Tuesday, February 28, 2017

More Short Stories in February

Here is a summary to conclude my short story reading in February, inspired by a suggestion from Richard Robinson at Tip the Wink. Since my last update on February 18, my short story reading has slowed down but I still got quite a few read before the end of the month.

Almost as soon as I finished Michael Gilbert’s Game Without Rules, consisting of eleven stories about two middle-aged spies, I purchased the second book, titled simply Mr Calder and Mr Behrens. I thought I would finish that book before the end of the month too, but I decided to slow down and savor the stories, as there won’t be more when I finish this book. I will be rereading them later I am sure.

The stories I have read so far are:
  1. "The Twilight of the Gods"
  2. "Emergency Exit"
  3. "One-to-Ten"

I finished up all the stories in Miniatures by John Scalzi. The remaining stories were all very short and very silly. I mainly bought the book because it was illustrated. Some of the earlier stories in the book I enjoyed, these later ones not so much. But I am still a fan of John Scalzi, his novels are just fine.

The stories I read are:
  1. "To Sue the World"
  2. "How I Keep Myself Amused on Long Flights: A Twitter Tale"
  3. "How I Keep Myself Amused on Long Flights: Part II: The Gremlining"
  4. "Life on Earth: Human-Alien Relations"
  5. "Morning Announcements at the Lucas Interspecies School for Troubled Youth"
  6. "Your Smart Appliances Talk About You Behind Your Back"
  7. "The AI are Absolutely Positively Without A Doubt Not Here to End Humanity. Honest."
  8. "Important Holidays on Gronghu"
  9. "Cute Adorable Extortionists"
  10. "Penelope" (poem written in 1991)

Mattaponi Queen is a book of short stories by Belle Boggs, set in Virginia and about life on and around the Mattaponi Indian Reservation. The book is described as a collection of linked stories, but I have not gotten far enough along to notice that yet. I have read the first three stories and liked them all. And what a gorgeous cover!

I read:
  1. “Deer Season”
  2. “Good News for a Hard Time”
  3. “Imperial Chrysanthemum”
I had forgotten how much of Southern culture revolves around hunting (possibly because I grew up in a big city). "Deer Season" was an interesting look at that.

This month I got a copy of Mississippi Noir (ed. Tom Franklin) especially because Megan Abbott's Edgar-nominated short story is in that book, plus the added bonus that I grew up in Alabama, and I have cousins in Mississippi, and visited them and their parents in a small town in Mississippi (Batesville) during my childhood.

All these stories are from the section titled Wayward Youth:
  1. "Uphill" by Mary Miller
  2. "Boy and Girl Games Like Coupling" by Jamie Paige
  3. "Oxford Girl" by Megan Abbott
  4. "Digits" by Michael Kardos
The story by Megan Abbott was very, very good, about a pair of lovers in college, told from both of their points of view. And (another bonus), the setting of the story is set in Oxford, MS, but the female protagonist is from Batesville, which I did not know beforehand.

I also recently found a copy of New Orleans Noir: The Classics, edited by Julie Smith.

I read six stories from that book:
  1. "Rich" by Ellen Gilchrist
  2. "Spats" by Valerie Martin
  3. "The Man With Moon Hands" by O'Neil De Noux
  4. "Rose" by John Biguenet
  5. "Mussolini and the Axeman's Jazz" by Poppy Z. Brite
  6. "GDMFSOB" by Nevada Barr

All were good stories, and very, very noir. I have been curious about O'Neil De Noux, and I was very pleased with his story. "GDMFSOB" was the first thing I have every read by Nevada Barr and it was not at all what I expected.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Five Years of Blogging

Today I am celebrating the fifth anniversary of my first blog post.

In the last year I have blogged less but enjoyed it just as much as ever. I am basing this mainly on numbers of posts; my average number of posts on the blog in 2016 was 8 a month. In 2015 I posted on the average 11 posts a month. I have noticed that my posts are longer now, more verbose, even though one of my goals is to cut down on the length of the posts. But I will continue blogging as long as I enjoy writing up my thoughts on the books, along with including some background on the authors.

What do I like best about blogging?

  • The community of book bloggers. It is wonderful to be able to learn from others who share my love for books and reading. 
  • The process of organizing and writing down my thoughts about the books I read. 
  • Reminders of authors I need to check out or get reacquainted with.
  • Discovering new authors. I thought I knew a lot about older mystery novels (pre-1960's) before I started blogging, but I am constantly amazed at how much more there is to learn.

