After the Funeral

So this weekend I had a real craving for Christie, and remembering Oscar Wilde on Temptation, I yielded.   After the Funeral is quite a good Christie I think.  Published in 1953 – the funeral of the head of a wealthy family is going along smoothly when his younger sister bursts out with “He was murdered, wasn’t he?”   No, no, of course, he wasn’t, everyone hushes her, but now there are doubts.   These doubts become Doubts when the sister herself is murdered shortly afterward.   It appears unrelated, and yet, too much of a coincidence.   The lawyer Entwhistle starts to investigate and he hauls in his old ami, Poirot.

As so often happens, they all could have done it, and I couldn’t settle on anyone despite Dame Agatha even announcing which clues mattered.   I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t become a private investigator.   But then I doubt many real criminals have half the ingenuity of a Christie culprit.  I will be sorry to run out of Christies.   I’ve only got maybe 20 left.

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1953 qualifies it as Golden Age for Bev’s bingo card.   Poirot is a professional, so I’ll go with that.

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A Coffin for (or Mask of) Dimitrios

And now for something almost completely different.   It’s British, but I think that’s all it has in common with Persuasion.  Eric Ambler apparently took the rather silly and shallow spy/thriller and single-handedly made it respectable.   At least, that seems to be the gist of a number of peoples’ reasons for praising him.  I have no reason to doubt this, but see no reason to read the silly ones that came before simply to gain an appreciation for Ambler.    One person said it’s post-modern, but written 75 years ago.   Well, I don’t think I like post-modern.

A Coffin for Dimitrios is the American title of the book whose protagonist Charles Latimer is a fairly successful novelist of crime novels.   On a visit to Istanbul he meets a fan, Colonel Haki, who offers him a plot for a novel the colonel is too busy to write, and then discusses with him his own work:  they’ve just found the body of a criminal they’ve wanted for a long time, named Dimitrios.   In 1922, he slit the throat of a moneylender and got another man hung for it.   He hasn’t improved in the 16 years since.  Blackmail, drug trafficking, human trafficking, assassination attempts, anything goes, really.  He’s a repulsive human being.  Latimer is fascinated.  And here is where Latimer and I just don’t see eye to eye.  This dead man is a formerly successful thug, not an interesting person.  But Latimer decides to play detective.   Out of curiosity, he wants to fill in the gaps in Dimitrios’ dossier.

So off he goes to Dimitrios’ starting point, Izmir, formerly Smyrna.  In 1922, the Turks ran the Greeks out of the country and Dimitrios went, too, his first couple deaths under his belt.  Latimer follows the trail and somewhat incredibly manages to unearth information on Dimitrios.  Nothing that makes him interesting, likable, complex or remotely worth the trouble of investigating him.   Latimer’s search itself is not uninteresting and the Sydney Greenstreet (I’m guessing) character is entertaining, and everyone is very clever and highly pleased with their own cleverness until the end when Latimer, who’s sometimes a dope, and Greenstreet who, okay, he’s s dope sometimes too (what was he hoping to find in the toothpaste?), make a tremendous, bone-headed error and I might have thrown the book across the room except it was an ebook.    I’m left with the idea that 1) this book was so much better than those that came before and 2) so influential in the genre that this gives it a status I think unwarranted by the book itself.    Okay, your hero isn’t really a hero, he’s generally morally inclined, but no swashbuckling save-the-day type.   His project is dubious and taken up for almost no reason at all which he acknowledges.  There is a villain, but all the victims are pretty much past help.   It’s a lot like life in that some people do bad stuff and they don’t pay the price and there is no happy ever after – but if I want that, I read the news.   Which I suppose means I should not be seeking out modern classics as that’s pretty much all they want to do.

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I think I’ll use this for one book set anywhere but the U.S. or England.   While Latimer is British, the book takes place in Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Switzerland and France.   Not sure if I want to try more Ambler or not.

Interesting article on Ambler from 2009:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/jun/06/eric-ambler-mask-dimitrios-journey-fear

Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers

Unnatural Death is the third Peter Wimsey book which I began last June and stopped because…  ooh, shiny!   Other books.   This is kind of a shame as I could have counted it for the postal challenge, but there it is.  Wimsey is at dinner in the beginning and overhears a conversation about a death the doctor believes, but cannot prove is unnatural.  Wimsey takes on this challenge of a little old lady dying apparently a bit before her time and her niece and it snowballs into quite the complicated mess.   Remarkable tales of mysterious wills, near poisonings, young women on picnics with 5 pound notes, the bodies and bizarre happenings are everywhere, but it all gets sorted in the end.

