Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-fifth Street

Up to this point in my blog, I have not published a post on Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, my favorite fictional detectives, although I have mentioned that Rex Stout is my favorite mystery author.

In 1969, William S. Baring-Gould published Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-fifth Street: The Life and Times of America's Largest Private Detective, a fictional biography of Rex Stout's detective character Nero Wolfe.

A few years ago, I purchased a paperback copy of this book at a used book store. I just read it this week. (I may have owned it years ago, and even read it. Who knows? A lot of Rex Stout books have been owned and passed on to other readers over the years.)

It was fun to read. There was a lot of minutiae that I really don't care about, although it was interesting to see the many discrepancies between various books in the series (although that happens with most series of this length). I enjoyed more the overview of all the cases up to the point that the book was published. I once read the biography of Rex Stout by John McAleer (Rex Stout: A Biography). Every novel and novella was listed there, and when he wrote it, and where it was first published. I stopped when I got to each of them, so that I could read them before the mention of the next one. It was the first time I had read them in order published. That book had 532 pages. This one is much shorter, a mere 177 pages.

I was surprised to read the chapters with  Baring-Gould's theories about how Wolfe might be the illegitimate son of Sherlock Holmes, Wolfe and Marko Vukcic might be brothers, and Archie could be Wolfe's nephew.

I also have a book of commentary on the Nero Wolfe series called At Wolfe's Door, by J. Kenneth Van Dover. To this point I have used it mainly as a reference when checking out my memory on one of the books in the series, but it has several chapters at the end that could be interesting, one comparing Nero Wolfe and Perry Mason. And it has plot synopses, character lists, etc. for other mysteries by Stout that did not feature Nero Wolfe.

The Wolfe Pack website devoted to Nero Wolfe has a list of these and other reference sources: "Biographies of Rex Stout/Commentaries on Nero Wolfe".

This counts as one of my books for the following challenges:
Mt. TBR Challenge
Read Your Own Books Challenge

A-Z Challenge

Spring Reading Challenge

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Light of Day: Eric Ambler

From the summary at Goodreads:
"When Arthur Abdel Simpson first spots Harper in the Athens airport, he recognizes him as a tourist unfamiliar with city and in need of a private driver. In other words, the perfect mark for Simpson’s brand of entrepreneurship. But Harper proves to be more the spider than the fly when he catches Simpson riffling his wallet for traveler’s checks."
The narrator of this book, Arthur Simpson, is a thief and a con-man. He isn't as smart as he thinks he is, and ends up being forced to cooperate with a man he had hoped to steal from. While working for him, Arthur is arrested for smuggling at the Turkish border, and then ends up cooperating with the Turkish authorities to infiltrate the band of "criminals" he is working with. And throughout it all he whines and complains about how nothing is his fault.

Opening lines of the book:
It came down to this: if I had not been arrested by the Turkish police, I would have been arrested by the Greek police. I had no choice but to do as this man Harper told me. He was entirely responsible for what happened to me.
Yet Arthur is very likeable and entertaining.  He goes into details of his English education, and relates how his childhood and his school experiences affected his later behavior and decisions. And in doing so, he reveals much about his character...

While Arthur is a very complex character, the rest of the group he is working with are not as well depicted.  There is a beautiful young woman (Elizabeth Lipp, the mastermind of the group), and several other men are co-conspirators. They all have important parts to play, but are not very interesting as characters. Arthur carries the book.

The Light of Day was the winner of the Best Mystery Edgar in 1964.  It was also made into a movie, Topkapi,  in 1964. I have watched that movie many times. The movie does differ from the book substantially, but knowing the gist of the story did affect my enjoyment of the book. If you have a choice, read the book first. The movie is great, although it feels dated now, but the book is better.

Jules Dassin directed the movie and the role of Elizabeth Lipp was played by Melina Mercouri.  Peter Ustinov won an Oscar for Supporting Actor for the role of Arthur. Maximilian Schell and Robert Morley also starred. In the movie, Arthur is very much the same kind of person, a bumbler and dishonest, but the movie does not give us as much depth as you get with the first person narration of a book. One major difference between the book and the movie is that the other characters are much more fleshed out. As this in-depth review says: "The Light of Day was narrated by Arthur Simpson, but Topkapi is Elizabeth Lipp’s story."

