Halloween Bingo 2020: The Second Week (+1 Day)

Posting this on Monday instead of Sunday again … oh well.

I guess after a near-phenomenal first bingo week it was only to be expected that the second week would not be quite as fabulous. Mind you, I’m not complaining — my card is coming together nicely, and none of the books I read this past week was a real dud; even if only some of them could compare with the first week’s reads (which, however, in some instances is also a “YMMV” kind of thing; i.e., it’s not the book, it’s me).

 

My “Week 2” Bingo Books:


Anthony Gilbert (Lucy Beatrice Malleson, aka Anne Meredith): Death in Fancy Dress

A carry-over from week 1, best described as “Golden Age country house mystery meets Wuthering Heights“. Lucy Beatrice Malleson was a member of the Detection Club who wrote under several pen names, including Anne Meredith and Anthony Gilbert, and reading her books almost a century after they were first published, it is hard to believe that they should have failed to attain widespread popularity, as both in Portrait of a Murderer (written as by Anne Meredith) and in this book she clearly shows herself to be a cut above many of her contemporaries.

Death in Fancy Dress concerns two young friends (one a budding solicitor, one an adventurer and “gentleman of leisure”) who are urgently called to the remote country home of the young solicitor’s — the narrator’s — extended family, which seems to be in the grip of a ruthless gang of blackmailers who have already driven a number of society figures to suicide in the face of impending scandal. (And no, this is not just a recap of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Charles Augustus Milverton.)  As indicated by the book’s title, murder ensues in short order after the two young amateur sleuths’ arrival, during a fancy dress ball no less.

Martin Edwards, in his introduction, cites Dorothy L. Sayers’s review, which highlights that one of this book’s great merits is not to leave any doubt about the fact that there is nothing cozy about this particular country house party; beginning right with the moment of the two young gentlemen’s arrival: during a storm, with the daughter of the house missing and feared in grave peril — even though she is an otherwise independent young lady, who ordinarily would easily be able to take care of herself.  Yet, right now the fact that her hand in marriage is coveted by several men would seem to be one of her lesser worries, if it weren’t also so obviously tied in with the blackmail threat. (Her suitors include one of our young sleuths, another guest who happens to be a professional detective, as well as her cousin, the local squire, who is a sort of blend of Rudolph Valentino, your quintessential dark, brooding rogue, and a sane and calculating version of Heathcliff.)  And indeed, atmosphere is big in this novel, with the squire’s (the antagonist’s) “Heathcliff” / dark, brooding rogue touch not the only Wuthering Heights overtones — the action is also set near a (fictional) moor, several hours from London: honi soit qui Yorkshire n’y pense. (Well, OK, or Exmoor, Bodmin or Dartmoor — but then we’re in Lorna Doone / Jamaica Inn / Hound of the Baskervilles territory; take your pick.)  All in all, definitely one of the highlights among the second bingo week’s books.

 


Marie-Elena John: Unburnable

This is a book from my Around the World project / reading list: the story of Lillian, a young woman of Caribbean descent who returns to her home island of Dominica in order to lay to rest the ghosts of her family history, which has been troubled ever since her grandmother — rumored to be a witch — was convicted for murder, after the unexplained disappearance of her male companion / common law husband, as well as the discovery of several skeletons near her remote mountainside village. Lillian believes the words that have been construed as her grandmother’s confession of guilt (“yes, I am responsible for those deaths”) to have been coerced;, and she bullies her ex-boyfriend, who still carries a torch for her and who is a lawyer specializing in overturning unjust convictions, to join her on a trip to Dominica to clear her grandmother’s name.

I thought the Caribbean / Dominican setting was well-executed; it’s obvious that John was writing from personal knowledge there — including, too, the cross-references between certain African and Caribbean cultures and belief systems.  What I liked decidedly less was the way the book was set up in what easily amounted to its entire first quarter, with apparently disconnected chapters tracing the histories of our protagonist, her mother, grandmother, as well as several other (also mostly female) characters important to the plot, and whose stories really only come together towards the end. This narrative technique is hit or miss with me, with “hits” occurring chiefly if I’m quickly drawn into each (apparently) separate character’s story, and if I can at least vaguely discern how the various strands are going to come together eventually. That wasn’t the case here, and things weren’t exactly helped by the fact that, especially at the beginning, John cuts a few corners by instances telling instead of showing, even though far be it from me to accuse her of doing this all the time (in fact, on the other end of the spectrum, there are also scenes that depict violence (by and) against women in a downright viscerally graphic manner). — Lastly, the plot fell apart for me towards the end, when it becomes clear that although Lillian (and her now-on-again boyfriend) find out what really happened all those decades ago, this is by no means the solution they have hoped for. (I do realize the depiction of Lillian’s falling apart instead of healing in Dominica is deliberate and is intended to be key to the novel, but John lost me in the way she went about depicting it.)

 


Aimee and David Thurlo: Second Sunrise

Native American police procedural meets vampires, witches and werewolves.  To give the authors their due, I guess with skinwalkers being a key part of Navajo mythology, it’s a proximate thought to capitalize on the past decade(s)’ vampire craze and go full tilt supernatural / paranormal, and the sequence of events that turns our protagonist into a (half-)vampire is / are well-enough executed.  Also, the Thurlos’ love for “their” Navajo country easily translates onto the page, and their prose and plot construction is assured and workmanlike (in a positive sense) enough for me to consider this reading experience encouragement to take a look at their “non-supernatural” Ella Clah Navajo cop series (which has actually been on my TBR longer than this particular book).  I guess I’m over vampires once and for all, though (unless they’re created by Terry Pratchett, that is) — and quite frankly, the antagonist’s back story is risible and shows that, supernatural elements aside, the authors really are only interested in giving a credible and true portrayal of Navajo Country, not also in researching the historical and political background of their plot in other respects, where instead they are quite happy to settle for hyperbole and cliché. So as I said, I guess based on their portrayal of Navajo Country (and culture) I’m still going to give them the benefit of the doubt and take a look at their Ella Clah series, but if that series should display similar downsides in its approach to the non-Navajo characters’ back stories, I won’t become a fan, however well-executed the Native American aspects of their books may be.

 


Christianna Brand: Fog of Doubt

Brand’s fifth Inspector Cockrill mystery, and of all the books by her that I have read (all of them this year), second only to Green for Danger, which remains my favorite among all of her novels. Brand specialized in closed circle mysteries, and apart from the traditional country house settings so prevalent in Golden Age mysteries, she also came up with a number of truly unusual circumstances creating that closed circle: whereas in Green for Danger it’s a WWII military hospital, here it is a house — in fact, her own Maida Vale home, as she explains in the preface — where a murder happens during a particularly vicious example of a London “pea-souper” (aka “London Particular”, which in fact was the book’s original title).  Brand’s plotting is superb, and when — like here — she doesn’t try to serve populist cliché, she has a knack for creating characters that easily draw you into the story (even if I could seriously do without the blonde ingenues that seem to be a fixture in many of her books, never mind that this particular story’s ingenue is decidedly less naïve and innocent than some of the other ones).  I only have few books by Brand left to read, and while I didn’t like all of them equally well, by and large she is one of my more notable Golden Age / Detection Club discoveries.

 


Kathryn Harkup: Death by Shakespeare

Hmmm.  After having read and liked — though not loved — Harkup’s book on Agatha Christie’s use of poisons in her mysteries (A Is for Arsenic), it took the Shakespeare fan in me about a millisecond to snatch up this third book of hers when I came across it earlier this year … only to then decide, almost as quickly, to save it for the “Truly Terrifying” (or alternatively, “Paint It Black”) Halloween Bingo squares.  And as is so often the case, anticipation built over a period of time in the end doesn’t quite deliver the hoped-for bundle of goods.

