Halloween Bingo 2019 PreParty — Question for 08/07 (Day 7): Favorite Halloween Bingo Authors?

 

Going by the list of my favorite reads from years past, my favorite Halloween authors so far have been (in alphabetical order and not entirely surprisingly):

* Raymond Chandler
* Agatha Christie
* Arthur Conan Doyle
* James D. Doss
* Daphne Du Maurier
* E.T.A. Hoffmann
* Shirley Jackson
* Ngaio Marsh
* Peter May
* Sharyn McCrumb
* Edgar Allan Poe
* Terry Pratchett

All of these feature with anywhere from two to five favorite reads over the course of the past three bingos.

That said, Joy Ellis was a bingo 2018 discovery (perhaps the biggest discovery of last year’s bingo, in fact), and I’ve read several other books by her in the interim already, so I’m definitely going to try and wiggle another one of her mysteries into bingo 2019 as well.  Similarly Fredric Brown’s Ed & Am Hunter mysteries, another one of last year’s  great discoveries (huge hattip to Tigus!).  And even just generally speaking, I’m definitely planning to make room for some classic mysteries from both sides of the Atlantic.

On the other hand, it’s very much going to depend on the makeup of my card how much horror I’m going to (re)visit, be it classic or otherwise.  So even though I read two novellas by E.T.A. Hoffmann for bingo 2016, it’s not a given that I’ll return to his oeuvre this year; and the same is true for Poe (and virtually all other horror writers).

 

 

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2018 Halloween Bingo: The Books So Far

… in the order in which they’re appearing on my card (not the order in which they’ve read them).

Soooo … in this year’s twist on RL doing its best trying to throw a spanner in the works of Halloween Bingo fun, I’ve been spending the better part of the month either sitting around in conference rooms or glued to some piece of writing on my computer screen (or both).  Fortunately this has so far involved a fair amount of driving, too, so I’ve largely been able to shift my bingo reads to audiobooks … without, however, also having a whole lot of time to write reviews.  Looks like right now is one of those moments where I might have a shot at catching up — so let’s give this a try, shall we?

In other words: Halloween Bingo 2018: the (mostly) audiobook version.

 


Georgette Heyer: Penhallow

On the face of it, your classic country house mystery, country estate and horse farm in Cornwall and all; but Heyer wrote this as a contract breaker, and boy, does it ever show.  Neither seekers after romance and after knights in shiny armour nor seekers of a genteel country house atmosphere need apply here, and what might be termed “a somewhat crotchety original” in any other book (including but not limited to Heyer’s own), here is styled as a crass, meanspirited old family tyrant who likes nothing better than bullying each and every member of his vast and long-suffering family into submission and downright terror.  With the exception of two creations by Agatha Christie (Simeon Lee in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and Mrs. Boynton in Appointment with Death), I can’t think of any character in another mystery, Golden Age or not, who is so totally devoid of redeeming qualities.  However, while both of Christie’s two infamous bullies — who clearly come from he same mold as old Penhallow — meet their ends fairly early on in the respective books and thus relieve both the reader and their families of their continued presence, we (and Penhallow’s harassed household) have to suffer until almost the 65% mark of this book until someone’s nerves finally snap once and for all.  We actually get to witness the murder, so there’s no great mystery as to whodunnit — although I admit that for the longest time I kept hoping for a Christie-esque twist, but that was not to be.

(Also, though this is a far cry from George R.R. Martin, be careful which of the other characters you invest your sympathies in … though God knows, few enough of them deserve any empathy to begin with; but then, with old man Penhallow around, it’s hard to see how any of them could have grown both a spine and halfway decent manners at all.)

There’s some ambivalence as to the book’s two LGBT characters — one son of Penhallow’s who is obviously modeled on Oscar Wilde and who, apart from a few witticisms, comes across rather negatively and as checking off pretty much every anti-gay cliché in the book, and a daughter who, apart from being a bit “bossy”, is one of the few members of the younger generation endowed with a brain, a healthy dose of common sense, and the gumption to stand up to her father (albeit helped, no doubt, by the fact that she is also one of the few family members not financially dependent on the old man).

All in all, a far cry from your typical Heyer (or at least, from her mysteries — can’t speak to her Regency romances) — I’m not sorry I read it, but as far as grumpy old patriarchs and bickering families go, I vastly prefer one of her Inspector Hemingway mysteries, Envious Casca (republished as A Christmas Party).

Reading Progress Update: 120 of 833 Minutes

 


Patricia McKillip: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

My first book by McKillip; a short(ish) fantasy tale substantially in the traditional mold with a strong female heroine — a sorceress living on a mountainside high above the fighting human empires down in the plain; alone but for the company of a number of magical beasts.  At the risk of sounding jaded, the basic plotline (and the type of ending) is pretty much telegraphed from the very beginning; still, the characters are emphatically drawn, there are enough twists and turns over the course of the story to always ensure that the book held my attention, and I’m definitely interested in reading more books by McKillip in the future.

 


Mary Roberts Rinehart: Locked Doors

The second of Rinehart’s “Nurse Hilda Adams” stories; in terms of setup, of the “woman in peril” kind of tale that Rinehart specialized in — and which I’m usually not a fan of, but I’ll gladly make an exception here.  Nurse Hilda is the epitome of what is called a “feisty” young woman in certain types of fiction: especially taking into account that this story was written shortly after the turn of the last century (published in 1914), she is independent (and independently-minded) and able to take care of herself to an extraordinary degree, and thus makes for an admirable protagonist.

Here she takes a position in a stately home where, as she soon finds out, bedroom doors are locked at night, beloved pets go missing, all the servants have recently left or been let go, and there seems to be a strange, slithering presence on the stairway at night and a mystery madwoman (or invalid) in, you guessed it, the attic — but before you cry “Gothic cliché”, beware … just like Nurse Hilda, Rinehart actually had her feet planted firmly on the ground, and was also very much up to date with the state of medical knowledge and research, which in an unexpected way made this story an enjoyable companion read / listen to Jennifer Wright’s decidedly less enjoyable Get Well Soon.

I guess at some point I should also read Rinehart’s Circular Staircase, which I’m still not entirely sold on however, but I’ll definitely read more of her Nurse Hilda stories.

 


Joy Ellis: Their Lost Daughters

Why, oh why did anybody think that this book’s title (!!) needed an appendage such as “a gripping crime thriller with a huge twist” on Amazon (and likely thus also on every other site that draws its feed from Amazon and where there aren’t any librarians to do away with this sort of nonsense) in order to generate proper sales?!  That sort of hype is, ordinarily, a sure fire turn-off for me, and it almost would have been here, too, had Their Lost Daughters not been reviewed favorably by friends whose opinions I trust (and, cough, I admit the fact that the audio version is narrated by Richard Armitage helped as well).  As a result, I’d almost have missed out on one of the best books I read all year … and that makes me even madder at whoever was the eejit that came up with that super-hypey tag line.

Beyond the fact that this begins as a “missing girls” investigation, there is little I can say in terms of plot description that wouldn’t be a huge spoiler, so let’s just stick with the fact that Ellis draws the sombre, downright oppressing Fenlands setting very, very astutely and expressively, and her team of detectives (led by DI Rowan Jackman and DS Marie Evans) are among the most likeable, rounded, and overall believable investigators that have appeared on the mystery scene in recent years — and I also very much like Marie’s (Welsh) mother, who I hope is going to be a continued presence in the series, too.  That all said, and much as it pains me to admit it, the “huge twist” thing from Amazon’s abominable tagline is actually true: even if you think you sort of see part of the solution coming, you don’t clue into how it all hangs together until it’s unraveled right under your very nose.  (And lest anyone say the solution is too outlandish to be true, there are several real life cases published in the past couple of years that featured decidedly more gruesome facts, and which may easily have inspired this book’s solution; or at least, certain parts of it.)

 


Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber

Reviewed separately HERE.

 


Anthony Berkeley: The Wychford Poisoning Case

The fifth time, this year alone, that I’ve found myself running into a fictional incarnation of the (in)famous real life case of Florence Maybrick, the American-born Liverpool housewife convicted, in 1889, of having murdered her husband by administering to him a dose of arsenic obtained by soaking flypaper in water — allegedly in aid of concocting a beauty cream.  Mrs. Maybrick’s method, if indeed this was how her husband found his premature end, may have engendered several real-life copycats (including, most famously, just after the turn of the 20th century, Frederick Seddon and Herbert Rowse Armstrong … if the medical evidence given at their respective trials is to be believed, that is), and British mystery writers have downright flocked to her footsteps ever since in fiction as well.  Agatha Christie used a variation of the Maybrick case as a basis for Crooked House; Anthony Rolls based Family Matters on pretty much every salient detail of the Maybrick story except for the flypaper bit; which in turn, however, makes a starring appearance in P.D. James’s short story Great Aunt Ally’s Flypaper (later republished as The Boxdale Inheritance), which features a very young Sergeant (Inspector-to-be) Dalgliesh and is included in my very first read of this year, the P.D. James short story collection The Mistletoe Murder (as the title indicates, a “holdover” from my 2017 Christmas reads), as well as in the Detection Club anthology Verdict of 13, which I read for this year’s Halloween Bingo (see mini-review below).  Finally, also in that latter anthology, Christianna Brand has the real-life Mrs. Maybrick meet two other alleged, famous 19th century women poisoners in a story aptly entitled Cloud Nine.

No wonder, then, that Anthony Berkeley, like his fellow Detection Club members acutely aware of the criminal causes celèbres of his own and of bygone eras, would also seek inspiration in Mrs. Maybrick’s legacy.  Martin Edwards makes the case, in The Golden Age of Murder, that Berkeley’s books offer clues — perhaps more so than the books of his fellow Golden Age mystery novelists — to his own personality, experience, and outlook on life.  I haven’t read enough books by Berkeley yet to make up my mind how much I think there is to this theory, but if The Wychford Poisoning Case is any indication indeed, Mr. Berkeley (despite his reportedly boisterous persona) was, deep down, a very reticent and private man … and supremely uncomfortable around women, who are either “high” or “low”, either vamp, stupid chicken, naughty girl, mother, MissMarpleSilverBradleyVane incarnate, or grand dame, and only in the last-mentioned cases accorded a halfway rounded, three-dimensional, individual personality (with some allowances made in favor of girls from a decent background, who have the makings of turning either into true ladies / grand dames, or into women detectives or fiction writers, or even into all of the above, later in life).  There are passages in this book that are redolent with blatant misogyny, and yet, I hesitate to append this label wholesale … more than anything, it seems to me that Berkeley very much wanted to, but simply didn’t “get” women and, consequently finding himself rejected and dissatisfied (none of his several marriages were happy), resorted to the stereotype prevalent in his era anyway; essentially, the “sinner or saint” dichotomy.