I recently read The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler, and The Light of Day is more to my taste. I plan to read more books by Ambler, and I was pleasantly surprised today to find that I have two additional books that were lost in my TBR boxes. I knew I had Journey into Fear (part of a three book omnibus), but now I find that I have Epitaph for a Spy and Judgment on Deltchev. So I am set for a while.  Also ordering Background to Danger (US title for Uncommon Danger) soon.

This counts as one of my books for the following challenges:
Mt. TBR Challenge
Read Your Own Books Challenge

A-Z Challenge

European Reading Challenge

Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge

Monday, May 28, 2012

B is for Robert Barnard

Today I participate again in the Crime Fiction Alphabet community meme for the letter B. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other B entries.

At Martin Edwards' blog, he mentions that three fine crime writers were all born in 1936: Peter Lovesey, Reginald Hill, and Robert Barnard. I have read several books by Lovesey, and plan to read more. Reginald Hill is definitely one of my favorite authors, although I still have many of his books to read. But it is Robert Barnard that I want to discuss here. (Link to Edwards' post)

I have mentioned in earlier posts that I have long been a fan of Robert Barnard. His books are quirky, often have interesting twists, and are generally considered in the cozy sub-genre. So they have bite but they are not violent or gritty. If you haven't given this author I try, I highly recommend that you do.

Barnard was honored with the 2003 Cartier Diamond Dagger Award, presented for a lifetime of achievement. A few other of the authors so honored are: Eric Ambler (the first recipient in 1986), P. D. James, John Le Carre, Ed McBain, Reginald Hill, Peter Lovesey, Lawrence Block, and Andrew Taylor.

This is a summary from the page for the award at the Crime Writer's Association site.
"He is a writer of great versatility, from the light and satirical tone of his earlier books to the more psychological preoccupations of recent ones, such as A Fatal Attachment. Under the name of Bernard Bastable he has also written novels featuring Mozart as a detective, and is the author of many short stories. He has created several detectives, including Perry Trethowan and Charlie Peace.
Robert Barnard says he writes only to entertain. He regards Agatha Christie as his ideal crime writer and has published an appreciation of her work, A Talent to Deceive."
An interesting article about Barnard's use of Yorkshire as a setting was published in Mystery Readers Journal in the Winter 1995-1996 issue. It is available online here.

I did not realize that so many of his books were set in that area. Both the book I recently read (and reviewed), Political Suicide, and the book I am reading right now, A Fall from Grace, are set in villages in Yorkshire.

I will close this post with some links to reviews at other sites.

Books I have but have not read yet:
The Skeleton in the Grass (1987) at Letters from a Hill Farm. This one is a historical mystery.
A review of Dying Flames (2005) with some very nice words for Barnard's work in general, at Reading the Leaves.

Roberta Rood at Books to the Ceiling reviews A Stranger in the Family, a recent novel that I don't have yet. She also includes links to reviews of other Barnard books she has read.

A brief review of A Talent to Deceive: An Appreciation of Agatha Christie, at MarysLibrary.

Mystery Mile talks about Barnard's versatility and uniqueness in Thoughts on Barnard. He is not everyone's cup of tea, but definitely worth a try.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Guards: Ken Bruen

Jack Taylor was in the Garda Síochána (the police force of the Republic of Ireland), and thrown out because of serious problems with alcohol. He becomes, almost accidentally, a finder, a sort of private detective. The Guards is the first of the Jack Taylor novels written by Ken Bruen.

I thought I would not like this book. I resisted reading it because the subject matter was bleak and I thought it would be too dark for me. It was my husband's encouragement and recommendation that finally got me to read the book; he had heard of the book, read my copy, and liked it a lot.

I liked it too, a lot. I would venture to say it is one of my favorite reads of the year, so far.

The writing style is unique and that was another thing I thought I would not like. As my husband said in his Goodreads review: "A fast read but pay close attention as the writing style takes a bit of getting used to."

