Friday, May 13, 2022

Rebecca: Daphne du Maurier #DDMreadingweek

I read Rebecca in April for my Classics Club list and for the Back to the Classics Challenge and it was a great read. I wasn't sure how to classify this book as to genre. It could be called a mystery, or romance, or romantic suspense, or gothic mystery. Although I think many people consider this a romance, especially if they haven't read the book, at Goodreads the top genres it is categorized in by members are: Classics, Fiction, Mystery, and Gothic, with Romance a distant fifth. It is all of those things at times, and maybe that is why some readers don't care for it.

The heroine is very young (21), inexperienced, and naïve. She is alone in the world. As the novel begins she is in Monte Carlo working as a paid companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, an overbearing American woman. When Mrs. Van Hopper becomes very ill and cannot leave the hotel room for more than a week, Maxim de Winter invites Rebecca to go with him driving around the countryside, and after several days of this she gradually falls in love with him. She knows that he is a widower and that his wife died a year ago, but only because Mrs. Van Hopper had told her that. 

Mrs. Van Hopper decides to return to the US, and Maxim proposes to our heroine. Quite quickly, she become Mrs. Maxim de Winter and after a protracted honeymoon in Italy, they go to Maxim's home, Manderley. From the moment she arrives, she feels like she is in competition with the memory of Maxim's first wife, Rebecca.

We never learn the narrator's name. If she is referred to in the book she is called Mrs. de Winter or the current Mrs. de Winter. The first Mrs. de Winter is usually referred to as Rebecca. 


Quotes

There are some wonderful descriptive paragraphs, especially in the first chapter or two. The first line is very famous: 

I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

And later in the first chapter:

There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the grey stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and the terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand. The terrace sloped to the lawns, and the lawns stretched to the sea, and turning I could see the sheet of silver placid under the moon, like a lake undisturbed by wind or storm. No waves would come to ruffle this dream water, and no bulk of cloud, wind-driven from the west, obscure the clarity of this pale sky. 


In Chapter 5, when the narrator is telling of the days in Monte Carlo:

I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say. They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word.


My thoughts

  • In addition to the main characters already noted, there are many interesting secondary characters. Some of them are: Mrs. Danvers, who adored Rebecca and intimidates the new Mrs. de Winter; Frank Crawley, the estate manager at Manderley, a kind and honorable man; and Beatrice Lacy, Maxim's sister, and her husband Giles. Also some of the servants at Manderley: Frith, the butler; Robert, a younger servant; and Clarice, the new Mrs. de Winter's maid.
  • I liked the structure of the book. At the beginning, the narrator is looking back on events earlier in her life, when she met Maxim de Winter, and their life at Manderley. At that point she is approaching middle age, and she and Maxim are traveling and staying in inexpensive hotels. We know that they have a life together and the story is about how they arrived at that point. 
  • I did not like it that we never learn the narrator's name, but it wasn't really a problem.
  • I wavered as to how much I liked the novel as I was reading it. I felt like I was reading the book for a second time, but it may just be that I remembered the story from watching the film adaptation (with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine). Regardless, having some familiarity with parts of the story did affect my reading. I liked the writing throughout. I was tense while reading the middle section, filled with dread because I knew what was in store for Rebecca. Luckily, I had forgotten some aspects of the ending so that part was a surprise and I ended up loving the book. 


This edition includes excerpts from Daphne du Maurier's The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories: an author's note, an essay on the real house which the fictional Manderley was based on, and du Maurier's original epilogue to the book.


This review was written for the Daphne du Maurier Reading Week hosted at Heavenali's blog. Check out other posts related to du Maurier's books there.



 -----------------------------

Publisher:  Harper, 2006 (orig. pub. 1938)
Length:      386 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      UK, Monaco
Genre:       Fiction, Classic
Source:      On my TBR pile, purchased in 2020.


Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: More Pirates in Space

This week I returned to stories from Cosmic Corsairs, edited by Hank Davis and Christopher Ruocchio. I have previous covered other stories in this anthology HERE and HERE. The stories in the book focus on space pirates, and were written between 1941 and 2020.

"They Never Come Back" by Fritz Lieber 

This story was first published in 1941 in the August issue of Future Fiction. It is described as a novella at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database; it is about 45 pages long in this anthology. This anthology, published in 2020, was the first to reprint this story.

I think that this is the first thing I have read by Fritz Lieber. I enjoyed the story very much. A bit old-fashioned I guess, but that is as it should be. Bart Harlan has recently heard that his former girlfriend was killed in the loss of a ship that was traveling the warp from Mars to Earth. Space warps are the method of travel in space in this story, and it sounded a perfectly good explanation to me. Regardless, a ship and its crew has never been recovered after losing contact with the warp, so there is no hope he will see her again. Except that he believes that there is a way to rescue the ship and he does his best to pursue that goal. The problem is that he is not an official navigator and no one will listen to him. So he gets a job on a beat up old spaceship that is going in the right direction, and later finds out he has gotten mixed up with ruthless pirates. The story was exciting and held my attention.


