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review 2017-11-29 20:32
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 10 - Pancha Ganapti - and Square 12 - Festivus
The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
Coffin Road - Peter May
Cronica de una muerte anunciada - Gabriel García Márquez
We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson,Bernadette Dunne
Farewell, My Lovely - Raymond Chandler,Elliott Gould
The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards
Call The Midwife: A True Story Of The East End In The 1950s - Jennifer Worth
Woza Shakespeare!: Titus Andronicus In South Africa - Gregory Doran,Antony Sher
Brother Cadfaels Herb Garden - Robin Whiteman,Rob Talbot
Shakespeare's Gardens - Andrew Lawson,Shakespeare Birthplace Trust,Jackie Bennett

Tasks for Pancha Ganapati: Post about your 5 favourite books this year and why you appreciated them so much.


Tasks for Festivus: [...] --OR-- Perform the Airing of Grievances: name 5 books you’ve read this year that have disappointed you - tell us in tongue-lashing detail why and how they failed to live up to expectations.


I decided to create a joint post for my most and least favorite reads of the year -- and I'm going to have to divide the "favorite" part into "fiction" and "nonfiction." There is no way I could whittle the list down even further than these 10 books or treat some of them as "honorable mentions."  That being said:



Favorite Books -- Fiction

... in reverse chronological order of reading:


Aravind Adiga: The White Tiger

A searing portrait of modern India, writ large on a colorful, chaotic, topsy-turvy and utterly depraved and amoral canvas, but told with a great sense of humor belying the distinctly perceptible underlying sense of urgency.


Audiobook splendidly narrated by Kerry Shale -- if ever someone deserved the title of "the man of 1000 voices," it's him.


Gabriel García Márquez: Crónica de una muerte anunciada

The spine-chilling portrayal of an honor killing in a small Columbian seaside town and the events leading up to and following it, told in barely 100 pages and essentially in reverse chronological order, with the actual killing occurring on the last pages of the book: a brutal indictment of false morality, backwardness, cowardice and ineffectuality, both social and individual.



Peter May: Coffin Road

Ostensibly a stand-alone, but actually more of an extension of May's Lewis Trilogy, featuring some of the same characters but chiefly told from the point of view of an amnesiac scientist and an Edinburgh teenager in search of her missing (presumed dead) father.  Starkly atmospheric and so gripping it made me overlook the fact that it contains not one but two elements I don't particularly care for: an amnesiac protagonist, and first person present tense narration of part of the story.  (Note to Ms. Allingham -- see below, Traitor's Purse: This is how you convincingly write an amnesiac protagonist in search of his own identity while making sense of a murder that he may or may not have committed himself.)


Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

What can I say?  It's Shirley Jackson -- nobody does psychological horror like her; slowly and meticulously building from a slight initial sense of unease to full-blown terror.  I don't know how often I will actually revisit this book, but I do know that it, and the ladies in "the castle," will stay with me forever.


Also a great reading of the audio version by Bernadette Dunne.


Raymond Chandler: Farewell, My Lovely

Not quite on the level of The Big Sleep, but what a pleasure to revisit Chandler's version of 1940s Los Angeles.  His books are all essentially of a pattern, so I can't take too many of them back to back (or if so, it has to be in different formats; the way I revisited them for the Halloween bingo, with full cast audio adaptations mixed in), but it's hard to beat the gut-punch quality of his imagery and language, particularly when rendered as splendidly as in this audio narration by Elliott Gould.



Favorite Books -- Nonfiction

... again in reverse chronological order of reading:


Martin Edwards: The Golden Age of Murder

The early history of the Detection Club, told by its current president and first archivist.  Martin's knowledge of both Golden Age detective fiction and the lives of its writers is downright encyclopedic, and he tells a multi-faceted story very compellingly.  At times I had the feeling that he was taking his own conjecture a bit too far (I will, e.g., have to explore Anthony Berkeley's and E.M. Delafield's writing for myself before I wholly buy into his theory about their relationship, what they may have meant to each other, and how it is reflected in their novels), and there were things, chiefly relating to Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, that I was already familiar with, but by and large, wow, what a read.


Not yet reviewed; status updates here:


210 of 528 pages

107 of 528 pages

67 of 528 pages


Jennifer Worth: Call the Midwife

Yes, I know, I know, I'm late to the party and there's been a whole TV series at this point.  And I'm sure the TV adaptation (which I've yet to watch) brings across the stories and the characters very nicely.  But there's both an unflinching straightforwardness and a genuine warmth to the original literary version of these tales of midwifery in London's mid-20th century East End that I wager will be hard to replicate in any screen adaptation -- particularly if read with as much empathy, sense of humor and tasteful restraint as by the incomparable Stephanie Cole (who I would sorely wish would narrate many more audiobooks!).


Review as yet to come.


Gregory Doran and Antony Sher: Woza Shakespeare -- Titus Andronicus in South Africa

Man, what a trip.  Titus Andronicus is not, and never will be my favorite play by William Shakespeare, but having read this book, I'd give anything to be able to watch a recording of this particular production.  In the 1980s (when Apartheid was still in full swing) Gregory Doran (later: Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company) and Antony Sher decided to take this most violent and controversial of all the bard's plays to Sher's homeland, from which he had emigrated some 20 years earlier, wowing never to return (and even dramatically burning his passport).  This book reproduces the salient parts of Doran's and Sher's diaries written during the project, from the moment the project was born to the play's actual run in Johannesburg and later, London and on tour.  Insightful, illuminating, dramatic and, particularly in the moments of greatest tragedy and misfortune, surprisingly and supremely funny -- this is definitely one of those books that will stay with me forever (and not only because I happen to own it).


