praise for the same qualities.

BILL COSBY TRIAL ( An innocent verdict is no absolution for Cosby but it is a measure of American society’s acceptance of a President’s locker room talk on a bus and behavior in a women’s dressing room.)

In modern times, the currency of society’s male domination is apparent in the trial of Bill Cosby.  Regardless of the accuracy of Cosby’s only eligible accuser, 40 other women have independently accused him of sexual impropriety.  Though testimony of these 40 women is not admissible as evidence, their testimony strongly smells of Cosby’s guilt.   If guilty, Cosby represents the guilt of society.  An innocent verdict is no absolution for Cosby but it is a measure of American society’s acceptance of a President’s locker room talk on a bus and behavior in a women’s dressing room.

POLICE MURDER INVESTIGATION (French creates a mystery solved by Detective Antoinette Conway with the help of her partner, Stephen Moran.  Conway presumes every male in her squad, and at one point even Moran, plot against her success.)

French creates a mystery solved by Detective Antoinette Conway with the help of her partner, Stephen Moran.  Conway presumes every male in her squad, and at one point even Moran, plot against her success. This presumption is reinforced by Conway’s experience as a police officer and detective.  Her gathered prejudice against all men (or at least those in her squad) nearly derails her dogged search for the murderer of a young woman.  French reveals how Conway overcomes her personal prejudice by accepting the truth that men and women are equally good and bad.


A father abandons his wife and daughter.  The abandoned wife seeks answers to the whereabouts of her husband.  The Missing-Persons’ department of the police is asked to investigate.  The father is reported as having died, after living many years with another woman.  The mother dies. The daughter is obsessed with the investigating officer of the Missing Persons’ department because of his ambiguous relationship with her mother.  The daughter plans an elaborate ruse to meet the investigating officer and find out more about her father.  The daughter becomes entangled in a web of relationships; i.e. the Missing-Persons’ officer (who is now the head of a murder department), a close female friend, and a possible new boyfriend.  The daughter is murdered.  Conway’s task is to find the murderer.

In French’s story, the search for suspects, and resolution of the case, are introduced to Conway’s investigation of the murder.  The substance of the story shows women as intellectually strong, and mentally tough as men.  Of course, history, as well as this fictional story, shows many women are as intellectually strong and mentally tough as men; e.g.  Cleopatra, Sojourner Truth, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto, Malala Yousafzai, and others.


French’s story brings the inequality of human life into the day-to-day life of today’s women.  Conway is characterized as an intelligent, determined, and independent murder detective.  Conway is not perfect.  She carries her own prejudices, but she focuses on evidence to prove her murder cases.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

Why Time Flies

Written by: Alan Burdick

 Narrated by: George Newbern

ALAN BURDICK (AUTHOR, EDITOR FOR THE NEW YORKER,  In some respects, Burdick’s story is enlightening; in others, time escapes his and an audience’s understanding, )

Time is a mystery.  Alan Burdick speculates on a definition of time in “Why Time Flies”.  In some respects, Burdick’s story is enlightening; in others, time escapes his  audience’s understanding.

ENDORPHINS ARE CHEMICALS IN THE BRAIN THAT FUNCTION AS NEUROTRANSMITTERS (Time appears to be a construct of mind and consciousness, both of which are equally mysterious.)

Time appears to be a construct of mind and consciousness, both of which are equally mysterious.  No one really knows what mind and consciousness are but recent experiments suggest they are a state of being that offers versions of reality; i.e. not objective truth but subjective understanding.  Experiments show that the mind deconstructs what we see and reassembles it to have meaning in an individual’s consciousness.

CAR CRASH (Burdick shows, through recounted experiments, that time does not slow down when we experience traumatic events like a car crash or a bungee jump. )

Burdick shows, through recounted experiments, that time does not slow down when we experience traumatic events like a car crash or a bungee jump.  What our mind does is reconstruct an accident or bungee jump through a consciousness that makes it seem time slows down.  Our consciousness remembers or manufactures events as though they occurred in slow motion; i.e. we remember seeing our car flipping over, the top being crushed, and our effort to use a seat belt to steady our movements.  All of this happens within a minute but we remember it in detail as though a slow-motion camera records the accident.

MIND PATTERNING  (Memories are not precise films of past events. Memories are facts held together by cognitively created stories that make sense in the mind of the person who remembers. Making sense in the mind of one who remembers is not the same as truth. Patterning of remembered facts compels humans to distort memory. The distortion is caused by forgotten details, rationalizations, and prejudices that blend facts to make memories logical in the mind of the one who remembers. The technical expression of difference between memory and truth is partly defined in Tavris’s and Aronson’s book as cognitive-dissonance.)

