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review 2018-04-20 22:28
A murder is committed -- and hilarity ensues.
The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin
The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin,Paul Panting
Quick Curtain - Alan Melville
Quick Curtain - Ben Allen,Alan Melville

Both Edmund Crispin's Moving Toyshop and Alan Melville's Quick Curtain are mentioned in the "Making Fun of Murder" chapter of Martin Edwards's Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.  Both are excellent examples of writers taking something as horrific as murder and turning it right around and into a farce, albeit (as Dorothy L. Sayers remarked in her review of Melville's book) at the expense of a realistic description of proper police procedure.  But then, a surfeit of realism isn't necessarily what either of these authors was aiming for.

 

Which doesn't mean that their observations on society, or the segment thereof being portrayed (academia in Crispin's case, the world of showbiz and the theatre in Melville's) aren't spot on satire.  In fact, if read in that spirit, they are, in many respects, as timely today as they were when originally written:

"Tuesday, June 18th, you will have noticed, was the great day [of the musical company's London opening].  On Sunday, June 16th, when most of the Blue Music company were still in Manchester [...], seven grim females parked seven rickety campstools outside the gallery entrance of the Grosvenor Theatre.

 

They were joined a little later in the evening by four more females and a lone male.  They unpacked sandwiches and munched.  They uncorked thermos flasks and drank hot coffee out of the aluminium tops of the flasks.  They discussed with one another Mr. Douglas, Miss Astle, Mr. Baker, Mr. Douglas's past successes, Miss Astle's last divorce, Mr. Baker's profile -- both the port and the starboard view.  They half slept.  They suffered endless agonies on their stupid, unreliable campstools; they each contracted stiff necks and shooting pains in the lower reaches of the spine; they were photographed for their pains by a man in a dirty waterproof and appeared on the back page of the Daily Post under the title 'Gallery Enthusiasts' Three-Day Wait for New Douglas Show.'  They were stll there on Tuesday morning, proudly in the van of a fair-sized queue."

 

(Alan Melville, Quick Curtain)

Harry Potter and Apple gadgets, anyone?

 

 

Edmund Crispin's Moving Toyshop concerns the temporary metamorphosis of a grocer's shop into (you guessed it) a toyshop for purposes of the concealment of the scene of a murder; a plan that goes haywire when one of the book's two protagonists, a poet friend of Oxford don (and star of this book series) Gervase Fen, accidentally stumbles into the temporarily morphed shop, shortly after the dastardly deed has been committed.  Crispin's particular forte were hilarious chase scenes, of which this book contains several, perhaps the most notable being the two amateur sleuths' chase after a young woman in the midst of the Oxford Händel Society's rehearsal of Brahms's Schicksalslied in the Sheldonian Theatre:

"The girl with the blue eyes and the golden hair was embedded in the very middle of the altos, and there was no way to get near her except through the basses, who stood nearby, behind the orchestra.  Accordingly, they hacked out a path between the instrumentalists, under the envenomed gaze of Dr Artemus Rains [the conductor].  The second horn, a sandy, undersized man, went quite out of tune with indignation.  Brahms thundered and trumpeted about their ears. 'Blindly,' the chorus roared, 'blindly from one dread hour to another.'  They knocked over the music-stand of the tympanist, sweating with the efford of counting bars, so that he failed to come in at his last entry.

 

The haven of the basses achieved at last, a number of further difficulties presented themselves.  The Sheldonian is not particularly spacious, and the members of the large choir have to be herded together in conditions not unreminiscent of the Black Hole of Calcutta.  When Fen and Cadogan, pushing, perspiring, and creating a great deal of localized pother, had penetrated the basses to a certain distance (Cadogan shedding wicker basket, bootlaces, and dog-collar broadcast as he went) the could literally get no farther; they were wedged, and even the avenue by which they had come was now irrevocably closed and sealed. [...]

 

Dr. Rains leaned his spidery form forwards across the rostrum. 'Professor Fen --' he began in a silky voice.

 

But he was not allowed to finish.  The girl with the blue eyes, profiting by this sudden focusing of attention, had pushed her way through the altos and was now heading at a brisk pace towards the door.  Unnerved by this fresh interruption, Dr Rains swung round to glare at her.  Fen and Cadogan got on the move again with alacrity, clawing their way back through the basses and the orchestra without ceremony or restraint.  But this process delayed them, and the girl had been out of the hall at least half a minute by the time they reached open ground.  Dr. Rains watched them go with a theatrical expression of sardonic interst.

 

'Now that the English Faculty has left us,' Cadogan heard him say, 'we will go back to the letter L.' The rehearsal started afresh."

I've yet to see the BBC TV adaptation of this, but if handled well, this is not the only scene that would have made for much hilarity, never mind the novel's otherwise somewhat thin plot.

 

Alan Melville's Quick Curtain is, as shown already in the excerpt further above, a satire on the world of 1930s theatre and showbiz, where a murder occurring at the focal point of a bestselling new musical comedy is investigated (with many quips and witty asides) by a policeman and his journalist son.  Obviously, this premise in and of itself is more than merely a little preposterous, even for the 1930s, but if you're able to get past this point (Ms. Sayers obviously wasn't) and past the fact that the central plot device has been used about a million times since, there is much to enjoy here -- and Melville, who knew the world he was describing inside out, certainly doesn't mince words when it comes to the characterization of the chief players who, like those of another theatre insider turned mystery writer of the day, Ngaio Marsh, are thinly veiled take-downs on several real life stars -- yet Melville (like Marsh) kept the allusions just on the right side of the generic and light-hearted, without ever descending into outright character assassination.  (Well, he was making a living in that very world himself, after all.)  And he managed to maintain his light, almost absurdist approach right until the end: Think a Golden Age mystery always ends with a pat and neat solution?  Think again.  Even if there is such a thing as a standard-issue conclave in the 23:45th-ish hour ...