"Breaking News Regarding Space Pirates" by Brian Trent

Jolene Fort is a former space pirate, now retired. She was renowned for stealing valuable art objects. So when Bradley Winterfig's collection is vandalized and some very valuable pieces stolen, he has the Police Department of the space colony bring Jolene to his private vault for questioning. This is a clever locked room mystery, and Jolene Fort is a great character.

First published in 2016 in Galaxy's Edge, no. 23. It is ten pages long in the Cosmic Corsairs anthology.


"Teen Angel" by Robert Garcia y Robertson

Under normal circumstances, I would not seek out a story about a young girl turned into a sex slave, but this one turned to be well worth reading. The story was originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction, February 2006, and is identified as a novelette by the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. In this anthology the story is about 34 pages long. 

A young girl is taken by a slaver, who turns her into a remote controlled sex toy for his master. However, she retains her compassion and good nature through the years, and is intelligent enough to take advantage of the situation when she has the opportunity to escape. I did get immersed in the story of how she finds her way back home, and how life has changed when she returned. 



Rick Robinson at Tip the Wink introduced me to this book, and sent me his copy to read. Also see George Kelley's review of Cosmic Corsairs for comments on more of the stories and a list of the stories.

I have five stories and about 80 pages left to read in Cosmic Corsairs.



Sunday, May 8, 2022

Reading Summary for April 2022



I felt like my reading in April went very slowly, and that has continued into May. Towards the end of April, there were nine days that I did not finish a book at all which never happens to me. But I did read eight books in April. Two general fiction books, one fantasy, and five books in the crime fiction genre. All of them were good reads, and three of them I gave five stars, which for me just means that they were especially good reads. So, not a bad month at all.



And here is what I have read...


General Fiction

Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier

This is the most widely known novel written by Daphne de Maurier. It may not be the best; I haven't read any others. I read Rebecca for my Classics Club list and for the Back to the Classics Challenge and it was a great read. I can't decide if I had read it before, years ago. Maybe I had just watched the Hitchcock film. Either way, we will be watching the Hitchcock film again soon.




Because of Sam
(1954) by Molly Clavering

This book is part of the Furrowed Middlebrow collection from Dean Street Press, books by women writers of the early to mid-twentieth century. I had heard of the author, and purchased some her books for the Kindle, including Because of Sam, but I was motivated to read this book after I read Cath's review at Read-Warbler. I loved it, although it took me half the book to figure out where it was going, and even then I was only partly right. It is a lovely postwar story set in a village in Scotland. 



Fantasy

The Midnight Library (2020) by Matt Haig

After dying, Nora Seed wakes up in a library and the books on the shelves are all possible lives she could live. She is given the opportunity to try some of those lives and return to one of them if she chooses. The story is about regrets and opportunities. This was my first book by Matt Haig.  It did not live up to my expectations but I still enjoyed it a lot. I do look forward to reading Haig's other books on my shelves.



Crime Fiction

Go, Lovely Rose (1954) by Jean Potts

Rachel Buckmaster returns to her small midwestern hometown when her brother calls to tell her that the housekeeper who had lived with them for decades has died. When her death is declared murder rather than accidental, Rachel's brother is the main suspect. My review here.


Dog On It (2009) by Spencer Quinn

This was a book which went beyond my expectations. It is a mystery narrated by a dog, and I was a bit leery of that, although I knew that this is a series loved by many. Chet, the dog who narrates, flunked out of K-9 training, but still has the heart of a detective. His owner, private investigator Bernie Little, is not perfect but never gives up on the case. Together they are a great pair and I hope to read more of the books in the series. The setting seems to be Arizona, although I don't think that is really specified in this book.


Beast in View (1955) by Margaret Millar

Beast in View by Margaret Millar was my pick from the latest Classic Club Spin. Helen Clarvoe is a rich young woman who lives in a low quality hotel. She gets a threatening call from a woman from her past that she does not remember, and calls in her father's old investment counselor to help. This is a very brief book that could easily be read in one sitting or in one day. The book was published in 1955, and won the Edgar for Best Novel in 1956. My review here.


Bangkok 8 (2003) by John Burdett

This story is set in Thailand and the main character is a Thai policeman, Sonchai Jitpleecheep. His partner (and life-long friend) is killed on the job and Sonchai has vowed revenge. The story is told from Sonchai's point of view and I really like the voice it is told in. The story covers some challenging topics: transsexualism, prostitution, drugs and alcoholism. This book is #1 in a series I would like to continue reading.


Why Didn't They Ask Evans?
(1934) by Agatha Christie

This is lighter and breezier than most novels by Agatha Christie. The two main characters are Bobby Jones, the vicar's son, and Lady Frances Derwent (Frankie). They were friends in childhood but have drifted apart as they grew older. Bobby discovers a dead body which had fallen off of the cliffs of the Welsh seacoast, and Frankie is convinced it was murder. It was a very entertaining story, once I settled into the tone of the book, and I never had a clue who the murderer was. I read it at this time because we wanted to watch Hugh Laurie's adaptation, and we have now done that. I enjoyed it as much or more than the book.


