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Michael

I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.

Walnut Creek, CA, United States

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  • 395 reviews
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  • 78 purchased in 2014
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  • My Big TOE: Awakening

    • UNABRIDGED (11 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Thomas W . Campbell
    • Narrated By Thomas W. Campbell
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (31)
    Performance
    (30)
    Story
    (30)

    My Big TOE: Awakening, written by a nuclear physicist in the language of contemporary culture, unifies science and philosophy, physics and metaphysics, mind and matter, purpose and meaning, the normal and the paranormal. The entirety of human experience (mind, body, and spirit) including both our objective and subjective worlds is brought together under one seamless scientific understanding.

    Michael says: "What a Trip (but to where?)"
    "What a Trip (but to where?)"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is a review of all three books. Sorry it is so long, but I care passionately about the search for truth and a book such as this should not be tossed aside lightly. It is quite long, promises much, and thus potential readers deserve a chance to understand the curiosities contained within before committing the many, many, hours it takes to properly digest this material.

    You can see figures from the book at http.://www.my-big-toe.com/uploads/MBT_Figures.pdf. This PDF was not provided on the Audible site but is on the author’s web site. A quick review of these will show how important the images are in understanding the material to come. You can read about the author’s first psi trips in Far Journeys at http://exopoliticshongkong.com/uploads/far_journeys.pdf.

    I don’t think it is fair that this book be placed under Science/Physics section along with so many other conformist books that are so narrowly focused on science in our physical universe. This should be placed with other mind-expanding works over in the New Age section.

    The author/narrator has a very personable, approachable and funny presentation. He presents himself as a no nonsense scientist who insists on hard evidence. Impressively, the author was taught his psi skills as a child by non-physical beings over a period of years until some non-physical uppity-ups, perhaps the entity he calls the “Big Cheese”, decided Campbell might be getting too weird, so a work-order was issued to close down his astral-projection portal. He forgot about this early psi training until many years later (apparently about the time he discovered people would pay good money to take classes in psi and out of body experiences). Since then he has engaged in much psi research and has quite a lot of scientific proof for spatial, temporal and trans-dimensional astral-projection as well as documented shared out of body experiences. I expect this will be peer reviewed sometime soon and appear in a major journal like Nature. Surely he will also demonstrate these skills to the Amazing Randi or another professional skeptic under carefully controlled conditions and finally put such doubts to rest forever. Unfortunately he finds due to “the common fact that some static or noise is usually on the line…there is often more confusion than clarity when comparing accounts…and it is often vague and unreliable…it does not transfer well to those who do not understand…”. Nevertheless it is comforting to know that tumors are very easily detectable and curable using psi powers, but, again unfortunately, only tumors diagnosed by psi are easily treated. Tumors with any non-psi objective physical evidence for existence (like medical test results or being seen or felt) are very difficult to treat. He is virtually always able to cure tumors with absolutely no physical evidence of existence. This is due to the Psi-Uncertainty Principle. This holds that confirmation of Psi techniques can only be made to small groups with high quality consciousness. Any experiment that could demonstrate Psi techniques to large numbers of low quality consciousnesses is prohibited as it would disturb the growth of those with lower level consciousnesses. Prohibited by whom? I presume the Big Cheese or AUO itself. Paraphrasing Campbell, I guess the proof of the Cool-Aid is only in the drinking.

    The presentation of his Theory of Everything starts by claiming that since causality must either be eternal or otherwise metaphysical in origin he must assume a metaphysical absolute undifferentiated oneness (AUO) without time or space which is the source of all reality and consciousness. Wow – what a huge and fascinating first assumption…I wonder where such an assumption might lead?

    Along with the AUO Campbell presumes a fundamental process of evolution. Does a “process” or “evolution” implicitly depend upon the notion of time? Apparently wondering such things makes me a close minded, conformist, jackass, (if you see me with this book you are advised to take it away).

    He then claims the goal of being is to decrease entropy and notes the second law of thermodynamics holds that entropy must always increase in a closed system. Now-a-days scientists believe the second “law” only holds when the starting condition is a low entropy state and one of the current issues in cosmology is to understand exactly why the universe seems to have started in such an incredibly low entropy state. Alas such thoughts are one of my dogmas that are likely to severely limit my spiritual growth.

    Time and then space develops as parts of the AUO cycle between differentiated and undifferentiated. Understanding how “parts” of an “absolute undifferentiated oneness” can differentiate then cycle without differentiation or time or space seems to be another of my limitations. I guess “timeless space less absolute undifferentiated oneness” doesn’t mean what I think it means. I did check the glossary of acronyms to no avail.