That all being said, the mystery itself is cleverly constructed, and notably this is not the only book where Berkeley’s series detective, Roger Sheringham, comes into the case on the side of the accused woman and with the express intention to exonerate her from what he considers a rash and unjustified charge.  And while the true facts of the Maybrick case will almost certainly never be unraveled, it is just conceivable that Berkeley did, in fact, hit on the one solution that was closest to the historic truth.

 


Jennifer Wright: Get Well Soon

Reviewed separately HERE.  Also a Flat Book Society read.

 


The Detection Club: Verdict of 13

An anthology published by the 1970s’ incarnation of the Detection Club, edited by its then-president Julian Symons, featuring 13 short stories all premised, in a very loose sense, on the concept of a jury (even if it’s only a jury of one).  Contributors include — in addition to Symons — P.D. James and Christianna Brand (see above and The Wychford Poisoning Case / comments re: Florence Maybrick), Gwendoline Butler, Dick Francis, Michael Gilbert, Michael Innes, Patricia Highsmith, Celia Fremlin, H.R.F. Keating, Michael Underwood, Ngaio Marsh, and Peter Dickinson.

The stand-out stories, to me, are P.D. James’s Florence Maybrick-inspired look at an early moment in Inspector (then-Sergeant) Dalgliesh’s career (see comments above) and Michael Gilbert’s Verdict of Three, a cleverly constructed public-school-morphing-into-public-service combined update of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Adventure of the Second Stain, The Naval Treaty, and The Bruce-Partington Plans, told from the perspective of the person who, in a Sherlock Holmes story, would be Holmes’s client (except that Holmes, here, has contrived to be part of the jury).  “Place” and “show” honors go jointly and equally to Ngaio Marsh’s Morpork (which I’d also read before, but long ago; a story set in the wilds of her native New Zealand); as well as Dick Francis’s  Twenty-One Good Men and True (involving race track betting), Gwendoline Butler’s The Rogue’s Twist (in which dogs are, depending how you look at it, either part of the jury or part of the prosecution), and Michael Underwood’s Murder at St. Oswald’s (as the title indicates, another story set in a public school; here, involving a bullying teacher).

 


Mavis Doriel Hay: Murder Underground

Hay’s first of the only three mysteries she ever wrote, but the last one I read.  Of the three, I’d rate it the middle entry — it’s not anywhere near as enjoyable as The Santa Klaus Murder (Hay’s final book and one of the highlights of my 2017 Christmas reads), but I liked it quite a bit better than Death on the Cherwell.  Oddly, the titular murder is completely taken as a fait accompli here: we’re not even in on the discovery of the body, never mind meeting the victim-to-be in the flesh and seeing her interact with the suspects-to-be (all of them, residents of the same North London longterm-accommodation hotel as herself; two, in addition, young relatives of hers and her presumptive heirs).

As a result, I needed quite a bit of time to find my way into the story and connect with the characters, only few of whom I ultimately ended up liking (though I will say it was refreshing to see a male TSTL character for a change).  Still, even though I had a suspicion as to the murderer early on, which turned out to be correct, it was a fun, light, if somewhat chatty read.  Hay could write, and she’d definitely found her stride by the time she got to The Santa Klaus Murder — it’s a shame she stopped just when she’d gotten going for good.

 


Sharyn McCrumb: The Ballad of Frankie Silver

Holy hell St. Maloney, what a book.  Part of McCrumb’s Ballad series set in the Appalachian Mountains, this is the story of two executions — and the convicts sentenced to death in each case, as well as their (purported) crimes and the lawmen called upon to witness their executions.  In modern times, Sheriff Spencer Arrowood (one of the Ballad series’s central characters) is called upon to witness the execution of a man whom he himself had helped convict of murder when he was young and comparatively inexperienced, but all the more cocksure to make up for his lack of experience.  Recuperating from an injury sustained on the job and thus with some spare time on his hands, he decides to take a fresh look at the case … and comes away dismayed and disillusioned.  He also sees parallels to the (real life) case of Frankie Silver, an 18 year old girl hanged for the murder of her husband in Burke County, NC, in 1833; probably the first white woman to be executed in that county.

Frankie’s story makes up the bulk of the book: we’re learning it chiefly from the (fictional) diary of the 1832 Clerk of the Court, Burgess Gaither, who witnessed both her trial and the execution of her death sentence; interspersed with some passages in Frankie’s own voice.  Her story stayed alive and became a local legend on account of the girl’s ethereal beauty and meak, yet diginfied persona, as much as on account of the fact that she was very likely innocent of the crime of which she was convicted and went to her death in order to protect the real culprit; all of which also contributed to (alas, futile) efforts by prominent citizens of the community to obtain a gubernatorial pardon.  This is not an easy book to digest — it does not flinch from a close-up view of all aspects of the death penalty, as administered both then and now; and it asks hard questions about justice, equality, and the judicial process.  Yet, precisely for this gut-punch quality, and for Sharyn McCrumb’s spellbinding writing, it makes for an absolutely unforgettable experience.

One additional word on the audio version, which is narrated by McCrumb herself: Though by far not all authors excel at reading their own books, Sharyn McCrumb is one of the truly happy exceptions, and listening to the story read in her own voice greatly contributed to the lasting impression of this particular audiobook experience.  Even among the many excellent narrations I’ve had the pleasure of listening to this month so far, Sharyn McCrumb’s performance is a stand-out experience … singing of the titular Ballad of Frankie Silver included as the icing on the cake!

 


Alan Bradley: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Sigh.  There is a lot to like in this book: the writing, the setting and the atmosphere, the underlying historic research (including appropriate pop culture references as much as a sensitive treatment of post-war PTSD), the opening nod to Jane Eyre, the bickering sisters, the fact that Flavia has given her bike a name and treats it as if it were a horse, and, well, the mystery as such.  Unfortunately, the one character I’m having a problem with is Flavia herself.  Oh, I get it — she’s intelligent and beyond precocious, she loves books, and she spends a lot of time alone and she has decided to turn vice into virtue (“if nobody else loves me, I have to love myself” — remarkable insight to be expressed by an 11-year-old in pretty much these terms).

But that’s exactly where my issues begin … despite the odd age-appropriate behavior towards others, by and large both her mental processes and many of her emotional responses come across as way too adult.  I’ll even grant her love of chemistry — Graham Young was obsessed with chemistry from an early age, too, and knew enough about poisons to murder his stepmother, after almost having succeeded in killing his sister, at the tender age of 15 — and nearly get away with it, too.  But leaving aside that going from age 11 to age 15 is still a virtual quantum leap in the development of a child: (1) knowledge of chemistry doesn’t equal medical knowledge, and Flavia seems to dispose of an unreasonable amount of highly specific medical knowledge along with her knowledge of chemistry, including certain rare medical conditions (and don’t get me started on how she could (not) have read about all of that in Gray’s Anatomy); (2) book knowledge doesn’t equal experience, and more often than not Flavia’s analysis, actions and responses are not explicable by book knowledge, but only by the insight and reflections generated by a life experience far above and beyond even the most precocious 11-year-old child (this is particularly true in the final scene — actually that whole scene is ridiculously implausible on pretty much every single level, but Flavia’s age-inappropriate responses had started to bother me right at the beginning, with her discovery of the dying man); and (3) similarly (and on a related point), the grown ups’ treatment of Flavia is way too “eye level” to be believable.  Kudos to her dad for taking her seriously and trusting her with the full, tragic back story of the events, but for anybody else, let alone a policeman, to take an 11-year-old girl entirely seriously and communicate with her essentially like they would with an adult is just simply not realistic.

Maybe I’ve simply outgrown “child investigator” books — I used to love the Three Investigators series and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Baker Street Irregulars” make me smile to this very day.  But even the “Irregulars”, for however streetsmart they are, don’t display any age-inappropriate behavior or reasoning; ACD knew as well as Enid Blyton and the Three Investigators authors that adults tend not to take children seriously, and even more importantly, they all understood that even fictional children get to outfox the police only if the policemen in question are just plain too dumb to solve the case on their own.  But Inspector Hewitt doesn’t strike me like that at all.

So, sorry for spoiling everybody else’s party; I know I’m the odd one out here.  Don’t mind me — just go on enjoying Flavia’s adventures.  I simply won’t be along for the ride.

 


Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus

You know that scene in Amadeus where the Austrian emperor comments on Mozart’s music that it contains “too many notes”?  That’s how I began to feel after a while about the individual episodes, destinies, and narrative detours making up the sum total of this book — they simply started to run into each other.  Adjoa Andoh, who reads the audio version, said in an Audible interview about Nights at the Circus that Angela Carter is “generous” with her use of words (and towards her characters) … which I don’t necessarily mind; in fact, I’ve been known to downright revel in exuberant prose, but I confess that Carter has tested even my limits here.

Based on a simple premise — journalist interviews “human swan” trapeze artist in the attempt to show her up as a fraud, instead falls in love with her, and ends up joining her circus as a clown so as to follow her to Russia –, this is an exploration of the world of Victorian carneys, circuses, and freak shows, of the divisions of class and culture(s), and of the exploitation of women and of the disabled (especially those perceived as freaks).  If, going in, you have any misconceptions about the nature of Nights at the Circus based on its title and setting, or based on the fact that it is frequently described as “magic realism”, at least in the audio version Adjoa Andoh’s earthy reading will disabuse you of any such notions literally from the first word on: there is no question that Fevvers, the book’s protagonist, is cockney to the bone; and more generally speaking, between them Carter and Andoh leave no doubt about the fact there is (or was) nothing remotely glorious or magical about the behind-the-scenes world of Victorian carneys — nor about the previous lives of most carney artists, or the destiny awaiting them once they were too old to be able to perform.  While pulling off enough of the veil for the reader / spectator to understand that much of what (s)he sees is an illusion, the lines are occasionally blurred, and not all is revealed to the naked eye — and even where Carter applies her exuberance to the plainly ridiculous, never once does she lose an ounce of respect for her characters (nor, for that matter, does Andoh’s narration).  Yet, this is one book where I’ll likely want to revisit the printed version at some point in the future, because Andoh’s performance, splendid as it is, is so dominant that I couldn’t help wondering sometimes if the characters — first and foremost Fevvers herself, but others as well — would have sounded exactly the same in my head without anybody else’s intervening interpretation.

