February and Mid-March 2020 Reading Update

I never got around to doing this at the end of February, so what the heck … I might as well include the first two weeks of March, since that month is half over at this point already, too.  But then, February was such a universal suck-fest in RL that I didn’t even make it here for the better part of the month to begin with.  (Don’t even ask.)  So much for my hope back in January that things might be looking up …

So, lots and lots of comfort reading in the past 1 1/2 months; Golden and Silver Age mysteries aplenty, both new and from the reread department — but I also managed to honor Black History Month and advance my Around the World, Women Writers, and 221B Baker Street and Beyond reading projects.  In perhaps the weirdest turnout of the past couple of weeks, I even managed to include two “almost buddy reads” (reading books that others had recently finished or were reading concurrently — Patricia Moyes’s Dead Men Don’t Ski and Freeman Will Crofts’s The Cask) and, before vanishing into my February RL black hole, a real buddy read with BT of John Bercow’s excellent (though somewhat unfortunately-titled) memoir, Unspeakable.

 

Number of books read since February 1: 27
Of these:

 

Black History Month
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: We Should All Be Feminists
Yaa Gyasi: Homegoing
Gaël Faye: Petit pays (Small Country)

 

Around the World
— counting only books by non-Caucasian authors and / or set neither in Europe nor in the mainland U.S.:
* The three above-mentioned books, plus
* Sonia Sotomayor: My Beloved World
* Mia Alvar: In the Country
* Matthew Pritchard (ed.), Agatha Christie: The Grand Tour: Letters and Photographs from the British Empire Expedition 1922

 

221B Baker Street and Beyond
Terry Manners: The Man Who Became Sherlock Holmes
Keith Frankel: Granada’s Greatest Detective

 

Golden Age Mysteries
4 by Ngaio Marsh (all rereads): Overture to Death, Light Thickens, Dead Water, Death at the Bar
4 by Margery Allingham (2 rereads, 2 new): The Beckoning Lady, Death of a Ghost, Mystery Mile, Black Plumes
1 by Patricia Wentworth (new): The Case of William Smith
2 by J. Jefferson Farjeon (both new): Seven Dead and Thirteen Guests
1 by Raymond Postgate (new): Somebody at the Door
1 by Freeman Wills Crofts (new): The Cask

 

Silver Age and Other Mysteries
Patricia Moyes: Dead Men Don’t Ski (new)
Colin Dexter: Last Bus to Woodstock (reread)
Ellis Peters: The Sanctuary Sparrow (reread)
P.D. James / BBC Radio: 7 dramatizations (Cover Her Face, Devices and Desires, A Certain Justice, A Taste for Death, The Private Patient, The Skull Beneath the Skin, and An Unsuitable Job for a Woman) — all revisits as far as the actual books were concerned, as was the dramatization of The Skull Beneath the Skin; the rest of the audios were new to me)

 

Other Books
John Bercow: Unspeakable (memoir)
Tony Riches: Henry (historical fiction)

 

Of all of these, the standout entries were:

Gaël Faye: Petit pays (Small Country)
A short but impactful novel tracing the coming-of-age of the son of a French father and a Burundian Tutsi mother, which coming-of-age is rudely interrupted when the genocide in neighboring Rwanda spills over into Burundi.  What starts out as an endearing but somewhat unremarkable read becomes a tale of unspeakable heartbreak in the final part, in which it only took very few pages for the book to completely skewer me.

