Reading progress update: I’ve read 98 out of 357 pages.

Well, I’ve read chapters 1 through 5, and I suppose this is what it sounds like when you get a walking encyclopedia talking. Even though it’s, in a way, the print equivalent of having your favorite actor reading the phone book, however (which I expected going in — the format itself suggests as much), it’s addictively compelling, and I am racing through this book much more than I expected I would.  I also know I’ll be revisiting it often for reference in the future.

When reading the chapters on the beginning of the Golden Age and on the Great Detectives, I also dipped into Edwards’s Golden Age of Murder for further background, “met” the members of the Detection Club … and learned that Ngaio Marsh was not a member (which I admit I’d heretofore taken almost for granted she was), but rather, “dined for weeks” on the experience of her one invitation to a Detection Club dinner.

Incidentally, for those who are interested, I’ve created a reading list for the “100 [main] Books” presented by Martin Edwards in “The Story of Classic Crime” here:

Martin Edwards: The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books — the “100 Books” Presented

I’ve also started a listing of the other books mentioned by way of further reference in the individual chapters.  As Edwards easily manages to toss in an average of 20+ extra books per chapter, I’ve decided to break up the “other books mentioned” listing into several parts, with the first list going up to the end of chapter 5 (i.e., as far as I’ve read at present):

Martin Edwards: The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books — Other Books Mentioned; Part 1 (Ch. 1-5)

I’m reading The Story of Classic Crime for the free (center / raven) bingo square, as well as by way of a buddy read.

 

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1600375/reading-progress-update-i-ve-read-98-out-of-357-pages

Merken

Halloween Bingo 2017: Update 2

Lord of the Wings: A Meg Langslow Mystery (Meg Langslow Mysteries) - Donna Andrews The Babes In The Wood - Ruth Rendell Not in the Flesh: (A Wexford Case) - Christopher Ravenscroft, Ruth Rendell Not in the Flesh - Ruth Rendell Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (Christopher Lee Reads...) - Robert Louis Stevenson, Christopher Lee The Bride Wore Black - William Irish, Cornell Woolrich Farewell, My Lovely - Raymond Chandler, Elliott Gould The Long Goodbye - Raymond Chandler, Full Cast, Toby Stephens The High Window: A BBC Full-Cast Radio Drama - Raymond Chandler, Toby Stevens, Full Cast

 

My Square Markers and “Virgin” Bingo Card:

“Virgin” card posted for ease of tracking and comparison, as called and read squares will, bit by bit, vanish behind my markers and everybody’s cards are different.


Black Kitty:
Read but not called


Black Vignette:
Called but not read

Black Kitty in Black Vignette:
Read and Called

 

Current Status of Spreadsheet:

(Note: Physical print editions unless stated otherwise)

 

Books Read / Listened to – Update 2:

Donna Andrews: Lord of the Wings

A Halloween entry in Donna Andrews’s long-running series featuring Caerphilly, VA artisan blacksmith and volunteer town events organizer Meg Langslow — what could possibly be more fitting for this bingo square?

Caerphilly (that’s CaerPHILLY to you reporters if you don’t want to have the locals screaming at their TVs at the top of their voices) has decided to join the Halloween festival craze and is going at it hammer and tongs.  Mayor Shiffley is supposed to have an assistant organizing the festivities, but she’s more bossy than efficient (and vanishes halfway through the event, to boot), so unsurprisingly the whole thing lands in Meg’s lap all over again.  Unfortunately, some evilminded soul has decided to hijack the festivities for their own purposes, so soon enough Meg, the Mayor and Chief Burke have two real corpses on their hands, the local would-be vampire (formerly: the police department’s forensic pathologist) is carted off to hospital with a near-fatal head wound administered with a blunt object, the town is beset by scavenger hunters who seem to stop at very little in pursuit of a computer game called “Vampire Colonies II” created by the software company of Meg’s brother Rob, Mutant Wizards; and a group of live action role playing vampires have converged on the town with who knows what agenda of their own. — Meanwhile, Meg’s grandfather has added a bat cave to the local zoo (which is run by him), has managed to tame a bunch of ravens to stick to him more or less like sown to his wizard cloak with fine thread and croak “Nevermore” and similar Halloween’ish things, realistic-looking body parts show up in the zoo’s lion’s den and Florida alligator swamp areas (they are soon revealed as part of the scavenger hunt pranks, however) — and in the middle of the festivities, a former heavy metal drummer of Scandinavian origin comes into his own again, which promises great things for the subsequent year’s Halloween.

As an installment in the series that is set against the backdrop of a major holiday I didn’t love this quite as much as Andrews’s recent Meg Langslow Christmas books (Duck the Halls and The Nightingale Before Christmas) — perhaps because unlike Christmas, Halloween is the sort of holiday where you more or less expect a certain amount of craziness anyway; so oddly, it didn’t offer quite as much opportunity for Andrews’s comic genius to shine as the Christmas setting, where the contrast between the expectation of a supremely peaceful holiday (certainly in a small town setting at least!), and the chaos engendered by the intrusion of violent crime and various pranks seems to work a bit better — at least for me — than in a setting that, like Halloween, must have had Andrews walking a fine tightrope practically all the time in order not to have things going over the top.  But this is ultimately nit-picking … first and foremost, at now over 20 entries (of which this is no. 19), I’m happy to see that the series is still going so strong at all!

 

Ruth Rendell:
The Babes in the Wood

& Not in the Flesh

For the “In the Dark, Dark Woods” square, I decided on a Ruth Rendell double dip.  The Babes in the Wood and Not in the Flesh are books no. 19 and 21 in Rendell’s Chief Inspector Wexford series, and now that Rendell is no longer around to add to the series, I’m getting ever more nostalgic about revisiting Wexford’s Kingsmarkham (notwithstanding that IMHO Wexford did, probably, retire just about when it was really time).

Both books feature classic Rendell territory: the victimization of women (physical abuse in The Babes in the Wood, female circumcision in Not in the Flesh), child abuse, xenophobia, racism, the marginalization of immigrants and minorities (also including, in Not in the Flesh, “travelers”, aka gypsies) and, oh yes, all that amidst the investigation of a murder or two.

The title of The Babes in the Wood is largely symbolic, referring as it does to the title of a traditional children’s tale dealing with — you guessed it — two kids all alone in the woods, after their parents have unwittingly left them to the care of their evil uncle, who in short order proceeds to deliver them into the hands of murderers.  The tale was first published as a ballad by Thomas Millington in Norwich in 1595 — the late 19th century Caldecott version is available for free on the Project Gutenberg site — and has given rise to a proverb indicating essentially the same as someone being “in over their head”; i.e., being overwhelmed by situation requiring decidedly more experience than one really possesses. Rendell’s novel does in fact trace the eponymous children’s story to a certain extent, however, in that it concerns the disappearance of two kids and their caretaker during their parents’ brief absence from home — and I guess both the fact that there’s a wood on the cover (of the CD I listened to, as well as on that of the paperback edition) and the fact that the one corpse showing up some time after the kids’ and their caretaker’s disappearance is found in a quarry near a patch of woodland makes it qualify for the “In the Dark, Dark Woods” bingo square.

Not in the Flesh begins with the discovery of a corpse in a forest near Kingsmarkham, and a while later, a second corpse is found in a locked and abandoned basement nearby (besides, here, too, both the CD and the paperback edition have a wood on their respective cover).  As both murders have occurred quite a while ago, Wexford and Burden get to be their own cold case investigators, or rather, criminal archeologists.

Of the two novels, I slightly preferred the later one (Not in the Flesh): The subplot of The Babes in the Wood, which brings a case of domestic violence to Wexford’s family, is not quite convincing (

[spoiler]

once Wexford’s daughter Linda, who has been victimized by her boyfriend, is rescued, she seems to recover surprisingly quickly from her ordeal — quickly and fully enough to have another boyfriend in absolutely no time whatsoever, as if she didn’t have some fairly significant trust issues to overcome first

[/spoiler]

), whereas that of Not in the Flesh — which was written at the height of the public outrage over female genital mutilation — left room both to explore the horrors involved in the practice as such and the cultural complexities involved, and it also served as an uncomfortable reminder that a human rights issue making headlines one day will just as easily drop from public consciousness as soon as more pressing concerns emerge.  Female circumcision is still as much of an issue in many parts of the world as it was ten years ago when this book was written, but at a time when the Western world is buffetted by everything from the Trump presidency to ISIS, Brexit and the aftermath of the 2009-2009 financial crisis, it hardly seems to impinge anymore. — As a side note, I very much enjoyed briefly meeting again Dr. Akande, Wexford’s doctor and one of the protagonists of the series’s 16th novel, Simisola.

