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review 2017-08-17 15:43
Knitting Needles, Brains, and Burglary (by Proxy)
Grey Mask - Patricia Wentworth

This book marks Miss Silver's entrance into the annals of Golden Age crime fiction, and it's certainly an enjoyable one.

 

I'd read other Miss Silver mysteries before: This doesn't strike me as a series one absolutely has to read strictly in order; even though it is worthwhile noting that Wentworth also created several other fictional detectives, who even when appearing without Miss Silver clearly operate in the same fictional universe, and they do repeatedly show up in her cases as well.  Most, if not all of these other detectives are former pupils of Miss Silver, who once upon a time used to be a governess, and wherever they do appear alongside her, the ultimate honors of solving the case invariably go to her in the end.  So I guess the one aspect to be aware of is which one (if any) of her fellow sleuths is featured in a given book, and where in the sequence of their collaboration with Miss Silver the book in question is placed. -- For those interested, I've found a very neat overview on this on a blog called The Passing Tramp.

 

Anyway, having read other books featuring Miss Silver, I was interested to see how she had initially been introduced, so when there was talk of a Grey Mask buddy read, I jumped at the idea.  And I'm glad I did! 

 

We get to see more of Miss Silver's (on occasion quite formidable) ex-governess side in the later books, but even in this first venture -- where none of the aforementioned other detectives appears -- we see her treating a recalcitrant client essentially like the ten-year-olds she used to tutor, and most of her trademark features are already in place: the "gentle cough" that invariably precedes any statement of import; her knitting needles (not the only feature she shares with Agatha Christie's Miss Marple -- both ladies also have a certain penchant for primness, even if both of them are equally capable of taking it with a certain pinch of salt), her neat and capacious handbag, and most importantly, her razor-sharp brain, which easily puts her on a level with Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot ... and, again, Miss Marple, about whom none less than (ex-)CID Chief Sir Henry Clithering says in The Body in the Library, and not without reason, that she is "better at [solving crimes] than I am at it":

 

"Downstairs in the lounge ... there sits an old lady with a sweet, placid spinsterish face, and a mind that has plumbed the depths of human iniquity and taken it as all in the day's work." 

 

The same thing might just as well be said about Miss Silver -- who however, like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, leaves the reader (and the other party to the conversation) in no doubt as to the size of her brains and her capacity of logical thought, whereas Miss Marple outwardly is all flutter and modesty, while nevertheless surreptitiously manipulating others into doing just what she needs them to do ... while Miss Silver can be downright facetiously open about it:

 

"Miss Silver tapped with her pencil.

'Are you suggesting that we should apply for a search warrant?'

'No, I'm not.  I'm suggestin' doin' a little job of breakin' and enterin'.  Look here, Miss Silver, are you game? [...]'

'I've my reputation to consider,' said Miss Silver. She coughed. 'If I were walking along [that particular] Street and were to ring [that house's] bell --' she paused and gazed at him mildly.  'If you opened the door to me, it really would not be any business of mine how you got in.'"

 

And a while later:

 

"Miss Silver turned her torch down, picked up a metal bar, and put it into [his] hand.

'What is it?'

'Well,' said Miss Silver -- she gave a slight cough -- 'I believe it is called a jemmy -- an instrument in use amongst burglars.  I, of course, have my reputation to consider. But if you --' She coughed again. 'It really seems quite providential -- doesn't it?'

'Heaven helps those who help themselves, in fact,' [he] responded.

Miss Silver proceeded to give him expert advice as to lock-breaking."

 

I'm not sure that we'd ever see quite that sort of scene with Miss Marple (Holmes and Poirot are, of course, a different matter; they've both been known to burgle the odd building in the interests of higher justice), though Miss Marple would almost certainly have, amid a great deal of flutter, pinpointed the exact location to look for inside the house in question in advance, to within a few inches at most; probably after having gotten the vicar's wife to unearth for her precisely the same (published) source that had inspired the present owner of the house to make use of that very location in the first place.

 

Unlike Holmes and Poirot (and, for that matter, Miss Marple), who at least in the Final Reveal typically give a full account of their methods and thought processes, we are not given that sort of access here, and if anything, it is this that makes Miss Silver seem decidedly more ethereal than in the later books -- which, at least the ones I've read, do feature a traditional Final Reveal; warts and all: Not only does Miss Silver seem in this, her first venture, however, to appear out of nothing in her client's and the other protagonists' vista and vicinity on more than one occasion; she also has to do all her own research, since she does not have an assistant, which would have had to involve quite a substantial amount of interviews, visits to libraries, and other "legwork", all of which at times left me wondering how she could possibly have fitted all that activity into the time frame available ... while at the same time keeping exact tabs on her client's and his protegée's, as well as pretty much all the other major characters' whereabouts.

 

Patricia Wentworth had published several romance novels before turning to crime fiction, and this is not the only one of her books on which that writerly history has left an undelible mark.  (It's also not the only one of her books where the various emotional conflicts are "resolved" in rather a rushed way at the end.)  As for the book's major characters (besides Miss Silver), they fall nicely into the categories and types that had already been coined by other mystery authors at the time, and to a large extent made up the stock whose representatives would continue to populate the better part of Golden Age mysteries up to the eve of World War II and beyond.  Still, like the other Miss Silver mysteries I've read, this proved to be a quick, entertaining and deceptively lightly-written read, and I'll happily continue to sprinkle books from this series in among my reading pleasure.

