Necklace and Calabash – a 1967 Judge Dee Mystery

So, I ran across this challenge on Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction blog to read one book from a specific year and this month’s year was 1967.   So, I went searching and found this Judge Dee mystery from 1967, Necklace and Calabash.  I’ve been aware of Judge Dee for ages, but never read one – they’re by Robert van Gulik who was a Dutch diplomat who grew up in Indonesia.   van Gulik found and translated an 18th century Chinese mystery as Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee – Judge Dee was based on a real person who lived in the 7th century.

dee_and_hoeng

This is van Gulik’s style of drawing, though not taken from Necklace and Calabash.   A calabash, by the way is a gourd, dried out and used to carry liquid or medicine.   Apparently, doctors often used them, although whether they did it in the 7th century, the 18th century or other, I can’t remember

It was a interesting read, definitely a different setting from my usual.  Rivertown is part-time home to the Third Princess.  Judge Dee comes to town incognito and remains that way for a couple days as he tries to solve the death of a young man who had been tortured and thrown in the river, how to help the local Captain with the crime syndicates in town and retrieve a stolen pearl necklace for the Third Princess.   In addition to this, he manages to get in a little fishing and romance.   From the look of the illustrations online, Dee gets to see naked chicks fairly often.   But he’s an honorable guy and tries not to look too much.

It sounds complex, but it really isn’t and that was disappointing.  I guessed part of the mystery very early on, though not the rest, so it was clever enough on that score.  I deeply dislike gangs and torture, so if that’s a standard in Dee stories, I might not read anymore.  Not that it was too much grisly detail, but I just don’t find that sort of thing interesting.   There was a Taoist Master named Gourd who was interesting and the picture of life in ancient China was also interesting, though van Gulik explains there are certain anachronisms in the afterword.  At this point, I’m not sure whether I’ll read more of them or not, but I’m glad I read this one.

Happiness is not a potato… (Villette Readalong Part the 4th)

to be planted in mould, and tilled with manure.   I have to agree with her here and disagree with her, too.   I agree that happiness is not a cultivatable thing.

“Why, what’s the matter?”

“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”

“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.

“Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

“Oh!” said Pooh. He thought for a long time, and then asked, “What mulberry bush is that?”

“Bon-hommy,” went on Eeyore gloomily. “French word meaning bonhommy,” he explained. “I’m not complaining, but There It Is.”

Some people are happy and some not so much.  I don’t think Lucy can be a John Graham just by willpower, or really any means at all.  But I think there are ways Lucy could live a somewhat happier life if she could stop shooting herself in the foot.  As far as I can see, Lucy just hunkers down half the time and waits for rescue.    She had the guts to leave England, go to France and find a job, but after that it’s all:  I’m not going to even talk to Dr. John, whom I knew and liked back in England;  I’m not going to write to my friends when they are quiet for 7 weeks, I will just sit here in the dark all alone, with a faceless nun.   Poor me.  If you haven’t a friend in the world, that’s one thing, but she has.  And admittedly it’s hard to control one’s behavior when one is mad about the boy and he just thinks of you as a pal, but still, come in out of the rain dammit.

And speaking of which, how about that nun?   Pretty creepy.   Nice touch, CB.  I’ve been wondering if we’re reading One Woman’s Descent into Madness.

phibes vincent price in drag

And now, Polly’s back.  Which is why there’s a seven week silence, but then oddly it seems as though the Brettons and Bassompierres have not been getting to know each other over the past nearly two months.   They seem no more comfortable than if no time had past at all.   Then Lucy refuses triple her salary for what I think would be a fairly pleasant gig — Come in out of the rain, Lucy!   I’m not telling you again!  But no, she’d rather starve.   And so you might, Miss Snowe.   The nineteenth century had no unemployment, no 401ks, no pensions, and your boss in particular likes to throw people out at the drop of a hat.   Try to put aside all that overweening pride which masquerades as modesty and accept some good fortune.    Sheesh.

But I meant to say something about Polly —  Polly, you haven’t changed a bit, and that’s saying something because you were six when we last saw you.  And now, there’s going to be a party with Ginevra.   Now, Ginevra’s a shallow silly bitch, but she puts up with Lucy which is more than most people can stand and I’m rather sorry Lucy can’t find it in her heart to think of her as something like a friend.

