Monday, September 1, 2014

Mystery Monday: Unnatural Causes, by P.D. James


Title: Unnatural Causes
Author: P.D. James; Narrated by Penelope Dellaporta
Publisher: G.K.Hall & Co., 1967 (original). Audio: Books on Tape, 2008
Source: Library (Overdrive)

In this 3rd book about Scotland Yard's Adam Dalgliesh, the DI has come to spend a quiet holiday with his Aunt Jane. But no sooner has he arrived than the neighbors show up to complain that one of their number, mystery writer Maurice Seton, has disappeared. And then the local police show up to say he's been found. . . dead and mutilated. Dalgliesh has no official standing on this case, but he can't keep out of it, and naturally finds his way to the solution before the local police, but not before there is another death.

The 1967 publication date explains a great deal about this book, which did feel dated in some ways. Jame's style is always a bit formal and distant (rather like Dalgliesh, actually), so as I was listening I wasn't sure about the time period, but felt that the story had a tone that was out of step with modern novels. It did seem to be set in another era, and several things make a great deal more sense in that context!

Not surprisingly (James is one of the masters of the genre), the plot is complex, but not byzantine, and hangs together beautifully, with all the clues present in retrospect, though I didn't see it coming. There was one annoying point when Dalgliesh tells the local police the key to everything, and sends them off to find it, but we (the readers) are not told what it is. That always strikes me as a bit unfair, and frankly even if I had been told what the thing was I wouldn't have figured out who did it, so she might as well have played straight with us.

Ms. Dellaporta's narration is excellent, and adds to the enjoyment of the story.

As long as you don't have any issues with older mysteries with a more restrained style, this is an excellent yarn. I have tended to read this series in random order as the books cross my path, but I suspect a perusal in order would reward the reader, who could not only see the characters develop, but watch Britain and the Yard transform from the 60s to the early 2000s (without aging the characters any significant amount). If you are a fan of the classic mystery, have at it!

Full Disclosure: I checked  Unnatural Causes  out of my (digital) library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Back to School Sale!

School's starting up again, and we moms are back to the old PTA work, with all the frustrations and fun that entails. Just to keep everyone smiling, and to remind us that things could always be worst, I'm offering a special deal on the first Pismawallops PTA mystery!

From today through Sept. 10, buy  Death By Ice Cream for just $2.99 at the Kindle store. And because I firmly believe in supporting other platforms, use coupon code PJ97S to get the same price from Smashwords, which sells all formats, including Kindle, Kobo and Nook.

Pismawallops Island is a quiet place where nothing much happens, even at the High School.  That’s how JJ MacGregor likes it.  So when a new member of the PTA threatens to disrupt the even tenor of life in the middle of Puget Sound, JJ insists they have to take a firm stand against her.  But when Letitia Lemoine shows up very dead in the freezer where there should have been 30 boxes of ice cream bars, JJ worries that someone might have taken her command too seriously.  Not the sort to sit back while other people solve her problems, JJ just can’t help asking a few questions.  But someone wants her to stop—and an acerbic sense of humor, insatiable curiosity, and carefully hidden dedication to duty lead her into more trouble than she knows how to handle.

Welcome to the Pismawallops PTA--a fun and exciting new mystery series from the author of The Ninja Librarian.

Because you can never have too much ice cream.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Trekking the Huayhuash, Part III

When last seen (here), we were settling in to what I believe was our highest camp. The next night, we would be at our lowest camp. The whole way between was downhill, so naturally we had to throw in a gratuitous visit to the highest pass yet! Yes, that's the kind of people we are. But it was worth it. We were up at the crack of dawn, extra early because various members of the party were doing various routes. Most of us headed out in the frosty early morning to climb San Antonio Pass, the highest point on our route (well, the highest was a bit off to the side of the pass where we found more things to climb. It was amazing to realize that we were up at nearly 16,600' and still able to do extra exploring!).
From Punta San Antonio looking back toward camp in the low meadow. Nev. Cuyoc dominates the horizon.
 What we saw from the pass--the setting for the documentary Touching the Void. We had hoped to spend a night up in there, but health limits kept our party on a little easier track. The husband and his nephew, however, opted to descend that side of the pass (with a guide, of course--they don't let you out of their sight!) and hike down the next valley to our camp. The rest of us skidded back down the side we'd come up.
Looking up the Sarapococha valley with Yerupaja straight ahead, Nev. Sarapococho and Siula Grande behind it.

