BoB 22 and Hopjoy was Here

I’m signing up for Bout of Books 22.   This runs from May 14 – 20.  I tend to do badly on these.   Too much time, I think.  I lose focus.   I was going to sign up via Twitter, but I don’t know what my status means, so I’m going with what I know.   I will probably update at the time on twitter though, which you can see at PhinneaR, if you’re so inclined.


It helps with one’s total books read to read short ones.   Hopjoy was Here by Colin Watson is that, but I enjoyed every minute of it.   Back in the 70s, some of Watson’s books were filmed as a series called Murder Most English.   I know I saw it, but probably not for a couple years after that, or maybe more.   PBS tended to get things after a while, but I’ve not been able to figure out how long.  Could have been the 80s.    At any rate, long enough ago I didn’t remember what happened.   They take place in the small, English town of Flaxborough and environs with a nosy neighbor sending an anonymous letter.   The letter brings the police calling to the quiet house on Beatrice Avenue which two men shared as housemates, not lovers.   Something nasty has gotten into the drains by being dissolved in the bath in sulphuric acid.   Quite a grim and disgusting operation.  But which of them is it?   Neither Hopjoy, a cavalier, ladies’ man and spy, nor the tobacconist Periam, quiet, mama’s boy, has been seen for about a week.   Either one could have melted the other, but which and why?  Or was it some enemy of Hopjoy’s from his not-very-secret government work?   Inspector Purbright is joined by two agents presumably from one of the MIs.   They are investigating Hopjoy’s disappearance as a result of his work, but Purbright is not convinced.

hopjoywashereThey each run their own investigations in parallel.  While there are a limited number of scenarios here, Watson lead me up the garden path and I did not see through it.  I remember enjoying Coffin, Scarcely Used also, so I foresee more Flaxborough mysteries in my future.

As for Following the Clues, I have to go with Watson the author has the same name as Watson, Holmes’ assistant in Hound.   If I could count Our Man in Havana, I would’ve used spies filing false reports, which is a much more interesting clue.   And for Just the Facts, I’ll go with Book Made Into TV/Film/Play.


Our Man in Havana

Three nights ago, I finished Our Man in Havana, Graham Greene’s political satire on the spy business.  Once again, satire is not very funny, in fact it gets somewhat grim as the ‘other side’ starts taking out real people assumed to be agents. [Also, twice used is a word  we don’t use any more, the first time in the first sentence and it’s rather like a slap in the face.   It doesn’t seem to be used for a good reason.] Wormold, almost no one calls him Jim, is a vacuum cleaner salesman in Cuba in (I think) 1958.   He is British, but was married to a Cuban who left him with a willful, Catholic daughter named Milly, who has him wrapped around her finger.   Owing to this, Wormold feels constantly worried about money, money for Milly’s schooling, for her entertainment, for every whim she has, pretty much.   So, when a fellow country man recruits him to join the secret service and supply them with info on Cuba, Wormold accepts.   The recruitment meeting which Hawthorne insists must take place in the bathroom is quite funny, though the rest of the book, I didn’t find so.   Now, I have to find the movie again and see if I still find that funny.


Wormold has no more idea how to find out secret information than most of us would.   It did make me wonder how the heck I would go about it if I were in that situation.   Wormold is more a quiet, keep himself to himself, follow his simple routine kind of guy and not a player on the international stage, but he realizes he has to supply something for the money he’s being paid, so he invents things.   He invents recruits, he invents mysterious military construction, and his bosses back home lap it up.   Soon he has real staff on top of his imaginary agents and it all balloons out of control as the mysterious other side ransacks apartments and shoots at people.   This is the side of the whole book which I found unsatisfying.  {Kind of spoilery up ahead.] How did they come to know?  Was Hasselbacher working for them?   It seemed like he was forced to, rather than that he volunteered, so how did anyone know to force him?   Segura?   He seems to know everything, but I’m really not sure how he would find this out.   The policeman who comes into the bathroom?   I don’t know.   Wormold is dumb enough to tell Hasselbacher.  So I guess it had to be him, but it’s all rather unsatisfying.   Maybe I just wanted a good spy story.   I do wonder what MI6 was mad about when Greene published.   But if Hasselbacher didn’t volunteer that information it should have stayed under wraps.  Maybe I missed something.  [End spoilery part.]

