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text 2020-06-27 12:42
Reading progress update: I've read 21 out of 320 pages.
Capital Crimes: London Mysteries - Various Authors,Martin Edwards

This week has been slumpish. I haven't felt like diving into any heavy reads or even full length novels or really anything that required a lot of focus. So, poetry and short stories and Paul Temple, and even this only a few minutes at a time, were the only reads I engaged in this week. Not that poetry doesn't require some focus etc. ... but poems are short and you don't generally need to remember a plot or characters from one poem to the next.


Anyway, I did manage to start Capital Crimes, which is a collection of short stories with London as a theme. 


The first story in the book was The Case of Lady Sannox by Arthur Conan Doyle. 


I have read this story before in a superb collection of ACD's (non-Holmes) short stories called Gothic Tales, and I found it stomach-turning then. On the re-read, it's still makes me wince, but then I am not a fan of horror ... and this falls into the horror genre for me.

However, I think I also appreciated the story a little more on the re-read for its pointing out issues regarding xenophobia and domestic violence. It's one of ACD's stories that I thought was quite modern, ahead if its time even, for story first published in 1893.


Btw, all of ACD's stories are available online for free.  


I am not sure I will write an update for all of the other stories in Capital Crimes, but for reference the stories included in the collection are:


The Case of Lady Sannox - Arthur Conan Doyle

A Mystery of the Underground - John Oxenham

The Finchley Puzzle - Richard Marsh

The Magic Casket - R. Austin Freeman

The Holloway Flat Tragedy - Ernest Bramah

The Magician Of Cannon Street - J. S. Fletcher

The Stealer of Marble - Edgar Wallace

The Tea Leaf - Robert Eustace and Edgar Jepson

The Hands of Mr Ottermole - Thomas Burke

The Little House - H. C. Bailey

The Silver Mask - Hugh Walpole

Wind in the East - Henry Wade

The  Avenging Chance - Anthony Berkley

They Don't Wear Labels - E. M. Delafield

The Unseen Door - Margery Allingham

Cheese - Ethel Lina White

You Can't Hang Twice - Anthony Gilbert

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text 2020-05-26 22:23
Reading progress update: I've read 34%.
Murder by Matchlight (British Library Crime Classics) - E.C.R. Lorac,Martin Edwards

Reeves threw his cigarette away and a few seconds later lighted another match. As he bent over the flame his face was brilliantly lighted, and then he lifted his head and waved the match in the air. Instantly, like some fantastic illusion, another face appeared, some twelve inches above Reeves’, and Mallaig suddenly shouted, as though his strung-up nerves impelled him to give voice. “There’s the third chap… look,” but even as he spoke the match went out and there was a dull thud and a heavy fall. Mallaig jumped up, dropped his torch, fumbled for it and at last turned it on. In the beam of light a man could be seen astride the bridge rail and another lay on the ground. Mallaig sprang forward, but Macdonald’s voice came out of the darkness:

“Steady on, laddie. It’s only a reconstruction you know.”

Mallaig halted with a rather uncertain laugh.

“That was pretty grim, you know. It was exactly what happened last night—except the faces were different. The third chap—he was the same in a way—dark coat and cap—but his face wasn’t like the one I saw last night. What’s so amazing was the way you could see just in the light of one match.”


Yup. This is my last E.C.R. Lorac. 

This story focuses on repetitive plodding police work (not my favourite kind of mystery) and inane conversations between characters who lack individuality and ... character.




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text 2020-05-26 21:02
Reading progress update: I've read 16%.
Murder by Matchlight (British Library Crime Classics) - E.C.R. Lorac,Martin Edwards

“Pop in!” she adjured him.

“Landing blackout’s N.B.G. I do like a bit of light. This dark business is enough to give a girl the creeps. Come right in. That’s better, isn’t it?”

“Much better,” replied Macdonald cheerfully, blinking a little in the strong light. His first impression was of a prevailing pinkness: pink walls, pink curtains, pink cushions: artificial pink roses stood in ornate vases, artificial cherry blossoms trailed over mirrors and peeped coyly round elaborately framed photographs. Macdonald disliked pink as a colour, and this room seemed to him to resemble pink blanc-mange. He turned in some relief to study the owner of all this roseate effect—a neat little black-coated figure, she stood and returned his stare sedately.