My main bit of gripe is that Harkup doesn’t seem to have had a very clear picture for which audience she was writing this book.  On the one hand, she spends (I’m tempted to say, wastes) several chapters giving an abbreviated biography of Shakespeare and describing the London and the theatrical world in which he moved — NONE of which will be new to anyone even remotely familiar with the Bard and his life, time, and works (and all of which, thus, can only be of any use to a complete newbie to Shakespeare’s works) … and ALL of which I’ve seen discussed better, in greater detail and with a better-informed historical perspective by both Shakespearean scholars (most notably Stanley Wells) and general historians writing for a non-scholarly audience (e.g., Ian Mortimer and Liza Picard). (At least she doesn’t give any credence to the identity conspiracy theorists, but that still doesn’t stop her from using bits of unfounded speculation on the Bard’s life experience later in the book whenever she considers it expedient for a specific purpose.)  Similar things can be said for her comments on medicine in the Elizabethan age, which on the one hand is pretty much a staple in historical fiction set in the Plantagenet and Tudor eras; on the other hand, the details that I didn’t already know as historical fiction background, I’ve learned in greater depth by visiting Hall’s Croft, the home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband Dr. John Hall, who was a medical doctor (incidentally with rather advanced and well-informed views, compared to many of his contemporaries), who is widely believed to have provided his father in law with the requisite background knowledge for a plethora of deaths occurring in his plays, and whose professional equipment and records form part of the permanent exhibition on Elizabethan-era medicine that can now be visited in his former home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

On the other hand, when Harkup does finally get around to discussing Shakespeare’s portrayal of death and killings in his plays, she gives very little context to the majority of scenes she discusses, so anyone not intimately familiar with those plays (particularly the “histories”, which probably feature most widely overall in her book — and chiefly among these, the two “Henriads”) is soon going to be utterly lost as to the significance and context of the scene(s) under discussion.

Moreover, in at least one instance (Richard III and “The Princes in the Tower”) Harkup, while paying lip service to the idea that RIII perhaps “wasn’t quite as bad a tyrant as Shakespeare makes him out to be”, nevertheless falls into the very trap for which she poo-poos the medical analysis that established the bones found in the Tower in the early 20th century as those of “The Princes”, namely to reason from the desired result instead of dispassionately looking at the available evidence and letting the chips fall where they may.  This review isn’t the place for this particular bit of historical discussion, so let me just say that I am unable to take seriously any writer who, like Harkup, blandly describes the reign of Henry VII as “a new era of hope and peace for England” (or words to that effect), in either blissful ignorance or blissful disregard of, to name but a few examples,

(1) the cruelty of “Morton’s Fork”,
(2) Henry VII’s (and later his son’s) ruthless and systematic annihilation of the remaining representatives of the House of York (most notably, the execution — on demonstrably trumped-up charges — of his own closest rival for the throne, who at the time was a teenager, imprisoned in the Tower on Henry VII’s orders since his early childhood), or
(3) the fact that Henry VII (a) purposefully dated his reign from the day before his victory at Bosworth, which in one single stroke of the pen made every single combatant on Richard’s side a traitor to the crown, and (b) only crowned his wife Elizabeth queen a year after he himself had well and truly secured the crown, never mind that she had a much greater claim to the crown than he himself did to begin with.

(And let’s not even get into the inconvenient little detail that BOTH Richard III and Henry VII had their fans and detractors among the eminent writers, politicians and diplomats of the time, depending on who you were listening to and whom they were writing for, which is precisely one of the reasons why it’s so hard to determine what is self-servicing Tudor propaganda when it comes to Richard III and what is credible historical testimony.  Or the fact that Harkup blithely buys in virtually all of the things now actually known to be Tudor propaganda and hence, inherently unreliable …)

Anyway.  For what it is in terms of the actual discussion of Shakespeare’s use of death in his plays, it’s an interesting read. Unfortunately, way too much of that discussion gets lost in superfluous and, in part, downright irritating “white noise”.

 


Patricia Moyes: The Sunken Sailor

I read Moyes’s first Henry & Emmy Tibbett book (Dead Men Don’t Ski) earlier this year and liked it a lot.  While I still liked most of book 2 as well, The Sunken Sailor (aka Down Among the Dead Men) suffers from a bit of a sophomore slump: Moyes first does a great job establishing the characters and atmosphere of the tiny Suffolk harbor community where the Tibbetts go to spend a sailing holiday with friends.  However, inexplicably, somewhere before the book’s halfway point, Henry Tibbett of all people, the man whose “nose” for crime is proverbial at Scotland Yard, after having duly “nosed out” the suspicious circumstances of the death lurking in the recent past of that seaside community, decides to let unexplained bygones be unexplained bygones … and for the worst (and in terms of his character, most unbelievable) of all reasons — as a result of being vamped by a woman (moreover, a woman who herself is one of several suspects and, even if not guilty, just might have reasons aplenty for not wanting the truth to come out).  A less convincing instance of throwing a spanner in the plot works just so as to be able to produce yet another avoidable death (as well as a belated solution) I’ve rarely come across, and based on her first book, I seriously would have expected better from Moyes.  (I also found few of the characters in thei book as likeable as Moyes obviously intends them to be.)  This isn’t an awful book, and I’m still going to continue reading this series, but I do hope we’re talking sophomore slump here and I trust I haven’t already seen the best of the bunch when I read book 1.

(In terms of bingo squares, the book just scrapes within the definition of “Dark and Stormy Night” and I’m counting it for that square as Christine expressly confirmed that it counts.  It would obviously also qualify for “Fear the Drowning Deep” — which however isn’t on my card — and, the edition I own, also for “Full Moon”, as that’s what the white dot on the cover actually is.)

 

Currently Reading


Naomi Novik: Spinning Silver

Rumpelstiltskin goes Eastern Europe and fairyland.  I’m using it for “Spellbound” (the fairy king — Rumpelstiltskin in the fairy tale — has already cast the story’s first spell,  and “fairy silver” with magic proportions has also made numerous appearances already), but it would of course also qualify for “A Grimm Tale” or “Supernatural”.

 

The State of the Card

Master Update Post: HERE

 

My Markers


Read             Called                   Read & Called   Read = Called

Halloween Bingo 2019: Tracking Post — Blackout! (And bingos Nos. 12 and 13.)

 

Many thanks to Moonlight Reader and Obsidian Blue for hosting this game for the fourth year in a row, bigger and better than ever before!

Witih today’s call, I’ve blacked out my card, in addition to collecting my final bingos (nos. 12 and 13).

Somewhat to my surprise, after completing my books for my official bingo card at the end of September, I even managed to read enough extra books to put together a supplemental inofficial card throughout the month of October, so this year’s game has really exceeded my wildest expectations in every conceivable way!

 

My Official 2019 Bingo Card:

Weekly Status Updates and Reviews:

First Week
Second Week
Third Week
Fourth Week

 

The Books:

International Woman of Mystery: Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments – finished September 29, 2019.
Locked Room Mystery: Clayton Rawson: Death from a Top Hat – finished September 23, 2019.
Murder Most Foul: Michael Gilbert: Smallbone Deceased – finished September 13, 2019.
Psych: Sofi Oksanen: Fegefeuer (The Purge) – finished September 17, 2019.
Read by Flashlight or Candle Light: The Lady Detectives: Four BBC Radio 4 Crime Dramatisations – finished September 20, 2019.

DeadLands: Terry Pratchett: Monstrous Regiment – finished September 26, 2019.
Fear the Drowning Deep: Delia Owens: Where the Crawdads Sing – finished September 25, 2019.
Relics and Curiosities: Patricia Wentworth: Eternity Ring – finished September 10, 2019.
Dark Academia: James Hilton: Was It Murder? – finished September 1, 2019.
Modern Noir: Joy Ellis: The Guilty Ones – finished September 21, 2019.

Ghost Stories: Nina Blazon: Siebengeschichten – finished September 1, 2019.
Gothic: Peter Ackroyd: Hawksmoor – finished September 9, 2019.
Free (Raven) Space: Agatha Christie: The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories – finished September 7, 2019.
Truly Terrifying: Bob Berman: Earth-Shattering – finished September 12, 2019.
Amateur Sleuth: Priscilla Royal: Wine of Violence – finished September 5, 2019.

Cryptozoologist: Terry Pratchett: Guards! Guards! – finished September 18, 2019.
Diverse Voices: Toni Morrison: Beloved – finished September 22, 2019.
Black Cat: Jim Butcher: The Aeronaut’s Windlass – finished September 16, 2019.
Creepy Crawlies: Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Gods of Jade and Shadow – finished September 7, 2019.
Country House Mystery: Anthony Rolls: Scarweather – finished September 14, 2019.