Status of my challenges and other events:

  • I have read and reviewed four novels for the European Reading Challenge. That leaves only one more to complete my goal of five books, but I hope to read more novels set in European countries.
  • I have read at least six books that fit categories for the Book Bingo Challenge
  • Back to the Classics Challenge: I have read Rebecca by du Maurier, for the "20th century classic." I have read and reviewed Beast in View by Millar, which can be used either for a "classic by a woman author" or for the "Mystery/Detective/Crime classic."
  • The TBR Pile Challenge: Two books that I read this month were for this challenge, Dog On It by Spencer Quinn and Bangkok 8 by John Burdette. 
  • In March and April I read two books for the 1954 Club: Go, Lovely Rose by Jean Potts and Death Likes It Hot by Edgar Box (aka Gore Vidal).



The photo at the top of the post and the one immediately above are from a recent visit to our local plant nursery, the first one this year. My husband took photos of plants, pots, and garden decorations. Click on the images for best viewing quality.


Saturday, April 30, 2022

Beast in View: Margaret Millar

Beast in View by Margaret Millar was my pick from the latest Classic Club Spin. I have already read four books by Millar and enjoyed them all, to different degrees. I had avoided this one so far because I thought it would be too tense and scary (for me). It did not live up to my expectations, but it wasn't that tense and scary either. 

Helen Clarvoe is a rich young woman who inherited all of her father's money but lives in a low quality hotel. Her mother and brother live in the family home, but don't have enough money to maintain it. She gets a threatening call from a woman from her past that she does not remember, and calls in her father's old investment counselor to help. That is all the overview of the story that I want to share because I think it is best for new readers to read this story knowing very little about it.

Events get very weird after that and and the author kept me guessing throughout. I guessed what was going on very early in the book, but then was fooled by the author's clever writing into considering other options.

This is a very brief book. My edition was close to 250 pages, but most editions are around 170 pages. The action takes place over a short time, a few days. The story could easily be read in one sitting or in one day. I started it later in the evening and finished it the next morning, and I am a slow reader. The book was published in 1955, and won the Edgar for Best Novel in 1956.

Here is an excerpt from the first chapter, following the threatening phone call:

Miss Clarvoe hung up. She knew how to deal with June [telephone operator at the hotel] and others like her. One hung up. One severed connections.

What Miss Clarvoe did not realize was that she had severed too many connections in her life, she had hung up too often, too easily, on too many people. Now, at thirty, she was alone. The telephone no longer rang, and when someone knocked on her door, it was the waiter bringing up her dinner, or the woman from the beauty parlour to cut her hair, or the bellboy, with the morning paper. There was no longer anyone to hang up on except a switchboard operator who used to work in her father’s office, and a lunatic stranger with a crystal ball.

She had hung up on the stranger, yes, but not quickly enough. It was as if her loneliness had compelled her to listen; even words of evil were better than no words at all.

The entire first chapter is available online, at CrimeReads.


As I noted, I did not find the story that tense but it was very dark. Most of the characters were damaged in some way. Evelyn's mother's treatment of both of her children when they were young and in their adulthood was upsetting. She was not a major character but she had a prominent role. Attitudes toward homosexuality as depicted in this book were archaic, although those attitudes can be found now as well. (I am assuming that those attitudes are not the author's.) Although I did not enjoy reading Beast in View, I thought it was a worthwhile read and very well done. It just wasn't a pleasant read for me. 

I have read other books by Millar, and I liked all of them more than I did this one, even though this one won the Edgar for Best Novel. However, this is a book that I would recommend, for two reasons. First, many reviewers liked it much more than I did. Also, it is a groundbreaking novel, although the plot can be seen as stale and overused now; it is familiar because it as been copied so much. At the time it was very original.



 -----------------------------

Publisher:  International Polygonics, 1983 (orig. pub. 1955)
This edition includes a brief Introduction and Afterword by Margaret Millar, written in 1983.
Length:      247 pages
Format:      Paperback
Setting:      Los Angeles, California
Genre:       Mystery, Psychological Suspense
Source:      On my TBR piles since 2016.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "Stranger Station" by Damon Knight

Last year I featured a book of mostly science fiction short stories, Bug-Eyed Monsters, edited by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg. After all these months, I have finally read some stories from that book. That post shows the front and back covers of the book and lists all the stories in the book.


"Stranger Station" is the first story in the Bug-Eyed Monsters anthology. It was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, December 1956, but has been included in a good number of anthologies since then. I had never read it or any other story by Damon Knight, so I was happy to have this opportunity.

It is a first contact story, except that the story is set long after the first contact and this is more about the impact years after the initial meeting. The aliens were so massive and repulsive to humans that the contact has been sparse and only occasionally do the aliens visit a space station that is set aside especially to enable that visit. When one of the aliens comes, it is only for one purpose, to provide a substance for the humans which the humans have come to rely on. A lot of the background is left to the imagination, which was OK because I can make up my own story around the events. 

One human is selected to facilitate the exchange with the alien being. He is alone on Stranger Station until the alien arrives. He is supplied with a talking computer, an "alpha network" that can provide all his needs and that may be close to a sentient being. The human calls it "Aunt Jane" and they develop a bit of a relationship with each other. 

"Stranger Station" is a longish story (about 30 pages) and most of it consists of the  human, Sergeant Wesson, getting ready for his encounter with the alien and trying to find out more about the station. I enjoyed the story and will be looking for more to read by Damon Knight. I would also enjoy the same story with more length and explanation.