Two vintage authors that I just read about recently were Christopher Bush (at Vintage Pop Fictions) and Roy Vickers, specifically The Department of Dead Ends (at Tip the Wink).

And I will end with some lovely books covers of books I hope to read this year.

                                      Reviewed at The Thrilling Detective.

                                                  Reviewed at Clothes in Books.

                                                 Reviewed at The Dusty Bookcase.

                                      In the Spotlight at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Laura: Vera Caspary

I came to the novel Laura by Vera Caspary by two routes. Not too long ago, I purchased the two volume set from Library of America titled Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s. One of the nine novels in this set is Laura. When 1943 was selected to be the year for the Crimes of the Century meme for February 2017, I decided it was time to read this book.

I had avoided this novel for years. Although I had never seen the movie based on the book, I thought I knew the story, and assumed the story was spoiled for me. That was a mistake; even if I did know one or two main points of the story, there was much there to surprise me and I loved the way the story was told. Laura is a wonderful read and not to be missed.

In this novel, Laura Hunt, a successful career woman working for an advertising firm, has been murdered in her apartment. She was shot at close range with BB shot as she opened the door of her apartment to a visitor. Mark McPherson starts his investigation of the case by interviewing the two men who cared for her most, Waldo Lydecker, her friend and mentor, and Shelby J. Carpenter, her fiance.

For the most part, Laura is narrated in the first person by several different characters. The first section starts off with Waldo Lydecker's description of his meeting with Mark McPherson. Waldo is a middle-aged, overweight journalist who gave Laura her start in advertising. The second section is narrated by McPherson as he continues working the case. Another section is a "stenographic report of the statement made by Shelby J. Carpenter to Lieutenant McPherson."

I enjoy stories with alternating narrators, and Vera Caspary handles that aspect very well. Caspary also explores feminist themes. Laura has struggled with the conflicts of balancing a demanding career and a fulfilling love life. That is difficult for women today, but in the 1940's it was much more so.

How does this book reflect the year it was published? Actually the story was published first as a 7-part serial in 1942 titled Ring Twice for Laura. It was published in novel form the next year. While reading the book, I did not notice much evidence of the time. However, there is this reference to the war when McPherson looks for a newspaper article about Laura's death:
"There was nothing on Page One. A new battle on the Eastern Front and a speech by Churchill had pushed her off the front pages. I turned to Page Four. There was her picture..."

A year after the book was published, the film adaptation starring Dana Andrews as the detective and Gene Tierney as Laura was released. The problem with my viewing of the film is that I watched it too soon after reading the book. important characters in the book are written and portrayed much differently in the film, and I kept noticing those differences too much to fully enjoy the movie. In the film, Waldo Lydecker is portrayed as Laura's Pygmalion, teaching her about society and manners. In the book, this may be implied but not so strongly. Laura's aunt is also portrayed quite differently in the film. On the other hand, Vincent Price as Laura's fiance fit the role closely enough for me.

However, having said that, I do think the movie is very well done and very entertaining. It just does not convey the depth of the book at all. I won't say more than that because if you haven't seen the movie or read the book, I don't want to spoil the fun.

I confess that I bought another edition of Laura, published by The Feminist Press. It is a part of the Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp series, which restores to print the best of women’s writing in the classic pulp genres of the mid-20th century. This edition of Laura has a foreward titled "Women Write Pulp" and an afterward exploring Vera Caspary's life and fiction by A. B. Emrys. In my opinion, the essay at the end of the book is worth the price of admission.


Publisher:    The Feminist Press, 2005 (orig. pub. 1943)
Length:        194 pages
Format:        Trade paperback
Setting:        New York
Genre:         Mystery
Source:        I purchased my copies.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hide and Seek: Ian Rankin

Hide and Seek is the second book in the John Rebus series featuring a Detective Inspector in the Edinburgh police. The series, written by Ian Rankin, started in 1987 with Knots and Crosses, and seemed to end in 2007 with Exit Music, the 17th Rebus novel. Rebus returned in 2012 in Standing in Another Man's Grave, and there are now over 20 novels in the series.