Spellbound: Zen Cho: Sorcerer to the Crown – finished September 6, 2019.
A Grimm Tale: Ellen Datlow & Terry Windling (eds.): The Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales – finished September 4, 2019.
Creepy Carnivals: Fredric Brown: The Dead Ringer – finished September 12, 2019.
Paint It Black: Trudi Canavan: The Magicians’ Guild – finished September 20, 2019.
Cozy Mysteries: Margery Allingham: The White Cottage Mystery – finished September 19, 2019.

 

My Square Markers

 

Called but not read

Read but not called

Read and Called

Center Square: Read and Called

 

The Extra Squares / Card and Books:

13: Rex Stout: And Be a Villain
Supernatural: Jennifer Estep: Kill the Queen
New Release: Sara Collins: The Confessions of Frannie Langton
Genre: Mystery: Catherine Louisa Pirkis: The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective
Romantic Suspense: Georgette Heyer: The Unfinished Clue
Terror in a Small Town: Ann Cleeves: Raven Black
Halloween: Agatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party
Monsters: Terry Pratchett: Pyramids
Shifters: Joan D. Vinge: Ladyhawke
Sleepy Hollow: Dennis Lehane: The Given Day
Film at 11: J.B. Priestley: An Inspector Calls
In the Dark, Dark Woods: Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness
Free (Raven) Square: Various Authors: The Rivals: Tales of Sherlock Holmes’ Rival Detectives
Grave or Graveyard: Kathy Reichs: Grave Secrets
Genre: Suspense: Tony Medawar (ed.) & Various Authors: Bodies from the Library 2
Southern Gothic: Sharyn McCrumb: The Unquiet Grave
Baker Street Irregulars: Joanne Harris: Gentlemen & Players
Darkest London: J.V. Turner: Below the Clock
Magical Realism: Joanne Harris: Chocolat
It was a dark and stormy night: Peter May: The Lewis Man
Full Moon: Edmund Crispin: Glimpses of the Moon
King of Fear: John Le Carré: Absolute Friends
Serial / Spree Killer: Steven Kramer, Paul Holes & Jim Clemente: Evil Has a Name
Classic Noir: Patricia Highsmith: Strangers on a Train
Classic Horror: Matthew G. Lewis: The Monk

Note: With regard to the extra squares, I added the image for the relevant square for every book completed (= “read”); and I am using my “called” markers for the main card to indicate “called and read”.

 

My Spreadsheet:

My Book Preselections Post: HERE

 

My Transfiguration Spells

Not used.

 

My “Virgin” Bingo Card:

Posted for ease of tracking and comparison.

 

 

Original post:
http://themisathena.booklikes.com/post/1942220/halloween-bingo-2019-tracking-post

Halloween Bingo 2019: Tracking Post — Bingo No. 3 and Reading Blackout

* Triple Bingo Happy Dance *

Well, that went by much faster than I had anticipated … Many thanks to Moonlight Reader and Obsidian Blue for hosting this game for the fourth year in a row, bigger and better than ever before!

I’ll continue tracking my bingos of course — and since we now have so many more great squares than can possibly fit on one person’s card, I’ll just continue reading for a few of the extra squares that didn’t make it onto mine.

And I hope everybody else is going to continue / start collecting bingos soon as well!

 

Weekly Status Updates and Reviews:

First Week
Second Week
Third Week

 

The Books:

International Woman of Mystery: Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments – finished September 29, 2019.
Locked Room Mystery: Clayton Rawson: Death from a Top Hat – finished September 23, 2019.
Murder Most Foul: Michael Gilbert: Smallbone Deceased – finished September 13, 2019.
Psych: Sofi Oksanen: Fegefeuer (The Purge) – finished September 17, 2019.
Read by Flashlight or Candle Light: The Lady Detectives: Four BBC Radio 4 Crime Dramatisations – finished September 20, 2019.

DeadLands: Terry Pratchett: Monstrous Regiment – finished September 26, 2019.
Fear the Drowning Deep: Delia Owens: Where the Crawdads Sing – finished September 25, 2019.
Relics and Curiosities: Patricia Wentworth: Eternity Ring – finished September 10, 2019.
Dark Academia: James Hilton: Was It Murder? – finished September 1, 2019.
Modern Noir: Joy Ellis: The Guilty Ones – finished September 21, 2019.

Ghost Stories: Nina Blazon: Siebengeschichten – finished September 1, 2019.
Gothic: Peter Ackroyd: Hawksmoor – finished September 9, 2019.
Free (Raven) Space: Agatha Christie: The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories – finished September 7, 2019.
Truly Terrifying: Bob Berman: Earth-Shattering – finished September 12, 2019.
Amateur Sleuth: Priscilla Royal: Wine of Violence – finished September 5, 2019.

Cryptozoologist: Terry Pratchett: Guards! Guards! – finished September 18, 2019.
Diverse Voices: Toni Morrison: Beloved – finished September 22, 2019.
Black Cat: Jim Butcher: The Aeronaut’s Windlass – finished September 16, 2019.
Creepy Crawlies: Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Gods of Jade and Shadow – finished September 7, 2019.
Country House Mystery: Anthony Rolls: Scarweather – finished September 14, 2019.

Spellbound: Zen Cho: Sorcerer to the Crown – finished September 6, 2019.
A Grimm Tale: Ellen Datlow & Terry Windling (eds.): The Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales – finished September 4, 2019.
Creepy Carnivals: Fredric Brown: The Dead Ringer – finished September 12, 2019.
Paint It Black: Trudi Canavan: The Magicians’ Guild – finished September 20, 2019.
Cozy Mysteries: Margery Allingham: The White Cottage Mystery – finished September 19, 2019.

 

My Square Markers

 

Called but not read

Read but not called

Read and Called

Center Square: Read and Called

 

My Spreadsheet:

My Book Preselections Post: HERE

 

My Transfiguration Spells

Not used.

 

My “Virgin” Bingo Card:

Posted for ease of tracking and comparison.

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1942220/halloween-bingo-2019-tracking-post-bingo-no-3-and-reading-blackout

Priscilla Royal: Wine of Violence


The first book of Priscilla Royal’s longstanding medieval mystery series focusing on Eleanor, Prioress of (fictional) Tyndall Priory in Norfolk.

This is a series I’ve long wanted to start and that I had penciled in as a “definite” for this year’s bingo.  In fact, by the time I began reading this book, I had already started Zen Cho’s dismal Sorcerer to the Crown, and coming after two so-so short story collections and looking at a book (in Sorcerer to the Crown) that I’d definitely have DNF’d if it hadn’t been for Halloween Bingo, I decided a change of pace was more than called for.

As I was / am new to the series, of course I didn’t know for sure this was going to be the book that would deliver the goods, but I’d seen and heard enough about it to be reasonably confident, and Ms. Royal essentially won me over with her preface, where she sets out her approach — as well as the series’s real life background — and which shows just how much research she’d put into it.  And after the first couple of chapters I knew for sure I’d hit on a winner: The period atmosphere is finely crafted, the characters are fully rounded and believable (even if Eleanor — period allowances notwithstanding — sometimes comes across as a bit too worldly-wise for her age), and the mystery plotting is solid, never mind that it did peter out a bit towards the obvious towards the end.  But for a “first in the series”, this was a very satisfying read and exactly what the doctor ordered at the time.

Halloween Bingo 2019: The First Week

So, on the plus side, despite serious RL interventions progress on my card is well under way, with four squares (including the centre / free / raven square) marked “called and read”; three of these in a row — plus reading for the remaining two squares of that row also in progress — and several more options in place to go for a bingo, depending how the next couple of calls come out.

On the downside, I seriously hope my book selections are going to improve.  Except for Priscilla Royal’s Wine of Violence, which delivered all that I had hoped from it and then some, most of the first bingo week’s books fell well short of my expectations.  It’s not that they were awful (with one significant exception), but they could have been so much more, and that’s obviously what I’d been hoping for.  I hope with yesterday’s spontaneous revisit of Agatha Christie’s Regatta Mystery and Other Stories and the book I started (also yesterday) for the Gothic square, Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor, I’ve finally turned that corner.  (Ditto my planned read for today’s call, Black Cat — Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass.)

Still, apologies if the tone of some of the below should rub anybody the wrong way — I’m moderately miffed with my bingo books so far.

