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

 

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

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

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

 

My Official 2019 Bingo Card:

Weekly Status Updates and Reviews:

First Week
Second Week
Third Week
Fourth Week

 

The Books:

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Square Markers

 

Called but not read

Read but not called

Read and Called

Center Square: Read and Called

 

The Extra Squares / Card and Books:

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

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

 

My Spreadsheet:

My Book Preselections Post: HERE

 

My Transfiguration Spells

Not used.

 

My “Virgin” Bingo Card:

Posted for ease of tracking and comparison.

 

 

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

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

* Triple Bingo Happy Dance *

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

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

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

 

Weekly Status Updates and Reviews:

First Week
Second Week
Third Week

 

The Books:

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Square Markers

 

Called but not read

Read but not called

Read and Called

Center Square: Read and Called

 

My Spreadsheet:

My Book Preselections Post: HERE

 

My Transfiguration Spells

Not used.

 

My “Virgin” Bingo Card:

Posted for ease of tracking and comparison.

 

 

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

Halloween Bingo 2019: The Second Week

A day late (though hopefully not a dollar short), here’s my “second bingo week” summary; and it’s a summary of a much better week than the first one turned out to be.  (So, yey!)  For one thing this is due to the books, all of which were either outright winners or at least enjoyable on some level or other; for another, even though I finished the week with a fairly lengthy read AND RL was running really major interference, I managed to keep it to an average of one book per day, as a result of which — and as importantly, due to the way the bingo calls have been coming in — I’ve now got several sets of multiple “called and read” squares in a row or column (two of which, also with all five squares marked “read”).  Obviously, even three squares marked “called and read” in a row don’t necessarily mean I’ll be in for a bingo anytime soon, but that one is down to the bingo gods.  All I can do is go on reading …

 

The Books

Peter Ackroyd: Hawksmoor

The second bingo week’s first book, and for the longest time it was on a solid track for a 4 1/2 or even 5-star rating.  Tremendously atmospheric, with London (both 17th century and present day) not so much merely setting but additional character and two timelines tantalizingly mirroring and winding around each other like the two strings of a double helix.  From early on, this is also a book that knows very well just how clever it is, but during the first  90-95% that doesn’t matter a jot … until it does in the end and Ackroyd takes “clever” a step too far into the symbolic, as a result of which the ending is seriously deflating.  What a pity that he proved unable to contend himself with an actual dénouement (however cleverly constructed and meaningful) and instead chose to let narrative lift off and take flight straight into the ether instead.  Still, for the vast majority of its contents, definitely a recommended read — and the beginning in particular, set in the days of the 1665 plague and tying together the plague, a satanic cult, church construction and murder (mirrored by present-day murders in the same churches), definitely packs a punch.

 

Patricia Wentworth: Eternity Ring

Another book off to a great start; if for no other reason than the fact that we get to meet Frank Abbott’s family and learn why he didn’t become a lawyer — as had initially been his chosen career path — but a policeman instead.  (Wentworth takes us back to Frank’s family home in a much later installment of the series, The Fingerprint, which I had already read before moving on to this one, but that only made it feel even more of a priority to finally catch up with this story as well.)  It felt good to be back in Miss Silver’s (and Frank Abbott’s) world in one of the final novels from the series that I had / have yet to read, and it was cruising along nicely and could easily have earned a higher rating, too … if it hadn’t been for the fact that (1) the murderer is fairly easily to deduce by process of elimination and by looking at it from the perspective of where Wentworth herself, as a writer, was likely going to want to take this book’s plot; (2) the conflict besetting the married couple at the heart of the novel feels terribly manufactured (first because during 99% of the book it isn’t explained at all, and then because the explanation, when finally offered literally on the very last pages, comes across as ridiculously contrived); and (3) the heroine is exhibiting serious bouts of TSTL behaviour both in connection with the aforementioned conflict and in the moments immediately preceding the big reveal.

 

Bob Berman: Earth-Shattering

Neither as “epic” nor as “profound” as the blurb promises, and definitely higher on the “popular” than on the “science” part of “popular science writing”.  Based on his style of writing, I can very well imagine Berman as a personable guide at his local observatory or as a host of popular radio science programs; the problem is that what sounds approachable in dialogue and oral explanation just comes across as chatty in writing.  (This gets better once the book has left the opening chapters behind, but it never goes away entirely, and arguably the Big Bang — which is the subject of the first single-topic chapter, i.e., chapter two — should be the last subject you want to approach with that much of a casual attitude.  For purposes of the audio version, it definitely also does not help that the casualness factor is virtually automatically enhanced in oral performance — which isn’t necessarily down to the narrator; it’s just in the nature of the beast.)

