Peril of the Short Story


Thought I ought to post even though no entire books have been read.  This is due to the fact I have once again chosen two large 19th century books to read.   No, I never learn.  But I realized that because one of the books I’ve started is Edgar Allan Poe, and he wrote short stories mostly, I’ve done this peril.   I’ve read maybe 6 of the complete tales and so far, meh.   The collection I chose is in chronological order, so I’ve only read his earliest stuff and there is, of course, a leaning to the fantastic and infernal and rather more French than I possess.  Some of it critical to the story.   Thank goodness for the Google.

The story I found exceptional was called A Loss of Breath and it is bizarre.  Surrealism about 75? years before Surrealism started.   It is about a man called Lackobreath who loses his breath while hollering at his new wife.   For a moment you think this is a story of someone abusive getting his comeuppance, but that doesn’t seem to be the idea.

Altering my countenance, therefore, in a moment, from its bepuffed and distorted appearance, to an expression of arch and coquettish benignity, I gave my lady a pat on the one cheek, and a kiss on the other, and without saying one syllable, (Furies! I could not), left her astonished at my drollery, as I pirouetted out of the room in a Pas de Zéphyr.

Lackobreath is not dead because he can no longer breathe.  In fact he starts an intense search for his breath just as though it were his handkerchief or a watch that had gone missing.

Long and earnestly did I continue the investigation: but the contemptible reward of my industry and perseverance proved to be only a set of false teeth, two pair of hips, an eye, and a bundle of billets-doux from Mr. Windenough to my wife.

He can’t speak except a very deep rumble and so he studies a play with a character in it who always speaks in a deep rumble and uses lines from that play to cover up the fact he cannot otherwise talk.  Once he’s done this he essentially runs away, but is sat upon in the carriage by a huge man and cannot move when the carriage stops.   As he has no breath, they determine he is dead.    It just gets odder from there.   Or perhaps I should say maintains its pitch of oddity until the end.   I am astonished it got published back then and I wonder what people made of it.



In other news, I have started The Woman in White and am enjoying it very much.  I am glad to finally be reading it, but I think it is longer than my Kindle indicates.  Kindle says 449 pages and the paperbacks I look at say 640-720 pages.   I realize a page varies considerably based on typesize, it’s not a proper length at all, but for someone who reads slowly putting more words on each ‘page’ is just plain mean.  In other words, it’s slow-going.   But Collins was a lively writer and so far it’s very entertaining.  Enjoying friends’ visits, but glad to be alone again.   She has fights with her husband occasionally, but doesn’t report what about.  I enjoy reading diaries, but I think there is such a dichotomy between Woolf’s inner person and outer that I don’t know her at all from reading it.

What I Read on my Summer Vaca-

I mean, for the 20 Books of Summer which ended Monday the 5th.   How did I do?  Not well.   For a start, and I knew this, never put Our Mutual Friend on a list of books you want to get through fast.   I also had 2 biographies.   One was Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf which I was supposed to read anyway for #Woolfalong, but then I was keen, at the time, to read about Gertrude Bell after seeing the movie about her, Queen of the Desert.   That impulse faded and I never touched that one at all.   But let’s talk about what I did, rather than what I didn’t.   I read eight books, some of which were even on the list I made, and started 4 others.  I finished:

On list –

At Bertram’s Hotel

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

The Magicians

Murder Must Advertise

Off list –

Third Girl

Hanged for a Sheep

Destination Unknown

The Devereaux Legacy

Started –


Lee’s Virginia Woolf

Our Mutual Friend

Dead Wake

I’m still working on Dead Wake which is about the sinking of the Lusitania.   It’s very good so far and since it’s during World War I, that’s good because I wanted to read more about WWI and so far haven’t succeeded.   Can’t seem to get anywhere in The Zimmerman Telegram.   Keep reading the same three pages over and over again.   Woolf bio is also good, just tremendously long and in print, so huge I can’t lug it around so that’s still in play.   I was enjoying Kim and Our Mutual Friend, too, but not enough to avoid distraction.   The finished ones have all been talked about elsewhere in the blog.

Oh, and I believe I just passed my third blogiversary a week ago.  Despite my poor showing on the 10 books of summer, this blog and my fellow bloggers have been very good for my reading.   I’ve read more classics and more generally than I had in a long while before that so thanks, fellow bloggers for being out there and writing reviews and proposing challenges which even if I flunk ’em, I think do me good.

