Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The High Window: Raymond Chandler

This was Raymond Chandler's third novel, and it is the third I have read. There is no particular reason to read them in order. I suppose I have been doing that to follow how his writing style changes over time.

In The High Window, Marlowe is called in by a wealthy widow, Elizabeth Bright Murdock, because a coin in her late husband's coin collection is missing. She thinks that her daughter-in-law took it, and she wants Marlowe to find it. You would think that she could ask her son about it, but apparently no one in this family talks to anyone else. The coin that is missing is a Brasher Doubloon, in mint condition and very valuable.

I did not like this novel as much as the previous two in the series: The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely. This is still an excellent book, it just doesn't match up to the first two he wrote. Marlowe is a wonderful character. But in both of the earlier novels I found other characters to like and sympathize with. In this one none of the characters were particularly sympathetic and we don't get to know them very well. There are a lot of characters, and they were hard to keep track of. However, the dialog is terrific, even if I didn't care for the characters.

The plot in The High Window was confusing (at least to me, other reviewers disagree), but that is nothing new for Chandler. By the end, however, what seemed like a mish-mash of really weird characters is explained, and the ending is satisfying. There are some good points made about being able to trust the police (or not), and he interacts with two policemen who are pretty good guys, although it is not immediately obvious. The story portrays the wealthy and elite of Los Angeles and those from the seamy side of the area. Philip Marlowe lives somewhere between.

The Foreward by Lawrence Clark Powell in The Raymond Chandler Omnibus talks about the representation of Los Angeles in literature and particularly the books of Raymond Chandler.
Raymond Chandler wrote with classical dispassion of a romantic and violent society. He was neither for nor against L.A.; his vision was not dazzled by the neons which rainbow the Southern California night. He had the X-ray eye that penetrates blacktop and fog (smog didn't come until the 1940's–Chandler's L.A. is of the two previous decades). He had the gift of tongue; he was a poet. Metaphors flowered for him in language suited to the exotic people and places he was describing with Flaubertian meticulousness. Chandler didn’t moralize, satirize, deplore, or lament; he saw, selected, and said, in language that lives.  The reader is left to his own conclusions about tlie morality of the Southern California milieu.
The inhabitants are all there to the life–garage men, room clerks, carhops, grifters, grafters and house dicks, the idle rich and their butlers, houseboys and chauffeurs–a marvelous menagerie of Southern Californians, differentiated in appearance and speech, pitilessly portrayed yet without malice. Chandler had lived among them most of his life–he was one of them, he and his alter ego, Philip Marlowe–and he memorialized their brutal and violent actions with redeeming compassion.
Where this novel does live up to the earlier promise of the two previous ones is in the beauty of the writing. I am not particularly fond of the metaphors and similes; sometimes they work for me, sometimes they fall flat. Regardless, his writing is superb.

There are two adaptations of this book. First it was made into a Mike Shayne movie with Lloyd Nolan, Time to Kill, in 1942. Later, George Montgomery starred in The Brasher Doubloon, in 1947. I haven't seen either of these, but I would love to.

See Also...

Reviews at A Crime is Afoot and Crime Segments.


-----------------------------

Publisher:   Ballantine Books, 1971. Orig. pub. 1942.
Cover art by Tom Adams.
Length:      204 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Philip Marlowe, #3
Setting:      Los Angeles
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copies. The omnibus has been on my TBR for eight years.



Friday, July 3, 2020

What did I read in June 2020?


I read 10 books in June. Half were crime fiction, half were nonfiction or other genres. Some of my reads were for the 20 Books of Summer list or for my Venture Forth Summer Reading prompts, but four were spur of the moment reads. Four books were published in 2018, 2019, or 2020, and that is very unusual for me. 

Only three books were from my TBR pile. One was borrowed from my son, one from my husband. The remainder were new purchases in 2020.

I am not sure I am happy with the low number of vintage or older mysteries I am reading, but I had a great reading month overall.