N.B.: Below I am, with one exception, using the relevant audiobook covers, as with most of these books I either went back and forth between the print and the audiobook version or I listened to the audiobook throughout (even though I do also own the print version).

 

The Books

 
James Hilton: Was it Murder?

My 2019 pre-bingo read and actually a fairly decent start into the game.  And yes, this is “the” James Hilton of Goodbye Mr. Chips and Lost Horizon — actually, in a number of ways this book was probably Hilton’s dry run for Goodbye Mr. Chips.

Hilton’s protagonist jokingly describes writing a novel a young Oxbridge graduate’s rite of passage, and that may very well have been what was at work with Hilton himself here, too, tapping into the interwar period’s craze for mysteries to boot.  It’s a good thing he eventually decided to leave the “mystery” bit behind — but what really does stand out in this book is the very well-crafted public school atmosphere.

(For those who are interested, this book was originally published under the pseudonym Glen Trevor, and later also republished with the somewhat spoilery title Murder at School.)

 


Nina Blazon: Siebengeschichten

A collection of short stories featuring ghosts and other supernatural elements, set in places ranging from Ireland, England and the U.S. to Sweden, Iceland, France and Japan.  (Perhaps a minor point, but why not also in the author’s own Germany and Slovenia?  Indeed, in some — though not all — of the stories the choice of the setting feels entirely random.)

The title literally translates as “Sevenstories” and turns out to be merely a fancy way of saying “this is a collection of seven stories”; it’s not an allusion to any particular feature of the book.  Based on the fact that the entry that’s obviously intended as a tribute to Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray manages to get the core element of Wilde’s novel only halfway right I’m not wholly confident about the author’s research into the supernatural elements from other cultures she uses and with which I am less familiar (especially those from Japanese mythology and folklore), but that aside, I’ve spent a few moderately entertaining hours with this book.  The two standout entries are probably a fairly well-crafted Stephen King-type “Christmas horror” story and a tribute to the Icelandic troll folklore; followed by a story (randomly set in France) playing on mirrors and on the question what is real and what is perception.  By and large, though, it’s not a major loss to the non-German speaking public that so far this collection doesn’t seem to have been translated into English.

 


Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling (eds.); Various Authors: A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales

Considering that according to the preface the authors of this collection are supposed to be exploring “the dark side” of fairy tales, most of the stories here come across as unexpectedly light and fluffy.  Maybe this is due to the fact that I actually grew up with the real thing — the Grimm Brothers’, Hans Christian Andersen’s, Charles Perrault’s and Wilhelm Hauff’s original tales, instead of their Disney versions (which the authors of this collection’s preface blame for the modern-day bowdlerization of fairy tales and our perception of them) — but even today I find those original tales decidedly scarier (and also more interesting) than most of the stories in this collection, even if I do credit the authors’ frequently original approach in giving them a contemporary context.  If it hadn’t been for the Garth Nix’s Hansel’s Eyes and Patricia McKillip’s update on The Twelve Dancing Princesses, both of which are truly superb (and do deliver on the “dark side” premise — in spades), this would have been a three-star read for me at most.

 


Priscilla Royal: Wine of Violence

The first book of Priscilla Royal’s longstanding medieval mystery series focusing on Eleanor, Prioress of (fictional) Tyndall Priory in Norfolk.

This is a series I’ve long wanted to start and that I had penciled in as a “definite” for this year’s bingo.  In fact, by the time I began reading this book, I had already started Zen Cho’s dismal Sorcerer to the Crown (see below), and coming after two so-so short story collections and looking at a book (in Sorcerer to the Crown) that I’d definitely have DNF’d if it hadn’t been for Halloween Bingo, I decided a change of pace was more than called for.

As I was / am new to the series, of course I didn’t know for sure this was going to be the book that would deliver the goods, but I’d seen and heard enough about it to be reasonably confident, and Ms. Royal essentially won me over with her preface, where she sets out her approach — as well as the series’s real life background — and which shows just how much research she’d put into it.  And after the first couple of chapters I knew for sure I’d hit on a winner: The period atmosphere is finely crafted, the characters are fully rounded and believable (even if Eleanor — period allowances notwithstanding — sometimes comes across as a bit too worldly-wise for her age), and the mystery plotting is solid, never mind that it did peter out a bit towards the obvious towards the end.  But for a “first in the series”, this was a very satisfying read and exactly what the doctor ordered at the time.

 


Zen Cho: Sorcerer to the Crown

As indicated above, I knew early on that if it hadn’t been for Halloween Bingo I’d have DNF’d this book, and I was tempted to do just that right until the very end.

When I began composing this post, I didn’t think I was going to write much more than “infantile drivel” in my summary of Cho’s book, but as I’ve since had an exchange with BT on it here, I might as well copy over what I said in that conversation (with a copy of minor add-ons to round out the picture):

The premise of this book sounded really good — and this shall teach me (again) not to buy into hype.  Essentially, it turns out that this is fanfiction for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (and probably also for Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, though I haven’t read those books, so I can’t say for sure), written by an author who wouldn’t even know how to craft ordinary adult communication if hit over the head with it (way above and beyond “mere” TSTL behavior), and whose idea of
(1) politics (both domestic and international, including and in particular early 19th century British politics),
(2) power (including the thought processes, actions, responses, strategies and priorities of those wielding it, in politics, business / civil society associations, and elesewhere) and
(3) not least, magic (!)
is strictly kindergarten level.

Add to that plot holes and inconsistencies big enough to drive several carriages through and a complete lack of Georgian society atmosphere (note to the author: absent a coherent whole, the description of ball gowns and interiors or the mention of carriages does not replace the creation of period atmosphere), against which the use of isolated speech patters obviously copied from Austen (such as “do not you” / “is not he” interrogative constructions) comes across as nothing short of gimmicky.

The only reason why I am rating this 1 1/2 stars (instead of 1/2 or even 0) is that Cho makes the attempt to address both race and gender issues in the context of her book.  Unfortunately, however, that alone is by far not enough to salvage the decidedly less-than-workmanlike execution of the whole.

I’m not the biggest fan of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — the beginning, the end, and the world building are superb, but for me it seriously dragged in the middle — but I’ll be the first to recognize that it really does accomplish something new and original.  If there has to be fanfic for it, at least let it be something that at least halfway stands up to the original.

That said, I’ve given the audio version an extra half star and promoted Jenny Sterlin straight to my “you can read me the phone book” list of narrators, as she essentially did just that and still managed to make at least bits of it actually sound more interesting and “alive” than taken straight off the page.

 


Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Gods of Jade and Shadow

A (largely) modernized retelling of the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Mayas, set in 1920s Mexico.  The beginning easily draws the reader in, Casiopeia is a likeable enough (and well-drawn enough) heroine, and the book has an — albeit somewhat sketchy — recognizable 1920s atmosphere with an initial rural Yucatán setting that likewise rings true.

What does eventually drag the book down significantly, however, is its absolutely casual treatment of the supernatural elements of its story and more particularly, the elements of the specific context in which it is set.  Let’s make no mistake: Casiopeia moves among the gods of the Mayan underworld; i.e., in a world that was, at least to the extent that the Mayas had integrated part of the Aztec and Toltec beliefs and rituals into their own religion, controlled by an absolutely merciless, cruel and bloody death cult; and it is precisely this cult that plays out in the Popol Vuh.  And yet we’re to believe that our heroine not only zips back and forth across Mexico alongside the supreme ruler of just that world without the slightest bit of fear but she actually talks back to him out of nothing more than spite without ever incurring his wrath (and I mean wrath, not some sort of minor dislike) — and without suffering severe personal consequences as a result?  Not on your life.

I can buy some of the scenes and exchanges towards the end of the book, because we’re told he becomes progressively more human, weaker and more vulnerable (and “of course” he falls in love with our heroine), but at the beginning and, say, during the first half of the story?  Nope.  Just — no.  Not in a million years.  (Also, the descent from all-powerful deity to something at least approaching mortality should be absolutely enormous here.  Instead of which, it barely registers.  No, nope, and no again.)  Ditto, to an only marginally lesser extent, the other creatures endowed with supernatural powers that Casioipeia encounters.  Ditto, also, the final conflict arising out of the two protagonists’ changing nature, which is only partially developed and ultimately resolved in a way too convenient way.

