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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-12-13 00:18
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 8 - Las Posadas: A Christmas House Party, the Murderous Way
Murder for Christmas - Francis Duncan,Geoffrey Beevers
Murder for Christmas - Francis Duncan

Book themes for Las Posadas: Read a book dealing with visits by family or friends.

 

Christmas house parties were definitely "a thing" with the Golden Age mystery writers -- small wonder since they are, in essence, nothing but a seasonal subspecies of the subgenre that, perhaps, has come to be more synonymous with Golden Age detective fiction than any other subgenre: the country house mystery.  So it's no surprise that Francis Duncan, who published some 20 mystery novels between the 1930s and the early 1950s, but who was quickly and thoroughly forgotten after his books had fallen from favor,* turned to the subject as well, sending his amateur detective (and retired tobacconist) Mordecai Tremaine to the English countryside to attend the Christmas party of wealthy Benedict Grame.  But what begins like a true-blue Dickensian Christmas extravaganza, with Grame doing his level best to mime the likes of Samuel Pickwick and Mr. Fezziwig (Father Christmas / Santa Claus suit, presents on the Christmas tree, and all), in due course inevitably turns into a ghastly crime scene.  The victim is Grame's closest associate; a man whom some, but by far not all of those present seem to have a reason to dislike, but who to Tremaine seemed decidedly more "on the level" than some of the other guests, who had exhibited an unexplicable tension even before, and whose nerves now seem to resemble bow strings a fraction of a second before breaking point.

 

Few of the party's guests actually struck me as likeable -- but while I would have been quite happy to live with this in and of itself (which is, after all, par for the course of the average country house mystery), the solution 

makes clear that Duncan's real purpose here seems to have been to turn Christmas (particularly the Dickensian Christmas clichés) on its (or their) head, and the final reveal in the book's last pages contains a brutal about-face,which

(spoiler show)

considerably marred my enjoyment of the story, even if I had seen parts of it coming and my early suspicion as to the murderer's identity (though not their motive) turned out to be correct.

 

I own a print edition of this book, which I did pull for reference purposes on occasion, but I primarily listened to the deligihtful unabridged audio recording narrated by Geoffrey Beevers, who finds just the right tone for each situation and character.

 

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

 

* As the Guardian reports, even his publisher no longer knew anything about him when Murder for Christmas was undusted and became a surprise revival hit -- it took for the author's children to see the book at their local Waterstone's to become aware of the publisher's appeal for information and get in touch with them.

 

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review 2017-12-12 22:58
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 5 - Advent: Golden Age Christmas Vignettes
Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries - Various Authors,Martin Edwards

 

Book themes for Advent: Read a book with a wreath or with pines or fir trees on the cover.

 

Silent Nights is the first of (at this point) two Christmas mystery short story anthologies in the British Library's "Crime Classics" series, edited by Martin Edwards. The anthology combines stories by well-known and -remembered authors (e.g., Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Wallace, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Margery Allingham) with stories by authors who, even if they may have been household names in their own time -- and many were members of the illustrious Detection Club -- have since been rolled over by the wheels of time; not always deservedly so.

 

The standout story in the collection is doubtlessly Arthur Conan Doyle's The Blue Carbuncle (one of my all-time favorite Sherlock Holmes adventures that shows both ACD and his protagonists Holmes and Watson at their absolute best), but I enjoyed almost all of the stories -- in varying degrees, and not all of them were apt to make me want to go on reading an entire novel by the same author, but several did; and thus, I am glad that I have extended my "Detection Club / Golden Age crime fiction quest" to the likes of J. Jefferson Farjeon, Ethel Lina White, Edmud Crispin, Leo Bruce, and Nicholas Blake (better known as Cecil Day-Lewis, poet laureate and father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis).

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review 2017-12-11 23:55
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 9 Reads (Winter Solstice / Yaldā Night and Yuletide)
The Poetry - David Shaw-Parker,Christina Rossetti,Ghizela Rowe
Goblin Market - Christina Rossetti
A Christmas Visitor - Anne Perry
Colour Scheme - Ngaio Marsh,Ric Jerrom

Book themes for Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night: Read a book of poetry.

Book themes for Yuletide: Read a book set in the midst of a snowy or icy winter.

 

Holiday Book Joker as Bonus Joker: A book set on Winter Solstice (or Summer Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere)

 

  

 

Winter Solstice and Yaldā Night Read: Christina Rossetti: The Poetry

A wonderful reading of some of Christina Rossetti's best-known poems by David Shaw-Parker and Ghizela Rowe, including her long narrative The Goblin Market, which I also own (and reread, for the occasion) in a delightful hardcopy edition illustrated with images by Christina's elder brother, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  Not holiday reading per se (and The Goblin Market is decidedly dark), but still very fitting poetic complementary material for the holiday season.  Highly recommended!

 

  

 

Yuletide Read: Anne Perry: A Christmas Visitor

Anne Perry's Christmas novellas are spin-offs of her major Victorian series (Thomas & Charlotte Pitt, and William Monk, respectively), featuring supporting characters from those series as their protagonists.  A Christmas Visitor is the second of those novellas, and its protagonist is Henry Stanhope, a mathematician friend of William Monk's.  Stanhope travels to the snow-laden Lake District to spend Christmas with the family of his longstanding friend Judah Dreghorn; only to discover that just prior to his arrival Judah has apparently slipped on a set of ice-sheeted stones crossing a brook on his estate.  What initially looked like an accident, at closer inspection is revealed to be murder, and while everybody's favorite and allegedly most likely suspect is soon found, it falls to Henry to find out what really happened.

