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Search tags: 20-best-crime-novels-of-all-time
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review 2017-09-26 15:54
Misery / Stephen King
Misery - Stephen King

Paul Sheldon is a bestselling novelist who has finally met his number one fan. Her name is Annie Wilkes, and she is more than a rabid reader—she is Paul’s nurse, tending his shattered body after an automobile accident. But she is also furious that the author has killed off her favorite character in his latest book. Annie becomes his captor, keeping him prisoner in her isolated house.

Annie wants Paul to write a book that brings Misery back to life—just for her. She has a lot of ways to spur him on. One is a needle. Another is an axe. And if they don’t work, she can get really nasty.

 

I read this for the “Terrifying Women” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

I suppose Annie Wilkes is a terrifying woman. She is definitely written as mentally unstable and cruel. I suppose that, for a man, she would be terrifying, but in real life women face situations like these far too often. Read books like My Story by Elizabeth Smart or 3096 Days by Natasha Kampusch. Heck, just pay attention to your newspaper—there are frequently abductions and murders of women. And they aren’t fiction.

What truly fascinated me in this novel was a bit of insight (maybe) into King’s writing process. I loved the idea of finding the “hole in the paper” into which the writer could disappear, writing until inspiration left or exhaustion threatened.

Interestingly, the novel also seems to be slightly prophetic—writing about a car accident, including multiple leg fractures and a broken hip, the pain of those injuries, and how uncomfortable is was to write afterwards. But this was published in 1987 and King’s real-life car accident didn’t happen until 1999.

Well structured, well written, but not really my thing.

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review 2017-04-20 18:13
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd / Agatha Christie
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie

In the village of King's Abbot, a widow's sudden suicide sparks rumors that she murdered her first husband, was being blackmailed, and was carrying on a secret affair with the wealthy Roger Ackroyd. The following evening, Ackroyd is murdered in his locked study--but not before receiving a letter identifying the widow's blackmailer. King's Abbot is crawling with suspects, including a nervous butler, Ackroyd's wayward stepson, and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, who has taken up residence in the victim's home. It's now up to the famous detective Hercule Poirot, who has retired to King's Abbot to garden, to solve the case of who killed Roger Ackroyd--a task in which he is aided by the village doctor and narrator, James Sheppard, and by Sheppard's ingenious sister, Caroline.

 

M. Poirot, what were you thinking? Retiring to a small village to grow vegetable marrows? I too would hurl them in fits of regret! As if marrows could suitably engage those little grey cells!

Excellent depiction of the competitive sport of gossip. Small communities everywhere suffer from it. That is one of the reasons that I came to live in a city—I can actually keep my private life relatively private!

Dame Agatha really did set the patterns for current mystery literature, didn’t she? Very, very enjoyable and as usual, I had no idea who the perpetrator was until M. Poirot did the big reveal.

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review 2016-10-22 21:13
The Woman in White / Wilkie Collins
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins

'In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop... There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white'

The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright's eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his 'charming' friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.

 

Very Victorian. When I start to read books of this vintage, I have to remember to slow myself down and get ready to appreciate a story told in a different way from today’s literature. One of my earliest literature loves was H. Rider Haggard’s She, giving me an early appreciation of the Victorian novel which I can tap into when starting new works. The story is approached more slowly and circuitously.

I can certainly see why The Woman in White is considered a classic. Collins builds an intriguing mystery and a wonderful cast of characters. What a wonderful villain Count Fosco is! With his white mice, canaries, and cockatoo in tow!

The tale gives me great sympathy for the gentlewomen of the time—the course of one’s life determined so strongly by the choice of marriage partner. Once chosen, there was no escape and a woman was expected to stick by her husband, no matter how dreadful. Cheeringly, Laura’s lawyers seemed to be very protective of her, but one can consider how much they were protecting the woman versus the fortune.

And anyone who doesn’t like how their boss is treating them should attend to the life of a servant in this novel—where one can be yelled at, belittled, ignored, mistreated, even physically punished, all at a whim. [Just as an aside, do you suppose this is where the unfortunate tendency of some people to abuse staff at restaurants and retail stores comes from? People treating them like the unfortunate servants of the past?]

Definitely a worthwhile read if you are interested in the evolution of the mystery genre. Get a glass of wine, settle in for a leisurely evening or three, and prepare to make your way slowly through the evidence.

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review 2016-08-22 17:19
In Cold Blood / Truman Capote
In Cold Blood - Truman Capote

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

 

A hypnotizing look at a real crime. I’m giving this 4 stars for the reading experience, which usually means “I enjoyed it a lot.” But I can’t actually say that I enjoyed this book, more like I couldn’t look away.

It’s obvious from the book that Capote had sharp observational skills and a good ear for dialog. Taking an actual news story and making it fit a dramatic arc is a distinct skill, something uncommon in the “true crime” genre, where stating the facts sometimes takes precedence over telling a good story. Capote never lost sight of the shape of the narrative, while weaving the facts into a riveting book. The most amazing thing that he accomplished with this work, in my opinion, is humanizing everyone, even the killers.

It is “creative nonfiction” which probably means that Capote created some conversations and situations which make the story work better. At the time of writing, he was certainly accused of these inventions. Despite that, I thought that he treated all involved fairly. The Clutter family are presented as successful, community-minded, and unlikely victims of crime. The reader cannot help but feel for their remaining family members and their community. Neither, however, can you ignore the families of the killers, who also suffer in a different way, nor the law enforcement officers who were traumatized by the murder scene and exhausted during the long investigation.

Although we learn the facts of the murder, the gory details are not lingered on and the two murderers are not glorified in any way. Indeed by book’s end it is difficult to have any sympathy for them at all, as it is obvious that they care for no one but themselves. Rather ironically, Hickock was not nearly the tough guy that he liked to pretend he was and Smith was certainly not the sensitive soul that he portrayed himself to be. They cruise through the story like sharks, striking at others whenever they are given a chance. And yet, both of them are lonely and seem to desperately want real friends. Instead, they only get each other and notoriety for a crime which neither one would have committed without the other.

Not a book for sensitive souls, In Cold Blood looks evil in the face without flinching.

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