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review 2018-04-06 17:06
A perceptive account of Kennedy’s life and career
John F. Kennedy - Alan Brinkley,Sean Wilentz

For the past decade, “The American Presidents” series has churned out a series of biographies of our nation’s leaders written by a diverse range of authors, from historians who draw upon their expertise to inform their interpretation of their subject, to more eclectic writers who inform their efforts with a sometimes refreshingly new perspective. Alan Brinkley fits squarely into the first category: a longtime scholar of 20th century America, he brings the skills and knowledge gained a lifetime of study to this sprightly book on John F. Kennedy. His perspective is critical but not unfavorable; while acknowledging Kennedy’s many gifts, he describes how they served to sustain his popularity through the numerous setbacks he suffered as president. In this respect, the power of his image rested less on his actual accomplishments, but on what he represented, both as a leader and the “transformative moment” during which he served as president.

 

Such analysis explains Kennedy’s enduring hold on our historical imagination and points to the value of the book as a study of his life. While hardly the first short biography of Kennedy, Brinkley’s book surpasses previous works of its type such as   and   thanks to its author’s analysis and incorporation of recent revelations about Kennedy’s poor health. For anyone seeking an perceptive and readable introduction to the life and career of America’s 35th president, this is the book to read.

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text 2018-04-02 02:10
April Showers TBR
Redwall: The Graphic Novel - Stuart Moore,Bret Blevins,Brian Jacques
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - Deborah Moggach
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
Sisters of Heart and Snow - Margaret Dilloway
Secret Vampire (Night World, #1) - L.J. Smith
Clash of Eagles - Alan Smale

Well, this month was going to be April Showers, so it was supposed to be dedicated to sad and emotional books. But then we had the Great Bedroom Flood of 2018, which ruined SOOOOOO MANY of my books. The bottoms of most of my graphic novels and several unread novels were soaked, causing the pages to warp, discolor and stick together. I wasn't too upset about the ones I had already read, but some of these books were brand new or just purchased at the Metro Book Sale. 

 

So, now April Showers means floods and water in the literal sense. I'm going to read the few books I salvaged that needed reading. Hopefully the pages aren't too stuck together. 

 

Before I read these I swear I will get through Envy and Splendor. I SWEAR. 

 

Also, Oklahoma teachers on strike. And I am behind them all the way. Teachers need better pay and our schools need more money! Oklahoma ranks 49th in the country in education. 

 

P.S. Friday was a terrible day. Saturday wasn't. Sunday was even better. Hope you guys are having a pretty good go of things. 

 

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text 2018-04-01 10:27
March marches out...
The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars - Anthony Boucher
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life - Ed Yong
Burn Bright - Patricia Briggs
One Corpse Too Many - Ellis Peters
The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett
Miss Silver Comes to Stay - Patricia Wentworth
Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions - Amy Stewart
The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin
The House of the Cats: And Other Traditional Tales from Europe - Maggie Pearson

Either I was feeling generous, or I had a great reading month.  Since my RL wasn't as nice as my reading month, we'll go with great reading!

 

My total for March was 26 books.  Moonlight Reader's inspired reading version of the game Clue! (Cluedo to those in the Commonwealth), Kill Your Darlings, certainly helped keep my reading pace up, and as always, worked particularly well at getting the veterans off my TBR stacks.  

 

Of the 25 books, 2 were 5-star reads:

The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars by Anthony Boucher 

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong 

 

I had 8 4.5 star reads too:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 

Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs 

One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters 

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett 

Miss Silver Comes to Stay by Patricia Wentworth 

Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart 

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin 

The House of the Cats: And Other Traditional Tales from Europe by Maggie Pearson 

 

 

 

Some stats, gussied up:

 

My TBR project:

I've set a book buying budget for each month that = 50% of the total books I read the previous month.  Any books not bought carry over to the next month.  

 

Last month I bought 11 out of the 15 budgeted, leaving me with 4 to carry over to April.  My total books read in March being 25 leaves me with a budget of 12 (I always round down; I figure this way, if I go over one month, there's a small error of margin). 

 

total books I can buy in April:  16

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review 2018-03-29 10:57
Einstein's Dreams
Einstein's Dreams - Alan Lightman

Not quite what I thought it was going to be, but interesting and thought-provoking nonetheless.  

 

My expectations were more along the lines of a fictional re-creation of Einstein's musings concerning the physics of time as depicted through his daydreams.  I was almost right.

 

Instead, each entry is more akin to a thought experiment, where the character Einstein draws out every idiom concerning time to it's farthest conclusion.  What would the world be like if time were frozen?  If we lived in the past?  Only for today?  Only looked ahead?

 

Some of the entries come closer to aspects of his theory of general relativity than others.  Some are far more philosophical than empirical.  Some had, to my way of thinking, fundamental flaws in their logic, making the entry impossible (although I attribute this to the author, not the character).   But all of them are thought provoking and each would serve as fodder for endless debates and conversations, given the right two or more people.

 

I'm glad I've read it, although I think Please, Mr. Einstein a far more compelling and meaningful fictional exercise.  Definitely worth a read if you're in a philosophical mood but don't want to be weighted down under anything too heavy.

 

This book works for the Murder Your Darlings game card: Crime Scene: the Hob, District 12.  (The cover is half black and the title is in white letters.)

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