All posts by phinnea

The Curse of the Blue Figurine

So, having got the idea to try some John Bellairs from Jean at Howling Frog, I went with The Curse of the Blue Figurine because it was available free through Kindle Unlimited.  This is the first of a series of stories starring Johnny Dixon and his friend and neighbor Professor Childermass.   I don’t know how similar the rest of the series is.   The first one introduces Johnny who’s mother has died recently and whose father is a pilot in the Korean conflict.   So, Johnny is living with his grandparents and seems to be adapting fairly well.   He likes listening to adventures on the radio, he’s good in school, likes reading, but is having trouble with a bully.  In trying to evade his tormentor he leaves school one day and slips into the church.   His neighbor the professor had told him a story earlier about the priest disappearing and now haunting this church.  Johnny doesn’t see the ghost, but he does find a mysterious blue figurine — an Egyptian shawabti and a warning not to take it from the church.   But of course Johnny does and this sets off a series of events both natural and un-, or is it all in Johnny’s head?

I enjoyed reading this and will probably read some more of his.  Children’s literature tends to have a comforting effect.   Except for a certain kind of book which always won prizes when I was a kid, that I never really liked, in which animals got killed or children got killed or people were enslaved, anything too realistic, in short, most kids’ books you know nothing too horrible is going to happen and good guys will win, bad guys will lose and all will come right at the end.

I did have one minor quibble [Spoiler alert]   Why did the evil old priest warn people not to take the shawabti from the church, when he needed someone to do so?  Reverse psychology?   And when the heck did he even write that note?   Actually all the stuff about the priest and his nefarious activities are left seriously vague.   Hoping in future books he does a better job of explaining how certain events come to pass, like how the priest’s ashes came to be on top of this mountain.   [End spoilers]

Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon Oct 2019

Here we are and I can pretend I wasn’t too tired to get up at 8:00 or 9:00 or 10:00.  I have breakfasted and been reading Carmilla, which is short enough most people would have finished it by now.   By J. Sheridan Le Fanu, probably my second favorite vampire story to Dracula.

Anyway, here is the opening survey:

Opening Survey!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Bethesda, Maryland, USA
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

I am thinking to read a Bellairs children’s book.  For some reason I never read any of his as a kid even though they appeared to be the sort of thing I liked.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

I’ve got some bean dip and chips which should be good.   Not sure whether I’ll get to it though because I have to leave for an event which probably includes dinner.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I don’t like telling somethings about myself.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I am staying in someone else’s house so it will probably dramatically decrease my reading time.   Not that I’ve been great about that for a while.  I remember readathons where I spent the vast majority of the time reading.   That was fun.   Maybe in April.

 

Around midnight I finished Carmilla, a novella about vampires written 25 years before Dracula by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.  I really enjoyed this, Dracula is a better, more complex story, but this is very good.   Probably my second favorite after Dracula.   A young lady lives with her father in a castle in Styria.  There’s a deserted town nearby and another deserted castle.   Into their lives literally crashes a mysterious, beautiful young woman.  She is traveling with her mother who cannot stay to take care of her so our heroine’s father invites her to stay.  We know, without being told, this is a big mistake.  Her creepy mother is never really explained, but the story is entertaining.  Slow and Victorian – those of you who like a lot of action would probably not enjoy this, but if you like a heavily atmospheric story with a lot of lesbian undercurrents (over-currents?), you’ll probably like it a lot.

After that I started John Bellairs’ The Curse of the Blue Figurine.  This is the first of a series of books about Johnny Dixon who is a boy living with his grandparents in 1951.  I don’t know what’s going to happen, but somehow it involves Egypt.   I got this idea from Jean at Howling Frog  who’s been reading Bellairs.  I remember him being around, very popular when I was young, but for some reason I never read him.   Not sure why, so I’m trying him now.

What with it now being well into November, I don’t think I’ll dig up the closing survey.  Maybe next year things will be more back to normal.

Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon

Eight hours from now the Readathon starts.   I thought I’d signed up a while ago, but it appears not, so I’m signing up now.   Of course, I have some stuff going on, but I will do what I can to read as many of the other hours as I can and report here.   I hope many of you are joining me in spirit.   I love the idea of people all around the world reading together.   Let’s hope I spend a fair chunk of tomorrow doing that.   I’ve been too busy and will be for a while before things go back to something like normal.   Or a new normal.   We’ll see.   In the meantime, I decide that with only 8 days left (this was the other day) I would switch to short works to cover R.I.P.   I will be reading those most likely though I forgot to bring one to where I’m living now, so have to revise that.   But still short. creepy novellae should be good.   Is it novellae?  Maybe I’ll look that up.

 

I wanted to put some art work in here, but this is something I’m not good at on the laptop.  I need to lookup how to do things on here that I usually do with another button on a mouse.   At any rate, sleep, then readathon to the extent possible.   I would not be optimistic, but I’ve done such a lousy job the last few that it’s conceivable I could do better today (we’re just past midnight.)   Good night, sleep tight, and readathon away!

8 1/2 Books of Summer and R.I.P. XIV

I only got halfway through Death on the Last Train before the end of the #20(Ha!)BooksofSummer ended.  Then, of course, Readers Imbibing Peril had already started and I haven’t signed up, but now I have and hope to read four creepy/scary/mysterious books in the next month and 3 days.  Death on the Last Train could’ve been the first, I guess, for RIP if I wasn’t halfway through it when it started.

Death on the Last Train was the first George Bellairs book I’ve read.  And now it’s been so darned long I can hardly remember it.  I remember enjoying it.  A man dies on the last train to a town whose name I forget.  Apparently a suicide, but then no, it couldn’t have been because the man had hurt his wrist so badly he couldn’t have fired the gun.  Also on the train is a detective who helps out by investigating the murder.  We meet the deceased’s girlfriend, various townsfolk, learn the story of the deceased’s first wife and the men who loved her.  Not a great mystery, but engaging enough writing that I’ll read some more of Bellairs’ work sooner or later.

 

 

Book 8 – Death at the President’s Lodging #20BooksofSummer

By Michael Innes, a real intellectual wrote the academic mystery to end all academic mysteries.   St. Anthony’s – a fictional college full of eccentric, quarreling professors, surrounded by high walls and all the gates locked at 10:15.   Around 11:00 one of the professors goes to visit the President as usual, there’s a shot and the President is lying there in his study, dead, with a gown wrapped around his head and bones scattered around the room.  Not sure why they lock the gates when almost everyone seems to be up and roaming about.  It takes Appleby a couple days to get the whole story.   I can’t see how anyone would figure this one out.  Seven suspects that I found insufficiently differentiated.   A few of them become clear characters, but mostly they didn’t for me.

 

It’s an entertaining mystery, Appleby striding around trying to figure out what’s going on as far too many clues pile up.  There’s a car full of undergraduates running around doing their own investigation.    So many things happen in the night of the murder it gets unbelievable.  I should have written out a timetable, but I didn’t.  So, while I was amused and enjoyed reading it, I’m not so sure it’s a good mystery from the point of view of fair play.   Feel free to correct me and point out (with a spoiler alert) how the reader could have deduced the correct killer.

Book 7 – Swan Song – #20BooksofSummer

Gervase Fen’s next mystery (I think, maybe I’m reading them out of order) – Swan Song – takes place in an opera house.  Young married singers, young unmarried singers, a new conductor and an unbearable male diva who after threatening to destroy the show apparently hangs himself in his dressing room.   He wasn’t the suicidal type and there are a lot of barbiturates in the bottle he was drinking from.   So did someone try to poison him and then he hung himself?  Or did someone hang him?   Were there two murderers?  That seems a bit much, but he was very unpopular.

Edmund Crispin has some biting commentary on musical performers.   He was a composer so he probably spoke from experience.  Elizabeth is hoping to interview detectives including Fen, “I’m hoping to do H.M, and Mrs Bradley, and Albert Campion…”  I love this idea.   They’re all part of the same universe.  Fen is friends with H.M.   He says at one point “Or to crib a phrase from my illustrious colleague at the war office — burn me.”

