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review 2018-05-13 17:12
It's no Ripley, but it's all right
Strangers on a Train - Patricia Highsmith

I'm going to surmise that this is one of those rare occasions where the movie actually exceeds the book. 

 

Patricia Highsmith was amazing, of that there is no doubt. However, this book was extremely frustrating to read because there are so many terrible decisions being made by the main character, Guy Haines, whose encounter with a psychotic murderer is a terrible turning point in his life.

 

The plot is quite different from what I thought I understood it to be - and perhaps the movie aligns more with my misunderstanding. I went into it thinking it was more of an inverted mystery, and was interested to see where the mistake was made for the investigators to figure it out. I wasn't expecting one half of the plot to be a reluctant participant, and nearly as much of a victim as the murder victims.

 

I think that the biggest problem with this book is that it felt about 100 pages too long, and took fairly close to forever to get to the point. While Highsmith excels at building suspense, the pacing was way off in this one. In addition, the end was sort of anticlimactic. 

 

I'm still a card-carrying member of the Patricia Highsmith fan club, but this was a bit of a disappointment.

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review 2018-04-19 15:32
The Nursing Home Murder by Ngaio Marsh
The Nursing Home Murder - Ngaio Marsh

Because this one involves the murder of the Home Secretary, which is apparently a cabinet level position in the British Government (it seems to correspond loosely to a combination of the Secretary of State and the Head of Homeland Security, near as wikipedia can help me to figure out), it is one of the featured books in Chapter 12 of TSCC100, Playing Politics. 

 

This is also the third Inspector Alleyn mystery, but is the first one that I've read. I am reserving judgment overall because it was obvious to me that there was a backstory to the characters that I didn't have.

 

The mystery itself was fun - by the time Inspector Alleyn gets called out to the deceased Home Secretary, who died on the operating table from a septic appendix, pretty much everyone is a suspect. He's been getting threatening letters from the local anarchists and Bolsheviks, and he's broken it off with a mistress who is taking it badly and who just happens to be, along with his former friend and hopeful swain of the above mentioned mistress, the nurse and surgeon, respectively. They've both recently threatened him because the nurse is not handling the rejection with equanimity. And then we have his rather bizarre wife, a Leninst nurse, and an anesthetist who is disturbingly fond of a hands on approach to eugenics.

 

I didn't get the relationship between Alleyn and Nigel Bathgate at all, and the relationship with his fiancee, the fair Angela even less. I think I need more data in order to draw any conclusions. It was enjoyable, but a bit farcical.

 

Unfortunately, the solution to the crime was just plain bad. I had to read the last two chapters three times before I was able to really absorb what had happened, and at the end I was still just puzzled about the entire thing.

 

 

Allrighty then.

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review 2018-04-14 17:11
A very strange book
The Mayfair Mystery - Frank Richardson

I can't quite figure out what to say about this book. It is an incredibly weird little tale, and, to be honest, it isn't really much of a mystery. 

 

Here is the note about the author from Goodreads:

 

Frank Collins Richardson, barrister, and novelist, was educated at Marlborough and Christ Church, Oxford, afterwards entering the Inner Temple and being called to the Bar. But there, as he admitted, he was a failure, and he took in consequence to writing, his "King's Counsel," a novel, appearing in 1902. It was followed by some dozen others. His peculiar topic of humour was the subject of whiskers, which he discovered by accident, and perhaps worked for rather more than it was worth. But his treatment of it was hailed at the time as an amusing innovation, and by pen and pencil, and by judging at seaside male "beauty-shows," it cannot be said that he was wholly unsuccessful in his peculiar hobby. (from obituary in "The Times", August 2, 1917) 

 

I added the bold.

 

Which brings me to one of the weird elements, which is, of course whisker humor. Who would've thought, really, that whisker humor was a thing. I would certainly agree that he worked it for rather more than it was worth - I was tired of it about ten seconds after it was introduced. Obviously, times have changed, although in this era of peak hipster beard (estimated to have occurred in 2014), I suppose that there could be some mileage to be gathered.

 

Moving on.

 

There were elements of this book that were interesting, and could make for a fine study of gender crossing, queer theory, and whatever else one might be looking for. I was, however, looking for a mystery and with that, I cannot recommend this book.

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review 2018-02-21 21:07
Somebody At The Door by Raymond Postgate
Somebody at the Door - Raymond Postgate

I haven't read the other BLCC book by Postgate, Verdict of Twelve, which was recommended by Martin Edwards in Chapter 15, The Justice Game, of The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

 

As is the case in most of the BLCC books, Martin Edwards did write an introduction for Somebody at the Door. This one rose to the top of my current reading list based upon the WWII setting and the plot summary which captured my interest.