For both novels, I listened to the audio narration by Christopher Ravenscroft, the Inspector Burden of the long-running TV series starring George Baker as Wexford.  (I do also own a paperback copy of Not in the Flesh, however, and consulted it for reference and plot tracking purposes.)  Ravenscroft gives Wexford a bit more of a country man’s accent than he has in the TV dramatizations — and, I have to say, in my head when I read the books — but he is a pleasure to listen to, and his obvious familiarity with the source material only adds to that pleasure, as does his classical stage training.

 

Robert Louis Stevenson: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

One of the great classics of the horror genre — which I’d read before, but when I heard that there was a recording of the story by Sir Christopher Lee, I just had to have it.  And Lee more than delivers on the promise associated with his name alone.  No wide-eyed, flamboyantly-gestured horror movie antics here (or their audio equivalent), just great empathy for all of the characters involved — and for none more so than for the unfortunate, tragically overreaching Dr. Jekyll.

Never mind the story’s one minor logical inconsistency — by which I’m not referring to its central premise, the notion of (even physically) splitting apart a man’s personality into its “good” and its “evil” components (reject that, and the story falls apart entirely, obviously), but

[spoiler]

if Hyde is initially significantly smaller in stature than Jekyll because his is, or has heretofore been the less dominant part of Jekyll’s personality, shouldn’t Hyde then grow in stature, too, as his influence over Jekyll grows?

[/spoiler]

— this is rightfully a classic of the genre, and a cautionary moral tale to boot; and in an age that has made the manipulation of human genetic material easier than ever, also eerily timely … not to mention that it brilliantly shows that “horror” does not have to involve bucketfuls of blood oozing from the pages in order to achieve a truly terrifying effect; psychology and atmosphere, if as brilliantly executed as here, really does it all.  (Oh, yes, of course there is the one brutal murder committed by Hyde, but let’s be honest, that doesn’t even come close to the real life horror that would be spread, barely two years later, by Jack the Ripper; and it certainly hasn’t got a dime’s worth on our latter days’ slasher yarns.)

 

Having lucked out with the two most recent bingo calls, in that one of them (Genre: Horror) isn’t on my card and the other one (Locked-Room Mysteries) is one I’d already read a book for, I decided to indulge in a bit of a mini-binge for one of the squares I had been particularly looking forward to — and had also had a disproportionately hard time making up my mind what book(s) to read for it.  I ended up settling for a print edition of Cornell Woolrich’s The Bride Wore Black and an audio threesome of Chandlers: an unabridged reading by Elliott Gould (who better?!) of Chandler’s second Philip Marlowe novel, Farewell, My Lovely, and full cast audio dramatizations of Marlowe books nos. 3 and 6, The High Window and The Long Goodbye.

Cornell Woolrich: The Bride Wore Black

Woolrich was one of the classic noir era’s masters of psychological suspense; few of his contemporaries were capable of making nightmare scenarios come alive within a few short pages the way that Cornell Woolrich could.  Many of his stories have a downright evil twist at the end, and as far as such endings go, The Bride Wore Black certainly shows Woolrich at the top of his game.  (Be warned, however: Woolrich doesn’t always play fair.  His final twists may come out of left field not only for his characters but also for the reader; and this, too, is certainly true for this particular novel.  While certain clues are provided throughout the story hinting at yet another narrative level, they in themselves are not sufficient to allow a deduction what precisely that level might coonsist of.)

There is very little that can be said about the plot without spoiling at least significant parts of it, so let’s just stick with what the title implies — this is a twist (and a fairly major one) on the “black widow” trope, in that over the course of 2 1/2 years, several men are murdered … though not by a woman whom they themselves have married.  It’s a thrilling tale that I greatly enjoyed, even if not all of the background details provided over the course of the book and in the final reveal do, IMHO, fully resolve the things that had nagged at me while I was reading the book.

(Note: If you don’t know the book and are seriously planning to read it, DO NOT read the below spoiler.)

 

[spoiler]

In the Moran chapter particularly, “the woman”‘s background research — notably, into Miss Baker’s habits and into Cookie’s kindergarten routine (the “gold star” awards system for the children’s drawings, etc.) would seem to have had to be much more extensive than a brief absence from her job (as she owns to during the final reveal) would have enabled her to carry out, and I also think this is the one section where the book most clearly shows its age in terms of child psychology. — Moreover and still in that same section, the murder method seems inconsistent with “the woman”‘s otherwise extremely careful planning in that it seems opportunistic, as she certainly couldn’t expect to come across that conveniently suffocating closet (and we neither have any indication that she had ever actually seen the inside of Moran’s house before, nor that she had initially been planning on a different murder method, e.g., for using that fruit paring knife, and changed her mind only at the very last moment, baiting the trap with a game of hide and seek).

Similarly, given the back story it seems hardly credible to me that Corey should not have been aware of her (and able to recognize her) long before she even showed up at Bliss’s engagement party: This is the woman who ruined his business racket and made his former partner abscond with the proceeds … and yet, to Corey she’s supposed to have been “that unimportant little white doll-like figure” next to her husband even on their wedding day?!

And, finally, I find it hard to believe that Wanger should not have focused on the cross sections of the victims’ lives much earlier than we are told he did.  Surely if you are convinced there is a connection between several killings, taking a look at the victims’ lives and seeing where they intersect is one of the very first things you do … especially if you have a hard time convincing your superior officer because all else you can come up with is the fairly esoterical notion that the killer might — just might — be the same woman?

[/spoiler]

 

So, a bit of suspension of disbelief is required on the part of the jaded modern reader who’s read one or two mysteries too many.  But the quality of the writing, the clever build-up of suspense, and the wicked twist in the final reveal more than make up for that.

And just as a side note now, take a look at that cover: Isn’t it simply fabulous?  It alone almost tells you everything you need to know about the story going in — and in the actual physical copy I own, the red and deep black almost have a lacquer glow.  So gorgeous!  Hats off to the artist whoever came up with it.

Raymond Chandler:

Farewell, My Lovely

Farewell, My Lovely is supposed to have been Raymond Chandler’s own favorite novel, and although it didn’t quite manage to elbow The Big Sleep out of the top spot of my personal affections for Chandler’s writing, it came darned close and is also, along with the Christopher Lee / Robert Louis Stevenson “co-production” (of sorts) on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, easily the stand-out experience of this particular batch of bingo books.  It certainly helped to have it read to me by Elliott Gould, whose dark, slightly husky voice and laconic intonation is a perfect match for Chandler’s language — and for Marlowe’s character –, but even narration aside, this book has everything you can possibly ask for in a Raymond Chandler novel: razor sharp language and observation, perfect pitch, a 1940s Los Angeles leaping off the pages in every conceivable shade of gray, dodgy characters (both male and female) aplenty, and a Philip Marlowe in deep trouble after successive run-ins with representatives of both sides of the law (with both sides of the law sometimes being represented by the very same persons, of course).

Structurally, the book follows a similar pattern as The Big Sleep and virtually every other Marlowe novel: After having made an acquaintance with every potential to land him in the deepest of muck — and not before the first specks of said muck have indeed begun to materialize — Marlowe is hired by a(nother) client, as a result of which his attention is temporarily deflected from the muck already accumulating elsewhere, until it dawns on him that the two piles of manure are actually — or at least very likely — products of the same stable.  He digs deeper (or is dragged deeper in), whereupon the manure acquires Augean proportions.  Further complications ensue, until at the end Marlowe emerges from it all: yet a bit more cynical and disillusioned by his recent experience, minus a client or two, and feeling that, once again, in a city where not even the police can be trusted to do their job, he has done their job for them very much at his own cost.

In this instance, the trouble begins with a variation of the “two men enter a bar” joke, except when a private dick (Marlowe) and a black six-foot heavyweight boxer-material ex-con appropriately named Moose Malloy enter this particular bar, the punch line is, in quick succession, a dead body in a back room, Marlowe’s first of several run-ins with the cops, and a phone call from an equally rich and shady character seeking to hire him, at the very last minute, as a bodyguard for a nightly rare-jade-necklace-for-a-suitcase-of-ransom-money-exchange in the hills above the city.