Sonia Sotomayor: My Beloved World
Justice Sotomayor’s memoirs of her upbringing in the New York Puerto Rican community, and her unlikely, but doggedly pursued path to Princeton, Yale Law School, and ultimately, the Federal Bench — fullfilling a dream that had, oddly, started by watching Perry Mason on TV as a child.  I wish Sotomayor hadn’t finisihed her book with her appointment as a judge, though I respect the reasons why she decided to do so; and even so, hers is a truly impressive, inspiring story of overcoming a multitude of crippling conditions (type-1 diabetes, poverty, racism, and teachers discouraging rather than inspiring her, to name but a few) to chart out a path in life that even most of those who didin’t have to overcome any of these odds would not dare to aspire to.  Throughout the narrative, Sotomayor’s genuine empathy with and care for her fellow human beings shines through on many an occasion; not only for her family and friends, and for those disadvantaged by society, but for everybody she encounters — until and unless they rub her the wrong way, in whch case they will find themselves at the receiving end of a tongue lashing or two.  What particularly impressed me was that Sotomayor, though a staunch defender of Affirmative Action, repeatedly chose not to seek positions as a minority candidate but on a more neutral ticket, fearing she might unduly be buttonholed otherwise.  That sort of thing takes great strength and belief in the universality of her message.

Agatha Christie / Matthew Pritchard (ed.): The Grand Tour: Letters and Photographs from the British Empire Expedition 1922
Agatha Christie’s letters, photos and postcards from the expedition to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Canada in which her first husband, Archibald, and she were invited to participate out of the blue shortly after the birth of their daughter Rosamund.  Lovingly edited by her grandson Matthew Pritchard, and amplified by the corresponding excerpts from her autobiography, the letters in particular shed an interesting sidelight onto the thinking and life experience of the then-budding future Queen of Crime (her second novel was published while the tour was under way), and to fans, the book is worth the purchase for her photos alone (she had rather a good eye for visual composition, too) … and for her surfing adventures, reproduced here in their full glory, and in both words and images.

John Bercow: Unspeakable 
An impromptu boddy read with BrokenTune; delivered in Bercow’s trademark style and doubtlessly offering as much fodder to those determined to hate him as to those who regret his stepping down as Speaker.  I commented on the bits up to the Brexit chapter in a status update at the 70% point; the final part of the book contains much that Bercow had already said repeatedly while still in office, be it in interviews or from the Speaker’s chair; yet, while he doesn’t hold back with criticism of those whose stance he considers irresponsible, he is also scrupulously fair to all those who, he genuinely believes, are working hard to realize the political aims they consider in the best interests of theiri constituents.  In fact, the chapter about what, in Bercow’s opinion, makes a “good” politician, was possibly the most surprising inclusion in the book (and the book worth a read for that chapter alone), heaping praise (and in some instances, scorn) on a wide array of politicians of all parties, regardless whether Bercow shares their views or not. —  Even if no longer from inside the Houses of Parliament, I hope and trust Bercow’s voice will remain relevant and weighty in the months and years to come.

Patricia Moyes: Dead Men Don’t Ski
A huge shout-out to Moonlight Reader for favorably reviewing this book earlier this year and thus bringing it to my attention.  Henry Tibbett and his wife Emmy are a joy to be with, and like MR and Tigus (who has also read the book in the interim), I’ll definitely be spending more time in their company in the future.  What I particularly appreciated in addition to the delightful characters created by Ms. Moyes (and the rather cleverly-constructed locked-room mystery at the heart of this book) was the understanding she brought to the book’s setting in the German-speaking part of the Italian Alps, which is not only one of the most naturally stunning parts of the entire Alps but also a region fraught with a complicated history, which might have caused a lesser writer to glide off into easy cliché, but which Moyes uses rather skillfully in crafting her story’s background.

 Ngaio Marsh: Light Thickens
The final book of the Roderick Alleyn series and perhaps not everybody’s cup of tea, set, as it is, in Marsh’s “main” professional domain — the world of the theatre — and featuring a plot in which the murder only occurs at the halfway point, almost as an afterthought: and yet, upon revisiting the book, I instantly realized all over again why this (the first mystery by Marsh I’d ever read) was the one book that irresistibly drew me into the series and made me an instant fan.  This isn’t so much a mystery as a Shakespearean stage director’s love letter to the Bard, and to his “Scottish play” in all of its permutations; as well as to the Shakespearean theatre, and more generally, the world of the stage as such.  Roderick Alleyn (rather far advanced in his career and definitely not having aged in real time) eventually shows up to solve the inevitable murder, faithful sidekick Inspector (“Br’er”) Fox in tow and quoting Shakespeare with the best of them, but the stars of the show remain the actors themselves, the play’s director (whom those who read the series in order will, at this point, already have encountered in a prior installment), and ultimately, Shakespeare himself.  This may not be everybody’s cup of tea in a mystery … to me, it proved irresistible, the first time around as much as upon revisiting the book now.