(And yes, one of these days I may even write a proper review of this book, too.)


Robin Whiteman & Rob Talbot: Brother Cadfael's Herb Garden / Robin Whiteman: The Cadfael Companion - The World of Brother Cadfael

Shared honors for two simply gorgeously illustrated coffee table books full of facts and knowledge about medieval monastery life (Benedictine and otherwise), the healing arts of the medieval monks, and the plants they used.  Must-reads not only for fans of Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael series but for anyone interested in the Middle Ages, monastic history, social history in general, botany, medicine, and pharmacy.


Review as yet to come, too.


Incidentally, a third book by this pair of authors -- Cadfael Country: Shropshire & the Welsh Borders -- provided, together with Ellis Peters's own Strongholds and Sanctuaries: The Borderland of England and Wales, important information and stimuli for the "Welsh borderland" part of my trip to Britain in late July 2017, and will certainly be consulted again should I make good on my plan to spend some time in Wales proper next year.


Jackie Bennett, with photographs by Andrew Lawson: Shakespeare's Gardens 

A lavishly illustrated coffee table book-sized guide to the gardens Shakespeare knew (or might have known) both in Stratford / Warwickshire and in London, as well as an introduction to the gardens of the five Shakespeare-related houses in and around Stratford, with an introductory chapter on Tudor gardening in general.  The find of several great finds of my trip to [London, Oxford and] Stratford in mid-June of this year.  (And it's even an autographed copy ... as I only discovered when I unpacked the book back home!)



Least Favorite Books

... again in reverse chronological order of reading:


S.J. Parris: Heresy

This started well, but went downhill fast literally within a page of the first murder having been committed.  And I sincerely hope the real Giordano Bruno was not anything even remotely like the headless chicken that we're being presented with in this book in lieu of the incisively intelligent, street-smart -- indeed, supremely cunning -- philosopher-scientist and sometime spy that anybody who had spent even an hour reading about the real life Giordano Bruno would have expected.


Utterly predictable and unengaging, never mind the author's obvious amount of research into 16th century Oxford academic life.  Would she'd spent as much time thinking about her characters' personas and motivations ...


Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley / Traitor's Purse


Shared (dis-)honors for my two recent reads from Margery Allingham's Albert Campion mystery series.  Both of the spy / international conspiracy variety that none of the Golden Age witers really excelled in, and Allingham's plots (and characters) tend to be among the most ridiculous of the lot -- as certainly exhibited here.  Thank God her Campion series also contains some genuine jewels, such as Police at the Funeral, The Case of the Late Pig and, particularly, the downright devious Death of a Ghost.  I hope my next exposures to Mr. Campion's adventures will be decidedly more in the latter line again.


Val McDermid: Forensics

Possibly the disappointment of the year, even if I knew that McDermid's background is in journalism and crime writing, not in science.  But she's associated with a forensics program at Dundee University and her crime novels manage to transport forensic detail with what has so far sounded to me as a reasonable degree of accuracy, so, given that I like her crime writing in other respects, too, my anticipations for this book ran fairly high.  Alas, what I got was a frequently manipulative piece of investigative journalism and true crime writing, whose actual scientific contents was on the super-light side and entirely third-hand, with frequently not even a chance given to the reader to verify the precise source of a given statement or piece of information.  I do hope Ms. McDermid will turn to crime fiction again in her next literary ventures ... her crime novels show just how much better than this she can really be.


Simon Brett: An Amateur Corpse

 My first book by Simon Brett, and again, from a former president of the Detection Club I would have expected better.  This novel wears its 1970s setting like a stifling cloak; it hasn't aged well at all and, what's worse, I didn't take to the protagonist at all, either (an actor in the throes of a midlife crisis); neither as far as his attitude towards women nor as far as his attitude towards amateur theatre productions was concerned -- in short, he struck me as a mysogynistic snob.  I may give the series another chance at a later point, but it certainly won't be anytime soon.


Patrick O'Brian: The Final, Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey

I love O'Brian's Aubrey / Maturin series and raced through the whole 20 books at breakneck speed earlier this year, but by God, this particular  publication (I won't even call it a "book", because it isn't) has to be one of the most blatant exercises in the exploitation of an author's literary legacy under the sun.  Patrick O'Brian died when he wasn't even halfway into this story -- but instead of letting things rest, because this really is not anywhere near a completed novel, his publisher went and released the puny few initial chapters as a "book" in its own right.


My sincere advice to all newbie readers of the series: Spare yourselves the trouble of looking into this one; it's not worth it -- not for all the enjoyment of O'Brian's writing.  Blue at the Mizzen, O'Brian's last completed Aubrey / Maturin novel, has a very satisfying conclusion -- content yourselves with that and just take it as read that "they lived happily ever after."  Or, well, maybe not entirely happily as far as Stephen Maturin is concerned.  But then, he probably wouldn't know what to do with himself if ever he were entirely happy; he's just not that kind of person.  And Jack Aubrey couldn't possibly be any happier than he is at the end of Blue at the Mizzen.


