Halloween Bingo 2020: The Rest of the Game and Wrap-Up

Sooo, that’s another bingo game behind us already!  Many thanks to our game hosts for successfully moving the game from BookLikes to a new venue and organizing one heck of a game despite that venue’s built-in limitations.  I had a great time and would only have wished I could have participated more throughout the game (particularly in October).

As I had expected, RL started to run major interference by mid-September; and while initially I was at least still able to continue reading (even though I no longer had any time to compose update posts here on WP), by the beginning of October, even reading was essentially a no-go.  Just as well that I had powered through my remaining books by that time … otherwise, this would likely have been the first year in which I hadn’t made it all the way to blackout.

Anyway — here’s my blacked-out bingo card — gained after having had to wait for Doomsday (to be called … on the game’s very last day, at that: could there possibly have been a better conclusion to this year’s game?), with my “virgin” card below and my final spreadsheet at the end of this post:

 

My Master Update Post

 

The Game’s Final Books

… (roughly) in the order in which I read them:

 

Naomi Novik: Spinning Silver


Book 2 in Novik’s series of books updating classical fairy tales (though not, actually, a sequel to Uprooted — this one very much stands on its own ground): essentially, a blend of Rumpelstiltskin, Baba Yaga, and the English / British version of the elf lore, set in a fictional Eastern European country that is, however, very clearly inspired by Russia — down to the use of proper names, titles, and other terms, which are either downright Russian or a sort of pan-Slavic bowdlerization of Russian, Polish, or other Slavic terms.

Novik almost lost me during the initial scene-setting, which struck me as overly elaborate and wordy (she’s clearly her own greatest fan where it comes to the use of descriptive language or, for that matter, even “showing” instead of “telling”); but once the story got going, I was happy enough to come along for the ride, and there were enough innovative elements to keep me interested throughout.  It was probably a good thing that both the source material and the setting were entirely fictional, though (even if heavily borrowing from Russian and pan-Slavic elements), because I’m almost certain that if Novik had aimed for an existing historical setting (as she does in her Temeraire series), she’d have had me wincing at some point or other. — I may go on to read Uprooted or another fairy tale-based book by her eventually, but it’s not a priority, and after this first taste of her writing, I am even less eager to go anywhere near Temeraire.

 

The Medieval Murderers: The Lost Prophecies


This was a reread, which this time around I liked quite a bit better than when I first read it a few years ago.  The Medieval Murderers series of round robins are the perfect books for the “Relics and Curiosities” Halloween Bingo category, as their very concept consists in following one (supposedly cursed or unlucky) item through history, from its first use or appearance at some point in the (typically: early) Middle Ages to the present day (or beyond); so they have become sort of my go-to series for this bingo square.  Yet, in this particular instance I was sorely tempted to change my mind and assign the book to either the “Doomsday” or the “Dystopian Hellscape” square, as it ends with a scary-and-believable-as-hell doomsday scenario set in a post-climate-catastrophe future, with half the world (e.g., all of Africa and India) essentially burnt up and turned into a scorching, uninhabitable desert, and the better part of the rest half-submerged by the world’s oceans after the melting of the polar ice caps.  (It’s also a showcase for not extrapolating too noticeably from the political order at the time of writing, though, as it was written pre-Brexit and more or less takes Britain’s continued membership in the EU as a given … oh well.)

Like in all the books in the series, the individual sections of The Lost Prophecies (which concerns a book of doomsday prophesies compiled by a 6th century Irish monk) can, at heart, stand on their own, even though there are occasional cross-references; particularly, of course, to the “dangerous book”‘s mysterious origins.  Individually and collectively, the book’s various parts take the reader on a journey from 6th century Ireland to medieval Devon, late medieval Cambridge, the Tartar Steppe, rural England in Shakespeare’s times, and, as mentioned above, the doomsday world of the “dangerous book”‘s final prophecies.  As is to be expected in a round robin — and as is typically the case in this series, too — not all of the individual mystery sections are equally strong, and I’ve found my previous likes and dislikes essentially confirmed upon this reread, even if, as I said, I liked the book quite a bit better as a whole this time around.