Margery Allingham: Death of a Ghost
Unlike my reading experience with Allingham’s fellow Golden Age Queens of Crime Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, that with Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion series is a rather checkered one, where instances of true mystery reader’s delight repeatedly follow hot on the heels of groan-inducing forays into clichéd, implausible plots populated by cardboard characters, and vice versa.  That said, even upon my first read I considered Death of a Ghost one of the series’s absolutely standout entries, and that impression has only been confirmed and reinforced by revisiting the book.  Set in the art world and populated by a cast of fully drawn, quirky characters (some likeable, some decidedly less so), the book lives off Allingham’s acerbic wit, which is brought out to great advantage here; and although Campion tumbles to the probable identity of the murderer when we’re barely halfway into the book, Allingham easily maintains the reader’s interest by keeping the “how” a puzzle, and by tying in a further puzzle whose solution will eventually provide the motive for the murder.  If there is any letdown in the book at all, it’s in the murderer’s ultimate fate, but by and large, this is a superlative effort.

As a side note, I’ve also concluded that the audio versions of Allingham’s novels work decidedly better for me if read by Francis Matthews rather than David Thorpe.  I have no problem with Thorpe as a narrator of other books, but he takes a rather literal approach to Allingham’s description of Campion’s voice, making it come across almost as a falsetto, which in combination with his overly expressive narration as a whole tends to drive me clean up the wall.  Matthews’s delivery, by contrast, while hinting at Campion’s vocal patterns, is a bit more matter of fact overall (even though it still leaves plenty of room for characterization, both of people and of plot elements) — an impression that was swiftly confirmed when a search for further Allingham titles recorded by Matthews threw up a non-Campion mystery of hers, Black Plumes, which in turn also confirmed my impression that some of Allingham’s best writing is contained in books other than her Campion mysteries.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Overall, the past six (or so) weeks contained a lot of great books, regardless whether rereads or new to me.  The two most-hyped entries in the selection — Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and Mia Alvar’s In the Country — proved, almost predictably (for me, anyway), those that I was least impressed with: they were both still solid 4-star reads, but both episodic in nature, with only some of those episodes engaging me as fully (and consequently, blowing me away as much) as, if I’d have believed the hype, I’d have expected the entire books to do.  (I know, I know.  4 stars is still a very respectable showing, and I wouldn’t give either book less than that … and considering that I’ve been known to one-star overly hyped books when called for, 4 stars is even more pretty darned decent.  Still … they both, but particularly so Homegoing, would have had so much more potential if they’d been allowed to spread their wings to the full.) — Of the Golden Age mysteries new to me, the standout was J. Jefferson Farjeon’s Thirteen Guests. Tony Riches’s Henry provides a well-executed conclusion to his series about the three first significant Tudors (Owen, Jasper, and Henry VII) — neatly complementing Samantha Wilcoxson’s novel about Henry VII’s wife Elizabeth of York, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen — and the two books focusing on Jeremy Brett and the Granada TV Sherlock Holmes series starring him as Holmes have given me the idea for a Holmes-related special project, which I will, however, probably only get around to later this year (if I get around to it at all, my RL outlook being what it is at the moment).

 

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Members of the Detection Club: The Floating Admiral

Upon revisiting, much more fun than the first time around.


Well, this was a reread for me and I said I was going to “tag along” with MR’s, BT’s and Lillelara’s buddy read — turns out I ended up whizzing through it because I liked it so much better this time around than when I first read it.