So, now, there’s R.I.P. going on (join us!)  and Woolfalong continues with essays or diaries.  I’m going with diary.   I read the first volumes in college many centuries ago, but not knowing where I left off, I will read Volume 1 again, 1915-1919.   And it is interesting already.   In the first page of the introduction, Quentin Bell quotes Clive Bell warning future readers of Woolf’s ‘airy imagination’ when reading her letters and diaries.   I could see telling stories in letters to friends you wish to entertain, but I fail to understand making stuff up for your own diary.   The passage quoted cites an evening of Leonard Woolf reading passages from the diary to a group of friends and stopping, saying “I shall skip the next few pages because there’s not a word of truth in them.”   At this distance, how am I, the reader, supposed to have any idea when she’s making stuff up?    Perhaps this is a factor in why I have difficulty with Woolf.   I tend to think telling the truth is pretty important.  Life’s difficult enough to navigate without adding blatant fabrications to it and if you want to tell stories, write fiction.   Which she did.   But apparently, she needed to tell stories to us, her future readers.   Maybe re-reading it will make it more clear what and where she was making up and why she would need to do that.





Murder Must Advertise

Back on my summer list, (which means I got maybe half of them done?) and the book I read off it was Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Peter Wimsey has forgotten Harriet Vane for the moment and taken a job in disguise at an advertising firm.   Sayers herself worked in advertising for a bit, so I’m fairly sure the office goings-on are authentic, except for the mob ties.  Wimsey is brought in under the unassuming name of Death Bredon investigating the sudden demise of one Victor Dean who apparently died falling down an iron staircase.   Or did he?   Wimsey’s good at everything so, naturally, he takes quite easily to writing advertisements in his spare time.   Someone at Pym’s ties in with a dope ring and both Chief Inspector Parker and Wimsey would like to get their hands on those who run it.   Whether it’s because I saw it on TV many years ago or because Sayers makes it completely obvious fairly early, I knew whodunnit early, but had trouble believing it could be the obvious one.   But then, there didn’t seem to be anyone else.   Wimsey finds out most of what he wants to know in the first couple hundred pages and then there’s another nearly 200 pages to get through where it seems not much happens.   There’s a cricket match.   And some deaths.   I found the ending rather unsatisfactory.   I think Sayers was so taken with her nefarious mechanism that she couldn’t be bothered to make a good mystery around it.   It is clever and her drug smuggling plot is a lot more realistic than Christie ever is where drugs are involved, but I think I’m just not all that keen on drug smuggling investigation and I don’t really see how they got the big fish in the end.   It seemed like mostly they got the small fry they didn’t want to waste time on.   How Milligan and his parties fit in with the rest of the distribution network is still unclear to me.



R.I.P. Lives!

Readers Imbibing Peril is on again for the 11th year!   Yay!    Not sure why I enjoy it so much, but I do and you might, too.  The range of acceptable reading is quite broad so probably most readers could find something they’d enjoy.  I’m hoping to read some Poe, which has been on my TBR forever and The Woman in White.    Then I’ll probably go for something more modren, like a Shirley Jackson one of the books I got last year.   Who knows?   All I know is that I’m in.   Hope you are, too!




Peril the First commits me to reading 4 books in the next 2 months in the categories of mystery, suspense, thriller, gothic, horror or dark fantasy.    Now, I must make sure to start reading tonight!


R.I.P. R.I.P.?

I haz a sad.  As far as I can make out, no one is hosting Readers Imbibing Peril this year and this was one of my favorite events.   It was X years old last year and after 9 years of hosting by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings, it moved to The Estella Society.  There is, however, a comment I just found on Carl’s site saying “Stay tuned!!!” so, I’m tuned.  Perhaps I will just start reading spooky things regardless.

In other news, I’ve just read my first Harlequin romance.   I needed a book book at the beach and stopped in a used book store and found what looked like a mystery by Carolyn Hart who has written a bunch.  The Devereaux Legacy caught my eye.   I’ve never read her and it sounded interesting enough — young woman finds out she supposedly died at 2 on a boat in a hurricane with her parents and the grandmother who raised her.   She heads to North Carolina to look into this when said grandmother dies while writing a mysterious letter.   Gothic romance in many ways hasn’t changed since Ann Radcliffe’s days writing Mysteries of Udolpho.  The heroine quakes and quivers with all the evil around.   Then she gets up just enough courage to get herself in trouble.   I had no idea it was a Harlequin until I read the forward.  Apparently mysteries of Ms. Hart’s sort weren’t selling in 1983.   So she tacked on a ghost and a romance and bingo, it sold.   As these things go, I could imagine far worse.