Didn't review this and am not planning to.



Least Favorite Books - Honorable Mentions

Chris Bohjalian: The Sandcastle Girls

Not an entirely bad book, but boy, this could have been so much more. Ostensibly, it deals with the Armenian genocide perpetrated by Turkey in the middle of WWI.  What we really get is -- at least chiefly -- the love story of an American volunteer nurse trainee who has accompanied her father on a humanitarian mission to Syria and an Armenian refugee who, having concluded that his beloved wife is one of the 10,000s of victims of the death march through the Syrian desert to which the Turks exposed their Armenian women and children captives, falls head over heels in love with the aforementioned Western nurse trainee.  Oh, sure, there are bits about the genocide as well (and Gallipoli, too, for good measure), but for many of these parts the reader isn't even right there with the characters but learns about them second-hand and in hindsight; and the ending is incredibly soppy -- and while it's obviously intended as a happy ending, a look beneath its shallow surface reveals that some characters' happiness comes at the greatest of all costs to another ... and at least one of those living happily ever after even knows about this, and nevertheless doesn't do anything about it (and if I hadn't stopped caring about that person long before I reached the end, that bit alone would have been the absolutely last straw for me.)


Georgette Heyer: Death in the Stocks

Georgette Heyer's books are hit and miss for me; this was definitely the most "miss" of the miss books to date.  It's got a nicely-drawn atmospheric beginning, but that doesn't last  for more than a few pages, and I didn't take to any of the characters; certainly not the "bright young things" and "good old chaps" at the center of the story -- nor even really Inspector Hanasyde, who is being introduced here.  Also, the "who" in whodunnit has a likely candidate from early on, even though the "how" is a bit out of left field.


I'm not planning to read the entire Hanasyde series, just one or two more (those that have the most direct ties to the subsequent Inspector Hemingway books, which overall I prefer); and -- but for the odd stand-alone -- I think that'll conclude my foray into Heyer's crime writing.


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review 2017-10-16 17:26
The High Window / Raymond Chandler
The High Window - Raymond Chandler

A wealthy Pasadena widow with a mean streak, a missing daughter-in-law with a past, and a gold coin worth a small fortune—the elements don't quite add up until Marlowe discovers evidence of murder, rape, blackmail, and the worst kind of human exploitation.



I read this book for the “Noir” square of my 2017 Halloween Bingo card.

I didn’t enjoy The High Window quite as much as I loved The Big Sleep or Farewell, My Lovely, but I still really liked it. Marlowe is a great main character—he’s idealistic, realistic and cynical, all rolled into one. I think someone close to the end of this book calls him a “shop-soiled Galahad,” and that really struck me as accurate. I also loved a couple of the literary allusions that he made, just assuming that the reader would be able to follow him. I love it when an author expects sophistication on the part of his readers!

The plot in this one seemed a bit simpler to me, although there was still a bit of a surprise at the end. Of the three of Chandler’s books that I’ve read, this one seemed the least noir to me, although it certainly still fits in the genre. Chandler is an exceptional writer and I am so glad to have found his novels!

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review 2017-09-11 02:05
Halloween Bingo 2017: Update 2
Lord of the Wings: A Meg Langslow Mystery (Meg Langslow Mysteries) - Donna Andrews
The Babes In The Wood - Ruth Rendell
Not in the Flesh: (A Wexford Case) - Christopher Ravenscroft,Ruth Rendell
Not in the Flesh - Ruth Rendell
Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (Christopher Lee Reads...) - Robert Louis Stevenson,Christopher Lee
The Bride Wore Black - William Irish,Cornell Woolrich
Farewell, My Lovely - Raymond Chandler,Elliott Gould
The Long Goodbye - Raymond Chandler,Full Cast,Toby Stephens
The High Window: A BBC Full-Cast Radio Drama - Raymond Chandler,Toby Stevens,Full Cast



My Square Markers and "Virgin" Bingo Card:

"Virgin" card posted for ease of tracking and comparison, as called and read squares will, bit by bit, vanish behind my markers and everybody's cards are different.

Black Kitty:
Read but not called


Black Vignette:
Called but not read


Black Kitty in Black Vignette:
Read and Called



Current Status of Spreadsheet:

(Note: Physical print editions unless stated otherwise)



Books Read / Listened to - Update 2:


 Donna Andrews: Lord of the Wings

A Halloween entry in Donna Andrews's long-running series featuring Caerphilly, VA artisan blacksmith and volunteer town events organizer Meg Langslow -- what could possibly be more fitting for this bingo square?


Caerphilly (that's CaerPHILLY to you reporters if you don't want to have the locals screaming at their TVs at the top of their voices) has decided to join the Halloween festival craze and is going at it hammer and tongs.  Mayor Shiffley is supposed to have an assistant organizing the festivities, but she's more bossy than efficient (and vanishes halfway through the event, to boot), so unsurprisingly the whole thing lands in Meg's lap all over again.  Unfortunately, some evilminded soul has decided to hijack the festivities for their own purposes, so soon enough Meg, the Mayor and Chief Burke have two real corpses on their hands, the local would-be vampire (formerly: the police department's forensic pathologist) is carted off to hospital with a near-fatal head wound administered with a blunt object, the town is beset by scavenger hunters who seem to stop at very little in pursuit of a computer game called "Vampire Colonies II" created by the software company of Meg's brother Rob, Mutant Wizards; and a group of live action role playing vampires have converged on the town with who knows what agenda of their own. -- Meanwhile, Meg's grandfather has added a bat cave to the local zoo (which is run by him), has managed to tame a bunch of ravens to stick to him more or less like sown to his wizard cloak with fine thread and croak "Nevermore" and similar Halloween'ish things, realistic-looking body parts show up in the zoo's lion's den and Florida alligator swamp areas (they are soon revealed as part of the scavenger hunt pranks, however) -- and in the middle of the festivities, a former heavy metal drummer of Scandinavian origin comes into his own again, which promises great things for the subsequent year's Halloween.