Plot serpentines the size of Mulholland Drive aside, however, the true feast in any Raymond Chandler novel is the language and imagery.  Oh, it’s cynical beyond belief (this is a noir novel, remember), and female sensibilities in particular aren’t catered for; much less so than even in the writings of Chandler’s contemporary Dashiell Hammett.  But there’s a rapid-fire gut-punch quality to it that just hasn’t got any equals anywhere — just take these few examples, all within just a few pages of each other (if that) fairly early on:

“I said: ‘Mrs. Florian? Mrs. Jessie Florian?’
‘Uh-huh,’ the voice dragged itself out of her throat like a sick man getting out of bed.”

“A couple of frayed lamps with once gaudy shades that were now as gay as superannuated streetwalkers.”

“The woman’s eyes became fixed in an incredulous stare.  Then suspicion climbed all over her face like a kitten, but not so playfully.”

“[T]heir faces were as threadbare as a bookkeeper’s office coat.”

“I wouldn’t say the face was lovely and unspoiled, I’m not that good at faces.  But it was pretty.  People had been nice to that face, or nice enough for their circle.  Yet it was a very ordinary face and its prettiness was strictly assembly line.”

“‘Huh?  Oh yeah, funny.  Remind me to laugh on my day off.'”

“They had Rembrandt on the calendar that year, a rather smeary self-portrait due to imperfectly registered color plates.  It showed him holding a smeared palette with a dirty thumb and wearing a tam-o’-shanter which wasn’t any too clean either.  His other hand held a brush poised in the air, as if he might be going to do a little work after a while, if somebody made a down payment.  His face was aging, saggy, full of the disgust of life and the thickening effects of liquor.  But it had a hard cheerfulness that I liked, and the eyes were as bright as drops of dew.”

“Montemar Vista was a few dozen houses of various sizes and shapes hanging by their teeth and eyebrows to a spur of mountain and looking as if a good sneeze would drip them down among the box lunches on the beach.”

“I walked back through the arch and started up the steps.  It was a nice walk if you liked grunting.  There were two hundred and eighty steps up to Cabrillo Street.  They were drifted over with windblown sand and the handrail ws as cold and wet as a toad’s belly.”

Let me tell you, after you’ve been through a whole novel’s length of that sort of stuff, you feel like you’re fresh out of the wringer, too; right down there with Marlowe!

 

The Long Goodbye

The High Window

Compared to an unabridged reading of Chandler’s own words, any radio adaptation of his novels must necessarily fall a bit short, even if it’s got the BBc’s stellar production quality and the cast — lead by a very credible Toby Stephens as Marlowe; accent, cynicism and all — do their level best to convey the essence of Chandler’s works.  Still, I wasn’t disappointed, and quite frankly, another two servings on the same level asthe Elliot Gould reading of Farewell, My Lovely would have been more than I’d have been able to stomach in this rapid succession.

The Long Goodbye was Chandler’s penultimate Marlowe novel complete and published during his lifetime.  It begins when Marlowe makes the acquaintance of a drunk ex-soldier in a sort of on-again-off-again-marriage/relationship with a rich tycoon’s daughter, who after several months on-again-off-again friendship with Marlowe asks the detective to help him to make it to Tijuana airport … only to be reported to have died in Mexico a short while later; not however before dispatching two farewell notes to his late pal — a short letter accompanied by a larger banknote than Marlowe has ever seen.

The High Window, Chandler’s third Marlowe novel, sees the detective hired by a rich bully of a widow (magnificently portrayed by Judy Parfitt) to recover a “Brasher Doubloon”, a valuable antique coin (see left) that she has inherited from her late husband.  Like The Big Sleep, this story has an extremely jaded “it’s all in the family” subtext, and while its storyline is not quite as tangled and knotted as that of Chandler’s most famous novel (where reportedly not even the author himself was ultimately able to unravel all of the plot strings), there are noir joys aplenty along the way … and Marlowe even gets to go on a cross country trip to rescue a Mid-Western damsel in distress from her toxic big city environment and restore her to her parents’ porch.

 Los Angeles in the 1940s:

Ansel Adams

1940s’ Downtown L.A. at night

A map of Raymond Chandler’s / Philip Marlowe’s Los Angeles:

Source: Huffington Post

… and finally, a couple of my own photos: View from Mulholland Drive: Hollywood Bowl, 405 Freeway, Westwood;
on the horizon, downtown Los Angeles


Left: Westwood, Beverly Hills and Century City;
Right: Bel Air and Hollywood Hills


Hollywood Hills and Hollywood Sign


Beverly Hills: Sunset Blvd. and Rodeo Drive


Santa Monica


Rancho Palos Verdes

Next Read:

  TBD!

 

Books Read / Listened to – Update 1:



Terry Pratchett: Equal Rites



Wilkie Collins: Mrs. Zant and the Ghost
(Gillian Anderson audio)

 

 

Martin Edwards / British Library:
Miraculous Mysteries – Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes

 



Agatha Christie: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
(Hugh Fraser audio)

 

The Book Pool:

Most likely: Donna Andrews: Lord of the Wings

Alternatively:
* Diane Mott Davidson: Catering to Nobody
* One or more stories from Martin Greenberg’s and Ed Gorman’s (eds.) Cat Crimes
* … or something by Lilian Jackson Braun




Most likely: Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights (audio return visit courtesy of either Michael Kitchen or Prunella Scales and Samuel West)

Alternatively:
* Wilkie Collins: The Woman In White
(audio version read by Nigel Anthony and Susan Jameson)
* Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey
(audio return visit courtesy of Anna Massey)
* Isak Dinesen: Seven Gothic Tales
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* … or something by Daphne du Maurier




Candace Robb: The Apothecary Rose




Most likely: Simon Brett: A book from a four-novel omibus edition including An Amateur Corpse, Star Trap, So Much Blood, and Cast, in Order of Disappearance

Alternatively:
* Georgette Heyer: Why Shoot a Butler?
* Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley
(audio version read by David Thorpe)
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Minette Walters: The Shape of Snakes




Most likely: Something from James D. Doss‘s Charlie Moon series (one of my great discoveries from last year’s bingo)
Or one of Walter Mosley‘s Easy Rawlins mysteries

Alternatively:
Sherman Alexie: Indian Killer




Terry Pratchett: Carpe Jugulum




One or more stories from Martin Edwards’s (ed.) and the British Library’s Miraculous Mysteries: Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes




Most likely: Agatha Christie: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
(audio return visit courtesy of Hugh Fraser)

Or one or more stories from Martin Edwards’s (ed.) and the British Library’sSerpents in Eden: Countryside Crimes

Alternatively:
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar, To Love and Be Wise, or The Singing Sands
* Georgette Heyer: Why Shoot a Butler?
* Peter May: The Lewis Man
* S.D. Sykes: Plague Land
* Arthur Conan Doyle: The Mystery of Cloomber
* Michael Jecks: The Devil’s Acolyte
* Stephen Booth: Dancing with the Virgins
* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers
* Martha Grimes: The End of the Pier
* Minette Walters: The Breaker




One of two “Joker” Squares:

To be filled in as my whimsy takes me (with apologies to Dorothy L. Sayers), either with one of the other mystery squares’ alternate books, or with a murder mystery that doesn’t meet any of the more specific squares’ requirements.  In going through my shelves, I found to my shame that I own several bingo cards’ worth of books that would fill this square alone, some of them bought years ago … clearly something needs to be done about that, even if it’s one book at a time!




Isabel Allende: Cuentos de Eva Luna (The Stories of Eva Luna) or
Gabriel García Márquez: Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold)




Most likely: One or more stories from Charles Dickens: Complete Ghost Stories or Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills

Alternatively:
* Wilkie Collins: Mrs. Zant and the Ghost (Gillian Anderson audio)
* Stephen King: Bag of Bones




Terry Pratchett: Men at Arms




Obviously and as per definition in the rules, the second “Joker” Square.

Equally as per definition, the possibles for this square also include my alternate reads for the non-mystery squares.




