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« Meeting at Wisley | Main | Books in May »

Friday April 30, 2021

Books in April

The effect of lockdown in combination with retirement has led to the seemingly excessive monthly consumption of books - through all forms of media....

  • The Windsor Knot by S J Bennet [Read by Samantha Bond]
    BOM-TheWindsorKnot.jpg This is a fun book which has received much praise by reviewers but I had no idea of its subject matter before I started on it. . My mistake was in reading it hot on the heels of The Thursday Murder Club - which needless to say I much preferred. They have a number of basic themes in common: potentially twee subjects with tongue-in-cheek humour, but treating both subject and characters very seriously and with respect.
    This book has the Queen in the role of "Miss Marple" (I know! our very own dear Queen... whatever next?... no knighthood in the offing for the author I feel...). She keeps it realistic (but, then, how would we know?) while at the same time, despite the characters being real people, they are in truth merely anthropomorphised royal icons.
    As I said, it is fun - but it grates a little with me. Of anything I probably enjoyed the pun of the title most of all.

  • The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon [Read by David Rintoul]
    BOM-TheWatersOfEternalYouth.jpg Another sad tale, told in Leon's distinctive sympathetic and keenly observed way. It revolves around a 15 year old case which was put down at the time as an accident. An elderly friend of Brunetti's wife's family begs him to look into it again, and he finds a way to do so.
    I have seen some complaints of the constant references to Brunetti's family life and cooking, as well as his "unrealistic" aversion to the digital age. However, I love these aspects - it provides a tapestry of his life and work in Venice - a greater whole. I would here contrast it with Patricia Cornwell's writing and her constant references to the same background subjects - hers are tedious and add nothing to the stories at any level - neither the mystery nor the general interest. Well in truth there is no comparison is there? Brunetti has a charming family and the exchanges with his wife and children add a lot to the body of the story well beyond merely providing a backdrop. However realistic or unrealistic is Brunetti's life, the author makes us believe in it, and feel we are right there with him.
    The "accident" is revealed in quite a different way, and a corrupt individual is brought to justice - which sadly cannot help the victim, which we knew throughout. But we are left uplifted by the touching closing scene.

  • Looking Good Dead, Not Dead Enough, and Dead Man's Footsteps
    by Peter James [read by David Thorpe and David Bauckham]

    I saw the first TV adaptation of these books recently and so, starting with No 2 in the series, I finally gave in to Amazon's long-term campaign to get me to read the Peter James books. [Previously actively put off by the themed titles always having to have the word "dead" in them]. I can now see why they worked well translated to a drama, as on the page there is a great deal of very detailed descriptions of physical locations and police procedures that can be simply conveyed in literally moments on the screen; hence you don't get that feeling that the story has been butchered to fit into just a couple of hours. Because of this, I think that listening worked well for me - I'm pretty sure I would having been skipping through passages of the written word. [Although I would most certainly not have been skipping through the detailed descriptions of the locations, because of my personal love of Brighton and my Sussex childhood].
    The third and fourth books in the series, confirm my view that the author's self-professed fixation with researching correct police procedural details is firmly carried through to his work - in some instances to the detriment of the story in my opinion. However, I can agree with him that when you know about a specialist subject - in any field - reading what (to you) is blatantly inaccurate fiction is more than a little annoying. [Sometimes these inaccuracies can only be willful - especially in some TV dramas where any sense of realism is sacrificed to the requirements of the plot - and I'm not talking only tongue-in-cheek Midsomer-type dramas...].
    As a complete contrast to this slavish attention to authenticity, his ability to pen tense thriller passages - seemingly restricted to the denouements - is really excellent. I'll be interested to see how his themes and plot formulas develop over the many books that follow.

    BOM-LookingGoodDead.jpg BOM-NotDeadEnough.jpg BOM-DeadMansFootsteps.jpg

    As a final thought - I do find his "romantic" interludes (definitely a euphemism) a bit tedious. Is this because I am too old to be interested any more? I think not. Is it because I am female? This could more be the case - but isn't the demographic reading mysteries* predominantly female? I always think (girly) emotions are more affected by describing and implying feelings rather than describing actions. I can only again point to Mary Francis's very positive influence on this aspect of her husband's books, which he, and later his son, were unable to sustain without her. Somehow Jame's sexual descriptions are on the one hand too heavy handed to be romantic, and on the other not graphic enough to be arousing. [I'm given to understand that writing "good" porn requires a very specific skill set... although, I'm probably glad overall that this author does not display it.].
    [* If these books are classed as thrillers, rather than mysteries, then the audience would once have been entirely male. However it seems that even this statistic has changed over the last century.]