In part, this is doubtlessly due to David Timson’s audio narration, which goes to enormous lengths in harmonizing the various contributors’ authorial styles and making this much more of a consistent book than it comes across in print (or did to me, anyway when I first read it).  But in part it is also because I’m more familiar with some of the book’s contributors in the interim (above and beyond those who still are “big name” mystery novelists today, that is, like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers), and they had me chuckling with glee as I recognized their various pet foibles.

Agatha Christie, for example, crafted a chapter in which great reliance is being placed on gossip: as both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are known to do again and again. Freeman Wills Crofts has the inspector going through all the nitty gritty motions of investigation and duly doing the legwork to follow down each and every clue. Dorothy L.Sayers injects an entire novel’s worth of fresh clues into the plot at about halfway point, all of them diligently and scholarly researched (as we learn in the annex) — which then has Ronald Knox take stock in the next chapter and compose a veritable catechism of questions to be answered in the investigation.  (In his comments in the annex, Knox vents his frustration about having to take up the baton from Sayers.)  Even before Sayers, Milward Kennedy is the first — but by far not the only contributor — to throw a complete spanner into the works of whatever plotline the authors of the earliest chapters may have been contemplating … and her predecessors’ repeated instances of apparent one-upmanship have Clarence Dane, who wrote one of the final chapters, begin the comments on her own solution by basically saying “I have no idea what is going on here, so I just tried to write a chapter that everybody coming after me could use in whichever way they wanted”.  (Yet, Sayers in her introduction assures us that great fun was had by all.)  And finally Anthony Berkeley who wraps the whole thing up in his own trademark manner with false endings and pretend-resolutions galore before revealing the real culprit at last (and even after that, he still has a final ace in his sleeve).

Indeed, in this second read, my particular kudos go to Mr. Berkeley, who in the final chapter, prophetically entitled “Cleaning up the Mess”, not only managed to craft a solution that is consistent with all major clues provided by his collaborators in the prior chapters — no matter how divergent their approaches and the theories / solutions / stories underlying their own respective contributions (all of which are included in the book’s annex) — but, even more astonishingly, he even presents a solution which, in keeping with the best of the Golden Age mystery tradition, may actually be guessed, at least in part, over the course of the book.  I didn’t remember the solution when I started revisiting this story, but parts of it came back to me while I was listening, and I kept thinking, “yeah, Berkeley really did use the major clues set out from the beginning and you can see them if you only pay attention”. — I don’t know whether, unlike all of the other contributors, Berkeley had access to the texts setting out his fellow authors’ respective solutions / theories of the crime, but if he didn’t, he is to be applauded all the more, as almost all of those individual solutions contain one or even more elements and aspects that also found their way into Berkeley’s wrap-up of the plot.

Great fun, all in all, the prototype of a successful round robin — and a book that, with this revisit, has definitely found its way into my list of go-to comfort reads.

 

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My KYD Reads … or: Harry Potter, and What Else I read in March 2018

A big thank you to Moonlight Reader for yet another fun, inventive BookLikes game!  I had a wonderful time, while also advancing — though with decidedly fewer new reads than I’d origianlly been planning — my two main reading goals for this year (classic crime fiction and books written by women).

 

Harry Potter – The Complete Series

This was a long-overdue revisit and obviously, there isn’t anything I could possibly say about the books that hasn’t been said a million times before by others.  But I’ve gladly let the magic of Hogwarts and Harry’s world capture me all over again … to the point of giving in to book fandom far enough to treat myself to the gorgeous hardcover book set released in 2014 and, in addition, the even more gorgeous Gryffindor and Ravenclaw anniversary editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.


