I probably won’t ever say it aloud, but I’ll know. And people will sense a new confidence, a certain poise, a certain je ne sais quoi that comes with having read something hardly anyone else has. It’s true, I have Morte D’Arthur, but I need all the help I can get. So, I will join the few, the proud, the Reading Rambo Read-Alongers and hope I do better on this than I did with Wilkie. (Shh! Don’t mention Wilkie. Maybe I can finish it before November.)
I’ve liked all the other readalongs so even if this is a dud, Alice still will have an excellent record for readalong picks.
So, this was supposed to be a group read with questions on October 1, but I can’t find any questions, so I guess I’ll just talk about it a bit. David Mitchell’s Slade House, I was worried because one reviewer compared it to Stephen King, whom I don’t like. They also compared it to Poe, Shirley Jackson, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and I don’t know who else. Well, no. I wouldn’t make those comparisons myself. At 30 pages I could take it or leave it. I got a bit more into it and ended up liking it okay. There’s some things that are never explained, like the jogger. I guess that’s a slight spoiler, so I’m sorry if that bothers anyone. Slade House is a mysterious mansion which appears every 9 years and lures some poor sap to their doom. The whys and hows of this are explained mostly over each section as more saps are lured. To call them saps isn’t really fair as they have no real reason to suspect any of this is even possible, let alone about to happen to them. No one seems to own an A to Zed. I found it readable enough, it’s pretty short, but it lacks… something. Depth? Good characters? It is fairly repetitive, although he does try to make each luring different enough.
For modern creepy, if you haven’t read Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I much prefer him. I enjoyed Supernatural Enhancements much more until the end which just came out of left field. This one’s ending is a fine deus ex machina which simultaneously seems to fit in with the random feeling the whole book has. Perhaps that’s the problem. There’s little build up of suspense. Victims come out of nowhere and are destroyed before they can figure out what’s happening. For me it’s about on a level with a ghost story I read a couple years ago, which I cannot find on the blog and cannot remember the name of. Very helpful, no? Oh, wait, I just remembered it’s by the guy who wrote The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and a google or two later… it was called This House is Haunted. I guess this is around 3 stars? Not bad. Not great.
A couple nights ago I finally finished Ellery Queen’s The Greek Coffin Mystery. Never read Ellery Queen before and I thought at first I was going to really enjoy it. (I started last spring, but left off for the #20booksofsummer and only just got back to it.) It is reminiscent of Dame Agatha, there’s an extended family with issues all living in this mansion all dependent on the titular Greek who’s in his coffin. The death is natural, they can’t find the will. Then they figure there’s only one place the will could have been hidden and voila! there’s a second body buried with the Greek. Not a bad start. I’m still bothered by the author and the main character being called Ellery Queen, although it’s not told in the first person. What’s up with that? They couldn’t think up two names? They thought it was such a great name they couldn’t stop using it? At any rate, Ellery Queen is the son of the chief inspector. All he does all day is hang around and help investigate, although his help is not always that helpful. He also smokes like a chimney. I don’t see how he’s going to live to 30. So, I enjoyed the beginning, but then…
[Spoilery bits below]
…it’s just too darned long. Three false solutions is too many. And the foofaraw about the teacups made no sense in either solution. Maybe he didn’t know the pot held 5 cups of water? Rich people who have servants just pour out the water they need and if it’s not enough they ring for more. But then it emerges someone somehow made extra cups of tea with cold water? Um, no. Not buying that. Why the hell didn’t the servants clear that out the next morning anyway? There’s the real question. So are they all like that? Solutions to mysteries hanging on such slender threads of not-even circumstantial evidence? And I never did get the significance of the ties being put into the wardrobe. They were on the table – then they were in the wardrobe. How is that a clue to anything? I did not guess. Though I still prefer my solution. The final, real solution makes no more sense than the ones that went before. Why would the murderer kill his partner only to turn around and take a new partner? Grimshaw was in prison for years. Maybe during that time he got a new partner. One he liked better than his old, troublesome partner… That doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone. And the moral of the story is don’t go into art theft if you don’t know anything about art.
Another thing is these cousins were not ahead of their time as far as attitudes toward women and other people go. There are a lot of eye-roll worthy lines about feminine psychology and it’s disconcerting to read everyone calling Khalkis cousin (or brother? I can’t remember) an idiot. He’s got some sort of mental incapacity, what it is exactly is not clear and presumably not known at the time, but still, it seems very rude to refer to him as the idiot.
Overall, I will probably try more Ellery Queens not gonna bail on him over one iffy book, but I kept thinking how clean a writer Dame Agatha is compared to Queen. Her books are generally about 2/3 the length of Greek Coffin Mystery and that’s about how long they should be. Dragging things out with a bunch of false solutions really doesn’t make it more enjoyable.
Let’s talk about poor impulse control, shall we? I again watched the second part of a new Tommy and Tuppence show. Again, it was a mistake. They’re dull, they’re bitchy, they’re not bright, and they’re following some impossibly convoluted plot that has little to do with the book. So, I read the book again. It must have been shortly before I started blogging I last read this. And memory was somewhat hazy. I did not remember them sneaking into some sort of military ball. And that’s because they didn’t. There was a major, but he was not named Khan and spoiler! he didn’t kill himself. I have often thought the plots of her thrillers are so bad that substituting a new one would be no loss, but the plot of N or M? isn’t so bad. Instead of a nebulous conspiracy, she had Nazis to write about because it was 1941. There’s a war on and T and T are anxious to do their bit, but everyone thinks they are too old. Until a Colonel comes along and tells Tommy about a search for a Fifth Columnitst (an expression meaning, in this case, home-grown Nazis) at a boarding house in Leahampton. Tommy is a good choice because none of the current people know who he is. Tuppence, of course, manages to join in. She’s not one to sit at home knitting balaclavas when there is spying to be done, so she too goes to Leahampton and knits balaclavas there.