A side note: I was recently motivated to read this story and others in this book because Todd Mason had written a post at Sweet Freedom on short stories by Damon Knight in 1956 and "Stranger Station" was listed there. 


After reading "Stranger Station," I read four more stories in the anthology.

  • "Talent" (1960) by Robert Bloch
  • "The Other Kids" (1956) by Robert F. Young
  • "Puppet Show" (1962) by Fredric Brown
  • "The Faceless Thing" (1963) by Edward D. Hoch

Only one of those stories has an actual bug-eyed monster. The stories by Robert Bloch and Fredric Brown were my favorites. The other two had ambiguous endings, which usually don't bother me, but in these cases I wanted more than that.


Thursday, April 21, 2022

#1954Club: Go, Lovely Rose

Go, Lovely Rose is the second mystery novel that I read for the 1954 Club. It is a much darker story than Death Likes it Hot by Edgar Box, and is an early example of domestic suspense. 

Rachel Buckmaster returns to her small midwestern hometown, Coreyville, from Chicago when her brother, Hartley, calls to tell her that Rose Henshaw, the housekeeper who had lived with them for decades, has died from a fall on the stairs to the cellar. They both hated the housekeeper and their father, now deceased, insisted that she could live in their house until her death. Now they can sell the house and use the money to pay for Hartley's college education. The death is initially considered an accident, but the housekeeper's sister won't accept this. Eventually Hartley is arrested for the murder of the housekeeper.

The story focuses as much on the relationship of two families in Coreyville as on the crime and the investigation. Bix Bovard, a 16-year-old girl, and her father and mother live near the Buckmasters. Hugh Bovard, the local newspaper editor, was a close friend of the Buckmaster's father. His wife, Althea, has never recovered from the death of their son, years earlier. Bix and Hartley are very close and spend a lot of time together. The story has a dark ending, but it is not a depressing story. 

My thoughts:

This was Jean Potts' first novel, and she was awarded the Best First Novel Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America for it. It is the only one of her books that I have read so far, but I will be reading more of them.

The characterization was exceptional. It was the younger female characters who pursued the search for the real murderer, Rachel and her young neighbor Bix. Bix is clearly the person most upset by Hartley's arrest. 

There is a romance between Rachel and the doctor who took over her father's medical practice, which I would usually consider a distraction. But I liked the way it was handled. Neither of the characters will admit to themselves that there is any attraction between them.

The author was successful at convincing me that anyone could be guilty of the crime. On the other hand, I had pretty much eliminated the person who did it, and was totally surprised at the ending. It was shocking and very well done. 


Because two characters use the phrase "go, lovely rose" when talking about the victim, I looked into the source of the title. I assume it was based on Edmund Waller's poem of the same name.

The first few lines are:

Go, lovely rose!

Tell her that wastes her time and me,

That now she knows,

When I resemble her to thee,

How sweet and fair she seems to be.


John Norris wrote the introduction to the Stark House reprint edition, which also included The Evil Wish, first published in 1962. In fact, my biggest motive for buying the Stark House edition of the book was for John's introduction.


This is the second book I read for the 1954 Club, hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings.



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

Publisher:  Stark House, 2019 (orig. publ. 1954)
Length:      152 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      Midwestern small town, US
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      On my TBR piles since 2019.


Monday, April 18, 2022

#1954Club: Death Likes It Hot

Death Likes It Hot is the last book in a short series of three mysteries about a publicist who also ends up investigating murders. The author was Edgar Box; later it was revealed that this was a pseudonym used by Gore Vidal. This book is set in the Hamptons and was published in 1954. 

This is the first book I read for the 1954 Club, hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings.


Peter Cutler Sargeant II is young, around 30, and has his own public relations agency in New York City. He is an amateur sleuth whose involvement in crime solving is mostly accidental. But by this third book in the series he is fairly well known for his prowess in that area.

In this book he has been invited to spend a weekend in the Hamptons by a society woman who wants to discuss a possible job. There are a few other people staying there at the same time: her niece and the niece's husband, a well­-known artist; a woman who writes books and has a column in a magazine; a brother and sister who are very close, acting almost like a married couple. The niece dies shortly after he arrives, while swimming in the ocean, in full view of all the guests. The death is suspicious but is it murder?


I also have an omnibus edition published in 2010 with introductions for each book by Gore Vidal. The introductions are very interesting.  Gore Vidal was unable to get his books reviewed by the New York Times for several years in the early fifties, which severely curtailed his income. A publisher talked him into writing a few mysteries using a pseudonym, and the Peter Sergeant series was the result. And the books did keep him afloat financially for quite a while.

How did this book reflect its time? 

There was definitely sexism in male attitudes toward women, which is normal for books written in the 1950s, but there were also intelligent and interesting female characters whose lives were not centered on finding a man and being taken care of. 

Also, I noted that both of the books I read for the 1954 Club were about people with a comfortable life style. Obviously people who live in the Hamptons, even at that time, were rich, and most of their friends and guests were also well-to-do. The books I chose were mystery novels and I think there was a tendency at that time for the stories to center around the rich or those with comfortable means. Certainly a majority of the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout and the Agatha Christie novels bear that out. Not that I ever had any objection to that; I don't mind at all reading about lifestyles that are very different than mine.