In the meantime, though, give me Fellini’s La Strada (and The Clowns) any day of the week …

 


Daphne du Maurier: Frenchman’s Creek

If it weren’t for du Maurier’s indisputable gifts as a writer, and for the splendid things that are Rebecca and The Birds, my most recent reads of hers, between them, would have seriously made me doubt if she is for me at all, had these been my only introduction to her writing.  While Jamaica Inn at least excels in terms of creating a truly oppressive and spooky atmosphere (and since I read it primarily for that, I was willing to give du Maurier considerable slack in terms of the plotline … until I got to the beyond-eyeroll-worthy ending, that is), Frenchman’s Creek lost me even before it really had started to get going and never recaptured my attention.

That being said, it’s the sort of totally implausible, romantic pirate adventure that would have riveted me in my early teens.  Problem is, I’m not a teenager anymore, I expect people (both fictional and in real life) to act with at least a minimal amount of rationality — and book characters to be at least substantially self-consistent (and consistent with their station in life) –, and I no longer believe in insta-love.  So I’m just going to say thank you to Ms. du Maurier for once more taking me to 19th century Cornwall, which comes across as decidedly more lovely here than it does in Jamaica Inn (but then it would, this being a romance at heart), and thank you to John Nettles for giving his utmost to make this a captivating audiobook experience.  But for once, I was glad to have contented myself with an abbreviated version … and I don’t think anything will tempt me to revisit this novel anytime soon (even though here, too, I actually own a print edition as well).

 


Edith Wharton: Ghosts: Edith Wharton’s Gothic Tales

As the title says, a selection of audio narrations taken from Edith Wharton’s collection of ghost stories: big on atmosphere and on Wharton’s lovely, insightful, empathetic writing; negligible to nonexistent on blood and gore.  This is how I like my gothic fiction!  As in her novels, Wharton relies entirely on subtle means of psychology; on our innate fear of the unknown, on our need to empathize, on uncertainties — about the right way, about another person, or the accuracy of ancient writings and legends, or how far to trust our own senses; on changes of light, visions barred, sounds more devined than actually heard, and ethereal smells wafting by but impossible to source.  There is room for delicate humor here as well as for compassion; my favorite stories being, probably, Mr. Jones and Kerfol (warning, however: the dog dies.  Or rather, the dogs die — several of them in short succession.  But they get their revenge in the end) … though, really, it’s difficult for me to pick any clear favorites at all.

 


Terry Pratchett: The Colour of Magic

“The discworld offers sights far more impressive than those found in universes built by Creators with less imagination but more mechanical aptitude.”

Aaah … Sir Terry.  What would Halloween Bingo possibly be without you?  Especially this year, what with Wyrd Sisters being the official bingo group readand having inspired Booklikes’s very own Discworld group, which very properly decided to read all the books in the order of publication.  So, another Halloween Bingo with no less than two Pratchett books — yey!

Before I started to explore the Discworld universe, people told me to just dive in anywhere, it didn’t matter with which book I started; and that’s just what I did.  But after going a-roving here and there, it’s been pure joy to come back to the very beginning and see where it all started.  The Colour of Magic is a hilarious romp through 1980s fantasy (and to a lesser extent, science fiction) conventions; Big Bang turtle theory, imagine-dragons, magic sword, hero lore, staffless wizard (Rincewind), naive tourist and all.  The tourist (Twoflower: an inn-sewer-ants agent by trade with a reckless disregard for his own and Rincewind’s personal safety) has even brought a precursor of the glorious Hex, as it were; an iconograph (“device for taking pictures quickly”) with a demon inside who will sketch a perfect likeness of you in anywhere from 30 seconds upwards.  And then, of course, there is The Luggage … can there possibly be a more apt application of the “Relics and Curiosities” bingo square?  All the essentials of what makes Discworld — well — Discworld are in place here already, even if Pratchett may have further fine-tuned his style in the subsequent books (many of which, as a result, are even funnier).  I was glued to my speakers from the first second of Nigel Planer’s hilarious, spot-on narration, and I also have to say that I liked The Colour of Magic quite a bit better than Equal Rights, the first Witches book (and overall, Discworld #3).

“This tourist is a thing that is out of place.  After acceding to his master’s wishes Nine Turning Mirrors would, I am quite sure, make his own arrangements with a view to ensuring that one wanderer would not be allowed to return home bringing, perhaps, the disease of dissatisfaction.  The Empire likes people to stay where it puts them.”

 

 

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Daphne du Maurier: Frenchman’s Creek


If it weren’t for du Maurier’s indisputable gifts as a writer, and for the splendid things that are Rebecca and The Birds, my most recent reads of hers, between them, would have seriously made me doubt if she is for me at all, had these been my only introduction to her writing.   While Jamaica Inn at least excels in terms of creating a truly oppressive and spooky atmosphere (and since I read it primarily for that, I was willing to give du Maurier considerable slack in terms of the plotline … until I got to the beyond-eyeroll-worthy ending, that is), Frenchman’s Creek lost me even before it really had started to get going and never recaptured my attention.

That being said, it’s the sort of totally implausible, romantic pirate adventure that would have riveted me in my early teens.  Problem is, I’m not a teenager anymore, I expect people (both fictional and in real life) to act with at least a minimal amount of rationality — and book characters to be at least substantially self-consistent (and consistent with their station in life) –, and I no longer believe in insta-love.  So I’m just going to say thank you to Ms. du Maurier for once more taking me to 19th century Cornwall, which comes across as decidedly more lovely here than it does in Jamaica Inn (but then it would, this being a romance at heart), and thank you to John Nettles for giving his utmost to make this a captivating audiobook experience.  But for once, I was glad to have contented myself with an abbreviated version … and I don’t think anything will tempt me to revisit this novel anytime soon (even though I actually do own a print edition as well).

 

Black Cat Productions Presents: Bingos No. 12 & 13 and BINGO BLACK OUT!

 

 

 This has been enormously great fun; thanks to Moonlight Reader and Obsidian Blue for putting this together and hosting it!  I’ve loved following everybody’s reads – still sorry RL duties made me bow out for 2+ weeks smack in the middle of it all.  Most of my selections turned out to be enjoyable, many even great reads, and as a bonus I’ve discovered two new favorite series (James D. Doss’s Charlie Moon series and Peter May’s Lewis crime novels) and a new favorite character in an already-loved series (Angua, in the Night Watch subseries of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld).

 

The Books:
The Books:

Read by Candlelight or Flashlight – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi)
=> Bingos No. 1, No. 5, No. 6 & No. 12

Magical Realism – Isabel Allende: La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits)
=> Bingos No. 6 & No. 11

Witches – Terry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman: Good Omens
=> Bingos No. 3 & No. 6

Genre: Horror – Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
=> Bingos No. 6 & No. 8

Black Cat – Frances & Richard Lockridge: The Norths Meet Murder
=> Bingos No. 4, No. 5, No. 6 & No. 9

Diverse Authors Can Be Spooky Fun – Sherman Alexie: Reservation Blues
=> Bingos No. 10 & No. 12

Ghost Stories and Haunted Houses – Henry James: The Turn of the Screw
=> Bingos No. 1, No. 10 & No. 11

Young Adult Horror – Oscar Wilde: The Canterville Ghost
=> Bingos No. 3 & No. 10

Scary Women (Authors) – Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn
=> Bingos No. 4, No. 8 & No. 10

Reads with BookLikes Friends – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles
=> Bingos No. 9 & No. 10

Grave or Graveyard – Bram Stoker: Dracula & Edgar Allan Poe: The Cask of Amontillado
=> Final Bingo Square: Bingos No. 12 & No. 13

Genre: Mystery – Peter May: The Blackhouse
=> Bingos No. 11 & No. 13

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse
=> Bingos No. 1, No. 3, No. 4, No. 5 & No. 13

Gothic – Horrace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto
=> Bingos No. 8 & No. 13

Creepy Crawlies – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band
=> Bingos No. 9 & No. 13

“Fall” into a Good Book – Edgar Allan Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher
=> Bingos No. 7 & No. 12

Locked Room Mystery – Gaston Leroux: Le mystère de la chambre jaune (The Mystery of the Yellow Room)
=> Bingos No. 4, No. 7 & No. 11

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night – Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None
=> Bingos No. 3 & No. 7

Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery
=> Bingos No. 1, No. 7 & No. 8

Full Moon – James D. Doss: White Shell Woman
=> Bingos No. 7 & No. 9

Vampires vs. Werewolves – Terry Pratchett: Feet of Clay
=> Bingos No. 2, No. 4, No. 5 & No. 12

Supernatural – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sussex Vampire
=> Bingos No. 2 & No. 11

Classic Horror – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Der Sandmann (The Sandman)
=> Bingos No. 2 & No. 3

Pumpkin – Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
=> Bingos No. 2 & No. 8

Set on Halloween – Agatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party
=> Bingos No. 1, No. 2, No. 5 & No. 9

 

 

Original post:
http://themisathena.booklikes.com/post/1486610/black-cat-productions-presents-bingos-no-12-13-and-bingo-black-out

Halloween Book Bingo 2016: Tenth Update and BINGO No. 10

 

The Books:

Reservation Blues - Sherman Alexie
Diverse Authors Can Be Spooky Fun 
Sherman Alexie: Reservation Blues


Well, more angry than spooky, actually, but anyway … Robert Johnson is running from the devil (“the Gentleman” in the book) and ends up on the Spokane reservation.  Afraid that “the Gentleman” might hear him if he plays his guitar, he hands it over to a young wannabe storyteller named Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who proceeds to form a rock band named Coyote Springs with two of the tribe’s other misfits and, later on, two young women from the Flathead reservation.  The guitar, which very much has a mind of its own, helps them as long as they’re playing reservation and small-town gigs, but when they’re flown out to The Big City (New York) to sign a record deal, they (literally) have a meltdown and fall apart in more senses than one.