 

A.S. Byatt: Ragnarok


Ultimately, I decided to go with Byatt’s take on Ragnarök for the “Doomsday” Halloween Bingo square, because let’s face it, doomsday doesn’t get anymore terrifying than in Norse mythology — and I am glad that Byatt, for one, didn’t try to humanize the Norse deities, as so many other authors do in their attempt to make them understandable to modern readers.  (You can easily do that to the gods of Greek mythology — and honestly, that’s one of the reasons why as a child I found them, and Greek mythology as a whole, much easier to understand than Norse mythology; but try to assign human characteristics and motivations to Thor or Loki and you’re instantly missing their intrinsic nature.)  By the same token, I found it intriguing that Byatt herself — as the “thin child” through whose eyes we are witnessing Ragnarök here is, as she herself confirms in the book’s afterword, an only thinly-veiled edition of Byatt’s younger self — was drawn so much to the Norse version of doomsday in her younger years.  Of couse, what with WWII persistently threatening to destroy her own world, on the one hand it’s easily understandable that she would turn to the kind of storytelling that centers on precisely this sort of catastrophe; on the other hand, the thoroughly alien and hard-to-grasp Norse deities don’t seem to be the very first, logical point of identification coming to mind.  All the more thought, however, Byatt clearly put into her approach to Ragnarök, and all the more the whole thing is to the benefit of the reader … even if, like myself, that reader still comes away preferring Greek to Norse mythology.

 

Sharyn McCrumb: The Ballad of Tom Dooley


Just as the Medieval Murderers series has, over the years, become my go-to series for “Relics and Curiosities”, Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad series is my go-to series for the Southern Gothic bingo square.  I’ve enjoyed all of the books from that series that I’ve read so far; none more than The Ballad of Frankie Silver.  This particular entry, while not a complete let-down, was thus a bit unexpected as it is the first time that I could not empathize with one of the major POV characters (which, I find more and more, is kind of crucial to my enjoyment of a book); not least because I thought her character unnecessarily clichéd.  And although McCrumb insists that — like in her other Ballad novels — the essential story is based on historic fact, she seems to have given in to conjecture here more than she usually does, which is something that I find problematic at least if, like here, it involves people who have actually lived, and have been a part of the events described, though not necessarily (or at least not demonstrably) in the way set forth by the author. — Research and faithful narration aside, however, McCrumb can still write rings around many another writer, and her scene-setting and ear for dialogue (both interior and exterior) is as flawless as ever here.

 

T.S. Eliot: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats


Original review HERE.

Additional separate post HERE — Macavity, Mr. Mistoffelees & Co. in all their feline glory still very much deserve a post of their own!

 

Michael Jecks: The Malice of Unnatural Death


I’ve been a fan of Michael Jecks’s Knights Templar series for a number of years now, and although he pretty much grabbed me with the opening scene of that series’s very first book (and never mind that that particular book did come across as more of a typical “early” book later on), I keep enjoying how much better the series gets the further it progresses.  I am not reading it in order (though I’ve read enough books at this point to have a fairly solid grasp of the two main characters’ overall story arch) — so far this hasn’t greatly bothered me, but I may find it more difficult to go back to some of the earlier books after having read this particular installment, which, never mind its occasionally gut-wrenching scenes, is a veritable page-turner and darned near perfectly crafted in virtually every respect.  It’s also the perfect Halloween (bingo) read, in that it combines a (medieval) mystery — set in Exeter and the main characters’ nearby Dartmoor home — with apparent elements of the supernatural; concerning, as it does, the activities of a necromancer — an assassin claiming to be in league with the devil and using powers bestowed on him by the devil in order to carry out his murders (in the dead of winter, at that).  All told, this was definitely one of the highlights of my bingo reads this year.

 

Ellis Peters: The Devil’s Novice


Another (re-re-)reread and, not just in its medieval setting, the perfect follow-up to Michael Jecks’s The Malice of Unnatural Death: The story of a young man professing an earnest desire to become a novice at Shrewsbury’s abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul and yet, soon revealing in his sleep that he is haunted by demons that will need to be exorcised before any decision about his future can be made — not just the decision whether he is meant for the cloister at all.

This is one of my favorite installments in Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael series; I’ve revisited both the book and the screen adaptation starring Derek Jacobi numerous times … and I confess that petty li’l me always gets an extra kick out of seeing the odious Brother Jerome brought down a peg or three here when he is temporarily rendered incapable of speech.  (And I feel secure in the knowledge that not merely Cadfael but Abbot Radulfus shares that sentiment, so I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it, either.)