I am enjoying the Lord Peter Wimsey stories just as I did when I watched them on PBS decades ago.  I love his character and his fantasy life:  well-off, unattached with a perfect servant, they do whatever he likes, whether it’s buying a rare first edition or tracking down a murderer.  Sayers has a good deal more detail and literary references than Christie, I doubt she would have told quite such an outlandish tale, but if you enjoy Lord Peter’s character, I think you’ll enjoy the series.    Figuring out the motive is not something anyone could do today, I don’t think, unless they’re an expert in early 20th century British law, but they make it perfectly clear.   It also drives me a bit bats how they handle crime scenes, but I try not to take it too seriously.

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I read an ebook, so picked the most interesting cover I could find

As I was a third of the way through last year, this book doesn’t count for anything — another reason I skipped most challenges.  I have quite a few leftovers I would like to finish without rereading.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Okay, anyone on that Readalong, don’t know how you’re going to stretch that out for two months.    A nice, romantic tale about Anne Elliot who gave now-Captain Wentworth the sailor’s elbow when he was just Yeoman Wentworth, or whatever.   She loved him, he loved her, they got engaged, some Lady named Russell advised her against him, so she broke it off.   She’s regretted this ever since.   Now he’s back, and rich, and still handsome and really not inclined to even speak to Anne.   He’s flirting away with a young chick named Louisa.   But, of course, this is Jane Austen and while the course of true love doesn’t run smooth, it gets there in the end, and it is a great relief when it does so.  Hard to believe this was one of the last things she wrote.   It lacks the complexity and humor of her earlier works.   She pokes a bit of fun at Anne’s father for being vain and her sister, really for the same thing, but overall, these people are not the Bennets, nor even the Dashwoods.   Although short, the book seems to take a while getting a move on.   It definitely picks up once they reach Bath which Anne looks down on for being shallow, but it’s hard to see what’s so deep about her, except she reads Byron and Scott and understands Italian.   She’s more intellectual than the others, but she also seems to be rather a snob.   Not a snob about class like her family, but an intellectual snob.   I think what bothers me though is, she doesn’t seem to have a sense of humor.

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On the Cobb at Lyme

Persuasion read to me like Jane Austen’s fantasy of a young man she blew off in her youth, coming back still in love and telling her how fantastic she is and they all live happily ever after.   Which if true, is especially sad as Jane died shortly after finishing this and no Captain Wentworths were by her side telling her she was all that.

Still, this counts as a classic by a woman, so I’ll post it as such.

Bout of Books XII, who knew?

Not me.   About 700+ other people, but apparently none of the blogs I follow are doing Bout this time around.   I always kinda suck at it anyway.   It’s too long for me to focus, but what the heck.   If at first you don’t succeed and all that, right?   So, it started yesterday, but I think I still have a few minutes to sign up.   If not, I’ll just pretend I’m signed up.   I started Persuasion yesterday because someone’s having a readalong of it, but the readalong is two months.   For Bleak House, two months is good.   For Persuasion, it’s a bit long.   So, I’m going to start with that.   I haven’t got a heck of a lot of free time during the week to read, but I’ll do my best.

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I believe I will just update this post unless I suddenly have a lot to say.

Day 1 & 2:

Read 34 pages of Persuasion.  Ha!  34 pages!  Eat my dust, everybody.

Days 3 – 7 (oops!)

finished Persuasion.   This is not impressive as it’s a very short book, but at least I read something.   I’ll report on Persuasion on its own.

A Study in Scarlet

I’m off like a shot having finished my first book of the year and no, it isn’t The Book Thief.   Sherlock Holmes first adventure, A Study in Scarlet is rather short and easily read in a weekend, if not an afternoon.   I love the new Sherlock with Bandersnatch Cummerbund and Martin Freeman and I loved the old one with Jeremy Brett, who seemed at the time the quintessential Holmes, though from reading the book, he does now seem too old.   Watson gets his degree, goes to Afghanistan, gets shot up and catches fever – he should be fairly young and it reads like Holmes is of a similar age.  That’s a minor point though as both shows seem to capture well the deductive powers that entranced the original audience.   I have already forgotten why it’s called A Study in Scarlet, something about a thread, I think, and the backstory is as melodramatic as anything you’ll find in a contemporary sensation novel, it’s an entertaining book.  I still don’t see the logic of the murderer’s method.  Makes no sense to me, but most of the rest of it’s all right.   A modern Sherlock ought to have a much harder time what with all the pavement around, but somehow they manage.   I’m definitely looking forward to reading some more, despite the lack of fair play and the so-called logic in places where there ain’t none.   It also made me curious about the early Mormon settlements in Utah, was it like it’s portrayed (in a sudden, jarring leap mid-book from London to the American West)?