Description from the back of the book
In a shadowy, crumbling Edinburgh housing development, a junkie lies dead of an overdose, his body surrounded by signs of Satanic worship. Inspector John Rebus could call it an accident―but won’t. Now he’s got to scour the city―from the tunnels of its dark underbelly to the private sanctum of the upper crust―to find the perfect hiding place for a killer.
John Rebus is the first detective on the scene after the body of a young man is discovered.  The case seems straightforward enough, but Rebus follows up by talking to the young woman who reported the death. She and the victim had been living in the boarded up house where he was found She tells him that the body was in a different location in the house when she found him; also she is worried that someone is trying to kill her. All of this enforces Rebus's feeling that something more is going on.

Just as Rebus gets interested in this case, he is pulled off regular duties to work with a new drugs task force, which will have him socializing with some of the rich and powerful citizens of Edinburgh. He does continue looking into the death on the side, as the task force work is delayed. Thus Rebus is dealing with both the poorest people in the city and the richest in this case.

Rankin does not paint a pretty picture of the police force in Edinburgh. This is the dark and gritty side of Edinburgh. The plot deals with corruption in the police department and in city government. I always like a story about corruption and how people deal with it.

There are hints of personal issues in Rebus's life but they never come to the forefront in this book. Two continuing characters are introduced:  Detective Sergeant Brian Holmes, who does footwork for Rebus, and his boss, Detective Superintendent Watson. I especially enjoyed the sections involving Holmes.

This is our introduction to Rebus in this book:
John Rebus stared hard at the dish in front of him, oblivious to the conversation around the table, the background music, the flickering candles. He didn't really care about house prices in Barnton, or the latest delicatessen to be opened in the Grassmarket. He didn't much want to speak to the other guests—a female lecturer to his right, a male bookseller to his left—about… well, what ever they'd just been discussing. Yes, it was the perfect dinner party, the conversation as tangy as the starter course, and he was glad Rian had invited him. Of course he was. But the more he stared at the half lobster on his plate, the more an unfocussed despair grew within him. What had he in common with these people? Would they laugh if he told the story of the police alsatian and the severed head? No, they would not. They would smile politely, then bow their heads towards their plates, acknowledging that he was… well, different from them.
This is not the best police procedural I have ever read, nor is it the worst. I found it believable, interesting, and it kept me turning the pages. I plan to continue reading the series, not the least because I have the next eight books in the series, plus a few more. And I have heard that the series gets better and better.

This is my first submission for the Read Scotland 2017 challenge hosted by Peggy. Peggy is now blogging at Peggy's Porch.


Publisher:   St. Martins Paperbacks, 1997. Orig. pub. 1991.
Length:       210 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       John Rebus, #2
Setting:      Edinburgh, Scotland
Genre:        Police procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Short Story Reading in February 2017, Part 1

In late January, Richard Robinson at Tip the Wink suggested Short Story February, where we will focus on short stories during that month. I have read a couple of books for previous commitments this month, but for the most part, I have been reading short stories this month.

I finished one book of short stories by Michael Gilbert, Game Without Rules. There are eleven stories in this book, and they are all about the spies, Mr Calder and Mr Behrens. Both are in their fifties, and called upon when needed to handle special projects and missions. It is a wonderful book and I loved all the stories. I cannot even name a favorite. I will do a separate post on this book later.

The stories in this book are:
  1. "The Road to Damascus"
  2. "On Slay Down"
  3. "The Spoilers"
  4. "The Cat Cracker"
  5. "Trembling's Tours"
  6. "The Headmaster"
  7. "Heilige Nacht"
  8. "Upon the King..."
  9. "Cross-Over"
  10. "Prometheus Unbound"
  11. "A Prince of Abyssinia"

The rest of the books I sampled stories from, although I do hope to finish one of two of them before the end of the month. They are:

Miniatures by John Scalzi
Miniatures is a small book full of very short stories. The stories are all science fiction, but of the ones I have read so far, they are all so light and humorous that they really don't feel like science fiction at all.
  1. "Pluto Tells All"
  2. “Denise Jones, Superbooker”
  3. "When the Yogurt Took Over"
  4. "The Other Large Thing"
  5. "The State of Super Villainy" ( follow-up to Denise Jones, Superbooker)
  6. "New Directive for Employee-Manxte Interactions"

Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper
edited by Lawrence Block
  1. "Girlie Show"  by Megan Abbott
  2. "The Story of Caroline" by Jill D. Block
  3. "Soir Bleu" by Robert Olen Butler
  4. "The Truth About What Happened" by Lee Child
  5. "Rooms by the Sea" by Nicholas Christopher
I especially liked "Girlie Show", a story about a woman who is forced by her husband to pose for the painting he is working on. A dark story with a very good ending.
And "The Story of Caroline" about a daughter who wants to see her birth mother.
And "Rooms by the Sea", which is about an unusual family with an unusual house, with elements of magical realism.