 

Alice Hoffman: The River King


This was, incredibly, my first taste of Hoffman’s writing — in hindsight, I’m wondering whether I should have started with her Practical Magic books after all (but then again, I might be wondering about the same thing in reverse — i.e., whether I should have started with this book — if I had).  Either way, I was a bit more underwhelmed than I had expected to be — with this book, at any rate: I”ve always been much less certain that the Practical Magic books are for me, and am even less certain about that now.

This is a murder mystery with supernatural elements set in a New England prep school: I found the main characters and the setting well enough executed, but I suppose I’m just too prosaically-minded to see what the supernatural elements added to the (by and large sordid, but hardly original) story — and Hoffman’s writing at times has a downright manipulative quality that I found more and more jarring the further I progressed in the book.  I also have a serious bone to pick with the ending, which doesn’t seem to hold out much hope for the victims of bullying in this (the real, not the supernatural) world — in a book that clearly aims to send a message, that is just about the last sort of message I’d want to see.

 

Colin Dexter: The Dead of Jericho


Another comfort (re)read (well, its been that kind of year … and fall): It was more or less “six of this, half a dozen of the other” whether I’d use this book for the “Film at 11” bingo square and something from Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael series for “Read by Flashlight or Candlelight” or vice versa, but I ultimately decided to go with the more obvious focus on the book as actually written here, simply because this book’s screen adaptation is one of the Morse TV episodes I care somewhat less for than the series as a whole.  The reason is that the screenwriters’ fiddling with the plot (which is present, to some extent, in all episodes of the TV series) in this instance creates a structure that is several degrees more serpentine than the already fairly convoluted plot of the actual book — which in turn, for a number of reasons isn’t my absolute favorite in the series, either, but as a writing exercise it’s still superior to the screenplay.  (No reflection on the cast: John Thaw, Kevin Whately, and Gemma Jones are all in great form.)

Another reason for my decision to pick this book for this particular square was that the audio version is narrated by Samuel West, who does an absolutely phantastic job, as he does for the entire series.

In keeping with the theme of this square, I made this listening experience as comfortable and laid-back as possible; starting while having a bath and finishing in bed — with my obligatory black(ish) Halloween bingo good luck cat by my side. — Thanks again to Lora who agreed to flip this square for my original card’s “Stone Cold Horror” … I’d never have found a horror novel set in winter on my shelves (nor been inclined to read it even if I’d found one, this year being what it is)!  You’ve got to admit … this was the much more “feel good” version:


 

Patricia Highsmith: Ripley Under Ground


This year’s Halloween Bingo buddy read — thanks again to Christine, BrokenTune and Lillelara for the fun of reading this book together!  Somehow, that seems to be the way Patricia Highsmith’s books are enjoyed best … Though I have to say, while I struggled with Strangers on a Train, I’m getting a complete and total kick out of Tom Ripley.  I mean, sure, he’s a psychopath, and it was slightly even more fun to watch him turn into the monster that he actually is in the first book … but it was still eye-rolling good fun to watch his antics in the arts world.  (He also seems to be one of the notable exceptions to the fact that, as a rule, I have to be able to empathize with at least one of a book’s POV characters, see above.  Which is a rule that of course also applies to Highsmith’s books — hence, in part, my response to Strangers on a Train — and c’mon on, you can’t seriously root for a psychopath … or can you?!)

 

Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White


Thank God for writers like Wilkie Collins, who always provide(s) me with enough options to fill at least one horror-related bingo square without having to reach for a spell card … and still read something generally classified as “horror” (or “gothic”) without actually being scared out of my wits and unable to sleep afterwards.  In The Woman in White, it’s all in the psychology: At heart, this is more mystery than what we’d call “horror” today — chiefly concerning, as it does, the identity of the eponymous “Woman in White” and the goings-on in a house that, it turns out, she used to call her home — but one character (the odious Count Fosco) alone provides enough of a creep factor to satisfy the definition as “gothic” three times over, and most of the other tropes of the genre are present as well (mysterious lonely country estate, women in peril, doomed love, fire, etc.) — For those who may have struggled with Collins’s The Moonstone: This is similar in structure in that it, too, has several narrators, but none of them have quite as many idiosyncrasies as does Betteredge, in particular, in The Moonstone; and I also found The Woman in White somewhat more tightly plotted.

