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review 2019-06-27 12:15
Mythos - Stephen Fry

A quick review:


I debated between 4.5 and 5 stars because at about the 75% mark I started to drift because the abundance of names became hard to follow.  But it's Greek mythology; has anyone ever managed to compile the myths without all the names?  No, I doubt it, so, it hardly seems fair to penalise Stephen Fry because it lagged a bit.  I went the full 5 stars because the names thin back out at the end, and because it's narrated by the author, and Fry can read me any damn thing he wants and I'll listen - even though I have an issue with how he says 'issue'.  


If you have any interest in Greek myths but found them incomprehensible - take a look at Fry's effort; I think it's an excellent read for non-academics.

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text 2019-06-23 06:33
Essential Books - The supplemental mystery list.

Moonlight Reader's call for additional books gave me the excuse I needed to put together a mystery supplement to my original Essential Books list - and not feel guilty about it.  


While my original list included some mysteries, I held back in favour of variety across genres and subjects.  Note to Moonlight Reader and Themis-Athena:  To make this list all-inclusive for mysteries, I'm repeating the ones I put in the original list, but I've marked them as repeats.


Repeated titles from original list:

Arthur Conan Doyle - There is nobody I'd recommend before I'd recommend Doyle.  His writing remains to this day, wry, entertaining and easy to read; his settings are vivid, his characters written so well as to be almost holographic, and the plotting tight, intricate and the pinnacle of both inductive and deductive reasoning.  Add to all of that the fact that the only person on Earth who bested Sherlock Holmes was a woman, and you have perfection.


Dorothy L. Sayers - All her work is worth reading; she was a genius with prose and plotting and while it might be almost blasphemous to say, might be Christie's superior when looking at the consistent excellence of her overall body of work.


File on Fenton & Farr - For mystery lovers, this is the natural extension, and apex, of the fair play mystery. Truly just a bound collection of witness statements, police reports and evidence; everything the reader needs to solve the mystery with no extraneous prose, and the solution at the back.  


The Circular Study - I could have chosen several Anna Katherine Green novels that could qualified for this list; at least one of which is arguably a better story than this one, but I went with The Circular Study because it's ahead of its time in terms of plot devices. Published in 1900 by one of the first female mystery authors, the story used devices that are common in many mystery stories today, but were technologically non-existent in Green's time, lending the narrative an almost sci-fi feel at times.


The Circular Staircase - This story pioneered the 'had I but known' style of mystery writing.  Rinehart is another female frontrunner of the mystery genre, preceding Christie and Sayers by at about 2 decades, and her writing remains gripping, action packed, and humorous today.


The rest of the list (in no particular order):


Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers:  This title deserves I specific mention, in my opinion.  I know Gaudy Night is considered her strongest (with just reason), but for me Strong Poison affected me the most.  It's probably the most emotional of the Whimsey books, with Harriet's startling apathy borne of complete hopelessness, and Whimsey's passionate – almost unreasonable in the face of the evidence – determination to save her.  By the end I was thoroughly wrung out.


The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne:  While the world is definitely better for having Winnie the Pooh in it, Milne had untapped talent for imaginative and engaging mysteries, save for this one gem.  It's not perfect, but which mystery writer ever wrote a perfect first novel?  The potential though, is clearly there, and I think it's worth any reader's time who is interested in the Golden Age, and the history of the mystery genre.


The Mayor's Wife by Anna Katherine Green: Not only is the book very well written, but it has a little bit of everything fun and suspenseful in a vintage mystery: tales of hauntings, cryptic codes, unexplainable occurrences, dodgy butlers, and crazy old ladies staring out of attic windows.  And Green was doing it all over 100 years ago.


3 Thirds of a Ghost by Timothy Fuller:  Definitely one of the more obscure titles on my list, but for the hard core Golden Agers, I think it's worth the effort.  Fuller authored several Jupiter Jones mysteries, and this one was fun, well written, has a large satirical streak, is self-referential, and openly pokes at popular tropes contemporary to its publication.


The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin:  Crazy, madcap fun, centered in Oxford.  It might be stetching the definition a bit, but this mystery centers on a kind of gaslighting, and well, it's just a hoot.


The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham:  This is the only Allingham I've read, so she might have better, but I thought, for such a slim volume, she'd written an exceptionally good mystery here.  The ending is daring, even by today's standards, and it just left me feeling as though reading it was time well spent.