Manhattan Noir 2: The Classics
edited by Lawrence Block
  1. “Mrs. Manstey’s View” by Edith Wharton (1891) – This was the author’s first published short story.
  2. “A Poker Game” by Stephen Crane (1902) – Didn't really get this story.
  3. “The Furnished Room” by O. Henry (1906) – Dark with an ironic ending.
  4. “Spanish Blood” by Langston Hughes (1934) – Set in Harlem,during the Prohibition era.
  5. “Sailor off the Bremen” by Irwin Shaw (1939) – A tale of revenge, very noir. Lots of violence, the darkest tale so far.
  6. “My Aunt from Twelfth Street” by Jerome Weidman (1939) – A strange story about a young boy who visits his aunt, a Galician, who refuses to live in the same neighborhood as her relatives and others of the same background. 
OxCrimes (introd. by Ian Rankin, ed. by Mark Ellingham and Peter Florence)
  1. "Buy and Bust" by Simon Lewis
  2. "I’ve Seen That Movie Too" by Val McDermid
  3. "Caught Short" by Anthony Horowitz
  4. "An Afternoon" by Ian Rankin
All of those stories were very good. The Anthony Horowitz story was darker than I expected from him. The story from Ian Rankin was unusual in that it was written before he had begun writing crime fiction novels. It was interesting but a bit confusing to me, but I did enjoy the comments by Rankin that followed the story.

I had read the first two stories in this book earlier:  "The Dead Their Eyes Implore Us" by George Pelecanos and "Case of Death and Honey" by Neil Gaiman. I enjoyed both of those stories also.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mildred Pierce: James M. Cain

Mildred Pierce is a novel by a crime fiction author, James M. Cain, but it is not a mystery. It is the story of a divorced mother of two girls who struggles to support herself and her daughters during the Great Depression. The novel was made into a movie with Joan Crawford in 1945 and a TV miniseries starring Kate Winslet in 2011, so probably most people know about this book and it needs little introduction.

  • Main characters: Mildred Pierce, mother of two daughters, Veda and Ray. Bert Pierce, her husband at the outset of the novel.
  • Setting: Glendale, a major city in the Greater Los Angeles Area. Currently Glendale is the third largest city in LA County, with a population of about 200,000. When this book was written, the population was only about 80,000.
  • Time: 1930's. Begins in 1931, during the Great Depression. Veda is eleven and Ray is seven. 

As the book opens, Bert Pierce is doing yard work. He comes indoors, and soon he and his wife Mildred are having an argument over his contribution to the marriage and his continuing involvement with another woman. Mildred asks him to move out, and thus begins her effort to find a way to pay the mortgage and support her two daughters.

The family had been used to having money. In his youth, Bert was lucky enough to inherit some land, and became a partner in a housing development. He invested the money in AT&T and the Pierces had plenty of money.
But then came Black Thursday of 1929, and his plunge to ruin was so rapid he could hardly see Pierce Homes disappear on his way down. In September he had been rich, and Mildred picked out the mink coat she would buy when the weather grew cooler. In November, with the weather not a bit cooler, he had to sell the spare car to pay current bills. 
Thus times are desperate for the Pierces. Bert has no money and has not been successful at getting a job. Mildred sells cakes that she bakes herself, but that won't pay the bills for long. She begins looking for a job but doesn't have the skills for any jobs other than housekeeper or waitress, which she considers too menial. And this is when we discover that her horror of taking a job like housekeeper or waitress is because Veda, her eldest daughter, will be ashamed of her.

From this point on, it seems that almost every choice Mildred makes is in service of Veda, to buy her clothes or piano lessons, or so that she will be the mother that Veda will be proud of. Veda is haughty and snobbish, even at the age of 11, and Mildred knows that she will choose to live with her father and his parents if things don't go her way. The younger daughter Ray is just a normal child, but very much in Veda's shadow.