Most likely: Cornell Woolrich: The Bride Wore Black

Alternatively:
* Raymond Chandler: Farewell My Lovely or The Long Goodbye / The High Window
* James M. Cain: Mildred Pierce
* Horace McCoy: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
* David Goodis: Shoot the Piano Player or Dark Passage
* … or something else by Cornell Woolrich, e.g., Phantom Lady or I Married a Dead Man




Most likely: Ruth Rendell: Not in the Flesh or The Babes in the Wood (audio versions read by Christopher Ravenscroft, aka Inspector Burden in the TV series)

Alternatively:
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills




Most likely: Peter May: Coffin Road

Alternatively:
* Stephen King: Bag of Bones or Hearts in Atlantis
* Denise Mina: Field of Blood
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Minette Walters: The Breaker
* Jonathan Kellerman: When The Bough Breaks, Time Bomb, Blood Test, or Billy Straight
* Greg Iles: 24 Hours




Most likely: Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills

Alternatively:
* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers
* Greg Iles: Sleep No More




Most likely: Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley
(audio version read by David Thorpe)

Alternatively:
* One or more stories from Martin Edwards’s (ed.) and the British Library’sMurder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries
* Georgette Heyer: They Found Him Dead
* Ellis Peters: Black is the Colour of My True-Love’s Heart




Most likely: Something from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld / Witches subseries — either Equal Rites or Maskerade

Alternatively:
* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers
* Shirley Jackson: The Witchcraft of Salem Village




Most likely: Antonia Hodgson: The Devil in the Marshalsea

Alternatively:
* Rory Clements: Martyr
* Philip Gooden: Sleep of Death 
* Minette Walters: The Shape of Snakes
* Ngaio Marsh: Death in Ecstasy
* One or more stories from Martin Edwards’s (ed.) and the British Library’s Capital Crimes: London Mysteries




Most likely: Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (audio return visit courtesy of Sir Christopher Lee)

Alternatively:
* H.G. Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau
* … or something by Edgar Allan Poe




Most likely: Something from Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Alternatively:
* Robert Louis Stevenson: The Bottle Imp
* Christina Rossetti: Goblin Market
* H.G. Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau




Most likely: Jo Nesbø: The Snowman

Alternatively:
* Val McDermid: The Retribution
* Denise Mina: Sanctum 
* Mo Hayder: Birdman
* Caleb Carr: The Alienist
* Jonathan Kellerman: The Butcher’s Theater
* Greg Iles: Mortal Fear




Most likely: The Medieval Murderers: House of Shadows or Hill of Bones

Alternatively:
* Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills
* Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House
* Stephen King: Bag of Bones
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Michael Jecks: The Devil’s Acolyte




Ooohhh, you know — something by Shirley Jackson … if I don’t wimp out in the end; otherwise something by Daphne du Maurier.

 

 


 

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Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1597306/halloween-bingo-2017-update-2

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Classic Noir Mini-Binge

The Bride Wore Black - William Irish, Cornell Woolrich Farewell, My Lovely - Raymond Chandler, Elliott Gould Farewell, My Lovely - Raymond Chandler The Long Goodbye - Raymond Chandler, Full Cast, Toby Stephens The High Window: A BBC Full-Cast Radio Drama - Raymond Chandler, Toby Stevens, Full Cast

Well, what with the last two bingo calls having given me some breathing space — “genre: horror” is not on my card, and “locked room mystery” was one of the first squares I already read books for –, I’ve embarked on a classic noir mini-binge, with Cornell Woolrich’s “The Bride Wore Black” (physical book) and a Raymond Chandler audio multi-pack — “Farewell, My Lovely” (unabridged, read by Elliott Gould) and the recent(ish) BBC full cast dramatizations of “The Long Goodbye” and “The High Window” (starring Toby Stephens … and yes, he does manage a credible enough Marlowe, accent and all).

I’ve yet to finish “The Bride Wore Black”, and if I know Woolrich there will be some fairly devilish twist at the end — but I have to say, the gem of the set so far is Chandler’s “Farewell, My Lovely”. There’s nothing like revisiting the mean streets of 1940s Los Angeles, Chandler’s imagery is as gut-punching as ever, and it’s just an unmitigated joy of having a classic noir novel read to me by Elliott Gould.

I suppose I could count these towards several different bingo squares (“murder most foul” and the free square in addition to “classic noir” if nothing else), but I think I’m going to count them all towards “classic noir” … I just have too many other books that I really also want to get to during the bingo. And if things don’t go the way I hope they will, I can always reassign one or two of these later on …

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1597209/classic-noir-mini-binge

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Halloween Bingo 2017: Update 1

Equal Rites - Terry Pratchett Mrs. Zant and the Ghost - Wilkie Collins, Gillian Anderson Miraculous Mysteries: Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes (British Library Crime Classics) - Various Authors, Martin Edwards Mrs. McGinty's Dead - Agatha Christie Lord of the Wings: A Meg Langslow Mystery (Meg Langslow Mysteries) - Donna Andrews

My Square Markers:


Black Kitty: Read but not called


Black Vignette: Called but not read


Black Kitty in Black Vignette: Read and Called

 

Current Status of Spreadsheet:

 

Books Read / Listened to – Update 1:



Terry Pratchett: Equal Rites

The first book of the Witches subseries and one of the earliest Discworld novels overall (it’s book #3 of the series): by Pratchett’s standards a slight book, which I knew going in, but since I’d started to read the Witches books subseries, I ought to go back and catch up with the beginning at some point before proceeding to far.

Still, it’s an enjoyable enough ride; Granny Weatherwax is there (Nanny Ogg and Greebo aren’t, though); and we do end up at the Unseen University, where Granny engages in a battle of magic with then-Archchancellor Cutangle, which ends up having some odd foreshadowings of Granny and Ridcully.  Ankh Morpork — and indeed, even the market town closest to her Ramtops village — is more “forn parts” to Granny than it will be ever after, which of course, however, doesn’t stop her in the least from shepherding a youthful female wizard (yes, not a witch) all the way there once she has reconciled herself to the unheard-of notion that women of the magic persuasion can in fact be anything other than witches, even if they only got there accidentally, because a dying wizard didn’t pay attention and conveyed his staff to an infant girl instead of the eighth son of an eighth son.  (In case you’re wondering about the difference between wizardry and witchcraft, it’s to do with whether you use the forces of air or earth, and how you treat your fellow furred and feathered creatures.)  Along the way, we get lots of opinionating — Terry Pratchett’s, the witches’ and various wizards’ — about whether there is such a thing as “a woman’s (witch’s) proper job” as opposed to “a man’s (wizard’s) proper job”, and if so, what exactly either of these might consist of, and whether or not women (witches) should be allowed to succeed in storming the battlements of a place of higher education.

I began reading this on August 30, when Moonlight Reader opened up the “Halloween Bingo Pre-Season” and I could easily have finished it the next day; I had to stop myself on the edge of the book’s climax so as to make it count towards the bingo. — It’s been fun to go back to the roots and visit the place from where Pratchett’s amazing talent began to evolve, and by many another author’s standards I’d have probably rated this even higher than I did.  Still, it has made me appreciate the later entries in the Discworld canon even more — and I’m now looking forward even more to returning to Discworld at its best!

 



Wilkie Collins: Mrs. Zant and the Ghost
(Gillian Anderson audio)

I remembered that several folks on Booklikes had listened to this novella / extended short story during last year’s bingo, so when I saw it was available for free on Audible I snatched it up — and when “Ghost” was the first square to be called, I made a snap decision to use this read for the square as I had just enough time to fit in the audio yesterday.

This is the story of a widowed father’s acquaintance with a young woman (the eponymous Mrs. Zant) who, in turn, has recently lost her husband, and whose strange behaviour is giving rise to the suggestion that she might have gone mad.  After some initial  reluctance, she eventually confides in Mr. Rayburn (the widower, from whose point of view — albeit in the third person — the story is told), and he (and through him, the reader) is given to understand that ever since the untimely death of her much-loved husband Mrs. Zant has experienced instances of a mysterious invisible presence which, though it initially disturbed her and made her suspect herself of madness, too, she eventually learns to trust and come to consider benign — much to the distress of her brother in law, who (at Rayburn’s suggestion) takes her to his residence on the seaside in the professed hope of thus relieving her nervous state and nursing her back to stability and mental health.

