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Freeman Wills Crofts, Gordon Griffin
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Freeman Wills Crofts
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Helene Tursten
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Mary Stewart
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Reading progress update: I've read 45 out of 320 pages.

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

Oh man. I'm only a chapter (plus introduction) in, and I'm having all sorts of "mysteries read" flashbacks already -- not only for Christie's writings but also for those of other writers. 

 

E.g., those Styrian peasants get a really major nod towards the end of Dorothy L. Sayers's Strong Poison, and the initial setup of that book (the murder charge brought against Harriet Vane) is almost certainly largely inspired by the Madeleine Smith case.

 

Plus, poison books of course are also central to Christie's own Mysterious Affair at Styles, even though the poison used there isn't arsenic.

 

 

And dissolving arsenical flypaper in water as a beauty treatment (the hindsight-mind boggles!) plays a crucial role in P.D. James's short story The Boxdale Inheritance, which features a very young Sergeant Dalgliesh ...

 

Anyway -- I like Harkup's approach, tying each poison chiefly to one specific book by Christie; even if I'm already wishing now that she'd provided diagrams of the molecular structures of all the poisons discussed at the end of the book (instead of making me look up half of them online).  But it's clear there's a chemist writing about her own subject here, so ... no fashion commentary, at least so far -- let's hope things stay that way!  And that table charting every single Christie novel and short story and the murder methods listed there is great beyond belief.

 

I have a feeling this will be another one of those books I'll be referring to again and again in the future!

THE Locked Room Mystery to End All Locked Room Mysteries

The Hollow Man - John Dickson Carr

Seriously, this is the book where John Dickson Carr, the master of locked room mysteries, pulls out all the stops.  And he tells us as much right from the start:

"To the murder of Professor Grimaud, and later the equally incredible crime in Cagliostro Street, many fantastic tems could be applied -- with reason.  Those of Dr Fell's friends who like impossible situations will not find in his casebook any puzzle more baffling or more terrifying.  Thus: two murders were committed, in such a fashion that the murderer must not only have been invisible, but lighter than air.  According to the evidence, this person killed his first victim and literally disappeared.  Again according to the evidence, he killed his second victim in the middle of an empty sreet, with watchers at either end; yet not a soul saw him, and  no footprint appeared in the snow."

The Hollow Man is a masterpiece in the art of the authorial sleight of hand -- the solution rests on an extremely audacious scheme, and I dare any reader to best JDC's series protagonist, Dr. Gideon Fell, in unraveling every element of the plot; never mind that the relevant clues actually are dropped throughout the novel.

 

Along the way, Dr. Fell also delivers his author's now-famous lecture on the various types of locked room mysteries, either name-checking or alluding to pretty much every mystery master of the age who had contributed to this particular sub-genre in a meaningful way by the time this book was published; and to anybody who criticizes the sub-genre for resting on "improbable" solutions, he has this answer:

When the cry of 'This-sort-of-thing-wouldn't-happen!' goes up, when you complain about half-faced fiends and hooded phantoms, and blond hypnotic sirens, you are merely saying, 'I don't like this sorrt of story.'  That's fair enough.  If you  do not like it, you are howlingly right to say so.  But when you twist this matter of taste into a rule for judging the merit or even the probablility of the story, you are merely saying, 'This series of events couldn't happen, because I shouldn't enjoy it if it did.' [...]

 

You see, the effect is so magical that we somehow expect the cause to be magical also.  When we see that it isn't wizardry, we call it tomfoolery.   Which is hardly fair play.  The last thing we should complain about with regard to the murderer is his erratic conduct.  The whole test is, can the thing be done?  If so, the question of whether it would be done does not enter into it.  A man escapes from a locked room -- well?  Since apparently he has violated the laws of nature for our entertainment, then heaven knows he is entitled to violate the laws of Probable Behaviour!  If a man offers to stand on his head, we can hardly make the stipulation that he must keep his feet on the ground while he does it.  Bear that in mind, gents, when you judge.  Call the result uninteresting, if you like, or anything else that is a matter of personal taste.  But be very careful about making the nonsensical statement that it is improbable or farfetched."