This cover doesn’t look like a romance, does it?  It also doesn’t have anything to do with the story.  The heroine in question having dark hair just like her mother.   She has a “fated face,” there are obscure pronouncements by cryptic old women, a handsome cousin, the inevitable misunderstanding, the sinister relatives, ancient unsolved mysteries, more recent unsolved mysteries, none of which need ever have been mysteries in the first place.  If I’d seen this cover, I would have known exactly what I was getting into:devereauxoriginal

This is exactly what the book is like except I don’t believe there’s ever a mention of a strange red jacket.   See?   You can judge a book by its cover, when they put on the right cover.

Destination Unknown

My latest Christie and another Not Proper Book of Summer.   My excuse is that I found it having mislaid it months ago and started reading it.  It was so familiar at first I thought perhaps I’d read it and forgotten it, but no, I think I read the first chapter, the rest was new.  New to me, as it was published in 1954.   This is another of her forays into spy territory.  More entertaining than some, but the woman was no Le Carré.  While I don’t think of her mysteries as cozy — though probably most people do — they offer a puzzle, which her thrillerish books don’t.   They are vague and unrealistic, frequently featuring a plucky, down on her luck young heroine and a nebulous force of evil that secretly controls everything.

This time our plucky heroine is a redhead named Hilary who’s feeling a bit suicidal after her child died and her husband left her.   She has gone to Morocco to feel better and when she doesn’t, she goes out in search of sleeping pills.   She is noticed and offered a deal by a British agent — a probably suicidal mission as a more interesting way to end her life.  She resembles the wife of a missing scientist, Olive Betterton, who is dying after a plane crash.   Hilary takes the deal and becomes Olive Betterton who was on her way to join her husband wherever he’s gone.   They expect to find not only Tom Betterton, but dozens of missing scientists from around the world and foil the foul plot, whatever it may be.

destinationunknownAnother super-boring cover.   It’s got a plane on it, so that’s the category for the Scavenger Hunt.   I think I’ve read maybe 4 qualifying books all with lousy covers.

If you enjoy, light, spy fantasies, this might be for you.  If you like a good mystery, skip it.   There isn’t even really much of a crime until the end.   In fact, it’s difficult to see why the whole thing had to be an evil plot to begin with.

Third Girl

Yesterday I had a feeling there was something else.   I was not so lame as to only read 2 books in a month and a half.  (Can’t believe I totally missed July.)  I also read Agatha Christie’s Third Girl.  The title comes from the concept of sharing expensive apartments in London – a young, working woman and a friend would get an apartment and then they’d need a third girl.  It is a Poirot mystery with a completely unbelievable solution, but Mrs. Oliver always amuses me.  I never get tired of Christie essentially satirizing herself, or at least herself as famous author, hating the detective she invented on a whim and has had to live with ever since.  There is something about later Christie that never quite works as well as Christie between the wars, and probably up to the 50s.  She moved with the times, it’s always around the year she wrote, so there are young working women and artists and drugs, but somehow it always worked better for me in an isolated old mansion with silver chafing pots keeping breakfast hot for all the guests in the morning, minus the ones who’d just been killed.


Not the cover I had, but much better.   Honestly, I begin to think cover art is a lost art.   Maybe because of ebooks.   I did read an ebook, but it still had a cover of a door open and a shadow stretching into a room.   Yaaaaawwwn.   Knives and numbers and peacock feathers much better.   Anyhoo, it starts with the third girl in an apartment visiting Poirot because she thinks she may have killed someone.  Then she bugs out without saying more because Poirot is Too Old.   This, naturally, wounds Poirot’s amour propre and he goes to see his friend Ariadne Oliver for some comfort.   It turns out Mrs. Oliver was the one who recommended this girl see Poirot to begin with so tracking her down becomes much easier.   Finding the crime is much more difficult and the book is entertaining enough as you read until you get to the end and think, yeah, no way.   I can’t, of course, tell you why without giving the whole game away.   I would say this is probably only for Christie completists.  Or fans of Mrs. Oliver as she’s in fine form.

Phinnea's Book Blog List

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