The Mad Hatter Mystery by John Dickson Carr:  The newest addition to my list, as I just finished it yesterday.  Like Allingham, this is the only Carr I've read so far, but it is exceptional.  Otto Penzler counts it as one of Carr's masterpieces and I have no trouble believing it.   An essential read for any mystery lover.


Woman in White by Wilkie Collins:  I'm going rogue here and choosing this over The Moonstone.  Both are excellent; classics even, and well worth reading at least once (Collins can be rather verbose), but Woman in White has stuck with me as a more compelling mystery, while The Moonstone has largely faded from my memory.  


The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales by Edgar Allen Poe:  Poe generally gets credit for writing the first detective mystery, and as such, mystery fans should definitely read this short story of a locked room mystery (of sorts).  Dupin's influence on the creation of Sherlock Holmes is impossible to miss, though I argue that Doyle surpassed his mentor.  Personally I find Dupin to be an ego driven ass in love with the sound of his own voice, but The Murders in the Rue Morgue is a good mystery, and the least objectionable of the Dupin stories.


Locked Doors by Mary Roberts Rinehart: Short the story may be in pages, but long in suspense, and fast in pace.  If you can find this story anywhere, I highly recommend it; I promise you, you'll never see that ending coming.  


Contemporary Titles - I'm not sure these will stand the test of time, but they've all certainly stood up to re-reads.  With the exception of Midnight... all are the first in a series; the first book might not be classic contenders, but I've found the series as a whole  to have merit.


Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt:  I've never felt confident about whether this was a true crime story or not, but either way it's a gripping mystery with amazing characters and the Savannah backdrop is the best supporting character.  Haunting, atmospheric and definitely a must-read.


Caught Dead in Philadelphia by Gillian Roberts:  Written in the late 80's, before a romance with a police detective became tropetasically cliche, the Amanda Pepper series centers on a prep school teacher as reluctant amateur sleuth.  It's well written and solidly plotted, without the often painful shallowness that today's commercial cozies have adopted.


Them Bones by Carolyn Haines:  This is definitely a recommendation for the series over the specific title.  The Sarah Booth Delaney books straddle the line between traditional and cozy; there's a ghost that pesters the MC to get married and pregnant (not necessarily in that order) so the family line doesn't die out, but there's also a lot of emotional depth centered on friendship as well as love that is often painful to read (in a good way).  Essential might be a stretch, but these books left a mark on me, and gave me food for thought.


Murder With Peacocks by Donna Andrews:  Arguably the 'cosiest" of the books on this list, the series is meant to be funny and light.  And it is - there's a scene in this particular book that made me laugh until tears streamed down my face.  But every one of them is well written and Andrews created, in my opinion, the very model of a modern major general in Meg Langslow.  She's everything every woman should want to be when she grows up (blacksmithing is optional).


Death at the Chateau Bremont by M.L. Longworth:  The closest I've found to a true traditional mystery in recent years; this series takes place in Aix en Provence.  The mysteries are complex, as are the characters, and the setting is magnificent.  


A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters:  Classic traditional mysteries that take place in medieval times and centers on a monk named Brother Cadfael.  On the surface, this sounds dull (at least it did to me) but Peters monk came to monastic vows late,  after living a colourful and eventful life fighting in the crusades.  This is a series that will definitely stand the test of time and, I think, will become a classic.

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review 2019-06-22 10:13
The Mad Hatter Mystery (Gideon Fell, #2)
The Mad Hatter Mystery - John Dickson Carr

I've been wanting to read The Hollow Man (aka The Three Coffins) for ages, but I've been stubbornly waiting until I found an older edition (mission: impossible), rather than buying a spiffy new reprint.  But when Otto Penzler's American Mystery Classics released this spiffy new reprint with it's classic looking cover, I caved.


In Penzler's introduction, he refers to this as one of Dickson Carr's masterpieces.  It's the only one I've read –so far– but I'll agree with him in principle, because I can't imagine the mysteries he'd have had to write to knock this one out of, say, his top 3 (we'll take it as read that The Hollow Man occupies the first spot).  The writing is sublime, the humor is well timed and a perfect blend of American and UK wit, and the plotting is incredible.  The ending... well, the ending is twisty and dodgy and Dickson Carr uses one of my favorite devices; one I think elevates the story to another level.


