Maigret & JJ’s Chapter-by-Chapter Idea

Last night I watched a couple Maigrets with Rowan Atkinson.  I was a little worried I wouldn’t be able to stop thinking of him as Black Adder, but it wasn’t a problem.  They were very well done though rather grim and lugubrious.  From the one I read, the tone seems right, which is probably why I will never read many of them.  They also don’t seem to offer much mystery.   Maigret seems to have a knack for finding the right suspect and keeping after him until he confesses.   One of the criminals was played by John Light who also plays Flambeau in Father Brown.

maigret

Not as grim and lugubrious as the newest (I think) And Then There Were None which I found just unwatchable.  I am alone in this as according to Rotten Tomatoes nearly everyone loved it and from the two reviews I read, it’s true.   One even mentioned humor.  I must’ve missed that line.  There was gratuitous violence.  Ten murders isn’t exciting enough.  Have to throw in some pointless domestic battery.  Fortunately for her, she’s one of the first to go.   I almost started reading it again as sort of a tonic to wash away the bad taste in my mouth, but I don’t really feel like it yet.

 

And then there’s JJ’s Chapter-by-Chapter Extravaganza which several of us thought such a good idea, we’d try it ourselves.  I was planning to wait until JJ did it, but Bradley went ahead and did The Red Widow Murders which I spent a while looking for only to discover it had shipped, but not arrived yet!   Well, now it’s here, so I’m going to go ahead with this one, writing my thoughts chapter by chapter and then I can see if this is 1) fun or tedious and 2) read Bradley’s Read-Along.   The Puzzle Doctor has also done one on Brian Flynn’s Fear and Trembling.   His is supposed to be spoiler-free, but I make no such promises.  I don’t see how you can really avoid them if you’re talking about a book as you go.   But maybe I’ll write a spoiler free review as well.

 

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Less – Book 3 of the #20BooksofSummer

I’m picking up steam, which is good.  I will, almost certainly, finish more than six books this summer.  But I haz a sad because my tiny user stats have fallen off a cliff.   I didn’t think there were enough of you out there reading me to do that, but apparently almost all stopped at the beginning of June.   And I know it wasn’t just me clicking on things because they looked at things I hadn’t seen in months sometimes.   Where did you go, my lovelies?   Come back!    It’s just a bit weird.

Anyhoo, enough of my problems.   Less!   What is it you say?   It’s a humorous novel that won the Pulitzer (which mentally I cannot stop saying Pewlitzer.   What is wrong with me?)   Humorous books seem to rarely win prizes and it sounded entertaining.   Arthur Less is a middle-aged, gay novelist whose ex is marrying someone else at almost the same time he turns 50.   Arthur can’t face the wedding, so he accepts a batch of invitations to various events around the world from a conference in Mexico, to a (someone else’s) birthday tour of Morocco, to writing an article on Kaiseki dining in Japan.   Arthur’s an extremely odd mix of sad-sack and lucky bastard without really realizing it.  He’s goofy, clumsy, sweet, hapless, innocent, and apparently oblivious to his own charms even though he has no problems getting involved with men at the drop of a hat.  He’s brooding, of course, because his two major relationships have both ended and he’s alone and rapidly colliding with 50.   He’s a published novelist and people tell him how much they loved his first book, Kalipso, over and over.   But his subsequent books have not sold as well, though he’s been translated into other languages, which I would view as a success.   Perhaps it’s because his first love was a Pulitzer winning poet-genius that he feels inadequate.   Or it’s just part and parcel of his character and the other side of the coin of his charm which seems to be this naive/innocent obliviousness.

less-winner-of-the-pulitzer-prize

 

I decided this would be next when the woman on the plane next to me was reading it and I asked her how she liked it.   She didn’t.   She was halfway through and forcing herself to carry on because it was for her book club.   Uh-oh, thinks I.   But then, I am not she, so I went for it next and you know what.   I really enjoyed it.   It was no effort at all to follow Less on his round the world escape from Mexico through Europe to India and Japan.   I was highly entertained.   It’s a funny, charming, story about love and aging and success with a bit of screwball comedy along the way.   Did I mention Arthur was hapless?  This leads to all sorts of humorous situations both physical and emotional.    I puzzle over why this total stranger was not enjoying this.    It’s true, there are almost no women in it.  Perhaps that was the problem.   She doesn’t enjoy comedy?   I have no idea.    I am nearly the same age as Arthur, have written on occasion, perhaps that’s enough to make him relatable for me.   Or it just fits my sense of humor better.

Both this book and Isaac Severy go into the concept of genius and what its like for people who aren’t geniuses to live with genius and the fact that they aren’t geniuses themselves. There’s a character in Less that views everyone as either a genius or a mediocrity.  To his credit, Arthur doesn’t believe that.   There’s unquestionably a spectrum and in the arts particularly, a matter of opinion.  The test of time is a factor.   Arthur seems fairly incapable of rating his own work and one of the things touched on is fashions in art.   Arthur is accused at one point of being a ‘bad gay’ because of how he treats his characters.   But that seems to be a matter of how people when the book is published want characters to be treated which ten or fifty years from now may be quite different.   Whereas in Severy, it’s math and physics.    You solve an equation no one has in 50 years and you’re a genius.   There’s no question about it.   Just be the first to realize that e=mc squared and you’ve got your genius card.   But what about people like Philip Severy whose very good at math, good enough to work at Caltech, but not as good as his father.  Probably it’s wrong to try to label people genius and less than genius (see what I did there?)  It’s not an issue for most people, but I really felt for Philip, his work ground to a halt, (math being the territory of the young, for the most part) not knowing if he’s not trying hard enough, he’s barking up the wrong tree, he’s on the right path and will get there in the end, he has no way of knowing.   To be tremendously smart, presumably capable of great things, and not achieve them, that’s a terrible feeling and not solely the province of near-geniuses.   Have I lived up to my potential?  What should I be doing?  Is there something I can do to get on the right track if I’m not there now?   Probably why they publish 98 million self-help books every year.   Most of us don’t know.  We took the road less traveled and got lost.   Or we took the road everyone else seemed to be on and still got lost.   Never mind what color it is, I don’t even seem to have a parachute.   So, I think I’ve answered my own question, it’s not a frivolous categorization issue, it’s the age-old question, how should I live and one that everyone should deal with, unless somehow their path is blindingly obvious.   More power to ’em.  But that’s certainly not me.   I’m much more Arthur Less.