 

*************

 

Previous status updates:

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review 2017-08-15 04:07
Review: Of Mice and Men
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

Ok, I think I’m traumatized now! Believe it or not, I read this book for the first time without knowing much about the story or anything about how it ended.  There was enough foreshadowing that I felt pretty sure something horrible would happen by the end, but it ended up being a bit beyond what I had expected. 

 

I really enjoyed reading it, though. This is probably one of the more accessible classics I’ve read, and not just because it’s so short.  The story quickly captured and held my interest, and I could sympathize with the characters.  Steinbeck did a great job of making the characters’ motivations clear without spelling everything out in excruciating detail.  I felt like I understood exactly how and why everything happened the way it did.

 

This could easily be read in a single sitting, although I read it in three. I started it late last night, and then I read a little more while I was eating breakfast in the hotel lobby.  (Yes, I’m on yet another business trip.)  Thank goodness I didn’t finish this while I was eating breakfast.  I’ve never tried it before, but I suspect bursting into tears over one’s oatmeal would draw strange looks.  I finished it later in the evening, safely tucked away in my hotel room.  This book is not safe for reading in public places.

 

This was my first Steinbeck read. It may take me a while to cycle back to him, but I’d definitely like to try some of his other work in the future. 

 

Next Book

The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolf.

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review 2017-08-12 14:22
The Iliad
Ilias - Homer,Karl Ferdinand Lempp

What can I possibly say about The Iliad that hasn´t been said by a whole bunch of other people before? It´s one of the great classics, an epic story about war, love, loyalties and heroics. All the emotions a human being can encounter in life are present in this work. And it´s so dramatic, the heroes and gods being either petty and childisch, brave and fearsome or simply being totally bonkers. It´s so much fun to read (I especially loved the Paris bashing episodes).

 

I absolutely loved The Iliad, it made its way into my "favorite books of all time" list and I can´t wait to read The Odyssey. Thankfully the German translator of the Iliad, Karl Ferdinand Lempp, has translated The Odyssey as well, so I´m sure I will be in for treat (the German prose translation has been excellent. I highly recommend it if you are capable of reading the German language).

 

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review 2017-08-11 15:47
The man behind the spider and the mouse
Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White - Melissa Sweet

Up til this point, I could most likely count the number of biographies written for children that I've read. Actually I could probably count how many biographies in total I've ever read because I have to admit biographies in general not my favorite genre. However, there are always exceptions and every now and again there are people who I find intriguing enough to seek out more information about them. Last year I read My Ears Are Bent which included different excerpts from The New Yorker along with background on the magazine itself. I discovered from this book just how much of the writing was done by E.B. White. (You might recognize him from such things as Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web.) This piqued my interest in White but I had so many other things on my TRL that I somewhat forgot about him until I saw Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet pop up as a recommended read. I think E.B. White would have heartily approved of this biography even though he was an intensely private, low-key individual. This book delivered not only on giving me the biography that I was looking for but also offering up beautiful mixed media layouts which make it more accessible to children.  His approach to writing and his proliferation of works is fascinating and astonishing. Sweet manages to educate the reader about his works but she also manages to paint a portrait of a writer that was passionate about his craft, his family, and his farm. She does this almost from the start. This book is great if you want to learn more about E.B. White yourself or if you want to introduce your kids to biographies. It's easily accessible and the layout is beautiful. Quick, fun read that I'd recommend for reluctant biography readers (like myself). 10/10

 

To give you a taste of what I mean about the mixed media approach:

 

Source: NPR

Source: NPR

 

What's Up Next: Brian Selznick Masterpost including The Invention of Hugo CabretThe Marvels, and Wonderstruck

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Alice by Christina Henry

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-08-09 20:14
The Shivering Sands / Victoria Holt
The Shivering Sands (Casablanca Classics) - Victoria Holt

***2017 Summer Lovin’ Reading List ***

In many ways, this is a very dated Gothic romance—after all, it was first published in 1969. I’m pretty sure that I read it as a teenager, but it must not have been part of my personal collection, because this reading felt like I was enjoying it for the first time. There are enough differences from Holt’s usual romance formula to make it feel a bit fresher plot-wise too.

A young widow, Caroline Verlaine, takes a position as music teacher at an estate close to excavated Roman ruins where her sister had been working as an archaeologist, only to disappear under mysterious circumstances. Concealing her relationship to the missing woman, Caroline tries to trace her missing sister. There are no poisonous distant relatives, exiling Caroline to a tedious life of uninspired pupils, penury, and living below stairs. She has freely chosen her position for a specific reason, she has an undeniable talent for music, and is therefore much less rebellious than other Holt heroines.

Of course, further disappearances occur and there are mysterious goings-on that lure Caroline into dangerous situations. If I have any complaints, it is that the ending was a bit abrupt and completely predictable. I felt the heroine’s choice should have been just a bit more difficult, requiring a just bit more agonizing than occurred. The book ends suddenly with Caroline’s choice, giving no insight into what happens to numerous other characters who formed an integral part of the story.


Still, in this genre, this was a very enjoyable novel.

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