Saturday, June 29, 2013

John Dickson Carr: The Problem of the Green Capsule

Now THIS is a second-hand find! This is what I look for when I'm in charity shops, not any fecking Jeffery Deaver. The condition of this book is atrocious. It's an extremely cheap copy from 1956 (the book was first printed in -39) with rather magnificent cover art. And on the spur of the moment, since I happen to have time, I give you a picture.
Not a GOOD picture, mind. Don't get greedy. Isn't it superb? Anyway, all the pages start to come off the broken, torn spine whenever I turned the page, so we'll see how long it survives in my careless household.

The crime of the book is murder by poison. Very tragically the first murder is completely random -   poisoned chocolates are introduced into the local shop's countertop selection, eventually causing several children to be poisoned, with one fatality. Psychology plays a large part in the discussion and solution of this mystery - the psychology of witness perception and the mental setup of a poisoner, specifically men who poison. The analysis is remarkably modern, if I remember my popular psychology correctly:

"But the men are a more uneasy menace to society, since to the slyness of poisoning they add a kind of devilish generalship, an application of business principles, a will to make good by the use of aresnic or strychnine. [ ... ] First of all they are usually men of some imagination, education and even culture." [ ... ] "Now,", pursued Dr Fell, "what is the first most outstanding characteristic of the poisoner? It is this. Among his friends he usually has the reputation of being a thoroughly good fellow. He is a jovial soul. An open-handed companion. A real sport. Sometimes he may display slight Puritanical scruples, about strict religious observance or even good form socially; but his boon-companions can easily forgive him for this because he is such a decent sort."  [ ... ] "Whereas actually there is in their characters, as a reverse side to the same picture and perhaps an essential part of it, such a blind indifference to the pain of others - such a cool doling-out of death in its most horrible forms - that our ordinary imaginations cannot grasp it.  [ ... ] it really does express the attitude of the poisoner towards human life. Wainewright had to have money, so (obviously) someone had to die. Wiliam Palmer needed money to bet on horses, and so it became clear that his wife, his brother, and his friends must be given strychnine. It was a self-evident proposition. And it is also true in the case of those who blandly or even plaintively 'have to have something'.  [ ... ] and he gained only a few thousands by killing his wife's mother. But he wished to be free. He 'had to have it'. Which brings us to the poisoner's next characteristic; his inordinate vanity. All murderers have it. But the poisoner possesses it to a bloated degree. He is vain of his intelligence, vain of his looks, touched with the bruch of the actor, even the exhibitionist; and as a rule he is a very good actor indeed.  [ ... ]And nowhere does the male poisoner's vanity more clearly express itself than in his power - or what he thinks is his power - over women. "
 Dr Fell's lecture is much longer of course (you can see I've abbreviated it), and I think he's describing what we today would call a psychopath. The inability to feel empathy. The vanity - except we don't call it vanity these days when vanity is no sin. It's very good.

Another part that jolted me a little was a throwaway comment after the young woman suspected by the town of benig guilty has just had a stone thrown at her through a shop window. At the idea of her not being able to walk freely Detective-Inspector Elliot (who, sadly, has a Scottish volatile temper leading him to "growl" a lot - I ask you) says what! are they in Germany? are they a bunch of Non-Aryans cooped up in a citadel? - which is one of those little throw-away comments that shows that the rest of Europe knew oh perfectly well what was going on in Germany in the 30s. No-one can claim ignorance if you can reference persecution in a detective story.

God, now I'm back on the vintage horse, my dears. I need more. Perhaps perhaps I should commit to some internet shopping.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


.... what have I been reading ...

I read a book about children and bilinguality, which was very interesting: Barn med flera språk by Gunilla Ladberg.  I've always been bilingual, and so have many of my friends, so for me it was an easy decision to try to keep it up with my kids. My mother was quite committed to making us kids bilingual. For the time it was a bit avant-garde in Sweden. Of course, the advantage of having English as a second language is that people can understand that it might be "useful", so they accept it and think it's okay. If you're speaking something unbelieeeevably foreign to your kids you just haven't accepted that you live in Sweden now, you know. Anyway, what I learnt about bilinguality growing up was that you had to be very strict about sticking to the one language with your child, so they wouldn't get confused and start mixing languages. Mixing languages was bad. In this book the author writes about newer research saying that it is so not a problem when we mix - to the immense relief of us bilinguals who have always mixed with merry abandon. She also stresses that Sweden is extremely monolingual, if you adopt a global perspective, and we have a tendency to automatically think that oh learning another language is sooo hard whereas in other places on the planet people just do it without working themselves up about it because sure how else are you going to talk to anyone? So very interesting subject, everyone should read up on it.

I read a Jeffrey Deaver novel called A Maiden's Grave. I have no patience with this writing anymore. God, I used to be entertained by it, but I have evolved. It is shallow and boring. This one is about sign language and hostage rescue. A decided meh. But ok for a train ride if you skim a little.

I just read a  Kathy Reichs too (I got it and the Deaver second-hand somewhere thinking they'd be good summer reads) and feel a bit the same about it as toward the Deaver. The woman's writing style annoys me now something awful. Building up to monumental cliff hanger phrasing at the end of every chapter (what's with the Dickens complex?) that turn out to be NOTHING at the beginning of the next. Yet still more entertaining than the Deaver. Oh, it was Flash and Bones and was about ricin poison and Nascar.

There was something else, but I'm forgetting at the moment... Finished reading Bilbo for my son. When we'd read three quarters of the book he looked at how much we had left and said: "Mammy! We're nearly done! Then we never have to read this ever again!"