 

W. Stanley Moss: Ill Meet by Moonlight

The book I’ve wanted to read ever since I visited Anógia village, high up in the Cretan Mount Ida (or Psiloritis) massif, several years ago: The first-hand account of the WWII abduction of German Major General Heinrich Kreipe near his home in Heraklion, after which Kreipe was marched all the way up the mountain and, ultimately back down again to the southern coast of Crete and, from there, into English captivity in Egypt for the entire rest of the war.  I’ve posted about this before, so by way of background I’ll let that other post say all that is necessary … for purposes of this update, let me just add that “the book itself” is a ripping great read and then some; not just because it’s all true (what need for fiction if reality can write this sort of story?!), but also because Moss’s narrative style is tremendously engaging; affable and charming, understated, and straightforward at the same time. — And for anybody wondering just how fast friends he and Patrick Leigh Fermor (only incidentally his commanding officer in the venture) really were, I’ll give you just one excerpt; straight from Moss’s diary, which forms the backbone of the text, in this particular instance, from their first day in the cave (!) where their little group awaited the arrival of “Paddy” Leigh Fermor and the rest of their contingent:

“To remain here for a few days in comparative idleness will not be unpleasant.  I have with me the books which Paddy and I selected in Cairo to take with us, and among them there is something to suit every mood.  My literary companions are Cellini, Donne, Sir Thomas Browne, Tolstoi, and Marco Polo, while in a lighter vein there are Les Fleurs du Mal, Les Yeux d’Elsa, and Alice in Wonderland.  Then there are The Oxford Book of Verse and the collected Shakespeare which Billy MacLean gave us on our last night in Tara [before starting on the mission] …”

Only a person whom Patrick Leigh Fermor considered a true brother in spirit would find it perfectly normal — even indispensable — to bring (a) any books at all, (b) so many books, and (c) these books of all the books in the world on a potentially deadly mission in enemy territory (as Crete was for the Brits in WWII) … not to mention, consider Baudelaire’s controversial masterpiece and Louis Aragon’s patriotic wartime poems to his muse Elsa something “in a lighter vein.”  (And, of course, this is only one of several passages in the book that literally had me do a double take.)

N.B.: I’ve since found out that above and beyond the passage quoted in my other post, Leigh Fermor actually did end up writing his own full, book-length account of that particular mission, too … guess what went straight into my online shopping basket once I’d made that discovery.

 

J.J. Connington: Nordenholt’s Million


This was a book I instantly knew I’d be saving for Halloween Bingo after I’d read its back cover blurb. And it proved chillingly topical for our times — it sort of describes the combined effect of Brexit (and Trump in the U.S.), venture capitalism, and a rampant, out-of-control biological pest coming together.  (As a minor but significant tangent, also throw in religious fundamentalism.)

In the book’s case the pest is a bacterium that destroys the chemical compounds in which plants ingest nitrogen; in other words, it’s a killer with the capability of destroying the world’s entire food reserve (not just plant-based — animals directly or indirectly (via their prey) feed off plants, too, after all) in the space of less than a year. In the crisis brought about by the bacterium’s spread, a businessman / venture capitalist “relieves” the inept government of the reins of power — first behind the scenes, ultimately overtly — and puts in place a scheme where 90% of the British population (and 99+ % of the world’s population) are condemned to starve, while the remaining 10% of Brits — all of them, of course carefully selected — are put to use in creating a new, utopian society, which alone is in possession of nitrogenated soil and can grow plants.  (When religious fundamentalism takes hold in that community of the “select few”, the leader of the cult is first publicly unmasked as a fraud and then, literally only seconds later, shot dead in full view of the crowd he has amassed.)

I was shocked to see that this book was published in 1923; after having read the first chapters, I’d have expected at the very least that Connington had seen Hitler’s “Enabling Law” and use of the press for propaganda purposes in action, but no … and yet, he foretells them with a frightening degree of accuracy, only on the basis of the British system (which, yes, you’ve guessed it, in the book does include adjourning parliament to avoid inconvenient questions. And yes, at the moment when the crisis hits, the future dictator is an MP himself, too … by way of a sort of lateral activity, with the ultimate aim of furthering his venture capitalist interests). The way in which Connington pretty much foretells everything we saw with Hitler, and everything we’re now seeing with the combined effects of Trump, Brexit, a venture capital-based economic system AND the pandemic is scary to the nth degree … I’m glad he only ever put his ideas into this book and didn’t, himself, set about putting them into practice.

Connnington was, incidentally, a chemist by training, so he clearly knew what he was writing about as far as the scientific elements are concerned.  In fact, he was even prescient enough to foresee the use of nuclear energy — it’s the energy on which his future, utopian cities are ultimately run.  (They also consist of buildings made of other materials than stone or concrete, not unlike the building materials that are actually used today.)

