Friday, November 17, 2017

Forgotten Books: Three Arthur Crook Novels by Anthony Gilbert

"Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves...."


One thing that I have always found problematic is the grading of writers. He/she is an A list author, we are told, the other is a B-lister. Who, I wonder, makes these lists and what does it depend on? Big publishing houses, sales of the books, critics/ reviewers?  I can understand this kind of grading in films where the production value can make a movie A-grader or not but books are a different kettle of fish altogether. Yes, a book can be interesting or boring; unputdownable or unmentionable; it can make you read the entire oeuvre of the writer or blacklist the author but authors in general cannot be bracketed like this.

In the Golden Age of mystery writing, we are told there are four Crime Queens: Agatha Christie; Margery Allingham; Dorthy Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh. The rest are dismissed as also-rans or B-graders. To me, this doesn't really make sense. I am not the only one who hasn't been able to proceed beyond the first book of the Peter Wimsey series; Albert Campion has his champions but an equal number of detractors; I was surprised to read the first book of Ngaio Marsh, this year, because the Roderick Alleyn of that book was completely unlike the sophisticated image of his that I had in mind. And "even great Homer nods" as in Third Girl and The Moving Finger.



Thus it is that an author like Anthony Gilbert (Lucy Beatrice Malleson) languishes in obscurity#, shrugged off as a second-rung writer. Yet almost all the books that I have read of her have been remarkable, much more interesting and gripping than the ones lauded and talked-about. Recently, thanks to the wonderful people at Open Library, I was able to read three more of hers. And though none of them could equal her masterpieces: Death Knocks Three Times and The Clock in the Hat Box, they were nevertheless engaging reads.



Murder Comes Home (1950): A young couple on their way home are called in by a doctor to witness a will. His patient is one cankerous old lady (and Gilbert's portrayal of such vinegary old ladies is masterly) who is found dead the very next day.

First Line: It might be said that the affair started for Arthur Crook that unnaturally hot afternoon in early spring when London baked and sulked under a sky that would have seemed tropical in August.

A fine review of the book can be read @ The Passing Tramp.

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Death Takes a Wife/ Death Casts a Long Shadow (1959): Helen, a young nurse, finds herself in a dilemma when she falls in love with her patient Blanche's husband, Paul French. Soon Blanche has died under mysterious circumstances and Helen has to decide whether she is so much in love that she can marry a murderer. How Gilbert manages to keep things suspenseful even when the cast of characters is so small is beyond me.

First Line: 'In the midst of life we are in death,' intoned Dr. MacIntyre genially.


A write-up on the book can be found here.

*




A Nice Little Killing (1974): A Dutch au-pair, stood up by her boyfriend, returns to her employer's home only to find it burgled and worse. An interesting cast of characters though some of them are completely superfluous to the main story, as are the windmills on the cover which are there presumably because of the Dutch connection!!!

First Line: The clock in the public bar of the Bee and Honeysuckle was always kept five minutes past, so that laggard drinkers shouldn't get Joe Severn, the licensee, into trouble with the authorities.

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Source: Open Library.

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#: With the British Library publishing her book, Portrait of a Murderer, a book she wrote under another pseudonym, Anne Meredith, things might change.

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Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books, today @ Sweet Freedom.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Review: The Film of Fear

The Film of Fear The Film of Fear by Frederic Arnold Kummer Jr.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

An okay mystery interesting only because of its background of a budding film industry in the US.

*

First Line: Ruth Morton finished her cup of coffee, brushed a microscopic crumb from her embroidered silk kimono, pushed back her loosely arranged brown hair, and resumed the task of opening her mail.

Source: Feedbooks.

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Review: The Inheritance

The Inheritance The Inheritance by Tom Savage
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cliched: A gothic mansion, a maid in black, a wandering waif, a relative in an attic, a silent observer, a haunted fortune, murder and madness, and a heroine extremely beautiful. I don't think I have ever read a book where the word beautiful was used so often. It literally made me gag, especially because the heroine didn't really impress me. In fact, all the characters are more or less unpleasant. Yet despite all the cliches, the author does manage to shock you. Some of the twists I could guess, some not. I'll like to read more of this author.

