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The Bennett Martin Public Library downtown maintains an ongoing "Staff Recommendations" display -- Staff from throughout the library system are encouraged to submit book, audio, CD and DVD/video recommendations for items to be placed onto this display. Items on the display have bookmarks inserted, giving brief descriptions about the item's appeal factors, and listing similar books, audios or videos that the reader might also enjoy.

This page on BookGuide is used to highlight some of the items that have appeared on our Recommendations displays in the past, including our staff members' descriptions of the books, plus links to any "official Web sites" for the books, authors or series, if they exist*. Items on both the display and on this webpage may be recent releases, or older titles that deserve another look. Hotlinks on titles or formats (downloadable audio, book-on-CD, Large Print) connect to the appropriate entry in our on-line catalog, so that you may check on the availability of the item.

INDEXES TO PAST STAFF RECOMMENDATIONS: BY TITLE | BY REVIEWER | TV SERIES/SPECIALS ON DVD/VHS

November 2010 Recommendations

book cover  A Killer Plot
by Ellery Adams

Olivia Limoges has returned to her hometown, Oyster Bay, North Carolina. She is an astute businesswoman who owns a lot of property in town. Olivia is also an aspiring writer with a case of writer's block. Camden Ford, the leader of the Bayside Writers group, overhears Olivia complaining to her friend Dixie about the problems she is having with her book. Ford invites Olivia to join their group. Soon after she joins the group, one of the members is found dead in an alley with a Haiku poem next to the body. Other bodies with Haiku poems turn up around town. Olivia and her new found friends join forces with the police chief to find the killer. This is an engaging cozy with engaging characters such as Dixie, the pint-sized, roller skating waitress. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the works of Lorna Barrett, Julie Hyzy and Claudia Bishop.]


Review Score - 6
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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book cover  Sounds of the Future: Essays on Music in Science Fiction Film
edited by Mathew J. Bartkowiak [Music 781.542 Bar]

This one jumped off the "new materials" display in the Polley Music Library as I was walking by, since I consider myself a collector and big fan of motion picture orchestral soundtracks. In the end, although I found this one to be a bit dry and pedantic in tone -- it felt like reading somebody's doctoral dissertation at times -- I still enjoyed browsing through it and picking out parts of it to further my understanding of the use of music in science fiction films. The book itself is broken into six parts, including "A survey of music's role in science fiction film", "Broadway's relation to science fiction film", "Music and the construction of subjectivity", "Science fiction and popular music", "Instances that shaped our auditory future", and "Composers and compositions in science fiction film." There are a total of 13 essays that make up the book, and I did certainly learn things about both the creative and technical uses of various types of music in these types of films. I just wish that the reading had been a bit more pleasurable. While I recommend this book for the movie music completist, it is very much a technical read.

Review Score - 5
Recommended by scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  United Cakes of America: Recipes Celebrating Every State
by Warren Brown [641.865 qBro]

I love looking through recipe books. I picked up this one because the cassata cake on the cover caught my eye. It's a white-frosted temptation dotted with plump red strawberries. The title is misleading because the book showcases other desserts in addition to cakes. As Brown explains in his introduction, "I deferred to local specialties or alternative desserts that stole the show during the taste-test portion of the research. I took the liberty because the recipes are just that much more interesting." As I paged through the book I came across the recipe that represents Georgia, the Coca-Cola Cake. A pharmacist, John Pemberton, created the formula in Atlanta in 1886. Once Coke was bottled and sold to the public, people started cooking and baking with it. This chocolate cake is one of these soft-drink inspired recipes. Nebraska is represented not by a cake but by the kolace. Why choose this fruit-filled delight over a cake? Because Nebraska is home to the largest percentage of Czech-Americans in the United States. Since the huckleberry is the state fruit of Idaho, Brown chose the huckleberry cake to honor Idaho. This is not a cake but a quick bread filled dark red berries. If you can't find huckleberries he suggests that you substitute blueberries in this easy-to-make recipe. Brown weaves culinary history among the recipes. For example, one might think that German immigrants brought the german chocolate cake recipe to America, but that was not the case. A Dallas, Texas woman developed the recipe in 1957. This moist cake got its name from one of the ingredients -- Baker's German Baking Chocolate. Samuel German, created the sweet baking chocolate in 1852 for the Baker's Chocolate Company and in return, the company named the confection for him. Warren Brown, a bakery owner and former food show host, has written a book filled with colorful photos and mouth-watering recipes that that will tempt bakers into getting out their mixing bowls and turning on their ovens. Those of us who like to read recipe books will learn interesting bits of trivia such as the favorite desserts of some of our presidents.