That said, particular kudos must also go to Stephen Fry for his magnificent audio narration of the books, which played a huge role in pulling me right back into to books, to the point that I’d carry my phone wherever I went while I was listening to them.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry

As for the rest of my KYD books … roughly in the order in which I read them:

Ngaio Marsh: Death at the Dolphin
(aka Killer Dolphin)

Killer Dolphin - Ngaio Marsh Death at the Dolphin - Ngaio Marsh

Also a revisit: One of my favorite installments in Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn series, not only because it is set in the world of the theatre — always one of Marsh’s particular fortes, as she herself was a veteran Shakespearean director and considered that her primary occupation, while writing mysteries to her was merely a sideline — but because this one, in fact, does deal with a(n alleged) Shakespearean relic and a play based on Shakespeare’s life, inspired by that relic.

The Hog's Back Mystery - Freeman Wills Crofts, Gordon GriffinFreeman Wills Crofts:
The Hog’s Back Mystery

Part of Crofts’s Inspector French series and my first book by Crofts, who was known for his painstaking attempts to “play fair” with the reader; which here, I’m afraid, hampered the development of the story a bit, in producing a fair bit of dialogue at the beginning that might have been better summed up from the third person narrator’s point of view in the interest of easing along the flow of the story, and in holding French back even at points where a reasonably alert reader would have developed suspicions calling for a particular turn of the investigation.  But I like French as a character, and as for all I’m hearing this is very likely not the series’s strongest installment, I’ll happily give another book a try later.

Unnatural Death: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery - Dorothy L. Sayers, Ian CarmichaelDorothy L. Sayers:
Unnatural Death

Not my favorite Lord Peter Wimsey book by Sayers, but virtually the only one I haven’t revisited on audio recently — and as always, I greatly enjoyed the narration by Ian Carmichael.  That said, here again Sayers proves herself head and shoulders above her contemporaries, in devising a particularly fiendish, virtually untraceable method of murder (well, untraceable by the medical state of the art of her day at least), and perhaps even more so by hinting fairly obviously at two women’s living together in what would seem to be a lesbian relationship.

The Red Queen - Margaret DrabbleMargaret Drabble:
The Red Queen

Ummm … decidedly NOT my favorite read of the month.  ‘Nuff said: next!

 

 

A Red Death: An Easy Rawlins Mystery - Walter Mosley, Michael BoatmanWalter Mosley: A Red Death

I’d long been wanting to return to the world of Easy Rawlins’ mid-20th century Los Angeles, so what with Mosley’s fiction making for various entries in the KYD cards, including at least one book by him in my reading plans for the game seemed only fitting (… even if I ended up using this one for a “Dr. Watson” victim guess!). — This, the second installment of the series, deals with the political hysteria brought about by the McCarthy probes and also makes a number of pertinent points on racial discrimination and xenophobia, which make it decidedly uncomfortable reading in today’s political climate.

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe - Hugh Fraser, Agatha ChristieAgatha Christie:
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

Another revisit, and in no small part courtesy of Hugh Fraser’s narration, I liked the book a good deal better than I had done originally.  This is one of several entries in the Poirot canon where we learn about Poirot’s phobia of dentist’s visits, which obviously makes for the high point of the book’s humour … and of course it doesn’t exactly help that it’s Poirot’s dentist, of all people, who turns out the murder victim. — The plot features several clever slights of hand, and you have to play a really long shot to get the solution right in its entirety (even if strictly speaking Christie does play fair).  Well, that’s what we have Monsieur Poirot’s little grey cells for, I suppose!

Imperium - Robert HarrisRobert Harris: Imperium

The first part of Harris’s Cicero trilogy, and both a truly fast-paced and a well-researched piece of historical writing; covering Cicero’s ascent from young Senator to Praetorian and, eventually (and against all the odds), Consul.

The first part of the book deals at length with one of Cicero’s most famous legal cases, the prosecution of the corrupt Sicilian governor Verres, and Harris shows how Cicero employed that case in order to advance his own political career.  Notably, Cicero quite ingeniously also ignored established Roman trial practice in favor of what would very much resemble modern common law practice, by making a (by the standards of the day) comparatively short opening statement — albeit a supremely argumentative one — and immediately thereafter examining his witnesses, instead of, as procedural custom would have dictated, engaging in a lengthy battle of speeches with defending counsel first.  As a result of this manoeuver, Verres was as good as convicted and fled from Rome in the space of the 9 days allotted to Cicero as prosecuting counsel to make his case.