Nonfiction

North Korea Journal (2019) by Michael Palin
This is a day by day diary of Michael Palin's visit to North Korea for a travel documentary. We watched the documentary after we had all read the book. I knew little about North Korea. The documentary was not an in-depth analysis, but what I learned in this book and the documentary was an eye-opener for me. It was a good read. 
Flu (1999) by Gina Kolata
The subtitle of this book is "The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It." There is much more time spent on the search to find a specimen of the virus strain in the years following the pandemic than on the pandemic itself. I cannot fault the book for that since it is plainly stated on the cover, but I did expect more time spent on the events in 1918 than on medical research during the next eight decades. Don't get me wrong, it is all very interesting and well written, a compelling read. I am now reading The Great Influenza by John M. Barry, published in 2004.

Historical Fiction

Marking Time (1991) by Elizabeth Jane Howard
The Cazalet Chronicles is a series of five books that follow the members of one family from 1937 just prior to World War II through 1957. The first book, The Light Years, covers 1937-1938. There is large cast; the parents plus four children (three brothers, one unmarried sister) and the grandchildren, who range from 5 or 6 to teenage at the start of the series. Marking Time begins in September 1939 and ends in winter 1941. It focuses most on the teenage grandchildren, telling the story from their point of view. Most of the family is living outside of London due to the bombing, although the oldest son is running the family business in London. I am enjoying this series and hope to do a post on the first two books soon.

Science Fiction

The Consuming Fire
 (2018) by John Scalzi

This is the second book in a science fiction trilogy about an empire of worlds connected by travel via The Flow. My review of the first book in the series, The Collapsing Empire, is here. I enjoyed this sequel just as much as the first and will be reading the third book soon.

Dragonsdawn (1988) by Anne McCaffrey

I am new to the Dragonriders of Pern series. The series can be read in chronological order or publication order. I guess you could just hop around but I would not. Richard Robinson at Tip the Wink explains the differences in his post Reading Pern. Dragonsdawn is the first novel chronologically and it worked well as a starting place for me. 

Crime Fiction

Slight Mourning (1975) by Catherine Aird
#6 in the Inspector Sloan series. Inspector C.D. Sloan is not a flashy policeman. He quietly investigates crimes with the "help" of his usual sidekick Constable Crosby. In this story, they look into the death of a man who dies in a car crash after a dinner party. I plan to read all of the books by Catherine Aird that I can find. I think this is the first time we meet Sloan's wife. I do like to know a bit about a policeman's personal life. 


The Ivory Dagger (1950) Patricia Wentworth

#18 in the Miss Silver series. For those not familiar with the Miss Silver mysteries, Maud Silver is an elderly sleuth. The stories are similar to the Miss Marple series but Miss Silver is actually a private detective. I enjoy these stories. My review here.

An Air That Kills (2019) by Christine Poulson

#3 in the Katie Flanagan series. Flanagan is a  medical researcher and this latest book in the series is very topical, about problems in a lab where research on the influenza virus is taking place. It is a fantastic book, I loved it. My review here.



Aunt Dimity's Death (1992) by Nancy Atherton

Lori Shepherd thought that Aunt Dimity was a fictional character that her mother invented for bedtime stories when she was a child, until she gets a letter from a law firm telling her that she is named in Dimity Westwood's will. In order to get her legacy, Lori has to go to Dimity's cottage in England and research the letters between her mother and Dimity. This is a very light read and not much mystery to it but I did enjoy it and I may read more in the series. (There are now 24 books.)
 

The Last Tourist (2020) by Olen Steinhauer

#4 in the Milo Weaver series, which was originally intended to be a trilogy. The first three books were published in 2009, 2010, and 2012, and eight years later Steinhauer adds a further story. When the series starts, Milo Weaver is a "Tourist," working for the Department of Tourism, a clandestine group of CIA-trained assassins. I liked this one. Olen Steinhauer cannot write a bad book in my opinion. But Books 1 and 3 in the series were the best ones.

 

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Ivory Dagger: Patricia Wentworth

Although I read some books in the Miss Silver series by Patricia Wentworth when I was younger, in 2017 I returned to the series, first reading The Clock Strikes Twelve. Since then I have read four more books in that series, and now I am a confirmed fan of the Miss Silver books. I find them entertaining and I like the picture they provide of the time that they were written in. 