One element of the writing is frequent mentions of books, especially mystery novels, and quotes interspersed here and there, often with no apparent connection to the story. 

The mystery portion of the plot is slight. The emphasis in more on Jack, his relationships, his life, his battle with alcohol. It isn't a happy book, but it isn't depressing either.

This is what Charlie Stella said in his long and detailed review at Noir Zine (warning: lots of detail about the plot there):
What a read, what a writer! Great stuff!
I cannot say it any better.

This counts as one of my books for the following challenges:
Mt. TBR Challenge
Read Your Own Books Challenge
New Author Challenge
1st in a Series Challenge
European Reading Challenge
Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Japanese Literature Challenge

This challenge, hosted by Dolce Bellezza, is the 16th reading challenge I have joined this year.  However this one starts in June and goes for eight months, which is appealing... And it is entirely different from any other challenge I have joined. (Well, not entirely, I did join the European Reading Challenge and am enjoying it a great deal.)

The challenge sign-up link is here.
  1. The challenge runs from June 1, 2012 until January 30, 2013.
  2. There is only one requirement: In the next six months or so read one, or more, books of Japanese literature and share them with the challenge group.
  3. There is a suggested reading list here.
Since there is no requirement beyond reading one book, I don't have to indicate a specific goal, but I do plan to read more than one this year. And this would contribute to my New Authors Challenge, since I have read no books by Japanese authors up to now... if my memory serves me right.

I have three mysteries in mind, all belonging to my husband: 
All She Was Worth (1992) by Miyuki Miyabe
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981) by Soji Shimada
The Tattoo Murder Case (1999) by Takagi Akimitsu
In addition, I was already interested in The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, shown in the sign-up post. And The Thief by Fuminora Nakamura also sounds good.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Beginnings: A Fall from Grace

Book Beginnings on Fridays is a meme with this theme: Share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Visit the post at Rose City Reader and view the other links and get a glimpse of books you may not be familiar with.

The first paragraph of my latest read is:
Charlie Peace came out of the door of Blackett and Podmore, the estate agents, holding a sheaf of property descriptions. He slipped into his car, parked on the edge of the little square in the center of the village, and began to riffle through them.
The book is A Fall from Grace by Robert Barnard. It is the eighth book in a series about Yorkshire constable Charlie Peace.

Robert Barnard is in my pantheon of favorite authors. Of his forty (or so) mystery novels, I have read at least half of them and have another ten in my TBR piles. I have read all of the previous novels in the Charlie Peace series. This opening did not pull me in. It does set the atmosphere in a way: an ordinary man doing ordinary things. But in Robert Barnard's mysteries, nothing is ordinary.

I love this cover. I collect book covers featuring skulls and skeletons and a lot of Barnard's recent books have a skeleton on the cover. A bonus for me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A is for Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler is well known for espionage novels that are as much character driven as plot driven. His novels had more emphasis on political themes than the thrills of escapist adventures.

From the entry on Eric Ambler in Encyclopedia Mysteriosa by William L. DeAndrea:
"Eric Ambler was among the first to write spy novels not about dashing adventurers swashbuckling their way through danger, but about common people in unnerving and often squalid situations. His first novel, The Dark Frontier (1936), anticipated nuclear weapons; his last, The Care of Time (1981), discusses chemical warfare and the danger to the world of unbalanced leaders in the Middle East."

Earlier this month I read A Coffin for Dimitrios (published in 1939) and I just finished The Light of Day (published in 1962). I am on a mission to read more of his books in the next year or so.

In looking around the web (and reading through my mystery reference books), I have noticed that five of Ambler's novels were adapted as films.  I knew this was true of the two books I have read, but was surprised that there were so many. There have also been adaptations on TV.

I have already commented on the movie based on A Coffin for Dimitrios, in my review of the book.  The movie is titled The Mask of Dimitrios, as is the UK version of the book.

The Light of Day was adapted in a film called Topkapi in 1964.  I have seen Topkapi several times; it is a popular movie in our household. I won't say having seen the movie detracts from the experience of reading the book, because the novel has more depth in characterization and I enjoyed it very much. However, I do think it would be preferable to read the book with no knowledge of the story.

