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text 2018-02-10 19:00
Women Writers Bingo / Project: Tracking Post

 

Read:

A - Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley, Mystery Mile, Look to the Lady, Police at the Funeral, Sweet Danger, Death of a Ghost, Flowers for the Judge, The Case of the Late Pig, Dancers in Mourning, The Fashion in Shrouds, Traitor's Purse, and The Tiger in the Smoke (all new); The Man With the Sack (revisited on audio)

B -

C - Helen Czerski: Storm in a Teacup (new);

Agatha Christie: The Moving Finger (revisited on audio), Crooked House (revisited on audio and DVD) and Destination Unknown (new)

D -

E -

F -

G - Elizabeth George: For the Sake of Elena (revisited on audio)

H -

I -

J - P.D. James: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories (new), Original Sin and Death of an Expert Witness (both revisited on audio)

K -

L -

M - Ngaio Marsh: Death in a White Tie, Off With His Head (aka Death of a Fool) and Clutch of Constables (all revisited on audio)

N -

O - Emmuska Orczy: The Old Man in the Corner (new)

P -

Q -

R -

S -

T - Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair (both new)

U -

V -

W - Ethel Lina White: The Lady Vanishes (aka The Wheel Spins) and The Spiral Staircase (aka Some Must Watch) (both new)

X -

Y -

Z - Juli Zeh: Schilf (English title: Dark Matter) (new)

 

Free / center square:

 

On the card, I am only tracking new reads, not rereads.

 

Read, to date in 2018:

Books by female authors: 24

- new: 15

- rereads: 9

 

Books by male authors: 7

- new: 7

- rereads:

 

Books by F & M mixed teams / anthologies:

- new:

- rereads:

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text 2018-02-06 03:09
THE RULES OF MAGIC by Alice Hoffman
The Rules of Magic: A Novel - Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic

Alice Hoffman

Hardcover, 369 pages
Published October 10th 2017 by Simon Schuster

ISBN: 1501137476 (ISBN13: 9781501137471)

 

  I've always liked Alice Hoffman as a writer. She is definitely a strong story teller, and she brought "Practical Magic's" back story to life with a good plot, and some great characters. I loved Aunt Isabelle. Part of the story is set in the 60's, and Hoffman works that into the storyline well.
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review 2018-02-04 22:24
A Josephine Tey Double Dip
Brat Farrar - Josephine Tey
Brat Farrar - Josephine Tey,Carole Boyd
The Franchise Affair - Josephine Tey
The Franchise Affair - Josephine Tey,Carole Boyd

Both Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair were on my 2017 Halloween Bingo long list, but so were many other books ... oh well.  Both of these are stand-out books, in that (1) they're not, or not substantively, part of Josephine Tey's Inspector Grant series (in Franchise Affair Grant appears, but only as a minor character; in Brat Farrar he doesn't feature at all), and (2) more importantly, even though the bulk of both books is told from a man's perspective, they feature several strong female characters who are head and shoulders above and beyond what was expected of a woman at the time of their writing (1948-49, respectively) even in ordinary life; never mind in times of adversity.

 

Brat Farrar is a Martin Guerre / Sommersby type of tale set on a manor and stud farm on the Southern English coast; the difference being here, however, that the reader (unlike the family) is explicitly aware of the identity and most of the prior history of the  eponymous allegedly "returned son and heir" -- in fact, we're unequivocally being asked to empathize with him, on the basis of his character as much as on the basis of his prior history, and take his side in opposition to his alleged younger twin brother Simon, whom (if the gamble comes off) he is poised to replace as the stud farm's new owner as from his 21st birthday, which in turn is -- obviously -- right around the corner at the book's beginning.  Both in the setup and in the resolution of the story (which I could see coming on pretty much from the word "go"), there is a bit too much reliance on coincidence for my taste; however, in between the bits of coincidence, Tey crafted a powerful, quiet novel, featuring both a compelling mystery -- above and beyond the title character's identity -- and engaging characters, in the  male protagonist, Brat, as well as in the two leading ladies, Bee (who has taken over management of the farm after the death of her nephew Simon's and his siblings' parents), and her niece, Simon's sister Eleanor, the farm's chief horse trainer (besides Simon himself).