I happen to like locked room mysteries, yet I would argue that some crime writers' solutions do rest on overly improbable sequences of events on occasion, to the detriment of my enjoyment in almost every instance.  I very much do agree with his larger point, however: Don't mistake personal taste (an entirely subjective criterion) for "merit" or "quality" (a criterion aspiring, with however much or little justification, to objectivity).  This is not only lazy; it's also been the very thing that has kept genre fiction on the sidelines of literary recognition practically ever since its emergence -- the notion that it is somehow innately "inferior", literarily speaking, to what is known today as "literary fiction," or to the classics (which, dare one even mention it, were frequently belittled as "populist writing" themselves when first published, as Jane Austen powerfully reminds us in Northanger Abbey).

 

(Oh, and by the way, I also got a chuckle out of the fact that John Dickson Carr has absolutely no qualms about breaking the fourth wall, not only alluding to the reader at the very beginning of the book -- "in this case the reader must be told at the outset, to avoid useless confusion, on whose evidence he can absolutely rely" -- but even more so at the beginning of Dr. Fell's above-mentioned lecture on locked room mysteries:

"'But, if you're going to analyze impossible situations,' interrupted Pettis, 'why discuss detective fiction?'

 

'Because,' said the doctor, frankly, 'we're in a detective story, and we don't fool the reader by pretending we're not. Let's not invent elaborate excuses to drag in a discussion of detective stories.  Let's candidly glory in the noblest pursuits possible to characters in a book.'"

If that isn't audacity, I don't know what is.)

 

That all being said, if I'm not all the way "five-star" wowed by this book, it's because its focus rests almost entirely on the unraveling of the two fiendishly clever puzzles surrounding the murders committed, with comparatively little focus on the people involved in those murders, e.g., Dr. Grimaud's household.  It's not that we don't meet them or that their characterization necessarily lacks depth, but we only ever see them from the perspective of the investigators, with whom the narrative point of view rests all the time, and I'm finding more and more that this is a narrative technique that doesn't work optimally for me, or at least not unless the narrative perspective is that of the Great Detective's sidekick (and even Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, the progenitors of that particular technique, abandoned it every so often; ACD to tell the odd story from Holmes's perspective, or as a narrative within the narrative told from a client's or a witness's -- or the murderer's -- point of view; Christie by ultimately sending Captain Hastings to "the Argentine," so as to compel Poirot to strike out on his own henceforth and allow for a different, more widely spread narrative perspective; and even in a "Poirot and Hastings" novel, The A.B.C. Murders, she expressly included chapters told from another person's perspective, such as later obtained by Captain Hastings).

 

Moreover, there is rather a sinister and thrilling backstory to the events in The Hollow Man, which is however merely treated as precisely this -- a backstory.  I suppose John Dickson Carr didn't want to be accused of crossing too far into the territory of the occult and the supernatural (though he arguably does in novels such as The Burning Court and The Plague Court Murders), but even with the facts given as they are, I would have loved to see the backstory played out in more detail ... or at least, been given greater room in the exploration of the crime.

 

In short, John Dickson Carr's writing here, while technically brilliant, lacks the emotional dimension (or emotional appeal) that would take it for me to be truly drawn in.  This surely won't remain the last book by him that I have read, however.

 

In terms of the Detection Club bingo, this would obviously qualify for the Miraculous Murders square / chapter, which I've already covered -- but I'll definitely be counting it as an additional read for that square.

 

Zürich in the summer ... or, wait, actually it's still April!

I spent the past 2 days in Zürich -- attending a conference, but I went there early enough on Tuesday so as to be able to have some off time first, and with the current summertime temperatures, that decision (made weeks ago!) turned out to be golden.  I mean, can you possibly beat this?!