If, in the final analysis, I only ended up rating the book 3 1/2 stars after all, this is based on essentially three reasons, and all of them only truly materialize in the final part(s) of the book — though some of these issues already start cropping up about halfway through:

(1) In terms of social clichés and perceptions, Connington was, alas, very much a man of his times.  There’s no sugarcoating the fact that the book contains some glaringly racist passages (and it’s not unconscious racism, either — he clearly meant every word); and, similarly, his take on women and women’s role in society is … well, let’s say, at the very least problematic.  There’s a distinct element of misogyny; even if it’s not quite as blatant as the racism (and he may even have believed he was doing something “advanced” in expressly giving one particular woman more of an active voice / role in building that utopian society).

(2) Connington, like a fair number of his contemporaries, was in favor of euthanasia — which is a fact I only know because I’ve read Martin Edwards’s two books about Golden Age crime fiction; but even if I hadn’t known this going in, it would have been hard to miss here.  However terrifying the first half of the book, the more the narrative progresses, the more it becomes clear that the author himself doesn’t, fundamentally, seem to see anything wrong with starting from a “clean slate”, as it were, of hand-picked superior human material (although even he does seem to balk at the more horrific aspects of achieving such a “clean slate”).  I haven’t read anything else by Connington yet — except for one mystery short story, that is — and I’m willing to grant that, had he foreseen the extent to which the Nazis took their particular version of a “clean slate”, he, too, would have been horrified.  (He died shortly after WWII; maybe some of his final literary output can provide some guidance as to his thinking once the world had begun to learn about the unspeakable horrors wreaked by the Nazis.)  Still, it’s an unnecessarily jarring feature.

(3) The utopian society ultimately emerging from all the turmoil is presented only in the sketchiest of terms, in great contrast to the description of the destruction of the world as it had been known until then.  Granted, this wasn’t Connington’s focus, but the ending of the book still feels rushed; and I found it hard to envision how, even after the discovery of nuclear energy (for which not one but several scientists knowingly and selflessly sacrifice their own lives … really, Mr. Connington??), the whole thing is supposed to have worked out … especially without the least further social turmoil.  As Connington himself shows, human society doesn’t work like that — and it’s not just the “dumb, gullible masses” (whoever they are) who won’t be pacified by the “bread and games” approach forever.

Still, I am glad that I have read this book — and there were times when, in the first half especially, I very much felt like quoting huge passages verbatim and yelling at people: “Listen to this — and this is from a book published in 1923, for crying out loud!”

 

Julie Smith (ed.) & Various Authors: New Orleans Noir


This year’s final bingo book: an anthology of mystery short stories set in New Orleans, by some of the Big Easy’s best-known crime writers.  As is usually the case with such compilations, some of the entries struck more of a chord with me than others, but taken together, they definitely conveyed an image of how the city just might see itself — or at least, some of of its seamier sides.  In a way, it also proved as fitting a final Halloween Bingo book as Nordenholt’s Million (which I had initially expected to finish last): what I hadn’t known when I picked this anthology — but instantly learned from the introduction — was that this book was put together in support of post-Hurricane Katrina disaster aid.  And in a year largely dominated by a global pandemic, that seems as apt a way to conclude my Halloween Bingo reads as having to wait for the Doomsday square to be called in order to be able to record my full “called and read” card blackout.

 

Previous Status Updates:
Week 1
Week 2

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 Third Week

Well, the third week really hit my bingo experience out of the ballpark this year — and not only Pbecause it finished with my first completed bingo; that was actually just the icing on the cake.  But it included no less than three absolutely knock-out fabulous books, plus a fourth that was almost as good — and the remaining three, though not quite reaching this level, were at least mostly enjoyable, all in their own particular way.  So without any further ado:

 

The Books

Sofi Oksanen: Fegefeuer (The Purge)

Based on everything I’d previously heard about this book, it took me quite a while to get up my nerve to read it, because I knew I’d be in for a fairly merciless game of psychological hares and foxes — which however, of course, meant that it would be a natural choice for the “Psych” bingo square.