At the boarding house, everyone is normal-seeming, but somehow suspicious just like in her usual detective stories. The owner with a mysterious background, the Irish woman who’s too observant, the invalid man and his waffling wife who previously spent a lot of time in Germany… and so on. Tommy and Tuppence fit right in and start investigating and they are charming and clever and good at what they do. The plot isn’t dull or confusing and there is no military ball. Despite Robert Barnard’s panning of it “The Beresfords contribute their intolerable high spirits to the war effort.” He sounds like a real cranky-boots. I enjoy their high spirits and it’s exactly what I miss in these abominable adaptations. Why didn’t they do it with Francesca Annis and James Warwick a few years ago?
Wikipedia mentions that Christie herself was investigated because she named the Major in the book Bletchley – like Bletchley Park – they were worried that she Knew Too Much. She didn’t. She named the Major after some place she was stuck on a train journey at some point. And that would be a good story to adapt, I think.
Or The Trial of Elizabeth Cree. Or Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. All titles this book has borne at different times and places. Peter Ackroyd wrote this in 1994 and I was reminded of it by someone reviewing another of his books. I read Hawksmoor and liked that (there’s a great new cover for it — had to buy it so I’ll probably reread it) and couldn’t remember if I’d ever read this one. I have now and don’t think I ever did before. I would’ve remembered some of it I feel sure. It’s a creepy Victorian historical horror/mystery with real people like Karl Marx, George Gissing and the titular Dan Leno mixed with fake people including the titular Limehouse Golem — a murderer who precedes Jack the Ripper by eight years or so, but has a number of similarities to that gent. I did not know when I bought it that they’ve made a movie of it with Bill Nighy, but I think I must see it now. Although it might be gross to watch – there’s a fair amount of dismemberment.
It opens with Elizabeth Cree being hung for the murder by arsenic of her husband. But did she do it? Or did he do himself in? We then go back and learn her story, his story and quite a bit about Gissing, Leno and a bit about Marx. The scenes in the music halls made me long to be able to go back and see them. Dan Leno was considered the funniest man in the world and he’s a great character in this.
You can find a few very old recordings on YouTube that’ll give you an idea. I think though to find him the funniest man in the world, you had to be there.
I’m very fond of neo-Victorian type books and books that mix up history and fiction and I enjoyed this very much. It’s my second RIP book. I guess it could also count as something you hunt for in the Wild Goose Chase Challenge.
Before I read this I thought it would be much more R.I.P. than it is. Can’t really count it for that. I saw a version of it years ago which was filmed to be more like an Ann Radcliffe horrid novel. I’m thinking if I saw it now I probably wouldn’t think much of it. The Gothic moments in Northanger are few, but it is a charming book. Probably second only to P & P, although I haven’t read Emma yet. The likable characters are highly likable, the dislikable characters are amusingly dislikable, the flawed heroine is forgivably flawed. The descriptions of social life in Bath are excellent. Thank goodness we live in a time when we can talk to people without an introduction. Overall, just a really charming book. I was not expecting that as there seem to be a lot of people who dismiss Northanger as a lesser accomplishment.
Jean at Howling Frog had the idea to read one of the ‘horrid novels’ listed in the book. She has chosen The Castle of Wolfenbach and I’m reading along during this R.I.P. The horrid novels are in a cheap collection on Amazon. So, if you want to join us, do! This sort of reading can be a lot of fun – Castle of Otranto – or extremely painful – Mysteries of Udolpho. Odds are Wolfenbach will be more painful than entertaining since it was lost to the mists of time and Otranto was not, but you never know. Sometimes quite good books get lost to the mists of time until someone rediscovers them. I also have no idea how long it is. Hopefully, shorter than Udolpho. Should be fun. I realize I haven’t sold this well, but the more the merrier, so if you have any inclination join in!
So, I’m off to a pretty good start, finished The Valley of Fear last night. Of course, it is very short, but that doesn’t always matter with me. I can still take forever if I’m not enjoying it. It starts off at a stately home in England with the mysterious death of the owner named Douglas. It appears that someone from Douglas’ mysterious past has caught up with him and blown his head off with a sawn-off shotgun. Very American thing to do. But who was it and how did he get away? Or was it someone in the house? The police are willing to admit they need help, so Sherlock and Dr. Watson are on the scene early. I, also, solved the mystery. I thought perhaps I’d seen it as a Jeremy Brett episode, but no, they didn’t make it into one, so I guess that was legit. Then the second part whisks us off to the hard-bitten, rough-and-tumble Valley of Fear, America. Somewhat reminiscent of A Study in Scarlet, but with a more natural transition, we learn Douglas’ back story. The valley is a mining area with a town in it called Vernissa and an evil secret society making the lives miserable of all law-abiding souls. This part was entertaining, too, but the epilogue is a bit of a head-scratcher. But that’s a minor quibble.
So, not much to report. An entertaining story, a quick read, though not quick enough to make ten books of summer. I also don’t think this fulfills any other challenges. My first R.I.P. book.
Idle thoughts on books and movies. Some new, but mostly old.