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review 2018-11-16 19:40
24 Festive Tasks: Doors 3, 21 and 24 - Books for Melbourne Cup Day, Kwanzaa and Epiphany
Field of Thirteen - Dick Francis
The Guards - Ken Bruen,Gerry O'Brien
The Clock Strikes Twelve - Diana Bishop,Patricia Wentworth


Dick Francis: Field of Thirteen

I've owned this collection of short stories since forever and decided our Melbourne Cup Day book task was the perfect occation so pull it out and finally read it.  Candidly, I'm not sure why Dick Francis didn't write more short stories: both his style of writing and his plot construction lent themselves perfectly to the short form, and I tend to view even some of his novels as short story constructs extended to novel length rather than books conceived as novels in the first place (even though they probably were).  Be that as it may, this is a very enjoyable collection featuring some of Francis's best writing, set in the world of racehorse breeding (and stealing and betting), and against the great race events of Britain and the U.S., from the Grand National, Ascot, Sandown Park, the Marlborough Racing Club Gallops, Cheltenham and Stratford to the Kentucky Derby, plus the odd imaginary racetrack (unfortunately, not also the Melbourne Cup).  Not all of the mysteries involve a death, and not all the deaths that occur are caused intentionally -- word to the wise, however, steeplechase racing is a hazardous sport for humans and horses alike, and Francis makes no bones about this particular fact.

 


Ken Bruen: The Guards
(Narrator: Gerry O'Brien)

Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor series has been on my radar ever since I watched the first episode of its TV adapatation, starring Iain Glen.  The Guards provides as gut-punch an opener as is conceivable to the series; we see how and why Taylor is dismissed from the Gardaí Síochána, and though the motif of the loner detective who struggles not only at socializing but also with a range of other things, most notably including full-blown alcoholism, is a veritable staple in today's detective fiction, I can think of few other series where particularly the protagonist's addiction is explored this forthrightly (well, OK, Harry Hole comes to mind).  Taylor is -- literally -- not afraid to pull punches, but he is fiercly loyal to those to whom he feels loyalty is due ... and ready to take his loyalty all the way if necessary.  I've never been to County Galway, where the series is set, and I can't shake the feeling that I'd get even more out of it if I had, but even so, this is one series I'm glad to have finally added to those that I'm now following (and I'm not exactly sad I have a bunch of installments to catch up on first).  Gerry O'Brien's narration, too, did a stellar job in transporting the book's tone and atmosphere.

 

I listened to this for the Kwanzaa square (a book with a black cover). 

 


Patricia Wentworth: The Clock Strikes Twelve
(Narrator: Diana Bishop)

This came with high praise from both Tigus and Moonlight, so I knew I had a lot to look forward to -- and I was certainly not disappointed!  This is a New Year's Eve story and the "family patriarch publicly announces 'I know someone here has betrayed family interests and you've got until midnight to come forward and confess your sins'" classic mystery plot variant ... seriously, someone should have told those Golden Age family patriarchs not to do this sort of thing because it'll invariably get them killed.  Anyway, Wentworth had comfortably settled into her formula by the time she wrote this book, and I agree with Moonlight -- this is now my new favorite entry in the series, too.  Though written strictly to Wentworth's formula (cozy rural setting with bickering family [or village population], lovers to (re)bond, a reasonable but not impenetrable amount of red herrings, a perhaps not entirely unexpected villain, and an investigation by thoroughly compentent police inspectors who are, nevertheless, easily "bested" by Miss Silver), the characters and their various conflicts are finely and credibly drawn and jump off the page as real people ... and Miss Silver, as always, is a sheer delight.  Well done, Maudie!  And Patricia -- and Diana (Bishop), whose reading of the Miss Silver books I've thoroughly come to enjoy.

 

I'm counting this book towards the "Epiphany" square of "24 Festive Tasks" (a book with the word "twelve" in the title).

