Saturday, September 19, 2015

Elephant Company by Vici Constantine Croke

A Boston Globe blurb described this as "...blending biography, history and wildlife biology ... [in an] account of [Billy] Williams, who earned the sobriquet 'Elephant Bill' and his unusual bond with the largest land mammals on earth."

That's a good description of this interesting book, starting with a WWI veteran who went to Burma in 1920 to make his fortune.  He always had a strong attachment to animals and especially looked forward to the prospect of working with elephants.  The elephants were used to harvest teak in a reasonably sustainable fashion, which means clear cutting was not an option.  The various crews would take individual trees in a jungle setting, skid them using elephants to haul them through the jungle to dry creeks and river beds and wait for the monsoon rains to wash them down to areas where they could be rafted to saw mills.

The majority focus of the book is how strongly he bonded with these highly intelligent animals and how it eventually led to him using the elephants to rescue many people fleeing the Japanese takeover of Burma in WWII.  The book is at its best when describing the elephants, the environment, the actions of harvesting the teak and the interactions of the elephant handlers and the varied complex tasks the elephants accomplished.  The book also verged into what the elephants were thinking and feeling, especially in the presence of Billy Williams, and that may have been true, but went a bit overboard in attributing a sort of ESP between those involved.  Still, given some of the actions of the elephants, you can't really fault the author for ascribing almost mystical powers when describing these animals.

This is a very enjoyable story and a fun read.  Everyone in the family would like this book.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Just like the previous posting, reading this book was an attempt to have a fun read that's not too long at the end of Summer.  If you've read the other posts on the blog about Murakami stories, you might think this would be too complex or out of the mainstream for that kind of read.  That is not the case with this recent (Aug., 2014) addition to Mr. Murakami's varied selection of stories.

Tsukuru was a member of 5 students who were close friends in high school.  Their personalities meshed nicely and complemented the strengths and lesser abilities of each of the members to the point that they were almost one complete unit who continuously hung out together.  The four other members had names that can be interpreted to be a different color, while Tsukuru had no such association and was thus "colorless."  During his second year of college, the group suddenly shunned him for reasons Tsukuru could not understand and he became profoundly depressed and withdrawn.  Over the years he never forgot the relationship yet never contacted the members until events led him to get to the bottom of the mystery.

While there was little if any of Mr. Murakami's otherworldly parallel levels of existence or manipulation of events in this existence thru dreams and events in the other level, the story should still be very satisfying for Murakami fans and for the broader reading audience as well.  The story is told simply enough and yet it's resolution (to a degree) made for a touching tale and a beautiful look at the friendships of adolescence and how they do or do not linger into adulthood.  This is a very worthwhile read.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

After reading some long or mediocre books lately, I looked for something both good and not too long.  When reading a review of the latest in the "Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" series, the reviewer mentioned other Swedish authors, including a duo that changed the genre with their 10 book series starting in the early '60s with Roseanna.

This is crime fiction at its best.  You have a taciturn detective with a varied and capable detective crew who solve crimes without DNA, massive gun battles, or 1000 yard rifle shots with pinpoint accuracy.  In this first story, they don't even know the name of the victim, her nationality, or where she was murdered.  All they know is she was found in the water by a lock being dredged to improve boat traffic.

Through diligent police work, the name appears, which leads to the boat, which leads onward to more understanding of events.  Each character is drawn well and believably, the crime makes some sense in the end, and requires no suspension of reality to make the plot work. The writing is sparse and clean.

Perhaps after reading at least 100 detective stories over the years, I've gotten a little PTSD from the trend towards escalating horrific crimes and those who solve them thru lucky outcomes.  This police procedural may seem a bit quaint, but it deserves to stand alongside the best of Ross McDonald, Raymond Chandler, James Lee Burke, and James Ellroy.  If you like a good mystery, this is a great read.