For those not familiar with the Miss Silver mysteries, Maud Silver is an elderly sleuth who is often called in when a crime occurs, usually murder. Unlike Miss Marple, Agatha Christie's sleuth, Miss Silver is a private detective. She always brings her knitting along when she takes on a case. She seems to be the intuitive type of detective, almost psychic in her ability to see through people and pick up on clues in their behavior and mannerisms. She often works with the police, and she demands respect from them.


In this story, Sybil Dryden connives to marry her step-daughter Lida to the cruel but wealthy Herbert Whitall. Lida and Sybil visit him at his country house for a weekend, and after a dinner party, there is a death. The police assume the culprit is either Lida, who is found with a bloody knife standing over the body, or the man she was previously engaged to, Bill Waring. Miss Silver comes on the scene to help out. 

This story again features Frank Abbott and Chief Inspector Lamb. Frank has been elevated to Inspector and is conducting the investigation; Lamb just comes in at the end.

I was at first bothered by the stereotypical characters and relationships, with two older people who are well-to-do and controlling, and a pair of lovers who have been separated. But soon the story turns around, all is not what it seemed, and I got more interested. There were plenty of suspects and I was guessing who did it all the way to the end, which I like.

So, in summary, I would rank The Ivory Dagger lower than the other Miss Silver books I have read, but still a fun read for me. I especially would not recommend that anyone read this as their introduction to the series. I do love the cover, though. It is a reprint edition from 1965, published as a Green Door Mystery by Pyramid.


 -----------------------------

Publisher: Pyramid, 1965 (first publ. 1950)
Length:    221 pages
Format:    Paperback
Series:     Miss Silver Mysteries #18
Setting:    UK 
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    On my TBR pile for many years.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times No. 15

I am participating in the Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times meme, hosted by Judith at Reader in the WildernessThis week I am focusing on a few paperbacks I bought at the last Planned Parenthood Book Sale, which are still in boxes waiting to be cataloged.

Mary Stewart

First, four books by Mary Stewart. I don't particularly care for these covers. While researching books by Mary Stewart, I found I preferred the older covers on the hardcover editions or the covers on newer editions. But I felt lucky to find four books I was interested in and in good condition for $4.00 total, so I am not complaining.





From a brief article at The Guardian, after Mary Stewart's death at 97:

Known for much-loved novels including Touch Not the Cat, This Rough Magic and Nine Coaches Waiting, Stewart was among the first novelists to integrate mystery and romance. She made the archetype of the determined, intelligent heroine her own, thrusting her into daring adventures from which she would emerge intact and happily romantically involved. ....
 
Stewart wrote a trilogy of hugely popular novels about the life of Merlin – The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment – a departure from her previous books, along with acclaimed children's books, including Ludo and the Star Horse and A Walk in Wolf Wood.

This post at The Emerald City Book Review discusses three of the books I have. 

This Rough Magic centers around an old house inhabited by a Shakespearean actor obsessed with The Tempest; Nine Coaches Waiting takes its title and organization from a quotation from The Revengers’ Tragedy; The Ivy Tree is named after an old song and has a strain of ancient folklore running through it. 
 
For My Brother Michael, set in Greece, here is a review at Fleur in Her World.

Katrina at Pining for the West has reviewed all four of these books: This Rough Magic, Nine Coaches Waiting, The Ivy Tree and My Brother Michael.

I had great fun researching for this post. Mary Stewart is of course very well known and probably I read some of her books when I was young, but I wanted to reacquaint myself with what she has written. That took me to articles about Gothic novels and other interesting topics.

Nicholas Blake

I also picked up some paperback editions of books in the Nigel Strangeways series by Nicholas Blake. I read several books by Blake years ago, and recently have read a few more of them.

One of the books is The Beast Must Die, published in 1938, which is often noted as Blake's best mystery.  