 

This is a very odd little book. It operates within a standard mystery framework: Councillor Henry Grayling, the victim, returns home after a day at work, travelling by train and in possession of more than 100 pounds in wages to be paid out the following day. Sometime after making it home, his wife Renata calls the doctor to report that he was later coming home and that he was very ill. Some time later, Grayling expires of what ends up being a mustard gas attack.

 

Inspector Holly, charged with solving the crime, determines who was in the train car with Grayling and conducts an investigation into their backgrounds. Each of them, in their own way, have a motive to murder Grayling, who was an unlikeable and highly unpleasant man. 

 

Each of the suspects is granted his/her own chapter, which is where things get either interesting or bogged down, depending upon your perspective, in terms of the narrative. Each chapter functions as a mini-tale, providing detailed insight into what life was like in England during 1942 for various characters and social classes. If you, as a reader, are interested in this sort of thing, then the book is a fascinating read. If you are here for the mystery, well, a great deal of the detailed meanderings are superfluous and tend to grind the mystery narrative to a halt.

 

I am interested in this sort of thing, so I enjoyed those chapters. But a lot of it has little to nothing to do with the central mystery. In addition, there was a pretty big plot element that was just left unresolved without being addressed by the author in any meaningful way at all. I think that Verdict of Twelve might be a better bet than this one!

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review 2018-02-11 22:28
All in the Family
Family Matters (British Library Crime Classics) - Anthony Rolls
Family Matters - Anthony Rolls,Gordon Griffin

Ooooh, I'm so glad this book was rescued from oblivion by the editors of the British Library Crime Classics series.  And I'm all the more glad for the fact that, reading its description, I didn't expect half the delights it would turn out to have in store.

 

Family Matters is, on its face, a take on the age-old theme of marital discord leading to murder -- one of the most prevalent topics in crime fiction practically ever since the inception of the genre, and done practically to death in its own right as a result of having been tackled by everybody from Arthur Conan Doyle to the Golden Age Queens of Crime and pretty much every other modern suspense and thriller writer.  So, a rave review by Dorothy L. Sayers notwithstanding, I approached this with quite pinch of caution.

 

I needn't have worried, and I now fully understand why the ever-skeptical Sayers even went so far as to proclaim that she was "quite ready to accept anything that is told me by so convincing an author" as to the chemistry involved in bringing about the murder (or was it?) and in confounding, in turn, the police, the medical experts, the coroner, and (almost) the jury.  (Though I would love to get a chemist's perspective on the accuracy of it all at some point.)

 

The real stand-out feature of this novel is Rolls's ability to sketch a character and an atmosphere, and his deliciously malicious sense of humor, which extends to pretty much everybody and everything involved in this sordid tale, beginning with the community in which it takes place, all the way to the fighting couple's neighbors and friends, the inmates and atmosphere of their horrid household, and the murdered man himself: if ever a character asked to be murdered, surely it is this story's Robert Arthur Kewdingham who, however, for all of Roll's scathing satire of the archetypal mysogynistic bully, still manages to be ... well, let's say at least two-and-a-half-dimensional.

 

Of course, towards the end of the story the judicial process is administered its due share of jibes as well, and in light of the Flat Book Society's recent read of Val McDermid's Forensics, I particularly enjoyed Roll's pick on the era's preeminent medical expert witnesses of the ilk of a Dr. Bernard Spilsbury:

"Pulverbatch was a thin, pale man, with an expression like that of a highly intellectual saint.  He appeared to be in ceaseless communion with a fount of inner knowledge.  When he spoke, he had a way of drawing back his thin lips, showing two rows of very small natural teeth, and occasionally giving a short whispering whistle.  In the seclusion of his fine Bayswater home he attempted, with no great success, to play jigs upon the violin for the entertainment of Mrs. Pulverbatch.

 

'Hyaline deterioration?' said the Professor to his eminent colleague. 'Yes, my dear chap -- I quite agree with you. But look here ... [...] I never saw anything like it.  I wish we had Chesterton here.  But I think we shall ultimately come to the conclusion which I ventured to put forward as a working hypothesis at the start.'"

Though I do own, and have read, the paperback edition of this book, I also highly recommend the audio version narrated by Gordon Griffin, who has fast become one of my favorite go-to narrators of books by British authors (or set in Britain).

 

I read this book for the "Ironists" chapter / square of the Detection Club bingo, the image for which is actually taken from the cover of this particular book.

 

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