[ Warren Brown's official Cake Love web site ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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book cover  Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat
by David Dosa [636.8 Dos]

Oscar is a nursing home cat in Rhode Island on the floor for patients with advanced dementia. And he knows when someone is close to passing away. Not only does he maintain a vigil with the patient until the end, but he also provides solace for family members. Based on a paper written for the "New England Journal of Medicine" by a physician in that nursing home, Dr. Dosa attempts to understand Oscar's behavior. A quick read, be prepared to cry your way through the book as you meet the patients and families.

[Also available in downloadable format.]

[ official David Dosa web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Charlotte K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip -- Confessions of a Cynical Waiter
by Steve Dublanica [647.95 Dub]

A waiter's look at life as a server in upscale New York restaurants. Fast-paced, some language, but overall a very enjoyable read. Learn why you should avoid restaurants on a holiday, read some of the sad stories of customers (who knew the waiters really noticed us?); feel elated when he gets back at rude ones. Based on the blog he began while waiting tables. A very well-written, witty tale that sucks in the reader and makes you sorry when the story ends. (And yes, he's at work on a sequel.) [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness, and the Making of a Great Chef by Marco Pierre White; or Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.]

[Also available in downloadable audio format.]

[ official Waiter Rant web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Charlotte K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Icons of Film: The 20th Century
by Peter W. Engelmeier [791.43 qEng]

The 20th century brought many changes to the movie industry. Silent films evolved into "talkies" and added a whole new dimension to the moviegoer's experience. This selection of 84 films range from blockbusters to the favorites of sophisticated film buffs. The films are arranged chronologically starting with the silent movie The Kid starring Charlie Chaplin as The Tramp and move on to epics such as Gone With the Wind and Casablanca. Some films are chosen because they address social issues. A Street Car Named Desire, released in 1951, was chosen because it signaled the end of film censorship in Hollywood. For fifty years the film industry had ensured that its output was suitable for the whole family. Insanity, homosexuality, sexual obsession and rape were taboo. These subjects formed the basis of Tennessee Williams' steamy story about a southern family and made the leap from liberal Broadway to the conservative silver screen. This walk down the red carpet of cinematic history ends with the 1999 drama, American Beauty.


Review Score - 7
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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book cover  Ape House
by Sara Gruen

Isabel Duncan is a scientist who studies the linguistics of bonobos. Isabel not only studies the animals but considers them her only family. After an explosion at the Great Ape Language Lab, the bonobos are "liberated" and become the stars of a reality show called Ape House. John Thigpen is a reporter who becomes consumed with trying to help Isabel figure out who caused the explosion and is exploiting the bonobos. This story is entertaining and is also appealing to animal lovers who can relate to Isabel's affections for the bonobos. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try Water for Elephants, Riding Lessons and Flying Changes, all by Gruen.]

[Also available in downloadable audio, e-book, and Large Print formats.]

[ official Sara Gruen web site ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Alyse S.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Ghost at Work
by Carolyn G. Hart

I've been a big fan of the works of mystery writer Carolyn G. Hart for many years, particularly her Death on Demand series, featuring mystery bookstore owner Annie Laurance-Darling. A fellow mystery fan recommended the Bailey Ruth Raeburn series to me so I gave the first volume and try and found myself enjoying it. Bailey is a fun character -- spunky, with a lot of southern charm. Which is saying a lot, considering that she's a ghost. Bailey and her husband died decades ago, but she's a bit bored in Heaven, and has asked to be sent back to Earth to provide "guardian angel" assistance. She is granted her request, but before she can be properly trained in the essentials of the job -- how NOT to manifest herself around mortals -- she's dropped in her old hometown and finds herself trying to prevent the local pastor's wife from being accused of murder. This is a fun, light-weight mystery, with some quirky characters and a definite Texas twang. It's not Hart's best written or edited work -- the hardback edition had lots of typos and some serious plot loopholes. But, if you're looking for a quick, upbeat mystery this should fit the bill. Hart has released a new Bailey Ruth Raeburn title each of the past three Octobers.

[Also available in downloadable, and book-on-cd formats.]