 

(My hotel was just outside the centre, in spitting distance of Lake Zurich ... the perfect starting point for a walk along the lakeshore into the city centre.)

 


The centerpiece of this door isn't a window -- it's a mirror!



Großmünster -- Swiss reformator Huldrych (Ulrich) Zwingli's church



Views from our conference hotel on Zürichberg (not far from FIFA's headquarters)



... while this, alas, is how we spent the better part of those 2 days!

Murder Off Miami: Updated -- Case Notes and Final Comments

Murder Off Miami  - Dennis Wheatley

Sooo ... turns out I correctly guessed the solution.  Though as MbD said in her review, it pretty much turns on one particular item of conjecture presented fairly early on, so I toyed with some more elaborate options for a while because initially I couldn't believe it really should be that easy. -- That said, like MbD I missed a few of the minor clues (and didn't entirely think through, or put a slightly different construction on some of those that I had seen); but ultimately none of that really mattered.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Case Notes, as posted on April 22, 2018, 00:05 AM CEST:

 

OK, I've finished it and formed my theory, but since MbD had pity on me last night (her time) and didn't exploit her world clock-generated advantage, I'll put all of my case notes (except for the corresponding headlines) in spoiler tags just to be on the safe side.  Though I do have a feeling we're on the same track as far as the solution is concerned.  But anyway!

 

Bolitho Blane and Nicholas Stodart

 

Who are they really, anyway??? 

 

* No verifiable third-hand information from any indisputable source (Scotland Yard, British armed forces, British colonial administration, etc.) on either. 

 

* Stodart's personal background especially re: the war years (WWI) is sourced only through S. himself. The British authorities don't even know him (i.e., he doesn't even have a birth certificate at Somerset House??)

 

* Ditto essentially Blane, who styles himself as a recluse and conducts even his business affairs chiefly "at the remote" -- by telephone and cable / correspondence.

 

* Both Blane and Stodart surfaced in Britain suddenly, at some point after the end of WWI, with a vague background of having come from "the colonies" (Australia / India / South Africa).

 

* Nobody, not even Rocksavage and the yacht's captain saw Blane / Stodart come on board (as per Rocksavage's testimony, you can't see the gangway from the bridge).

 

* Nobody saw Blane immediately after boarding; even the steward was kept out of his suite.

 

* Only one person on board knows what Blane looks like -- the Bishop, who wasn't in the lounge with the other passengers (minus Blane) before dinner on the fateful night and promptly has a fainting fit when Stodart enters the room where he is being interrogated.

 

* Similarly, nobody knows what Blane's handwriting looks like (or Stodart's for that matter).  The alleged suicide note is produced by Stodart.

 

* In fact, the entire suicide theory originates with Stodart.  (BUT: If you're staging a suicide, then why also stage a murder (tracks on the carpet, blood stains)?)

 

* Blane not only owns Argus Suds but (as per Jocelyn, who ought to know) also Redmeyer Synd shares, which at least before Blane's "exit" seem to have been faring considerably better than Argus Suds -- and better than Rocksavage Con, even if not as well as the other stocks associated with Rocksavage (Denton Bros, Grandol Soaps, and Sen Toilet Preps).

 

* Why the sudden need for a secretary / assistant on Blane's part, shortly before this trip?!  Explanation given isn't convincing.

 

* What is the meaning of Stodart's toothache / ill-fitting dentures?  Something to do with blood?

(show spoiler)

 

New York (Blane & Stodart's Travel to and Stay There)

 

* Blane's luggage has tags for the Ritz, Stodart's doesn't (at least not visibly).

 

* Stodart's luggage has "Cunard Line" tag, Blane's doesn't (at least not visibly).  (NB: As per internet research, the R.M.S. Berengaria really was a Cunard ship in the 1930s.)

 

* Letter to the Bishop written on Adlon Claridge paper.  That seems to have been the Bishop's hotel in N.Y.:  The Adlon Claridge match found later suggests that the letter wasn't sent to the Bishop as part of the mail delivered on board, but already conveyed to him in N.Y. in some fashion.