Opinions:

The following paragraph is from a review in 1001 Midnights (1986, ed. Bill Pronzini and Marcia Muller).

Clever deductions, fair play with the reader, and the Christie-Queen bag of tricks are not Vidal’s strong points. But his mastery of the language permeates even these mysteries that he himself shrugs off as potboilers cranked out for money, and his tone of cynical, good-humored tolerance toward an America populated exclusively by crooks, opportunists, and buffoons is as close to the true spirit of H. L. Mencken as mystery fiction is ever likely to see.

For myself, I would say that I enjoyed the plot and the picture of the Hamptons in 1954. Peter Sergeant is a pleasant and intelligent sleuth. In this book he was just as interested in making connections with his friend, Liz Bessemer, as he was in solving the crime. It was not the best mystery I ever read, but it was an entertaining story.


I know very little about Gore Vidal. After reading this book I am interested in trying some books by him aside from the mysteries, but I have no idea where to start. Any suggestions are welcome.

From what I have read about the books in the series, this last one is the best one. I still plan to read the first two books. The first one, Death in the Fifth Position, is set in a dance company and the ballet world, and that sounds especially interesting.


Also see this post by Curtis Evans at The Passing Tramp on Death Likes It Hot, with links to other posts about the earlier books in the series.


 -----------------------------

Publisher: Vintage Books, 1979 (orig. pub. 1954)
Length: 184 pages
Format: Paperback
Series:  Peter Cutler Sergeant II, #3
Setting: New York, The Hamptons
Genre:  Mystery
Source: Purchased at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, 2013.


Friday, April 15, 2022

Dressed for Death: Donna Leon

This is the third book in the Commissario Brunetti series (also published as The Anonymous Venetian); I read the first two books in 2011.  It was a very complicated story and a great reintroduction to the series. The police procedural part of the book is very well done. The case was interesting, and had just enough twists and turns to keep me guessing.

It is August, Venice's weather is hot and humid, and Commissario Brunetti is preparing to go on vacation in the mountains with his family, to escape the heat. He hasn't had a vacation with his family in a long time, and he has promised them it will happen this time. Instead, he sends his family off to the cool mountains while he has to work on a new case. This happens to policemen a lot. 

Brunetti has to go to Mestre because the Commissarios there are all unavailable. The dead body of a woman, dressed as a prostitute, has been found near a slaughterhouse. But it turns out the body is really a man, and the assumption is that he was a transvestite. The face is so mutilated that identification of the body is difficult. This slows down the investigation. As the case proceeds, Brunetti runs into corruption in the government and the investigation is blocked from many avenues. 

Brunetti's wife Paola and his two kids are mostly missing from the story, but on the plus side Elettra Zorzi is introduced in this book. Signorina Elettra is Brunetti's boss's assistant, and a very entertaining and enterprising character. 

While Brunetti is at home alone he reads a lot and cooks some wonderful, simple meals. The emphasis on food and reading reminded me of the Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camilleri. I am only a few books into both series and I am enjoying both of them. 

The descriptions in the book were wonderful and spellbinding. Usually I don't notice that so much. The initial paragraphs of the book are gorgeous descriptive prose, even if about an unpleasant subject (the discovery of the victim's body).

Because the case centers around prostitutes and transvestites, there is social commentary on prejudices against homosexuals and other marginalized groups. But this does not overwhelm the plot.


This is the fourth book I have reviewed for the European Reading Challenge.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Penguin / Grove Press, 2005 (orig. pub. 1994)
Length:      343 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Commissario Brunetti, #3
Setting:      Italy (Mestre, Venice)
Genre:        Police Procedural
Source:      On my TBR pile since 2009.


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: the Martin Ehrengraf stories by Lawrence Block


A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Irene Tursten's short stories in An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed. Col at Col's Criminal Library commented that they reminded him of the Martin Ehrengraf stories by Lawrence Block. I found that a good number of those stories were in a Lawrence Block anthology that I own, Enough Rope. So I read a few of them.


"The Ehrengraf Defense"

Martin Ehrengraf is a defense lawyer but he doesn't spend much time in court. He usually aims at getting his clients declared innocent before the cases reach court. Most of these stories came out in magazines, so each story explains the premise behind Martin Ehrengraf's defense methods. He operates on a contingency basis; he will not get paid if his client is found guilty. And the client will pay his very high fee whether or not it can be proven that Ehrengraf had any part in him/her being set free. His assumption is always that his client is innocent. 

In this story, the client's mother hires Ehrengraf, and the story is interesting, but sort of off-putting.


"The Ehrengraf Presumption"

Martin Ehrengraf takes on two cases for the same murder (not at the same time). I liked this one much better.


"The Ehrengraf Experience"

Martin Ehrengraf will use any means necessary to achieve his clients release, and sometimes the results are very chilling.

This one was interesting because stamp collecting comes into the story. Lawrence Block is a serious stamp collector. I know of at least one other character of his that is a stamp collector, Keller, a hit man.

 

"The Ehrengraf Appointment"

In this case, Ehrengraf takes an appointment from the IDC (Indigent Defense Commission), so he will get a very small fee instead of the usual extravagant fee he usually demands. However, he still plans to work by the same rules. A fellow lawyer makes a wager with him on the outcome of the case, which could potentially add to his monetary intake.