This is my second attempt at E.C.R. Lorac's works. I didn't enjoy my first attempt - Bats in the Belfry - much, and it took me 4 attempts so far to get into this story without drifting off.


It's not looking good for E.C.R. Lorac's books to make any further appearances on my TBR. 

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review 2020-04-02 19:34
Allan Quatermain (H. Rider Haggard)
Allan Quatermain - H Haggard,Fred Willia... Allan Quatermain - H Haggard,Fred Williams Jr.

I knew what I was getting into when I opened the first page of this British colonial adventure-fantasy. Though I'm not quite sure whether I've read King Solomon's Mines, I know I read She when I was younger, so I'm familiar with the notion of brave English explorers - male of course - penetrating into darkest Africa to discover a lost race, preferably ruled by females who are light-skinned enough to avoid the inevitable cries of miscegenation when the said brave English explorers take over by some combination of martial force and marriage. Allan Quatermain, our narrator in this adventure, is such a man, although he casts himself as the older, unmarriageable sidekick to Sir Henry Curtis, unchallenged Hero of this book, and to the secondary principal, Captain John Good, who is as apparently fated - by genetics or literary convention - to be as unlucky in love as Sir Henry is inescapably lucky. So it's just as well, really, that there are two light-skinned sister-queens in the lost kingdom, one good one (Nyleptha) for Curtis to fall in love with, and one bad one (Sorais) to fall for Good while he is pining inappropriately after her sister. Part of their party, but standing apart in every possible way from the English, is Zulu chief Umslopogaas, who has a great attachment to his battle-axe and is immovably serene except when intensely engaged in battle.


The fantasy elements are well-handled, by and large, with intriguing architecture for the central royal complex (in Milosis, the capital of the realm of the Zu-Vendi) and a fun and well-described involuntary trip by underground river into the fantasy realm. The hunting scenes (Quatermain is a hunter by profession) are less enjoyable for this reader, as are the various battle scenes. In particular, the opening chapters set in the "real" Africa, where the opponents are not fantasy nobles and priests but the very real Maasai - and if Umslopogaas is the Noble Savage, the Maasai are depicted are the very opposite, ignoble and undifferentiated slaughterers destined for slaughter themselves because they have the effrontery to attack a Christian missionary's family.


The tone is generally fairly light and full of dialogue, and there are comic episodes, some of which work better than others for the modern reader. The stereotypical lily-livered Frenchman (a cook, of course) doesn't provide me with many guffaws, which is a shame since that's his sole purpose in the book.


Anyway, it's a well-told adventure story, and since I'm past the stage where my world-view will be warped by the sexism and imperialism in the narrative, I'm perfectly happy to treat it as a fantasy and enjoy it.

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review 2020-02-24 22:37
The Dead Alive (Collins)
The Dead Alive - Wilkie Collins

This novella by Collins was first published in 1874 in the collection "The Frozen Deep and other stories" under the title "John Jago's Ghost; or The Dead Alive". Based on a real early 19th-century case, it is set in the US, and the solution to the mysterious disappearance/murder of John Jago is fairly easily discerned from the title. The narrator-protagonist is a youngish lawyer, on a foreign trip to cure his nervous complaint (well, so much for that), and he encounters no supernatural occurrences or Gothic contrivances, other than a couple of moonlit gardens. Instead, there is a steady buildup of characterization for four or five main players, including the aforementioned John Jago, as well as one of Collins' trademark Young Women Who Know Their Own Mind (this one demonstrates it in American idioms, though not too annoyingly).


There's a disappearance, the arrest of two overwhelmingly obvious suspects, several stages of trial (interestingly, we're taken through the whole rarely-described sequence of magistrate - Grand Jury - formal trial), a couple of confessions with coercion in question, a verdict, a newspaper advertisement and a coincidental discovery, all overlaid with a rather unnecessary romantic sub-plot that leaves us a little unsure whether the young lady in question really knows her own mind or not, so quickly does she change the object of her affections. But then, it's not a full-length novel.


A quick and easy read, and it has been republished (2005) as an interesting early fictionalization of a wrongful conviction in the US, along with a lot of contextual legal information on the same - that is not the edition I read.


If you read Collins because he tells a good story, this item will suit you fine; if you read him for his Gothic/supernatural/sensational aspects, don't be fooled by the title - there's next to nothing in that vein.

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