To a 19th century reader, this story would probably have had much more novelty value, surprising turns and perhaps even spooky aspects than to this jaded late 20th / early 21st century reader (or listener) — certainly, it’s no competition to the likes of Henry James’s “Turn of the Screw — and Collins’s narration does tend to meander a bit.  Still, it’s a sweet enough little story, and for someone who is not a big horror reader, just the perfect kind of thing to cover this particular bingo square.

 



Martin Edwards / British Library:
Miraculous Mysteries – Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes

This is one of several Golden Age mystery short story anthologies recently published by the British Library and Martin Edwards. I had initially contemplated only reading some of the stories for this square, but once I’d started I was hooked pretty much instantaneously and soon there was no question whatsoever that I would read the whole thing.

Martin Edwards concurrently serves as the chair of the Crime Writers’ Association and the Detection Club, and there is very little (if anything) that he does not know about mysteries and the history of mystery writing: his introductions to the individual stories — and to this anthology itself — alone are worth the price of admission.  The stories he selected cover the length and breadth of locked room scenarios, writing styles, and Golden Age writers, from those whom we still know today to some who undeservedly fell under the wheels of time and finally others … who probably didn’t.

Even for the well-known representatives of the genre, Edwards managed to unearth less familiar stories, including a non-Holmes mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle from the time period after Holmes had supposedly drowned in the Reichenbach Falls, entitled “The Lost Special” and dealing with the mysterious disappearance of an entire train — though true to the author’s style, this, like many of Holmes’s adventures, is a story that is (supposedly) first published only years after the actual events occurred (albeit unlike Holmes’s adventures, not “because the world is not yet ready for it”, but simply because it has taken this long for the case to be solved); thus fortuituously allowing, however, for the inclusion of a letter to the editor of a major newspaper reporting on the case when it first happened, written by “an amateur reasoner of some celebrity at that date [who] attempted to deal with the matter in a critical and semi-scientific manner,” and whose letter begins with the words: “It is one of the elementary principles of practical reasoning that when the impossible has been eliminated the residuum, however improbable, must contain the truth.”  (Would that he had actually been put on the case; one cannot feel but that it wouldn’t have taken all of eight years to solve the mystery then.)

Of all of the stories contained in the anthology, I only knew Dorothy L. Sayers’s “The Haunted Policeman” (one of her final three Wimsey stories), which is certainly one of the strongest in the lot — though only Wimsey would welcome his firstborn son to the world wondering aloud whether the “collaborative effort” (with his wife) was “up to standard,” noting that “I never knew so convincing a body of evidence produce such an inadequate result” (of his own efforts, one is given to assume) … and after being thereupon thrown out of his wife’s bedroom, proceeding to spend the rest of the night by killing two bottles of vintage champagne with the local bobby, listening to the police constable’s woes about mysterious goings-on in a nearby house that can’t possibly exist in the first place and a murder he’s made to believe didn’t happen, either, even though he has seen the corpse with his very own, then-sober eyes.

Like Sayers’s story, several other entries in the anthology would cover not only “locked room” but also other bingo squares; in addition to “murder most foul”, several have a supernatural touch, two of these with an added “ghost” element, whereas Sayers’s is a tongue-in-cheek take on a “haunted house” story; and finally, this being the Golden Age of mysteries, several stories would also qualify as “country house murders”. — The entries that, in addition to Sayers’s, I liked best overall were Sapper’s “The Music Room” (even though its solution is of the “locked room” variety that I like the least), Christopher St. John Sprigg’s “Death at 8.30” (again, despite its — in this case, rather sensational — solution), and E. Charles Vivian’s “Locked In,” which, of all the stories in the collection, is probably the neatest-written example of a classic locked-room mystery.

 



Agatha Christie: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
(Hugh Fraser audio)

This was a return visit courtesy of Hugh Fraser, the Captain Hastings of the long-running TV series starring David Suchet as Poirot, who has since come to narrate audio versions of almost every single Agatha Christie mystery; with the exception of a couple of Poirot books recorded by Suchet himself, the Miss Marple mysteries (narrated by the BBc’s [and Christie’s own favorite] Miss Marple — Joan Hickson — as well as the fabulous Stephanie Cole and, lately, Richard E. Grant), and a few short stories narrated by Isla Blair and Sir Christopher Lee. — After having appeared alongside David Suchet in countless Poirot TV episodes, Fraser has Suchet’s mannerisms as the Belgian detective down fairly pat, and he did indeed say in an interview that his reading was intended to keep faith with Suchet’s performance (as in, how could it possibly not).  There are a couple of audio collections where both of them appear, and in those you can tell the two narrators apart, but to anyone hearing just a recording by Fraser and not listening too closely, his narration is pretty darned convincing and, therefore, contributes greatly to the listening pleasure.  In this instance, for Fraser’s reading alone I upped my previous rating of a story I already liked considerably by yet another notch.

“Mrs. McGinty’s Dead” provides several of Christie’s recurring motifs and settings: Poirot’s sidekick is (not Hastings, but instead) Christie’s own mock-stand-in, Ariadne Oliver; the novel is set in a small town (named Broadhinny) — even though this is ordinarily more Miss Marple’s territory than Poirot’s –; its title is based on a bit of poetic doggerel repeated in various forms throughout the story; and Poirot is called in at the last minute (by the policeman formerly in charge of the case, no less) to prevent a deadly miscarriage of justice.  The element striking terror in Broadhinny is not necessarily the murder itself — the victim was a gossipy elderly charwoman who didn’t greatly seem to matter; the man convicted for her murder is her former lodger, who is socially and as a person even more insignificant than his supposed victim — but the arrival of Poirot and the facts revealed by his investigation: Starting with a newspaper article that he finds among the dead woman’s last possessions, he investigates the local population’s connections with a number of gruesome past crimes portrayed in that article, and he soon comes to conclude that several inhabitants of Broadhinny have more than a few skeletons of their own in their closets; in fact, more than one of them may have been involved with (or may be related to persons involved with) the crimes described by the newspaper. — Along the way, we get a few pointed insights into Christie’s own woes (uttered by Ms. Oliver, of course) regarding the less-than-faithful stage adaptations of her works … and Poirot, to the reader’s considerable amusement, gets to suffer … not only the all-around unpleasantness of the British countryside, but also the horrors of a thoroughly chaotic and untidy boarding house, complete with water-drenched, overcooked, and generally tasteless cuisine (and this, after having agreed to take on the case upon having just returned from his favorite gourmet restaurant in London!).

 

Next Read:

 

The Book Pool:

Most likely: Donna Andrews: Lord of the Wings
Alternatively:
* Diane Mott Davidson: Catering to Nobody
* One or more stories from Martin Greenberg’s and Ed Gorman’s (eds.) Cat Crimes
* … or something by Lilian Jackson Braun




Most likely: Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights (audio return visit courtesy of either Michael Kitchen or Prunella Scales and Samuel West)
Alternatively:
* Wilkie Collins: The Woman In White
(audio version read by Nigel Anthony and Susan Jameson)
* Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey
(audio return visit courtesy of Anna Massey)
* Isak Dinesen: Seven Gothic Tales
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* … or something by Daphne du Maurier




Candace Robb: The Apothecary Rose




Most likely: Simon Brett: A book from a four-novel omibus edition including An Amateur Corpse, Star Trap, So Much Blood, and Cast, in Order of Disappearance
Alternatively:
* Georgette Heyer: Why Shoot a Butler?
* Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley
(audio version read by David Thorpe)
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Minette Walters: The Shape of Snakes




Most likely: Something from James D. Doss‘s Charlie Moon series (one of my great discoveries from last year’s bingo)
Or one of Walter Mosley‘s Easy Rawlins mysteries
Alternatively:
Sherman Alexie: Indian Killer




Terry Pratchett: Carpe Jugulum




One or more stories from Martin Edwards’s (ed.) and the British Library’s Miraculous Mysteries: Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes




Most likely: Agatha Christie: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead
(audio return visit courtesy of Hugh Fraser)

Or one or more stories from Martin Edwards’s (ed.) and the British Library’s Serpents in Eden: Countryside Crimes
Alternatively:
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar, To Love and Be Wise, or The Singing Sands
* Georgette Heyer: Why Shoot a Butler?
* Peter May: The Lewis Man
* S.D. Sykes: Plague Land
* Arthur Conan Doyle: The Mystery of Cloomber
* Michael Jecks: The Devil’s Acolyte
* Stephen Booth: Dancing with the Virgins
* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers
* Martha Grimes: The End of the Pier
* Minette Walters: The Breaker




One of two “Joker” Squares:

To be filled in as my whimsy takes me (with apologies to Dorothy L. Sayers), either with one of the other mystery squares’ alternate books, or with a murder mystery that doesn’t meet any of the more specific squares’ requirements.  In going through my shelves, I found to my shame that I own several bingo cards’ worth of books that would fill this square alone, some of them bought years ago … clearly something needs to be done about that, even if it’s one book at a time!