 Alexie can be poignantly funny if he chooses to be and he does handle the supernatural elements of the story well (these also include the magical powers of an Indian healer with whom Robert Johnson ultimately finds refuge, and bits of the of course rather bloody 100+year-old Spokane / U.S. military history that impinge on present events) – unfortunately, though, his tale gets bogged down by a huge amount of anger, which ultimately achieves the opposite of the story’s presumably intended effect: Rather than evoking interest and critical thought (as had, in my case at least, Alexie’s short story collection The Toughest Indian In The World), this book made me think more than once, “Man, get that chip off your shoulders and move on!” and “Why am I reading about this bunch of losers to begin with?”  Or maybe, it’s just that I can take short story / bite-size morsels of Alexie much better than one huge chunk – even if I end up gobbling down the bite-size morsels all at the same time, too?!

 

The Turn of the Screw - Henry James
Ghost Stories and Haunted Houses
Henry James: The Turn of the Screw

A perfectly-timed, profoundly unnerving fireside tale of a young governess’s experiences on her very first job, guarding two children – a boy of ten and a girl of eight – who appear charming and innocent initially, but are slowly and bit by bit revealed to be possessed by the evils spirits of their former governess and her paramour, the household’s former manservant.  By Henry James’s standards rather short and concise (even in its language), and all the more memorable for its blend of succinct language and masterfully crafted, eery atmosphere.

 

The Canterville Ghost - Oscar Wilde, Inga Moore
Young Adult Horror –
Oscar Wilde: The Canterville Ghost

One of the stories that Oscar Wilde wrote for his own children; a haunted castle story as only he could have devised it – or on second thought, in light of some of my other Halloween Bingo reads, actually as Oscar Wilde, Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman could have devised it: the sense of humor here is actually very similar to Pratchett’s and Gaiman’s.  Take one no-nonsense American family and have them face off against a ghost who’s getting tired of haunting the castle that used to be his (not to mention being thwarted and frustrated in his efforts by the new American residents at every angle), a good dose of empathy, and one big-hearted unafraid young lady, and what you get is a Halloween story that’s not so much scary as very touching – while at the same time also being laugh-out-loud funny.

 By the by, we are reminded that Britain has “really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.”  Which would seem to explain the odd thing or other …

 


Scary Women (Authors)
Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn

17 year old Mary has made a deathbed-side promise to her mother to go and live with her aunt and uncle Patience and Joss after her mother has died.  So she exchanges the friendly South Cornwall farming town where she has grown up for Uncle Joss’s Jamaica Inn on the Bodmin Moor, which couldn’t possibly be any more different from her childhood home.

From page 1, Du Maurier wields her expert hand at creating a darkly foreboding, sinister atmosphere, which permeates the entire story.  This being Cornwall, there is smuggling aplenty, and though there are a few elements and characters I could have done without (most noticeably, Mary’s infatuation / love affair with a “charming rogue” who is about as clichéd as they come, as is her final decision, which impossibly even manages to combine both of the associated trope endings – (1) “I’m the only woman who can match him in wildness and who can stand up to him, therefore I am the one woman who is made for him,” and (2) “I am the woman who will tame him and make him respectable, therefore I am the one woman who is made for him” – which in and of itself bumped the book down a star in my rating), the story’s antagonist (Uncle Joss) in particular is more multi-layered and interesting than you’d expect, I (mostly) liked Mary, and anyway, Du Maurier’s books are all about atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere, and as an entry for the “Scary Women Authors” bingo square this one fit my purposes quite admirably.

The real Jamaica Inn in its present-day incarnation:

 

 


Reads with BookLikes Friends – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles

One of my favorite tales by Arthur Conan Doyle – man, I’d so been looking forward to the buddy read experience of this book.  Well, I did duly revisit it, and I’ll be making a belated mad-dash attempt to join the conversation, though I expect most of the others to be done with it at this point … it’s not that long a novel, after all! 😦

Buddy read “replacement post” (of sorts) here.  (Sigh.)

 

 

 Currently Reading:

 The Blackhouse - Peter May

 

Finished – Update 1:

 

Creepy Crawlies – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band
Supernatural – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sussex Vampire
Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery

 

Finished – Update 2:

The Turn of the Screw - Henry James Das Fräulein von Scuderi: Erzählung aus dem Zeitalter Ludwig des Vierzehnten - E.T.A. Hoffmann

Ghost Stories and Haunted Houses – Henry James: The Turn of the Screw
Read by Candlelight or Flashlight – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi)
(read by flashlight, in bed)

 

Finished – Update 3:

The Canterville Ghost - Oscar Wilde, Inga Moore 

Young Adult Horror –
Oscar Wilde: The Canterville Ghost
Pumpkin –
Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

 

Finished – Update 4:

The Dain Curse - Dashiell Hammett

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse
Set on Halloween – Agatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party (novel)

 

Finished – Update 5:

 Der Sandmann - Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann

Scary Women (Authors) – Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn
Classic Horror – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Der Sandmann (The Sandman)

 

Finished – Update 6:


Locked Room Mystery – Gaston Leroux: Le mystère de la chambre jaune
(The Mystery of the Yellow Room)

 

Finished Update 7:

Feet of Clay (Discworld, #19) - Terry Pratchett
Vampires vs. Werewolves – Terry Pratchett: Feet of Clay (Night Watch novel)

 

Finished – Update 8:

And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie The Norths Meet Murder (The Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries) - Frances Lockridge, Richard Lockridge

Witches – Terry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman: Good Omens
Black Cat – Frances & Richard Lockridge: The Norths Meet Murder
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night – Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None

 

Finished – Update 9:

La casa de los espíritus - Isabel Allende Frankenstein - Mary Shelley The Hound of the Baskervilles - Arthur Conan Doyle, Anne Perry
 
Magical Realism – Isabel Allende: La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits)
Genre: Horror – Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
Reads with BookLikes Friends – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles

 

The Castle of Otranto - Michael Gamer, Horace Walpole The Fall of the House of Usher - Edgar Allan Poe White Shell Woman: A Charlie Moon Mystery (Charlie Moon Mysteries) - James D. Doss
Gothic – Horrace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto 
“Fall” into a Good Book – Edgar Allan Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher
Full Moon – James D. Doss: White Shell Woman

 

Finished – Update 10:

Reservation Blues - Sherman Alexie
Diverse Authors Can Be Spooky Fun – Sherman Alexie: Reservation Blues

 

TA’s Reading List:

Read by Candlelight or Flashlight – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi) (novella)

Magical Realism – Isabel Allende: La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits) (novel)

Witches – Terry Pratchett: Wyrd Sisters (or possibly Terry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman: Good Omens (novel)

Genre: Horror – Edgar Allan Poe: The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether (short story); alternately E.A. Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart or The Masque of the Red Death (also short stories). Change of plan: Mary Shelley: Frankenstein.

Black CatNgaio Marsh: Black as He’s Painted (novel) (black cat central to the story and therefore also black cat on the cover of the stand-alone paperback edition) change of plan: Frances & Richard Lockridge: The Norths Meet Murder (novel)

Diverse Authors Can Be Spooky Fun – Possibly Edwidge Danticat (ed.): Haiti Noir (short story anthology); otherwise TBD Settled on: Sherman Alexie: Reservation Blues.

Ghost Stories and Haunted Houses – Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (novella)

Young adult horror – Oscar Wilde: The Canterville Ghost (novella)

Scary Women (Authors) – Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn (novel)

Reads with BookLikes Friends – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles (novel)

Grave or Graveyard – Edgar Allan Poe: The Cask of Amontillado (short story); alternately Ngaio Marsh: Grave Mistake (novel) or Umberto Eco: The Prague Cemetery

Genre: Mystery – Peter May: The Blackhouse (novel)

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

Gothic – Horrace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto (novel)

Creepy Crawlies – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band (short story)

“Fall” into a Good Book – Edgar Allan Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher (short story)

Locked Room Mystery – Gaston Leroux: Le mystère de la chambre jaune (The Mystery of the Yellow Room) (novel)

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night – Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (novel)

Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery (short story)

Full Moon – James D. Doss: White Shell Woman (novel) (full moon on the cover, and the protagonist / investigator is called Charlie Moon); alternately Dennis Lehane: Moonlight Mile

Vampires vs. Werewolves – Terry Pratchett: Feet of Clay (Night Watch novel)

Supernatural – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sussex Vampire (short story)

Classic Horror – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Der Sandmann (The Sandman) (short story)

Pumpkin – Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (short story)

Set on Halloween – Agatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party (novel)

Merken

Merken

Halloween Book Bingo 2016: Ninth Update – Catch-Up Post and BINGOS No. 6-9

So, after having spent the past weekend and the better part of last night and today tying up half a dozen half-finished bingo reads that, naturally, hadn’t shown any progress whatsoever while I was exiled on planet work overload, for the time being I’m back on track.  And thus I am happy to finally be able to declare my next bingos after all and present:

 

The Books:

Bingo No. 6:


Read by Candlelight or FlashlightE.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi) (read by flashlight, in bed)

A spooky mystery set in the 1680s, in the Paris of Louis XIV. Mlle. de Scuderi – an elderly gentlewoman who is in the confidence of the king and his maitresse, Madame de Maintenon – gets involved, very much against her own will, in the efforts to clear up a string of brutal robbery-murders, as well as the death of Paris’s most famous jeweller.  She isn’t actually the person to solve the crimes, but acts as a powerful intermediary on behalf of someone wrongfully accused, and her advocacy on his behalf eventually leads to the solution.

Those familiar with the real-life Edinburgh tale of Deacon Brodie may find some elements of this story familiar.

I read this in German; Hoffmann’s language is rather florid (and might well be too florid for me under different circumstances), but somehow it fits the setting and mood of this story very well.

 

 
Magical RealismIsabel Allende: La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits)

Isabel Allende’s breakout success and still one of my favorite novels by her (surpassed only by Of Love and Shadows): A multigenerational allegory on the story of her native Chile – seen through the eyes of the novel’s female protagonists, the women of the Trueba clan; particularly the paranormally gifted Clara, as well as the Patrón, Don Esteban Trueba (Clara’s husband and the father and grandfather of their daughter Blanca and granddaughter Alba) – and at the same time, Allende’s attempt to come to terms with her own family’s involvement in Chile’s history.  A gorgeously lyrical narrative, as expansive as the plains surrounding the Trueba estate of Tres Marías; at times harsh, at other times, delicate, and a paen to the will to survive and to live exhibited by the Trueba women in the face of all adversity.  Of all books labeled as exponents of magical realism, to me this one, alongside Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, is the quintessential magical realist novel.