    Campbell goes on and on describing the nature of reality, AUM, PMR, NPMR, TBC, EBC, Belief Traps, Consciousness Quality, Fractal Reality, etc. Campbell indicates that all this is derived from his two simple and self-evident assumptions. I guess I will just have to take his word on that. I suspect this being clear would be a violation of the Psi-Uncertainty Principle.

    It is a bit surprising to me that with all the countless myriads of higher level physical and non-physical beings I would happen to get stuck on the very lowest level…What are the odds?….(well, just about zero, actually). It does concern me that Campbell’s TOE seems somewhat non-relativistic. It seems to place humans at the very bottom of a practically infinite cascade of higher levels with AUO at the top. Placing humankind at the bottom seems exactly as odd as placing humankind at the center or pinnacle of existence.

    About half way through the 35 hour trilogy it begins to become apparent that the promised Theory of Everything is not yet actually ready for prime time. It is only a meta-framework and actually connecting it to any other science will have to wait for other people, other books or another day. Campbell instead tells you what to do to evolve your, surely pitiful, little, low quality consciousness, into a really high quality consciousness like his, to gain really nifty psi powers like his, and to reduce your ego. I am sure the notes above will give you a clear indication of how significantly Campbell’s ego has been reduced.

    There are a few places that Campbell actually connects his TOE (slightly) with physical reality. Campbell indicates that time in our physical universe starts at t=0 and increments by delta-t (a huge multiple of the delta-t of AUM). This seems odd since in general relativity multiple observers can see the same set of events in different temporal orders. The Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle does not seem to infer a delta-t but instead a delta-something-else, where that something is related to time & energy or position & momentum. I think we should keep an open mind of this one, but perhaps Campbell can check in with the Big Cheese and see if there has been a booboo here.

    In the end, Campbell’s TOE is never tied into physical reality, there is no unification of quantum mechanics and general relativity, no quantum gravity, no resolution of dark matter and dark energy, no insight upon cosmic inflation, no insight regarding Bell’s Inequality, no reduction in the open parameters of QM. This is a very-stubbed-TOE. Campbell happily proclaims he has explained all of science with his very-stubbed-TOE and congratulates his readers for sticking with him to the end. He quotes Einstein many, many times. Perhaps this makes it science?

    I have friends that, using arguments with seeming equal validity to Campbell’s, would consider it a clear fact that Campbell’s benevolent seeming non-physical teachers are certainly demons sent by Satan to ensnare him, and through him, me & you! Clearly anyone with an open skeptical mind must be open to these two, equally likely, interpretations.

    I really can’t tell you how much I loved this book!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • The Sound and the Fury

    • UNABRIDGED (8 hrs and 57 mins)
    • By William Faulkner
    • Narrated By Grover Gardner
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (472)
    Performance
    (193)
    Story
    (193)

    First published in 1929, Faulkner created his "heart's darling", the beautiful and tragic Caddy Compson, whose story Faulkner told through separate monologues by her three brothers: the idiot Benjy, the neurotic suicidal Quentin, and the monstrous Jason.

    W.Denis says: "Hang in"
    "Good, but no Ulysses"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    The Sound and the Fury starts with a non-chronological stream of consciousness narrative from the point of view of a mentally challenged young boy. This part is a bit hard to follow the first time through and it really helps to read a synopsis (like the Wikipedia entry) before reading this section. Several printed version use italics to indicate the temporal shifts, which are hard to catch in the audio version. At times the prose rise to the level of greatness, but this is not so for of most of the writing. I found the stream of consciousness writing in the first section much less effective (and less enjoyable) than the narration in James Joyce’s Ulysses (which predated The Sound and the Fury by nearly a decade). Here the stream of consciousness, at times, seems inconsistent with the mental capabilities of character, and is subtly broken when the story demands clarity.

    Other sections use other narration styles and are more story like. The novel tells a story that rings true, but is unpleasant and unaffirming. This is a story of the slow decay of an upper class southern family and includes demeaning portrayals of black servants, anti-Semitism, and other politically incorrect material.

    This novel has some moments of excellent writing, and has some elements that were (almost) revolutionary at the time of publication, yet I found this overall a good, not great read.

    This version does not include the appendix covering the fictional family’s history that is included in many later print versions.