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review 2018-11-12 13:30
24 Festive Tasks: Doors 2 and 5 - Books for Guy Fawkes Night and Veterans' / Armistice Day
Behold, Here's Poison - Georgette Heyer
Behold, Here's Poison - Georgette Heyer
The Riddle of the Third Mile - Colin Dexter,Samuel West
The Riddle of the Third Mile - Colin Dexter


Georgette Heyer: Behold, Here's Poison
(Narrator: Ulli Birvé)

The first Georgette Heyer mysteries I read were her Inspector Hemingway books, which in a way meant I was starting from the wrong end, as Hemingway progressed to the rank of inspector from having been the lead investigator's sergeant in the earlier Superintendent Hannasyde books.  That doesn't impede my enjoyment of Hannasyde's cases in the least, however, now that I'm getting around to these, even though I found the first one (Death in the Stocks) seriously underwhelming.  But Heyer redeems herself in a big way with Behold, Here's Poison: Though a fair share of her mysteries have a sizeable contingent of 1920s-30s stock-in-trade bright young things and generally "nice chaps" (which got on my nerves enough at one point to make me decide I'd had enough of Heyer), when she did set her mind to it, nobody, not even Agatha Christie, did maliciously bickering families like her.  And the family taking center stage here must be one of the meanest she's ever come up with, only (just) surpassed by the Penhallows.  I'm not overwhelmed with the story's romantic dénouement (there always is one in Heyer's books), and while I guessed the mystery's essential "who" and had a basic idea of the "why" at about the 3/4 - 4/5 mark (the actual "why" was a bit of a deus ex machina), by and large this has to count among my favorite Heyer mysteries so far ... though not quite reaching the level of my overall favorite, Envious Casca.

 

Ulli Birvé isn't and won't ever become my favorite narrator, and she seriously got on my nerves here, too.  Since all of the recent re-recordings of Heyer's mysteries are narrated by her, though, I've decided I won't hold her mannerisms against the author, and I've read enough print versions of Heyer books at this point to have a fairly good idea of what a given character would sound like in my head if I'd read instead of listened to the book in question.

 

 


Colin Dexter: The Riddle of the Third Mile
(Narrator: Samuel West)

For Veterans' / Armistice Day I'm claiming the very first book I revisited after the beginning of the 24 Festive Tasks game: Colin Dexter's The Riddle of the Third Mile had long been one of my favorite entries in the Inspector Morse series, but Samuel West's wonderful reading not only confirmed that status but actually moved it up yet another few notches.  (Samuel West is fast becoming one of my favorite audiobook narrators anyway.) The fact that due to the progress of medical research a key element of the mystery would have been much easier to solve these days does not impede my enjoyment in the least ... changing social mores aside, half the Golden Age crime literature, including many of the great classics by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and even, on occasion, Arthur Conan Doyle would be deprived of substantial riddles if they were set today. -- The book qualifies for this particular "24 Festive Tasks" square, because some of the characters' and their siblings' encounter as British soldiers at the battle of El Alamein (1942) forms the prologue to the book and an important motive for their actions in the world of Oxford academia and Soho strip clubs, some 40 years later.

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text 2016-11-20 16:54
Reading progress update: I've read 340 out of 928 pages.
Merlin Trilogy - Mary Stewart
The Crystal Cave - Mary Stewart
The Hollow Hills - Mary Stewart

 

(Page numbers are for the omnibus edition.)

 

Well, I finished The Crystal Cave (a while ago in fact) and have now moved on to The Hollow Hills, which picks up right where the first book of the trilogy ends.  Merlin is still rather unlike the wise old wizard as whom I'd so far seen him and is becoming ever closer to what I'd so far imagined young Arthur to have been ... but I'm still enjoying the read as such.