 


 WitchesTerry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman: Good Omens

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s hilarious end-of-the-world spoof: Armageddon as foretold in the nice and accurate predictions of one Agnes Nutter, witch.  (Time of Armageddon: Next Saturday. Place: Tadfield, Oxfordshire.)  Starring one demon named CrawlyCrowley (who’s got just about enough of a spark of goodness inside him to be congenial company to one particular angel), one angel named Aziraphale (who deep down inside is just about enough of a bastard to get along like a house on fire with one particular demon), the Son of Satan (one Adam Young, 11 years old, resident of Tadfield) and his friends (think the Three Investigators and the Famous Five rolled into one; hellhound named Dog included), the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse (and the Hell’s Angels got nothing on ’em), a Witchfinder Sergeant and his Private (father and son Pulsifer … that’s -ssssifer with a sharp “ess”), and of course the aforementioned Agnes Nutter (the last witch burned in England, by the great-great-great-great-grandfather of the aforementioned Witchfinder Sergeant Pulsifer) and her great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter Anathema (also a resident of Tadfield), who will run into the aforementioned Witchfinder Private Pulsifer (Newt to those who aren’t into witchfinding) just in time before Armageddon rolls around; and last but not least a self-proclaimed medium named Madame Tracy.

Tremendous fun, and I’m glad I simultaneously treated myself to the book and its BBC full cast adaptation, which was broadcast as BBC 4’s 2014 Christmas Special!

 


Genre: HorrorChange of plan: Mary Shelley: Frankenstein

Originally my entry for this square was supposed to be an assortment of stories by Edgar Allan Poe (all of which I actually did (re)read as well, together with The Fall of the House of Usher (see below)), but browsing on Amazon I was reminded of the audio version of Frankenstein read by Kenneth Branagh, which had long been on my TBR, and I took a snap decision to use that as my Genre: Horror entry instead.  And boy, am I glad that I did.  Branagh’s voice is almost too silkily gorgeous for so harrowing a tale, but if ever there was a spellbinding narrator it’s him (I found that the CD is best listened to with your eyes closed); and he does perfectly bring home the pain and despair of all involved – the creature’s, as well as that of his creator Victor Frankenstein – and the horror of the framework story’s epistolary narrator, Captain Walton, like few others could have done.  Mary Shelley’s tale is a marvel in and of itself (and let’s not even get into the fact that she was barely more than a teenager when it was published), but it is really lifted to yet another level by Branagh’s narration.

 


Black CatFrances & Richard Lockridge: The Norths Meet Murder

A murder investigation occurring in New York City’s martini- and cocktail-guzzling Greenwich Village “beautiful people” set, wherein a black cat named Pete (the titular Mr. and Mrs. North’s pet, who seems to be modelled on the authors’ own cat) is a witness to the murder and is ultimately also (unwittingly) instrumental in bringing the murderer to book.

I could never really get into this book; while it did have its amusing moments, by and large it read like the work of a cookie cutter, rather pedestrian mind trying to copycat Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles of Thin Man fame.  The writing dragged interminably in parts – e.g., I seriously did not need to know what the chief investigator, who isn’t either of the Norths but a police lieutenant called Weigand, had for every single one of his meals during the investigation.  (Obviously, it also didn’t help that I have actually just read the real thing, an honest-to-God Dashiell Hammett novel, for the Halloween Bingo, so Hammett’s own style and craftsmanship is still fresh in my mind at this point.)  This is the first book of a series that seems to have had quite a successful and long run, so I may eventually end up taking another look at the Lockridges’ writing at some later point, but it probably won’t be any time soon.

Now, if Asta were a cat and not a dog …

 

 

Bingo No. 7:


“Fall” into a Good BookEdgar Allan Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher

I’ve never been much taken with the wan, ghost-like appearance of the near-death Madeline Usher – and though I suspect Poe was at least partly writing from experience in describing Roderick Usher’s symptoms of suffering, that doesn’t necessarily induce me to feel particularly sympathetic to him – but let’s face it: this thing is a masterpiece of gothic atmosphere and practically epitomizes, all by itself, the “haunted castle” variant of 19th century gothic writing.  So, full marks for style, even if I can only take it every so often and won’t necessarily be revisiting it very soon, either.  (On this particular occasion, I counterbalanced it by some of the other stories I’d been contemplating for the Halloween Bingo; including and in particular the ruthlessly poignant The Masque of the Red Death and The Pit and the Pendulum, which are among my all-time favorite short stories by Poe.)

 


Locked Room MysteryGaston Leroux: Le mystère de la chambre jaune
(The Mystery of the Yellow Room)

This book is billed as the first-ever locked room mystery, which isn’t entirely correct, as by the time it was published (1907), there already were several very well-known mysteries relying on the same feature (Edgar Allan Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, as well as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sign of Four and The Speckled Band (see below and here)), even though their solutions are different than this book’s.  The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Speckled Band are, interestingly, expressly referenced here, and it is quite obvious that Leroux was a huge admirer of Sherlock Holmes and his creator, to the point that I couldn’t make up my mind to the very end to what extent he was copycatting and to what extent he was paying hommage.  By and large it’s an enjoyable read, though, and I can well believe that the book’s contemporaneous readership considered it a novelty and was seriously wowed by its solution.  (Side note: Grammar nuts reading this in French will have the rare joy of finding the chief narrative tense to be the first person plural passé simple, which greatly added to my personal reading pleasure.)

 


It Was a Dark and Stormy NightAgatha Christie: And Then There Were None

Ten people are invited to an island off the Devon coast by a Mr. and Mrs. U.N. Owen, who however never make an appearance themselves.  One by one, the invitees meet their death; not before, however, it is revealed that they themselves all have someone else’s death on their hands in turn and have gotten away with it. – One of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries: certainly her most-read nonseries book, and a hot contender with the likes of Murder on the Orient Express for the place of the one book that solidified her reputation as the Queen of Crime more than any others.  This one’s really got it all: a locked room puzzle (or several, actually), a sinister, secluded island location, Christie’s trademark use of nursery rhymes (this wasn’t the first such occurrence in her writing, but it’s unquestionably the most notable one), a cast that – in the absence of any recognizable “detective” character – seems to consist of ambiguous, unreliable characters only, and a turntable conclusion of the sort that only Christie could have come up with.

 


Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery

One of Jackson’s greatest masterpieces, the terrifying story of an annual lottery (by Jackson’s own account, set in her Vermont hometown, though the location is not actually named), which seems to begin as just another small town event, but is slowly and inexorably revealed to be a drawing for the victim of a ritualistic stoning.  No reason for the ritual is given and the story stops short of describing the stoning itself in great detail, but it doesn’t actually have to – you’re chilled to the bone by the end of the story regardless; which is precisely what Jackson was aiming for, of course: she wanted people to think about the casual violence we inflict on each other each day every day without even thinking twice.  (And indeed, many of Jackson’s original readers, who found the story on the pages of the New Yorker in 1948, took it for fact and asked, shocked and appalled, in what part of America rituals such as these were actually permitted to take place in the middle of the 20th century.)

 

 
Full MoonJames D. Doss: White Shell Woman

Oh dear God – why, oh why did I have Mr. Doss’s novels sitting on my shelves for ages without ever actually cracking a single spine while he was still alive and cranking out further installments to his series?  Man, am I glad to finally have remedied that omission, even if only after his death.  And to think that I actually first bought these books with the notion that they would probably appeal to me …

I originally selected White Shell Woman for the Full Moon bingo square because the hardcover edition I own has a full moon on the cover and the series’s protagonist is a Southern Ute (ex-)cop / tribal investigator named Charlie Moon.  Turns out, the novel’s title makes this one a match for that particular square as well, as “White Shell Woman” is actually the Ute name for the moon.

Some of the pro reviewer praise for this series runs along the lines of “what Tony Hillerman did for the Navajo, James D. Doss has done for the Ute,” but this actually short-changes Mr. Doss’s books in several significant ways: for one thing, judging by his author portraits, Kentucky-born Doss – unlike Hillerman – wasn’t Caucasian / white himself, but even more importantly, he didn’t merely copycat Hillerman; his no-nonsense, dry humor and spare but intensely atmospheric prose makes for a style all of his own, and his books’ protagonists (Charlie Moon, his best friend, [white] local police chief Scot Parris, and Charlie’s cranky old aunt, Ute shaman Daisy Perika) can easily stand up to Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee any time.

As a Halloween bingo book, White Shell Woman turned out an excellent choice, not merely on the strength of the writing and because it’s a perfect match for the Full Moon square on several levels: this is also, at least in parts, a fairly spooky read, which would equally well fit the “Dark and Stormy Night,” “Supernatural,” “Witches” (well, Anasazi shamans / wizards), “Vampires vs. Werewolves,” “Grave or Graveyard” and (if I’m right about Mr. Doss’s ethnicity) “Diverse Authors” squares, as the story concerns a series of murders and suspicious deaths occurring at night (at least one of them, during a violent thunderstorm) at a Southern Colorado Anasazi dig, with one of the victims being found semi-entombed in a pit house ruin, while a hound-like creature believed to be the shape-shifting ghost of an Anasazi priest-turned-werewolf is seen by several witnesses (or is he?) – and all of this, set against the background of an old legend concerning blood rituals and human sacrifices performed by Anasazi priests in order to placate the moon goddess (White Shell Woman) and overcome a prolonged and lethal draught.

Highly recommended – even if you’re not reading this for the bingo, if you’re at all interested in the American Southwest and its history, culture and archeology, do yourself a favor and take a look at this novel (and Mr. Doss’s “Charlie Moon” series in general).  It certainly won’t be the last book by Doss I’ve read – in fact, I’m glad I already own some of them! 🙂

 

 

 

Bingo No. 8:

Genre: Horror – Mary Shelley: Frankenstein

(See above.)

 


Scary Women (Authors)Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn

17 year old Mary has made a deathbed-side promise to her mother to go and live with her aunt and uncle Patience and Joss after her mother has died.  So she exchanges the friendly South Cornwall farming town where she has grown up for Uncle Joss’s Jamaica Inn on the Bodmin Moor, which couldn’t possibly be any more different from her childhood home.

From page 1, Du Maurier wields her expert hand at creating a darkly foreboding, sinister atmosphere, which permeates the entire story.  This being Cornwall, there is smuggling aplenty, and though there are a few elements and characters I could have done without (most noticeably, Mary’s infatuation / love affair with a “charming rogue” who is about as clichéd as they come, as is her final decision, which impossibly even manages to combine both of the associated trope endings – (1) “I’m the only woman who can match him in wildness and who can stand up to him, therefore I am the one woman who is made for him,” and (2) “I am the woman who will tame him and make him respectable, therefore I am the one woman who is made for him” – which in and of itself bumped the book down a star in my rating), the story’s antagonist (Uncle Joss) in particular is more multi-layered and interesting than you’d expect, I (mostly) liked Mary, and anyway, Du Maurier’s books are all about atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere, and as an entry for the “Scary Women Authors” bingo square this one fit my purposes quite admirably.