If this qualified for the Follow the Clues challenge, I would put down that in both it and Hound of the Baskervilles a beloved pet dies, but I don’t think it counts for that.  It is however a 20th Century Classic.   So, I’m counting it for that.

Would I recommend it?   Yes, I think so.   Although I think my favorite is probably The Ministry of Fear.  That, too, has seemingly absurd things becoming true, some of Greene’s humor, but you get a much better idea of who the enemy is.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!

Possibly the most famous case of Holmes, or maybe second after the Reichenbach Falls one, I decided now was the time to read it before seeing Ken Ludwig’s farce Baskerville, which is a hoot, by the way.  Sticking pretty close to the book, there are only five actors doing every part in the book, plus a few extra.  The humor in the play is extremely silly and not a part of the book, but there is enough of Doyle in there that you get a good idea of the book.  The book is not so much a whodunnit as a how-to-prove-they-dunnit, but an entertaining read.  Holmes and Watson are out when visited by a Dr. Mortimer.  They engage in a small contest of deduction from the stick he leaves behind.  Dr. Mortimer is worried by the strange death of his former friend and patient Sir Charles Baskerville, who was found dead in the yew walk near his home, his features so distorted as to be almost unrecognizable.  He wants to consult Holmes on what the heir, Sir Henry, should do.  Holmes, unable to leave London, sends Watson with Sir Henry and Dr. Mortimer to Devonshire with orders to write him in detail of all that happens.  This Watson faithfully does, but it means quite a lot less Holmes than usual.


I don’t have much to say about this.  My major objection is addressed in the closing paragraphs, so at least I know that Doyle had considered it.  I enjoyed the book.  The pace and characters are good.   At one point I thought Watson quite thick for following the course he did, but then something happened which I ought to have seen coming and didn’t, so I guess I shouldn’t point fingers.   I have another objection to what the villain did in the end, but it’s mainly a quibble.   Most of us can’t think clearly all the time.  Overall, I highly recommend this if you enjoy mystery and Victorian fiction.

This counts as a Crime Classic for Karen’s Back to the Classics Challenge, which I hope and believe I signed up for this year.  This is also good for an animal in the title for Bev’s Just the Facts, Ma’am.    I believe that what this has in common with Nine Times Nine is the attempt to make people believe something supernatural is taking place when really there are no hellhounds, family curses or immortals roaming the earth.  This makes it the next book in my trail for Follow the Clues, also hosted by Bev.

Dewey’s 24 hour Readathon 2018

Well, I woke up at 6:30 with a bad headache so , I didn’t get up on time.   It lasted most of the morning, sadly, but at least it is gone now and I’ve begun!

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

Silver Spring, MD.   Maybe one of these times I should go somewhere else.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Stack?   Well, I had some options revolving in my head and I’m starting with Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

I have some nice cheese and crackers, some snack mix, cookies.   I’ll play it by ear.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I am going to try to make this readathon more like my first ones.   I realized I’ve been too busy the past 3 years! to have a decent readathon report.
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?

Oh, I guess I just answered that.   Read!   I know everyone started without me, but I’m here now.  Hour 5 has just begun.


I wonder if I just figured out my commenting problem.   I realized those blogs my comments disappear on insist on http:// when I supposedly fill in the url, but this blog is https://.

Only thing I can think of!   Just tried visiting but can’t post a comment.   This happens A LOT.


1:07 – Sixth Hour

As soon as I finish this bagel, I should head away from the computer and maybe get more than 10 pages read.

2:13 7th hour

I didn’t read that much more than the first hour.  Also didn’t move away from the computer.  Maybe now?

