Monday, August 31, 2015

Short Notes: The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft

Though I am sure that I must have read (at least one of) his works, sometime or the other, the first time, H.P. Lovecraft's name really registered with me was when I saw a review of a book  called The Call of Cthulhu @ Manybooks. The reviewer was all praise for the book and made me all eager to read it. Then came a rewatching of the Star Trek episode Cat's Paw where Robert Bloch (who had written the story/ screenplay) mentions The Old Ones which was (as reviewers on the Net informed me) a referencing back to the Old Ones of Lovecraft's imagination. The long and short of it was that I was keen to read Lovecraft and when I saw this book on the library shelf, I simply had to pick it up.

Can anyone resist such a cover?


And I did encounter the Old Ones in The Mountains of Madness in which an expedition to Antarctica encounters an earlier alien civilization. But I also met many others like Charles Dexter Ward whose experiments lead him to things that should best remain buried; Pickman whose paintings have a strange model; Iranon who keeps on searching for a lost city, Henry Houdini who discovers the fabled fourth dimension under the Egyptian pyramids; Eric Zann who plays such music that brings forth something not of this world; and then, of course, there is that thing on the doorstep....

Edited by S.T. Joshi, this collection contains a brief introduction to all the twelve stories, suggestions for further readings (and going by it, Lovecraft seems to be quite a favourite of the Academia), and notes....copious amounts of notes. I wish these notes had been footnotes rather than endnotes because it became quite an exercise to keep on turning the pages to where the notes were at the end of the book. And sometimes the notes were completely  and utterly superfluous. At a tense moment in
The Dunwich Horror, while a character watches the proceedings from a telescope, there was that not-to-be-ignored note. Cursing, I left the narrative to go to the note only to be told that Lovecraft owned a telescope himself. GREAT! But how does it matter???????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Recommended strongly but for some days you might not want to be all alone in your house.

*

First Line: IN RELATING THE CIRCUMSTANCES which have led to my confinement within this refuge for the demented, I am aware that my present position will create a natural doubt of the authenticity of my narrative.

Publication Details: NY: Penguin,2001 (Ed. with an Introduction by S.T. Joshi)
First Published: between 1917-1933
Pages: 443
Source: MCL [813.52 L941T]

Other books read of the same author: None

Friday, July 31, 2015

Short Notes: The Killings at Badger's Drift by Caroline Graham




Retried school teacher Emily Simpson and her friend Lucy Bellinger, both denizens of a village called Badger's Drift, have an unspoken competition going on between them as to who would first spot a rare variety of orchid. While walking through the woods one day, Emily spots the orchids and is most ecstatic. However, she also stumbles upon a couple making love out in the open. Desperate to get away, she looses her footing and thus reveals her presence to them.

The next day, she is found dead. Nobody has any suspicions but her friend Lucy Bellinger insists that her friend was murdered. Her insistence brings Chief Inspector Thomas Barnaby and Sergeant Gavin Troy to the scene. More killings follow. Slowly, the facts emerge and the killer is revealed.



Sex lies like a miasma over the entire village and novel. Every one, it seems, has only one thing in mind. No relationship is sacred. Trust and loyalty are things of the past. What then is the appeal of the book? To me, it was the strained relationship between the two policemen. While Barnaby is a (thankfully) non-demon-ridden policeman, it is his Sergeant's thoughts on the privileged class, and homosexuals that I found humorous, especially as they revealed so much about him. Till the time when Troy remarked (regarding a gay character) that such people ought to be castrated. And then it wasn't funny anymore as it brought to my mind the tragic story of the cryptographer Alan Turing.

*

First Line: She had been walking in the woods  just before teatime when she saw them.

Series: Inspector Barnaby #1
Publishing Details: NY: Avon. 1989
First Published: 1987
Pages: 260
Source: Open Library
Trivia: The book has been made into a TV drama.

Other books read of the same author: None

*

Submitted for the Crimes of the century meme @ Past Offences. July's year was 1987.

Short Notes: The Lessons by Naomi Alderman

One reviewer describes Naomi Alderman's campus novel The Lessons to Donna Tartt's The Secret History. I agree. Both books promise much but deliver little.