Fen felt in the pocket of his raincoat, and after bringing to light successively a grubby handkerchief,  a half-empty packet of cigarettes, a copy of the Imitation of Christ, and a small woolly bear named Thomas Shadwell, found his torch.

So, then there are more attacks, attempted poisonings and stranglings, the occasional oddball minor character.  I enjoy his writing and I guessed a bit of the solution, but there was no way I think for a modern person to guess the whole solution.   If you know enough about how things were made back then, perhaps you could figure it out, I couldn’t.

The Roman Hat Mystery – Book 3 of the #20booksofsummer

I went with Roman Hat Mystery, the first Ellery Queen next because I thought it might be dull and take a while.  It wasn’t, not at first, but it did mean I took an entire month to read 3 books.  Not a fantastic start.  The writers of the Ellery Queen mysteries decided for reasons of their own to use the name for their pen name and their genius young detective even though these are not told in the first person.  This one even starts with a preface in which the Queens, father and son, retire to Italy after their first published case, but supposedly one of the greats of their career.   This is all just odd to me.   Why would you write your first book retiring your detectives, not in the story, but in a preface?   Plus Ellery is still young and supposedly meets his wife and has a kid before ‘retiring’ after this case.   The whole preface is pretty pointless.

The mystery starts off well and is much more readable, I thought, than the Greek Coffin, but maybe it’s just getting used to peoples’ styles.  Ellery is less insufferable and his deductions less incomprehensible, but still there’s more deducing than evidence.  The victim is a dodgy lawyer who is attending the hit of the season on Broadway: Gunplay!  For some reason no one is in the immediate six seats around him and the reason his body is quickly discovered is because some guy gets up in the middle of the second act and finds him dying.   Stop the play.   Hold the audience.   Search the theater.   Monte Field appears to have died from poisoning in his seat surrounded by empty seats.   The usher doesn’t seem to have even noticed a whole batch of empty seats.   These days I don’t think that would happen.   The theater would fill those seats, but I don’t know what they did then.   No one sees anybody meet the victim, nor anyone walk along the aisle.  He’s in the last row, but still you would notice some of the things the murderer is revealed to have done at the end if you were not too far off.  Pretty ridiculous how unobservant people are in this story.   If you went to Hamilton, for example, and there were six empty seats behind you or across the aisle, you’d notice, wouldn’t you?  You’d think it’s odd.  Even if you were a bored and jaded usher wanting to sit with your boyfriend.

The Queens determine that the victim, dressed in evening clothes, had a top hat which is now missing.   They search the audience for extra hats, they search the theater for hidden hats.  No luck.   This is all fairly interesting until they then search the theater again, in excruciating detail and make no progress.  This could have been written in two sentences, but instead covers many pages.   They do the same with the victim’s apartment.   The victim is one of those where most people are celebrating: a blackmailer.  They want to find the documents he must have hidden somewhere.   Possibly in a series of top hats.   But where?   Here the flaw of books for situations like these is evident.   They search the whole apartment, twice, in exquisite detail, but when they actually show you the diagram of the room, I’m like why the hell didn’t you look there?  When you know how the hiding place worked you too might roll your eyes as to how long it takes them to check there.   Then again, maybe not.   Of the couple other blog reviews I’ve read, no one seems to have issues with the fairness of this mystery or the density of the Queens.   This is not fair play, I don’t care what anyone says.   I was given the distinct impression that no one went where the murderer is described as going at the end.    There are some discussions by the Queens with the wardrobe lady, but we aren’t told what is said.   And then I have my own personal opinion of a blackmailer who blackmails a person in the situation the murderer is in, instead of waiting for…   well, I can’t tell you.   But you can’t get blood from a turnip, that’s all I’m going to say about that.

 

So not fair play and difficult to believe the solution, but interesting characters and I love how it portrays life in 1929.   Very few people dress up for the theater any longer.   What the blackmailer has on the blackmailee is equally dated.   At least I like to think it is.  Probably there are some circles where it would still work, but far, far fewer, thank goodness.

8/10/19 – Well, lookie here.  Never published this somehow.   Poor deprived reader!   Pining away wondering my opinion of The Roman Hat Mystery.   Wonder no more.