 

For those who care, I thought I'd share a couple of photos from the location of the final chapters of The Crystal Cave and the first chapters of The Hollow Hills, Tintagel, where legend has it that King Arthur was conceived ... or, well, photos of what's left of the Tintagel castle ruins (which incidentally date from the 12th, not from the 6th century), as well as the paths that Merlin and Uther would have had to climb, first down to the beach and then back up along the face of the cliff, to get to the castle high up on the promontory:

 




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review 2016-11-20 15:11
The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season -- Task the Tenth: The Holiday Down Under
Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates - Kerry Greenwood

- Read a book set in Australia or by an Australian author,  or read a book you would consider a "beach read".

 

Well, I can see how a screen version of this might work rather nicely, but alas, as written, it wasn't really for me.  I liked Bert and Cec, and Dr. MacMillan, and Dot (once transformed, though her transformation was perhaps a bit of a rapid one) ... but I couldn't much bring myself to care for either Phryne herself, or the narrative voice, or the story as such.  And I'm afraid the author already lost me right at the beginning, where there is an IMHO not-very-successfully-executed attempt at an Agatha Christie / Arthur Conan Doyle supersleuth-style "instant solution" of a crime committed in Phryne's presence (which then, even more implausibly, serves as instant motivation for one of those present at the scene, who doesn't until then have seemed to know much about Phryne, to entrust her with the both expensive and rather delicate task of travelling all the way to Australia to look after his daughter's wellbeing).  Moreover, both the author and Phryne seemed to share a sneering tone, talking down to the reader and half the other characters alike, which I found rather grating, particularly in a book billed as a "cozy" mystery.  Fundamentally, though, what I found fairly preposterous was the notion that a young woman, who hasn't been to Australia since her childhood days (when she moved in quite different circles from those in which she is moving upon her return, and who therefore can't possibly know or anticipate all the pitfalls of her commission), only needs to show up in Melbourne and, in the space of a mere couple of days, manages to solve not one but several crimes that have had the Melbourne police all up in arms for months ... and all this by pushing buttons that, in the case of both of the chief criminals, should have stared any halfway competent policeman and / or the criminals' own associates in the face within about the same amount of time it ended up taking Phryne to discover them.  (But then, Phryne has virtually no faults at all to begin with -- she is Superwoman incarnate, which is one of my major pet peeves anyway.)  Add to all that the super-clumsy drop of a clue as to the final reveal fairly early on in the story -- the sort of clue that, if used by Christie or Conan Doyle at all, is bound to be a means of the most skillful misdirection, not the sort of dead giveaway it is here -- and I was seriously underwhelmend all the way through.

 

Still, as I said, there were characters I enjoyed, and the writing, narrative voice and major plot implausibilities aside, flowed nicely -- and judging by the popularity of  both the book and the TV series, I decidedly seem to be in the minority here as far as my overall opinion is concerned ...

 

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review 2016-11-19 15:13
The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season -- Task the Eleventh: The Polar Express
Murder on the Orient Express: Complete & Unabridged (Audiocd) - Agatha Christie

 

- Read a book that involves train travel (such as Murder on the Orient Express).

 

Well, as it happened I did pick Murder on the Orient Express for this square.  Not that I'm not intimately familiar with the story as such already -- it was actually one of the first books by Agatha Christie that I ever read, not to mention watching (and owning) the screen adaptation starring Albert Finney and half of classic Hollywood's A list.  But I'd never listened to the audio version read by David Suchet, and I am very glad to finally have remedied that now.  Not only is Suchet the obvious choice to read any of Christie's Poirot novels because his name has practically become synonymous with that of the little Belgian himself -- great character actor that he is, he was obviously also having the time of his life with all of the story's other roles, including those of the women; and particularly so, Mrs. Hubbard, whose interpretation by Suchet also gives the listener more than a minor glance at the fun that recent London audiences must have been having watching him appear as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest (drag and all). 

 

A superb reading of one of Agatha Christie's very best mysteries and one of my all-time favorite books.  Bravo, Mr. Suchet!

 

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