In fairness, astronomy, nuclear and astrophysics will never be my strongest subjects, so as far as the actual depth of topical penetration went, it may have been a blessing in disguise that the book didn’t do much more than give an overview of the various types of cataclysms and in so doing, rarely did more than scratch the surface.  (Then again, I tend to acquire both a quicker and a more profound grasp of any topic presented to me both at greater length and in greater depth than here.)  Eitiher way, this was enjoyable for what it was or turned out to be, but IMHO it’s seriously being oversold in the blurb — the author himself also seems to be quite the efficient self-promoter — and I think it’s at least also fair to wonder what medical and man-made events such as the medieval plague epidemics and WWII are doing in a book explicitly setting out to deal with astrophysical and earth-bound types of physical cataclysms.

 

Fredric Brown: The Dead Ringer

Brown’s second Ed & Am Hunter novel and the book that, thanks to Tigus’s generous gift of last year, has been pencilled in for precisely this square ever since.  I truly enjoyed my return to the Chicago and Midwest of the Classic Noir era — Brown’s writing and plot construction easily stands up to that of the likes of Chandler and Hammett, and despite their less-than-bed-of-roses life experience both of his heroes are decidedly less cynical than Messrs. Marlowe and Spade, which makes for an interesting change from the classic noir approach.  (Though now that Ed has had his first bruises from a prolonged encounter with a blonde bombshell gold-digger, I hope his views on women in general aren’t going to end up being overly skewed too fast.)

In this particular book, it also plays out to great effect that Brown knew the mid-20th century carney world from the inside — from the start, the setting with all of its bizarre characters and attractions and its very own language (carney talk) comes alive in a way it only can if described by someone who once used to walk the walk himself.

 

Michael Gilbert: Smallbone Deceased

In my travels in the world of classic crime fiction, one of my truly overdue reads — a book rightly renowned for its dry sense of humor and truly unique way of disposing of a body.  If you ever thought a crime novel set in a law office specializing on wills, trusts and property law is bound to get mired in the dust of legal lingo and technical details, think again.  Given this mystery’s setting and the murdered man’s position, the motive for the murder isn’t hard to guess (though not all of the details are equally obvious), but thanks to the understated irony of Gilbert’s writing, this is deservedly one of the novels that have endured and can still be enjoyed in an era when lawyers’ deed boxes are long since a thing of the past.

Side note: Treat yourself to the print edition, not the Michael Mcstay audio — Mcstay’s preferred style of narration consists of hurling rapidly mumbled bursts of speech at the reader, which makes following his performance decidedly more of a chore than it reasonably ought to be.

 

Anthony Rolls: Scarweather

Quite a change of pace compared to the author’s Family Matters, the first book by Rolls that I read — but if the two books have one thing in common, it’s a sense of the unusual and extraordinary, and an incurable urge to pour the acid of satire on experts (self-appointed and otherwise) and on society’s habit of treating them, and each one of their pronouncements, as holy cows — as sages whose every word must be weighed in gold and not under any circumstances be questioned.  In Family Matters, it’s doctors, chemists and forensic experts (who are bamboozled by an onslaught of unlikely medical coincidences in connection with a death occurring in the context of a breakdown of a marriage); here it’s archeologists.  There is no way this book can be fairly summed up without spoiling half the plot, but if you should decide to tag along with the narrator and his Holmesean scientist friend, you’re in for quite a ride … even if somewhere between the 50% and the 75% mark you’ll probably have quite a good idea of what will be waiting for you at the end of the journey.

 

Jim Butcher: The Aeronaut’s Windlass

The week’s longest read and, perhaps surprisingly, not its best one.  To start with the plus side, this novel’s most interesting characters (and its single most outstanding feature) are the cats — not merely Rowl, the feline protagonist, but all of them; not least also Naun, the giant black tomcat leader of a tribe of street (or rather, tunnel) cats whose character constituted my reason for attributing this book to the “black cat” bingo square.  (Rowl is a ginger.)  Butcher really “gets” cats, and their scenes come across as both laugh-out-loud funny and entirely authentic.  Needless to say, almost all of the cats in this book are completely badass — Rowl first and foremost.  If the rest of the book had lived up to the cats, unquestionably this would have ended up straight on my “favorites” shelf.

Unfortunately, that was not to be.  And it’s not the fault of the human characters, either — particularly the three young women, Bridget, Gwen(dolyn) and Folly, as well as Captain Grimm (the eponymous aeronaut) and Gwen’s cousin Benedict — but Butcher’s own approach to storytelling.  (Which, incidentally, also makes me even more wary about his Dresden Files series than I had been before reading this book.)  The main characters in The Aeronaut’s Windlass are fine, and if Butcher had given them (and me) different stuff to work with, I’d be eager to follow them on their future adventures.  As it is … well, let’s just say the jury is still out on that one.