Isabel Allende: Cuentos de Eva Luna (The Stories of Eva Luna) or
Gabriel García Márquez: Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold)




Most likely: One or more stories from Charles Dickens: Complete Ghost Stories or Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills
Alternatively:
* Wilkie Collins: Mrs. Zant and the Ghost
(Gillian Anderson audio)
* Stephen King: Bag of Bones




Terry Pratchett: Men at Arms




Obviously and as per definition in the rules, the second “Joker” Square.

Equally as per definition, the possibles for this square also include my alternate reads for the non-mystery squares.




Most likely: Cornell Woolrich: The Bride Wore Black
Alternatively:
* Raymond Chandler: Farewell My Lovely or The Long Goodbye
* James M. Cain: Mildred Pierce
* Horace McCoy: They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
* David Goodis: Shoot the Piano Player or Dark Passage
* … or something else by Cornell Woolrich, e.g., Phantom Lady or I Married a Dead Man




Most likely: Ruth Rendell: Not in the Flesh or The Babes in the Wood (audio versions read by Christopher Ravenscroft, aka Inspector Burden in the TV series)
Alternatively:
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills




Most likely: Peter May: Coffin Road
Alternatively:
* Stephen King: Bag of Bones or Hearts in Atlantis
* Denise Mina: Field of Blood
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Minette Walters: The Breaker
* Jonathan Kellerman: When The Bough Breaks, Time Bomb, Blood Test, or Billy Straight
* Greg Iles: 24 Hours




Most likely: Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills
Alternatively:
* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers
* Greg Iles: Sleep No More




Most likely: Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley
(audio version read by David Thorpe)
Alternatively:
* One or more stories from Martin Edwards’s (ed.) and the British Library’s Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries
* Georgette Heyer: They Found Him Dead
* Ellis Peters: Black is the Colour of My True-Love’s Heart




Most likely: Something from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld / Witches subseries — either Equal Rites or Maskerade
Alternatively:
* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers
* Shirley Jackson: The Witchcraft of Salem Village




Most likely: Antonia Hodgson: The Devil in the Marshalsea
Alternatively:
* Rory Clements: Martyr
* Philip Gooden: Sleep of Death 
* Minette Walters: The Shape of Snakes
* Ngaio Marsh: Death in Ecstasy
* One or more stories from Martin Edwards’s (ed.) and the British Library’s Capital Crimes: London Mysteries




Most likely: Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (audio return visit courtesy of Sir Christopher Lee)
Alternatively:
* H.G. Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau
* … or something by Edgar Allan Poe




Most likely: Something from Ovid’s Metamorphoses
Alternatively:
* Robert Louis Stevenson: The Bottle Imp
* Christina Rossetti: Goblin Market
* H.G. Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau




Most likely: Jo Nesbø: The Snowman
Alternatively:
* Val McDermid: The Retribution
* Denise Mina: Sanctum 
* Mo Hayder: Birdman
* Caleb Carr: The Alienist
* Jonathan Kellerman: The Butcher’s Theater
* Greg Iles: Mortal Fear




Most likely: The Medieval Murderers: House of Shadows
or Hill of Bones
Alternatively:
* Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills
* Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House
* Stephen King: Bag of Bones
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Michael Jecks: The Devil’s Acolyte




Ooohhh, you know — something by Shirley Jackson … if I don’t wimp out in the end; otherwise something by Daphne du Maurier.



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Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1594970/halloween-bingo-2017-update-1

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Knitting Needles, Brains, and Burglary (by Proxy)

This book marks Miss Silver’s entrance into the annals of Golden Age crime fiction, and it’s certainly an enjoyable one.

I’d read other Miss Silver mysteries before: This doesn’t strike me as a series one absolutely has to read strictly in order; even though it is worthwhile noting that Wentworth also created several other fictional detectives, who even when appearing without Miss Silver clearly operate in the same fictional universe, and they do repeatedly show up in her cases as well.  Most, if not all of these other detectives are former pupils of Miss Silver, who once upon a time used to be a governess, and wherever they do appear alongside her, the ultimate honors of solving the case invariably go to her in the end.  So I guess the one aspect to be aware of is which one (if any) of her fellow sleuths is featured in a given book, and where in the sequence of their collaboration with Miss Silver the book in question is placed. — For those interested, I’ve found a very neat overview on this on a blog called The Passing Tramp.

Anyway, having read other books featuring Miss Silver, I was interested to see how she had initially been introduced, so when there was talk of a Grey Mask buddy read, I jumped at the idea.  And I’m glad I did!

We get to see more of Miss Silver’s (on occasion quite formidable) ex-governess side in the later books, but even in this first venture — where none of the aforementioned other detectives appears — we see her treating a recalcitrant client essentially like the ten-year-olds she used to tutor, and most of her trademark features are already in place: the “gentle cough” that invariably precedes any statement of import; her knitting needles (not the only feature she shares with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple — both ladies also have a certain penchant for primness, even if both of them are equally capable of taking it with a certain pinch of salt), her neat and capacious handbag, and most importantly, her razor-sharp brain, which easily puts her on a level with Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot … and, again, Miss Marple, about whom none less than (ex-)CID Chief Sir Henry Clithering says in The Body in the Library, and not without reason, that she is “better at [solving crimes] than I am at it”:

“Downstairs in the lounge … there sits an old lady with a sweet, placid spinsterish face, and a mind that has plumbed the depths of human iniquity and taken it as all in the day’s work.”

The same thing might just as well be said about Miss Silver — who however, like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, leaves the reader (and the other party to the conversation) in no doubt as to the size of her brains and her capacity of logical thought, whereas Miss Marple outwardly is all flutter and modesty, while nevertheless surreptitiously manipulating others into doing just what she needs them to do … while Miss Silver can be downright facetiously open about it:

“Miss Silver tapped with her pencil.
‘Are you suggesting that we should apply for a search warrant?’
‘No, I’m not.  I’m suggestin’ doin’ a little job of breakin’ and enterin’.  Look here, Miss Silver, are you game? […]’
‘I’ve my reputation to consider,’ said Miss Silver. She coughed. ‘If I were walking along [that particular] Street and were to ring [that house’s] bell –‘ she paused and gazed at him mildly.  ‘If you opened the door to me, it really would not be any business of mine how you got in.'”

And a while later:

“Miss Silver turned her torch down, picked up a metal bar, and put it into [his] hand.
‘What is it?’
‘Well,’ said Miss Silver — she gave a slight cough — ‘I believe it is called a jemmy — an instrument in use amongst burglars.  I, of course, have my reputation to consider. But if you –‘ She coughed again. ‘It really seems quite providential — doesn’t it?’
‘Heaven helps those who help themselves, in fact,’ [he] responded.
Miss Silver proceeded to give him expert advice as to lock-breaking.”

I’m not sure that we’d ever see quite that sort of scene with Miss Marple (Holmes and Poirot are, of course, a different matter; they’ve both been known to burgle the odd building in the interests of higher justice), though Miss Marple would almost certainly have, amid a great deal of flutter, pinpointed the exact location to look for inside the house in question in advance, to within a few inches at most; probably after having gotten the vicar’s wife to unearth for her precisely the same (published) source that had inspired the present owner of the house to make use of that very location in the first place.

Unlike Holmes and Poirot (and, for that matter, Miss Marple), who at least in the Final Reveal typically give a full account of their methods and thought processes, we are not given that sort of access here, and if anything, it is this that makes Miss Silver seem decidedly more ethereal than in the later books — which, at least the ones I’ve read, do feature a traditional Final Reveal; warts and all: Not only does Miss Silver seem in this, her first venture, however, to appear out of nothing in her client’s and the other protagonists’ vista and vicinity on more than one occasion; she also has to do all her own research, since she does not have an assistant, which would have had to involve quite a substantial amount of interviews, visits to libraries, and other “legwork”, all of which at times left me wondering how she could possibly have fitted all that activity into the time frame available … while at the same time keeping exact tabs on her client’s and his protegée’s, as well as pretty much all the other major characters’ whereabouts.