She would have just been shattered, the parts of herself which fitted together so neatly now suddenly painful, never again as comfortable as they had been.

Set in Oxford, the novel is about James Stieff, a young man from a not-very-privileged background, who lonely and desolate in his first year, is co-opted in a group centred around the wealthy, charismatic, self-destructive Mark Winters. What follows is the usual vicious cycle of drugs, sex, and booze. While the events in Oxford are still entertaining, the novel loses much of its steam as the group moves apart and the final section between Mark and James is a big let-down.

There was just one point in the novel that intrigued me.


SPOILER AHEAD:


Why does James leave that note for Mark to call up Franny for news of Nicola? Doesn't he know that Mark would harm himself when he learns about Nicola's marriage? And now with nobody to save him, Mark would die. I think, he does know and this is the only way he visualises a freedom for both Mark and himself. Mark would be dead and then finally, he, James, would be free of him. What do you think?

I am a coward, I thought, but at least I am free.





*

First Line: When I returned from San Ceterino late in the afternoon, I found that Mark and his friends had thrown half the food in our kitchen into the swimming pool.

Publishing Details: London: Viking, 2010
First Published: 2010
Pages: 279
Source: CL [823 A27L]
Other books read of the same author: None

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Short Notes: Deshdrohi by Yashpal




 Bhagwandas Khanna, a doctor in the British Indian Army, is abducted by the Waziris, a Frontier tribe, near the fluid North-Western border of British India. That is the beginning of an adventure that sees him being converted into a Muslim; being sold-off in Ghazini; slipping in Soviet Russia and experiencing first-hand the great Socialist experiment; becoming a staunch communist; and eventually being smuggled back into British India in order to propagate the communist ideology even as the second world war rages on...

Meanwhile, Raj, his wife, tries to commit suicide on hearing of his (alleged) death and when saved from doing so, joins the Congress in order to fight for the freedom of her country.

Will their paths ever cross again? And if so, in what circumstances?

Uneven - some parts are interesting, some most boring- the novel is good enough for a one-time read.

*

First Line: Ajaani andheri raah par use ghasite liye ja rahe they.

Publishing Details: Lucknow: Viplav Karalaya, 1958
First Published: 1943
Pages: 298
Source: OTS since 2004
Other books read of the same author: Dada Kamrade


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Popular Post

One of the things about blogging that I enjoy is the popular post feature. It is fun to see which of your posts has had the maximum number of views. For months now, a post on Agatha Christie's Twelve best books that I did way back in 2012 occupied the number 1 position. So much so that I had even stopped thinking that it'd ever change. But recently there has been a pleasant change. A review of E.P. Oppenheim's The Strange Boarders of Palace Crescent has pushed the Christie post to the second spot. This gladdens my heart tremendously since I not only relished the book but also enjoyed writing a post on it.




So thanks to all those who read it and double thanks to those who made the effort  to leave a comment. You know when you enjoy a book, you want others to respond to that enthusiasm. So thanks a lot Freda, Margot, Prashant, Tracy, and Ann.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Strange Boarders of Palace Crescent by E.P. Oppenheim (1934)

I am very fond of mysteries set in hotels. A group of disparate people, strangers to each other, staying under the same roof and interacting with each other makes for some lively reading as most of them they are pretending to be what they are not. The travelling salesman turns out to be a spy; the devoted couple has murder in their hearts; the taciturn British army major is involved in some hush-hush project; the garrulous Indian army colonel bores everyone with his tales of Shimla and Poona, bada-peg and chhota-peg; the studious young man turns out to be a Scotland yard inspector; and the sweet old lady sitting yonder, knitting placidly, turns out to be an astute observer of human follies.... the past comes out, secrets are revealed, murder and mayhem occur...

Thus, when I discovered a book titled The Strange Boarders of Palace Crescent for the 1934 Crimes of the Century feature @ Past Offences, I shivered in anticipation. The only problem was the writer: E.P. Oppenheim, whose one book read earlier had turned out to be a big dud. I needn't have worried though. Oppenheim is in fine form in this tale of a boarding house which is a hot-bed of intrigue.