For one thing, the world building here is not anywhere near as innovative as blurb writers and five-star reviews want to make you believe: Heaven knows I’m not the most ardent reader of speculative fiction, and if even I recognize some the stuff cribbed from elsewhere, there’s bound to be a lot more that I didn’t see.  (Seriously, Mr. Butcher — Habble Landing as a place name and The House of Lancaster as one of the ruling families?  Geez, I thought George R.R. Martin was derivative, but are we into the derivative of a derivative now?  And a Discworld style guild system (only minus the satire)??  Be glad you’re not being sued by the estate of Terry Pratchett.)

Similarly, Captain Grimm and the whole aeronautics thing — warfare, tactical battle  manoeuvers, ship construction and equipment, even down to the details of (aero)nautical language included — are straight out of Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander and C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series: Replace aeronautics (obviously, with the sole exception of aerial ascents and descents) by early 19th century / Napoleonic Wars seafaring craft, ships, and language, and that is precisely what you get.  Grimm himself, too, is so obviously a cousin to Hornblower in his more mature years and to his former Captain Pellew — and Grimm’s Predator a near-identical twin of Jack Aubrey’s HMS Surprise (plus the whole “privateer” subplot / past so obviously built on O’Brian’s Letter of Marque, as well as, incidentally, Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood) — that Forester’s and O’Brian’s (and Sabatini’s) estates should, by rights, be asking for a share of the royalties as well.  To be fair, from the book’s descriptions this was the one aspect I had expected — just don’t please anybody tell me that this is anything even close to original.

Finally, while I did appreciate the whole “cinder spire” idea, and I seriously also appreciate the absence of any sort of infodumps, I would have liked to find out a lot more, over the course of the book, what happened to make Earth’s “surface” world an uninhabitable wilderness and caused “the Builders” generation to construct the spires to begin with — and I’m also not entirely clear how you get to square an alleged “democracy” (this is the exact term actually used) with a de-facto king (called Spirearch) who is quite obviously much more than merely a representative figure and wields true power.

My other gripes tie into those that I have with a lot of speculative fiction (especially sci-fi, as well as George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series), so this may be an instance of “it’s not you, book, it’s me” — but anyway, the book’s plot essentially consists of an incessant series of incidents of armed combat (aeronautic and on terra firma / the spires alike), every single one of which incidents goes down according to the tried and true formular of “hero(es) drawn into fight by overwhelming enemy force — hero(es) bravely stand their ground in the face of impossible odds — after a while enemies seem to get the upper hand after all — and a millisecond before it all goes pear-shaped for good salvation for hero(es) comes from unexpected quarters”.  Sorry, but this sort of stuff flat-out bores me every time it’s served up more than once to begin with (preferably only at a book’s point of climax), and that is true even more if the entire plot of a 700+ page book consists of little else.  (And it is even more true if I can anticipate the precise person or group providing the last-minute rescue — even if not also the precise manner — at least a chapter or two in advance, as was invariably the case here.)

On a related note, “surviving impossible odds in battle” also seems to be the only thing accounting for whatever character growth we seem to be seeing in this book; especially with regard to the younger main characters, particularly the young women, all of whom are inexperienced recruits and barely out of their teens.  OK, so Gwen has her moment of “how do I go back from all this warfare and combat to ordinary everyday civilian life” at the end of the book, and that was another moment I truly appreciated.  I just would have wished there had been more of this, instead of our protagonists incessantly rushing from one fight to the next — and I would also have wished there had been some experiences for them to grow on outside the fighting stuff, as there are (aplenty) in the Hornblower and Aubrey / Maturin books.

Long story short, it’s a miracle this book hasn’t been made into a movie yet — there’s plenty of things going “boom” with a vengeance, the CGI department would have a field day, and there are also plenty of great characters to root for, both feline and human.  And who knows, I might even watch that movie.  But the whole thing is also so similar to the movies that made me essentially stop caring about any new blockbuster releases years (nay, decades) ago that I’m not sure whether I ultimately would go and see it.  And I’m not sure I’m going to be reading the sequel to this book, either … even though Rowl (and Naun) might eventually tempt me to do so after all.

 

The Card

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

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1952754/halloween-bingo-2019-the-second-week

Michael Gilbert: Smallbone Deceased

In my travels in the world of classic crime fiction, one of my truly overdue reads — a book rightly renowned for its dry sense of humor and truly unique way of disposing of a body.  If you ever thought a crime novel set in a law office specializing on wills, trusts and property law is bound to get mired in the dust of legal lingo and technical details, think again.  Given this mystery’s setting and the murdered man’s position, the motive for the murder isn’t hard to guess (though not all of the details are equally obvious), but thanks to the understated irony of Gilbert’s writing, this is deservedly one of the novels that have endured and can still be enjoyed in an era when lawyers’ deed boxes are long since a thing of the past.