The real Jamaica Inn in its present-day incarnation:

 

 


GothicHorrace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto

The grandfather of all gothic literature, madly dashed out in the space of a mere eight days. Intended as a (semi-)satirical response to the “Frenchification” of the 18th century English stage, where – under the influence of Voltaire’s criticism of Shakespeare – scenes considered unduly “rough” and “uncultured” (like the gravediggers scene in Hamlet) were often cut entirely, while at the same time actors highly emphasized emotions considered “natural,” Walpole’s Castle of Otranto simultaneously created the gothic genre and acted as its very first spoof.  This one has got all the ingredients that would come to characterize gothic writing from the novels of Ann Radcliffe, C.R. Maturin, Sheridan Le Fanu, and E.T.A. Hoffmann, to the late 19th century and 20th century “penny dreadfuls” and A-, B- and C-horror movies of classic Hollywood: An Italian setting, a haunted castle imprisoning rather than protecting its inhabitants, a walking / shape-shifting painting, ghosts and other preternatural phenomena galore, virtuous virgins (and wives) ruthlessly persecuted by a furious fiend, secret underground passages, abandoned orphans, lost princes, a clergyman with a colorful and sad personal history, dueling noblemen, and a young hero appearing in innocuous disguise but ultimately revealed as a white knight in shining armor.  To top it off, Walpole, in the book’s first preface also presented the tale as the alleged 16th century (geddit? Shakespearean-age!) translation of a medieval southern Italian legend (a sleight of hand technique that, inter alia, Umberto Eco also uses in The Name of the Rose, which bears many other, though not all elements of a gothic novel as well) … engendering a veritable shit storm – not least on the part of critical reviewers – when he revealed his bluff and stated his true purpose in the preface to the second edition.

Garrick as Hamlet 

18th century star actor David Garrick as Hamlet, depicted in the (in)famous pose upon seeing his father’s ghost (left: etching from Dramatic Characters, or Different Portraits of the English Stage, 1773; right, mezzotint after a painting by Benjamin Wilson, 1756): probably the single most prominent example of what was considered “natural” acting on the 18th century stage.  The “hair raising” effect was produced by a hydraulic wig.

 

Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery

(See above.)

 


Pumpkin – Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The classic Halloween (and pumpkin) story … need I say anything about it at all?!  This was a reread (albeit a bit unseasonable, in what was officially declared the warmest September of record hereabouts), and just as enjoyable as ever!  Poor Ichabold Crane …

 

 

 

Bingo No. 9:

Black Cat – Frances & Richard Lockridge: The Norths Meet Murder

(See above.)

 


Reads with BookLikes Friends – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles

One of my favorite tales by Arthur Conan Doyle – man, I’d so been looking forward to the buddy read experience of this book.  Well, I did duly revisit it, and I’ll be making a belated mad-dash attempt to join the conversation, though I expect most of the others to be done with it at this point … it’s not that long a novel, after all! 😦

Buddy read “replacement post” (of sorts) here.  (Sigh.)

 


Creepy CrawliesArthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band

A.C.D. part 2, and another all-time favorite of mine.  One of the first-ever locked-room mysteries; if David Pirie (screenwriter of Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle and the Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes TV series and author of the novels based on that series) is to be believed, based on the solution to the mysterious death of an Edinburgh woman whose husband hadn’t introduced a snake but, rather, a poisonous gas into her bedchamber from a neighboring room, using the flue connecting both rooms’ fireplaces to the house’s ventilation system.  You’ll be looking for a swamp adder in your zoological dictionary in vain, incidentally – there is no such snake in India or anywhere else outside Arthur Conan Doyle’s fancy.  The most likely candidate he seems to have been thinking of is the Indian cobra, which famously has a “spectacled” pattern and whose venoms are extremely fast-acting neurotoxins and cardiotoxins, producing effects like those described in A.C.D.’s story.


Indian cobra (naja naja) (images from Wikipedia)

Review of my favorite screen adaptation starring Jeremy Brett HERE.

 

Full Moon – James D. Doss: White Shell Woman

(See above.)

 


Set on HalloweenAgatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party

One of Christie’s final Poirot novels, and one of the few books that stand out favorably among her final books overall.  There is the odd passage here and there where Christie reveals that she really was not – nor did she seem to want to be – in touch with the England of the 1960s, but the mystery itself is finely-crafted and holds up well; even if Christie in part revisits familiar ground (but then, she frequently did that).

Poirot is summoned to a village some 40 miles from London (in Miss Marple territory, it would seem in fact) by his friend, crime novelist (and Agatha Christie stand-in) Ariadne Oliver, after a young girl has been found murdered at a Halloween party that Miss Oliver happens to have attended.  The dead girl, during the preparations for the party, had proclaimed that she had once witnessed a murder – and though everybody is quick to declare her to have been a braggart and a liar who was probably just trying to impress the celebrity novelist in attendance, Poirot is reluctant to agree with that judgment, arguing that someone obviously took her words at face value and chose to kill her rather than running the risk of discovery.

 

 

Currently Reading:

Reservation Blues - Sherman Alexie
Diverse Authors Can Be Spooky Fun – Sherman Alexie: Reservation Blues

 

Finished – Update 1:

 

Creepy Crawlies – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band
Supernatural – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sussex Vampire
Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery

 

Finished – Update 2:

The Turn of the Screw - Henry James Das Fräulein von Scuderi: Erzählung aus dem Zeitalter Ludwig des Vierzehnten - E.T.A. Hoffmann

Ghost Stories and Haunted Houses – Henry James: The Turn of the Screw
Read by Candlelight or Flashlight – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi)
(read by flashlight, in bed)

 

Finished – Update 3:

The Canterville Ghost - Oscar Wilde, Inga Moore 

Young Adult Horror –
Oscar Wilde: The Canterville Ghost
Pumpkin –
Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

 

Finished – Update 4:

The Dain Curse - Dashiell Hammett

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse
Set on Halloween – Agatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party (novel)

 

Finished – Update 5:

 Der Sandmann - Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann

Scary Women (Authors) – Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn
Classic Horror – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Der Sandmann (The Sandman)

 

Finished – Update 6:


Locked Room Mystery – Gaston Leroux: Le mystère de la chambre jaune (The Mystery of the Yellow Room)

 

Finished Update 7:

Feet of Clay (Discworld, #19) - Terry Pratchett
Vampires vs. Werewolves – Terry Pratchett: Feet of Clay (Night Watch novel)

 

Finished – Update 8:



Witches – Terry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman: Good Omens
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night – Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None
Black Cat – Frances & Richard Lockridge: The Norths Meet Murder

 

Finished – Update 9:

La casa de los espíritus - Isabel Allende Frankenstein - Mary Shelley The Hound of the Baskervilles - Arthur Conan Doyle, Anne Perry
 
Magical Realism – Isabel Allende: La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits)
Genre: Horror – Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
Reads with BookLikes Friends – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles

 

The Castle of Otranto - Michael Gamer, Horace Walpole The Fall of the House of Usher - Edgar Allan Poe White Shell Woman: A Charlie Moon Mystery (Charlie Moon Mysteries) - James D. Doss
Gothic – Horrace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto 
“Fall” into a Good Book – Edgar Allan Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher
Full Moon – James D. Doss: White Shell Woman

 

TA’s Reading List:

Read by Candlelight or Flashlight – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi) (novella)

Magical Realism – Isabel Allende: La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits) (novel)

Witches – Terry Pratchett: Wyrd Sisters (or possibly Terry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman: Good Omens (novel)

Genre: Horror – Edgar Allan Poe: The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether (short story); alternately E.A. Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart or The Masque of the Red Death (also short stories). Change of plan: Mary Shelley: Frankenstein.

Black CatNgaio Marsh: Black as He’s Painted (novel) (black cat central to the story and therefore also black cat on the cover of the stand-alone paperback edition) change of plan: Frances & Richard Lockridge: The Norths Meet Murder (novel)

Diverse Authors Can Be Spooky Fun Possibly Edwidge Danticat (ed.): Haiti Noir (short story anthology); otherwise TBD Settled on: Sherman Alexie: Reservation Blues.

Ghost Stories and Haunted Houses – Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (novella)

Young adult horror – Oscar Wilde: The Canterville Ghost (novella)

Scary Women (Authors) – Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn (novel)

Reads with BookLikes Friends – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles (novel)

Grave or Graveyard – Edgar Allan Poe: The Cask of Amontillado (short story); alternately Ngaio Marsh: Grave Mistake (novel) or Umberto Eco: The Prague Cemetery

Genre: Mystery – Peter May: The Blackhouse (novel)

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

Gothic – Horrace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto (novel)

Creepy Crawlies – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band (short story)

“Fall” into a Good Book – Edgar Allan Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher (short story)

Locked Room Mystery – Gaston Leroux: Le mystère de la chambre jaune (The Mystery of the Yellow Room) (novel)

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night – Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (novel)

Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery (short story)

Full Moon – James D. Doss: White Shell Woman (novel) (full moon on the cover, and the protagonist / investigator is called Charlie Moon); alternately Dennis Lehane: Moonlight Mile

Vampires vs. Werewolves – Terry Pratchett: Feet of Clay (Night Watch novel)

Supernatural – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sussex Vampire (short story)

Classic Horror – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Der Sandmann (The Sandman) (short story)

Pumpkin – Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (short story)

Set on Halloween – Agatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party (novel)

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1482141/halloween-book-bingo-2016-ninth-update-catch-up-post-and-bingos-no-6-9

Halloween Book Bingo 2016: Eighth Update – TRIPLE BINGO (Nos. 3-5)!