As an installment in the series that is set against the backdrop of a major holiday I didn't love this quite as much as Andrews's recent Meg Langslow Christmas books (Duck the Halls and The Nightingale Before Christmas) -- perhaps because unlike Christmas, Halloween is the sort of holiday where you more or less expect a certain amount of craziness anyway; so oddly, it didn't offer quite as much opportunity for Andrews's comic genius to shine as the Christmas setting, where the contrast between the expectation of a supremely peaceful holiday (certainly in a small town setting at least!), and the chaos engendered by the intrusion of violent crime and various pranks seems to work a bit better -- at least for me -- than in a setting that, like Halloween, must have had Andrews walking a fine tightrope practically all the time in order not to have things going over the top.  But this is ultimately nit-picking ... first and foremost, at now over 20 entries (of which this is no. 19), I'm happy to see that the series is still going so strong at all!



Ruth Rendell:

The Babes in the Wood

& Not in the Flesh

For the "In the Dark, Dark Woods" square, I decided on a Ruth Rendell double dip.  The Babes in the Wood and Not in the Flesh are books no. 19 and 21 in Rendell's Chief Inspector Wexford series, and now that Rendell is no longer around to add to the series, I'm getting ever more nostalgic about revisiting Wexford's Kingsmarkham (notwithstanding that IMHO Wexford did, probably, retire just about when it was really time).


Both books feature classic Rendell territory: the victimization of women (physical abuse in The Babes in the Wood, female circumcision in Not in the Flesh), child abuse, xenophobia, racism, the marginalization of immigrants and minorities (also including, in Not in the Flesh, "travelers", aka gypsies) and, oh yes, all that amidst the investigation of a murder or two.


The title of The Babes in the Wood is largely symbolic, referring as it does to the title of a traditional children's tale dealing with -- you guessed it -- two kids all alone in the woods, after their parents have unwittingly left them to the care of their evil uncle, who in short order proceeds to deliver them into the hands of murderers.  The tale was first published as a ballad by Thomas Millington in Norwich in 1595 -- the late 19th century Caldecott version is available for free on the Project Gutenberg site -- and has given rise to a proverb indicating essentially the same as someone being "in over their head"; i.e., being overwhelmed by situation requiring decidedly more experience than one really possesses. Rendell's novel does in fact trace the eponymous children's story to a certain extent, however, in that it concerns the disappearance of two kids and their caretaker during their parents' brief absence from home -- and I guess both the fact that there's a wood on the cover (of the CD I listened to, as well as on that of the paperback edition) and the fact that the one corpse showing up some time after the kids' and their caretaker's disappearance is found in a quarry near a patch of woodland makes it qualify for the "In the Dark, Dark Woods" bingo square.


Not in the Flesh begins with the discovery of a corpse in a forest near Kingsmarkham, and a while later, a second corpse is found in a locked and abandoned basement nearby (besides, here, too, both the CD and the paperback edition have a wood on their respective cover).  As both murders have occurred quite a while ago, Wexford and Burden get to be their own cold case investigators, or rather, criminal archeologists.


Of the two novels, I slightly preferred the later one (Not in the Flesh): The subplot of The Babes in the Wood, which brings a case of domestic violence to Wexford's family, is not quite convincing (

once Wexford's daughter Linda, who has been victimized by her boyfriend, is rescued, she seems to recover surprisingly quickly from her ordeal -- quickly and fully enough to have another boyfriend in absolutely no time whatsoever, as if she didn't have some fairly significant trust issues to overcome first

(spoiler show)

), whereas that of Not in the Flesh -- which was written at the height of the public outrage over female genital mutilation -- left room both to explore the horrors involved in the practice as such and the cultural complexities involved, and it also served as an uncomfortable reminder that a human rights issue making headlines one day will just as easily drop from public consciousness as soon as more pressing concerns emerge.  Female circumcision is still as much of an issue in many parts of the world as it was ten years ago when this book was written, but at a time when the Western world is buffetted by everything from the Trump presidency to ISIS, Brexit and the aftermath of the 2009-2009 financial crisis, it hardly seems to impinge anymore. -- As a side note, I very much enjoyed briefly meeting again Dr. Akande, Wexford's doctor and one of the protagonists of the series's 16th novel, Simisola.


For both novels, I listened to the audio narration by Christopher Ravenscroft, the Inspector Burden of the long-running TV series starring George Baker as Wexford.  (I do also own a paperback copy of Not in the Flesh, however, and consulted it for reference and plot tracking purposes.)  Ravenscroft gives Wexford a bit more of a country man's accent than he has in the TV dramatizations -- and, I have to say, in my head when I read the books -- but he is a pleasure to listen to, and his obvious familiarity with the source material only adds to that pleasure, as does his classical stage training.