[ official Bailey Ruth Raeburn page on the official Carolyn G. Hart web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Cut, Paste, Kill
by Marshall Karp

This book is a hoot! Wisecracking Los Angeles Police detectives, Terry Biggs and Mike Lomax, are charged with solving a "scrapbooking" murder. Biggs and Lomax are called to the scene of Eleanor Bellingham-Crump's murder. By her body is a scrapbook that details the crime that Bellingham-Crump committed. She was driving drunk and hit and killed a ten-year-old boy. Bellingham-Crump couldn't be prosecuted because she was the wife of a British diplomat and was covered by diplomatic immunity. The FBI tells Biggs and Lomax about two other murders, apparently by the same killer, a vigilante who targets criminals that evade justice. This book is the fourth in this funny series. It works well as a stand-alone so you don't have to read the previous books to appreciate this one, but you will want to. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the works of Chris Grabenstein and Craig Johnson.]

[ official Lomax & Biggs web site ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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book cover  Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love
by Larry Levin [636.7 Lev]

The Levins are at their vet having a beloved cat put to sleep when on their way out they encounter Oogy. Oogy is a rescued, abused fighting dog. He's a pup actually, who was used as the bait dog to train other dogs to fight and kill. As a rule fighting dogs are not able to overcome the brutal handling they endured and more often than not these rescued dogs end up euthanized. Oogy's wounds are horrendous and life-threatening but regardless of all this the Levins feel drawn to adopt him and take him into their home. This is the story of Oogy's medical journey and how he and his new family bonded. He bonds so well with the Levin's adopted twin sons he's called the Third Twin. Oogy is also your typical rambunctious pup who destroys the couch, gnaws on everything, and eats sneakers. But how does one discipline a dog who was brutalized? As it turns out, Oogy is a loving dog willing to trust and thrilled to have a home. A quick read, this is a feel-good "tail" with a happy ending.

[ publisher's official Oogy web site ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Charlotte K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Random Violence
by Jassy Mackenzie

This debut novel is set in turbulent post-apartheid South Africa. Jade de Jong has been living in Great Britain and working as a private investigator for the past ten years. She fled her native land after her police commissioner father was murdered. Jade has come back home because her father's murderer is about to be released from prison; and she has a score to settle. Jade's old friend David Patel, now police Superintendent Patel, meets her at the airport. On the way to Jade's home David asks her to help him with a complicated murder case. A divorced woman, Annette Botha, was killed during a carjacking. Her ex-husband, Piet Botha, is the chief suspect. David thinks that there may be more to this murder than meets the eye so he asks her to investigate. As Jade probes this and other murders a pattern emerges that points to an intricate web of crimes for profit. Jade de Jong lives by her own moral code in this grim and gritty novel. [If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try the works of Donna Leon, Deon Meyer and Benjamin Black.]

[ official Jassy Mackenzie web site ]

Review Score - 5
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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book cover  The Fig Eater
by Jody Shields

Turn of the century Vienna, Austria, is the setting for this psychological mystery, "a city of horse-drawn carriages, masked balls, and gaslit cafes." ... that ... "hovers on the threshold between darkness and light, superstition and science." The murder of the young woman, Dora, in one of the city's main parks, the Volksgarten, introduces us to the Inspector (we never learn his first or last name). He is a devotee of the rationalist theory of criminology, which reduces the crime to a scientific puzzle. Any crime is simply a set of facts and to solve the crime you must organize these facts and then determine the error in the situation. The murder victim, Dora, is from a middle-class family and her murder is one that will test the Inspector's theories on crime to the limit. The Inspector's wife, Erszebet, is a "Hungarian steeped in intuition and the lore of Gypsy mysticism." She learns of the murder from her hsuband and begins an investigation of her own. Her husband is unaware of Erszebet's detecting activities and he would certainly have disagreed with her investigative methods, if he had known. Using intuition and Gypsy folklore, she focuses on the psychological and human behavioral aspects of the case. "Erszebet began her study of the murder. To understand the puzzle of how her life led to her death. To know her. When she first heard the girl had died in the park, there was something -- a needle prick of menace, a cruel loneliness -- that was familiar. It felt true as a memory." This mystery contracts many things, the different methods used to solve a crime, the cosmopolitan city of Vienna and the seedy side of this same city, the lifestyle of the middleclass families and the lifestyle of the servants who work in those family homes. And the thin layer of civility, respectability, and propriety in everyday society that barely covers the underbelly of perversity, cruelty and depravity.

Recommended by Evelyn D.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Edgar Allan Poe A to Z
by Dawn B. Sova [818 qPoeYs]

This is a marvelous encyclopedia to all things Poe, whether you're looking for information about Poe stories, both well-known and obscure, or you're looking for the real-world people who had influences on Poe's life and writings. This over-sized paperback volume features extensive biographic and bibliographic entries, as well as numerous black and white illustrations. Appendixes at the back of this book include a Poe Timeline, a complete chronology of Poe's writings, and a very detailed bibliography of additional works about Poe. This isn't a work to just sit down and read for pleasure, but it's a very handy reference guide, with well-written (though sometimes brief) articles about Poe, his world and and his works.