Sofi Oksanen’s The Purge contrasts the early 1990s’ post-Soviet Union independent Estonia with that of the WWII and post-WWII era which had led to the country’s being swallowed up by the Soviet Union.  The setting in which this happens is the isolated farm where one of the novel’s protagonists, has been living almost all her life, and where at the beginning of the book the other protagonist — a young woman who is obviously on the run — suddenly appears, seeking refuge.  Although the two women have never seen each other in their entire lives (and the young refugee for all practical purposes is Russian rather than Estonian), it soon becomes clear that it is by no means an accident for her to show up in this place and none other.  What follows is a dance macabre style exploration of death, guilt, betrayal, running away from versus accepting responsibility for one’s own actions, and one (or two?) families’ entanglement with Estonia’s and the Soviet Union’s brutal social and political order in the second half of the 20th century.  This is an uncomfortable read, but it perfectly encapsulates the mental, psychological, political and social purge that every society will embark on both upon slipping into and upon freeing itself from a dictatorial system; and particularly in today’s political climate it comes highly recommended.

 

Terry Pratchett: Guards! Guards!

And talking about books that ought to be read, today more than ever, this turned out to be yet another one, right on the heels of Oksanen’s.  The eighth Discworld novel and the first book of the Night Watch subseries — but first and foremost, an exploration of just how a political system can fail and slip into dictatorships right before everybody’s eyes. Whatever it was that motivated Pratchett to write this book exactly 30 years ago, in the waning days of the Cold War, it is eerily prescient and feels as if it were written this or last year; so exactly does it foretell recent events (particularly in the UK and the U.S., but by far not merely there).  There is, of course, also plenty of Pratchett’s trademark pith and humor, and plenty of lines that, at least in the first part of the book, will make you laugh out loud; but in the second half, more often than not your laughter is going to get stuck right in your throat.

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering about my bingo square attribution, it features dragons.  Plural — but one in particular.

 

Margery Allingham: The White Cottage Mystery

Allingham’s first mystery, and it clearly shows off her talent as a writer from the start.  As in the first Albert Campion book (The Crime at Black Dudley) and several of the subsequent Campion mysteries, there’s an international “detour” — here: literally so — that is not in any way, shape and form necessary to the plot and that I could therefore have done without, and it’s no particular surprise that Allingham later chose a somewhat more flamboyant hero for the series she would come to write.  But for an afternoon’s (or in my case, morning’s) worth of entertainment this works very nicely indeed.

 

BBC Audio: The Lady Detectives

See separate post HERE.

 

Trudi Canavan: The Magicians’ Guild

The first book of Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy and, while it started out enjoyable enough, another book that ultimately failed to live up to my expectations.  (It’s by no means awful, but it also didn’t entice me to continue with the series, however much the ending may have be trying to do just that.)

The book concerns a teenage girl from the slums who in the course of an anti-magician rally with fatal consequences — though not for herself — accidentally discovers that (drumroll …) she has magical powers herself and is henceforth sought out by the Magicians’ Guild who (1) want to make her one of their own and (2) even if she should refuse that rather unexpeted honor — all things magical ordinarily being perceived as something restricted to the country’s ruling families — have decided that in her own interest as well as for the common good, a clamp must be put on her magical abilities, which indeed quickly turn out to be destructive and beyond her own control (a control she can only be taught by a fully-trained magician).

The first part of the book, which essentially concerns the hide and seek game involving the magicians’ hunt for the protagonist, is sprightly enough — though even there the book is displaying its first unnecessary lengths –, but the second part, instead of kicking things into a higher gear, is riddled with lengthy and largely unnecessary exposition, and from the book’s mid-point onwards the plot is entirely predictable.  The world-building, too, is only so-so: hardly original — and it doesn’t become anymore so just by giving fancy names to ordinary everyday creatures such as farm animals, crops, or certain types of city buildings such as boarding houses, taverns and brothels –, and I am seriously sick of fantasy novels that believe they’re doing something clever by slightly altering the spelling and pronunciation of ordinary everyday names.  (The heroine’s first name is Sonea — pronounced Son-EE-a –; one of the magicians is called Dannyl (pronounced DANNyl.)

In summary, I miight have enjoyed this a good deal more if (1) it had been only about half (or at most, 2 /3) of its actual length and (2) the second half of the book had lived up to the promise of the first half, instead of delving into banal predictability.