 

The Franchise Affair is based on the true story of the 1753 disappearance of a servant girl named Elizabeth Canning, who had claimed to have been kidnapped by two women and held in their house for a month, which initially resulted in the two women's arrest and conviction of theft and kidnapping; but after a new investigation they were pardoned and Canning was instead convicted of perjury, resulting in a one-month prison sentence and her deportation to Connecticut.  Tey leaves no doubt that she considers the girl's story a complete fabrication; yet, for the longest time this is merely the personal view of her protagonist, the accused women's attorney Robert Blair, who battles against the one fallacy that also beset the defense of the real-life alleged kidnappers: proof where, if not being held captive by his clients in their house, "The Franchise", as she alleged, young Betty had been instead (in the novel, Elizabeth Canning becomes Betty Kane).  And, just as the real Elizabeth Canning case had resulted in an unparralelled pamphleteering and mudslinging campaign for and against Elizabeth on the one hand and the two accused women on the other hand, so, too, Tey's novel makes no bones about the destructive nature of the tabloid press, in words that evoke eerily familiar images and connotations, in the age of social media more than ever:

   "The Ack-Emma was the latest representative of the tabloid newspaper to enter British journalism from the West.  It was run on the principle that two thousand pounds for damages is a cheap price to pay for sales worth half a million.  It had blacker headlines, more sensatiional pictures, and more indiscreet letterpress than any paper printed so far by British presses.  Fleet Street had its own name for it -- monosyllabic and unprintable -- but no protection against it.  The press had always been its own censor, deciding what was and what was not permissible by the principles of its own good sense and good taste.  If  a 'rogue' publication decided not to conform to those principles then there was no power that could make it conform [...]

   And it was the Ack-Emma that blew the Franchise affair wide open.

   [...] He dropped the page, and looked again at that shocking frontispiece.  Yesterday The Franchise was a house protected by four high walls; so unobtrusive, so sufficient unto itself that even Milford did not know what it looked like.  Now it was there to be stared at on every bookstall; on every news-agent's counter from Penzance to Pentland.  Its flat, forbidding front a foil for the innocence if the face above it [Betty's photo]."

 

   "Today's Ack-Emma had not been calculated to have an appeasing effect on the mob mind.  True, there were no further front-page headlines; the Franchise affair had moved itself to the correspondence page.  But the letters the Ack-Emma had chosen to print there -- and two-thirds of them were about the Franchise affair -- were not likely to prove oil in troubled waters.  They were so much paraffin on a fire that was going quite nicely anyhow.

   Threading his way out of the Larborough traffic, the silly phrases came back to him; and he marveilled all over again at the venom that these unknown women had roused in their writers' minds.  Rage and hatred spilled over on to the paper; malice ran unchecked through the largely-illiterate sentences.  It was an amazing exhibition.  And one of the oddities of it was that the dearest wish of so many of those indignant protesters against violence was to flog the said women within an inch of their lives.  Those who did not want to flog the women wanted to reform the police.  One writer suggested that a fund should be opened for the poor young victim of police inefficiency and bias [Betty Kane].  Another suggested that every man of good will should write to his Member of Parliament about it, and make their lives a misery until something was done about this miscarriage of justice.  Still another asked if anyone had noticed Betty Kane's marked resemblance to Saint Bernadette.

   There was every sign, if today's correspondence page of the Ack-Emma was any criterion, of the birth of a Betty Kane cult.  He hoped that its corollary would not be a Franchise vendetta."

 

   "[I]t would be a miracle, if, after the correspondence in the Ack-Emma, The Franchise was not the mecca of an evening pilgrimage.  But when he came within sight of it he found the long stretch of road deserted; and as he came nearer he saw why.  At the gate of The Franchise, solid and immobile and immaculate in the evening light, was the dark-blue-and-silver figure of a policeman.

   Deligthed that Hallam had been so generous with his scanty force, Robert slowed down to exchange greetings, but the greeting died on his lips.  Along the full length of the tall brick wall, in letters nearly six feet high was splashed a slogan. 'FASCISTS!' screamed the large white capitals.  And again on the further side of the gate: 'FASCISTS!'"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I own and have read the paperback editions of both books; I also listened to Carole Boyd's stellar narration, which brings a dimension entirely of its own to Tey's storytelling which enhances it considerably.