[ official Poe Museum web site ] | [ Poe on Wikipedia ]

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  Historic Photos of Nebraska
by Tad Stryker [978.2 qStr]

The photos in this book depict life in Nebraska as it emerged from a territory to a state. It is said that "a picture is worth a thousand words" and that is true in this case. This book is filled with vignettes of life in the area that Stephen Long labeled as a "Great Desert". Each photo is accompanied by a descriptive caption. One of the earliest photos is a grainy image of Fort Kearney taken in 1858. This fort was built in 1848 to provide safe passage and supplies for those traveling the Great Platte River Road to points west. The book is liberally sprinkled with photos by Solomon Butcher; who chronicled the hardscrabble life of settlers in central Nebraska during its early days. The photographs are not limited to central Nebraska but range from the western edge of the state to the eastern border. An image of a threshing crew near Wilbur that stopped their sweaty work to pose for the photographer graces two pages. There are also portraits of noted Nebraskans such as "The Great Commoner", William Jennings Bryan, Senator George Norris, Johnny Carson and the infamous Charles Starkweather. The historical value comes not from the brief captions but from the images themselves. They allow us peer into the past and see how people lived, worked and entertained themselves.

Review Score - 8
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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The Screening Room

book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemBlack Adder: Complete Collector's Set
[DVD 791.457 Bla]

Black Adder was a series of short-run British comedy series, each of which focuses on the exploits of a different member of the nefarious Black Adder family, each portrayed by comic actor Rowan Atkinson (Mister Bean). Each six-episode series is set in a different era of British history, and Atkinson is able to apply his acerbic wit at poking fun at various conventions of being British. The first series -- The Black Adder -- is set in the late 1400s, during the Middle Ages, and this particular "Black Adder" is Edmund, the Duke of Edinburgh -- something of a dolt. In the second series -- Black Adder II -- Edmund Blackadder is a toady of Queen Elizabeth in the 1500s, and is a smart, scornful, manipulative (but somewhat unlucky) man -- the type of character he'll remain in all the remaining series. In the third series -- Black Adder the Third -- E. Blackadder is butler to the Prince of Wales (a pre-House Hugh Laurie) in the Regency era. The fourth series -- Black Adder Goes Forth -- is set on the Western front during WWI, and featurese Captain Blackadder trying to avoid being killed. This boxed set also includes three specials -- Blackadder: The Cavalier Years, A Blackadder Christmas Carol, and Blackadder: Back and Forth (in which we time-travel through the various different eras of Blackadder's history). The humor in all of these is very biting, with a tinge of nastiness. The supporting casts for the various series feature hilarious performances from such noteworthy actors as Brian Blessed, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, and Miranda Richardson. Tony Robinson co-stars in most episodes as Blackadder's right-hand man throughout the ages, Baldrick -- a repulsive, filthy, generally thick-headed and idiotic manservant. Black Adder: Complete Collector's Set can be an acquired taste for many, but if you like this type of dark humor, you shouldn't miss this complete set of all the Black Adder episodes. My personal favorites are from the second and third series, when the actors really started to hit their stride...particularly the episode "Potato", which parodied the grand and noble idea of exploring the world via sailing vessels. One quirky note: Each Black Adder character is presumed to be a descendant of the Black Adders portrayed in earlier series -- somewhat difficult since all the characters die in messy ways in the final episode of each season!

[ Wikipedia entry for these series ]

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemJake's Women
by Neil Simon [DVD Jake's]

Alan Alda recreates his Broadway role in this movie. Jake (Alan Alda) is a writer who can't get past his first wife's death in a tragic car accident. In an attempt to cope with his grief, he holds imaginary conversations with the women in his life -- his sister, his therapist, his daughter, his current wife and his dead spouse. When Jake's wife Maggie (Anne Archer) asks for a separation, Jake is forced to deal with anguish over losing Julie.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

Review Score - 5
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemJesse Stone: Stone Cold
by Robert B. Parker [DVD Parker]

A made-for-TV movie based on the Jesse Stone series by Robert B. Parker, and starring Tom Selleck who produced this program as well. He portrays Jesse Stone, former LA cop, now chief of police in Paradise, MA, a small New England town. A fascinating, slow-moving, character-driven story. You become involved in the lives of Jesse, his staff, and everyone else in this small town while Stone attempts to solve a series of murders.
[Also available in unabridged print, book-on-cd, and audiocassette formats.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

related lists See more books like this on our Jesse Stone series booklist
Review Score - 10
Recommended by Charlotte K.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemMarnie
directed by Alfred Hitchcock [DVD Marnie]

