Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Ngaio Marsh: Enter A Murderer

Goodness, had forgotten I had bought this! Was very pleased to spot it in the bookshelf this weekend, waiting for me to remember. Right next to the phone (that had stopped working, again, dammit. We're phonedicapped here. Telephonically challenged. I can't understand it.).

This is her second Marsh novel, from 1935, although I have a late Fontana edition from -74 (with a fugtastic cover). Alleyn still has Bathgate the journalist as a sidekick, but Fox is becoming quite prominent (which is good, because I like Fox), and is referred to as Foxkin a lot, but not as Bre'er Fox. FYI.

Bathgate takes Alleyn to a play, in which a man is to be shot in the final scene. Naturally the stage gun is not loaded with blanks this time, but with real bullets, and everyone on stage has had motive and opportunity for switching the bullets.

Best thing with this book is the references to the drug trade. There really is nothing new under the sun. At the core of the plot is smuggling and selling of heroine and cocaine. Drugs are dope, and when you're high on them you're dopey. It all seems almost quaint in its 1930s setting.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Another book I need...

... is anything by Jaqueline Winspear, author of the Maisie Dobbs series. They're always gone from the library (and now in the summer we have summer loans, lasting until August, so poo). :-(

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Close Call: Gillian Slovo

I think I've read one of Slovo's before. Am googling, trying to jog my memory. In the meantime - this may have been Slovo's last novel featuring journalist Kate Baeier. Published in 1995 it also deals with a darker economic period, not to mention a time when Europe was again torn by war. Kate has returned to London from working as a war correspondent abroad for five years. She left after the death of her lover, and feels distant and alone, emotionally. She has alienated/fought with her best friends, and is troubled by her father's renewed attempts at communication. She meets a policeman she fancies, gets arrested, is drawn into complicated cover-up with a dirty cop gang.

Not bad, but quite bleak. I'd like to read some more, must remember to do so. And juxtapose it with some happier stuff!

Catnap. I may have read Catnap, the novel before Close Call. I recognize the cover...

I need to get a hold of....

Babes in Beijing by Rachel Dewoskin, and more importantly När rött blir svart by Qiu Xialong (don't know English title, not important since original language is Chinese...). The latter is a detective story y'see. And just noticed that it's published by editor friend's publishing company. How handy! *starts plotting bribery tactics*

Edited to say that Qiu Xialong writes in English, so title in English is When Red Is Black, and I'm an idiot, and now I need it in English.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Anabel Donald: In At The Deep End

This was lovely crime fic! Donald's heroine, television researcher/PI Alex Tanner, is an intelligent, feisty, independent delight. The kind of person you can actually visualize yourself hanging out with. After reading this (finished it at work, slow day thanks be to God) I ran back to the library to get more books by Ms Donald, but they only had Smile, Honey, which is a novel, not a detective story, and reading the back of it I realised I'd already read this, years ago. I mean years. Maybe 12 or so. Wow, I'm old. Anyway, it made quite an impression on me, since the epilogue has stuck with me all these years, without me being able to quite place it. I recommend Anabel Donald in general.

This book is set in the early nineties. The recession is in full swing. I find it hard now to remember what it was like then - the feeling of hopelessness, how there were no jobs, property value was plummeting... Anyway, the general scarcity of money is what prompts Alex Tanner to undertake a doubtful investigation of a teenager who died in a diving accident at his military-style private school. The boy was the son of an English-French celebrity couple, obviously modelled on Gainsbourg and Birkin, which is freaking hilarious. I saw a documentary on Gainsbourg on the telly once (no the whole thing, because hello? Boooring...), and the man is quite mad. He said "I want to fuck you" to Whitney Houston on television! No wonder the woman is on drugs, he's a creep. Donald creates a bogus tv interview for her fictional couple (the Mouches) in the same vein:
I filled her with my angel-milk and she became a slave to love

I also love that Alex's boyfriend brings her two Sue Graftons and a Paretsky when he returns from a business trip to the US. Alex likes Sue Grafton best, so her instinct is to read the Paretsky first, but
on the other hand you shouldn't read two books by the same author one after another because the mannerisms get on your nerves.
Too true, but that didn't stop me running to the library. *blushing*

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Margaret Doody: Poison in Athens

Margaret Doody has written a series of detective stories set in ancient Greece, starring Aristotle the philosopher as detective together with his sidekick Stephanos. I have previously read Aristotle and Poetic Justice, in which Stephanos finds his bride-to-be. Poison in Athens is set later in time, as Stephanos tries to prepare for the nuptials to actually take place, sometime in a near future.

The story centres around several high-profile lawcases. A prostitute is accused of impiety, a well-respected citizen of hogging a female slave for his own sexual pleasures, a widow of murdering her husband with hemlock. Sex and the role of women is a theme of the book. Doody does not make it easier for us by creating a central character with modern views and thoughts. Aristotle and Stephanos are firmly rooted in their society. Women are the property of their families, slaves of their owners etc. Frankly, this became a bit tedious to read at times, which is why the blog update has been delayed. There was a lot of oratory; on why slavery is necessary in society, on morals good and bad, on philosophy. On the whole I think it's well worth it though. This series is not a bad introduction to Ancient Greece. I prefer Lindsay Davis' cynical Falco, but this is well written and well researched.

The final speech by the female slave Marylla is, I suppose, a little too modern - perhaps her ideas are just a trifle too sophisticated for a female slave of the time... but how can I know? Just an idea.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Julie Parsons: The Hourglass

Wham! After reading a few gentle, civilized mysteries I picked up the latest Julie Parsons at the library. Damn, the woman throws you straight in with the wolves, doesn't she? As the cover quote from Irish Tatler says: "You won't be able to put it down and you won't be able to sleep". Too right. The thing with Julie Parsons is that she might just kill everyone, you can't be sure. I was so tense reading The Hourglass that I just had to check the last pages to see who dies - because someone does, count on it. Also, the book starts with a - what's the opposite to flashback? flashfront? whatever - to events occurring near the end, so you know Bad Things are coming.