 

Joy Ellis: The Guilty Ones

Aaah, but what a joy to move from the week’s last so-so book to another absolute stunner!  I had every faith this was going to be the case, and Ellis delivers in spades — in a mystery that this time comes calling so close to DI Jackman’s home that in reality he would probably have had to recuse himself from the investigation.  (Obviously we can’t have such a thing in a mystery, but to give Ellis her due, at least she doesn’t duck the issue; and by and large she handles it more successfully here than a similar — albeit slightly less weighty — situation in an earlier book.)  I know that at least one other bingo participant is still looking to read this book, so I won’t say a word about the plot — and I only mentioned Jackman’s personal involvement because this is essentially the setup of the entire thing and we’re being told about it right from the start — but what I will say is that this book came very, very close to competing with Their Lost Daughters for the spot of my favorite installment in the entire series; and just when I thought I had figured it all out, Ellis kicked things onto a whole new level.  Brava!

 

Toni Morrison: Beloved

… and finally: The book that accompanied me throughout the week, bit by bit, in both audio and the print version.  And oh, what a writer the world lost when Toni Morrison died.  This wasn’t my first book by her, but it brought home her extraordinary qualities as a writer all over again: There isn’t a word wasted here; Morrison even makes every single sillable stand up and be counted, and each and every one of them comes from a place deep inside her and reaches out right to the reader.  The narration is not linear; every fact unveiled simultaneously shrouds two more in allusion and “rememory” too painful to be allowed to come to the surface; and both this and the changing viewpoints make for a canvas that requires time, patience, and the reader’s full attention to pull it out from its multiple layers of protection — and the complete picture, when it is finally out in the open, is one crying out with unbearable heartbreak.

Much as I enjoyed listening to Toni Morrison’s narration as a companion experience to the book, I would join those who counsel against relying on the audiobook alone if this is your first experience with the book: Morrison’s vocal performance essentially does the same as her writing, coaxing forth and simultaneously shushing bits and pieces of the story as they come up in the text, so it adds yet another layer of complexity to a book that, based on its story alone, already calls on the full engagement of the reader’s senses and awareness.

Whichever way you choose to experience this book, though — if you only read one book by Toni Morrison, by all means let it be this one.  She deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature for Beloved alone.

 

The Card

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

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1956503/halloween-bingo-2019-the-third-week

BBC Audio: The Lady Detectives

Catherine Louisa Pirkis: The Redhill Sisterhood / L.T. Meade & Robert Eustace: Mr Bovey’s Unexpected Will / Anna Katharine Green: The Golden Slipper / Wilkie Collins: The Law and the Lady

Halloween Bingo 2019: Read by Flashlight or Candle Light


The Lady Detectives is a compilation of four full cast radio dramatizations of early Golden Age mysteries focusing on women detectives; not only pioneering works of detective fiction as such but works that give their women protagonists much greater agency than the majority of their female contemporaries would have had in real life — without, however, leaving the social confines of the time when these stories were actually written (and when they are also set).

Given both the “gaslight” setting of these mysteries and the length of this compilation (about three hours total), this seemed the ideal audiobook to use for the “Read by Flashlight or Candle Light” square.  I listened to the first two episodes last night while taking a bath, with my lovely new changing bottle lights on a chair next to the tub, and the remaining two episodes afterwards in bed (with a flashlight style light on my bedside table).

The Redhill Sisterhood by Catherine Louisa Pirkis is one of Pirkis’s Loveday Brooke mysteries — a collection of which I ordered forthwith after having listened to this dramatization, which was by far my favorite of the lot.  Assuming that the dramatization represents Ms. Brooke’s character by and large accurately, she is an enterprising young lady who is not afraid to put the (of course exclusively male) professional police firmly in their place, and of all four female amateur detectives featured here, she is also one of the two most resembling Sherlock Holmes in her approach to logics and reasoning.  Unlike the three other ladies featured in this collection, she seems to be investigating crimes merely for the fun of the thing, not out of some sort of personal or charitable compulsion (which especially endeared her to me). — This particular case concerns suspicions of robbery and theft that have arisen against a society of nuns in rural Surrey.

Mr Bovey’s Unexpected Will is one of several cooperatios by L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace, featuring Ms. Florence Cusack: both Sherlock Holmes’s and Loveday Brooke’s equal in razorsharp logics and stone cold detection powers, but unlike Ms. Brooke, secretly suffering from a nervous affliction (which in turn provides her with her own medically-trained Watson-type sidekick).  In this particular case, she is engaged in an investigation involving fraudulent coinage and a millionaire’s singular will.  Like all stories co-written by Robert Eustace (who was a doctor by training), the mystery’s solution substantially depends on scientific processes; but while part of it is easy to anticipate (as is at least part of Pirkis’s Redhill Sisterhood‘s solution), enough remains — at least in this dramatization — to create a bit of an element of surprise at the end.