Side note: Treat yourself to the print edition, not the Michael Mcstay audio — Mcstay’s preferred style of narration consists of hurling rapidly mumbled bursts of speech at the reader, which makes following his performance decidedly more of a chore than it reasonably ought to be.

 

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

Reblogged from: Moonlight Reader

 

The Mystery & Supernatural squares!

The Mystery Squares:

  

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

The Supernatural Squares:

  

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Anthony Berkeley: The Wychford Poisoning Case


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

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

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

 

2018 Halloween Bingo: The Books So Far

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

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

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

 


Georgette Heyer: Penhallow

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

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

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

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

Reading Progress Update: 120 of 833 Minutes

 


Patricia McKillip: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

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

 


Mary Roberts Rinehart: Locked Doors

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

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

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

 


Joy Ellis: Their Lost Daughters

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

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

 


Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber

Reviewed separately HERE.

 


Anthony Berkeley: The Wychford Poisoning Case

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

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

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

 


Jennifer Wright: Get Well Soon

Reviewed separately HERE.  Also a Flat Book Society read.

 


The Detection Club: Verdict of 13

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

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

 


Mavis Doriel Hay: Murder Underground

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

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

 


Sharyn McCrumb: The Ballad of Frankie Silver

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

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

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

 


Alan Bradley: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

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

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

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

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

 


Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus

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

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

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

 


Daphne du Maurier: Frenchman’s Creek

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

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

 


Edith Wharton: Ghosts: Edith Wharton’s Gothic Tales

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

 


Terry Pratchett: The Colour of Magic

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

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

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

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

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1793155/2018-halloween-bingo-the-books-so-far

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

 

The “bingo” squares and books read:

  

 

My Square Markers and “Virgin” Bingo Card:

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


Black Kitty:
Read but not called


Black Vignette:
Called but not read

Black Kitty in Black Vignette: Read and Called

Black Kitty Center Square: Read = Called

Current Status of Spreadsheet:

(Note: Physical print editions unless stated otherwise)

 

Books Read / Listened to – Update 3:


Martin Edwards: The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books

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

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

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

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

The BookLikes Breakup:
The “100 Books” Presented

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

 



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

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

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

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

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

 


Simon Brett: An Amateur Corpse

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

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

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

 

The Medieval Murderers: House of Shadows

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

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

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

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

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


Bermondsey Abbey ground plan (source: British Library)


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


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

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

Bermondsey Abbey history and excavation (YouTube)

 
Bermondsey shoreline today (photo mine)

 

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

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

And finally:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Agatha Christie: Endless Night
(BBC full cast dramatization)

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

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

 

Dick Francis: Knockdown
(Tim Pigott-Smith audio)

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

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

 



 Ngaio Marsh:
Artists in Crime (Benedict Cumberbatch audio)

Overture to Death (Anton Lesser audio)

Death and the Dancing Footman (Anton Lesser audio)

Surfet of Lampreys (Anton Lesser audio)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next Reads:

and


Angua!!

 

Books Read / Listened to – Update 1:



Terry Pratchett: Equal Rites



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

 



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

 



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

 

Books Read / Listened to – Update 2:



Donna Andrews: Lord of the Wings


Ruth Rendell:
The Babes in the Wood

& Not in the Flesh

 


Robert Louis Stevenson: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

 


Cornell Woolrich: The Bride Wore Black

 Raymond Chandler:
Farewell, My Lovely

  The Long Goodbye

The High Window

 

The Book Pool:

Most likely: Donna Andrews: Lord of the Wings

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




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

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




Candace Robb: The Apothecary Rose




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

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




Most likely: Something from James D. Doss‘sCharlie Moon series (one of my great discoveries from last year’s bingo)

Or one of Walter Mosley‘s Easy Rawlins mysteries

Alternatively:
Sherman Alexie: Indian Killer




Terry Pratchett: Carpe Jugulum




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




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

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

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




One of two “Joker” Squares:

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




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




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

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




Terry Pratchett: Men at Arms




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

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




Most likely: Cornell Woolrich: The Bride Wore Black

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




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

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




Most likely: Peter May: Coffin Road

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




Most likely: Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills

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




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

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




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

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




Most likely: Antonia Hodgson: The Devil in the Marshalsea

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




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

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




Most likely: Something from Ovid’s Metamorphoses

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




Most likely: Jo Nesbø: The Snowman

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




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

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




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