Burdick notes that time only flows in one direction.  As common experience tells us, we cannot unbreak an egg.  Life begins young and grows older; old begins old and gets older, at least until death. What happens next is another mystery.

Through manipulation of images, we can reverse time but we know it is an illusion.  Various experiments show that time can be slowed down as speculated by Einstein (and later proved by others) but time is never shown to go backward.  That is why travel to the past is considered impossible while travel to the future is, in a limited sense, possible.  As movement approaches the speed of light, time slows down.  A person on earth ages faster than a person in space.  In a way, the person in space travels into a future.  By returning to earth a person from space travels to the future because he/she aged at a slower rate than those left behind.

IN THE MOMENT (Burdick notes that time is always now.  It has no past.  It has no future.  Time is “in the moment”.  Burdick’s recognition is not helpful in understanding time.  Time is never clearly identifiable because it is either becoming a history or a future. )

Burdick notes that time is always now.  It has no past.  It has no future.  Time is “in the moment”.  Burdick’s recognition is not helpful in understanding time.  Time is never clearly identifiable because it is either becoming a history or a future.

How does one define a moment?  It seems to be something between history and future but what is time’s physical marker?  Maybe it is consciousness but no one knows what consciousness is and every person’s consciousness is personal and subjective; not universal.

At best, Burdick’s story only deepens the mystery of time.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

Surrender, New York

Written by: Caleb Carr

Narrated by: Tom Taylorson


In a cursory search of Caleb Carr’s writing bona fides, it is a surprise that “Surrender, New York” was written by an accomplished author.  Undoubtedly, fans of Caleb Carr will be appalled by this review.

Carr’s fictional dialog often sounds unnatural. His dialog is contrived in ways that detract from the story’s characters. Without being prudish, “F” words are used unnecessarily. Only subject matter and mystery make “Surrender, New York” feed desire to finish the book.


Carr’s creative insight to forensics and research on America’s failure to protect unwanted and abandoned children is remarkable.


Two areas of fascination that make Carr’s story worth completing are one—an intelligent explanation of the difference between quality forensics and TV forensics; and two—an examination of the hardship of “throw-away” children in America.

FORENSIC MISTAKES (Forensic procedure is subject to human error at different stages of evidence development.)

Carr notes quality forensics lets facts lead to conclusions. In contrast, Carr notes TV forensics often only collect facts to support conclusions.  Carr also notes that forensic procedure is subject to human error at different stages of evidence development.


Carr implies forensic technicians are often seduced by crime scene investigators; i.e. they become adjuncts to conviction rather than researchers for justice. The technician only looks for facts that fit the crime investigator’s conclusions.  TV’ forensics become part of a self-fulfilling prophesy based on an investigator’s preliminary conclusion.  In real life, Carr implies some forensic technicians ignore facts that do not fit pre-conceived conclusions. Carr’s story argues that, in some forensic investigations, facts are ignored, mistakes are made, conclusions are false, and justice is thwarted.

Carr addresses forensic deficiencies with a story about children that are abandoned by their parents.  Around the world, the number of children who fit that category are estimated to be 400,000 (by ISK, International Street Kids). “Throw away” kids are a specific category of children without any defined estimate in the United States; however, the number of homeless children in the U. S. was estimated as high as 2,000,000 in 2015.

Kids who are abandoned by their parents are faced with three choices; i.e., one, to become a ward of the state in a group home; two, be taken care of by a willing foster parent being subsidized by the government, or three become a “Street Kid”.  None of these options have much to recommend them.  Undoubtedly, some street kids luckily find an adult that truly cares for them.  However, those who turn to the street likely become victims of society.  Street kids get zero support from the U. S. government.  They are blocked from getting a legitimate job because they are not adults.  They cannot enroll in school because they have no address or guardian to support them.  They become like “children of the dust” who beg at street corners, turn to crime, to traffickers, and/or prostitution to survive.

Carr creates a story that offers a creative alternative for a few “throw-away” children who exhibit some extraordinary ability.  He creates an underground of “do-gooders” that search the world for wealthy people looking for a child.  This underground becomes a way, in theory, for “throw away” children to have a second chance.

However, there is an unintended consequence from the opportunity presented to some of these special children.  The unintended consequence is death.  Carr’s story is about the ethics of the underground organization, and the forensic process in finding the truth of several children’s deaths.