That book was reviewed in 1001 Midnights (published in 1986) by Bill Pronzini:

   British Poet Laureate (1968-72) and novelist Cecil Day Lewis, writing as Nicholas Blake, published a score of popular detective and suspense novels from 1935 to 1968, all but four of which feature an urbane amateur sleuth named Nigel Strangeways. For the most part, the Blake novels are fair-play deductive mysteries in the classic mold and are chock-full of literary references and involved digressions, which makes for rather slow pacing. But they are also full of well-drawn characters and unusual incidents, and offer a wide variety of settings and information on such diverse topics as sailing, academia, the British publishing industry, and the cold war.
   The Beast Must Die is considered by some to be Blake’s finest work and a crime-fiction classic. When the young son of mystery novelist Felix Cairnes (a.k.a. Felix Lane) is killed by a hit-and-run driver, Lane, who doted on the boy, vows to track down and kill the man responsible.
 
Pronzini concluded that The Beast Must Die is a good novel but not a mystery classic. 

I had not realized that this is the 4th book in the Nigel Strangeways series (of 16 books). I have read books 1 and 2 in the series, so I am hoping to read The Beast Must Die soon.

Another book by Blake that I picked up at the same time is Head of a Traveler. It is a later book in the series, published in 1949, but it follows another book I have read, Minute for Murder, so I think I could read it soonish too.





Thursday, June 25, 2020

An Air That Kills: Christine Poulson

This novel continues the series of medical thrillers starring Katie Flanagan. And this latest book in the series is very topical.

From the book cover:
It is only a matter of time before there is a flu pandemic with the potential to kill billions. Or so wealthy entrepreneur Lyle Linstrum believes. That is why he is funding research into transgenics – the mechanism by which viruses can jump the species barrier – at a high security lab on a tidal island off the North Devon coast. 
A suspiciously rapid turnover of staff has him worried. He sends in scientist Katie Flanagan as an undercover lab technician. Something is clearly very wrong, but before Katie can get to the bottom of what is going on, a colleague is struck down by a mysterious illness.
Katie has just recently returned from a job at a research station in Antarctica. She has no job and no prospects for one at the moment, so when Lyle mentions the problems at the research lab, she volunteers for the undercover job. There are objections, but they work them out, and she gets a quick course in taking on a new identity. 


Poulson excels in all areas, setting, plotting and characterization. The plot moves along briskly. The story is intense and there is a sense of unease from the first day Katie arrives at the lab. The setting on an isolated island is beautiful but sometimes creepy. Each new person we meet on the island is under suspicion. Each is interesting in their own way, some more likable than others.

I like that a consistent set of secondary characters has been maintained over the three books in the series so far. Katie is close friends with Daniel and Rachel Marchmont and their young daughter, Chloe and has previously worked with Lyle Linstrum, scientist, venture capitalist, and Texas rancher. This group of supportive friends makes the series seemed more based in reality than some.

I also liked the brief training period that Katie undergoes to get tips on undercover work. The trainer is very concerned about letting an inexperienced person go into that situation. Thus the undercover work is handled very realistically.

This series just gets better and better. So I am glad to hear that a fourth book centered around Katie Flanagan is in the works. There is a new challenge for Katie in each book, but she still seems like a real person with a real life, real issues, not a superwoman.

Although there is continuity between the books in the series, each can be read as a standalone. I highly recommend this book and this series.

See my reviews of the first two books in the series, Deep Water and Cold, Cold Heart.

Also see other reviews of An Air That Kills...
Moira's review at Clothes in Books and Kate's review at crossexamingcrime.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Lion Hudson, 2019
Length:      267 pages
Format:     Trade paperback
Series:      Katie Flanagan, #3
Setting:     UK
Genre:      Medical thriller
Source:     I purchased my copy


Monday, June 22, 2020

Bookshelf Traveling for Insane Times No. 14


I am participating in the Bookshelf Traveling For Insane Times meme, hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness. Judith's latest Bookshelf Traveling post is here. Later than I had planned, but that is OK.