 

Perry's writing is very atmospheric and captures the Lake District, 19th century rural society, and the Christmas spirit to perfection -- I loved this story right up until its very end, which (even for a Christmas book) struck me as overly moralizing and sentimental on the one hand, and just that decisive bit too neat on the other hand.  (Readers not enamored of mysteries hingeing on certain points of law might be turned off on those grounds)  Still, for a quick read to get into the spirit of the season (and be served up a nicely-plotted mystery into the bargain), I could hardly have done better -- and the stellar reading by Terrence Hardiman contributed greatly to my enjoyment.

 

  

 

Winter Solstice Book Joker Bonus Read: Ngaio Marsh: Colour Scheme

One of my favorite mysteries from Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn series, here served up in an unabridged reading by Ric Jerrom.  The story is set in Marsh's native New Zealand and begins on Summer Solstice, which is Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and thus makes the book eligible for this particular holiday's book joker.

 

The mystery is set at a spa hotel near a hot springs / mud pot / small version of Yellowstone National Park type of area, where a gentleman who has made one enemy too many (i.e., your classic Golden Age murder victim) one day is found to have fallen into a boiling hot mud pot.  (He may or may not also have been a German spy -- the story is set in the 1940s -- but this is one of the rare exceptions of a Golden Age mystery with that kind of angle that is blessedly devoid of "5th column" shenanigans, and where the war background is actually used skillfully to demonstrate how WWII affected daily life even in seemingly remote New Zealand.)  Also present at the spa is, inter alia, a star of the British stage and screen (unabashedly based on Sir Laurence Olivier) -- secretary in tow -- as well as, arriving on the day after the "accidental" death that very probably wasn't an accident, a Mr. Septimus Small, whom none of the other denizens of the spa manage to figure out, and who soon inspires the wildest conjectures as to his identity and occupation.

 

Upon revisiting the mystery -- thanks in no small part to Ric Jerrom's excellent narration and portrayal of the characters -- I found the story's inner logic (and the path to the solution) decidedly more obvious than when I first read it a few years ago, but then again, this time I knew where the whole thing was headed and, consequently, I was not as distracted by minutiae as the first time around.

 

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review 2017-12-01 17:13
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 7 - International Human Rights Day: Et vous vouliez me dire quoi encore, M. Senécal?
Vivre au Max - Patrick Senécal

 

A French buddy read with Tannat (who doesn't seem terribly inclined to make progress rapidly with this book, either) -- and since it's not only a book originally written in a language other than English, and in a language different from my mother tongue (plus, a book by a Québecois, i.e., non-Anglo-Saxon author), I'm also counting it towards square 7 of the 16 Festive Tasks (International Human Rights Day).

 

Vivre au Max is the first half of a two-part novel entitled Le vide ("the void," "the emptiness").  It's also the title of a TV show which, if it were real, would make the likes of Jerry Springer look like innocent choir boys.  The show promises to fulfill three candidates' wildest and most unreachable dreams per episode (at least 2 out of 3 of these dreams, or "trips," typically being sordid beyond compare): "au max" is a word play on both "to the max" and its creator's and host's name -- Maxime Lavoie, former president and CEO of a ski apparel company founded by his father; a position, that Max (a would-be humanitarian and intellectual) had taken on only half-heartedly to begin with, and quickly got fed up with when he realized that his high-flying notions to turn the company into a model of social virtues -- at the shareholders' cost -- were not going to be put into practice in any way that would have counted.

 

Max Lavoie is one of three men on which the story centers; the other two are a cop named Pierre Sauvé, who is investigating a quadruple shooting that initially looks every bit like a case of violent domestic revenge, and a psychologist named Fédéric Farland, who ... well, let's just say that having gotten bored with life's ordinary thrills, he is seeking ever more exotic and dangerous ones.  Of the three protagonists, I really only ever took to Pierre -- certainly not Frédéric, whom I hated pretty much from the first page of his appearance (and not merely for his utter amorality and contempt of life); and while I was unsure initially about Max, he lost my sympathy when I had clued into where the story was headed.  Not that I feel very much like bothering to find out: I still don't get what, deep down, Mr. Senécal's point in writing this book ultimately might have been, but I don't care about two of the three principal characters, and if the story is headed anywhere near where I think it is headed, it's not the sort of thing I need in my life at all.

 

That said, the buddy read has accomplished its primary goal, in bringing back the fun of reading something in a different language than German or (mostly) English.  So Tannat, if / whenever you finish this and aren't too ennuie on your part, I'd definitely be up for another one ...

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text 2017-11-27 15:08
Reading progress update: I've read 162 out of 436 pages.
Vivre au Max - Patrick Senécal

So, alright, Maxime Lavoie was a somewhat unwilling heir to his father's position as president and CEO of Lavoie Inc., but vowed to do good with his fortune and, having apparently found this to be an unresolvable conflict he goes and creates a TV show compared to which Jerry Springer's is a paragon of virtue ...?  WTF?

 

And was it this show's theme ("realize your most unreachable dream") that gave Nadeau the idea to kill her ex-husband and his new girlfriend and twin sons?

 

And what's up with the four killers who sent Nadeau and the cops guarding her to her death?

 

It occurs to me, btw, that since the author is Québecois and the book was written in French, I can use this book as my read for International Human Rights Day for the 16 Festive Tasks: "Read a book originally written in another language (i.e., not in English and not in your mother tongue), –OR– a book written by anyone not anglo-saxon."  So that's what I'll be doing.

 

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