I won't say too much about the film here, I will cover it more when I review the book. Maximilian Schell, Robert Morley and Melina Mercouri star in this film which features Peter Ustinov's Oscar- winning Supporting Actor performance. Directed by Jules Dassin.

Uncommon Danger, Ambler's second novel, is described in an overview on the California Literary Review:
"...the central character, Nicholas Kenton, is an archetypal antihero rather than the conventional ultra-patriotic hero of earlier thrillers. A cosmopolitan journalist, Kenton is the model for the typical Ambler protagonist in subsequent novels: an ordinary, unexceptional person who, by virtue of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, is suddenly involved in a network of political and criminal duplicity of which he was previously unaware."
The movie based on the book, titled Background to Danger, stars George Raft, with Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. That title is the same one used for the US version of the book.

DVD Beaver has this to say about Background to Danger:
"Maybe not up there with the best of Walsh's action pics, but still an efficient and entertaining WWII spy thriller. Raft is the American agent travelling to Turkey to prevent the country from allying itself with the Nazis, and encountering that colourful pair, Greenstreet (a Nazi) and Lorre (his Turkish opponent) en route."
Uncommon Danger was published in 1938, and the following year Ambler published Epitaph for a Spy. That book is described in this post at Slate magazine.

That book was made into a movie in 1944. It was called Hotel Reserve, and it starred James Mason, Lucie Mannheim, and Herbert Lom.

There is a good overview of the movie at Mystery*File. The author of the post did not like the movie very much, but several comments presented different opinions. So it is a balanced discussion with a lot of interesting facts.

Journey Into Fear will be the next book I read by Eric Ambler. Primarily because I have a copy to read already. But also because of this very interesting post and recommendation from author Charles Cummings at the Rap Sheet.

Journey Into Fear was also made into a movie, featured in this post at Noir of the Week. As the post mentions, rumors abound that Orson Welles directed at least part of the film, even though Welles denied it. In addition to Delores Del Rio and Welles, the film stars Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloane, Joseph Cotten, and Ruth Warrick, all of whom were directed by Welles in Citizen Kane.

I am excited to be participating in the Crime Fiction Alphabet community meme this year.  Check here for other submissions for the letter A.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Political Suicide: Robert Barnard

I have been a fan of Robert Barnard for years. He has been writing mysteries for over 35 years and has written over 40 mysteries, plus several non-fiction books. Many of his mysteries, especially the earlier ones, are satirical novels.  Political Suicide takes a look at politics in England in the mid-1980's.

Here are the opening sentences of the book:
''It was a quiet Friday morning in Downing Street. The Prime Minister was stewing over a draft bill to privatize the armed forces, many of the aides and secretaries who normally cluttered the place were already off for the weekend, and in the kitchens the cook was preparing a light lunch of staggering ordinariness.''

James Partridge, Member of Parliament for the Yorkshire district of East Bootham, has apparently committed suicide. In fact, his party and the party in power at the time, the Tories, are very eager for the death to be determined to be suicide, so they can move past that to the election to choose his successor. But there is no clear evidence of suicide, and the case is left open. Inspector Sutcliffe of New Scotland Yard investigates.

Sutcliffe takes the inquiry very seriously, to the extent of using his vacation to extend it. However, the focus of the plot is also on the mechanics of the by-election, the jockeying for position, the opportunism and deceit of the candidates and their supporters. Barnard tells the story with wit and charm.

I was recently thinking that a lot of Robert Barnard's books are like Ruth Rendell's suspense novels, in that the characters are often quirky and/or unattractive, and the ending is often not at all what you expect. The major difference for me is that reading Rendell's novels, other than her Inspector Wexford series, often make me feel very uncomfortable. Thus I have avoided them for years. Whereas Robert Barnard's books are lighter and I always enjoy them. They offer something different, not the standard mystery read (if there is such a thing).

This counts as one of my books for the following challenges:
Mt. TBR Challenge
Read Your Own Books Challenge
A-Z Challenge
Merely Mystery Reading Challenge
Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge
Spring Reading Challenge

Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Beginnings: The Guards

Book Beginnings on Fridays is a meme with this theme: Share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Visit the post at Rose City Reader and view the other links and get a glimpse of books you may not be familiar with.

