Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More work-reading

I found two Ngaio Marshes that I hadn't read in the section for Large Print. It's a kick-ass section, enabling you to borrow books that you can prop up and read from across the room. No, I exaggerate, but almost.

Death In A White Tie:

This one is set in the late 1930s (first published 1938). Alleyn has a mahoosive crush on Troy, and they've had a good few run-ins in previous novels we deduce (our library is sadly understocked). This is a subplot to the main plot, which is a blackmailer at large in Society, during the débutante season to boot. Alleyn asks a friend to keep an eye open for this blackmailer, and the friend promptly gets himself killed. Alleyn's mother features a lot, which is nice, and we can note that Fox isn't yet committed to learning French.

I liked this one, it has some nice hints at the political situation brewing in Europe, with a Jewish débutante being harrassed by her chaperone among other things.

Opening Night:

...and this one was written more than ten years later. It's set in the world of theatre, a well-known Marsh theme. She does it well, too. It's one of those novels that has a long build-up to the crime, then Alleyn steps in, and since the crime isn't really complicated he solves it in a matter of hours. I mean, the crime-solving is not the main issue in this cathegory of Alleyn novels, it's a story about the people around it really. Not deep psychological stuff or anything, just a different slant to the whodunnit. Our heroine here is a young New Zealander who has come to London to act. Bad luck befalls her, and she stumbles upon a job as dresser to a star, and immediately takes it. The theater troupe is stressed over opening night and riddled with conflict, and her introduction into the close group causes more.

Not a bad book, but not a favourite. Of course, I do always get a kick out of how Marsh brings up "the homosexual issue" in her theatre novels (for lack of a better term). It must have been quite gutsy of her to dare allude to it in those censorious times.

And then I found a new Kathy Reichs! Break No Bones has Temperance working an archaeology site in South Carolina with a group of students. They uncover a more recently dead body, and events are set in motion. It's a decent Brennan novel, I like the banter, the emotional drive and the... well, reality of Reich's stories. Tempe Brennan feels nice and real. So I was sadly reminded of how disappointed I was in the TV series Bones, in which all the characters and even the actual work feels so false and show-cased. Bleurgh.

I tried reading another Ben Elton, one called High Society, all about drugs, but it bored me so I gave up. Life's too short.

In a panicky frame of mind I picked up a very classic, basic whodunnit by Patricia Moyes. Down Among The Dead Men is about a small village/town in England that attracts sailing folks, and where there has been a robbery and a death, seemingly unrelated, but aha! Chief Inspector Henry Tibbett sees more than meets the eye, and ruins his holiday by picking at the scab.

I read this right after reading Peter Dickinson novels, and was slightly shell-shocked at the simplicity, or rather blandness, of a book like this. It isn't terribly good at all, but it does have all those whodunnit triggers, so if you enjoy keeping track of the clues and working out who the murderer is thusly you might like it. I spotted the murderer anyway, without remembering diddly about tides, because it's the type of books where it's obvious.

And this brings me, last but not least, to said Peter Dickinson. First Play Dead, the second of his I've read with a female heroine (the first being The Lively Dead, which I never really wrote about..). It's always refreshing with a male author who can portray women well, not many can. It's more linear than I'm used to with PD, which makes it easier to follow and get "into", obviously. Poppy child-minds her grandson, and is involved in a local playgroup. One day a man is watching them, and then follows Poppy on the way home. Although she manages to lose him, the playgroup is in outrage over what is thought to be a paedophile, and when he turns up murdered even the nannies become suspects. Of course there are more twists, since this is a Dickinson novel and all. It's very enjoyable. He's brilliant at giving you all the clues in the first five pages, in off-hand conversation, and then making them relevant towards the end.

Then Walking Dead, set in the Caribbean. The island dictatorship we visit here was previously mentioned in The Lizard In The Cup, which I read just the other week but seem to have forgotten to blog about! Shame on me. Anyway, our hero David Foxe is a scientist, who via this and that is forced by the island's tyrant to conduct experiments on humans. However, he has with him a laboratory rat who by the believers in the local Voodoo-esque religion is perceived as a symbol of the Sunday Dwarf, and this gives our hero a lot of power.

While reading this novel I reflected on how it isn't possible now to write about black people or, let us say, other cultures in the way Dickinson does here. To Foxe, the islanders are alien in culture. Almost completely. He starts out thinking their beliefs are grotesque. But that's okay. It's a very honest way of looking at things - to an outsider things are strange and ununderstandable. It doesn't make these natives less human though. Foxe doesn't despise them. I'm not explaining myself well, because my brain is dead, but I couldn't help thinking that nowadays it's so hard to be brutal like that, since we're afraid to offend.

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