And considering all these people are related or knew each other fairly well, why do we need all these astonishing coincidences to bring them together?

Once Upon a Time IX

Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings is once again hosting Once Upon a Time, not exactly a readathon or a readalong, it’s a time set aside to focus on fantasy, mythology, folklore and fairy tales.   It’s labeled a challenge, but you can read as little as one book so it’s only as challenging as you choose to make it (and despite this, I blew it last year!)   But this year I hope to make up for it.   Although I’m doing so poorly with the Begorrathon, that I am unwilling to commit.   So I’m going to sign up for the Journey – one book by June 21st   (Official dates of Spring in the northern hemisphere).   I hope I’ll do more than this, because I really like the idea, but having gotten a third of the way through 1 Irish book this month, I’m just not sure what I’ll manage.

oncetimenine300

You can also watch movies, play games, read short stories to participate.  It should be lots of fun.  Join in!

Villette Readalong Pt 3 C 16-20

Really, 17, because I talked about 16 last week by mistake.  Lucy has recovered her health under the civilized care of the Brettons and overcome her amazement that people can bring their furniture with them.  They have a lovely old time sightseeing around Villette which I still keep thinking of as a village.   It’s not.   She said so early on and it’s full of art galleries.   I guess it’s the name.   It sounds petite.  At any rate, the psychic Dr. John has realized she likes to spend time alone in these galleries, so he drops her off and she stares at paintings she hates for several hours, then he picks her back up.   She’s in the middle of a hearty despising of Cleopatra who is too fat and dark to suit Lucy, who blames the models in these paintings for their egos, rather than the artists.   And she blames Cleopatra for not picking up after herself.   I tried to find out if this was a real painting.   I found several Cleopatras of zaftig dimensions, but none of them were dusky.   They were all as pale as if Cleo were a Norwegian.   So, Lucy and her ‘tude are really starting to piss me off, when M. Paul arrives with a whole other set of medieval attitudes.  Sacré bleu!  Unmarried ladies must not look at half naked women!   Zut alors!   Sit in this corner and look at these pictures of nice women, which Lucy does, presumably because she thinks they’re all ugly and there’s nothing she likes better than criticizing others.

M. Paul has his fans among my fellow Readalongers and I can sort of see their point.   He is an amusing character and certainly Lucy and he could have an interesting life butting heads and maybe even learning something in the process.  But then it is time for a concert.   Lucy gets a new dress and it’s God forbid!  pink!   She’s horrified, but has nothing else to wear.   On the way to the concert she’s almost a different person, enjoying the ride, the company, the novelty of the concert hall, but then the music starts up and she’s back.   They all suck.  A simple Scottish ballad on the street would be better.  She gives a thorough character analysis of the King and Queen of Labassecour based solely on their looks. Labassecour means farmyard, so they’re the King and Queen of the Farmyard.  I’m not quite sure why this region of France seems to have separate royalty.   Did France have royalty in 1853?  I’m extremely vague after Napoleon.  Ginevra is there and having a lovely time looking lovely and sneering at Dr. John, when she makes a critical error.   She sneers at his beloved mater and like a bolt of lightning Dr. John is cured.   Ginevra who?    Will Dr. John’s suddenly free heart turn toward little, cranky, unattractive Lucy?   Or is she stuck in the friend zone?    Dr. John does seem to like them pretty, and as he’s quite pretty himself, with anyone a little more human than Ginevra, he’s probably in with a chance.

cleopatra

Also in most of these Cleopatra paintings she’s about to be bitten by the asp.  Did Lucy just miss this in her desire that the Queen of Egypt should get up and tidy?

I am definitely enjoying this much more reading everyone else’s posts about it.   I like Dr. John better than most everyone else seems to, but I agree with Megs that he might be impossible if one failed to live up to his standards, which it seems like Lucy would fail to at some point.

Villette Readalong Page 2 – Here Be Spoilers

GIANT OOPS!

Don’t read this unless you’ve already read Villette chapter 16.   Or wouldn’t for all the tea in China.   Then why you’d want to read this, I’m not sure.   I apparently don’t know how to count and read through chapter 16 which has a fairly big plot point you probably don’t want ruined if you’re reading.   So, fellow readalongers, go back to the book, read chapter 16, and then come back and read this post if you remember.