A young widower fails in love with a woman with a troubled past. Such is the premise of this 1964 suspense film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The young woman, Marnie Edgar (Tippi Hedron), makes her living by embezzling from her employers, moving on and changing her identity. She is caught in the act by one of her employers, Mark Rutland (Sean Connery). Instead of turning her over to the police, Mark blackmails Marnie into marrying him. On their honeymoon he learns that besides being a compulsive thief, she cannot stand to have a man touch her and she won't discuss it or the nightmares that plague her. After their return to Philadelphia, Mark hires a private investigator to look into Marnie's past. Armed with this information, Mark confronts Marnie's mother and forces her to tell them the truth. The movie is based on the novel Marnie by English author Winston Graham. He set this book in England. Hitchcock changed the setting to the United States, changed some of the story details and made the ending more optimistic. Marnie became a milestone movie for Hitchcock. It was the last time that a "Hitchcock blonde" would have a central role in his films. It was also the last time that he would work with three of his key team members. Two died after the movie was completed and Hitchcock fired the third, composer Bernard Herrmann.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

Review Score - 10
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemMoon

Moon is a quirky, low-budget science fiction film that played at the Ross locally, and a lot of other "art house" theaters nationally when it was released in 2009. Thought there are brief appearances by other actors, the majority of the screen time is dedicated to Sam Rockwell, as isolated miner Sam Bell, stationed by himself at a base on the Moon, where he uses a lot of automated equipment to mine for an Earthbound corporation. Bell has reached a stage of paranoia and desperation when a horrible accident unveils a disturbing truth about his situation and the truths by which he has lived his life. Kevin Spacey provides excellent support as the voice of Gerty, the moonbase's computer system. However, Sam Rockwell is the centerpiece here, and he turns in a bravura performance. Actually, two bravura performances, but that's giving away some of the secrets of this marvelous little gem of a film.

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ official Moon web site ]

Review Score - 9
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemThe Note
based on a book by Angela Hunt

The Note is a charming, heart-felt tear-jerker of a tale -- part romance and part "personal journey". Genie Francis (General Hospital) plays newspaper columnist Peyton MacGruder, whose "human interest" column has come under fire from her editor for lacking "life". Given a mandate to make her column more meaningful, Peyton is also dealing with some emotional issues of her own, as well as the beginnings of a flirtatious relationship with a fellow reporter. When an airliner tragically crashes in the ocean off the coast, and Peyton comes across an unsigned farewell note in a sealed sandwich bag on the shore, she begins a quest, via clues in the note, to find the person to whom the note was addressed, writing columns about the process along the way. The story is rather predictable and schmaltzy, but its a pleasant kind of schmaltz and the characters are very likeable...you want to see things turn out well for everyone. I enjoyed this quite a lot and have no hesitation in recommending it to most viewers.
[Also available in print format.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library


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book cover  This review is for the DVD format of this itemThe Sea Wolves
based on the book Boarding Party by James Leasor

This movie celebrates the exploits of the Calcutta Light Horse during World War II. It is March 1943 and Allied ships are being torpedoed by German U-boats at an alarming rate. British intelligence officers, Colonel Lewis Pugh (Gregory Peck) and Captain Gavin Stewart (Roger Moore) learn that three German radio ships docked in neutral waters in the Portuguese colony of Goa are transmitting information about Allied ship movements to the U-boats. Military forces cannot breach Portugal's neutrality and attack the boats, so Pugh and Stewart devise a daring plot to destroy these radio ships. They turn to the Calcutta Light Horse led by retired officer Colonel Bill Grice (David Niven) to carry out the operation. The Calcutta Light Horse is part of the British Indian Army. These men last saw action forty years before during the Boer War and there are some funny moments when they get ready to go to war after so many years. In this movie they are described as "a mixed bag of boozing, middle-aged, pot bellied businessmen," The plan for is these men to sail a rickety old barge from Calcutta around the tip of India to Mormugao, Goa. In Mormugao they will sabotage the ships. If they are caught, their story is that they are drunken businessmen who boarded the ships as a lark. The end credits state "during the first 11 days of March 1943, U-boats sank 12 Allied ships in the Indian Ocean. After the Light Horse raid on Goa, only one ship was lost in the remainder of the month."

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ]

Review Score - 7
Recommended by Donna G.
Virtual Services Department


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last updated November 2010
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