  • Classic Detective Stories [Read by Edward Hardwicke]
    BOM-ClassicDetectiveStories.jpg The stories are:
    • The Green Mamba Edgar Wallace
    • The Poetical Policeman Edgar Wallace
    • The Dying Detective Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    • The Burglar Colin Dexter
    • The Man in the Passage G.K. Chesterton
    • The Assassins' Club C. Day Lewis
      [writing as Nicholas Blake]
    • The Case of the Tragedies of the Greek Room
      Sax Rohmer
    • Chimes Muriel Spark
    Some I have read before or heard on the radio, but the Edgar Wallaces were new to me, as was Sax Rohmer - I found both very dated in tone and manners but without much period charm - the Rohmer was a good locked (Greek) room puzzle.

  • Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Croft
    BOM-MysteryInTheChannel.jpg Another Inspector French story - but I liked this one more than 12:30 from Croydon. It followed the usual path of a whodunnit with a tense denouement as the police set a trap for the murderer, and laid in wait. Here we still enjoyed French's attention to detail, with every piece of evidence thrashed out and tested to the last degree, step by step building a solid case. There was even a realistically sizeable gap in time where it seemed likely the mystery would never be solved - and then the unexpected event which opened it all up again.
    The story opens with the discovery of a yacht floating unattended in the Channel; two bodies are found on board - shot dead. They are directors of a city finance company, in the danger of imminent collapse, and the obvious suspects are other members of the management team... but which one? (or two?)

  • The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley
    BOM-ThePoisonedChocolatesCase.jpg This is a story involving fictional author Roger Sheringham and his (fictional) Crimes Circle, who decide to investigate a "real" crime that Scotland Yard are unable to solve. Each of the six members provides his/her solution which they then present to their fellow members. It's similar in theme to The Floating Admiral but slightly more coherent since it is written by the one author - although 2 additional solutions were provided over time by Christianna Brand, and Martin Edwards.
    I can't help but point out the similarity between the fictional Crimes Circle and the real Detection Club (of which Berkeley was a member). Seeing the descriptions of the 6 fictional members, I also cannot help wondering if he is parodying and making fun of his real life compatriots in the Club.
    There are the usual interesting word usages: the "correct" writing of 'bus, (short for omnibus), as well as a Greek word printed using the Greek alphabet - and not translated! (I like to think of myself as educated but I have no idea....). The word "daisy" apparently describing a caddish "lady's man" (as opposed to a ladyman) which I can't find a satisfactory reference to; in modern usage it seems to mean "an excellent thing". The dictionary of "hard boiled slang" (jolly useful site) suggests it might mean "none to masculine" which may be the context in which it's used here, ie not a "man's man".

  • The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie [Read by Joan Hickson]
    BOM-TheMovingFinger.jpg Yet another so-called Miss Marple book narrated by Joan Hickson - again wholly inappropriately. Firstly, yet again (surprise to me) this is written in the first person from the point of view of Jerry Burton - so why use a female to read the audiobook? In the newer TV Marple they even use Burton to provide a narration over the story. Secondly, (surprise to me) Miss Marple is a fairly peripheral character in this story, only appearing in the last quarter of the book - I had even begun to wonder as I listened if she had been shoe-horned into the TV story as they had done in some of the other books they have chosen to adapt.
    Other than that the style of the book is similar to Murder at the Vicarage, where Burton takes the place of the vicar with his wry and, in his case, somewhat critical view of village life. I think possibly Burton's romantic attitude towards the rather young Megan could be considered a bit dubious by modern standards - even despite his clear intentions towards marriage - but this is somewhat mitigated by the strong self-determining characters of both his sister and Megan herself.
    As to the story and plot - I have always thought it is an excellent one - Miss Marple cuts to the chase: when you look at it that way, only one thing happened - Mrs Simmington died.

Posted by Christina at 12:45 PM. Category: Books of the Month

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