As a side note to those who are planning to read this book for the Creepy Crawlies bingo square: Don’t despair — the justification for this square does eventually show up, even if you have to wait quite a while for it.  Fortunately (for me at least) it’s not the nightmare-inducing sort.

 


Agatha Christie: The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories

I decided I needed a palate cleanser towards the end of the week, and there’s nothing better than a book by Agatha Christie to serve that purpose.  (Since she is also one of my quintessential “go to” bingo authors, it seemed only fitting to use this collection for the center / raven square.)  I know both this collection as such and have also listened to all of the audio recordings of each of the stories collected here, but that didn’t take away in the slightest from the joy of revisiting them.  Here’s to finding more along similarly solid lines for the rest of my bingo reading!

 


Peter Ackroyd: Hawksmoor

In progress since last night — off to a phantastic start.  Fingers crossed.

 


Bob Berman: Earth-Shattering

The Flat Book Society’s September 2019 read.  I haven’t progressed very far yet (so far, it seems to be along the lines of “astrophysics for total beginners”), but if it’s done one thing already, it’s demonstrated that the forces involved in the Big Bang (and similar cosmic cataclysms) more than justify its use for the Truly Terrifying bingo square.

 

The Card

… as of today; with my “virgin” card below for reference:

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1948717/halloween-bingo-2019-the-first-week

All 61 squares revealed: 19 through 38 (Mystery / Suspense & Supernatural)

Reblogged from: Moonlight Reader

 

The Mystery & Supernatural squares!

The Mystery Squares:

  

19. Genre: Mystery: anything that fits into the mystery genre. Book list linked here.

20. Amateur Sleuth: this mystery will have a main character who is not a member of law enforcement. This can include retired police officers and private detectives. Book list linked here.

21. Baker Street Irregulars: mystery that involves children/teens in crime solving. Book list linked here.

  

22. Classic Noir: mysteries published prior to 1980 with noir elements, including authors like Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich and Dashiell Hammett. Book list linked here.

23. Country House Mystery:  a closed circle murder set during a gathering like a house party. Book list linked here.

24. Cozy Mystery:  a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. Book list linked here.

 

25. Genre: Suspense: anything that fits into the suspense genre. Book list linked here.

26. Locked Room Mystery: a subgenre of detective fiction in which a crime (almost always murder) is committed in circumstances under which it was seemingly impossible for the perpetrator to commit the crime or evade detection in the course of getting in and out of the crime scene. Book list linked here.

27. Modern Noir:  mystery with noir elements, including authors like James Ellroy, Ian Rankin, anything that falls generally under the category of Nordic Noir, Tartan Noir, Granite Noir, etc; Book list linked here.

 

28. Romantic Suspense: any romance which has a significant sub-plot that involves mystery, thriller or suspense; also gothic romance. Book list linked here.

29. Serial/Spree Killer: a sub-genre of crime fiction that involves the detection of serial or spree killers. Book list linked here.

30. Murder Most Foul: any murder mystery. Book list linked here.

 

The Supernatural Squares:

  

31. Cryptozoologist: any supernatural creature, from Ammit to Ziz. Check out the book lists for monsters, vampires, shifters, or deadlands.

32. Deadlands:  elements of the undead – zombies, wights, vampires and other revenants; Book list linked here.

33. Ghost Stories: any story involving ghosts or hauntings – includes haunted houses. Book list linked here.

  

34. Magical Realism: a style of fiction that paints a realistic view of the modern world while also adding magical elements Book list linked here.

35. Shifters: werewolves, skin-walkers and all other therianthropes. Book list linked here.

36. Spellbound: books containing witches, warlocks, sorcerors and witchcraft; Book list linked here.

 

37. Supernatural: mystery, suspense or horror books which include elements that defy current understanding of the natural world, including magic, witchcraft and/or crypto-zoological aspects. Book list linked here.

38. Vampires: vampires, preferably non-sparkly, in all of their glorious fictional permutations. Book list linked here.

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1933536/all-61-squares-revealed-19-through-38

Halloween Bingo 2019 PreParty — Question for 08/08 (Day 8): Favorite Past Halloween Bingo Squares?

Being more of a mystery than a horror reader, of course I like all of the mystery squares — as well as the squares adding diversity to the game (“Diverse Authors”, “Terrifying Women”, and the new “International Women of Mystery”) and the squares that allow me to sneak in a Terry Pratchett book or three (“Supernatural”, “Witches” / “Spellbound” — the latter also for other reasons).

But truth be told, the squares I am enjoying most are those calling for a specific topical reading prompt, e.g. “Full Moon”, “Creepy Carnivals”, or “In the Dark, Dark Woods”; as well as those calling for a specific regional or calendarial setting (“Darkest London”, “Southern Gothic”, “Set on Halloween”, etc.).  For one thing, these are the prompts that particularly showcase our bingo hosts’ creativity, and for another, what always amazes me is the wide selection of books that fit these categories — for each of them, you can go all the way from romantic suspense to the most gruesome and terrifying horror and still find something that matches the square’s requirements.  They’re also the squares that make me take the closest looks at the books on my TBR, reading book descriptions etc. and looking for matches, which in turn increases my anticipation of the game!

Here’s a compilation of my favorite squares from bingos past (in alphabetical order, regardless of year) … added to which, I have to say that I also love every single one of the new squares MR has so far introduced in connection with this year’s game.  To mark the fact that yet another thing about bingo I’m truly enjoying are the group and (impromptu) buddy reads, I’m also including the “Reads with BookLikes friends” square from the 2016 bingo card — even if group and buddy reads are by now such an ingrained part of the game that a square specifically calling for them seems highly superfluous at this point.

 

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1932865/halloween-bingo-2019-preparty-question-for-08-08-day-8-favorite-past-halloween-bingo-squares

Halloween Bingo 2017: Update 3, Part 2 — Catching up on Reviews

 

The “bingo” squares and books read:

  

 

My Square Markers and “Virgin” Bingo Card:

“Virgin” card posted for ease of tracking and comparison.


Black Kitty:
Read but not called


Black Vignette:
Called but not read

Black Kitty in Black Vignette: Read and Called

Black Kitty Center Square: Read = Called

Current Status of Spreadsheet:

(Note: Physical print editions unless stated otherwise)

 

Books Read / Listened to – Update 3:


Martin Edwards: The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books

The standout read among this batch of bingo books; a tour de force parcours through 50 years of British crime writing (from 1900 to 1950), with sidelights on authors and books published in the U.S., continental Europe, Argentina and Japan.  Martin Edwards is concurrently President of the Crime Writers’ Association and the Detection Club, but more importantly for present purposes, he was the Detection Club’s first archivist: In my first reading status update I compared this book to what it would sound like if you get a walking encyclopedia talking, and to the print equivalent of having your favorite actor reading the phone book, but what could easily have been bone-dry in another author’s hands makes for a more than compelling read in Edwards’s.

Though the “100 books” (in effect, 102) chosen to exemplify the various stages and aspects of British crime writing as it emerged in the first half of the 20th century are the primary narrative vehicle, each section of the book has a short introductory chapter, and it’s these in particular that make your head spin, because they’re jam-packed with references to all manner of crime fiction, from the unduly forgotten to the justly remembered — on average, no less than 20 books per chapter (and in some chapters, over 40). In fact, it is this “cramming” that ultimately made the book a tiny fraction less than a 5-star read for me: I’d either have appreciated more space to explore some of these other books at greater leisure, too, or, as this would probably have blown the book up by the hundredfold, maybe in the end less would occasionally have been more after all.

That all being said, I’m doubtlessly going to refer back to Martin’s book frequently from here on out when exploring the countless new authors, Great Detectives and series I’ve been introduced to, and I’m also OCD enough to have started creating reading lists on Google and BookLikes for all the books mentioned by Edwards (NB: in the Google version, later amplified by the books Edwards mentions in The Golden Age of Murder):

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books & The Golden Age of Murder: List of all books referenced

The BookLikes Breakup:
The “100 Books” Presented

Other Books Mentioned:
Part 1: Chapters 1 – 5
Part 2: Chapters 6 & 7
Part 3: Chapters 8 – 10
Part 4: Chapters 11 – 15
Part 5: Chapters 16-20
Part 6: Chapters 21-24

 



Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights
(Prunella Scales & Samuel West audio)

It’s with no small amount of surprise that I find myself registering a 4 1/2 star rating and a “favorite” check for this audio recording of Emily Brontë’s one and only novel.