4:00 9th Hour

Haven’t left chair for any significant amount of time.   I’m not a fast reader at the best of times, but somehow during a readathon I’m impossibly slow.   I’m giving up on page counts cuz it’s too embarrassing.

5:01 10th hr

At some point in this hour I’ll be heading out for the evening.  I’ve read (mumble mumble) pages and will take it up again when I return.  I saw the movie decades ago.  One of Alec Guinness’ great comedies from black and white days.   I should see it again, don’t remember much.


Midnight – 17th hour

Okay, that was a little longer than I expected.  We went out for a beer afterward, which was fun, but I was not reading.   I’m going to go brush my teeth and get in my jammies and read as long as I can, which will probably be an hour.   My days of staying up super late are behind me.  If I wake up early (not a thing that happens often), I will try to read some more.  To everyone going for the full 24 hours – go, you!  You’re in the home stretch!  You can do it!

Sunday morning at 10:21

I couldn’t bring myself to read anything in the night when I woke.  I did last until 2:00 in the morning.

Closing Survey!

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?  19th – 2 AM  I remember being surprised it was 2:00, but I fell asleep shortly after.
2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read!  – Ha!  I didn’t even get halfway through Our Man in Havana
3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners? – Well, it’s a bit soon to recommend it or not, but generally I like Graham Greene.  Most people seem to read graphic novels or YA and I’m not familiar with those.
4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you smile? – Not helpful but I like it as it is.
5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep? – Very likely to read.  I’ll have to think about organizing.   Not my strong suit.

Congrats to all who read!  Thanks to all hosts and organizers!  It’s always a fun time!

24 Hour Readathon Tomorrow!

Readathon crept up on me and leapt out of the bushes saying, “Hi!  I’m this Saturday!”   Oops.   Um.  So you are.  I was aware in a vague way that April 28th was the day, but now it’s the 27th and I’m not at all prepared.  What to read?   What to snack on?   I don’t know!  And I can’t decide!   I am thinking I might stretch it out a bit.  Maybe read some this afternoon and Sunday.  I never can read the whole 24 hours, so that would pad it out.   It is supposed to rain, so that’s helpful.   I usually like to start a new book and read that so as to associate each readathon with a particular read, but as I said, choosing one has been, so far, impossible.   I will look around my shelves and Kindle and see if anything speaks to me particularly.  This year they are trying to collectively read a million pages.    Not sure how many people sign up for this now.   It’s gotten a lot harder to tell since some tweet, some blog, some instagram, etc.   But I always enjoy it even if I only end up reading a few hours.  I will probably blog and tweet a bit.   I’ve got a thing to do in the evening, so that will interrupt, but it is a Sherlock-based play so it’s sort of connected to books.


So, I hope you’ll join in and read some tomorrow starting at 8:00 AM Eastern (It’s the same 24 hours for everyone so depending on where you live, it could start in the afternoon or middle of the night for you.)  Get your favorite snacks, get some fun, or scary, or whatever you like books and read with people all around the world!

1977 Club

I think the last time I finished a club book was 1924.   Is that possible?   I could scroll through my posts or the various club posts looking for me, but I’m not going to do that.  I read Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn.   Miss Pym had had a long drought as far as being published went, when someone convinced someone that she could write and Quartet in Autumn was published leading to something of a renaissance for her late in life.   Her books, as I mentioned, are often referred to as comic and funny.  This is putting it a bit strong, I think.   If I read them looking for laughs, I would be disappointed.   There are some amusing moments, a few wry observations, but funny?  Yeah, no.   Not to me, at any rate.  This doesn’t mean I don’t like her, I do.   Why, I’m not entirely sure as very little happens, generally, though Quartet seems to me deeper and more thought-provoking than others I have read.   The Quartet of the title are 4 English people who work in an office together.   Two men and two women, all in their 60s, in the mid-seventies.  What they do is never specified, but it seems to be unimportant, unfulfilling and not well remunerated.   They are each alone now, though one is a widower, and each has a varying number of eccentricities.  Letty probably has the fewest, she actually has a friend and is able to make some conversation.   Norman doesn’t seem to have any except he’s frequently angry.  Edwin goes to church a lot.  Not just one church.  Lots of churches.   He goes from one to another going for the best saints days and other festivities.   Marcia is the most eccentric.   As prickly as Norman, she probably doesn’t converse much because this would interrupt her careful collecting of plastic bags and milk bottles.

