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review 2018-09-07 16:48
The Body in the Library / Agatha Christie
The Body in the Library - Agatha Christie

Colonel Bantry has found the strangled body of an exotic blonde bombshell lying on his library hearth - and the neighbors are beginning to talk! When Miss Marple takes an interest, though, things begin to move along nicely, and its all far more convoluted - and sordid - than the genteel Bantrys could have imagined.

A curmudgeonly financier, his self-absorbed adult children, a couple of pragmatic and clever hotel workers, tons of money and influence, a wild local lad, some smitten girls, the film business, mix into a classic Christie plot filled with twists, turns, and double-backs galore. Plus the glorious settings of A Great House, a fancy Hotel, and an excessively genteel little village, and let's not forget Miss Marple...

 

 

I read this book for the Terror in a Small Town square of my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.

Another Miss Marple mystery, which Dame Agatha crafted carefully to deceive the reader. One mystery author quoted on the cover claims that no matter what twisty thing you think up, you soon find that Christie did it first. This is why she is still the Queen.

Miss Marple knows human nature—she’s an observant woman who has lived in a small village all of her life and has taken note of the goings on. She’s been an employer too, having hired and fired maids and other assistants over the years. There’s nothing like job interviews to teach you about paying attention to details of human behaviour.

I loved Dolly Bantry, who states that if a murder is going to be committed in her house, she’s going to enjoy it. She summons Jane Marple and they begin their investigations by bullying a young copper into letting them have a good look at the body. A reminder of how strong class differences still were at this point in history. Inspector Slack is obviously on the forefront of the change in respect for the gentry and is viewed with some distaste by his boss, Colonel Melchett, as a result.

I had to laugh when one of the young men in this story bragged about having autographs from Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie! I enjoy the work of both of these women and I don’t blame him for his excitement.

So was is Colonel Bantry in the library with a rope? No need to play the game of Clue to find out, just enjoy this compact little mystery. It is a fabulous way to spend an evening.

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review 2018-09-04 17:05
Goldfinger / Ian Fleming
Goldfinger - Ian Fleming

Auric Goldfinger, the most phenomenal criminal Bond has ever faced, is an evil genius who likes his cash in gold bars and his women dressed only in gold paint. After smuggling tons of gold out of Britain into secret vaults in Switzerland, this powerful villain is planning the biggest and most daring heist in history-robbing all the gold in Fort Knox. That is, unless Secret Agent 007 can foil his plan. In one of Ian Fleming's most popular adventures, James Bond tracks this most dangerous foe across two continents and takes on two of the most memorable villains ever created-a human weapon named Oddjob and a luscious female crime boss named Pussy Galore.

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

I spent part of the Labour Day weekend finishing up my Summer of Spies and finishing up Goldfinger. I’ve had fun with earlier installments of Bond, but found this book a bit of a grind. It started, Goddess aid me, with card games yet again and then continued on with one of the only subjects that I consider more boring than cards, golf! There was much eye rolling and boredom on my part, but I realize that these subjects excite other people, and certainly were passions of Mr. Fleming.

Add to that statements like Koreans being “the cruelest, most ruthless people in the world” and a criminal organization consisting of lesbians under the direction of Pussy Galore, and well, this one went way off the charts of the stereotype-meter. I’ll take the TV show “Kim’s Convenience” over Oddjob any day for an example of Koreans in our society. Next time I’m feeling down about the role of women and minorities in our society and feeling like change is taking for-bloody-ever, I’ll pick up the next Bond book for a reminder of exactly how far we have come.

I will reiterate what I said in my review of Casino Royale, that I am surprised and pleased at the caliber of Fleming’s writing. I shouldn’t be so surprised, I guess, as he read a lot and spent a fair amount of time with literary people, including one of my favourites, Raymond Chandler. I guess that I’ve unfairly absorbed the literary judgements of his wife’s literary circle, who looked down their noses at Fleming’s work. I’m glad to have read several of the books that have created their own enduring niche in popular culture.

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text 2018-09-01 20:44
Reading progress update: I've read 178 out of 347 pages.
Goldfinger - Ian Fleming

 

According to Auric Goldfinger, Koreans "are the cruellest, most ruthless people in the world."

 

I can hardly wait to tell my Korean cousins about this. Ha!

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review 2018-08-24 20:14
Dr. No / Ian Fleming
Dr. No - Ian Fleming

James Bond travels to the Caribbean to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a secret service team. As he uncovers the astonishing truth about strange energy waves that are interfering with U.S. missile launches, he must battle deadly assassins, sexy femmes fatales, and even a poisonous tarantula. The search takes him to an exotic tropical island, where he meets a beautiful nature girl and discovers the hideout of Doctor No, a six-foot-six madman with a mania for torture, a lust to kill, and a fantastic secret to hide.