    Grover Gardner’s narration (as usual) is excellent, particularly considering the challenging material.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Of Human Bondage

    • UNABRIDGED (27 hrs and 44 mins)
    • By W. Somerset Maugham
    • Narrated By Charlton Griffin
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (76)
    Performance
    (66)
    Story
    (66)

    Of Human Bondage is one of the greatest novels of modern times, and it is certainly Maugham's greatest achievement. It was published in 1914, when Maugham was at the height of his creative powers. The story concerns Philip Carey, afflicted at birth with a club foot, and his passionate search for truth in a cruel world. We follow his growth to manhood, his educational progress, his first loves, and the wrenching tragedies and disappointments that life has in store for him. In some of the finest prose of the 20th century, Maugham has presented us with the timeless story of one man's search for the meaning of life.

    Michael says: "Greatly Unsettling"
    "Greatly Unsettling"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    The writing and essential truth of the novel is compelling but the protagonist, who is a caring, intelligent, and thoughtful person, is buffeted by fate and his emotions control much of his life. I did not like the protagonist, even at the end of the book. Yet, this book is not about the protagonist, it had no action, and is not even a story of a journey of discovery, but is about an idea, and the book’s title “Of Human Bondage” resonates throughout the book.

    This is a great book, but this is not a book to escape into, it is a book to experience and learn from. It was not a fun read, maybe not even enjoyable, but the book is subtle and powerful. As I read the various scenes, I would think “dumb kid”, then think of human bondage, and how his passions and environment bound him, and how elusive is the path to human freedom.

    I just read this for the first time in my fifties, but I could see this book would have been even more powerful if read as a young adult. I would recommend this book to any adult, but especially to young adults. This book is unsettling in the best way. My advice, when the book seems off-putting, recall the title, and read on.

    The short musical interludes and rare sound effects add absolutely nothing, and are distracting but do not ruin the experience.

    The narration is really excellent, expressing conflicting emotions while remaining a very clear reading of the text.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Lock In (Narrated by Wil Wheaton)

    • UNABRIDGED (10 hrs)
    • By John Scalzi
    • Narrated By Wil Wheaton
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (943)
    Performance
    (892)
    Story
    (895)

    Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever, and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent - and nearly five million souls in the United States alone - the disease causes "Lock In": Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.

    Alexis says: "Fun! Things you might want to know:"
    "High Quality Scalzi"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This book is a cop procedural mystery with a nice sci-fi story. As with most of Scalzi the science is well thought out and interesting. This story mixes a lot of action with a compelling mystery, good characters, and a lot of humor. This is not Scalzi’s best work, but it is still quite good. Scalzi works in a bit a social commentary which adds an extra level of interest to the book. This is yet another good example of Scalzi’s unique style and high quality.

    The book has a long (2+ hour) audio performance of a fictional documentary covering the disease that is pivotal to the book. I listened to this after the book, but I wondered if it would have been more interesting integrated into the novel, or even before the novel. Perhaps it would be a little too dry before the book without knowing the characters.

    I enjoyed the narration and was not annoyed by the use of “he said”. Having listened to unabridged for many years, I think I am used to authors that attribute each line of dialog.

    I finished the book wanting to know more about the world and the characters. Lock In was not quite good enough for me to buy and listen to the second narrator addition, and I will not likely listen to this addition again, but if Scalzi writes a sequel, I will certainly get it ASAP.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • Outlander

    • UNABRIDGED (33 hrs and 8 mins)
    • By Diana Gabaldon
    • Narrated By Davina Porter
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (17416)
    Performance
    (11614)
    Story
    (11506)

    Why we think it’s a great listen: An all-time Audible favorite that mixes historic fiction, adventure, and romance with one of the most fascinating literary devices: time travel. Outlander introduces an exhilarating world of heroism and breathtaking thrills as one woman is torn between past and present, passion and love. In 1945, former combat nurse Claire Randall returns from World War II and joins her husband for a second honeymoon. But their blissful reunion is shattered....

    Lulu says: "The Reason for the Existence of Audio Books"
    "Superior Historical Romance but nothing more"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    As a historical romance this book has really steamy explicit sex scenes and more than a bit of sadistic violence. The sex scenes are from the female perspective, and quite steamy but not at all crude.

    This is a superior historical romance and it is well read, but it remains only a historical romance. This is not science fiction or fantasy, the time travel is only a tiny plot device that solves a really annoying problem with historical romance. The female protagonist must think in a modern way to be approachable and interesting to modern women, the time travel bit was a brilliant little technique to allow this. I don’t consider this a love story, as there is a lot more to love than what is under the kilt. This was a story of passion, with a bit of adventure and a historical context.

