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review 2017-11-20 21:55
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 12 - Saturnalia: Sayers's Harlequinade
Murder Must Advertise: A BBC Full-Cast Radio Drama - Full Cast,Ian Carmichael,Dorothy L. Sayers

 

Another quick trip down memory lane, courtesy of the BBC's full cast audio adaptation of this novel starring Ian Carmiachel (who also starred in the first of the Beeb's two TV series based on Sayers's novels).

 

This was Sayers's revenge on the advertising business, based on her own early job experience as an advertising copywriter -- as well as (so her biographers tell us) her revenge on an ex-colleague who tried to blackmail her and who is made to tumble down an iron staircase modelled on the one at their former workplace, ending up dead. -- This is also the one Wimsey book (perhaps with the exception of the very first one, Whose Body?) where Wimsey is, at times, most similar to Bertie Wooster ... except that he's playing a role here, as he has been smuggled into Pym's Publicity for purposes of an undercover investigation into the tumbled-down man's death.  What ensues is one of Sayers's wildest rides; a veritable harlequinade that has Wimsey even impersonating himself (or his evil look-alike cousin).

 

I would have preferred to obtain a reading of Sayers's actual book by Ian Carmichael (he was a brilliant narrator and had played Wimsey so often by the time these audio recordings came around that he had the character down pat and could slip him on and off like a well-worn sweater), but since for this particular book that doesn't seem to be available, I'll happily content myself with this full cast recording.

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review 2017-11-20 21:02
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 2 - Bon Om Touk: Murder on a Secret Island
The Lighthouse (Adam Dalgliesh, #13) - P.D. James
The Lighthouse - P.D. James,Michael Jayston

P.D. James's penultimate Dalgliesh novel, revisited courtesy of the splendid unabridged reading by Michael Jayston (known to fans of John le Carré as Peter Guillam from the adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy starring Alec Guinness as George Smiley).

 

I am, bit by bit, working my way through the Dalgliesh series, though not in chronological order but in the order I can get hold of the Michel Jayston CDs.  This book is one of my favorite entries in the series, not least because Kate Miskin finally gets to show her mettle when Dalgliesh is temporarily out of commission.

 

The story takes Dalgliesh and his team to Combe Island on the Cornish coast, a secret retreat for small select groups of government officials and VIPs, to investigate the murder of a an author who is (well, was) as arrogant and egotistical as he was brilliant as a writer -- in other words, your textbook classic mystery murder victim.

 

As I revisit this series, I am becoming downright nostalgic -- they just don't make 'em like P.D. James and Adam Dalgliesh anymore.  Probably Baroness James was wise to bring the series to an end when she did, going out on a high note with The Private Patient (2008), but man ...this is so head and shoulders above the vast majority of mystery writing published these days, it's not even funny.

 

Since this book fits the theme for Bon Om Touk -- read a book that takes place on the sea, near the sea, or on a lake or a river, or read a book that has water on the cover -- I decided to apply my audio excursion down memory lane to that square.

 

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text 2017-11-20 15:15
Reading progress update: I've read 171 out of 352 pages.
Lonely Magdalen: A Murder Story - Henry Wade

The investigation into the death of a prostitute found strangled in Hampstead Heath -- the eponymous "Magdalen" (though that isn't actually her name).  I finished Part 1, the first part of the investigation, this morning and have now started the middle part, which tells the victim's life story from age 14 on and is shaping up as a fairly sizeable tragedy.

 

I'm glad to see the investigation is in Inspector Poole's hands at last; his boss (Chief Inspector Beldam), who's been in charge so far, just got on my nerves after a while.  That said, Wade -- a high-ranking public official with a baronetcy, Eton / Oxford and war service background himself -- clearly knew what he was writing about.  (And is the victim's supposed last name, Knox, a friendly co-Detection Club-member jibe at Ronald Knox?  The members of the Detection Club were known to do this sort of thing on occasion ...)

 

High marks to Arcturus Publishing, too, for the splendid cover, which encapsulates the eponymous "Lonely Magdalen" and the novel's general mood to perfection.

 

I'm reading this for the Long Arm of the Law (Chapter 14) square of the Detection Club bingo and for the Pancha Ganapti square of the 16 Festive Tasks.

 



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review 2017-11-20 13:23
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 16 - Kwanzaa: Headless Chicken Parade Part 2: Albert Campion
Traitor's Purse - Margery Allingham,David Thorpe

 

Well, I suppose that's what I get for not checking a book's online blurbs before reading it.  I downoladed this book purely because it was available on Audible and it was one of Allingham's Campion books that I hadn't read yet.  Turns out its plot chiefly rests on not one but two mystery tropes I don't particularly care for: the amnesiac detective and "Fifth Column" shenanigans, Golden Age mystery writer variety.

 

A few hours before the beginning of this book, Campion -- out on a secret mission whose full details are only known to him and Oates -- has gotten himself coshed on the head.  The book opens with him waking up in a hospital not knowing who he is and how he got there.  From an overheard conversation he concludes that he has been involved in a violent altercation that ended in the death of a policeman.  Within minutes, a young lady named Amanda whom Campion doesn't recognize but who seems to know him very well appears next to his hospital bed and whisks him away in what he discovers is his own car, to the house of an eminent scientists where, it turns out, Amanda and he are staying.  Campion also discovers that he seems to be involved in some sort of highly charged top-secret mission.  Now, instead of lying low until he has regained his wits and knows precisely who he is, what his role in that ominous mission is, whom he can trust, and what not to do if he doesn't want to give himself away -- and despite the fact that that same evening a death occurs that may well be connected with the ominous mission -- Campion starts running around like a headless chicken trying to bring the whole thing to completion.