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

Probably the silliest Bond that I have read so far, with Dr. No being a caricature of a villain, very over-the-top! Fleming must have read some of Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu, another super-villain of the early 20th century (and a character who drew protests from the Chinese embassy and Japanese-Americans for the overt racism).

However, I’ve awarded half a star more than I did for the other Bond novels that I’ve read so far, both for the depiction of Jamaica (a place that Fleming obviously loved) and for the accurate ornithological information. When Fleming describes Jamaica, he does so lovingly—his time spent at his home there, Goldeneye, must have been some of the most peaceful and productive time in his life. Quarrel, Bond’s partner in both this novel and Live and Let Die was based on a Jamaican fisherman who took Fleming shark-fishing.

From reading Andrew Lycett’s biography of Fleming, I know that Fleming was taken on a field trip to a flamingo colony in the Bahamas. This must have started his creative process, beginning with the fictional island of Crab Key, which is also a haven for birds until the advent of the fiendish Dr. No, whose guano-harvesting business is a front for espionage activity. Fleming certainly gets the mangrove habitat and the guano business details right, probably as a result of his travel with two experts on this expedition. Small islands are indeed a haven for colonies of sea birds and their guano has been exploited for fertilizer since the 1800s at least.

I have to also acknowledge Fleming for being willing to change things up on the advice of experts—Bond gets new guns in this story, on the advice of a Bond enthusiast who was also a firearms expert (Geoffrey Boothroyd). As a result, the Armourer in this novel acquires the name Major Boothroyd. Fleming, however, can’t resist one last snark on the matter at the end when Bond cables M: “REGRET MUST AGAIN REQUEST SICK LEAVE STOP SURGEONS REPORT FOLLOWS STOP KINDLY INFORM ARMOURER SMITH AND WESSON INEFFECTIVE AGAINST FLAME-THROWER ENDIT.”

I have ranted about other books where the author has included inaccurate bird information (Dragonfly in Amber, for example), so I will even forgive M for dismissing one of my favourite birds, the Whooping Crane, because of the birdy accuracy of this novel.

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review 2018-08-21 19:37
Assignment in Brittany / Helen MacInnes
Assignment in Brittany - Helen MacInnes

OCCUPIED BRITTANY, 1940...

Hearne looked at the unfamiliar watch on his wrist. Three hours ago he had joked with the red-haried pilot over a last cup of hot chocolate. Three hours ago he had stood on English earth. Three hours ago he had been Martin Hearne with 27 yrs of his life behind him.

Now he was Bertrand Corlay, with 26 yrs of another man's life reduced to headings and sub-headings in his memory. He looked down at the faded uniform which had been Corlay's, feld once more for the papers in the inside pocket.

All set. He patted the pocked of the tunic wich his earth-stained hand, and smiled grimly. From now on, he would not only have to speak, but think, in French ...

 

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

How is it that I have never run into Helen MacInnes before this? If I ever do another reading project featuring espionage literature, I will definitely be adding more of her work to the reading list!

The premise is an unlikely one—after a WWII battle, someone notices an injured Breton man who looks just like an active English spy. Not only does this spy Hearne uncannily resemble the disabled man, but he also speaks Breton (a pretty obscure Celtic language) and has studied the culture. He spends a great deal of time interviewing the Breton fellow, learning as many details of his life in his small village as possible and then is parachuted in, to report back on Nazi activity in the area.

I have to hand it to MacInnes, she handles this rather unlikely scenario so skillfully that I soon gave up my reservations and plunged wholeheartedly into the story. It’s a good, tense plot with excellent pacing. First Hearne must deal with “his” closest family and fiancée while passing off his differentness as shell shock. But it turns out that he has exchanged places with a pretty unlikeable guy and his own honourable behaviour causes others to question his real identity. Will they unmask Hearne or will they help him with his mission?

The very first thing I thought of when starting this novel was Tana French’s second Dublin Murder Squad book, The Likeness, where a young detective, Cassie Maddox, is called to a murder scene. The victim is Cassie’s double, using a fake identity developed by Cassie when she was undercover. Of course, Cassie gets sent into the life of the dead girl to see what she can discover. French also was able to carry off that most unlikely scenario, in my opinion, through the sheer brilliance of her writing. I’d really like to think that she maybe got her idea from Helen MacInnes.

I love finding great writers and finding links between the works of authors that I enjoy. This book was a win in both of those columns.

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