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

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

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

 

My “Week 2” Bingo Books:


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

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

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

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

 


Marie-Elena John: Unburnable

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

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

 


Aimee and David Thurlo: Second Sunrise

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

 


Christianna Brand: Fog of Doubt

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

 


Kathryn Harkup: Death by Shakespeare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Patricia Moyes: The Sunken Sailor

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

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

 

Currently Reading


Naomi Novik: Spinning Silver

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

 

The State of the Card

Master Update Post: HERE

 

My Markers


Read             Called                   Read & Called   Read = Called

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

 

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

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

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

 

My Official 2019 Bingo Card:

Weekly Status Updates and Reviews:

First Week
Second Week
Third Week
Fourth Week

 

The Books:

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Square Markers

 

Called but not read

Read but not called

Read and Called

Center Square: Read and Called

 

The Extra Squares / Card and Books:

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

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

 

My Spreadsheet:

My Book Preselections Post: HERE

 

My Transfiguration Spells

Not used.

 

My “Virgin” Bingo Card:

Posted for ease of tracking and comparison.

 

 

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

All 61 squares revealed: 39 through 61 (Non-Genre-Specific Squares)

Reblogged from: Moonlight Reader

 

The remaining, non-genre specific squares – you can read anything that is horror, mystery, suspense or supernatural that otherwise fits the square prompt.

  

39. Thirteen (13): any book that relates to bad luck, superstition, or the number 13, either in the title/book/series/page count. Booklist linked here.

40. A Grimm Tale:  any fairy tale or retelling of fairy tales, folklore, legends, etc. Book list linked here.

41. Aliens: any mystery, horror, suspense or supernatural book that includes aliens, either here on earth, or in space. Book list linked here.

  

42. Creepy Carnivals:  horror/mystery/supernatural set in or concerning a carnival, amusement park, or other party/festival – think Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, Joyland by Stephen King or Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie; Book list linked here.

43. Creepy Crawlies: this is a throw back from 2016! Books with bugs, snakes, spiders, worms and other things that slither, scuttle or crawl, includes viruses and other parasites. Book list linked here.

44. In The Dark, Dark Woods: a mystery, suspense, horror or supernatural book in which the forest/woods plays a significant role, or which has a forest/woods on the cover. Book list linked here.

  

45. Darkest London: mystery, horror, supernatural, or suspense set in London. Book list linked here.

46. Demons: Any book involving demons, demonic possession or other such elements. Book list linked here.

47. Diverse voices: written by an author of color. Book list linked here.

  

48. Doomsday:  anything related to the end of the world, doomsday cults, or a post-apocalypse world. Book list linked here.

49. Fear the Drowning Deep: books with sea-related elements: sea creatures, ships, and sharks. Book list linked here.

50. Full Moon: a book with an image of the moon on the cover, the word moon in the title, or where a full moon figures prominently in the story. Book list linked here.

  

51. Gothic: any book with significant: a genre or mode of literature and film that combines fiction and horror, death, and at times romance. Book list linked here.

52. Grave or Graveyard: Books that have a grave or graveyard on their covers, in their titles, or any book primarily set in a graveyard. Book list linked here.

53. Halloween: This is a combination of the “pumpkin” and the “halloween” squares from 2016. so, any book set on halloween or has halloween in the title or that has a pumpkin on the cover, or in the title, etc.. will work for this square. Book lists linked here: pumpkins and halloween.

  

54. Monsters: This square covers any crytpozoological or mythological creature that isn’t a vampire, werewolf, or demon. Or zombie. Book list linked here.

55. New Release: mystery, suspense, horror or supernatural that was published after 10/31/18.

56. Read by Flashlight or Candlelight: Back by popular request! Any mystery, suspense, supernatural or horror book – the trick here is to spend an hour or so reading by flashlight or candlelight. Take a picture and share it with us, if you want to!

  

57. Relics and Curiosities: concerning magical, supernatural or haunted objects, such as spell-books, talismans or swords; Book list linked here.

58. Sleepy Hollow: this is the new version of set in New England, with a shout-out to that most New England of all stories, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Book list linked here.

59. Free square: Our friend, Poe, is back for his fourth outing!

 

60. Black Cat: We haven’t seen this square since our first bingo game, back in 2016! Any book that has a black cat in the title, on the cover, or in the story. Book list linked here.

61. It Was A Dark and Stormy Night: This is another throwback to 2016 – any book that takes place on “a dark and stormy night.” Book list linked here.

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1933535/all-61-squares-revealed-39-through-61

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)

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.