 

* Interpretation that letter to Bishop contains a veiled threat and is intended to hush him up is probably correct.

 

* Blane's luggage contains dirty / used clothing for 2 days.  So was there a laundry on the R.M.S. Berengaria?  (N.B.: Blue riband winners in the mid-1930s clocked in at roughly 4 days' travel time.  So the voyage from England would easily have taken that long, if not a day or two longer.)  But wouldn't the Ritz have offered laundry services, too?

 

* Stodart's luggage not inventoried.  (Presumably because police consider him a witness?)

 

* By letter to Bishop, we know that Blane / Stoddart were (was?!) in New York on March 5.

 

* Then [t]he[y] found an excuse not to travel to Florida with the rest of the passengers, and only board the yacht there at the very last minute on March 8.

(show spoiler)

 

Crime Scene

 

* If Blane was shot, where is the bullet?  Why wasn't it recovered (near one of the blood stains or anywhere else)?

 

* Crime scene photos at the very least don't suggest bullet has entered the wall.

 

* No odd number of bullets found in Blane's possession (25 bullets sounds like a number that B. could have counted off and brought with him from home).

 

* What caused that blood stain's black rim -- possibly black ink?

 

* "Suicide note" written in blue ink.  Comment on the back of the stock price listing written in black ink, like the stock price listing itself.

 

* Writing set on the desk seems to be missing one (the middle) pen.

 

* What color is the ink found in Blane's personal possessions -- black or blue?  The inventory doesn't say.

 

* Where did whoever wrote the suicide note (if it was written on board) sit while doing so?  There is no chair anywhere near the desk.

 

* Additional notes on ink / paper:

(a) Both of Hayashi's notes are written in blue ink as well.  As per his and the steward's testimony, immediately after boarding no foolscap / writing paper and no ink available in his cabin (only after the main on-board store had been reopened and cabins could be reprovisioned from there).  Lacking writing materials in his own cabin, Hayashi had to resort to materials provided in the ship's writing room.

(b) No odd number of sheets of yellow writing paper on the block contained in Blane's possessions.  25 sheets sounds like this could be the complete block brought by Blane from home.

(c) 68 pages of foolscap suggests use of some of the foolscap paper, though.  But for what purpose?

 

* In Blane's room, no change of daytime or evening clothes seems to have been unpacked / laid ready for dinner (only his pyjama and dressing gown). -- Stodart, OTOH, has had a change of shoes and socks at the very least.

 

* What is the black spot at the far end of the bathtub in Blane's suite?

 

* If the steward was in the adjacent room to Blane's suite, why didn't he hear anything?  (The shot may have been silenced, but literally nothing -- no commotion, not Blane's / Stodart's voice(s), no sounds of something falling (the body?!)?  May be the fault of the nearby carpenter's work, though.

(show spoiler)

 

Time of the Murder

 

* See above: Why can't the murder (if such a thing occurred at all) have been committed right after boarding?  We only have Stodart's word for the assertion that Blane was alive then in the first place -- and Stodart, by his own testimony, was alone in the room with him until 7:30 pm.

 

* At and after 7:00 pm (even more so, between 7:30 and 8:30 / 8:45 pm) it would have been dark outside, so presumably nobody would have seen what, if anything, was tossed out of the porthole of Blane's suite at that time.

 

* But: According to the page torn from Stodart's calendar, full moon at 4:15 am.  (Where exactly does that get us?  What, if anything, was planned for that time?)

 

* Stodart is the only person who was always in somebody's view and therefore has a perfect alibi during the entire time when Detective Kettering believes the murder was committed (i.e., after 7:30 or even after 7:45 pm). -- As Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey have all said on many a similar occasion: "There is nothing I distrust so much as a seemingly unbreakable alibi."