The Golden Slipper is one of Anna Katharine Green’s Violet Strange mysteries, involving an investigation into mysterious instances of theft occurring in New York’s upper crust society. Ms. Strange is a member of that society herself (and thus arguably ideally placed to conduct this type of investigation), but she has a charitable motive to seek out gainful employment instead of living off her father’s money and waiting for a husband to come along.

Wilkie Collins’s The Law and the Lady, finally, involves a woman who, shortly after her marriage, finds out that her husband’s name (and thus her own married name) is false and that under his real name, he had stood accused — without either having been convicted or judicially cleared — of having murdered his first wife.  Impulsively and staunchly believing in his innocence, she sets out to clear him once and for all. — Even in this dramatization, which condenses a 400+ page novel down to less than an hour’s worth of listening, it becomes clear just how much of this story is pure Victorian melodrama; yet, Collins doubtlessly has to be credited with having created not merely some of the first detective novels as such but even one (in 1875) that features a woman as its chief investigator.

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1955694/halloween-bingo-2019-read-by-flashlight-or-candle-light-the-lady-detectives

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

Reblogged from: Moonlight Reader

 

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

  

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

  

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

The Books:

Bingo No. 6:


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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 


 WitchesTerry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman: Good Omens

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

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

 


Genre: HorrorChange of plan: Mary Shelley: Frankenstein

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

 


Black CatFrances & Richard Lockridge: The Norths Meet Murder

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

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

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

 

 

Bingo No. 7:


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

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

 


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

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

 


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

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

 


Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery

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

 

 
Full MoonJames D. Doss: White Shell Woman

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Bingo No. 8:

Genre: Horror – Mary Shelley: Frankenstein

(See above.)

 


Scary Women (Authors)Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn

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

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

The real Jamaica Inn in its present-day incarnation:

 

 


GothicHorrace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto

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

Garrick as Hamlet 

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

 

Set in New England – Shirley Jackson: The Lottery

(See above.)

 


Pumpkin – Washington Irving: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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

 

 

 

Bingo No. 9:

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

(See above.)

 


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

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

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

 


Creepy CrawliesArthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Speckled Band

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


Indian cobra (naja naja) (images from Wikipedia)

Review of my favorite screen adaptation starring Jeremy Brett HERE.

 

Full Moon – James D. Doss: White Shell Woman

(See above.)

 


Set on HalloweenAgatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party

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

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

 

 

Currently Reading:

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

 

Finished – Update 1:

 

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

 

Finished – Update 2:

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

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

 

Finished – Update 3:

The Canterville Ghost - Oscar Wilde, Inga Moore 

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

 

Finished – Update 4:

The Dain Curse - Dashiell Hammett

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

 

Finished – Update 5:

 Der Sandmann - Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann

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

 

Finished – Update 6:


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

 

Finished Update 7:

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

 

Finished – Update 8:



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

 

Finished – Update 9:

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

 

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

 

TA’s Reading List:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

The Books:
Bingo No. 3:


WitchesTerry Pratchett / Neil Gaiman: Good Omens

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 


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

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

 

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


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

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

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

 

 

 Bingo No. 4:


Black CatFrances & Richard Lockridge: The Norths Meet Murder

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

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

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

 


Scary Women (Authors)
Daphne Du Maurier: Jamaica Inn

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

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

The real Jamaica Inn in its present-day incarnation:

  

 

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

(See above.)

 


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


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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

So …

Bingo No. 5:


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

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

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

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

 

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

(See above.)

 

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

(See above.)

 

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

(See above.)

 


Set on Halloween
Agatha Christie: Hallowe’en Party

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

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

 

 

Finished – Update 8:

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

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

 

Currently Reading:


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

 

Finished – Update 1:

 

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

 

Finished – Update 2:

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

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

 

Finished – Update 3:

The Canterville Ghost - Oscar Wilde, Inga Moore 

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

 

Finished – Update 4:

The Dain Curse - Dashiell Hammett

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

 

Finished – Update 5:

 Der Sandmann - Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann

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

 

Finished – Update 6:


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

 

Finished Update 7:

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

 

TA’s Reading List:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Space – Dashiell Hammett: The Dain Curse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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