Pym books are very much slice of life.  There isn’t really a plot so much as a series of events, some of greater importance than others, but all treated with care and a good deal of observation.   This one was different in that it left me thinking quite a bit about the problems of aging (although in their 60s, they’re more like 70s today.)   None of them has family they’re close to and only Letty has a friend.   They occasionally make half-hearted attempts to connect with each other, but they also value their privacy so they never get close.   There is nothing wrong with valuing your privacy or being eccentric as long as you’re not harming anyone.  Marcia in retirement is pestered by a social worker who makes regular visits encouraging her to visit the local social center, take a holiday, eat something (the last of which she should have listened to.)   It does seem like all four of them need something and maybe friendship would do it, but it is difficult to meet people once you leave school and even more difficult if you’re not very sociable.   Part of what they need though is autonomy.   At least, that seems to be part of the problem for Letty and Norman, both of whom seem to have felt second best most of their lives.   Perhaps there needs to be some sort of social center for people who don’t like social centers.  Don’t ask me how that would work.   Like many books it offers more questions than answers.   Should we reach out to people who are near even if we have nothing in common simply to have someone around?  Like the song says, everybody needs two or three friends.   Would their lives have been more fulfilled if they had crossed those barriers, or is that fulfillment only possible with good friends and not just people you hang around because they’re there?   Marcia, in a way, seems more fulfilled categorizing her tinned food and plastic bags.   We look at that and I suppose it means she’s failing to engage with real life.   Maybe she needed psychiatric treatment.   I don’t know what the answers are.


Generally I would recommend Pym for people who like quiet, closely observed novels about people who are usually just a bit off somehow.   Not quite fitting in.  A bit lonely.  A little short of the old joie de vivre.  And quite a fair amount of social awkwardness.  Maybe you’ll be one who finds them funny.

Many thanks to Karen and Simon for hosting these!

Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul

Having finished Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, I just kept going with the sequel because there it was right in front of me.  Such a shame he didn’t write more of them.  This time our protagonist is a woman named Kate who is trying to join her boyfriend in Norway, though she doesn’t really want to go and suspects he won’t be there when she gets there.  In front of her is a huge man with no ticket and no credit card also trying to fly to Norway.  Kate, being the impulsive type and with her flight about to leave, offers to pay for the man’s ticket if he will send her the money later.  This almost works when it emerges he has no passport either.  Their plane takes off and a huge explosion destroys the ticket counter and a hunk of the airport.  Kate wakes up in a hospital a day or two later shaken, but miraculously uninjured and starts to try to figure out what happened.

longdarkteatimeMeanwhile, Dirk, who finally has a client with money, has just discovered this client had good reason to fear for his life.  I don’t think I will tell you how these stories connect, nor what’s behind them, because I think it’s more fun not knowing.  Adams is endlessly entertaining and you never know who or what will play a role from a passing eagle to Dirk’s strangely malevolent fridge.   Adams’ writing is pure fun and so are his wildly improbable characters.  I don’t know why this one’s never been turned into a movie.  It would be a hoot.    The only thing I remembered from this one was the I Ching calculator (I think I said zen before, but it’s I Ching.)   A fun reread.  Glad I did that.



Now I’m joining the 1977 club reading Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn.  She’s frequently called a comic writer, though not by me.  I don’t find her funny generally and this one seems sadder than usual.    Probably because they’re aging and alone and I’ll talk more about that when I’m done.

Phinnea's Book Blog List

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