Carr does create some interesting characters and offers some entertaining scenes but Carr’s poorly developed dialog diminishes the story’s creativity.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Girl in the Red Coatthe-girl-in-the-red-coat

Written by: Kate Hamer

Narrated by: Antonia Beamish


Faith offers strength and weakness.  “The Girl in the Red Coat” is a fictional story of an eight-year-old girl’s abduction that illustrates faith’s promise and illusion.  There is the promise of inner fortitude and the illusion of desired results.  Many people are strengthened by faith.  At the same time, faith can turn into bitter disappointment.


Child abduction is many parent’s worst nightmare.  Kate Hamer makes that nightmare real in “The Girl in the Red Coat”.  As an eight-year-old, Carmel Wakeford tests the limits of her independence by wandering away from her mother’s view; i.e. a common experience of parents with young children.

Carmel Wakeford is abducted.  Carmel’s mother feels guilty for the abduction because of her momentary loss of attention.  A reader/listener thinks about how many times their child is out of their sight and wonders if the same might happen to them.  Hamer heightens the terror of her story with characterization of a single mother who dotes on her child.

Most children test their limits as they grow into adults.  In this one instance, Carmel is away from her mother in an English village when an older man approaches to say that her mother has been in an accident.  The older man introduces himself as the girl’s grandfather.  He explains they should go to the hospital where her mother is being taken.

SINGLE MOTHERS (A job demanding compromise, and freighted with hardship.)

One of Hamer’s primary characters is a single mother that is divorced.  Because the character is divorced, there is a suspension of disbelief when an older man says he is Carmel’s grandfather.  He could have been Carmel’s grandfather without Carmel knowing or remembering him.  Carmel believes the grandfather’ story and accompanies the old man.  Hamer somewhat tempers the terror as the kidnapper’s motive is slowly revealed.

Faith healer Oral Roberts preaching, praying and laying hands on the sick in his prayer line at evening services. (Photo by Francis Miller//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

One of the two major themes in Hamer’s book is about faith healing and itinerant preachers that take money from the public for the hope of curing human disease, physical deformity, or mental dysfunction.  Hamer seems to walk a fine line between believing and not believing in the practice.  Depending on a reader/listener’s predilection, this theme is either being seriously considered by the author or seen as an exposure of demented preachers and greedy charlatans.

One of Hamer’s themes is the mental consequence of a kidnapping.  The local police diligently pursue the case but it lingers for days, months, and finally 5 years.  The back story for Carmel’s mother is that she married her, now divorced, husband over the objections of her family.  She becomes reconciled with her parents and seems to forgive her husband for leaving her.  She becomes friends with her husband’s new wife. However, in the process of coping with guilt, Carmel’s mother attempts to kill herself.


“The Girl in the Red Coat” is well written but loses some of its power, in its second theme, by leaving belief in faith healing unmoored; i.e. discounted by many failures, while tied by a slender thread of belief.  It is a disconcerting story that strikes fear in the hearts of parents who love their children.  The complex emotion of a mother in distress is well told.  It is a mystery/thriller that draws its audience into the dark world of faith healing.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

The Black Mountain (A Nero Wolfe Mystery)The Black Mountain

Written by: Rex Stout

Narration by:  Michael Prichard


With a plan to visit Montenegro this year, it is interesting to listen to a murder mystery in that country.  Rex Stout may or may not have visited Montenegro but he obviously had some understanding of the complex history of Tito’s Yugoslavian Federation.  Tito led a communist guerrilla movement called the Partisans during WWII in Yugoslavia.  He resisted Hitler and became Prime Minister and then President for Life of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after the war.  Though nominally a communist, Tito defied Soviet hegemony during the Cold War and tilted toward market socialism in the 1950s and 60s.  After Tito’s death in 1980, Yugoslavia disintegrated and Montenegro re-asserted itself as an independent nation.

Rex Stout’s mystery is published in the 1950s, and reflects on the complex relationship between several republics that make up the Yugoslavian Federation.  In the 1950s, the Federation includes Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Serbia.  Stout touches on the fear that exists in Montenegro during that period of Tito’s rule.MAP OF FORMER YUGOSLAVIA

Putting aside Yugoslavia’s history, Stout’s “… Black Mountain” illustrates how astute and clever a mystery writer can be.  Those who are familiar with the Nero Wolfe series know that Wolfe is a private detective with a wide girth, high intelligence, and moral rectitude.  His right-hand man and muscle is Archie Goodwin.

The mystery begins when Wolfe’s Montenegrin childhood friend is murdered in New York. This is a friend that goes back to Wolfe’s early life in Montenegro.  Local New York police investigate the crime but are not privy to some personal information Wolfe has about the murdered friend.  In the 1950s, there are Montenegrin nationalists that are fighting against Tito.  They seek independence from Tito’s repressive socialist regime.  Wolfe’s friend is supporting these nationalist rebels when he is murdered.  Wolfe neither condones nor financially supports his friend’s participation in the rebellion but he insists on bringing the murderer, whether communist, socialist, or nationalist, to justice.