Patricia Wentworth had published several romance novels before turning to crime fiction, and this is not the only one of her books on which that writerly history has left an undelible mark.  (It’s also not the only one of her books where the various emotional conflicts are “resolved” in rather a rushed way at the end.)  As for the book’s major characters (besides Miss Silver), they fall nicely into the categories and types that had already been coined by other mystery authors at the time, and to a large extent made up the stock whose representatives would continue to populate the better part of Golden Age mysteries up to the eve of World War II and beyond.  Still, like the other Miss Silver mysteries I’ve read, this proved to be a quick, entertaining and deceptively lightly-written read, and I’ll happily continue to sprinkle books from this series in among my reading pleasure.

*************

Previous status updates:
1/3 mark
2/3 mark

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1589689/knitting-needles-brains-and-burglary-by-proxy

Reading progress update: I’ve read 203 out of 332 pages.

Two thirds of the way through, and even if I had had any doubt whether the guy on the cover of my edition is supposed to be Charles Moray (which I didn’t), I now have confirmation straight from the mouth of the babe (our Teenage Ingenue, aka TSTL heiress-in-peril) — except that whoever created this cover didn’t get the memo about the grey eyes:

“Charles is an explorer, but he isn’t exploring just now.  He is the handsomest.  He has grey eyes and a most frightfully romatic frown […] Charles has a lot of black eyelashes and frightfully black eyebrows.  They go all twisty when he is cross.  I shouldn’t like them to go all twisty at me.”

“I think Charles must have a most awful temper really, because he glared in the most frightful way you ever saw.  I’ve never seen anyone glare like it before, except on the films when they’re just going to murder somebody, or the girl has been carried away by Bad Pete or someone like that.  Of course Sheikhs glare nearly the whole time.  I think Charles is awfully like a Sheikh really.”

Well, idiot child, it would be hard NOT to glare at you with eyebrows all in a twist when you’ve just given the whole show away, and I strongly suspect to the one person you should have been kept away from from the start!  Except that Charles is starting to behave almost as idiotically as you, and about Margaret, no less.  Oh well.  Here’s hoping their inevitable reconciliation won’t at least be a total rush, but I have a feeling this isn’t the sort of book that allows for the gradual resolution that in real life would be the only way for them to recover a solid joint footing to build on for the future.

That being said, we’ve now also had the mandatory desks with secret drawers containing mysterious paper clues in the form of signatures and empty envelopes with meaning-laden inscriptions (two matching such mysterious desks, no less, embossed with almost identical initials); there are hints that the story’s two damsels-more-or-less-in-distress (Margaret and Margot, who really is called Margaret as well and has been cover-named Greta) just might be half-sisters; and Archie — like Lord Peter Wimsey in “Murder Must Advertise” — is working in a publishing firm (though in Wimsey’s case that was based on Dorothy L. Sayers’s own experience … still, it’s another coincidence).  Oh, and Miss Silver has pulled a Sherlock in referring to “Grey Mask” as someone who she’s come across again and again in recent years, not in person but as a secret intelligence pulling the strings behind the scenes of various daring criminal enterprises.  Moriarty, much?

Miss Silver is now clearly also exhibiting her ex-governess side, treating a silly recalcitrant client (read: Charles) essentially like she would have the ten-year-olds she used to tutor.  This may very well come across as condescending (especially since there has been no mention of this aspect of her past just yet … unless I’ve missed it, which I wouldn’t rule out at all of course); except I’m with her all the way on this one — Charles is behaving like an idiot, and he’d better get over it soon or he’ll lose my sympathy.  Especially since I very much suspect he now has all the knowledge he needs about Grey Mask’s true identity, and his first priority should be on unmasking that person (and on protecting our hapless teenage ingenue … even a brainless little minion like her doesn’t deserve to be murdered, after all)!

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1589373/reading-progress-update-i-ve-read-203-out-of-332-pages

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Reading progress update: I’ve read 97 out of 332 pages.

Alright, I’m at the end of chapter 14 now, and … did these Golden Age writers really all crib from each other to such a huge extent, or was there some sort of unspoken convention about plot and character points you absolutely had to hit in one or more of your novels (and the more in one and the same novel the better)?

So far, we’ve had — just off the top of my head; at this point I’m probably even forgetting the odd item already, there’s so many of them:

* A main character locking himself into a closet to listen in on a criminal conspiracy led by a masked, unknown mastermind (the eponymous Grey Mask) (cf. Agatha Christie, “The Seven Dials Mystery” and “The Secret Adversary” — where replace “closet” by “upstairs room”);

* A flippant character straight out of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”, complete with droppin’ his ‘g’s and all (cf. both Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey and Freddie Arbuthnot, though I suspect Archie Millar has a mite more grey matter inside his skull than Lord Peter’s friend Freddie);

* A teenage ingenue (read: TSTL character) whose chief, albeit not sole function in the novel is to throw the bad guys into profound bafflement, with nary a clue of the danger she’s putting herself in (MbD’s hunch about her is definitiely, to phrase it in the language of the time, coming up trumps) (cf. Georgette Heyer and Margery Allingham — you name it, they’ve written it — and also Arthur Conan Doyle, “A Case of Identity” and “The Illustrious Client”);

* A sinister plot to un-inherit an unprotected girl (here: aforesaid TSTL teenage ingenue) from a multi-million pound inheritance (cf. Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Sign of Four” and several other stories, ditto Agatha Christie);

* A letter (here: put forth in furtherance of said plot) that will undoubtedly turn out to be a forgery (an utter Golden Age staple; there’s no decent crime writer of the time who did not use it at some point or other — one of my favorite examples, at Lord Peter’s own hands, appears in Dorothy L. Sayers’s “Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club”);

* A fairly obviously crooked lawyer (another staple, though today decidedly more than in the Golden Age novels);

* An altogether too-harmless-to-be-believed male character taking his wife abroad, from where, promptly, comes news of her sad demise (cf. Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Illustrious Client”; for the character see also Uncle Joseph in Heyer’s “Envious Casca”);

* Oodles of London pea-souper fog (cf. Edgar Wallace — take your pick of his novels — and E.W. Hornung; also Agatha Christie, “The Man in the Fog” and “The Crackler”, though the latter is Tommy and Tuppence’s “Edgar Wallace” case, so half the honors go to Wallace for that one again);

* A character who pretends to be deaf (though not dumb! How are we supposed to believe he’s able to speak if he can’t hear himself?) but who is anything but, and whom — dun, du-dun-dun — our hero follows through the aforementioned London fog (cf. Edgar Wallace again, “The Dark Eyes of London”);

* A young lady using a particular name as an alias just because she thinks it’s romantic, without realizing how much she’s going to get herself into trouble by uttering that particular name in the hearing of the wrong people (cf. Agatha Christie, “The Secret Adversary”);

* A young lady from a “good family” who’s fallen on hard luck and has to work — as a shop assistant, secretary, governess, or the like (here it’s as a shop assistant) — to earn her living (cf. half of Sherlock Holmes’s female clients, several Agatha Christie characters — e.g. Midge Hardcastle in “The Hollow” and the eponymous heroine of “Jane in Search of a Job” –; and Sheila Fentiman in Dorothy L. Sayers’s “Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club”);

* the wise-cracking inhabitants of far-away places — here it’s South American Indian tribes named Hula-Bula and Taran-Tula (I swear I’m NOT making this up) whose devoid-of-meaning idioms can give any “Confucius say …” quote a run for its money;

* and, of course, a main character who (with yet another nod to Ms. Heyer and Dame Agatha) has just returned to London after several years’ absence and plays at amateur detective to untangle the weeds that seem to have grown on his patch while he was away; only to find himself baffled and call on Miss Silver at the end.