The story continues on through another 10 years at least, with Mildred working hard and investing money in Veda's musical career, and continuing to seek her love and approval. It was hard for me to feel sympathy or empathy for any of the characters. That is not a requirement for a good book, of course, but it does usually lead to more enjoyment in reading in my case. I have heard of parents who are blind to their children's faults, but Mildred is not blind to Veda's manipulative behavior or her willingness to use people. She actively supports almost anything Veda wants, knowing what kind of person she is. Veda despises her mother but continues to take her money and her support. Even though Veda behaves appallingly, Mildred has only herself to blame for any suffering she experiences.

There were aspects I liked about this book but I cannot say it was a pleasant read.  I did find this a good portrayal of life in the US in the 1930's and appreciated Mildred as a strong female character, with drive and ambition, although not an admirable one. I liked the novel best when the story was concentrating on Mildred's abilities in setting up a restaurant and running a business, and the help she got from friends and acquaintances.

Many people who have seen the 1945 movie starring Joan Crawford assume that the book is much like the movie. I thought the same until a couple of years ago. The movie is a film noir, and it has murder mystery plot. Much of it is told in flashbacks with Mildred telling the police her story. That structure is not at all like the book. I do remember liking the acting and, of course, the movie is beautifully made.

This post is a submission for Friday Forgotten Books at Pattinase, hosted by Patti Abbott. On February 17th, the theme is Children Gone Wrong. Mildred Pierce is not a forgotten book but Veda Pierce definitely fits the description of an extremely difficult child. I don't know that she is monstrous or even wicked so much as self-centered to the extent of caring for no one but herself.


Publisher:   Vintage, 1989 (orig. publ. 1941).
Length:      238 pages
Format:      Paperback
Setting:      Glendale, California
Genre:        Literary fiction
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, 2014..

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Dead Lions: Mick Herron

From the description at Penguin Random House:
The disgruntled agents of Slough House, the MI5 branch where washed-up spies are sent to finish their failed careers on desk duty, are called into action to protect a visiting Russian oligarch whom MI5 hopes to recruit to British intelligence. While two agents are dispatched on that babysitting job, though, an old Cold War-era spy named Dickie Bow is found dead, ostensibly of a heart attack, on a bus outside of Oxford, far from his usual haunts. 
But the head of Slough House, the irascible Jackson Lamb, is convinced Dickie Bow was murdered. As the agents dig into their fallen comrade’s circumstances, they uncover a shadowy tangle of ancient Cold War secrets that seem to lead back to a man named Alexander Popov, who is either a Soviet bogeyman or the most dangerous man in the world.
I have now read three books by Mick Herron and not one of them has disappointed me. Of the three, Down Cemetery Road (2003) featuring Zoe Boehm is my favorite. The other two are firmly in the spy fiction genre, and also very entertaining.

Slow Horses, the first book in the Slough House series, was published in 2010. Dead Lions is the second in the series, published in 2013, and it won the CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger. I liked both books because they move fairly slowly and patiently through the story for the first one half to two thirds, and then the action gets more intense and they have a wow finish. I like a wow finish.

As I noted in my review of Slow Horses, Mick Herron is very good with characterization. Even bit players are fleshed out. We get to learn a bit more about some of the spies that have been sent off to Slough House this time. As is typical of spy novels, the plot is complex, sometimes to the point of confusion. But it all pulls together in the end. Not only is the book beautifully written, it is not overly serious, with plenty of humor.

See reviews of Dead Lions at Crime Scraps Review and The View from the Blue House.


Publisher:  Soho Crime, 2013.
Length:    347 pages
Format:   Trade paperback
Series:     Slough House #2
Setting:    UK
Genre:     Espionage fiction
Source:   Purchased my copy

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Strong Poison: Dorothy Sayers

It seems that readers are divided on Dorothy Sayers' Peter Wimsey series; they either love her writing or they strongly dislike it. Although I have considered myself a fan of Sayers' crime fiction, when I reread some of the books in recent years I did not like them nearly as well. I am not sure why, but I would categorize myself now as middle of the road regarding her books.

Lord Peter Wimsey is a British gentleman detective, the younger son of an aristocratic family. His hobby is investigating crimes and collecting first editions and incunabula (books printed before 1501). He works at times with Chief-Inspector Charles Parker of Scotland Yard and Mervyn Bunter, his sometimes cranky manservant.