Though I didn’t have any doubts that the mother and son team of Prunella Scales and Samuel West would pull off a stellar performance (which they of course did), Wuthering Heights has so far, in my perception, always veered dangerously close to the over-the-top melodramatic, with more than an occasional foray into the very heart of that territory, which is not my line of country at all.  Yet, actually hearing the bulk of the story being told by Prunella Scales in the voice of a down-to-earth Yorkshire woman — Nelly Dean — opened up a whole new perspective for me, and even the high drama of “I am Heathcliff“, “he’s more myself than I am” and “be with me always — take any form — drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! … I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!” for the first time came across as totally believable to me — because it wasn’t told in the voice of the novel’s equally tempestuous author (if contemporaneous characterizations are to be believed), but rather, in the voice of a sympathetic friend and surrogate mother, who genuinely cares for the speakers and worries about them but is apt to take a step back from their outbursts and relates those outbursts more in sorrow than in anguish.

The novel’s format doesn’t place Mr. Lockwood’s (here: Samuel West’s) framework narration on nearly the same footing as that of Nelly Dean, so the bulk of the narration is Prunella Scales’s, but I particularly also enjoyed the “handover” moments from the outer framework to Nelly Dean’s story.  They are brief enough moments of dialogue, but in this recording they “clicked” seamlessly, like perfectly matching links of a well-made chain.

So, while of all the Brontës’ novels, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre (which I also revisited this summer on audio) will probably always remain my favorite, I enjoyed this particular return to Wuthering Heights much more than I anticipated and will probably revisit it more often and with greater enjoyment than I initially thought.

 


Simon Brett: An Amateur Corpse

An actor and BBC broadcast journalist in addition to being a writer, Simon Brett is one of Martin Edwards’s predecessors as President of the Detection Club.  In the early 1970s he began writing a series of mysteries centering on an actor named Charles Paris; this is the fourth of these books.  Paris is invited to do a “critics circle” live discussion review of an amateur theatre production of Chekhov’s Seagull, but before he even gets to give his talk, the company’s new leading lady (the only professional actor in their midst) is found strangled.

Given that the edition of this mystery which I own is part of a four-book omnibus including the first four installments of the series that I acquired used and dirt-cheap, I may well give this series another shot at a later time; however, this particular novel (written in 1975) hasn’t aged very well and was a rather uncomfortable reminder of all the reasons why I’m really not sorry to have left the 1970s far, far behind (the part that I consciously lived through, in any event) … I don’t think the occasional whiff of staleness emanating from the pages of the book was due to its external condition alone.  I was also less than enchanted with Mr. Paris’s midlife crisis woes and attitude towards women and commitment, and his insufferably arrogant stance vis-à-vis amateur theatricals, however ill-informed or pretentious they may be in turn.

That being said, the writing itself is OK, the murderer’s alibi was cleverly plotted, Paris’s reasons for getting involved with the investigation in the first place (worry about the chief suspect under arrest, the victim’s husband, who is a friend of his, and guilt over having gone along with said friend’s drowning his woes in booze instead of trying to provide some more substantial support) came across as just about credible enough, and some of Paris’s deductions were nicely drawn; even though the final clue was — incredibly — as far-fetched as it was, at the same time, telegraphed narratively from ten miles away, and the ultimate path to the solution was (literally) more a case of stumbling over it than brain work à la Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes.  So, as I said, I may well give the series another shot at a later point in time.  It probably won’t be anytime very soon, though.

 

The Medieval Murderers: House of Shadows

The Medieval Murderers round robin series is, literally, one of those products of an idle evening at the pub — I guess that’s what you’ll get when you have five authors of medieval whodunits talking shop over a pint or two (or three …) of ale.  Permanent members of the group, which itself goes by the name “Medieval Murderers”, too, are Michael Jecks (another past President of the Detection Club), Bernard Knight, Philip Gooden, Ian Morson and Susanna Gregory; with Karen Maitland and C.J. Sansom having joined for individual installments of the series.

All but one Medieval Murderers books are moulded on essentially the same template, in that they follow one particular (allegedly) “doomed” or “cursed” object from the (typically: early) Middle Ages to the present day in several separate but interlinked episodes, written by the group’s individual members and typically featuring their “own” individual series protagonists; the sole exception being, so far, The Deadliest Sin, which is modeled on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales — themselves also a round robin of sorts, modeled in turn on Boccaccio’s Decameron.

In House of Shadows, the series’s third installment, the “object” whose journey the writers and their protagonists follow is Bermondsey Abbey, a real life monastery founded in the 11th century by Cluniac monks near the banks of the River Thames, opposite the Tower.  The abbey, rich and influential in the Middle Ages, was dissolved under Henry VIII and subequently repeatedly built over; it seems to have been the abbey ruins’ excavation in the early 2000s — in the course of the construction of a huge shopping and office complex now forming part of the newly- and substantially-gentrified Bermondsey and Southwark shoreline — that apparently inspired the premise and opening chapter(s) of House of Shadows.  The authors do go to some lenghts to assure the reader, however, that the events placing a curse on the abbey at the beginning of this book are fictitious (as are the plotlines of the subsequent chapters), and though not inconceivable in the so-called “Dark Ages”, it would indeed be shocking for a medieval house of God to have been carrying such a terrible legacy.

While the individual chapters’ storylines are thus fictitious, again as in many Medieval Murderers books, real, documented historic persons are used in the stories alongside fictitious characters, and the research into details of social and geographical history is solid.  Also as with virtually all round robin efforts (not just by this particular group), the writerly approach varies both in style and in quality, and this installment of the Medieval Murderers series does not necessarily show all of the participants at the top of their game.  Still, it’s enjoyable enough, some of the chapters really are a delight to read, and once more as is so frequently the case, the sum total is decidedly more than its constituent parts.

 
Sketches of medieval Bermondsey Abbey
(Sources: Wikipedia (left) and South London Guide (right))


Bermondsey Abbey ground plan (source: British Library)


Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder (attr. — formerly attr. John Hofnagel): A Fête at Bermondsey (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


Bermondsey Abbey excavations and memorial plaque
(sources: Wikipedia (left) and London Remembers (right))

The sacred taper’s lights are gone,
Grey moss has clad the altar-stone,
The holy image is o’erthrown,
The bell has ceased to toll:
The long-ribb’d aisles are burst and shrunk,
The holy shrine to ruin sunk,
Departed is the pious monk;
God’s blessing on his soul!”
Sir Walter Scott: Bermondsey

Bermondsey Abbey history and excavation (YouTube)

 
Bermondsey shoreline today (photo mine)

 

Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle
(Bernadette Dunne audio)

Terrifying women all around with this one — Shirley Jackson delivers every single time when it comes to sheer psychology-based horror (and so, for that matter, do her characters).  You’re barely ten minutes into the story, and you’re already supremely uneasy — and boy, does this ever have a slow, peeling-away-layer-by-layer burn ending in a gigantic dynamite fuse.  There’s no way to write about this book without instantly giving away spoilers, so I … just won’t, even though most people here are probably already familiar with the story anyway.  Truly masterful storytelling, in any event; truly unsettling social commentary and, in the audio version I own, also truly masterfully rendered by Bernadette Dunne.  I started listening to this one night when I really should have gone to bed much earlier — and ended up finishing the complete audio in a single sitting; there was no way I could have stopped, even though ultimately it was solely due to my being crash-and-knocked-out tired from entirely unrelated RL exertions that I was able to sleep afterwards at all.

And finally:

… an audiobook extravaganza, though in the case of the Edgar Allan Poe, Ngaio Marsh and Agatha Christie books (see below), I do own paper copies of the respective novels, too, and have read them before; this was strictly in the spirit of revisiting them in a different medium.  (Hah.  So much for “I’m going to use this square to do something about those books on my mystery TBR that I can’t fit into any other bingo square, because clearly something needs to be done about reducing that stack” …)


To start off — well, let’s be honest, how could I possibly not use an audio collection entitled Murder Most Foul for this particular square?!