 

The Books:
Bingo No. 3:


WitchesTerry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman: Good Omens

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s hilarious end-of-the-world spoof: Armageddon as foretold in the nice and accurate predictions of one Agnes Nutter, witch.  (Time of Armageddon: Next Saturday. Place: Tadfield, Oxfordshire.)  Starring one demon named CrawlyCrowley (who’s got just about enough of a spark of goodness inside him to be congenial company to one particular angel), one angel named Aziraphale (who deep down inside is just about enough of a bastard to get along like a house on fire with one particular demon), the Son of Satan (one Adam Young, 11 years old, resident of Tadfield) and his friends (think the Three Investigators and the Famous Five rolled into one; hellhound named Dog included), the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse (and the Hell’s Angels got nothing on ’em), a Witchfinder Sergeant and his Private (father and son Pulsifer … that’s -ssssifer with a sharp “ess”), and of course the aforementioned Agnes Nutter (the last witch burned in England, by the great-great-great-great-grandfather of the aforementioned Witchfinder Sergeant Pulsifer) and her great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter Anathema (also a resident of Tadfield), who will run into the aforementioned Witchfinder Private Pulsifer (Newt to those who aren’t into witchfinding) just in time before Armageddon rolls around; and last but not least a self-proclaimed medium named Madame Tracy.

Tremendous fun, and I’m glad I simultaneously treated myself to the book and its BBC full cast adaptation, which was broadcast as BBC 4’s 2014 Christmas Special!

P.S. My review of the 2019 TV adaptation is HERE.

 

The Canterville Ghost - Oscar Wilde, Inga Moore
Young Adult Horror –
Oscar Wilde: The Canterville Ghost

One of the stories that Oscar Wilde wrote for his own children; a haunted castle story as only he could have devised it – or on second thought, in light of some of my other Halloween Bingo reads, actually as Oscar Wilde, Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman could have devised it: the sense of humor here is actually very similar to Pratchett’s and Gaiman’s.  Take one no-nonsense American family and have them face off against a ghost who’s getting tired of haunting the castle that used to be his (not to mention being thwarted and frustrated in his efforts by the new American residents at every angle), a good dose of empathy, and one big-hearted unafraid young lady, and what you get is a Halloween story that’s not so much scary as very touching – while at the same time also being laugh-out-loud funny.

By the by, we are reminded that Britain has “really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.”  Which would seem to explain the odd thing or other …

 

The Dain Curse - Dashiell Hammett
Free Space
Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

Hammett’s second novel; one of his “Continental Op” stories, concerning the (alleged) curse besetting a young San Francisco heiress who sees all persons close to her die a violent death within a very short space of time.  A classic noir tale, though the damsel in distress is actually not so much “damsel” as in genuine distress; with everything from an obscure cult that could give any of the more recent real-life ones a run for their money, a lonesome cliffside mansion, plenty of flying bullets and other sinister doings, and plenty of “saps,” “chumps,” and “swell” things and characters.  I like the Op’s narrative voice; it’s unsentimental and matter of fact, but without quite the level of cynicism of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. The Op also genuinely cares for the lady’s well-being and goes to quite a distance on her behalf, without claiming even half his well-deserved laurels at the end.

 


It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None

Ten people are invited to an island off the Devon coast by a Mr. and Mrs. U.N. Owen, who however never make an appearance themselves.  One by one, the invitees meet their death; not before, however, it is revealed that they themselves all have someone else’s death on their hands in turn and have gotten away with it. – One of Agatha Christie’s most famous mysteries: certainly her most-read nonseries book, and a hot contender with the likes of Murder on the Orient Express for the place of the one book that solidified her reputation as the Queen of Crime more than any others.  This one’s really got it all: a locked room puzzle (or several, actually), a sinister, secluded island location, Christie’s trademark use of nursery rhymes (this wasn’t the first such occurrence in her writing, but it’s unquestionably the most notable one), a cast that – in the absence of any recognizable “detective” character – seems to consist of ambiguous, unreliable characters only, and a turntable conclusion of the sort that only Christie could have come up with.

 

Der Sandmann - Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann
Classic Horror
E.T.A. Hoffmann: Der Sandmann (The Sandman)


The first of three Tales of Hoffmann that were (partially) used in the libretto of Jacques Offenbach’s opera of that name; one of the works that cemented Hoffmann’s rank among the progenitors of the horror genre and also one of the (pseudo-)scientific narratives that, over 100 years later, would inspire the steampunk genre:

The story of a student named Nathanael who, having seen his childhood and his family terrorized by a sinister attorney named Coppelius (the eponymous “Sandman”), years later believes that he has recognized as the self-same man a creepy barometer and eyeglass salesman named Coppola, who haunts his steps in the city where he has gone to study chemistry with a certain professor Spalanzani.  While at university, Nathanael falls in love with an enchanting, albeit a bit doll-like creature that professor Spalanzani one evening introduces into polite society as his daughter Olimpia.  Accidentally learning the truth about his presumed fiancée and two more sinister encounters with Coppola, however, eventually prove too much for Nathanael’s nerves and drive him into insanity.

Hoffmanns Erzählungen - Bilder - Theater Bonn: Hoffmanns Erzählungen - Bilder - Theater Bonn:
Jacques Offenbach: Les contes d’Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) – framework narrative and Olimpia episode (Bonn Opera, spring 2015)

 

 

 Bingo No. 4:


Black CatFrances & Richard Lockridge: The Norths Meet Murder

 A murder investigation occurring in New York City’s martini- and cocktail-guzzling Greenwich Village “beautiful people” set, wherein a black cat named Pete (the titular Mr. and Mrs. North’s pet, who seems to be modelled on the authors’ own cat) is a witness to the murder and is ultimately also (unwittingly) instrumental in bringing the murderer to book.

I could never really get into this book; while it did have its amusing moments, by and large it read like the work of a cookie cutter, rather pedestrian mind trying to copycat Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles of Thin Man fame.  The writing dragged interminably in parts – e.g., I seriously did not need to know what the chief investigator, who isn’t either of the Norths but a police lieutenant called Weigand, had for every single one of his meals during the investigation.  (Obviously, it also didn’t help that I have actually just read the real thing, an honest-to-God Dashiell Hammett novel, for the Halloween Bingo, so Hammett’s own style and craftsmanship is still fresh in my mind at this point.)  This is the first book of a series that seems to have had quite a successful and long run, so I may eventually end up taking another look at the Lockridges’ writing at some later point, but it probably won’t be any time soon.

Now, if Asta were a cat and not a dog …

 


Scary Women (Authors)
Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn

17 year old Mary has made a deathbed-side promise to her mother to go and live with her aunt and uncle Patience and Joss after her mother has died.  So she exchanges the friendly South Cornwall farming town where she has grown up for Uncle Joss’s Jamaica Inn on the Bodmin Moor, which couldn’t possibly be any more different from her childhood home.

From page 1, Du Maurier wields her expert hand at creating a darkly foreboding, sinister atmosphere, which permeates the entire story.  This being Cornwall, there is smuggling aplenty, and though there are a few elements and characters I could have done without (most noticeably, Mary’s infatuation / love affair with a “charming rogue” who is about as clichéd as they come, as is her final decision, which impossibly even manages to combine both of the associated trope endings – (1) “I’m the only woman who can match him in wildness and who can stand up to him, therefore I am the one woman who is made for him,” and (2) “I am the woman who will tame him and make him respectable, therefore I am the one woman who is made for him” – which in and of itself bumped the book down a star in my rating), the story’s antagonist (Uncle Joss) in particular is more multi-layered and interesting than you’d expect, I (mostly) liked Mary, and anyway, Du Maurier’s books are all about atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere, and as an entry for the “Scary Women Authors” bingo square this one fit my purposes quite admirably.

The real Jamaica Inn in its present-day incarnation:

  

 

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

(See above.)

 


Locked Room Mystery
Gaston Leroux: Le mystère de la chambre jaune
(The Mystery of the Yellow Room)


This book is billed as the first-ever locked room mystery, which isn’t entirely correct, as by the time it was published (1907), there already were several very well-known mysteries relying on the same feature (Edgar Allan Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, as well as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sign of Four and The Speckled Band), even though their solutions are different than this book’s.  The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Speckled Band are, interestingly, expressly referenced here, and it is quite obvious that Leroux was a huge admirer of Sherlock Holmes and his creator, to the point that I couldn’t make up my mind to the very end to what extent he was copycatting and to what extent he was paying hommage.  By and large it’s an enjoyable read, though, and I can well believe that the book’s contemporaneous readership considered it a novelty and was seriously wowed by its solution.  (Side note: Grammar nuts reading this in French will have the rare joy of finding the chief narrative tense to be the first person plural passé simple, which greatly added to my personal reading pleasure.)

 

Feet of Clay (Discworld, #19) - Terry Pratchett
Vampires vs. Werewolves
Terry Pratchett: Feet of Clay (Discworld #19)

Part of the Night Watch subseries and officially now one of my favorite non-Witches Pratchett novels.  And I also have a new favorite non-Witches Discworld character: the Night Watch’s resident female werewolf Constable Angua, who seriously kicks a$$ (or, um, prods bottom, as Sam Vimes would have it).

The members of the Watch have their hands full: An old priest and the caretaker of the Dwarf Bread Museum have been killed, and as if that weren’t enough, someone is slowly poisoning Lord Vetinari.  While it falls to Commander (Sir) Sam Vimes to take the matter of Vetinari’s health in hand personally (assisted by Sergeant Detritus (troll)), Captain Carrot (human) and his sort-of-love-interest, Constable Angua (werewolf) go after the killers of the priest and of the museum caretaker, assisted by Night Watch oldtimers Fred Colon and and Nobby Nobbs (humans), as well as newcomer / forensic scienalchemist Cheery Littlebottom (dwarf).  Meanwhile, Sam Vimes is persuaded to make an appointment at the Ankh Morpork Royal College of Heralds, to see its chief herald – the Dragon King of Arms, who is in fact a vampire – about the possibility of a Vimes coat of arms (the city’s latest fashion, which has (literally) extended to the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker); and much fun is poked at the conventions of the mystery novel, particular the golden age variety in the style of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. – The titular feet of clay are those of the city’s golems, who play a pivotal role in the events and who, horror of horrors, seem to have begun to think for themselves.

I originally turned to Pratchett because (other than his books reliably being a hoot or two) straightforward paranormal stuff just isn’t my thing and, with the Night Watch being a mixed bunch of pretty much all sorts of creatures that Discworld has on offer, this seemed the most likely subseries where to encounter both a werewolf and a vampire in some sort of prominent role in the same book (I picked this before MM and OBD had clarified that either of the two would actually be enough for a book to qualify for the “Vampires vs. Werewolves” square).  Going in, I only knew that this would fit the requirements because one of the protagonists is a female werewolf and vampires feature in some fashion in the narrative (I checked by way of a keyword search using Amazon’s sneak peek feature), but as it turns out my selection was actually completely on point, because Angua (the werewolf) is a key member of team Watch (i.e., team “good”), whereas it becomes clear fairly early on that the Dragon King of Arms (the vampire) is the chief conspirator (i.e., the leader of team “bad”), even though the other members, as well as the aims and nature of the conspiracy are only revealed bit by bit.