Robert Louis Stevenson: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

One of the great classics of the horror genre -- which I'd read before, but when I heard that there was a recording of the story by Sir Christopher Lee, I just had to have it.  And Lee more than delivers on the promise associated with his name alone.  No wide-eyed, flamboyantly-gestured horror movie antics here (or their audio equivalent), just great empathy for all of the characters involved -- and for none more so than for the unfortunate, tragically overreaching Dr. Jekyll.


Never mind the story's one minor logical inconsistency -- by which I'm not referring to its central premise, the notion of (even physically) splitting apart a man's personality into its "good" and its "evil" components (reject that, and the story falls apart entirely, obviously), but

if Hyde is initially significantly smaller in stature than Jekyll because his is, or has heretofore been the less dominant part of Jekyll's personality, shouldn't Hyde then grow in stature, too, as his influence over Jekyll grows?

(spoiler show)

-- this is rightfully a classic of the genre, and a cautionary moral tale to boot; and in an age that has made the manipulation of human genetic material easier than ever, also eerily timely ... not to mention that it brilliantly shows that "horror" does not have to involve bucketfuls of blood oozing from the pages in order to achieve a truly terrifying effect; psychology and atmosphere, if as brilliantly executed as here, really does it all.  (Oh, yes, of course there is the one brutal murder committed by Hyde, but let's be honest, that doesn't even come close to the real life horror that would be spread, barely two years later, by Jack the Ripper; and it certainly hasn't got a dime's worth on our latter days' slasher yarns.)



Having lucked out with the two most recent bingo calls, in that one of them (Genre: Horror) isn't on my card and the other one (Locked-Room Mysteries) is one I'd already read a book for, I decided to indulge in a bit of a mini-binge for one of the squares I had been particularly looking forward to -- and had also had a disproportionately hard time making up my mind what book(s) to read for it.  I ended up settling for a print edition of Cornell Woolrich's The Bride Wore Black and an audio threesome of Chandlers: an unabridged reading by Elliott Gould (who better?!) of Chandler's second Philip Marlowe novel, Farewell, My Lovely, and full cast audio dramatizations of Marlowe books nos. 3 and 6, The High Window and The Long Goodbye.


Cornell Woolrich: The Bride Wore Black

Woolrich was one of the classic noir era's masters of psychological suspense; few of his contemporaries were capable of making nightmare scenarios come alive within a few short pages the way that Cornell Woolrich could.  Many of his stories have a downright evil twist at the end, and as far as such endings go, The Bride Wore Black certainly shows Woolrich at the top of his game.  (Be warned, however: Woolrich doesn't always play fair.  His final twists may come out of left field not only for his characters but also for the reader; and this, too, is certainly true for this particular novel.  While certain clues are provided throughout the story hinting at yet another narrative level, they in themselves are not sufficient to allow a deduction what precisely that level might coonsist of.)


There is very little that can be said about the plot without spoiling at least significant parts of it, so let's just stick with what the title implies -- this is a twist (and a fairly major one) on the "black widow" trope, in that over the course of 2 1/2 years, several men are murdered ... though not by a woman whom they themselves have married.  It's a thrilling tale that I greatly enjoyed, even if not all of the background details provided over the course of the book and in the final reveal do, IMHO, fully resolve the things that had nagged at me while I was reading the book.


(Note: If you don't know the book and are seriously planning to read it, DO NOT read the below spoiler.)


In the Moran chapter particularly, "the woman"'s background research -- notably, into Miss Baker's habits and into Cookie's kindergarten routine (the "gold star" awards system for the children's drawings, etc.) would seem to have had to be much more extensive than a brief absence from her job (as she owns to during the final reveal) would have enabled her to carry out, and I also think this is the one section where the book most clearly shows its age in terms of child psychology. -- Moreover and still in that same section, the murder method seems inconsistent with "the woman"'s otherwise extremely careful planning in that it seems opportunistic, as she certainly couldn't expect to come across that conveniently suffocating closet (and we neither have any indication that she had ever actually seen the inside of Moran's house before, nor that she had initially been planning on a different murder method, e.g., for using that fruit paring knife, and changed her mind only at the very last moment, baiting the trap with a game of hide and seek).


Similarly, given the back story it seems hardly credible to me that Corey should not have been aware of her (and able to recognize her) long before she even showed up at Bliss's engagement party: This is the woman who ruined his business racket and made his former partner abscond with the proceeds ... and yet, to Corey she's supposed to have been "that unimportant little white doll-like figure" next to her husband even on their wedding day?!


And, finally, I find it hard to believe that Wanger should not have focused on the cross sections of the victims' lives much earlier than we are told he did.  Surely if you are convinced there is a connection between several killings, taking a look at the victims' lives and seeing where they intersect is one of the very first things you do ... especially if you have a hard time convincing your superior officer because all else you can come up with is the fairly esoterical notion that the killer might -- just might -- be the same woman?

(spoiler show)

So, a bit of suspension of disbelief is required on the part of the jaded modern reader who's read one or two mysteries too many.  But the quality of the writing, the clever build-up of suspense, and the wicked twist in the final reveal more than make up for that.


And just as a side note now, take a look at that cover: Isn't it simply fabulous?  It alone almost tells you everything you need to know about the story going in -- and in the actual physical copy I own, the red and deep black almost have a lacquer glow.  So gorgeous!  Hats off to the artist whoever came up with it.