(show spoiler)

 

Relationship Blane / Hayashi

 

* Is Hayashi's note really about Blane's supposed intent to come to an agreement with Rocksavage?  I don't think so -- rather, the wording suggests a specific action being contemplated by Blane, and of which he has given Hayashi advance notice; maybe in order to sway H. in his (Blane's) own favor.

 

* We know from Slick, aka the Count, that Blane had exposed Slick's card-sharping on a previous occasion, much to Slick's detriment.  Could Blane not have told Hayashi that if H. didn't grant the Japanese monopoly to him (Blane), he'd expose the bribery scheme to which Rocksavage had more or less already agreed?

 

(show spoiler)

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

This particular volume qualifies for square / chapter 4 of the Detection Club bingo, for which I've already read Freeman Wills Crofts's Hog's Back Mystery, but I'm happy to say that I have since found affordable copies of two more books by Dennis Wheatley, as well as Q. Patrick's File on Fenton and Farr online, which I take both from MbD's reviews of Murder Off Miami and File on Fenton and Farr is more intricately  plotted, and which will qualify for the "Across the Atlantic" square.  Anyway, this was great fun -- and I'm very much looking forward to my next "crime files" adventure!

 

Women Writers Bingo / Project: Tracking Post

 

Read:

A - Margery Allingham: The Crime at Black Dudley, Mystery Mile, Look to the Lady, Police at the Funeral, Sweet Danger, Death of a Ghost, Flowers for the Judge, The Case of the Late Pig, Dancers in Mourning, The Fashion in Shrouds, Traitor's Purse, and The Tiger in the Smoke (all new); The Man With the Sack (revisited on audio);

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Half of a Yellow Sun (new)

B - Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (revisited on audio)

C - Helen Czerski: Storm in a Teacup (new);

Agatha Christie: The Moving Finger, One, Two, Buckle my Shoe, and Murder Is Easy (all revisited on audio), Crooked House (revisited on audio and DVD) and Destination Unknown (new)

D - Margaret Drabble: The Red Queen (new)

E -

F -

G - Elizabeth George: For the Sake of Elena and Playing for the Ashes (both revisited on audio)

H - Radclyffe Hall: The Well of Loneliness (new);

Mavis Doriel Hay: Death on the Cherwell (new)

I -

J - P.D. James: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories (new), Original Sin and Death of an Expert Witness (all revisited on audio)

K -

L -

M - Val McDermid: The Distant Echo (new);

Ngaio Marsh: Death in a White Tie, Off With His Head (aka Death of a Fool), Clutch of Constables, Death at the Dolphin (aka Killer Dolphin), and Hand in Glove (all revisited on audio)

N -

O - Emmuska Orczy: The Old Man in the Corner (new)

P - Anne Perry: A Dangerous Mourning and The Whitechapel Conspiracy (both new)

Q -

R - J.K. Rowling (writing as Robert Galbraith): The Cuckoo's Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil (all new);

J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (all audio)

S - Dennis McCarthy & June Schlueter: "A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" by George North -- A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare's Plays (new);

Dorothy L. Sayers: Unnatural Death (revisited on audio)

T - Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair (both new);

Amy Tan: The Chinese Siamese Cat (new)

U -

V -

W - Ethel Lina White: The Lady Vanishes (aka The Wheel Spins) and The Spiral Staircase (aka Some Must Watch) (both new)

X -

Y -

Z - Juli Zeh: Schilf (English title: Dark Matter) and Unterleuten (both new)

 

Free / center square:

 

On the card, I am only tracking new reads, not rereads.

 

Read, to date in 2018:

Books by female authors: 50

- new: 27

- rereads: 23

 

Books by male authors: 19

- new: 18

- rereads: 1

 

Books by F & M mixed teams / anthologies: 1

- new: 1

- rereads:

SPOILER ALERT!