 

 

UPDATE: Well, gosh darn.  I was over the moon for having gotten a double bingo (nos. 3 & 4), but it looks like I even nailed a fifth bingo without being aware of it — says here the four corners and the central square also count.  Woohee!!

So …

Bingo No. 5:


Read by Candlelight or Flashlight
E.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi)
(read by flashlight, in bed)

A spooky mystery set in the 1680s, in the Paris of Louis XIV. Mlle. de Scuderi – an elderly gentlewoman who is in the confidence of the king and his maitresse, Madame de Maintenon – gets involved, very much against her own will, in the efforts to clear up a string of brutal robbery-murders, as well as the death of Paris’s most famous jeweller.  She isn’t actually the person to solve the crimes, but acts as a powerful intermediary on behalf of the person wrongfully accused, and her advocacy on his behalf eventually leads to the solution.

Those familiar with the real-life Edinburgh tale of Deacon Brodie may find some elements of this story familiar.

I read this in German; Hoffmann’s language is rather florid (and might well be too florid for me under different circumstances), but somehow it fits the setting and mood of this story very well.

 

 Black Cat – Frances & Richard Lockridge: The Norths Meet Murder

(See above.)

 

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

(See above.)

 

Vampires vs. Werewolves – Terry Pratchett: Feet of Clay (Discworld #19)

(See above.)

 


Set on Halloween
Agatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party

One of Christie’s final Poirot novels, and one of the few books that stand out favorably among her final books overall.  There is the odd passage here and there where Christie reveals that she really was not – nor did she seem to want to be – in touch with the England of the 1960s, but the mystery itself is finely-crafted and holds up well; even if Christie in part revisits familiar ground (but then, she frequently did that).

Poirot is summonned to a village some 40 miles from London (in Miss Marple territory, it would seem in fact) by his friend, crime novelist (and Agatha Christie stand-in) Ariadne Oliver, after a young girl has been found murdered at a Halloween party that Miss Oliver happens to have attended.  The dead girl, during the preparations for the party, had proclaimed that she had once witnessed a murder – and though everybody is quick to declare her to have been a braggart and a liar who was probably just trying to impress the celebrity novelist in attendance, Poirot is reluctant to agree with that judgment, arguing that someone obviously took her words at face value and chose to kill her rather than running the risk of discovery.

 

 

Finished – Update 8:

And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie The Norths Meet Murder (The Mr. and Mrs. North Mysteries) - Frances Lockridge, Richard Lockridge

Witches – Terry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman: Good Omens
Black Cat – Frances & Richard Lockridge: The Norths Meet Murder
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night – Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None

 

Currently Reading:


Magical Realism – Isabel Allende: La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits)
Full Moon – James D. Doss: White Shell Woman

 

Finished – Update 1:

 

Creepy Crawlies – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band
Supernatural – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sussex Vampire
Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery

 

Finished – Update 2:

The Turn of the Screw - Henry James Das Fräulein von Scuderi: Erzählung aus dem Zeitalter Ludwig des Vierzehnten - E.T.A. Hoffmann

Ghost Stories and Haunted Houses – Henry James: The Turn of the Screw
Read by Candlelight or Flashlight – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi)
(read by flashlight, in bed)

 

Finished – Update 3:

The Canterville Ghost - Oscar Wilde, Inga Moore 

Young Adult Horror –
Oscar Wilde: The Canterville Ghost
Pumpkin –
Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

 

Finished – Update 4:

The Dain Curse - Dashiell Hammett

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse
Set on Halloween – Agatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party

 

Finished – Update 5:

 Der Sandmann - Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann

Scary Women (Authors) – Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn
Classic Horror – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Der Sandmann (The Sandman)

 

Finished – Update 6:


Locked Room Mystery – Gaston Leroux: Le mystère de la chambre jaune
(The Mystery of the Yellow Room)

 

Finished Update 7:

Feet of Clay (Discworld, #19) - Terry Pratchett
Vampires vs. Werewolves – Terry Pratchett: Feet of Clay (Night Watch novel)

 

TA’s Reading List:

Read by Candlelight or Flashlight – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi) (novella)

Magical Realism – Isabel Allende: La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits) (novel)

Witches – Terry Pratchett: Wyrd Sisters (or possibly Terry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman: Good Omens (novel)

Genre: Horror – Edgar Allan Poe: The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether (short story); alternately E.A. Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart or The Masque of the Red Death (also short stories)

Black CatNgaio Marsh: Black as He’s Painted (novel) (black cat central to the story and therefore also black cat on the cover of the stand-alone paperback edition) change of plan: Frances & Richard Lockridge: The Norths Meet Murder (novel)

Diverse Authors Can Be Spooky Fun – Possibly Edwidge Danticat (ed.): Haiti Noir (short story anthology); otherwise TBD

Ghost Stories and Haunted Houses – Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (novella)

Young adult horror – Oscar Wilde: The Canterville Ghost (novella)

Scary Women (Authors) – Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn (novel)

Reads with BookLikes Friends – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles (novel)

Grave or Graveyard – Edgar Allan Poe: The Cask of Amontillado (short story); alternately Ngaio Marsh: Grave Mistake (novel) or Umberto Eco: The Prague Cemetery

Genre: Mystery – Peter May: The Blackhouse (novel)

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

Gothic – Horrace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto (novel)

Creepy Crawlies – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band (short story)

“Fall” into a Good Book – Edgar Allan Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher (short story)

Locked Room Mystery – Gaston Leroux: Le mystère de la chambre jaune (The Mystery of the Yellow Room) (novel)

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night – Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (novel)

Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery (short story)

Full Moon – James D. Doss: White Shell Woman (novel) (full moon on the cover, and the protagonist / investigator is called Charlie Moon); alternately Dennis Lehane: Moonlight Mile

Vampires vs. Werewolves – Terry Pratchett: Feet of Clay (Night Watch novel)

Supernatural – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sussex Vampire (short story)

Classic Horror – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Der Sandmann (The Sandman) (short story)

Pumpkin – Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (short story)

Set on Halloween – Agatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party (novel)

Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn


17 year old Mary has made a deathbed-side promise to her mother to go and live with her aunt and uncle Patience and Joss after her mother has died.  So she exchanges the friendly South Cornwall farming town where she has grown up for Uncle Joss’s Jamaica Inn on the Bodmin Moor, which couldn’t possibly be any more different from her childhood home.

From page 1, Du Maurier wields her expert hand at creating a darkly foreboding, sinister atmosphere, which permeates the entire story.  This being Cornwall, there is smuggling aplenty, and though there are a few elements and characters I could have done without (most noticeably, Mary’s infatuation / love affair with a “charming rogue” who is about as clichéd as they come, as is her final decision, which impossibly even manages to combine both of the associated trope endings – (1) “I’m the only woman who can match him in wildness and who can stand up to him, therefore I am the one woman who is made for him,” and (2) “I am the woman who will tame him and make him respectable, therefore I am the one woman who is made for him” – which in and of itself bumped the book down a star in my rating), the story’s antagonist (Uncle Joss) in particular is more multi-layered and interesting than you’d expect, I (mostly) liked Mary, and anyway, Du Maurier’s books are all about atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere, and as an entry for the “Scary Women Authors” bingo square this one fit my purposes quite admirably.

 

The real Jamaica Inn in its present-day incarnation:

 

 

Halloween Book Bingo 2016: Second Update

 

Finished – Update 2:

The Turn of the Screw - Henry James Das Fräulein von Scuderi: Erzählung aus dem Zeitalter Ludwig des Vierzehnten - E.T.A. Hoffmann

Ghost Stories and Haunted Houses – Henry James: The Turn of the Screw
Read by Candlelight or Flashlight – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi)
(read by flashlight, in bed)

 

Currently Reading:


Scary Women (Authors) – Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn

 

Finished – Update 1:

 

Creepy Crawlies – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band
Supernatural – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sussex Vampire
Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery

 

TA’s Reading List:

Read by Candlelight or Flashlight – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Das Fräulein von Scuderi (Mademoiselle de Scuderi) (novella)

Magical Realism – Isabel Allende: La casa de los espíritus (The House of the Spirits) (novel)

Witches – Terry Pratchett: Wyrd Sisters (or possibly Terry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman: Good Omens) (novel)

Genre: Horror – Edgar Allan Poe: The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether (short story); alternately E.A. Poe: The Tell-Tale Heart or The Masque of the Red Death (also short stories)

Black Cat – Ngaio Marsh: Black as He’s Painted (novel) (black cat central to the story and therefore also black cat on the cover of the stand-alone paperback edition)

Diverse Authors Can Be Spooky Fun – Possibly Edwidge Danticat (ed.): Haiti Noir (short story anthology); otherwise TBD

Ghost Stories and Haunted Houses – Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (novella)

Young adult horror – Oscar Wilde: The Canterville Ghost (novella)

Scary Women (Authors) – Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn (novel)

Reads with BookLikes Friends – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles (novel)

Grave or Graveyard – Edgar Allan Poe: The Cask of Amontillado (short story); alternately Ngaio Marsh: Grave Mistake (novel) or Umberto Eco: The Prague Cemetery

Genre: Mystery – Peter May: The Blackhouse (novel)

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

Gothic – Horrace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto (novel)

Creepy Crawlies – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band (short story)

“Fall” into a Good Book – Edgar Allan Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher (short story)

Locked Room Mystery – Gaston Leroux: Le mystère de la chambre jaune (The Mystery of the Yellow Room) (novel)

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night – Agatha Christie: And Then There Were None (novel)

Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery (short story)

Full Moon – James D. Doss: White Shell Woman (novel) (full moon on the cover, and the protagonist / investigator is called Charlie Moon); alternately Dennis Lehane: Moonlight Mile

Vampires vs. Werewolves – Terry Pratchett: Feet of Clay (Night Watch novel; female werewolf one of the main characters & running gag involving a vampire)

Supernatural – Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sussex Vampire (short story)

Classic Horror – E.T.A. Hoffmann: Der Sandmann (The Sandman) (short story)

Pumpkin – Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (short story)

Set on Halloween – Agatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party (novel)

Merken

Merken