*

First Line: From a distance Randall House looks perfectly innocent but you should never be deceived by appearances.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Review: Magpie Murders

Magpie Murders Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Strange that I should be giving only two stars to a book that I found hard to put down but the end was so lame that it quite ruined the book for me. Horowitz captures the golden age style of writing splendidly - I would love reading the earlier Atticus Pund mysteries- but the frame-narrative was disappointing. The opening lines, however, are some of the best out there:

"A bottle of wine. A family-sized packet of Nacho Cheese Flavoured Tortilla Chips and a jar of hot salsa dip. A packet of cigarettes on the side (I know, I know). The rain hammering against the windows. And a book.
What could have been lovelier?"

Indeed what can be lovelier though I can do without cigarettes and replace wine with tea.


View all my reviews

Friday, October 13, 2017

Forgotten Book: Close Quarters by Michael Gilbert

Of late, writer and lawyer, Michael Gilbert has been a lot over the blogosphere. Yvette @insomanywords did a series of posts on him and then Margot Kinberg @ Confessions of a Mustery Novelist turned the spotlight on his first novel, Close Quarters. Unable to resist any longer, I borrowed Close Quarters from the Open Library and found it so engrossing that I finished it in a day.



Published in 1947 but set a decade earlier there is (as other reviewers have commented upon) a Golden-Age feel to the novel which takes place in the closed community of Melchester Cathedral with its Bishop, Dean, Canons (Principals and Minors),  Precentor, Vicars (Chorals), Vergers (Principals and Others, Head Master, Choir Master, Solicitor, Gatekeeper-Sergeants. With little idea of organized religion and even lesser of the hierarchical clerical order, this made my head reel. It did not help matters that some of the names also seemed alike: Halliday and Hinkey, Prynne and Parvin,  and I was glad to note that the Dean's nephew, Seargent Pollock from the Scotland Yard, who was conducting an unofficial investigation into certain unsavoury occurrences at the Close, was 'scribbling desperately in his notebook' as his uncle rolled out these personages. And no, the list of characters given at the beginning didn't really help me as I was reading it on my lap-to and couldn't go back and forth.  In fact, this is a book that would be better read as a printed copy since there are maps and even a cross-wood puzzle that I'd have loved to solve had it been on a page in front of me. Sigh...



Anyway, to get back to the story, the Dean  is a worried man and in a masterly first chapter - as he tosses and turns on his bed while a storm rages outside - we are told why: there is a smear campaign on against the Principal verger, Appledown which has taken the form of anonymous letters and messages which appear all over the place: on flags, walls etc; there is the accidental death of a Canon a year back; there is the widow Mrs. Judd who just wouldn't move out of the premises; there is Vicar Malthus who seems to be always disappearing; there are the small, niggling things which has made the Dean realise that there is 'something rotten in the Close'. The atmospheric first chapter sets the tone of the book which can turn downright eerie and scary at times (And since I was reading it in the dark of the night, I KNOW).



Unwilling to involve the police, the Dean calls over his nephew who can conduct an unofficial investigation. However, soon after the arrival of Pollock, a murder occurs and the police does get involved in the form of Inspector Hazelrigg (who would go on to appear in six other books by Gilbert). Incidentally, I guessed the identity of the murderer through something read either in an Agatha Christe or Sherlock Holmes where it was said that it is the unexplained things, however insignificant they might appear to be that give you the clue to the whole affair.



The closed community - where Masters prepare lessons in Latin and students learn Greek but where Edgar Wallace is also available as bed-time reading - adds to the tension though there is humour to be found too (as a character puts it) in "lacerating each other's characters in the most Christian way imaginable."





All in all, this was a book that I enjoyed. Besides Margot's, other reviews of the book can be found here:


Noah's Archives

I Prefer Reading


I already have Gilbert's Smallbone Deceased, Death has Deep Roots, and Killing of Katie Steelstock on my wishlist; would you recommend any other?

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First Line: The Dean as he lay awake in bed that memorable Sunday night, pondered the astonishing vagaries of the weather.

Series: Inspector Hazelrigg #1

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Submitted for Fridays Forgotten Books @ Sweet Freedom. Please head over there for the other entries.



Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Celebrating 25 Years

To Both of You

25 Years of Love, Joy, Happiness, Togetherness, Support, Concern, Laughter, Sharing, Caring...









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Wishing many many many more years of Love and Happiness, moments to cherish, and memories to treasure....