Biafra: The World Was Silent When We Died

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zainab Jah

Half of a Yellow Sun is named for the centerpiece of the Biafran flag:

* Red for the blood of those massacred in northern Nigeria after the country's 1960 independence; in the time period leading up to the Nigeria-Biafra war, and in that war itself;

* Black for mourning them and in remembrance;

* Green for prosperity;

* And half of a yellow / golden sun for a glorious future: The sun has eleven rays, representing the eleven provinces of Biafra.

 

 

In this novel, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells the inside story of the Nigeria-Biafra war, of the anti-Igbo massacres preceding it, and of the short-lived Republic of Biafra roughly corresponding with the area chiefly inhabited by the Igbo (as well as the Ibibio, and Ijaw) and, in colonial times, known as Eastern Region of Nigeria: to this day, the political period most haunting Nigeria and its people.

 

Though the novel is not autobiographical (Adichie was born several years after the war ended), it is inspired by the experience of Adichie's parents, as well as numerous other eyewitnesses, who individually and collectively informed her protagonists: middle class twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, their lovers -- university professor and political activist Odenigbo, and English journalist and would-be novelist Richard Churchill (a distant relative of Winston) --, and last but not least Odenigbo and Olanna's houseboy Ugwu.  Through their eyes, and chiefly through those of Ugwu, Olanna and Richard, Adichie conveys a fragmented and multi-faceted image of the events, from the search for an authentic post-colonial (national? Igbo? pan-African?) identity to the shock and sheer terror of the anti-Igbo massacres -- primarily in Northern Nigeria --, the euphoria accompanying the foundation of the Republic of Biafra, and finally the unspeakable horror of a war conducted, on the Nigerian side, by way of a systematic campaign of starvation, shutting off Biafra's access to necessary food products and producing the images which have come to define the word "Biafra" once and for all to this day.

 

 

Although these images were front page news all over the world, and relief organizations such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders (which in fact owes its very existence to the Nigeria-Biafra war) did the best they could to battle the impossible odds, most of the First World stood by and let events take their course, out of a mixture of political self-interest, ignorance, sheer disbelief, and helpless apathy in the face of the enormity of the genocide.

 

In the novel, it is initially Richard, who has come to identify with the Igbo at least as much, or even more than with his English roots, who tries to convey a sense of what is happening inside Biafra to the outside world, through newspaper articles published in England and North America.  But his big project, a book about the Igbo (initially about their history and art; later on, about the war), keeps getting thwarted, and he ultimately abandons it:

"Ugwu fumbled, awkwardly, for something to say. 'Are you still writing your book, sah?'

'No.'

'"The World Was Silent When We Died".  It is a good title.'

'Yes, it is.  It came from something Colonel Madu said once.'

Richard paused.  'The war isn't my story to tell, really.'

Ugwu nodded.  He had never thought that it was."

And in fact, it will end up being Ugwu himself who writes that very book.  As it should be -- the story of Biafra, and the Nigeria-Biafra war, is for the Igbo and the Nigerians themselves to tell, first and foremost.  That obviously doesn't mean the rest of the world should ever stand by and keep silent in the face of war and genocide; but Adichie's point here (and I agree with her) is about authenticity, both cultural and emotional:

"I taught an introductory creative writing class at Princeton last year and, in addition to the classic 'show don't tell', I often told my students that their fiction needed to have 'emotional truth' [...]: a quality different from honesty and more resilient than fact, a quality that existed not in the kind of fiction that explains but in the kind of fiction that shows.  All the novels I love, the ones I remember, the ones I re-read, have this empathetic human quality.  And because I write the kind of fiction I like to read, when I started Half of a Yellow Sun [...], I hoped that emotional truth would be its major recognizable trait. [...]

 

Successful fiction does not need to be validated by 'real life'; I cringe whenever a writer is asked how much of a novel is 'real'.  Yet, [...] to write realistic fiction about war, especially one central to the history of one's own country, is to be constantly aware of a responsibility to something larger than art.  While writing Half of a Yellow Sun, I enjoyed playing with minor things [such as inventing a train station in a town that has none].  Yet I did not play with the central events of that time.  I could not let a character be changed by anything that had not actually happened.  If fiction is indeed the soul of history, then I was equally committed to the fiction and the history, equally keen to be true to the spirit of the time as well as to my artistic vision of it. 