This is a collection of eight short stories by different authors, read with great aplomb by five well-known British actors.  It starts of with Bluebeard’s Bath by Margery Allingham — read by Patrick Malahide –, a “non-Campion” twist on the black widow trope (the twist being, as the title implies, that here it’s a black widower), which derives most of its suspense from the fact that it is told from the murderer’s perspective.– 4 1/2 stars for this story individually; it’s one of the strongest of this lot.

Next is Wilkie Collins‘s Who Killed Zebedee? (read by Derek Jacobi), which concerns the death of a lodger in an apartment house, and a would-be accidental amateur sleuth’s attempt to clear the woman with whom he is infatuated from the suspicion of murder. (3 stars, individually — Collins himself could do better, and the story doesn’t really measure up to the rest of this collection, either.)

The third story is An Alpine Divorce by Robert Barr (read by Brian Cox), where a married couple that has come to secretly hate each other’s guts vacations in the Alps … with starkly differing notions as to how those vacations are supposed to end, and with a deliciously-executed evil twist at the end. — Easily 4 stars.

Barr’s story is followed by Edward Hardwicke‘s reading of Arthur Conan Doyle‘s The Speckled Band: Although overall I prefer the Derek Jacobi and Stephen Fry readings of the Holmes canon, it’s always a true pleasure, too, to have a story narrated by the actor who was Watson to Jeremy Brett’s Holmes for the better part of my personal “Sherlock Holmes to end all Sherlock Holmes” series, and certainly nobody nails Holmes’s occasionally strident tone as well as the man who was at the receiving end of that very tone for a considerable amount of time (even though in real life Brett and Hardwicke got along like a house on fire, and when Brett’s illness reared its ugly head, Hardwicke was the first to be protective of him). — I already own several collections of Sherlock Holmes stories read by Hardwicke, and this reading nicely complements those collections. (5 stars — this is a stand-out even in Conan Doyle’s amazing body of work.)

The next story is probably my favorite of the lot — next to the Holmes entry, obviously, and with Allingham’s offering not far behind: P.C. Wren‘s The Perfect Crime (read, again, by Brian Cox), which is based on the explicit premise that yes, “there is in fact such a thing as the perfect crime: I know, because I have committed one.”  As in Allingham’s story, the chief element of suspense is derived from the fact that the story is told strictly from the murderer’s perspective, and again similar to Allingham’s story, the plot is constructed so as to slowly and deliciously peel away layer by layer, with a slow burn that ends in a supremely devious final twist. — 5 solid stars as well.

The final three stories (like Wilkie Collins’s) are made of weaker stuff than the three highlighted above in particular:

Sapper‘s Thirteen Lead Soldiers (again read by Edward Hardwicke) is a story from the “Bulldog Drummond” canon whose crucial twist turns, as the title implies, on a collection of toy soldiers that one participant of a secret meeting of high-ranking international diplomats (to which Drummond has been invited at Scotland Yard’s suggestion in an effort to highten security) has made for and gifted to the hosting nobleman’s son.  This is both a “whodunit” and a “howdunit” — where Drummond manages to foil the murderer’s intentions to rather lasting effect — and though I didn’t care enough to try and unravel every last detail of the solution in advance, both “whodunit” and the basic outline of “howdunit” are fairly easy to work out. (3 1/2 stars, individually.)

Algernon Blackwood‘s First Hate (read by Derek Jacobi) is based on the contention that, just as there is such a thing as love at first sight, there is also such a thing as purely instinctive “hate at first sight” — quod erat demonstrandum by way of an “around the fireplace” narration of just such an encounter, with a competition for the hand of a woman thrown in as a sideline (or as a more plausible motive?  I couldn’t make up my mind which was which, and ultimately didn’t care), and with an ending high up in the Canadian Rockies — where the story moves from its London beginnings — that for all practical purposes amounts to cold-blooded murder dressed up as self-defense … unless you buy into the central premise, which I manifestly don’t.  (Jacobi doesn’t seem to, either; this is definitely not one of his most convincing narrations, and coming from someone who’d willingly listen to him reciting the phone book, that should tell you something in and of itself.) — 2 1/2 stars, because I’m feeling generous and because Blackwood still knows how to tell a story, even if it’s a supremely implausible one.  Also, um, Derek Jacobi.

Finally, Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Markheim (read by Jack Shepherd) is highly atmospheric and skillfully constructed until about its halfway point (or shortly thereafter): It starts with a customer’s (the eponymous Markheim’s) visit to a pawnbroker’s store on Christmas Eve and the exchange between the customer and the pawnbroker, which after a short while ends in murder.  There’s a nice, slow build-up to the murder itself (which build-up even includes an adroitly-executed slight of hand), and a further slow burn while the murderer is rifling the shop and trying to cover his tracks.  However, then we literally get a deus ex machina appearance that radically changes the state of play, and unfortunately that was the point where Stevenson lost me. — 3 1/2 stars, chiefly for the story’s first part; a writer of Stevenson’s caliber shouldn’t have needed (or even explicitly sought) any deus ex machina, and certainly not this one; not even in a story set on Christmas Eve.

 

Edgar Allan Poe: The Dupin Stories — The Murders in the Rue Morgue / The Mystery of Marie Rogêt / The Purloined Letter
(Kerry Shale audio)

I debated using this for either the “Locked Room” or the “Classic Horror” bingo square, but there was compelling competition for both of those, and anyway, I already knew the stories and chiefly bought this CD for Kerry Shale’s narration: Ever since I first listenend to his audio versions of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance cycle, I’ve been on the lookout for further recordings featuring him.

Edgar Allan Poe is credited with having created the first professional detective in C. Auguste Dupin — a fact that, unsurprisingly, doesn’t go down particularly well with Sherlock Holmes when mentioned to him by Dr. Watson — and in fact, Dupin and Holmes share a number of traits and abilities, including their disdain (benevolent or not) for the professional police, their reliance on “trifles” (apparently unimportant details), and their rather astonishing ability to deduct another person’s silent, unvoiced thoughts by “reasoning backwards” and then thoroughly startle the other person by explicitly responding to those very thoughts.  But while Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories rely on Holmes’s fully-rounded character, as well as action and plot development as much as on Holmes’s deductive methods and invite the reader along on the investigation, Poe’s “stories of ratiocination” — once Dupin has been (or considers himself) called on  to help solve the case — are almost exclusively a rendition of Dupin’s own thought processes and reasoning.  This, to me, makes them somewhat more monotonous and consequently somewhat less easy to follow than Conan Doyle’s (even with a splendid narrator like Kerry Shale).

The Murders in the Rue Morgue is one of the earliest locked room mysteries in the history of crime fiction; together with the even earlier Mademoiselle Scuderi by E.T.A. Hoffmann (which however is more “impossible crime” story than locked room mystery in the strict sense), and with Gaston Leroux’s Mystery of the Yellow Room, it pretty much laid down the template for this particular mystery subgenre.  Its solution is as, um, colorful as some of Dupin’s conclusions, however, and it requires a healthy portion of suspension of disbelief — here, too, both Conan Doyle and Leroux did better, and so did E.T.A. Hoffmann.

The Mystery of Marie Rogêt was Poe’s response to a widely-publicized real life murder case in New York: Poe transposed the events to Paris and, through the voice of his fictional detective, set forth what he believed to be the solution of the case; dissecting, in the process, the various competing theories advanced by the newspapers writing about the murder — the only material that Poe himself had to go on.  (Despite its notoriety and the public hunt for the killer, the real life case of the murder of Mary Rogers still remains unsolved.)

The Purloined Letter, finally, is easily my favorite among the three Dupin stories: Like it would frequently be the case with his famous London colleague half a century later, our Paris detective is called on by a high government official (the Prefect of Police) with a request to assist in recovering a document which, in the wrong hands, might wreak all sorts of political havoc.  The solution to the case relies on both a rather brazen attitude by the culprit, which Dupin divines, and on an oversight that, I very much hope and trust, should not happen to any well-organized modern police force.  Dupin’s deductive process is sound and fun to watch, however, and we’re also invited in on a bit more of the chase than in the other stories.

 

Agatha Christie: Endless Night
(BBC full cast dramatization)

I said not so long ago that (barring Christie’s overwhelmingly abysmal final books) Endless Night isn’t exactly my favorite book by her and that I probably wouldn’t revisit it anytime soon — then this CD crossed my path for a song during a recent book store browse, and I figured it had to be karma, so here we are after all.