At the risk of creating an international crisis, Wolfe and Archie secretly pursue clues to the murder by illegally entering Montenegro.  What makes this mystery interesting is that Stout uses the politics of the 1950s to enhance credibility and integrity in his writing.  Stout shows the enmity felt by some Montenegrins toward three political realities of the 1950s; e.g. existence of the Iron Curtain, Tito’s brand of socialist communism, and neighboring communist country interference in Montenegro.

Wolfe is nearly arrested by a local police commander in a Montenegrin town. The police commander is a Tito sympathizer willing to use a covert agent to kill American supporters of the Nationalist’s rebellion.  Wolfe hoodwinks the police commander into transporting the murderer of his childhood friend back to the United States.

There are many vignettes that reveal the complex political situation in Yugoslavia during the 1950s.  Albania is essentially acting as a surrogate for Russia in torturing Montenegrin nationalists and socialists that resist Russian influence.  The Albanians are neither liked by Tito’s public officials nor the nationalist rebels.  The nationalist rebels are so victimized by Tito’s repressive laws that they trust no one except their immediate family.  Torture and murder are accepted behavior by all sides of the conflict.

Stout, through the character of Nero Wolfe, shows the face of an idealized American who does whatever it takes to right a wrong, but only within defined ethical boundaries.  Wolfe insists on rule-of-law for judgment of criminals.  There is no Wolfe’ vigilantism.  There is no torture for confession of murder.  There is no communist baiting; even when McCarthyism is at its peak in America.  There is only justice proscribed by rule-of-law.  Wolfe has the opportunity to kill his friend’s murderer but chooses to have him returned to the United States for trial.

“The Black Mountain” is an entertaining mystery; expertly narrated by Michael Prichard.  It is a story that will make some interested in more tales of the rotund American hero and his witty, deadly fellow crime fighter.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com


Written by: Patrick deWitt

Narration by:  Simon Prebble



Human lust and love simmer in “Undermajordomo Minor”.  From a male’s point of view, Patrick deWitt has written a fantasy about an ancient time of castles, counts, and countesses reflecting on lust and love through the ages.  The story suggests men are liars, and women are enablers; with the sexes meeting in lust and, at least in one case, growing into love.

The main character is a man named Lucy.  Listeners meet Lucy as an unloved child nearing death.  Lucy is visited on what appears to be his deathbed by a mysterious stranger that asks him what he wants out of life.  Lucy says he wants something different.  The stranger nods his head and leaves his bedside.  The next day Lucy feels better but his father rapidly deteriorates and dies.  His mother believes her husband’s death is related to Lucy’s recovery.  Never having shown much love to Lucy, she treats Lucy as a tenant more than a son.

Lucy grows into manhood as deWitt offers pictures of Lucy’s life.  DeWitt tells a story of Lucy’s relationship with a young woman near his own age.  The young woman is Lucy’s introduction to lust.  After a time, the passion of their conjugal pairing diminishes and the young woman moves on.  She becomes engaged to another man who is bigger and stronger than Lucy.  In the meantime, Lucy seeks counsel of a local priest about the visitation he had at his bedside when he was nearing death.  The priest discounts the visitation but takes enough interest in Lucy to send a letter to possible employers to recommend Lucy for a job.  Only one employer responds.  Lucy accepts because it is something different.

As Lucy is leaving his mother’s house, he chances to meet his former lover.  Lucy slyly explains that her handsome strapping young fiancé is secretly engaged to another woman in a neighboring town.  This is a lie delivered with such sincerity that the young woman leaves with a belief she has been misled by her chosen mate.  In this brief interlude, a listener/reader forms a guarded opinion of Lucy.  Lucy seems a liar and a less than decent, and somewhat cowardly, human being.  That assessment is reinforced when he boards the train; seeing his former lover and her fiancé coming toward him on the train platform.  Lucy shudders with fear.  Lucy escapes the confrontation but the reader/listener’s guarded opinion hardens to amused dislike.

A strange castle, which is Lucy’s destination, seems straight out of Edgar Allen Poe.  Upon arrival, Lucy meets an extremely handsome soldier.  Lucy asks the soldier about the castle. The soldier ridicules Lucy and then takes his money.  The extremely handsome soldier becomes an important character in Lucy’s supernatural life.

The bereft Lucy proceeds to the front door of the castle.  The castle’s owner is a mysterious unseen presence.  Lucy arrives to meet the owner’s castle keeper.  The castle keeper gives Lucy a tour and introduces him to the cook.  Each of these characters is odd; neither explain why the castle’s owner is so reclusive.