As for Miss Silver herself, who has only made her first, introductory appearance at this point … well, Agatha Christie always insisted that she had based Miss Marple on her own granny, and that she had been inspired to create the character after having had such fun with Caroline Sheppard in “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”, but given that “Grey Mask” was published two years prior to Miss Marple’s first case, “Murder at the Vicarage,” I can’t help but wonder whether Miss Silver provided some sort of inspiration, too, after all.  The two ladies are definitely not alike, but Miss Silver’s initially seemingly nondescript appearance, secret sense of humor, and of course her knitting needles (!) do strike a familiar chord.  The Miss Silver I’ve seen in other books can on occasion be decidedly more formidable than Christie’s Miss Marple (in behaviour, though not in appearance, more like the Margaret Rutherford version of Miss Marple, who is not like the character from the books at all) … it’ll be interesting to see how we get from Miss Silver’s first appearance to the traits she exhibits later. — One obvious difference between the two characters is, of course, that Miss Silver is a pro, with an office and all, while Miss Marple insists that she is anything but.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a fast read and I am rather enjoying it.  But, dang — half the time I keep thinking, geez, that’s something, too, that I’ve read before!

 

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The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season — Bonus Entry

Der Weltensammler - Ilija Trojanow  Collector of Worlds, the - Iliya Troyanov

I blacked out my card on Dec. 19 using the “activity” entry for the Kwanzaa square, but since thereafter I did read a book set (partially) in Africa, too, here’s my “bonus entry” post … sorry for reporting in belatedly; blame it on BookLikes posting issues and a surfeit of things going on all at the same time in my life at present. 😦

Not that it still seems to matter greatly to begin with, alas … (sigh).

Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds) is a novelized biography of 19th century polymath and explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who traveled widely in India, the Middle East and Africa, visiting Mecca (disguised as an Arab) and seeking — partially successfully, though he didn’t know it — the source of the Nile (he did make it to Lake Victoria, but failed to confirm that the Nile actually does originate from there).  He is best remembered today for his translation of The 1001 Nights.

Interesting, though quite obviously largely fictitious insights into a fascinating life, and a voyage back through time to the Orient, Africa, and British Empire of the 19th century.

 

Snow Globes: Reads
Bells: Activities

 

Original post:
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Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol (performed by Patrick Stewart)

 A Christmas Carol (Audiocd) - Patrick Stewart, Charles Dickens   A Christmas Carol

A “Christmas Carol” for the 21st Century

Part of my annual Christmas ritual – and since this year I’m indulging by way of Patrick Stewart’s splendid audio version and the TV adaptation it inspired, here’s my review of the latter … with the added note that my comments on Stewart’s performance in the movie also apply to his reading, where he also does a splendid job getting under the skin (or whatever it is that ghosts have) of all the story’s other characters.

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Given the enormous potential for failure, it takes either a lot of guts or a big ego to remake a classic and step into a pair of shoes worn so well by the likes of George C. Scott and Alastair Sim — you don’t have to have grown up in an English speaking country to take those two names and their portrayal of Dickens’s miserly anti-hero for granted as part of your Christmas experience. And I suspect a good part of both guts and ego was at play in this production; but let’s face it: after years of bringing Scrooge to the stage in a much-acclaimed one man show and after also having recorded the audio book version of “A Christmas Carol,” a movie adaptation starring Patrick Stewart was probably due to come out sooner or later. Yet, while it does sometimes have the feel of another huge star vehicle for Stewart (even without the self-congratulatory trailer and brief “behind the scenes” features included on the DVD), his experience and insight into the character of Scrooge allow him to pull off a remarkable performance, and to make the role his own without letting us forget who originally wrote the tale. From a “humbug” growled out from the very depth of his disdain and his audible desire to boil “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips” with his own pudding and bury them with a stake of holly through their heart, to the “splendid” and “most illustrious … father of a long, long line of brilliant laughs,” coughed up and spit out after years of having been out of practice, this is the Scrooge that Dickens described; and Stewart obviously has the time of his life playing him.

This made-for-TV production is sometimes criticized for its use of special effects; I don’t find those overly disturbing, though — in fact, they’re rather low-key and for the most part used to show nothing more than what Dickens actually described. (This is a ghost story, remember?) Scrooge really does see Marley’s face in his door knocker; we all know that Marley’s ghost does indeed walk through Scrooge’s doubly locked door … and last but not least Dickens himself describes the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come as “shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.” (Granted, no gleaming lights for eyes, though.) The script could have spared a modernism here and there, but again, mostly the lines are exactly those that Dickens himself wrote. Even where the characters don’t actually speak them, they are part of their reflections — such as Marley being buried and “dead as a door-nail” (which, after all, is the tale’s all-important premise) and Scrooge’s rather funny musings how the Ghost of Christmas Past might be deterred from taking him for a flight (where citing neither the weather nor the hour nor a head cold nor his inadequate dress would do). Richard E. Grant, known to TV audiences as Sir Percy Blakeney in the recent adaptations of “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” moves to the opposite end of the social spectrum in his portrayal of gaunt, downtrodden Bob Cratchit; and he is a very credible caring father and husband, albeit a bit too well-educated — unlike the rest of his family, who speak and come across as decidedly more cockney. Joel Grey, whose Master of Ceremonies in “Cabaret” stands out as one of those “one of a kind” performances that are few and far between in film history, is almost perfectly cast as the Ghost of Christmas Past, combining the spirit’s wisdom of an old man with his child-like innocence, frail stature and luminous appearance. A great supporting cast and solid cinematographic and directorial work round out an overall very well done production.

Many actors are remembered either for one career-making role or for a certain type they have cast. No doubt Patrick Stewart, who as a teenager had to face an ultimatum between a steady job and the theater and chose the latter, will go into film history as Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Treck’s “Next Generation.” But I would not be surprised if the other major role he will always be remembered for will be that of Ebenezer Scrooge — on stage, in audio recordings and in this movie adaptation, which successfully brings Dickens’s timeless tale of bitterness, sorrow, redemption and the true meaning of Christmas to the 21st century, and which before long, I think, will attain the status of a classic in its own right. I know that I, for one, will be watching it again with renewed pleasure next Christmas.

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The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season — Task the First: The Winter Wonderland; and Task the Seventh: The Christmas

Dylan Thomas Reads a Child's Christmas in Wales and Five Poems/Cd - Dylan Thomas The Nightingale Before Christmas (Meg Langslow Mysteries) - Donna Andrews

Task the First:
– Read a book that is set in a snowy place.

Dylan Thomas: A Child’s Christmas in Wales

 Thomas’s lyrical memoirs of his childhood Christmas experience, read by himself … truly magical.  One of the books (or CDs) that I revisit every single holiday season.

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Task the Seventh:
– Read a book set during the Christmas holiday season.

 Donna Andrews: The Nightingale Before Christmas

 The year before last’s entry in Donna Andrews’s Meg Lanslow series: An uninhabited  Caerphilly house has been turned into a show house for the local interior designers’ pre-Christmas competition, which Meg has agreed to organize (her own mother being one of the contestants, and Meg’s involvement as an organizer having been the price for their own house not to be used as the scene of competition) — as a result of which Meg is having to constantly mediate between the contestants, who keep going at each others’ throats hammer and tongs and are, as a whole, more unruly than a bag of wriggling kittens.  It doesn’t particularly help, either, that there’s a student hanging around the place doing research for an article on the competition that she’s writing for the local university newspaper, that moreover, packages containing the contestants’ orders of items needed in their decorative arrangements keep disappearing, and that at last someone even takes to vandalizing the house and some of the half-arranged rooms, with merely a few days to go to Christmas (and to the advent of the judges).  When the most unpopular of the contestants — whom the others also hold responsible for the disappearance of their packages and for the vandalization of their rooms — is found murdered, there doesn’t seem a shortage of suspects … except that every single one of the other designers seems to have a credible alibi.

 A more than solid, tremendously enjoyable entry in the series … having read Duck the Halls just before Christmas last year, I’m seriously tempted to hunt down all of Andrews’s holiday books and read them, one at a time, before Christmas each year!  She truly has a knack for combining a hilarious storyline with fully-rounded characters (howevver unusual), a homely and comfortably-feeling small-town setting and a lot of warmth, humor, and common sense.  Highly recommended!

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 Task the Seventh:
– Grab your camera and set up a Christmas bookstagram-style scene with favorite holiday reads, objects or decorations. Possibly also a cat. Post it for everyone to enjoy!

Well, the cat preferred to watch the setup from atop the half-empty box of Christmas decorations instead of being part of the picture, but anyway … here we go!  (And yes, that’s a real candle again. 🙂 )


 

Snow Globes: Reads
Bells: Activities

 

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