The second part of the book examines Cicero’s unlikely but eventually victorious campaign for consulship, and his exposure of a conspiracy involving Catiline, generally believed to be the most likely victor of that year’s consular elections, who later came to be involved of conspiracies on an even greater scale, and whose condemnation in Cicero’s most famous speeches — collectively known as In Catilinam (On, or Against Catiline) — would go a great way towards securing both Cicero’s political success in his own lifetime and his lasting fame as a skilled orator.

Murder is Easy - Agatha ChristieAgatha Christie: Murder Is Easy

Another Christie revisit, and I regret to say for the most part I’m down to my less favorite books now.  This isn’t a bad book, and the ending in particular is quite dark … but the middle part, much as I’m sorry to have to say this, simply drags.

The Distant Echo - Val McDermid, Tom CotcherVal McDermid: The Distant Echo

Holy moly, how did I ever miss this book until now?!  Even more so since the Karen Pirie series is actually my favorite series by Val McDermid … OK, Pirie herself has little more than a walk-on role here; we’re talking absolute beginning of her career, and the focus is decidedly not on her but on her boss and  on a quartet of suspects involved in a 25-year-old murder case — in fact, the whole first half of the book is set 25 years in the past, too, describing the immediate aftermath of the murder and its consequences for the four main suspects, chiefly from their perspective.  But still!  Well, I sure am glad I finally caught up with it at last … definitely one of the best things McDermid ever wrote.

Unterleuten: Roman - Juli ZehJuli Zeh: Unterleuten

A scathing satire on village life, on post-Berlin Wall German society, on greed, on the commercialization of ideals … and most of all, on people’s inability to communicate: Everyone in this book essentially lives inside their own head, and in a world created only from the bits they themselves want to see — with predictably disastrous consequences.  The whole thing is brilliantly observed and deftly written; yet, the lack of characters that I found I could like or empathize with began to grate after a while … in a shorter book I might not have minded quite so much, but in a 600+ page brick I’d have needed a few more characters who actually spoke to me to get all the way through and still be raving with enthusiasm.  If you don’t mind watching a bunch of thoroughly dislikeable people self-destruct in slow motion, though, you’re bound to have a lot of fun with this book.

Von Köln zum Meer: Schifffahrt auf dem Niederrhein - Werner BöckingWerner Böcking: Von Köln zum Meer

Local history, a read inspired by conversations with a visiting friend on the history of shipping and travel by boat on the Rhine. — A richly illustrated book focusing chiefly on the 19th and 20th centuries, and the mid-19th-centuriy changes brought about by diesel engines and the resulting disappearance of sailing vessels (which, before the advent of engines, were pulled by horses when going up the river, against the current): undoubtedly the biggest change not only in land but also in river travel and transportation, with a profound effect on large sectors of the economy of the adjoining regions and communities.

And last but not least …

"A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" by George North: A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare's Plays - Dennis McCarthy, June SchlueterDennis McCarthy & June Schlueter: “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels” by George North — A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare’s Plays

The lastest in Shakespearean research, also a read inspired by conversations with the above-mentioned visiting friend, and a February 7, 2018 New York Times article on a possible new source text for passages contained in no less than 11 of Shakespeare’s plays.  The story of the discovery itself is fascinating; the research methods applied are in synch with modern Shakesperean scholarship … and yet, for all the astonishing textual concordance, unless and until someone proves that Shakespeare not only had the opportunity to see this document but actually did (at least: overwhelmingly likely) see it, I’m not going to cry “hooray” just yet.  According to the authors’ own timeline, Shakespeare would have been about 11 years old when this text was written, it was kept in a private collection even then, and there is no record that the Bard ever visited the manor housing that very collection — which collection in turn, if the authors are to be believed, the text very likely at least did not ever leave during Shakespeare’s lifetime (though it was undoubtedly moved at a later point in time).  And Shakespearean research, as we all know, has been prone to a boatload of dead-end streets and conspiracy theories pretty much ever since its inception …