Anyway, I have now finished the second week’s section of Villette and it’s a head-scratcher.   I should probably write these posts as I go because I forget all the questions and observations I had in chapters 6 – 10 or so.   Lucy manages to stumble upon Mme. Beck’s on her first night (the school Ginevra Fanshawe mentioned) and talks her way into a job that night.  Mme. Beck is a singularly nosy headmistress who not only searches Lucy’s belongings, but makes an impression of her keys so she can do so at will.   This doesn’t bother Lucy.  Just the first of Lucy’s peculiarities.   I wonder if any of this happened to Charlotte?   Lucy turns out to be just the thing and moves from being governess to Mme’s children, whom she takes good care of, but doesn’t care about, to English teacher.   She stays friends with Ginevra although she actually tells her at one point that the girl has made no impression on her heart.   Lucy’s cold and would make an excellent vampire.   She is full of scorn for Ginevra’s shallowness, and everyone else’s flaws as well.  No one passes muster with Lucy except she admires Madame, who’s a snoop par excellence and doesn’t have any affection for her children, and Dr. John, whom she appears indifferent to for quite a while, but then she’s so pissed off at Ginevra for not valuing Dr. John’s affections, I finally realized she is into him.

There’s a peculiar scene where she is called upon to act in the school play at the last moment as a man, but won’t wear pants.   Though she discovers that evening a love of acting, she squelches it thoroughly.  And she won’t dance, don’t ask her.  She’s a real pill.   Even if it turns out she’s actually not bad looking, it’s hard to picture anyone falling for her, unless they’re fond of Puritans.   She wants to observe and not live her life.   But then the school holiday arrives and she has nowhere to go and everyone leaves and she’s literally bored out of her mind.   Apparently being able to look down on everyone was what kept her going all this while.   Left to her own devices, which I would have thought would have been a treat for her, she falls apart.   Wandering the street in a fever, she confesses all to a priest, then goes and faints in the street.   Luckily she’s not run over, she wakes in what appears to be the house we first met her in — the Bretton’s house in Bretton.  This weirds her out no end, which might be natural except that ** MAJOR SPOILER** she’s known for months that Graham Bretton and Dr. John were one and the same person and never said a thing about it.   Still she can’t figure out how this furniture could be there.   Does she not know people can bring their furniture with them when they move?    I shake my head at the weirdness of this chick and figure it’s another 10 years before she’s in an asylum.   Her total lack of understanding of anything around her and her strange attitude toward everyone bodes ill in my view.   Did she not want to know how her godmother was?  They were on friendly terms, why the hell didn’t she say, hey, Dr. John, it’s me, Lucy Snowe.   There seems no good reason for this except she’s secretive and has no real interest in being friends.   She’s an odd duck and no mistake.   So when does Miss Polly Home make her entrance?   Surely everyone should accidentally wind up in Villette?

villette3

Clearly the artist did not read the book.   Lucy does not have a rosy complexion.

Villette Readalong Pt. 1

The first five chapters of Villette were entertaining enough I finished a couple days ago.   In them we meet the narrator, Lucy Snowe, who seems to have almost no character at all, but then that’s sort of how I felt about Jane Eyre, so maybe that’s just Charlotte Brontë’s thing.   She’s staying with her godmother when a young girl arrives.   A truly weird kid.   I’m trying to cut some slack because in previous centuries children weren’t so much treated as children as they were expected to be little adults, which is sort of what Polly is.   A little dictator in the making and a perfectionist.  She misses her father until she makes friends with the young man of the house.   Just as she’s starting to miss her father less, he sends for her and Lucy goes home so everyone we just met disappears.

Not sure why they have Lucy have a family at all as in the next sentence they all die or something and she’s playing nursemaid/companion to a Miss Marchmont who also dies.   Lucy’s left alone in the world with 15 pounds in her pocket and absolutely no prospects.   She decides to go to London, which shows quite a bit of gumption for a young woman in 1853.   There she manages to walk all around the city without getting lost which is another impressive feat.   Or does she do that in chapter 6?   I made the mistake of reading a few pages into chapter 6 and now I’m not sure where 5 ended.    This is not very far into the book and presumably some of those early characters will return.   Lucy is now out to make her way in the world without a reference which from my understanding of Victorian society means she should just throw herself in the river.