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy – Book 2 of the #20BooksofSummer

The Family Fang meets The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry in this literary mystery about a struggling bookseller whose recently deceased grandfather, a famed mathematician, left behind a dangerous equation for her to track down—and protect—before others can get their hands on it.

Just days after mathematician and family patriarch Isaac Severy dies of an apparent suicide, his adopted granddaughter Hazel, owner of a struggling Seattle bookstore, receives a letter from him by mail. In it, Isaac alludes to a secretive organization that is after his final bombshell equation, and he charges Hazel with safely delivering it to a trusted colleague. But first, she must find where the equation is hidden.

This description is what got me to purchase this book purely on spec.   It sounded right up my alley – mystery, bookseller, geniuses, plus the term ‘hugely entertaining’ didn’t hurt.   And unlike many times where I buy things and don’t read them for years, I decided to put this on my summer list and I’m glad I did.   The Severy family is made up of an awkward group of people some of whom are math geniuses and some of whom are not.   Two of them, Gregory and Hazel, were fostered by a seriously disturbed member of the family, but then adopted by the head of the family, Isaac, and his wife.   The family gathers in Los Angeles for the funeral of Isaac, who apparently inexplicably killed himself.   Why?   Or did someone kill him and make it look like suicide?   Shortly after his death, his granddaughter Hazel receives a letter from him asking her to destroy his work and take a dangerous equation to his colleague, John Raspanti.   Hazel has no idea how to go about this at first, but ideas come to her even though she’s no mathematical genius.

The narration moves among several members of the family and is lively and entertaining as promised.   In addition to Hazel’s mission, we follow her Uncle Phillip’s midlife crisis and her brother’s strange path.   It is not unlike the particles they study, illuminating a bit at a time everything that lead to this situation.  It’s a bit grimmer than I expected, but I really enjoyed reading it.  I find myself without much to say and I’m not sure why.   I realize this isn’t terribly helpful in a review.  At one point, Hazel mentions some of her favorite authors she read as a child which included Ellen Raskin who was one of my favorites.   This is something like an Ellen Raskin novel for grown ups.  That’s probably some of the highest praise I can give.

 

isaacsevery

The Yellow Room – Book 1 of the #20BooksofSummer

I always think I’ll read more on vacation than I do.   I started off with Under the Volcano, but that took such concentration I wasn’t getting anywhere so I switched to Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Yellow Room.   She wrote more suspense, I suppose you could say, than detection.   There is a detective official and a sort of amateur, an Army Major nursing a wounded leg so he can get back to fighting WWII.   In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt that there’s a young, intelligent, woman involved.   Carol comes from a well-off family that used to be way more well-off.   She’s heading to Maine to open the family summer mansion in anticipation of her war hero brother’s visit and her annoying mother’s belief that he would rather be someplace cool after fighting in the Pacific than with his fiancee in Virginia.  The War is almost an active character in this.   Most of the characters either are fighting in it or are related to someone fighting in it.   The inconveniences people at home have to deal with are omnipresent.   It gives a real feel for life in the states during the conflict.   There are no porters, of course, servants are incredibly difficult to find, the phones have all been taken away.  Carol wishes she could be a WAVE or a WAC instead of caring for her querulous mother, but she hasn’t the heart to abandon her and do it.   She arrives in Maine to find the woman who was supposed to be opening the house nowhere around and a burnt corpse in the upstairs linen closet.   A good beginning, the ensuing book is a bit long and ends up being a lot more fuss than it should have been.

 

The two covers posted here are emblematic of the problem covers have become in my view.   Boring.   No one wants to spend any money on them and it’s painfully obvious.   The one on the left, lurid, melodramatic, designed to sell to a reader that wants cheap thrills and dead blondes – it is also a far better cover.   The one on the right, in addition to being dull, has nothing to do with the story.   No one goes to the beach.   Striped beach chairs are nowhere to be seen.    However, there is a dead blonde quite early on. The story is somewhat problematic.  Everyone is taciturn, many things happen, most of which seem to be the result of people not thinking very clearly rather than a clever criminal at work.   The whole thing almost amounts to a long shaggy dog story.   Not quite, but almost.    It feels like a lot of reading for a not very rewarding solution, but then, maybe you’ll like it.   I enjoyed her early work, The Man in Lower Ten, and intend to read some more of hers, but perhaps I’ll go back to her earlier days on the assumption that she had to keep things tight before she was well-known.  If I were given to rating things, I’d probably give it 3 stars.  Just noticed how similar the palettes are on the two covers.

Here’s hoping I pick up steam and read a bit faster now.   At this rate it will be the #6booksofsummer   But no!   I will not let that happen.   I must do better than 6!