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This will be my first Golden Age Bingo book – Color in the Title.

2015 – What’s Up with That?

Not much.   Decided to minimize the challenges, partly cuz of how it limits my reading (though it also gets me reading some stuff I would not have otherwise, although the Readalongs may be more responsible for that.   Not sure)  and partly, I hate the linking back.  I realize this is kind of stupid, but once I read the book and I reported on my own challenge page I’d done it, going on and linking to the review got annoying.  Probably because Too Many Challenges.  But mainly, I had a list of books to get through in the last two months of 2014 and even though I was good and read only those books, I didn’t quite read them fast enough.  And I couldn’t read anything else.   I like the idea of reading some old stuff and getting through a bunch of classics.   I don’t join the classics site because I don’t want to choose which ones at first.   I like flexibility.   I certainly didn’t plan to read Eugene Onegin last year, but when the readalong came up, I joined in and was glad I did.   But it wouldn’t have counted, because I don’t think Eugene Onegin would have made my top 50 or even 100.   Though it should – surprisingly entertaining read.

So, while I will keep the idea of reading books from different countries and different time periods, I’m only entering two challenges, I believe.

The Vintage Bingo Golden Card Challenge by Bev @ myreadersblock.blogspot.com

I read golden age mysteries anyway so this is more of a fun way to do what I’m doing anyway.

Vintage Golden Card 2015

and the other is the

Back to the Classics Challenge 2015

This will make sure there are at least 6 and hopefully more classics in my reading this year.   All very well to say I’ll keep reading them, but given my pre-blog record since college, I’m not trusting myself completely.

Karen’s Books and Chocolate Blog hosts and the idea is to read at least half of the following:

1.  A 19th Century Classic — any book published between 1800 and 1899.
 
2.  A 20th Century Classic — any book published between 1900 and 1965.  Just like last year, all books must have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify as a classic.  The only exception is books that were published posthumously but written at least 50 years ago.)

3.  A Classic by a Woman Author.

 
4.  A Classic in Translation. As in last year’s category, this can be any classic book originally written or a published in a language that is not your first language.  Feel free to read it in its original form if you are comfortable reading in another language.  

5.  A Very Long Classic Novel — a single work of 500 pages or longer.  This does not include omnibus editions combined into one book, or short story collections.  


6.  A Classic Novella — any work shorter than 250 pages.  For a list of suggestions, check out this list of World’s Greatest Novellas from Goodreads.
 
7.  A Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title.  First name, last name, or both, it doesn’t matter, but it must have the name of a character.  David Copperfield, The Brothers Karamazov, Don Quixote — something like that. It’s amazing how many books are named after people!
 
8.  A Humorous or Satirical Classic.  Humor is very subjective, so this one is open to interpretation.  Just tell us in the review why you think it’s funny or satirical.   For example, if you think that Crime and Punishment and funny, go ahead and use it, but please justify your choice in your post. 

9.  A Forgotten Classic.  This could be a lesser-known work by a famous author, or a classic that nobody reads any more.  If you look on Goodreads, this book will most likely have less than 1000 ratings.  This is your chance to read one of those obscure books from the Modern Library 100 Best Novels or 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.  Books published by Virago Modern Classics,Persephone, and NYRB Classics often fall into this category.  


10.  A Nonfiction Classic.  A memoir, biography, essays, travel, this can be any nonfiction work that’s considered a classic, or a nonfiction work by a classic author.  You’d be surprised how many classic authors dabbled in nonfiction writing — I have nonfiction books by Dickens, Trollope, Twain, and Steinbeck on my shelves. 
 
11.  A Classic Children’s Book.  A book for your inner child!  Pick a children’s classic that you never got around to reading.  
 
12.  A Classic Play.  Your choice, any classic play, as long as it was published or performed before 1965.  Plays are only eligible for this specific category.
I want to thank everyone whose challenges and readalongs I joined or attempted to join last year, and heck 2013, too, when I started this.   I’ve read a lot more in the past year and a half than I had for ages previously!   And thanks to Karen and Bev for hosting the two I’m signing up for now and  I’m hoping to find some interesting readalongs, too.  Thanks also to every blogger I read whether I follow you regularly or stumbled across one review and then forgot who you were and every fellow readalonger and readathoner.   It’s been great for my own reading discovering this online community and sharing opinions of books old and new.   Keep up the good work, everyone!
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And again, Happy New Year!