I’m still not exactly enchanted with the story (let alone its narrator and protagonist), though, and if there is one thing that this audio adaptation makes clear it is that this is a story that does not easily lend itself to the transformation to another medium — too subtle, nuanced and slow is the burn up to the final climax.  That said, the adaptation’s cast handles the material very well, and the script avoids the pitfalls that some of the novel’s incidental elements would undoubtedly create in less expert hands.  So, if you just want to know what happens in this novel, this is a decent enough introduction — just don’t expect the depth of the written original.

 

Dick Francis: Knockdown
(Tim Pigott-Smith audio)

I love horses and used to be an enthusiastic horseback rider throughout my entire school years, and I also love mysteries, so Dick Francis’s books were a natural go-to choice for me once upon a time.  Having revisited a Dick Francis novel after many years, though, I find that this, too, hasn’t weathered the passage of time particularly well, even though it’s still a pleasure to go horse trading with Mr. Francis and have him share his experience of life on and off the racetrack — and Mr. Pigott-Smith is another audio narrator who has once more solidified his hold on my attention.

Knockdown is the story of Jonah Dereham, an ex-steeplechase jockey turned bloodstock agent who gets into trouble when he takes a stance against a de-facto syndicate exploiting a gap in the rules of trading for purposes of profiteering at their clients’ (the horse owners’ and breeders’) expense.  The book doesn’t start out as a murder mystery — there’s plenty of assault and battery, arson, and other assorted violent behaviour (as well as, obviously, greed, extortion and [near-]fraudulent machinations), but the murders — several of them in quick succession — only happen once the profiteering racket’s chief organizer is beginning to feel the hounds closing in on him, with Jonah at their forefront.

 



 Ngaio Marsh:
Artists in Crime (Benedict Cumberbatch audio)

Overture to Death (Anton Lesser audio)

Death and the Dancing Footman (Anton Lesser audio)

Surfet of Lampreys (Anton Lesser audio)

Opening Night (aka Night at the Vulcan) (Anton Lesser audio)

Finally, my audio extravaganza consisted of a five-volume foray into Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn series, next to Agatha Christie’s, Dorothy Sayers’s, Margery Allingham’s and Patricia Wentworth’s one of the major Great Detective series of the Golden Age; taken together, these five writers are unquestionably the era’s “Queens of Crime.”  (I own print versions of all of Marsh’s novels, too, and pulled those in addition to the audio recordings.)

Of the five novels revisited, Death and the Dancing Footman had previously been my favorite novel and it continues to be so; it’s a slightly wacky country house locked-room mystery (so would also fit these two squares) where a group of guests with previously-existing antagonisms are invited to a house party … with predictable effects; and it certainly doesn’t help that the house is snowed in and thus locked off from its surroundings.

Death and the Dancing Footman is an intra-series sequel of sorts to Overture to Death, which is set in the village closest to the manor where Death and the Dancing Footman is set in turn, with the vicar from Overture to Death briefly making a reappearance as Alleyn’s and his wife’s host in Death and the Dancing Footman.

Marsh’s writing particularly shines where it focuses on characterization, and there are two settings — in addition to country house mysteries — ideally suited for this: village settings and the theatre. Overture to Death is a nice example of the former, Opening Night (published as Night at the Vulcan in the U.S.) of the latter. In Overture to Death, village jealousies and intrigues culminate in a rather cleverly-constructed “murder by piano” (with a built-in service revolver) on the day of the opening of the local amateur theatricals’ latest production. — Opening Night is set in London’s West End, at the (fictitious) Vulcan Theatre, which had already been the setting for Marsh’s second Alleyn novel, Enter a Murderer; and it concerns the “death by greasepaint” of an actor who has made one enemy to many in a cast of bickering performers; plus an idiosyncratic and irrascible playwright.  (The actor manager of the Vulcan is rather obviously modeled on Laurence Olivier — and he is not the only leading actor appearing in Marsh’s novels with whom that is the case.)  As Marsh herself was, first and foremost, a highly-reputed theatrical director who had built an especially solid reputation for her productions of the plays of William Shakespeare, this particular milieu was second nature to her, and consequently her portrayals of actors and the world of the theatre are a special delight to read — and a character’s aptitude at quoting Shakespeare is a near-infallible indication that he is likely one of the “good guys.”  (Obviously, Alleyn himself speaks Shakespeare fluently.)

Opening Night is, again (and very losely speaking), an intra-series sequel of sorts to Surfeit of Lampreys (in the U.S., published as Death of a Peer), where the death of the wealthy Lamprey family patriarch brings Alleyn into an investigative encounter with the dead peer’s quirky, chronically impoverished family — one of whose sons, as a result of the encounter, eventually seeks employment with the Metropolitan Police and returns as P.C. Lamprey in the later novel.

Artists in Crime, finally, is the novel where Alleyn meets his wife-to-be, the feisty, self-assured painter Agatha Troy.  Again, as Marsh (in addition to being a director and writer) was also a trained painter she could speak from experience when writing about Troy, who would become one of the series’s greatest assets and a great complement to “the nice detective” Roderick Alleyn.

Of the audio versions I listened to, I preferred the four read by Anton Lesser to the one by Benedict Cumberbatch (Artists in Crime): While Lesser clearly knew and appreciated the material, Cumberbatch did bring his considerable talent to bear, but it was rather obviously “just a job” to him and he knew nothing about the series.  This showed most obviously in his pronunciation of Alleyn’s name: Marsh had named her inspector for Elizabethan actor Edward “Ned” Alleyn, the star of the Lord Admiral’s Men (the chief competitors of William Shakespeare’s King’s Men), whose name was pronounced ALLen — and Marsh was adamant that this was how her inspector’s name was to be pronounced as well.  Anton Lesser knew and respected that — Cumberbatch didn’t, and to a fan of the series, it was seriously jarring to hear him saying All-EYN over and over again, particularly given the frequency with which the name appears.

 

Next Reads:

and


Angua!!

 

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)

 

Books Read / Listened to – Update 2:



Donna Andrews: Lord of the Wings


Ruth Rendell:
The Babes in the Wood

& Not in the Flesh

 


Robert Louis Stevenson: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

 


Cornell Woolrich: The Bride Wore Black

 Raymond Chandler:
Farewell, My Lovely

  The Long Goodbye

The High Window

 

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‘sCharlie 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’sMiraculous 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, orThe 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 Playeror 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 orThe 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 BonesorHearts 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’sDiscworld / 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.

 

Simon Brett: An Amateur Corpse

 

An actor and BBC broadcast journalist in addition to being a writer, Simon Brett is one of Martin Edwards’s predecessors as President of the Detection Club.  In the early 1970s he began writing a series of mysteries centering on an actor named Charles Paris; this is the fourth of these books.  Paris is invited to do a “critics circle” live discussion review of an amateur theatre production of Chekhov’s Seagull, but before he even gets to give his talk, the company’s new leading lady (the only professional actor in their midst) is found strangled.

Given that the edition of this mystery which I own is part of a four-book omnibus including the first four installments of the series that I acquired used and dirt-cheap, I may well give this series another shot at a later time; however, this particular novel (written in 1975) hasn’t aged very well and was a rather uncomfortable reminder of all the reasons why I’m really not sorry to have left the 1970s far, far behind (the part that I consciously lived through, in any event) … I don’t think the occasional whiff of staleness emanating from the pages of the book was due to its external condition alone.  I was also less than enchanted with Mr. Paris’s midlife crisis woes and attitude towards women and commitment, and his insufferably arrogant stance vis-à-vis amateur theatricals, however ill-informed or pretentious they may be in turn.

That being said, the writing itself is OK, the murderer’s alibi was cleverly plotted, Paris’s reasons for getting involved with the investigation in the first place (worry about the chief suspect under arrest, the victim’s husband, who is a friend of his, and guilt over having gone along with said friend’s drowning his woes in booze instead of trying to provide some more substantial support) came across as just about credible enough, and some of Paris’s deductions were nicely drawn; even though the final clue was — incredibly — as far-fetched as it was, at the same time, telegraphed narratively from ten miles away, and the ultimate path to the solution was (literally) more a case of stumbling over it than brain work à la Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes.  So, as I said, I may well give the series another shot at a later point in time.  It probably won’t be anytime very soon, though.