Raymond Chandler:

Farewell, My Lovely

Farewell, My Lovely is supposed to have been Raymond Chandler's own favorite novel, and although it didn't quite manage to elbow The Big Sleep out of the top spot of my personal affections for Chandler's writing, it came darned close and is also, along with the Christopher Lee / Robert Louis Stevenson "co-production" (of sorts) on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, easily the stand-out experience of this particular batch of bingo books.  It certainly helped to have it read to me by Elliott Gould, whose dark, slightly husky voice and laconic intonation is a perfect match for Chandler's language -- and for Marlowe's character --, but even narration aside, this book has everything you can possibly ask for in a Raymond Chandler novel: razor sharp language and observation, perfect pitch, a 1940s Los Angeles leaping off the pages in every conceivable shade of gray, dodgy characters (both male and female) aplenty, and a Philip Marlowe in deep trouble after successive run-ins with representatives of both sides of the law (with both sides of the law sometimes being represented by the very same persons, of course).


Structurally, the book follows a similar pattern as The Big Sleep and virtually every other Marlowe novel: After having made an acquaintance with every potential to land him in the deepest of muck -- and not before the first specks of said muck have indeed begun to materialize -- Marlowe is hired by a(nother) client, as a result of which his attention is temporarily deflected from the muck already accumulating elsewhere, until it dawns on him that the two piles of manure are actually -- or at least very likely -- products of the same stable.  He digs deeper (or is dragged deeper in), whereupon the manure acquires Augean proportions.  Further complications ensue, until at the end Marlowe emerges from it all: yet a bit more cynical and disillusioned by his recent experience, minus a client or two, and feeling that, once again, in a city where not even the police can be trusted to do their job, he has done their job for them very much at his own cost.


In this instance, the trouble begins with a variation of the "two men enter a bar" joke, except when a private dick (Marlowe) and a black six-foot heavyweight boxer-material ex-con appropriately named Moose Malloy enter this particular bar, the punch line is, in quick succession, a dead body in a back room, Marlowe's first of several run-ins with the cops, and a phone call from an equally rich and shady character seeking to hire him, at the very last minute, as a bodyguard for a nightly rare-jade-necklace-for-a-suitcase-of-ransom-money-exchange in the hills above the city.


Plot serpentines the size of Mulholland Drive aside, however, the true feast in any Raymond Chandler novel is the language and imagery.  Oh, it's cynical beyond belief (this is a noir novel, remember), and female sensibilities in particular aren't catered for; much less so than even in the writings of Chandler's contemporary Dashiell Hammett.  But there's a rapid-fire gut-punch quality to it that just hasn't got any equals anywhere -- just take these few examples, all within just a few pages of each other (if that) fairly early on:

"I said: 'Mrs. Florian? Mrs. Jessie Florian?'

'Uh-huh,' the voice dragged itself out of her throat like a sick man getting out of bed."


"A couple of frayed lamps with once gaudy shades that were now as gay as superannuated streetwalkers."


"The woman's eyes became fixed in an incredulous stare.  Then suspicion climbed all over her face like a kitten, but not so playfully."


"[T]heir faces were as threadbare as a bookkeeper's office coat."


"I wouldn't say the face was lovely and unspoiled, I'm not that good at faces.  But it was pretty.  People had been nice to that face, or nice enough for their circle.  Yet it was a very ordinary face and its prettiness was strictly assembly line."


"'Huh?  Oh yeah, funny.  Remind me to laugh on my day off.'"


"They had Rembrandt on the calendar that year, a rather smeary self-portrait due to imperfectly registered color plates.  It showed him holding a smeared palette with a dirty thumb and wearing a tam-o'-shanter which wasn't any too clean either.  His other hand held a brush poised in the air, as if he might be going to do a little work after a while, if somebody made a down payment.  His face was aging, saggy, full of the disgust of life and the thickening effects of liquor.  But it had a hard cheerfulness that I liked, and the eyes were as bright as drops of dew."


"Montemar Vista was a few dozen houses of various sizes and shapes hanging by their teeth and eyebrows to a spur of mountain and looking as if a good sneeze would drip them down among the box lunches on the beach."

"I walked back through the arch and started up the steps.  It was a nice walk if you liked grunting.  There were two hundred and eighty steps up to Cabrillo Street.  They were drifted over with windblown sand and the handrail ws as cold and wet as a toad's belly."

Let me tell you, after you've been through a whole novel's length of that sort of stuff, you feel like you're fresh out of the wringer, too; right down there with Marlowe!





The Long Goodbye

The High Window

Compared to an unabridged reading of Chandler's own words, any radio adaptation of his novels must necessarily fall a bit short, even if it's got the BBc's stellar production quality and the cast -- lead by a very credible Toby Stephens as Marlowe; accent, cynicism and all -- do their level best to convey the essence of Chandler's works.  Still, I wasn't disappointed, and quite frankly, another two servings on the same level asthe Elliot Gould reading of Farewell, My Lovely would have been more than I'd have been able to stomach in this rapid succession.