The first few sentences in the book I am currently reading are:
It's almost impossible to be thrown out of the Garda Siochana. You have to really put your mind to it. Unless you become a public disgrace, they'll tolerate most anything.
The book is The Guards by Ken Bruen.

I am a little over half way through the book. For years I did not read it (while it waited patiently in a box) because my impression was that it was too gritty, too violent, too depressing. Well, it is some of those things but it is also poetic and mesmerizing. I don't want to put it down.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Coffin for Dimitrios: Eric Ambler

Plot summary and description from The Mystery Lover's Companion by Art Bourgeau:
"In one of the great intrigue novels, a writer delves into the muddy past of a mysterious, international double-dealing spy. The writer of academic detective novels discovers the difference between fiction and reality when he becomes involved in murder."
In that book, the rating is Five Daggers (A True Classic).

When I read a book that is hailed as a mystery classic with so much already written about it, it colors my experience and my enjoyment. No way to avoid this really. I am thinking too much about the book as I read it. Looking for its classic elements, what makes it rise above the rest, rather than just going along for the ride as a new experience.

Did I enjoy A Coffin for Dimitrios? Most of the time, yes.

Does it have a good plot? Yes. My quibble is with the execution, how we get from beginning to end. This is a book that slowed down in the middle for me. I enjoyed the setup in the first few chapters and it had a great ending. But the advancement of plot in between was often told in narration by one character or another, and I was impatient for it to get somewhere. In fact, I think my problem with the book was being too impatient, reading too fast, not savoring the story as it unfolds. This is a book I will reread, and I think I will enjoy it more the next time.

Is the characterization good? Yes and no.  There was not a lot of depth, but true character of some of the players was revealed bit by bit. Were they victims or willing accomplices? What kind of person was Dimitrios?

What I did get into was the picture of evil and depravity.  Telling the story at turns from the point of view of criminals who really don't consider that they have done wrong or that there were other options in their lives was interesting and appalling. And it had a very unexpected ending, and I like that.

I do not know if I have read A Coffin for Dimitrios before. I am fairly sure I have read books by Eric Ambler, but it would have been many years ago. When I was younger (in my teens and early twenties) I read faster, read more, read a lot from the library, and read a lot of classics. But even then I was reading mostly mysteries (Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Patricia Moyes, George Bagby, Allingham, Sayers).

This book and several others by Eric Ambler were written immediately before, during, and after World War II. I enjoy reading books from that time period to get the feel of what people were thinking and experiencing at that time. I recently read two books by Christianna Brand that were written around the same time as this book: Heads You Lose (1941) and Green for Danger (1944). Only Green for Danger was specifically about the war, but the daily events that affected people during and before the war were also mentioned in Heads You Lose.

I am looking forward to reading more Eric Ambler books. He published books from 1936 to 1981. At the top of my list are The Light of Day and Journey into Fear, because I have a copy of those two. Next I want to find other spy fiction, especially set around the time of World War II. There is a movie based on this book, with the same title as the original English title of the book: The Mask of Dimitrios. I would love to see this, but it doesn't appear to be available on DVD.

This counts as one of my books for the following challenges:
Mt. TBR Challenge
Read Your Own Books Challenge
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge

Friday, May 11, 2012

Book Beginnings: A Year of Reading

Book Beginnings on Fridays is a meme with this theme: Share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Visit this week's post at Rose City Reader and view the other links and get a glimpse of books you may not be familiar with.

The first sentences in the book I am currently reading are:
It began like this. I went to the shelves on the landing to look for a book I knew was there. It was not. But plenty of others were and among them I noticed at least a dozen I realised I had never read.
The book is Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill.

The subtitle of the book is "A Year of Reading from Home" and the goal the author set was to read only books from her own shelves at home for a year. In other words, buy no new books. She talks about the books she finds in her house, and thoughts about books she has read.

I have been reading this book for a couple of months and will probably take another month to finish it. I sample it a chapter at a time, in between other books.