Once we were down to the Huancapatay valley again, the walking was easy and pleasant, with frequent stops to look back and admire the mountain behind us. As usual, the area also featured many stone walls, of varying ages.
Looking back at Nev. Cuyoc as we descended the long Huanacpatay Valley.
After lunch the walk got less pleasant, as we had to make the second big descent. My knees were totally unhappy with me, but as usual, I survived. Down in the bottom of the valley active fields were terraced and marked off by stone walls. Unfortunately, we got to climb some of those walls, as the locals were using the trail for an aquaduct. After the steep climb down to the river, the hike down the valley to Camp 7,in the town, went on far too long; this was our longest day and latest arrival in camp.
We go down there, to Huayllapa just around the corner of the valley.
From our highest camp we went to the lowest, in Huayllapa at about 11,500'. It's weird to think of elevations like that as "low," but it felt it--lots of oxygen, so that I started out in the morning at a brisk pace despite the steep climb back up out of town. It was also weird to camp in the middle of town. We were on the schoolyard, I believe, and shared our space for a time with some kids playing football (soccer).

The climb from Huayllapa to Tapush Punta the next morning was never steep, but it went on a long time, and lower down grew hot (to me) in a hurry. At a stream crossing I finally couldn't stand it any longer, and my husband snapped me wringing out my braids after a head-dunk in the creek.
Climbing 3000' or more up from Huayllapa to Tapush Punta was hot work. Sometimes you just have to go soak your head.
Once we were out of the deep Quebrada (valley) Milo and up into the Q. Huatiaq, the views improved and the air grew more comfortably cool.
There was an easier way up.  Nev. Raju Collota dominates the end of the valley; we cross a pass out of sight to the left.
This might have been anywhere on our treks. We saw lots of sheep, though this was the only flock with such tiny newborns. An adorable fuzz-ball with wobbly legs!
Sheep. There's an ever-renewing supply. I'm guessing this guy was only a day or so old.
By the time we reached the broad, flat Tapush Punta, it was not only very alpine, but the cooling breeze had become the sort of wind that prevents lingering. Good thing we'd had lunch a little lower down (another proof our guides knew what they were doing)!
Approaching Tapush Punta.
Leaving Camp 8 the next morning (and it was farther along than I'd wished, making another long day with a long climb and some uncomfortable descending), we climbed immediately--and fairly painlessly--to our last pass, Llaucha Punta. Our guide led us to a viewpoint a bit above the pass, where we could see the entire heart of the Huayhuash.
All our favorite peaks, from Llaucha Punta, or a little above.
We weren't the first to be there, and maybe not the first to think we could use a little divine help to finish the trip!
Cairns and prayer flags? Llaucha Punta.
As usual, the pass was windy, so we dropped to a nice lunch counter for our snacks. It was a short day, though a substantial descent, so we were in no hurry, with lots of resting and reclining going on.
Snack spot below Llaucha Punta. The boys, reading and resting. They read pretty much the entire Game of Thrones series on this trip. Thank goodness for e-readers!
We stopped for lunch within sight of Camp 9, but why hurry, when the views are like this?
Lago Jahuacocha and Nevadas Rondoy and Jirishanca.  Camp is just visible in the valley at the far left of the photo.
The late afternoon light down in camp was some of the best we'd gotten, and the still creek meandering out of the lake and across the meadow reflected the peaks. We had time for plenty of photography as the sun faded.
Evening reflections.
Our final morning, some of us rose early to add a 4 or 5 mile dayhike to the day's mileage. We went up the valley to the glacial lake below the peaks, climbed the moraine (not too high, but always steep!) and watched the sun rise behind the mountain. All that before breakfast (a true miracle for those who know me; I did eat a couple of food-like bars). The color of the water is due to glacial silt.

The author and our guides at Solteracocha just before sunrise.
After a late breakfast (I think it just about killed the boys to wait) we had a 10-mile hike to the end of the trail. The first several miles were easy, following a pipeline trail, until we had to descend in the usual painful fashion about 2400' to the town of Llamac. We could distract ourselves by watching the vegetation change from alpine to agrarian and semi-desert (saw lots of cacti and then agave on the descent).
Century plant (agave).
Our final night was spent in Llamac, which had the advantage of giving us access to showers of a sort and an early start the next day on the road to Lima (about 9 hours from there). Once again I had to suck it up, hold on tight, and just try not to freak out as we wound back down, then up, then down the narrow and winding roads.

Totally worth it.
Traversing the pipeline trail to Llamac--a last look at the mountains.

Next: Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2014