Today I am returning to the bookshelf from last week's post. Last week I focused on the Women Crime Writers boxed set and a couple of other titles. This week I am focusing on the American Science Fiction boxed set.

If you click on the image of the shelf, you will be able to read more of the titles.



So, today, more about American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, Gary K. Wolfe, editor.

The first volume contains four novel published from 1953-1956:

Frederik Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth / The Space Merchants
Theodore Sturgeon / More Than Human
Leigh Brackett / The Long Tomorrow
Richard Matheson / The Shrinking Man

The second volume contains four novel published from 1956-1958:

Robert Heinlein / Double Star
Alfred Bester / The Stars My Destination
James Blish / A Case of Conscience
Algis Budrys / Who?
Fritz Leiber / The Big Time

For my bookshelf traveling post this week I had planned to give an overview of the nine books that are included in these volumes, just brief synopses, giving some idea of each book. Although I have read some of the authors back in my youth, I really did not know what to expect with these books, so I wanted to do this as much to educate myself as anything else.

I had varying amounts of luck in finding what I wanted so this is a mix of very short notes on the books and a few longer descriptions. There is a very nice companion web site for the boxed set, with appreciations of each book by well-known authors and a cover gallery.


Leigh Brackett's The Long Tomorrow sounds like the perfect book for me: a post-apocalyptic tale about the world after a global war. However, it is also a coming of age novel and unlike most of Leigh Brackett's other novels, from what I have read.

Here are Jo Walton's thoughts on the book at Tor.com, including spoilers at the end.


Who? by Algis Budrys also is the epitome of a novel I should enjoy, a Cold War sci-fi/espionage novel. See this review at Speculiction or see Tim Powers' Appreciation of the novel at the Library of America site.


This is part of the description for Robert A. Heinlein's Double Star at Goodreads...
One minute, down and out actor Lorenzo Smythe was — as usual — in a bar, drinking away his troubles as he watched his career go down the tubes. Then a space pilot bought him a drink, and the next thing Smythe knew, he was shanghaied to Mars.
Suddenly he found himself agreeing to the most difficult role of his career: impersonating an important politician who had been kidnapped. 

In The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson...
Scott Carey is condemned to shrink smaller and smaller by his exposure to a cloud of radioactive spray (after ingesting some insecticide). This book was adapted to film as The Incredible Shrinking Man in 1957.


For More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon, I am using a description from Wikipedia:
The novel concerns the coming together of six extraordinary people with strange powers who are able to "blesh" (a portmanteau of "blend" and "mesh") their abilities together. In this way, they are able to act as one organism. They progress toward a mature gestalt consciousness, called the homo gestalt, the next step in the human evolution.
I remember enjoying short stories by Theodore Sturgeon when I was younger, and possibly I read some of his novels. I look forward to trying this book.


The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth
Description at the Library of America site:
Mitch, a professional ad man in a world governed by feuding mega-corporations, is handed a big account promoting a new colony on uninhabitable Venus. But as he takes a step up the career ladder, the world as he knows it falls out from under him: why is everyone suddenly out to get him? And who is he really working for?
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
I found every review that I read on this book very confusing, but I am still eager to read it. This is the description at the Library of America site:
A celebrated tale of betrayal and revenge set in a nightmarish future, in which telepathic "jaunting" has become the preferred mode of transportation. "The perfect cyberpunk novel," says Neil Gaiman.
The Big Time by Fritz Leiber
This was another book where every review that I read was confusing, so again I will go with the description at the Library of America site:
Set in "The Place," a bar and bordello in the backwater of the stream of spacetime, Leiber's 1958 novel explores the implications of a vast "Change War," an endless cosmic struggle in which two shadowy antagonists dart in and out of history in a contest to control the course of destiny.
A Case of Conscience by James Blish
This is part of the description at Goodreads...
Father Ruiz-Sanchez is a dedicated man—a priest who is also a scientist, and a scientist who is also a human being. He has found no insoluble conflicts in his beliefs or his ethics . . . until he is sent to Lithia. There he comes upon a race of aliens who are admirable in every way except for their total reliance on cold reason; they are incapable of faith or belief.