Lucy settles into his new job.  He meets a beautiful young girl in the village.  He falls in lust.  They become lovers partly because Lucy tells another lie about his former lover. Lucy suggests his former lover kills herself because he left.  Lucy goes on to explain a spurned and forlorn lover pursues Lucy for causing the young girl’s suicide.  Lucy confesses that he is compelled to defend himself and slays the unrequited lover.  Lucy is impressed but somewhat skeptical of Lucy’s story because of his diminutive stature.  Lucy explains that he is stronger than he looks.  Lucy’s new lover decides to tell of her loss of virginity.   She explains that a “Don Juan” like character visits the village and arouses subtle, if not lustful, sexual interest. Lucy’s lie about his former lover heightens a listener’s disrespect for Lucy. The virgin lover’s story reinforces an implied enabling theme; i.e. Lucy’s new lover seems to enable “Don Juan’s” fantasy.

Finally, deWitt introduces the reader/listener to the castle’s owner.  Lucy has been told by the castle keeper that he should always lock the door to his room at night without explaining why.  The castle owner is a lust-broken husband of a wife that has left him.  The castle owner’s broken heart has caused him to lose touch with reality; i.e. except for letters he writes to the absent Countess.  The Count artfully entreats his Countess to return.

Lucy eventually finds that the Count walks the grounds and castle naked and eats rodents like a beast of prey; i.e. he captures rodents, and eats them raw; with blood and fur dripping from his lips. He communicates with no one but lurks in the woods near the castle.  Lucy is charged with delivering the Count’s letters to a train conductor that delivers the mail.  Lucy surreptitiously reads one of the letters and is astounded to find how lucid and beautifully written the letters are.   Lucy chooses to correspond with the Countess to advise her of the Count’s condition.

The Countess returns, and the Count recovers his sanity but a turn of events causes the Countess to leave again.  The cause has to do with women’s enablement of men’s lust and the consequence of that enablement.  Here is where a supernatural event occurs that tells a story illustrating a difference between lust and love.

Patrick deWitt has written something different in “Undermajordomo Minor”. He shows himself to be a skilled teller of tales; an artist suggesting there is more to a supernatural story than entertainment.

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Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

Website: chetyarbrough.com

Career of EvilCAREER OF EVIL

Written by: Robert Galbraith

Narration by:  Robert Glenister 


As follow-up to “The Cuckoo’s Calling” and “The Silkworm”, “Career of Evil “is a movie script more than bookish mystery thriller.  Three villains have a lurking and evil presence that imprints itself on one’s mind.  The villains are violent haters, misogynist, and/or child molesters.  The life of private detective, Cormoran Strike, is a movie caricature of a hulking good guy with rough good looks, a tough outer shell, and inner charm.  Strike scares bad guys and attracts beautiful women.

Pseudonymous Robert Galbraith  (J.K. Rowling) offers background on Cormoran Strike’s persona and introduces a new enigmatic character who grew up with Strike but is a polar opposite in morality and looks.  A common characteristic for Strike and this new character is a penchant for violence.

A moderately interesting sidelight of “Career of Evil” is the dynamic of gender discrimination.  Presumptions by both men and women of the opposite sex are exposed in the relationship between two heroes of the story, Strike and Robin Ellacott.  On the one hand, Strike thinks Robin cannot take care of herself.  On the other hand, Robin thinks Strike can only see her as a secretary.  Robin seeks recognition and identity as an investigator.  Strike sees Robin as an investigator but often treats her like a secretary.


One’s biggest criticism of Rowling’s “Career of Evil” is the oft scripted ineptitude of the police.    The police are characterized as bumbling, inept and jealous investigators who cannot protect or serve the public because they are either ignorant or bound by rule of law; i.e. suggesting cops are too self-absorbed to listen or too bound by the bureaucracy of search warrants and arrest requirements to catch criminals.  Reality is more complex.  The police see the worst in society and are always expected to rise above it; always make the right decision, and always keep their cool.  It is an expectation that cannot always be met by any human being.


“Career of Evil” is entertaining but it fails to reveal more of the greatest part of its author’s proven skill and ability; i.e. her remarkable imagination.  The story is common.  Character descriptions are banal.  The heroes are caricatures of a culture that believes women are from Venus and men are from Mars.  If one did not know “Career of Evil” is written by a woman, he/she would think it is written by a man.  It seems women are as ignorant of men as men are of women.

“Career of Evil” could be a successful movie; it may be a best seller, but respectfully, it is hackneyed literature.

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