This book is about Lydia Beauchamp, an old garden designer, all alone in her old house in Co. Cork. Her husband killed himself years ago, and she hasn't seen her daughter for twenty years. She meets a young man, whom she takes into her confidence, but he is there by design, to exact revenge for things that happened a long time ago.

The villain of the piece is superbad indeed, and very scary. Indeed, I was a little disappointed by the end, because with such an efficient killing machine out and about you'd expect more slaughter. She chickened out a bit actually, did Julie. Not that I'm complaining, I'm a wimp. From a literary point of view though it feels almost a trifle unresolved.

I especially love Parsons' books for the insight into a modern, darker Ireland they provide. Growing up half-Irish I had to put up with a lot of "ooo, lovely country, everyone so friendly, lovely pubs, leprechauns" nonsense. Made me want to go "ooo, xenophobia, institutionalized racism, alcoholism". I haven't been to Ireland for over a decade, and I need these glimpses of modern Ireland now and then.

Now, must go help Minima wrap parcel, before she combusts.

Edit: remembered what I wanted to ramble about, really. This is the second Parsons novel I've read where one big theme is the strong love/same sex relationships forged in prison, between people who would otherwise not identify themselves as gay. In the first book, Eager To Please, the relationship was between women, here it's between men, and has more destructive power. Another theme is what prison does to inmates, how destructive it is. I wonder what personal experience Parsons has of prison life? Must try to find some interviews.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Sunday Philosophy Club

By Alexander McCall Smith.

I've been eager to read this one, because I wanted to see what AMS has to say about his hometown Edinburgh. The novel centres around Isabel Dalhousie, a middle-aged lady of independent means who is editor of a philosophical magazine. She also heads the meetings of the Sunday Philosophy Club, a club that is mentioned but never brought into action here. Anyway, Isabel witnesses a young man fall to his death, and becomes obsessed with finding out how.

I found the book a little lacking in drive, but the exerpt at the end from the next one in the series (Friends, Lovers, Chocolate) looked a lot more promising in that respect. I did like it though. Isabel has a lot of internal discussions about ethics and philosophy, so that's fun. This is the one to make my husband read, to introduce him to AMS.

Kantians would be in no doubt about the answer to that, but that was the problem with Kantian morality: it was so utterly predictable, and left no room for subtlety; rather like Kant himself, she thought. In a purely philosophical sense, it must be very demanding to be German. Far better to be French (irresponsible and playful) or Greek (grave, but with a light touch).

Friday, June 02, 2006

Keith Oatley: The Case of Emily V.

I stumbled across this book in the crime fiction section of the library (all crime fiction obligingly marked with a yellow dot and grouped together, I only have to browse...). My attention was caught by the title, and on the back I read that it's
a terrific quasi-mystery set in Vienna and featuring a melancholic Sherlock Holmes, a smug Sigmund Freud, and an entirely engaging young classics teacher named Emily V.
Well, I had to borrow it then, didn't I? After all, I had to check if it was comparable to Laurie R. King's fantastic Sherlock Holmes pastiche.

Well, quasi-mystery is right. This is not really crime fiction, as the crime is very much by-the-way. The background idea is that three manuscripts from ca 1904 (or something) have been recovered, one by Emily V., one by Dr Watson, and one by Freud. They all centre around the same events, from different points of view. Emily V. was sexually abused as a child, and now blames herself for the death of her abuser. She starts seeing Freud on the advice of a friend. And later Holmes and Watson show up, investigating the death of the abuser, who was also a British diplomat and spy.

The novel combines these three manuscripts into one. It's cleverly done, with Oatley capturing the original narrative styles of Doyle and Freud (no that I've read much Freud, but Oatley's a professor of psychology himself, so I'm sure he knows what he's about). The last chapter is a postscript by a dr Ellen Berger, which analyzes the manuscripts you've just read. An interesting twist! I can't find her name on Google, so I'm not sure if Oatley has made her up entirely or borrowed bits of her from medical accquaintances...

This novel reminds me of Sofies värld by Jostein Gardner, in that it presents an area of learning in a more accessible manner. Or, for that matter, Nils Holgerssons Underbara Resa... If you want to be introduced to Freudian theory it might be a good place to start.. or if you want some long-winded flowery descriptions of people having sex. The only good thing with that passage is that it is "put into context" in "Berger's" analysis at the end. (I'm too old to be interested in reading about sex, or seeing it on film. I prefer having it. I am no longer 14.) It took me a while to finish the book, partly because of said long-windedness, not only on matters of lesbian sex. It's part of the early 20th century style the book is written in, but it's a bit tedious. Well, at least if you were expecting more crime novel. The story tends to drive itself forward then.

To sum up, recommended, on the whole.

Finally: In today's DN there is a review of the Swedish translation of Dan Brown's novel Digital Fortress (which I've read. It's crap, but I liked it better than the others, probably because I'm ignorant in computer matters so he was able to feed me shite while calling it soup and I wouldn't have noticed). In the last paragraph the journalist mentions that what is truly terrifying is that Brown previously taught "creative writing". Where will this lead? Will we be flooded with "thrillers" in ten years time?

Scary thought indeed. Let's hope the students surpass the teacher, in that case.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Another dentist visit

Today we didn't discuss literature, but Little Britain. I did however read, namely a brochure that places me in premium group 2 (out of 11, 0 being perfect teeth) for dental insurance thingie.

I am ridiculously pleased with this.