Woven within the narrative is Dickson Carr's ode to books; to a good mystery; the legitimacy of genre literature; to the love of reading and the places it can take you.  Round about the edges are tip of the hats to Conan Doyle and more obviously, his friend and debate partner, G.K. Chesterton.


My reading was constantly interrupted by real life, which I feel hampered my ability to 'play along', though, ironically, I did guess the murderer in the end, purely because the fractured reading left me misunderstanding what I thought was a 'big' clue.


All in all an incredibly entertaining read; I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good, classic mystery, with the caveat that it is best read when the reader has time to devote to it.

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review 2019-06-08 01:57
The Nine Tailors (Lord Peter Whimsey)
The Nine Tailors - Dorothy L. Sayers

This was one of the few remaining Whimsey books I had left to read; not being English by birth, and ignorant of the art behind bell ringing, I'd naturally thought this was a mystery about tailors; you know, those that produce clothing.  I was set straight a few of years ago, and became determined to read it, because a mystery about bell ringing sounded a LOT more interesting.


Nine Tailors was both what I did and didn't expect.  From what I'd picked up about bell ringing by osmosis, I knew it was going to be one of the more esoteric mysteries, so I was going to have to depend a lot on context, or spend a lot of time googling.  But I didn't expect the almost thriller-ish pacing towards the end, especially as the rest of the book was almost languid in it's exploration of the murder of the stranger in the tower.


In a genre where Cabot Cover Syndrome abounds, with a dozen murders in a small town/village occurring within months is the norm, it's refreshing to pick up a golden age mystery where – time passes –.  Indeed, it's 6 months or so before the readers are given a partial solution, and it's almost a year to the day before the true nature of the killing is understood.  


If the esoteric nature of the plot aren't a barrier for the mystery lover, there's an outstanding mystery to be had.  Several classic elements are here: coded messages, riddles, cold crimes, treasure, and intrigue in graveyards.  It's not strictly a perfect mystery - the cold crime in question starts out with three men clearly involved, but later in the book that third man is discarded; this totally left me confused later in the book, forcing me to go back and re-read earlier sections to get back on track.


Ultimately, I figured out both identity and cause of death well before Whimsey, but it didn't affect my enjoyment of the story - indeed, Sayers, in all her mastery, created a fair play mystery where I, as a reader, was actively trying to figure it out, and I had the clues I needed to do it.  But even more than this, Sayers created a story where I was invested in the village of Fenchurch St. Paul; I needed to know about the fate of the village and villagers more than I needed to know whether or not I was right.  When Whimsey figured out how the man died, and I learned whether I was right or not, it was, as I believe Sayers intended, rather anticlimactic and merely a footnote in light of the events that came before.


I didn't go with a higher rating because I think I'm going to need to re-read this one in order to appreciate the work as a whole.   There's a feeling that there's a complexity to the writing and story telling that I missed the first time around; I was too focused on the trees to fully appreciate the majesty of the forest.  But even so, it's a book I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone who appreciates fine writing and an excellent mystery.

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review 2019-05-31 09:38
The Mystery of Cloomber
The Mystery of Cloomber - Arthur Conan Doyle

This is a great mystery, told in the same sparse but eloquent style used with the Holmes stories.  I could, and did as I was reading, nitpick about a few things, which is why I went with 4 stars.  Don't ask me what they were though; I just finished it, and yet can't put my finger on what I found lacking.


But the book represents something far more fascinating than another solid Conan Doyle mystery; The Mystery of Cloomber is an excellent representation of the two sides of Conan Doyle: the empiricist and the spiritualist.  Originally published in 1888, this story shows that ACD's embracement of the occult was a gradual process that spanned decades.  WWI might have been the tipping point, but as this mystery attests, the foundations were firmly in place early in his career.


The book is also interesting for the setting:  if you liked the bleak moors of England in The Hound of the Baskervilles, you'll enjoy seeing Doyle's earlier use of the moors (this time Scottish) in The Mystery of Cloomber.  Like Hound of the Baskervilles, the moors play a big part in the plot, though their mysterious and heavy atmosphere are used to less effect.


i don't want to say more about the plot for fear of spoiling it, but I'll leave off with this:  this mystery might not have a satisfactory ending for some readers.  There's a resolution, but, well...


(read for BookLikes-oploy for space #3 - a classic)

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