This year (or most of it) I have committed to buying only books by authors I have already read. I have cut back drastically on my book buying and made much more progress on my TBR shelves, boxes and stacks.

My problem had been buying too many shiny books and then not reading them...

So I have a huge pile of books by authors I have not read or series where I read the first one and never continued. My commitment to less expansion of the TBR pile and joining reading challenges and writing reviews has helped me meet my goal of reading more new authors and reread some vintage authors I read when I was very young.

The amazing thing is, like a lot of new habits I adopt, I have had no problems sticking to my book buying "chill". No regrets. I thought it would be hard.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

In the Woods: Tana French

This book combines elements of two different types of mystery novels: the police procedural and the psychological thriller. The psychological component dominates, and this type of mystery is not my usual choice. At times it kept me off-balance, not sure what direction the story was going. I don't like to tell much of the plot in reviews, so as not to spoil the fun for the reader, but it is difficult to point out either pros or cons in this novel without revealing some crucial plot details.

I liked the way the story is told, through one of the detectives in charge of the case. We only know his side of it, what he experiences. He is a damaged and confused person.

A quote:
I remember that moment because, if I am honest, I have them so seldom. I am not good at noticing when I’m happy, except in retrospect. My gift, or fatal flaw, is for nostalgia. I have sometimes been accused of demanding perfection, of rejecting heart’s desires as soon as I get close enough that the mysterious impressionistic gloss disperses into plain solid dots, but the truth is less simplistic than that. I know very well that perfection is made up of frayed, off-struck mundanities. I suppose you could say my real weakness is a kind of long-sightedness: usually it is only at a distance, and much too late, that I can see the pattern.
This type of introspection by our narrator is what makes the story so engaging.

The protagonist, Rob Ryan, is a policeman in the Dublin Murder Squad. He has a female partner that he is close friends with, and they both have events from their past that color their actions today. (As we all do, but these are particularly traumatic.) The crime is a murder of a child, and there an unsolved case of missing children from many years before that took place in the same location. The events from Rob's past intertwine with the current case. The plot gets more and more complex.

The book is longish (over 400 pages) and the pacing is sometimes slow. There were points in the story when I was wondering when we were going to get somewhere. This is realistic in a police procedural, but is drawn out even more by the side trips into Rob's past and their link to this case. For the most part, though, the length did not bother me and the writing kept me involved.

The characters were intriguing, although only the main characters were fleshed out. I can't say I found either one of the main characters very likable, but I was interested in the outcome. Character-driven stories are my cup of tea, so I was happy to continue through Rob's discourses and get a murder mystery on the side. So, for me, this was a good, engrossing book.

I would recommend this book with a few reservations. There is resolution to the crime (at least the crime they are investigating). Overall, however, the ending is extremely ambiguous and I came out of the book feeling sad, downbeat. If you are looking for an upbeat story for entertainment, this isn't it.

I did read some negative reviews (only after I read the book), and I will admit they point out some valid aspects: There are times when the narrator is very annoying. And the actual solution to the mystery is easily predictable for anyone who reads a lot of crime fiction. The length of the story is a downside if you are looking more for action and resolution and are less into characterization.

The story of the Dublin Murder Squad continues but, as I understand it from reading the author's site and reviews of other books by the author, each book has a different main character.  This certainly would keep the series fresh, but for some readers (I am one of them) might be a disappointment.

Will I read the next book, The Likeness?  Yes, I think so. If only to find out if that one is just as gripping. All of the books in this series are long, over 400 pages, quite a commitment, but worth it if you are enjoying the journey it takes you on.

A couple of links to other reviews:
A favorable review with links to lots of other reviews. I love the vocabulary area.
A C+ review at Kittling Books

If you would like a link to your review of this book included on this post, put the link in a comment and I will add it.

This counts as one of my books for the following challenges:
Mt. TBR Challenge
Read Your Own Books Challenge
New Author Challenge
1st in a Series Challenge
A-Z Challenge
Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge
Spring Reading Challenge

Friday, May 4, 2012

Book Beginnings: A Coffin for Dimitrios

Book Beginnings on Fridays is a meme with this theme: Share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Visit the post at Rose City Reader and viewing the other links and get a glimpse of books you may not be familiar with.