 

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Martin Edwards: The Golden Age of Murder


The early history of the Detection Club, told by its current president and first archivist.  Martin’s knowledge of both Golden Age detective fiction and the lives of its writers is downright encyclopedic, and he tells a multi-faceted story very compellingly.  At times I had the feeling that he was taking his own conjecture a bit too far (I will, e.g., have to explore Anthony Berkeley’s and E.M. Delafield’s writing for myself before I wholly buy into his theory about their relationship, what they may have meant to each other, and how it is reflected in their novels), and there were things, chiefly relating to Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, that I was already familiar with; but by and large, wow, what a read.

(ETA: I ultimately concluded that, based on their writings — hers especially — I find it unlikely that E.M. Delafield and Anthony Berkeley ever were more than good friends.)

 

Status Updates

67 of 528 Pages

Some basic background on where some of the chief movers and shakers of the Detection Club were in the 1920s (and how those events were going to impact their future lives) to get us started — I knew the stuff about Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie, but the chapter on Anthony Berkeley was interesting.  Still wondering why Ngaio Marsh never was elected to membership, not even honorary, it appears … it can’t have been her being a native New Zealander; Helen Simpson was Australian by birth (and both she and Marsh lived in England), and John Dickson Carr was American.

I’ve decided I’m going to count this towards the Free Square of the Detection Club bingo … what with Eric the Skull making an appearance there, it feels only right.  (Besides, it’s the logical follow-up to using Edwards’s Story of Classic Crime for the center square of the Halloween Bingo.)

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107 of 528 Pages

Finished Part 1 last night — Part 2 will be “The Rules of the Game.”  So far, the structure seems to be similar to that of the beginning of The Story of Classic Crime (a few chapters on the origins of it all, then moving on to an exploration to what it all meant in terms of writerly approach), except that the focus is on the writers themselves here instead of specific books, and on the Detection Club itself of course — and on putting it all into the context of the era. For a 500-page, tiny-print brick it reads quickly, and so far II’m enjoying the ride and the insight into what the early 20th century writing and publishing world was like.

Interesting tidbits on marketing and writerly self-promotion in particular. Would these authors have enjoyed the changes that social media have brought in recent years?  I think Berkeley in particular would have hated them — Christie not so much, perhaps, at least not initially; she’d have been quick to capitalize on the marketing potential, although one wonders what she’d have done about her “no photographs” rule; and if she hated the tabloids of her day, a Facebook / Twitter sh*tstorm might well have convinced her to leave marketing to her publisher after all.  Sayers would likeky have seen the marketing potential, too, but she’d probably have found it an even greater challenge than Christie to maintain her privacy … hmm.  One thing is certain, self-governed authors’ associations aiming at the promotion and monitoring of a certain level of class and substance in writing seem to be more called for today than ever before!

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210 of 528 Pages

Dear BBC, I’m sure somewhere in your sound archives you still have the recording of the two broadcasts of Behind the Screen and The Scoop.  Could you please, please, pretty please make that available again to mystery lovers?  (And could the estates of the participating authors please, pretty please consent to the publication?)  Sayers and Christie reading their contributions to these two round robins — man, I’d give (almost) anything to be able to hear that, even if Christie hurried through hers like the proverbial horse on the run.

Hmmm, that whole eugenics thing does make me look a bit differently at R. Austin Freeman and J.J. Connington, however — hooray for Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and (it has to be said — of course) G.K. Chesterton for upholding basic humanity there. I hope future generations won’t have cause to look back at our time and view the whole cloning debate in similarly stark tones.  And I do have a feeling Christie’s literary legacy is better off without that little unpublished play, too … (Interesting tidbit about Bletchley and N or M?, OTOH — I bet even though the interview can’t have been pleasant, in hindsight she felt mighty validated).

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