My motivation to reread Strong Poison peaked when I purchased a copy of Haunted Honeymoon (this is the US title of the film), the 1940 film adaptation of Busman's Honeymoon. I thought that the first book that Harriet appears in would work well as a re-introduction to the Peter / Harriet books. I was right, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Both Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night are much longer books than Strong Poison, and Gaudy Night places much more emphasis on characters than the mystery, which is fine but not what I was looking for. The advantage of those two later books are that Harriet and Peter work together in the detection, whereas in this one Harriet isn't available and they don't even have too many scenes together. Of course, if you haven't read any of them, you should read this one first for sure.

Harriet Vane has been accused of murder; Peter has been following her trial and does not believe that she is guilty. The first trial has a hung jury, so a new trial begins. From my point of view, the evidence is all circumstantial and I don't see how it gets as far as it does, but I don't understand the legalities involved. The reason Harriet is the prime (indeed, really the only) suspect is that she had written a book using the same method of poisoning to kill the victim, and she had acquired arsenic as research for her book. So she can be proved to have some of the necessary poison. The victim was also her lover and they had a bitter break up earlier, so there is the motive. In addition to having a strong belief in Harriet's innocence, Lord Peter has fallen in love with her. So he sets out to find out who really did the deed.

I relished this book because it featured so many characters that I have liked in the series. The Dowager Duchess (Lord Peter's mother), Chief-Inspector Parker (who has been dithering over getting serious about Peter's sister because he thought he wasn't good enough for the family), and Bunter, who feels a bit threatened by Peter's attraction to Harriet. Miss Climpson gets a very good role, helping out tremendously in gathering evidence. Another very strong point in its favor is Harriet’s reaction to Peter’s proposal while she is in jail. It is priceless.

Strong Poison, while shorter than the next two Peter / Harriet books, was still a bit long and I would have liked to see the investigation (or the telling of it) move a bit faster, but it was worth it in the end. I am pretty sure this book is different from most others in the series in that Lord Peter has to sit on the sidelines and direct others in doing jobs for him to work towards clearing Harriet. I look forward to reading Busman's Honeymoon soon, even though I have now discovered that it too is a bit on the longish side.

Check these posts for more detail on the plot and characters and other views: at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist..., Carol's Notebook, RogerBW's Blog, Reactions to Reading, My Reader's Block, Clothes in Books, and Lady Business.


Publisher:  Avon Books, 1967 (orig. publ. 1930).
Length:      192 pages (of very tiny print)
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Peter Wimsey, #6
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copies.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Reading in January 2017

I read eight novels in January but not all of them were in the crime fiction genre.

Mildred Pierce is a novel by a crime fiction author, James M. Cain, but it is not a mystery. It is the story of a divorced mother of two girls who struggles to support herself and her daughters during the Great Depression. The novel was made into a movie with Joan Crawford in 1945 and a TV miniseries starring Kate Winslet in 2011, so probably most people know about this book and it needs no introduction.

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier is hard to categorize but it is somewhere in the fantasy / science fiction / apocalyptic story spectrum. From the book description: "The City is inhabited by those who have departed Earth but are still remembered by the living. They will reside in this afterlife until they are completely forgotten [by anyone left on Earth]."  A fine book that I am very glad I read.

The six crime fiction books I read were:

Smiley's People by John le Carré
The final book in the Karla Trilogy. In the books that make up the trilogy, Smiley is on a quest to uncover Karla, the Russian agent who was running the mole in MI6 who was uncovered in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin
The second book in the Inspector Rebus series, and the first book I read for the Read Scotland 2017 challenge.
Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
The second book in the Philip Marlowe series. As I said in my review, "The picture of Los Angeles in 1940 was interesting, the characters were well defined, and the descriptions of the area and the characters were breath-taking."
Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham
This is the seventh book in a long series of novels featuring Albert Campion. I am rereading this series and I enjoyed reading this again hugely. It is a story about murder in a publishing house.

This is a Bust by Ed Lin
Published in 2007, this book is the first of three books featuring Robert Chow, a Chinese-American policeman in New York's Chinatown. It is set in 1976, and Chow is a Vietnam vet and an alcoholic. Sounds like it would be depressing, but overall, it is not.
The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie
A book in the Hercule Poirot series, published in 1936. Captain Hastings is visiting Poirot, back from his ranch in South America. Poirot receives a letter hinting that a crime will take place in Andover. Thus begins a series of murders, each set in a different city. The presence of Captain Hastings as narrator is a plus for me.