"I would like to feel that Palace Crescent was a less obvious sort of place—that we were not all of us exactly what we seem to be....That Mr. Luke here was perhaps, as he has suggested, a well-known author living here incognito. That Reginald Barstowe, who has just been so rude to me, was a famous criminal, perhaps even a murderer. That Colonel Dennett was in the Army Secret Service, living here in disguise. That Mr. Padgham was as wicked as he sometimes looks. That Flora Quayne, with her sensitive quivering mouth and those beautiful eyes, was a sort of Louise de la Vallièere in disguise. That all of you were utterly different. That Palace Crescent was the sort of place where all sorts of tragedies were being hatched and developed."

Roger Ferrison, a young man who is struggling to make ends meet, takes up lodging at Palace Crescent, a boarding house run by Mrs. Dewar and her competent butler, Joseph. The place is unpretentious and the boarders are ostensibly hard-working men and women with regular jobs and small pockets. However, on the first night, itself, Roger discovers that five of the lodgers are absent from the place. Where can they be so late in the night?

As, he settles down, Roger finds himself caught between the affections of two women. The beautiful, lady-of-leisure, Flora Quayne, who is the queen-bee of the place with plenty of drones in attendance and the hard-working, sympathetic Audrey Packe, who works in a shop for her living. While Roger is drawn towards the flirtatious Flora, Audrey helps him get an audience with the boss of her shop regarding a new kind of cleaning machine that he has manufactured. This meeting changes Roger's life and from being virtually penniless he becomes a budding entrepreneur. His gratitude towards Audrey and the attention that he starts paying to her, chagrins Flora who dismisses Audrey as a little shop-girl and continues with her efforts to seduce Roger.

While Roger is in a fix regarding the two girls, he is also troubled by the strange going-ons at the lodge. People are mostly missing in the night, strange calls are received, and very soon there is murder. A lodger is found dead virtually at the door-step of the house. As he was a harmless man with hardly a penny in his pocket, who could have killed him? If this sensation was not enough, Susannah Clewes, one of the two
septuagenarian sisters (Can there be any Golden Age mystery without such spinsters?), staying in the lodge, declares that she has some valuable information about the murder...and then promptly disappears. Soon there are police raids, coroner inquests and more. What has Roger wandered into?



Cryptic conversations, signs that one understands gradually, and those ominous footsteps in the night  make this book a delight to read and one which has reversed my earlier opinion of Oppenheim. Now I can't wait to read more of him. The only thing that did not quite ring true was the great love that is supposed to exist between the hero and the heroine because Oppenheim merely tells us about it rather then showing it to us. More true is the sexual tension between the hero and the other woman. But this is a minor quibble about the book that might not be a great mystery but has a wonderful atmosphere of foreboding and danger.





 The book, I am happy to state, is easily available for free download on many a site. I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg, Australia.. However, it is not a novel of espionage as it is declared on many sites. I, for one, am happy it is not because after all there are only so many novels about German spies in England that one can read.

As for the India connect that I usually look for novels of this time, there is a retired Indian Army colonel, a Maharajah or rather his jewels, and a secretary to the Maharajah called Kaw Dim which perplexed me till I realised it was supposed to be Kadim which means slave or servant in Arabic.

*

First Line: NEITHER the day upon which Roger Ferrison, a tall sturdy young man of sufficiently pleasing appearance, presented himself at Mrs. Dewar's Palace Crescent Boarding House, situated within a stone's throw of the Hammersmith Road, nor the manner of his initiation presented any unusual incident.

Publication Details: London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1935
First Published: 1934 (Serialized in The Saturday Evening Post)


@ Project Gutenberg Australia



Pages: 304
Source: Project Gutenberg Australia
Trivia: Listed on The Guardian's 1000 Crime Novels Everyone Must Read

Other books read of the same author: The Double Traitor

*

Submitted for the 1934 Crimes of the Century feature @ Past Offences.



Monday, June 29, 2015

Reading Challenge 2015: Dystopia

Tracy @ Cornerfolds is the new host of the Dystopia Reading Challenge 2015. I am signing up for the challenge at the level of recruit which means I will be reading 1-6 books in this particular genre.




If you want to participate in the challenge, you could do do over here

.