So... not a fan then.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ursula K Le Guin: Worlds of Exile and Illusion

Three novels in one, Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions. 

Rocannon's World just isn't very good, somewhere half-way through I just lose interest. You can tell that she hadn't found her voice and style yet, but was writing something much more generic. Planet of Exile was a lot more enjoyable, and I really liked having City of Illusions to read directly afterwards, since they're connected. As novels they are a little lacking, they lack tempo a bit and towards the end lose detail and sort of just peter out.

It's very interesting, and I think Le Guin has written about that herself somewhere, that she can be so comparatively daring (for that time) as to have the exiled Earthlings be all black, but it was hard to imagine a society without clear divisions between men and women - with women at the bottom (clearly this is based on some human patriarchal cultures). I mean, even though we don't want to be we are trapped into certain ways of thinking by our culture and upbringing. I think I wrote that this aged The Left Hand of Darkness too - it was very difficult for a writer in the sixties to imagine that a lot of the gender-specific ways of behaving and reacting would disappear.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Lee Child: Bad Luck and Trouble

Jack Reacher:
[...] a disheveled giant of a white man. Two metres tall, easily, a hundred and ten kilos, maybe a hundred and twenty, shaved head, wrists as wide and hard as two-by-fours, hands like shovels, dressed in dusty grey denims and work boots.

As if there is a casting director on the planet who wouldn't immediately think Tom Cruise, right?

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Björn Larsson: Döda poeter skriver inte kriminalromaner

Den här boken är 382 sidor lång, och det dröjer till sidan 170 någonting innan den börjar bli intressant. Intressant, märk väl - inte spännande eller så, bara intressant. Lite så att man höjer ett ögonbryn. Hm, säger man, det var lite kul. Där tänkte han till den gode Björn. Inte så nytt kanske, men lite kul var det allt.  Men vet ni vad? Det räcker inte på långa vägar. För jag har läst vidare till sidan 284 och herregud vad det ögonblicket dog fort. På omslagets insida haglar det dock superlativer - okej, medges att de gäller den tidigare romanen, Filologens dröm, men man får ju vissa förväntningar i alla fall, och dessa infrias ICKE. Varför finns det sådana mängder skribenter i Sverige som skriver så vansinnigt tråkig och styltad dialog? var en av de första tankarna som slog mig när jag började läsa den här boken. Och så kom jag att tänka på ett återkommande samtalsämne jag har med min man, som just har haft en liten fas där han tittat en del på danska kriminalserier; även om storyn i serien är rätt blaha och deras överdrivna användning av teknik löjeväckande (Örnen, tack och hej) så funkar det mesta rätt bra på danska. Det låter trovärdigt bara de inte tar in några utlänningar de ska försöka vara pk med på det där taffliga medelklasssättet som vita misslyckas med så bra - de grötar på och svär och låter naturligt danska liksom. Nu KAN vi iofs inte danska. Det kanske låter otroligt onaturligt för danskar. Men för en svensk låter det fint, till skillnad från alla svenska kriminalserier där dialogen verkar skriven av någon som klippt sönder ett antal ark med femtiotalsdeckare och sedan lagt pussel med orden, och lagt in några moderna svordomar också. Va faaaaan till exempel får man säga nu, det fick man inte säga förr i tiden så tryckeriet hörde. I alla fall. Denna bok har uselt tråkig dialog, där alla karaktärer har precis samma röst och är precis lika oengagerande. Texten däremellan är inte så mycket bättre om jag ska vara ärlig, men det är möjligt att det är färgat av att den i stora delar är inre monolog vilket blir precis samma visa. Jag blir så förbannad. Varför trycka skiten? Det är ju TRÅKIGT. Dessutom har jag för länge sedan gissat mig till mördaren, något jag är ruskigt dålig på (och jag har läst de sista sidorna så jag vet att jag har rätt). Ha, jag har precis googlat och hittat SvD-recensionen som säger att det är en spirituell deckarpastisch. Får jag be herr Lönnroth att slå upp spirituell i ordboken för det finns inget spirituellt med detta. Och DN tyckte den hade en "lycksalig lätthet som gör den till genuint kul läsning". Jag tror jag får ett mindre anfall här. Varför är recensenterna så välvilligt inställda? Den här boken har samma lätthet som ett par gummistövlar efter en promenad över en nyplöjd åker efter ett regnoväder. Och den metaforen var så krystad att den skulle passa in där förresten (i boken alltså).

Nu känner jag att jag måste lugna mig lite. Problemet är att det inte är ett dugg smart och sprituellt att skriva en bok i en för en själv främmande genre, som krim eller science fiction eller fantasy eller vad du nu vill, om du inte är ett skvatt intresserad av att respektera det hantverket och snickra ihop en bra historia, där dina intellektuella (eller, snark, pseudointellektuella) tankar och funderingar kan fungera som något som gör historien bättre, djupare, kvickare. Till en riktig roman. Som t.ex. Fröken Smillas känsla för snö nu när jag tänker efter. Och hej Danmark får vi väl lov att säga igen. Om du bara vill skriva ett manifest tycker jag att du ska göra det. Eller en insändare i Metro för all del. De tar in det mesta. Om boken ska vara läsvärd och inte aptråkig så måste ju ändå grundhistorien få ett grepp om läsaren tycker jag. Har jag fel?

Nä, det här orkar jag inte läsa ut. Urk. Och jag är ändå rätt tolerant mot dåliga böcker va. Det är nog de pretentiösa jag har svåra problem med.