This is clearly not so popular a book.   The images out there show a series of book covers with a brunette either reading or staring soulfully out into space.   I don’t want to search too much as I don’t want to stumble on any spoilers as I don’t know anything about this book.

villette2

The Riddle of The Riddle of the Sands

This has long been on my list of things to read one day, a classic, one of the first spy novels, but now I’ve read it, I’m not sure what to say.   Or rather, the things I want to say are mostly spoilers.    So, I’ll put all the spoilers below the picture and give a brief un-spoilery review first.   I did not love this book.   It starts off well enough — young Carruthers, a bit of a social butterfly has missed his holiday because he had to stay in the Foreign Office while Society went to the country.   In September he’s almost free, but no invitations are awaiting him.   Out of the blue an acquaintance from college writes and invites him to come sailing on the German coast.   Not the best, but it is an invitation, so Carruthers accepts.   Davies hasn’t been entirely straight with him — the boat is not a beautiful, crewed yacht where they can sip drinks on deck while sailing past picturesque little towns.   It is a plain little boat and they do all the crewing themselves and Davies — Davies is amusing to read about at first — has no more interest in scenery than a fish.   His joy is pure sailing and charting a very shallow, sandy, unpicturesque area of the Northern coast of Germany.   It emerges that Davies got Carruthers over to help him investigate what he believes is a plot.

There are enjoyable parts to this book.   Carruthers and Davies getting to know each other.   Carruthers turning into a real sailor.   I did keep wondering what the riddle was to the end.   But it is a nautical book.   A very nautical book.  If you enjoy reading about trying to navigate with a compass and dead reckoning though a fog in great detail, this is the book for you.  It is also quite realistic in parts which doesn’t serve too well when you’re trying to overhear a plot being discussed and can only get one word in 20.  And there is a lot of pondering over very little evidence. The book can get tedious and this is largely, I think, because it was not so much an adventure story as it is propaganda.   Also, apparently, sections of it were used unedited from Childer’s logbook of similar voyages.   There you have it.   If you want to read a classic ship’s log, get your copy today and if yours doesn’t have the maps, which mine didn’t, you can find them online.

TheRiddleoftheSands_quad

Spoilery part:   I actually pretty much said what bugged me above.   It is a lot like reading a ship’s log.  But my real beef was with the evidence or lack of it.   At first, it’s all right, there was an attempt on Davies’ life, that’s good enough to investigate, but then after much investigation, they don’t really find anything more.   And then finally what they do find is a reason Dollman might have had for attempting to kill Davies that has nothing to do with any possible plot by Germany.   They keep going, two Brits, standing out like sore thumbs in Frisia charting channels which could be used in time of war, could be developed to be commercially viable.  And there’s nothing wrong with Germany developing her own channels for commercial viability.   The whole plot they are investigating is pure speculation.   Sound enough for the British to consider and take precautions against, which they did, and interesting historically for that reason, but as a story?   Sucks.    All the evidence they have they get at the very end and only because Dollmann turns into a dope.  All he had to do was not let them in his house and they would have had nothing.

And the whole scene where they’re rowing 16 miles each way to listen in on a secret meeting which should have been over long before they even got close, but was conveniently still going on, only Carruthers couldn’t hear enough of it.   Too much realism sinks the story right there for me.   All he got was gibberish.   And blisters.   My hands ache just thinking of the blisters.

Also, if you’ve been at sea a few weeks and then shave off your moustache, it’s going to be pretty obvious by the moustache-shaped pallor that that’s what you did.

And spending two days traipsing all over Frisia to discover almost nothing.   I was totally ready for them to find him and throw him overboard.

Give him his due, Childers was right that Germany posed a threat and that the North Sea coast needed protection, I just wish he wrote a better story.

***

I guess this counts as  20th century Classic, if I didn’t already count a 20th century classic.   Too many reviews on goodreads to count as forgotten.

Phinnea's Book Blog List

Idle thoughts on books and movies. Some new, but mostly old.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.