    I am a guy, and I don’t tend to like historical romances unless the novel transcends the genre, this novel was good, but did not transcend. In the end, it was just a sequence of scenes (romance, passion, adventure, historical, violent, and steamy) with nice characters and a historical context but never really going anywhere. I find most historical romance either totally unreadable, or enjoyable only because they are so bad they are funny. Outlander scenes are well written and enjoyable, and if I were a bored female, I may have really appreciated the steamy scenes, but I want more from a novel, I want an arc or epic, or exploration, or transformation, or something. Outlander was mildly entertaining but nothing else.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Dune

    • UNABRIDGED (21 hrs and 8 mins)
    • By Frank Herbert
    • Narrated By Scott Brick, Orlagh Cassidy, Euan Morton, and others
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (9801)
    Performance
    (5471)
    Story
    (5547)

    Here is the novel that will be forever considered a triumph of the imagination. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Maud'dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family and would bring to fruition humankind's most ancient and unattainable dream.

    Joshua says: "Wonderful production!"
    "Essential – more than once"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    If your only experience with Dune was the horrific movie, read on.
    The mini-series was much better, but does not hold a candle to the original novel.
    If you read and loved the original, you may be surprised how much you will enjoy this audible version.

    Dune is more than great Sci-Fi, it is great fiction. I recently re-saw the mini-series and immediately wanted to experience the unabridged original again. The book was even better than I had remembered. The prose, the characters, and the story are all superior.

    I was surprised there were quite a few subtle nuances in the story that I had not picked up on in my pervious several readings. I enjoyed this immensely as this is rare in all but the best of fiction.

    Unfortunately the rest of this series does not live up to this powerful beginning, but not to worry, Dune stands alone. I strongly recommend this book even if you really disliked the movie. There are images and characters in this novel that have affected me strongly since my childhood and influenced me as a person. There are few works of fiction that I both enjoyed and appreciated as much as Dune.

    I generally don’t like music or sound effects in an audio book, but here the sound-effect are light and don’t distract from the story. The narration, although not perfect, is quite good. This audio edition does the work justice.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Written in Red: A Novel of the Others

    • UNABRIDGED (18 hrs and 32 mins)
    • By Anne Bishop
    • Narrated By Alexandra Harris
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (1088)
    Performance
    (1000)
    Story
    (1007)

    As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut - a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg's Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard - a business district operated by the Others. Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job.

    Angela says: "WOW!!!!! JUST WOW!"
    "Just TOOO Cute (for adults)"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    Really, way too cute. I expected a dark adult urban fantasy. Instead this was beyond Disneyesque.

    There are cute ponies, cute puppies, cute talking animals, lots of cookies & peppermint tea, shopping & catalogs, and making friends, as well as an unbelievable amount of mail sorting. Yes, there were some potentially dark themes of cutting, vampires, and were-creatures, but everything was so darn cute and simplistic there was little tension.

    Even the antagonist is too cute to stomach.

    The universe did not seem internally consistent to me. The internet exists, but humans are woefully uniformed about vamps and werepacks. The protagonist was raised without emotional sensations except those stimulated by ritual cutting, yet is just as cute as a button and peppy as can be. There are also direct inconsistencies like the protagonist sometimes knowing about wolves and sometimes not. I am also dubious that associating self-mutilation with psychic-powers for impressionable young females readers is the best of ideas.

    The prose were weak, perhaps just ok for young readers, but too childlike for me. The universe is like 1990s US with the names changed to protect the cuteness. LA is “Sparkletown”, Wednesday is “Windsday”, and so on. Everyone and everything has a cute name. The masculine characters are all amazingly weak and PC considering they are mostly werecreatures and police.

    The writing was also totally predicable. After the second chapter if you pause and ask yourself “How will this book turn out?” You will likely guess correctly on every aspect. There was literally not a single thing that surprised me.

    The environment is not urban, instead it is like a friendly small college town where prey and predator learn mutual respect, how to understand each other and work together.

    The narration is quite annoying with exaggerated cutesy-pie or gruff, but I find it hard to blame the narrator for this, as it seems that is how the characters were written.

    My daughter really liked this series and recommended it to me. She loved the cuteness juxtaposed with darkness, and the characters and story, for her, made up for any inconsistencies. Nevertheless I would not even recommend this for young readers.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Ready Player One

    • UNABRIDGED (15 hrs and 46 mins)
    • By Ernest Cline
    • Narrated By Wil Wheaton
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (11013)
    Performance
    (10265)
    Story
    (10270)

    At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

    Travis says: "ADD TO CART, POWER UP +10000"
    "Virtual Reality Teen Fiction that did not Suck!"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    I generally dislike virtual reality SF.

    I am not a teen, so teen fiction usually has to be transcendent to interest me.