 

I'll be using both books towards the "T" square of the Women Writers Bingo, as well as The Franchise Affair towards the Fiction from Fact chapter / square of the Detection Club Bingo (which is actually taken from the cover of this book's paperback edition).

 

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review 2018-02-04 19:09
London's First Armchair Detective
The Old Man in the Corner: Twelve Classic Detective Stories - Emmuska Orczy,E.F. Bleiler

This is a collection of twelve stories taken from the first two (of three) books featuring the "Old Man in the Corner," one of Emmuska Orczy's very first literary creations and -- but for Edgar Allan Poe's M. Dupin (who solves the Mystery of Marie Rogêt solely based on a number of newspaper articles) -- one of, if not the earliest armchair detective ever to grace the pages of a book: He may occasionally attend a coroner's or police court hearing, but in all but one of the cases he is not personally involved in any way in the investigation, taking the bulk of his knowledge from what is reported of a case in the newspapers -- and yet, disdaining the police and the criminal courts for their inefficiency, since virtually all of these cases are considered mysteries because law enforcement has failed to produce the real culprit; in the "Old Man"'s opinion, as a result of getting caught up in procedure and petty routines instead of applying logical thought.  (Which, obviously, is an attitude that the "Old Man" shares with many a "consulting", amateur or plain private detective from Sherlock Holmes to Nero Wolfe and beyond.)

 

Orczy's Old Man in the Corner stories were originally serialized in newspapers and published in book form only later, with the third batch of stories (originally published in 1904) collected in book form first, in The Case of Miss Elliot (1905), and a book containing the first two batches (serialized in 1901 and 1902, respectively) following three years later and entitled simply The Old Man in the Corner.  (A final batch of stories, ultimately published in book form under the title Unravelled Knots, only followed in 1924-1925 and, if reviewers and editorialists are to be believed, wasn't up to the same standard as their much earlier predecessors.) This particular Dover Publications collection dating from 1980 is taken in almost equal parts from the first and second "Old Man" books, with three stories each representing the original 1901 and the 1902 series, and six stories the 1904 series later collected in The Case of Miss Elliot. -- One of the stories from the second series, The Glasgow Mystery, here sees the light of day for the first time since its original publication in a newspaper, as Orczy's erroneous inclusion of "coroner's proceedings" in a city where such do not actually exist (she should have referred to the Procurator Fiscal instead) caused a public outcry; and as a result, the story was not included in the selection originally published in book form -- which is a shame, because the mystery would work just as well if the proper law enforcement bodies and procedures were substituted for the miscast coroner.

 

BrokenTune noted in a recent review of a Sherlock Holmes story how certain recurring features in Arthur Conan Doyle's writing, from setting to dialogue to the construction of his stories, foster a sense of familiarity, recognition, and literally of "coming home" (to 221B Baker Street) on the part of the reader and can create, even for today's readers, a sense of community with these stories' original audience: The same can be said almost certainly, at least as far as Baroness Orcy's original readers were concerned, for the Old Man in the Corner stories.   In fact, reading them all in rapid succcession (as I did) may not be the best approach, because it's impossible not to notice their formulaic structure that way -- but that same formulaic approach that starts to grate a bit in quick mass exposure may well just have been the very element that invoked a sense of looked-for familiarity in the original readership, and the fact that there were several successive series of these stories manifestly testifies to their popularity.  Stylistically, in any event, they are accomplished enough, and if I hadn't known that the very first of these tales, The Fenchurch Street Mystery, was one of the first prose works (and the very first crime story) ever published by Orczy, I certainly wouldn't have guessed as much.

 

In each installment, a "Lady Journalist" (in the final stories, identified as one Polly Burton) meets up with the eponymous unnamed "Old Man", who sits in the corner of an A.B.C. tea room reading his newspaper, to proceed, in short order, to discussing the latest reported unsolved crime with her, all the while  tying and untying a piece of string into a series of impossibly complicated knots.  As in Conan Doyle's mysteries, the formula exceeds the mere framework setting and the Old Man's idiosynchrasies and extends to content; here, however, not so much to dialogue as to plot -- and while there still may have been either a sense of genuine surprise in the original audience (or, who knows, this, too, may have been part of the comfortable feeling of meeting old friends), I confess to me at some point it started coloring Orczy's narratives with a bit of a "one trick pony" brush, particularly as virtually everyone of them relies on a sleight of hand that is central to The Scarlet Pimpernel, too, and I ended up just looking for how she would set it up this time around, knowing once I had uncovered this particular feature I would also know the solution -- which somewhat impinged on the joy of the hunt and pretty much removed the element of surprise after a while.

