Sunday, January 31, 2016

Reading in January 2016

This has been another wonderful month of reading. It was a good mix, with some older books and a couple of newer books, some sci-fi, and some espionage fiction.

The Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme is hosted at Mysteries in Paradise. Bloggers link to summary posts for the month, and identify a crime fiction best read of the month. 

These are the crime fiction books I read this month:

Blood Will Tell by George Bagby 
Black Orchids by Rex Stout
The Mountain Cat Murders by Rex Stout
Pashazade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Three Doors to Death by Rex Stout
A Red Death by Walter Mosley
A Murder of Quality by John le Carré
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carré

Half of my reading this month was vintage mysteries, written in 1950 or before.
  • Blood Will Tell (1950) is an Inspector Schmidt novel and George Bagby is the narrator of the novel and the author. George Bagby is a pseudonym used by Aaron Marc Stein, who also wrote mystery series under his own name and Hampton Stone. He wrote over 100 mysteries from the 1930s through the 1980s. I read many of the Inspector Schmidt novels in my younger years and it was fun to revisit this one.
  • The rest were by Rex Stout and were all rereads.  The Mountain Cat Murders (1939) is one of Stout's non-Wolfe mysteries, has a female protagonist, and is set in Wyoming. Very different from the Nero Wolfe series and I enjoyed it very much. (Most Rex Stout fans are not as kind as I am to this novel.)
  • Black Orchids (1942) collects two novellas, "Black Orchids" and "Cordially Invited to Meet Death." Both appeared in The American Magazine before being published in book format. These two stories are longer than most of Stout's novellas.
  • Three Doors to Death (1950) contains three novellas: "Man Alive" (1947, 70 pages); "Omit Flowers" (1948, 70 pages); and "Door to Death" (1949, 55 pages). I remember all of them fondly, but in all cases I did not remember who did it, so they were especially fun reads.
I finally read the 2nd book in Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins series, A Red Death. Easy Rawlins, first met in Devil in a Blue Dress, is now a landlord, but masquerades as a handyman and lets his associate Mofass manage the apartment buildings for him. He also does "favors" for people, finding missing persons or solving minor crimes in his neighborhood. Easy is targeted by an IRS agent because he has not reported the income that led to purchase of the buildings. That leads to him becoming a spy for the FBI and from there things get very complicated.

I read two books by John le Carré, the second and third books he wrote. Both featured George Smiley, but in A Murder of Quality he functions as a detective in a setting unrelated to espionage.

In The Spy Who Came In from the Cold he is in the background and the spy of the title is Alec Leamas. We recently picked up the Criterion Blu-Ray edition of the film adaptation of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold with Richard Burton. I haven't ever seen the film and I want to watch it as soon as possible. Thus, I rushed to read the book before watching the movie. I loved the book but I found it depressing.

Last but not least is Pashazade. The story starts with the investigation of a murder, but the chapters skip back and forth in time, sometimes a few days, sometimes going back years in flashbacks. The setting in the present time is El Iskandryia, a North African metropolis in an alternative future where "the United States brokered a deal the ended World War I and the Ottoman Empire never collapsed," as described on the back of the book. So this is an alternative history, sci-fi, coming of age thriller, and just my cup of tea. This is the second book I have read by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, and it confirms what I discovered with the first one: I love the way he writes. I was alternately confused and delighted and sometimes had no idea where the story was going, but I loved the journey.

In truth, almost all of the books I read this month would be in contention for top read, but I will narrow it down to two. I ended the month with one of my favorites, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. It is a shame I waited this long to read it, but on the other hand, it was well worth the wait and not a disappointment. The other favorite is Pashazade, and I was glad that it also lived up to my expectations.


Bill Selnes said...

TracyK: I have just finished Adam Sisman's biography of John Le Carre and will be writing about the biography and Le Carre's books in the near future. The biography is well done.

TracyK said...

That sounds very interesting, Bill, and I would love to read it someday. I look forward to your post.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, I have read a few books by John le Carre and "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" is not one of them. I will try and read it this year.

Anonymous said...

You did have a great reading month, Tracy, and I'm happy for you. I don't think anyone has done better espionage than le Carré, so I'm pleased to see you enjoyed the le Carré you read.

TracyK said...

As I mentioned it is one of his earlier books. I think you would like it, Prashant.

TracyK said...

I was glad that I liked the le Carre books so well, Margot, since I have quite a few more on the TBR piles.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Lots of great Stout and le Carre there - can't argue with those!

TracyK said...

Sergio, I enjoyed the le Carre books so much I just want to continue reading those. I would like to read Tinker, Tailor... so I can watch the movie.

col2910 said...

Seems like you had a great month's reading. I would like to get to Le Carre again soon, as I have most of them. I might have read the Mosley a few years ago, but nothing else read in common. I have the odd unread Stout and a JCG book somewhere.

TracyK said...

It was a good month, Col. I want to read the next two Smiley books soonish. But I think I will be slowing down in February. I want to get some short stories read.

Clothes In Books said...

Spy who Came in From the Cold is a great book, Tracy, and I liked the film too.

TracyK said...

The plan is to watch the film tonight, Moira. I am looking forward to it. And to reading more le Carre, when I can fit it in.