 

The writing itself was a bruising experience. [...] But there were also moments of extravagant joy when I recognized, in a character or moment or scene, that quality of emotional truth."

 

(Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, In the Shadow of Biafra -- essay included in the 2007 Harper Perennial edition of Half of a Yellow Sun).

Half of a Yellow Sun has been called everything from "stunning" and "a landmark novel" to "heartbreaking", "exquisitely written, "a literary masterpiece" and "a classic" (the last four of these, in one and the same sentence of a Daily Mail review blurbed on the front cover of my edition).  The novel is probably all of these things, and yet, let's face it, all of these terms are nothing so much as well-worn reviewer's clichésSince they're the coinage by which professional reviewers the world over operate, I'm sure Ms. Adichie still preferred getting plenty of this sort of accolades over being ripped apart by these same professional reviewers' mercilessly acidic tongues, which the same time-honored traditions of the trade reserve for books not considered worth the respective reviewer's precious time. -- Being a mere amateur, I'm going to content myself with saying that this novel is precisely what Ms. Adichie hoped it would be: an emotionally brutally honest book; a fragment of Nigerian history told through the eyes of a small, diverse, and devastatingly flawed group of people.

 

(And of course I'm going to count this towards the letter "A" of the Women Writers Bingo ... never mind that I've already read another book qualifying for that particular square.)

 

A murder is committed -- and hilarity ensues.

The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin The Moving Toyshop - Edmund Crispin, Paul Panting Quick Curtain - Alan Melville Quick Curtain - Ben Allen, Alan Melville

Both Edmund Crispin's Moving Toyshop and Alan Melville's Quick Curtain are mentioned in the "Making Fun of Murder" chapter of Martin Edwards's Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.  Both are excellent examples of writers taking something as horrific as murder and turning it right around and into a farce, albeit (as Dorothy L. Sayers remarked in her review of Melville's book) at the expense of a realistic description of proper police procedure.  But then, a surfeit of realism isn't necessarily what either of these authors was aiming for.

 

Which doesn't mean that their observations on society, or the segment thereof being portrayed (academia in Crispin's case, the world of showbiz and the theatre in Melville's) aren't spot on satire.  In fact, if read in that spirit, they are, in many respects, as timely today as they were when originally written:

"Tuesday, June 18th, you will have noticed, was the great day [of the musical company's London opening].  On Sunday, June 16th, when most of the Blue Music company were still in Manchester [...], seven grim females parked seven rickety campstools outside the gallery entrance of the Grosvenor Theatre.

 

They were joined a little later in the evening by four more females and a lone male.  They unpacked sandwiches and munched.  They uncorked thermos flasks and drank hot coffee out of the aluminium tops of the flasks.  They discussed with one another Mr. Douglas, Miss Astle, Mr. Baker, Mr. Douglas's past successes, Miss Astle's last divorce, Mr. Baker's profile -- both the port and the starboard view.  They half slept.  They suffered endless agonies on their stupid, unreliable campstools; they each contracted stiff necks and shooting pains in the lower reaches of the spine; they were photographed for their pains by a man in a dirty waterproof and appeared on the back page of the Daily Post under the title 'Gallery Enthusiasts' Three-Day Wait for New Douglas Show.'  They were stll there on Tuesday morning, proudly in the van of a fair-sized queue."

 

(Alan Melville, Quick Curtain)

Harry Potter and Apple gadgets, anyone?