The Long Goodbye was Chandler's penultimate Marlowe novel complete and published during his lifetime.  It begins when Marlowe makes the acquaintance of a drunk ex-soldier in a sort of on-again-off-again-marriage/relationship with a rich tycoon's daughter, who after several months on-again-off-again friendship with Marlowe asks the detective to help him to make it to Tijuana airport ... only to be reported to have died in Mexico a short while later; not however before dispatching two farewell notes to his late pal -- a short letter accompanied by a larger banknote than Marlowe has ever seen.


The High Window, Chandler's third Marlowe novel, sees the detective hired by a rich bully of a widow (magnificently portrayed by Judy Parfitt) to recover a "Brasher Doubloon", a valuable antique coin (see left) that she has inherited from her late husband.  Like The Big Sleep, this story has an extremely jaded "it's all in the family" subtext, and while its storyline is not quite as tangled and knotted as that of Chandler's most famous novel (where reportedly not even the author himself was ultimately able to unravel all of the plot strings), there are noir joys aplenty along the way ... and Marlowe even gets to go on a cross country trip to rescue a Mid-Western damsel in distress from her toxic big city environment and restore her to her parents' porch.


 Los Angeles in the 1940s:

Ansel Adams (YouTube: here)


1940s' Downtown L.A. at night (YouTube: here)


A map of Raymond Chandler's / Philip Marlowe's Los Angeles:

Source: Huffington Post



... and finally, a couple of my own photos: View from Mulholland Drive: Hollywood Bowl, 405 Freeway, Westwood;
on the horizon, downtown Los Angeles

Left: Westwood, Beverly Hills and Century City;
Right: Bel Air and Hollywood Hills

Hollywood Hills and Hollywood Sign

Beverly Hills: Sunset Blvd. and Rodeo Drive

Santa Monica

Rancho Palos Verdes



Next Read:




Books Read / Listened to - Update 1:

Terry Pratchett: Equal Rites



Wilkie Collins: Mrs. Zant and the Ghost
(Gillian Anderson audio)




Martin Edwards / British Library:
Miraculous Mysteries - Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes



Agatha Christie: Mrs. McGinty's Dead
(Hugh Fraser audio)



The Book Pool:

Most likely: Donna Andrews: Lord of the Wings


* Diane Mott Davidson: Catering to Nobody
* One or more stories from Martin Greenberg's and Ed Gorman's (eds.) Cat Crimes
* ... or something by Lilian Jackson Braun

Most likely: Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights
(audio return visit courtesy of either Michael Kitchen or Prunella Scales and Samuel West)


* Wilkie Collins: The Woman In White
(audio version read by Nigel Anthony and Susan Jameson)

* Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey
(audio return visit courtesy of Anna Massey)
* Isak Dinesen: Seven Gothic Tales
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* ... or something by Daphne du Maurier

Candace Robb: The Apothecary Rose

Most likely: Simon Brett: A book from a four-novel omibus edition including An Amateur Corpse, Star Trap, So Much Blood, and Cast, in Order of Disappearance


* Georgette Heyer: Why Shoot a Butler?
* Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley
(audio version read by David Thorpe)
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Minette Walters: The Shape of Snakes

Most likely: Something from James D. Doss's Charlie Moon series (one of my great discoveries from last year's bingo)

Or one of Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins mysteries


Sherman Alexie: Indian Killer

Terry Pratchett: Carpe Jugulum

One or more stories from Martin Edwards's (ed.) and the British Library's Miraculous Mysteries: Locked-Room Murders and Impossible Crimes

Most likely: Agatha Christie: Mrs. McGinty's Dead
(audio return visit courtesy of Hugh Fraser)

Or one or more stories from Martin Edwards's (ed.) and the British Library's Serpents in Eden: Countryside Crimes


* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar, To Love and Be Wise, or The Singing Sands
* Georgette Heyer: Why Shoot a Butler?
* Peter May: The Lewis Man
* S.D. Sykes: Plague Land
* Arthur Conan Doyle: The Mystery of Cloomber
* Michael Jecks: The Devil's Acolyte
* Stephen Booth: Dancing with the Virgins
* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers
* Martha Grimes: The End of the Pier
* Minette Walters: The Breaker

One of two "Joker" Squares:


To be filled in as my whimsy takes me (with apologies to Dorothy L. Sayers), either with one of the other mystery squares' alternate books, or with a murder mystery that doesn't meet any of the more specific squares' requirements.  In going through my shelves, I found to my shame that I own several bingo cards' worth of books that would fill this square alone, some of them bought years ago ... clearly something needs to be done about that, even if it's one book at a time!

Isabel Allende: Cuentos de Eva Luna (The Stories of Eva Luna) or
Gabriel García Márquez: Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold)

Most likely: One or more stories from Charles Dickens: Complete Ghost Stories or
Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills


* Wilkie Collins: Mrs. Zant and the Ghost
(Gillian Anderson audio)

* Stephen King: Bag of Bones

Terry Pratchett: Men at Arms

Obviously and as per definition in the rules, the second "Joker" Square.


Equally as per definition, the possibles for this square also include my alternate reads for the non-mystery squares.