 

Full marks for implausibility so far, Ms. Allingham.

 

Which brings us to trope no. 2, and which in its details is just about as ridiculously implausible as is the amnesia part of this book's plot.  Yet, the saving grace of this second part of the plot is (alas) that in the days of Russian meddling with the American and European democracies' political process via Facebook campaigns, "fake news" and other instances of rumor mongery, the mere concept of an enemy power's meddling with a country's political process

(here: by way of manipulating the target country's monetary politics)

(spoiler show)

does unfortunately no longer sound quite as ridiculous as it might have even a few years ago.

 

Still I really would have wished Allingham hadn't tried to match Christie in the wartime spy shenaningans game -- which was not a particular forte of either of them.

 

I listened to this book for Square 16 of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season, Kwanzaa: Read a book written by an author of African descent or a book set in Africa, or whose cover is primarily red, green or black.

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review 2017-11-20 13:14
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 2 - Guy Fawkes Night: Headless Chicken Parade Part 1: Giordano Bruno
Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1) - S.J. Parris

 

Giordano Bruno (1548 – February 17, 1600) was an eminent Italian philosopher, mathematician, poet, and cosmological scientist, whose theories extended the then-novel Copernican model. Bruno proposed that the stars were just distant suns surrounded by their own exoplanets and raised the possibility that these planets could even foster life of their own; and he insisted that the universe is in fact infinite and could have no celestial body at its "center". -- Raised in Naples as a Dominican friar from age 13 onwards, his interest in the writings of Copernicus and Desiderius Erasmus attracted the attention of the Holy Inquisition before he had even turned 30, and rather than become a martyr for the sake of his philosophical and scientific beliefs then and there, he fled from his monastery and from Italy and, having made a name for himself as a scholar in France and attained the patronage of French King Henri III himself, he eventually turned up in Britain in 1583, where he was introduced to Francis Walsingham and agreed to become a spy in Walsingham's network. The Inquisition did eventually catch up with him in 1593, however, and he was tried for heresy and burned at the stake in Rome's Campo de' Fiori in 1600.

 

While you will be able to glean the above biographical facts (up to 1583) from the beginning of S.J. Parris's Heresy and the book actually has an engaging beginning, it all goes rapidly downhill (or it did for me, anyway) from the moment when the first of several murders occurs. -- Parris's book uses details from Bruno's actual stay in England, in sending him to Oxford for a philosophical debate with the then-Rector of Lincoln College, John Underhill (who indeed opposed Bruno's views). The rest of the story is fictitious, however, and I sincerely hope the personality of this book's Giordano Bruno has nothing whatsoever in common with that of the real-life philosopher and scientist, because if it had, it would be nothing short of a miracle how he ever managed to evade the Inquisition and find his way all the way to France and, later, England.

 

As for "Bruno the sleuth," leaving aside that initially there isn't even a good reason for him to involve himself in the investigation into the dead man's murder

(even the discovery that the man was a clandestine Catholic, and that his death may thus fall into the purview of Bruno's mission as a spy, follows his death; there is nothing to make Bruno suspect as much while the man is still alive),

(spoiler show)

the murder and its immediate aftermath are described in such a fashion that anybody who has read Arthur Conan Doyle's

Silver Blaze

(spoiler show)

can't fail to notice one fact pointing very damningly in one particular direction right from the start -- and surely the real-life Giordano Bruno's intellect would have been on par with that of Sherlock Holmes in every respect? And it certainly doesn't get any better by the fact that the one person who thus draws, if not the fictional Bruno's attention, then at least that of this book's reader to themselves in a very conspicious manner, with the same act also eliminates a witness in a manner identical to that used by Ellis Peters in

the fourth Chronicle of Brother Cadfael, St. Peter's Fair

(spoiler show)

... and that in connection with a second murder, a few days later, Parris employs precisely the same slight of hand already used by Agatha Christie in

Murder at the Vicarage.

(spoiler show)

 

So, I found myself looking in one particular direction from page 95 onwards, and though it turned out that I had the dynamics between two of the persons involved the wrong way around, I never wavered in my belief that the solution lay that way -- which makes a 474-page book a mighty slog to finish, particularly if the book's alleged super-sleuth is running around like a headless chicken, missing just about ever vital clue that doesn't actually explode in his face, and standing by passively and helplessly and / or letting himself be tricked, manhandled and otherwise be manipulated in a way I'd possibly have expected from a rookie investigator, but not from a distinguished intellectual like the real life Giordano Bruno, who after all had, himself, demonstrated considerable cunning in evading the persecution of the Holy Inquisition and make his way, undetected, all the way from southern Italy to France and England.

 

There is one final twist that I didn't see coming exactly this way around (although I should have, and just possibly might if I'd still cared enough to engage with the book at that point), and I'll also have to give Parris credit for an engaging beginning and for her knowledge of the period -- even though I wondered several times how her version of Giordano Bruno, who had never before been to Oxford in his life, could have the city's layout down so pat within a day at most that the book reads as if Parris had had a map of 16th century Oxford sitting next to her manuscript virtually all the time.

 

Final note to those who don't care for first person present tense narration: There is an excerpt of the series's second book (Prophecy) included at the end of my edition, and while I didn't actually read it, I've seen enough of it to be able to recognize that it's written in that particular narrative voice. (Heresy is not -- it's in first person past tense.)

 

I read this book for Square 2 of the 16 Tasks of the Festive Season - Guy Fawkes Night: Any book about the English monarchy (any genre), political treason, political thrillers, or where fire is a major theme, or fire is on the cover.

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