Plans for Reading in February

Richard Robinson at Tip the Wink suggested Short Story February, where we will focus on short stories during that month. On February 1st, I finished a book I started in January (Last Rights by Barbara Nadel) and I will be reading a book for the Crimes of the Century meme at Past Offences, but other than that I will focus on short stories this month.

I have now read seven stories in two anthologies, In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper and Manhattan Noir 2: The Classics. Both of these anthologies were edited by Lawrence Block. I also plan to read from Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi. I am sure I will find other sources for short stories during the month. I have a lot of  anthologies on my shelves.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Farewell, My Lovely: Raymond Chandler

At the beginning of Farewell, My Lovely, Philip Marlowe is hired (under some duress) to look for an ex-con's old girl friend, but along the way he is distracted by a case involving some missing jewelry.  Lin Marriott hires Marlowe to protect him when he hands over a ransom for the return of the jewels; during this operation, Marlowe is knocked out and Marriott is killed. The police tell Chandler to stay out of that case, but he is hired by the wealthy couple who own the stolen jewelry to recover it. Anne Riordan, the daughter of the former police chief of Bay City, gets involved and helps him in the investigation.

The only other book I have read by Chandler is The Big Sleep and, based on that experience, I expected to enjoy reading this book. I was not disappointed. The plot was convoluted and circuitous and I was lost at times, but I did not care. The style of writing was so well done, so beautiful that I was mesmerized.  The picture of Los Angeles in 1940 was interesting, the characters were well defined, and the descriptions of the area and the characters were breath-taking.

I did wonder why the story seemed so disjointed, but later remembered that this book was cobbled together from three short stories. That explains several subplots that generally are worked into the overall mystery plot but tend to go off on their own for quite a while. It did not really matter at all. The story is such a joy to read I wasn't bothered by the extraneous plots.

My favorite character in the book (other than Marlowe, of course) was Anne Riordan. She is straightforward, clever, and able to give Marlowe as good as she gets. She seems to have inherited her investigative abilities from her police chief father. It is good to see a woman given a strong, positive role in this type of book.

Some reviews I read noted that Marlowe was racist. I did not notice that in this book. Various characters do speak in disparaging ways about blacks, but those comments are not reflections of Marlowe's attitudes or his behavior. The story does provide a comparison of how the death of a black owner of a bar vs. the death of a white man, Marriott, is treated by the police. Nulty, an incompetent detective, is assigned the first case and no one really cares what results he gets. Inspector Randall of Central Homicide is assigned Marriott's death and that case is pursued throughout the book. There is also a separate subplot about corruption in the Bay City government and police department. Thus we get social commentary along with the mystery plot.

Farewell, My Lovely was adapted in 1944 as the film noir, Murder, My Sweet; it is very stylish and very entertaining. I was surprised to find that this movie, starring Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe, preceded The Big Sleep, with Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe. Thus Dick Powell was the first actor to portray Marlowe in a movie (although in 1942, The Falcon Takes Over, a film in the Falcon series, used the plot of Farewell, My Lovely).

The role of Marlowe in this film gave Powell the chance to leave behind his male ingenue singing roles. I have always loved him in those roles, but he wanted out of musicals and to prove himself capable of serious roles. He did a great job in the role, very convincing, and also included a humorous touch in his portrayal.

Claire Trevor was gorgeous and predatory in the role of Helen Grayle, the woman married to the much older Mr. Grayle who owns the missing jade necklace. In the movie, the Anne Riordan role becomes Ann Grayle, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Grayle, trying to save her father from the pain of losing his young and beautiful wife. Ann is played very charmingly by Anne Shirley. The plot in the movie changes a lot from the book, and several confusing subplots are jettisoned. But the movie is just as confusing in it own way. I also liked Otto Kruger playing the role of Jules Amthor, the fake psychic.

In 1975, Robert Mitchum starred in a second adaptation of Farewell, My Lovely. I have not seen that version, but you can check out this post at Tipping My Fedora.

See reviews also at Past Offences, The Crime Segments, A Crime is Afoot, and avidbookreader. Most of those reviews have more plot detail than my post does.

I purchased both of my copies of the book at the Planned Parenthood book sale last year. The top picture is the one I read and features the red-headed Anne Riordan and Marlowe. The second book pictured here has gorgeous cover art by Tom Adams.


Publisher:   Vintage Books, 1976. Orig. pub. 1940.
Length:      249 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Philip Marlowe, #2
Setting:      Los Angeles
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copies.