    I saw 10,000 ratings with an average of 4.7…and thought “how bad could it be for light summer reading?”

    Ready Player One is virtual reality SF teen fiction, is not transcendent, but it majorly did not suck.

    Now, I must admit, I am a geek. I owned and programmed the TRS-80, Amiga, Commodore 64, and had first-hand experience with much of the tech and geek-pop of this novel. My main annoyance with this book was the failure to give the Heathkit EC-1 it’s due (admittedly not the 80’s). Ok, Ok, I am an uber-geek. If you are an uber-geek and lived through the 80’s, you will likely appreciate this book, even if you don’t love it.

    I did not love this book. It made a few geek-annoying mistakes, and was firmly in the first-kiss-goal-teen-fiction genre. The romantic tension is a first kiss, not, well, you know. This is only great fiction if you have spent WAY too much time playing video games. Yet, it is a pleasant little story with a Geekgasm of references that made it well worth the listen. I might even listen to this one again.

    The narration by STNG’s Will Wheaton was spot on throughout.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  • Gone Girl: A Novel

    • UNABRIDGED (19 hrs and 11 mins)
    • By Gillian Flynn
    • Narrated By Julia Whelan, Kirby Heyborne
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (18347)
    Performance
    (16374)
    Story
    (16428)

    It is Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick's clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn't doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media - as well as Amy's fiercely doting parents - the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he's definitely bitter - but is he really a killer?

    Teddy says: "Demented, twisted, sick and I loved it!"
    "Don’t Risk Reading Reviews of This Book!"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    A few of the reviews say a bit too much.
    No spoilers below – just the minimum readers should know.

    This book is really worth reading to the end, which was not clear early on.

    The book contains strong adult language, very adult themes, and deviant behavior.

    Kirby Heyborne is a just a bit weak as Nick, Julia Whelan is terrific as Amy, overall the narration is quite good.

    This is not great art, but it is well written and near the top of this genre.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  • Barnaby Rudge

    • UNABRIDGED (26 hrs and 37 mins)
    • By Charles Dickens
    • Narrated By Sean Barrett
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (47)
    Performance
    (43)
    Story
    (41)

    For the background to this historical novel, a tale of mystery, suspense and unsolved murder, Dickens chose the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780. Mayhem reigns in the streets of London, vividly described by Dickens, and the innocent Barnaby Rudge is drawn into the thick of it.

    Tad Davis says: "Wonderful"
    "Pleasant but not Great Dickens"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This is an early Dickens’ historical novel about the anti-Catholic Gordon riots of 1780 and the doings and loves of a host of country characters. There are some great Dickens characters and moments in this novel; the raven, the villains, Hugh and his dog and, of course, Barnaby. Yet this is not Dickens best work. The novel lacks focus; it is a historical chronical, a mystery, a romance, an adventure and a parable. In each aspect it foreshadows later and better Dickens novels. The novel winds up too predictably and too cleanly. In his later works there is more focus and nuance.

    The narration is quite good throughout, but the voice of Miggs was too annoying even for Miggs (an annoying housemaid). Although this is not Great Dickens, it is still Dickens, which is still quite good.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Death Times Three

    • UNABRIDGED (6 hrs and 54 mins)
    • By Rex Stout
    • Narrated By Michael Prichard
    • Whispersync for Voice-ready
    Overall
    (103)
    Performance
    (64)
    Story
    (62)

    Murder strikes thrice in these three baffling mysteries of crime and detection. First, Stout's great detective, Nero Wolfe, develops an appetite for the sweet taste of revenge when someone slips something most foul into his lunch. Then a couturier's beautiful sister uses Archie Goodwin, Wolfe's man about town, as her ready-made alibi. Finally, Wolfe has a run-in with the law after a mysterious old woman leaves a package at his brownstone that pits him against a cunning criminal and the U.S. government.

    Michael says: "Three Stories All Good, but Two were Repeats"
    "Three Stories All Good, but Two were Repeats"
    Overall
    Performance
    Story

    This collection contains three stories, two of which appear in different versions in other collections. The stories are Bitter End, Frame-Up for Murder (a later version of Murder is No Joke found in And Four to Go), and Assault on a Brownstone (an early version of Counterfeit for Murder found in Homicide Trinity). These were good stories, but two were repeats for me. Counterfeit for Murder is one of my favorite Wolfe stories and is better than Assault on a Brownstone. Frame-Up for Murder is a bit better than Murder is No Joke. Bitter End was quite enjoyable. I generally prefer the novels to short stories, but these are among the better Stout shorts.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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