 

Interestingly, the Old Man in the Corner shares a bit of publication history with both Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, in that his creator actually did not intend him to have quite the long-lasting career that he ended up enjoying: At the end of the last of the original five stories published in 1901 she has the Lady Journalist unmask the Old Man's identity (and, incidentally, his involvement with the case they have been discussing), which forces him into instant retirement -- so every installment of the later series has to remind the reader that this is an occurrence which actually took place before that "final" case at the end of which, so far as the narrator / Lady Journalist knows, for all practical purposes he vanished from sight.  As in the cases of the Old Man's (today) much more famous contemporaries, this, too, of course testifies to his enduring popularity with the reading public; not least taking into account Orczy's "Glasgow coroner" mess-up.

 

I've already read another book for the first square / chapter of the Detection Club bingo (A New Era Dawns), so I'm just going to be doubling up on squares there, but I will get to count this book towards the "O" square of the Women Writers Bingo.

 

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review 2018-02-04 16:59
Parallelwelten / Parallel Worlds
Schilf: Roman - Juli Zeh
Dark Matter - Juli Zeh

Intelligent und frech: Das Buch wird als "Physikerkrimi" vermarktet, aber das trifft es meines Erachtens nicht wirklich; tatsächlich ist dies die alte Geschichte von Faust und Mephisto im Gewand zweier Freunde, die sich als Physikstudenten kennengelernt haben und später im Leben verschiedene Wege gegangen sind, sowohl persönlich als auch fachlich -- wobei Mephisto den Faust nicht nur menschlich beherrschen, sondern gleichzeitig auch fachlich überflügeln will. Dies alles ist eigentlich bereits auf den ersten Seiten ziemlich eindeutig angelegt, so dass mich nicht jede "Zwischenentwicklung" des Buches überraschte; aber das sollte sie wohl auch nicht unbedingt (ohnehin wäre es zu kurz gesprungen, Krimi hier als "whodunnit" zu verstehen). Auch der dem Buch unterliegende strafrechtliche Ansatz mag zwar in der Theorie stimmen, hätte aber in der harten Justizwirklichkeit wohl sehr anders ausgesehen (da merkt man dann doch, dass Frau Zeh zwar Jura studiert, aber niemals praktiziert hat, und dass ihr Schwerpunkt das Völkerrecht und nicht das Strafrecht ist) -- ohnehin fand ich die beiden Physiker und ihren Streit um die Existenz und Nachweisbarkeit von Parallelwelten interessanter als den Kommissar, der dem Buch seinen Namen gegeben hat, sowie seine nur begrenzt sympathische Kollegin. Das Ende der Geschichte ist allerdings in seiner Boshaftigkeit ein sehr gezielter Tritt in die Magengrube ... und nicht nur diejenige der Charaktere.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Witty and irreverent: This book is marketed as a "physician crime novel", but that, in my opinion, is slightly off the mark -- actually, this is the age-old tale of Dr. Faustus and Mephistotopheles, dressed up as the story of two friends who first met in university, studying physics, but later chose different paths both in their lives and their careers; with Mephistopheles seeking not only to dominate Faustus as a human being but also to one-up him professionally.  All of this is fairly obvious pretty much right from the book's very first pages, as a result of which not everyone of the story's twists came as a real surprise to me; but I'm not sure this was even intended (and anyway, to read this book as a "whodunnit" would be seriously short-changing it).  The specific concept of criminal law underlying this story may have been rendered faithfully as it stands in theory, but its actual application in the harsh real-life practice of criminal justice would have looked decidedly differently (this is where you can tell that although Ms. Zeh hold a law degree she never actually practiced, and her focus in university was on public international law rather than on criminal law) -- and anyway, I found myself caring much more for the two physicists and their dispute over the existence and verifiability of parallel worlds than for the police inspector whose name is also that of this book's German title ("Schilf") and for his only marginally likeable female colleague.  The ending, however, is one well-aimed mean punch in the gut ... and not only that of the characters, either.

 

Status update: 96 of 384 pages.

 

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