Ehrengraf often quotes poetry in these stories. This time it was "An Epitaph" by Andrew Marvell.

 


These stories will not necessarily appeal to all those who read short stories, but Lawrence Block can really write, so they are worth a try. I found the four I read a bit too much the same for me, and they would probably be better when read separately. When they were published they came out in different issues of magazines, primarily Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, so they would not normally be read  back to back. On the other hand, they were sort of like potato chips; it was hard to read just one. I kept wanting to check out the next story. 

There are ten Martin Ehrengraf stories in this book and I was only able to find publication dates for nine of them; they were published from 1978 through 1997. 


Some other resources for the Martin Ehrengraf short stories:


Saturday, April 9, 2022

Reading Summary for March 2022

 



I read seven books this month and every one of them was very good. Five books of crime fiction, one historical fiction, one general fiction. Two books published between 2000 and 2020, three books published between 1960 and 2000, and two books published in the 1950s. Five books by women, two by men.


General Fiction

Watermelon (1995) by Marian Keyes

Claire found out that her husband wanted a divorce on the day her first child was born. Claire had no clue that her husband was unhappy with the marriage and was having an affair with a woman that they both know. Her reaction is to leave London, where she works and lives with her husband, and go to Dublin and stay with her parents for a few months. My review here.


Historical Fiction

The Spies of Shilling Lane (2019) by Jennifer Ryan

This is historical fiction set during World War II. However, I was not sure how to categorize it because there are elements of spy fiction in the book; some of the characters are intelligence agents for the government. There is a mystery, and many characters who may or may not be who they seem. The main character is a middle aged woman divorced by her husband, who goes looking for her daughter living in London, and gets mixed up with Fascist spies. I did not find that part of it terribly realistic, but I still liked it. 



Crime Fiction

A Most Contagious Game (1967) by Catherine Aird

This was Aird's only standalone novel. Thomas Harding and his wife Dora have moved from London to a manor house in Easterbrook. Harding retired early because his health was bad, and he doesn't like the quiet life he is leading... until he finds a skeleton in a hidden room in his house (which turns out to be a priest hole that had been plastered over). This mystery was not a police procedural like Aird's Inspector Sloane series, but there is a death in the village about the same time. The story of Harding's research into the skeleton's origins and his settling into the small town with his wife was excellent. 



Death Likes It Hot (1954) by Edgar Box

Edgar Box is a pseudonym of Gore Vidal. Vidal used it at a time when he was having a hard time getting books published. This book is the third of three books featuring Peter Sargeant, a publicist and amateur sleuth. This one is set in the Hamptons. I have an omnibus edition published in 2010 with introductions for each book by Gore Vidal. I loved the book.



Monk's Hood (1980) by Ellis Peters

This is the third book in the Brother Cadfael series. The setting for the books in the series is between 1135 and 1145 in England and Wales, primarily. I love this series; Brother Cadfael is a wonderful character. My review here.


Once a Crooked Man (2016) by David McCallum

This book by actor David McCallum was published in 2016 and is a thriller. A crime family decides to go straight but first they have a few people they want to silence so they won't be going to jail for past crimes. An actor who survives on small parts in TV episodes and movies and stage plays overhears what they are plotting and get mixed up in all the mayhem, mainly because he wanted to do a good deed and warn one of the victims. This was the perfect read for me at this time, and I enjoyed it a lot. There are a lot of very short chapters and they move from character to character, which some readers might find distracting. I like this style of writing so it worked well for me. It kept the tension level up. Nicely paced with a lot of humor.



The Gazebo (1955) by Patricia Wentworth

Patricia Wentworth's books are my go-to comfort read. The Gazebo, the 7th book in the Miss Silver series, was published in 1955 and is a story about a woman who had to drop her plans to marry her fiancé to take care of her invalid mother for five years. Now he is back in the village and they are going to find a way to get around her controlling mother and get married. Then the mother is murdered and the fiancé seems to be the obvious culprit. The plot is complex, there was more romance in the story than usual, and I enjoyed it. And there are some really bad guys, which is sort of unusual for the Miss Silver series.



Status of my reading:

Most of my reading in March was based on spur of the moment decisions, not much planning. Watermelon was read for the Reading Ireland event at 746 Books, which always takes place in March. Death Likes It Hot was read for the 1954 Club run by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. The other five books were just for fun, and I enjoyed that.


In April I have read three books at this point, and all of them are for a challenge or similar blogging event. I read another book for the 1954 Club (Go, Lovely Rose by Jean Potts)and I finally read a book for the TBR Pile Challenge (Dog On It by Spencer Quinn). I read my book for the Classics Club Spin, Beast in View by Margaret Millar.




The photo at the top of the post shows a succulent among overgrown Santa Barbara daisies. The two plant photos immediately above are geraniums and an overgrown Dusty Miller. The photo of the Dusty Miller looks like a black and white photo, but it is just that the plant is all white. If you look closely you can sent tints of light green here and there. All of the plant photos were taken in early April in the front garden beds that I have been working on cleaning up.  As usual, my husband took those photos. Click on the images for best viewing quality.



Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: Stories from The Labors of Hercules by Agatha Christie

 

The Labors of Hercules is a short story collection written by Agatha Christie and first published in 1947. The stories all feature Hercule Poirot; each story has some connection to the twelve Labors of Hercules. Poirot has decided that he will end his career with these cases and then retire (to cultivate marrows in his garden). There is a short introduction to the stories which explains how Poirot came upon this idea.


I wanted to read this collection of short stories before we watch the corresponding TV episode in Agatha Christie's Poirot. Monday I started reading the book but I have only read the first four stories so far. They were mostly very good.


"The Nemean Lion"

The very first story was my favorite of the four. Miss Lemon, Poirot's secretary, has a small part in the story. 

Sir Joseph Hoggin requests that Poirot look into the theft of his wife's Pekinese. The dog has been returned, but they had to pay money to get the dog back. He wants the culprit found and his money returned. This story was a lot of fun and the characters were very interesting. A wonderful and very unusual ending.


"The Lernean Hydra"

A physician who has a practice in a small village wants Poirot to clear his name. Village gossip is that the doctor is responsible for his wife's death, and his practice is suffering. George, Poirot's valet, is enlisted to help with the investigation. I found this one to be the least interesting. It was a pretty standard story with no surprises. 


"The Arcadian Deer"

When Poirot's chauffeur-driven car breaks down in an English village, Poirot is unhappy to have to spend the night in the village. The mechanic, Ted Williamson who is working on his car asks Poirot to find a missing girl that he met a few weeks earlier. Ted had met the maid of a famous Russian ballerina who was staying at Grasslawn, the home of Sir George Sanderfield; they arranged to meet again, but she never showed up, and he had been unsuccessful at locating her. Ted has little money but his case interests Poirot so he looks into it. 

This case takes Poirot to Pisa in Italy and then to Switzerland, where the ballerina was staying. How Poirot finds the missing girl is interesting. The ending is very sentimental and I loved that.


"The Erymanthian Boar"

After ending up in Switzerland in the last story, Poirot decides to stay there and visit some locations he has never seen before. This leads to a ride on a funicular up into the Swiss Alps. Poirot is passed a note by the conductor while on the trip up. The note is from  Lementeuil, a Swiss policeman that Poirot knows. It asks Poirot to help in apprehending a dangerous killer who will be at the hotel where Poirot will be staying. This is a very complicated story; the funicular is damaged and no one can leave the hotel. This is a thriller with mistaken identities. I found it confusing but still a fun read. 


So those are my thoughts on the four stories so far, and I hope it doesn't take long for me to finish reading the book, so I can watch the adaptation. I have watched it before but I can't remember much about it.


Sunday, April 3, 2022

Ellis Peters: Monk's Hood

From a summary at Goodreads:

Christmas 1138. Gervase Bonel is a guest of Shrewsbury Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul when he suddenly takes ill. Luckily, the abbey boasts the services of the clever and kindly Brother Cadfael, a skilled herbalist. Cadfael hurries to the man’s bedside, only to be confronted with two surprises: In Master Bonel’s wife, the good monk recognizes Richildis, whom he loved before he took his vows—and Master Bonel has been fatally poisoned by monk’s-hood oil from Cadfael’s stores.

The sheriff is convinced that the murderer is Richildis’s son, Edwin, who hated his stepfather. But Cadfael, guided in part by his concern for a woman to whom he was once betrothed, is certain of her son’s innocence. Using his knowledge of both herbs and the human heart, Cadfael deciphers a deadly recipe for murder.


Monk's Hood is the third book in the Brother Cadfael series, consisting of 20 books. I am enamored of this series and both this book and the previous book (One Corpse Too Many) were fantastic reads. 

Sometimes it is daunting to start a new series when it has a large number of books , but in this case I am excited. The books are a good length, easy to read and keep me turning the pages. Plus it is the first time I have read about this period of time. This one is set in 1138 and that time in history is totally new to me.


One of the reasons I think this series is so successful is the character of Brother Cadfael. He is very believable as an amateur sleuth; not only is he intelligent and clever, but he is able to work well with people, those in his order and the people of the town. He entered the cloister later in life, after being a soldier and a sailor. He is a herbalist and cares for the garden.  

I also love reading about details of life at that time and about the religious community and the politics within that group. A good portion of this book is set in Wales, and I am beginning to get a better picture of the geography of that part of Great Britain. The differences in the legal systems of England and Wales were very interesting and were important to this story and the solution of the crime.

In the editions I have read so far, each book begins with a map of the area. In this case the map shows details of the Shrewsbury Abbey and parts of the town of Shrewsbury, including the location the house that Master Bonel and his household are living in. 


Rick Robinson of Tip the Wink recently sent me a copy of The Cadfael Companion, a reference book about the series. It is very cool, has lots of information about important persons of the time, locations, historical background, characters in the books, and I am learning a lot. It also has various maps of the area – I love maps. 