Most likely: Cornell Woolrich: The Bride Wore Black


* Raymond Chandler: Farewell My Lovely or The Long Goodbye / The High Window

* James M. Cain: Mildred Pierce
* Horace McCoy: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
* David Goodis: Shoot the Piano Player or Dark Passage
* ... or something else by Cornell Woolrich, e.g., Phantom Lady or I Married a Dead Man

Most likely: Ruth Rendell: Not in the Flesh or The Babes in the Wood (audio versions read by Christopher Ravenscroft, aka Inspector Burden in the TV series)


* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills

Most likely: Peter May: Coffin Road


* Stephen King: Bag of Bones or Hearts in Atlantis
* Denise Mina: Field of Blood
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Minette Walters: The Breaker
* Jonathan Kellerman: When The Bough Breaks, Time Bomb, Blood Test, or Billy Straight

* Greg Iles: 24 Hours

Most likely: Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills


* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers
* Greg Iles: Sleep No More

Most likely: Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley
(audio version read by David Thorpe)


* One or more stories from Martin Edwards's (ed.) and the British Library's Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries
* Georgette Heyer: They Found Him Dead
* Ellis Peters: Black is the Colour of My True-Love's Heart

Most likely: Something from Terry Pratchett's Discworld / Witches subseries -- either Equal Rites or Maskerade


* Karen Maitland: The Owl Killers

* Shirley Jackson: The Witchcraft of Salem Village

Most likely: Antonia Hodgson: The Devil in the Marshalsea


* Rory Clements: Martyr
* Philip Gooden: Sleep of Death 
* Minette Walters: The Shape of Snakes
* Ngaio Marsh: Death in Ecstasy

* One or more stories from Martin Edwards's (ed.) and the British Library's Capital Crimes: London Mysteries

Most likely: Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
(audio return visit courtesy of Sir Christopher Lee)


* H.G. Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau 

* ... or something by Edgar Allan Poe

Most likely: Something from Ovid's Metamorphoses


* Robert Louis Stevenson: The Bottle Imp
* Christina Rossetti: Goblin Market
* H.G. Wells: The Island of Dr. Moreau

Most likely: Jo Nesbø: The Snowman


* Val McDermid: The Retribution
* Denise Mina: Sanctum 
* Mo Hayder: Birdman
* Caleb Carr: The Alienist
* Jonathan Kellerman: The Butcher's Theater
* Greg Iles: Mortal Fear

Most likely: The Medieval Murderers: House of Shadows
or Hill of Bones


* Sharyn McCrumb: She Walks These Hills
* Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House
* Stephen King: Bag of Bones
* Carol Goodman: The Lake of Dead Languages
* Michael Jecks: The Devil's Acolyte

Ooohhh, you know -- something by Shirley Jackson ... if I don't wimp out in the end; otherwise something by Daphne du Maurier.






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review 2017-09-10 19:59
Farewell, My Lovely
Farewell, My Lovely - Raymond Chandler,Colin Dexter

I bet this is one door Marlowe is regretting to put his head through. Getting involved with Moose Malloy, who is searching for his girlfriend Velma after having spent the last 8 years in jail, Marlowe gets involved with the mob, jewel-robbers, dangerous thugs and the police and he has to deal with all the problems that these aquantiances carry with them.


This was such a compelling read from beginning to end with an intricate plot that left me in awe of Chandlers writing skills. Told from the first person perspective of Philip Marlowe, you follow him trough all his hardships and perils. And Marlowe is such a great character, who is always having a snarky reply on his lips and who doesn´t shy away from dangerous situations, either because he has a job to do or because someone has wronged him personally (occasionally he experiences an anxiety attack, which makes him even more likeable).


The only thing I have to say is that the dialogues sometimes are hard to read, because some characters use word or slang words that I´m not familiar with. But this doesn´t take much away from my overall enjoyment of Raymond Chandlers novels.


I´ve read this book for the Classic Noir square and Farewell, My Lovely oozes noir atmosphere.




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text 2017-09-10 14:19
Reading progress update: I've read 104 out of 306 pages.
Farewell, My Lovely - Raymond Chandler,Colin Dexter

I slit one down the middle. The mouthpiece part was pretty tough to slit. Okey, I was a tough guy, I slit it anyway. See, can you stop me?


Raymond Chandlers writing is brilliant and it gets even better, when Marlowe talks to other characters:


"Philip Marlowe, Private Investigator. One of those guys, huh? Jesus, you look tough enough. What was you doing all the that time?"

"All what time?"

"All the time this Malloy was twisting the neck of this smoke."

"Oh, that happened in another room," I said. "Malloy hadn´t promised me he was to break anybody´s neck."

"Ride me," Nulty said bitterly. "Okey, go ahead and ride me. Everybody else does. What´s another one matter? Poor old Nulty. Let´s go on up and throw a couple of nifties at him. Always good for a laugh, Nulty is."

"I´m not trying to ride anybody," I said. "That´s the way it happened - in another room."

"Oh, sure," Nulty said through a fan of rank cigar smoke. "I was down there and saw it, didn´t I? Don´t you pack no rod?"

"Not on that kind of job."

"What kind of a job?"

"I was looking for a barber who had run away from his wife. She tought he could be persuaded to come home."

"You mean a dinge?"

"No, a Greek."

"Okey," Nulty said and spit into his waste basket. "Okey. You met the big guy how?"

"I told you already. I just happened to be there. He threw a negro out of the doors of Florian´s and I unwisely poked my head in to see what was happening. So he took me upstairs."

"You mean he stuck you up?"

"No, he didn´t have the gun then. At least, he didn´t show one. He took the gun away from Montgomery, probably. He just picked me up. I´m kind of cute sometimes."



Hats off to Nulty for keeping up with Marlowe´s explanations.



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