The first two sentences in the book I am currently reading are:
A Frenchman named Chamfort, who should have known better, once said that chance was a nickname for Providence.

It is one of those convenient, question-begging aphorisms coined to discredit the unpleasant truth that chance plays an important, if not predominant, part in human affairs.
The book is A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler.

I am only a few pages into the book, but I already know I will like it. I don't think this is the first time I read this book or this author, but if I did read it, I was very young. So it will be a new experience.

The book cover pictured is not the one I have. I am reading the book in a Quality Paperback Book Club edition that combines it with two other books by Ambler, Journey into Fear and The Light of Day. But I would love to have that copy. I collect vintage paperbacks.

The excerpt above reminds me of a quote from an Astaire and Rogers film (The Gay Divorcee): 
Chance is the fool's name for fate.
I enjoy both vintage mysteries and vintage movies.

Cop Hater: Ed McBain

I put off reading this book for years and I don't know why. And now I have put off finishing my review. It is hard to separate my reaction to this book from the preconceptions I had going in, especially knowing that it is such a long running series and has been loved and loyally followed by many.

From the author bio on Amazon:
Perhaps his most popular work, the 87th Precinct series (released mainly under the name Ed McBain) is one of the longest running crime series ever published, debuting in 1956 with Cop Hater and featuring over fifty novels. The series is set in a fictional locale called Isola and features a wide cast of detectives including the prevalent Detective Steve Carella.
I did not know what to expect going into this book. I anticipated liking the series, enough to have already purchased 11 additional titles. But I was not sure if it was my kind of series. I like police procedurals in general, but would I like it enough to continue the series?

The first chapter pulled me into the book immediately. A good sign. Although parts of the book were heavy on descriptive sequences, I did find the story compelling and I liked the portrayal of the policemen. They were not perfect, but generally they seemed believable.

The paperback edition I read has a very good introduction by the author in which he discusses the genesis of the series. From that introduction:
But then, thinking it through further, it seemed to me that a single cop did not a series make, and it further seemed to me that something new in the annals of police procedurals (I don't even know if they were called that back then) would be a squad room full of cops, each with different traits, who when put together would form a conglomerate hero.
I think my affinity for police procedural over other types of mysteries is based on the same premise that McBain discusses in his introduction to the book.
In fiction, there is always a quantum jump to be made when anyone but a police detective is investigating a murder.
That does not mean I don't like and enjoy other types of mysteries, I just have to spend more time suspending disbelief when I move into other types.

The end result is... Yes, I did like the book, a lot. I assume the series improves as it goes along. I have the next two in the series, The Mugger and The Pusher, and I will be reading those soon.

This counts as one of my books for the following challenges:
Mt. TBR Challenge
Read Your Own Books Challenge
New Author Challenge
1st in a Series Challenge
Vintage Mystery Challenge
Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge

Thursday, May 3, 2012

April Mysteries and Pick of the Month

The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme at Mysteries in Paradise has inspired me to start summarizing my monthly reading... or at the least my mystery reading... and actually pick a favorite.

Even though I don't rate the books I read (yet) on my blog, I do usually have a firm idea of where they rate in my affections. I have been reading a variety of types of crime fiction lately, and this has encouraged me to think more about why I like certain books, and what appeals to me, and what makes a book a good read.

Books I read in April (with links to reviews)...
  1. Second Violin by John Lawton
  2. The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo 
  3. Dying Light by Stuart MacBride
  4. A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd
  5. The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep by Lawrence Block
  6. Cop Hater by Ed McBain
Of these books, my Pick of the Month is Second Violin by John Lawton. Most of the books in the Frederick Troy series combine elements of police procedural and spy fiction. This one, however, doesn't have much to do with spies. The books are set in England (primarily) in the years before, during and after World War II. I have mentioned in my reviews of this book and Bluffing Mr. Churchill that the books in the series are written out of chronological order and some reviewers recommend reading the books in chronological order rather than in order published. This is the first chronologically but I would not read it as the first in the series. Regardless, it is a very compelling story. I have two more books to go to finish the series.