I will end with a quote from the beginning of the book:

  On this particular morning at the beginning of December, in the year 1138, Brother Cadfael came to chapter in tranquillity of mind, prepared to be tolerant even towards the dull, pedestrian reading of Brother Francis, and long-winded legal haverings of Brother Benedict the sacristan. Men were variable, fallible, and to be humoured. And the year, so stormy in its earlier months, convulsed with siege and slaughter and disruptions, bade fair to end in calm and comparative plenty. The tide of civil war between King Stephen and the partisans of the Empress Maud had receded into the south-western borders, leaving Shrewsbury to recover cautiously from having backed the weaker side and paid a bloody price for it. And for all the hindrances to good husbandry, after a splendid summer the harvest had been successfully gathered in, the barns were full, the mills were busy, sheep and cattle thrived on pastures still green and lush, and the weather continued surprisingly mild, with only a hint of frost in the early mornings. No one was wilting with cold yet, no one yet was going hungry. It could not last much longer, but every day counted as blessing.


 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Fawcett Crest, 1987 (first published 1980)
Length:       222 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Brother Cadfael #3
Setting:      UK, Shrewsbury, Wales
Genre:       Historical Mystery
Source:      Purchased at the Planned Parenthood Book Sale, 2006.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten

Two years ago I read and reviewed the first set of short stories featuring Maud, An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good. I liked the stories very much, and looked forward to reading the next collection. Recently I read the first five stories in An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed.


Maud is an 88-year-old Swedish woman with an ample income, a loner who is content with her life. But she has no second thoughts about eliminating anyone who gets in her way. In my review of the first book of short stories about Maud, I tried to avoid direct references to how Maud deals with the problems in her life. I think it is more fun to read that book not knowing much about the character. But most people know the premise when they read this second book, and I couldn't  avoid it when discussing this book.

When Maud is presented with a person who is causing problems in her life (or that of her family or friends), she looks for a way to fix that problem, by whatever means available. The solution doesn't always end in death, but she is fine if it does. She is very clever and usually the murder is not identified as such. But in the first story in this book she remembers the results of one of her exploits when she was interviewed by the police several times.


I am of two minds about the stories in this book (so far). I definitely enjoyed the first book. But for some reason I was less comfortable reading about Maud's exploits in the first five stories in this book. The stories were a bit depressing. 

On the other hand, I think the writing is very good and the character is interesting. I like the structure of the book. The short stories in this book all center around Maud's memories of earlier in her life as she flies on an airplane to South Africa, where she will join a tour that includes a safari.


I have not yet read the last story in this book, "The Elderly Lady Takes a Trip to Africa." It is not short at all, about 150 pages long, although admittedly the page size is small. So, closer to a novella than a short story. Once I finish that story I will decide whether to use this book for the European Reading Challenge, since about half the book is set in Sweden and the rest in Africa.

Both collections of short stories about Maud have some connection to Christmas, and this one has two recipes for gingerbread cookies, so you could save them for reading at Christmas (or even for a Christmas present) if you were so inclined.

These stories were written by Helene Tursten, the author of the Inspector Irene Huss series. The author is Swedish, and the stories were translated by Marlaine Delargy.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Reading Ireland: Watermelon by Marian Keyes

I was initially reluctant to read this book because it is described as chick lit. At the time I bought the book, in 2014, I mainly read mysteries. All kinds, all vintages, but mostly mysteries, and very little general fiction. I was curious because I had read a review of The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes at Clothes in Books, but it was part of a series about a family of five girls, and I was interested in starting at the beginning. As you can see, it took me eight years to get to this book. My reading tastes have changed a bit since, and I was not disappointed in this book at all. 


The main character is Claire and the book starts out thus:

February fifteenth is a very special day for me. It is the day I gave birth to my first child. It is also the day my husband left me. As he was present at the birth, I can only assume the two events weren't entirely unrelated.

Claire had no clue that her husband was unhappy with the marriage and was having an affair with a woman that they both know. Obviously, such an announcement right after the birth of a baby would be upending. Her reaction is to leave London, where she works and lives with her husband, and go to Dublin and stay with her parents for a few months. A very good decision, I think, a place where she will have support.


I don't exactly know how to describe this book. It is frenetic. Claire describes her ups and downs, her settling in with her parents and sisters and her child, and the new people she meets. It does cover topics that I normally would not be interested in. Shopping, for instance. Claire goes through despair and then anger at her husband and her predicament. And a lot of wine.

It was frustrating for me that neither Claire nor her husband made contact for several weeks after the baby's birth. Thus the reader does not know why the difficulties in the marriage occurred, and that was a mystery to me. How they could not address support issues and how to deal with their joint properties seemed very strange. But everyone is different.

I love the Walsh family, especially Claire's parents. Her parents were wonderful, supportive people and had all the normal reactions to the situation. Her two youngest sisters still lived at home, and had very unique and irritating personalities, but were also supportive in different ways.


I read this for Reading Ireland month at 746 Books, and I think it was a very good choice for that event. I enjoyed reading Watermelon; it was a good change from my normal reading. It was too long for my tastes (over 400 pages) and I was not thrilled with the sex scenes, but both of those are minor quibbles. I do want to read more books in this series about the Walsh family, especially the mystery novel, which features the youngest daughter.



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

Publisher:   Perennial, 2006. Orig. pub. 1995.
Length:      417 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       Walsh Family, #1
Setting:      Dublin, Ireland
Genre:       Fiction
Source:      On my TBR since 2014.