 

 

Edmund Crispin's Moving Toyshop concerns the temporary metamorphosis of a grocer's shop into (you guessed it) a toyshop for purposes of the concealment of the scene of a murder; a plan that goes haywire when one of the book's two protagonists, a poet friend of Oxford don (and star of this book series) Gervase Fen, accidentally stumbles into the temporarily morphed shop, shortly after the dastardly deed has been committed.  Crispin's particular forte were hilarious chase scenes, of which this book contains several, perhaps the most notable being the two amateur sleuths' chase after a young woman in the midst of the Oxford Händel Society's rehearsal of Brahms's Schicksalslied in the Sheldonian Theatre:

"The girl with the blue eyes and the golden hair was embedded in the very middle of the altos, and there was no way to get near her except through the basses, who stood nearby, behind the orchestra.  Accordingly, they hacked out a path between the instrumentalists, under the envenomed gaze of Dr Artemus Rains [the conductor].  The second horn, a sandy, undersized man, went quite out of tune with indignation.  Brahms thundered and trumpeted about their ears. 'Blindly,' the chorus roared, 'blindly from one dread hour to another.'  They knocked over the music-stand of the tympanist, sweating with the efford of counting bars, so that he failed to come in at his last entry.

 

The haven of the basses achieved at last, a number of further difficulties presented themselves.  The Sheldonian is not particularly spacious, and the members of the large choir have to be herded together in conditions not unreminiscent of the Black Hole of Calcutta.  When Fen and Cadogan, pushing, perspiring, and creating a great deal of localized pother, had penetrated the basses to a certain distance (Cadogan shedding wicker basket, bootlaces, and dog-collar broadcast as he went) the could literally get no farther; they were wedged, and even the avenue by which they had come was now irrevocably closed and sealed. [...]

 

Dr. Rains leaned his spidery form forwards across the rostrum. 'Professor Fen --' he began in a silky voice.

 

But he was not allowed to finish.  The girl with the blue eyes, profiting by this sudden focusing of attention, had pushed her way through the altos and was now heading at a brisk pace towards the door.  Unnerved by this fresh interruption, Dr Rains swung round to glare at her.  Fen and Cadogan got on the move again with alacrity, clawing their way back through the basses and the orchestra without ceremony or restraint.  But this process delayed them, and the girl had been out of the hall at least half a minute by the time they reached open ground.  Dr. Rains watched them go with a theatrical expression of sardonic interst.

 

'Now that the English Faculty has left us,' Cadogan heard him say, 'we will go back to the letter L.' The rehearsal started afresh."

I've yet to see the BBC TV adaptation of this, but if handled well, this is not the only scene that would have made for much hilarity, never mind the novel's otherwise somewhat thin plot.

 

Alan Melville's Quick Curtain is, as shown already in the excerpt further above, a satire on the world of 1930s theatre and showbiz, where a murder occurring at the focal point of a bestselling new musical comedy is investigated (with many quips and witty asides) by a policeman and his journalist son.  Obviously, this premise in and of itself is more than merely a little preposterous, even for the 1930s, but if you're able to get past this point (Ms. Sayers obviously wasn't) and past the fact that the central plot device has been used about a million times since, there is much to enjoy here -- and Melville, who knew the world he was describing inside out, certainly doesn't mince words when it comes to the characterization of the chief players who, like those of another theatre insider turned mystery writer of the day, Ngaio Marsh, are thinly veiled take-downs on several real life stars -- yet Melville (like Marsh) kept the allusions just on the right side of the generic and light-hearted, without ever descending into outright character assassination.  (Well, he was making a living in that very world himself, after all.)  And he managed to maintain his light, almost absurdist approach right until the end: Think a Golden Age mystery always ends with a pat and neat solution?  Think again.  Even if there is such a thing as a standard-issue conclave in the 23:45th-ish hour ...

This is insane.  We're in April -- and not so long ago, we were still battling winter temperatures. 

 

Well, if previous instances of the same pattern are anything to go by, that means we'd better enjoy these temps right now, because they won't be making much of a reappearance in summer ...

MbD: It's Here!!

 

Sooo ... are we still on for a buddy read, um, exercise in crime solving?

 

And it's even in a damned fine condition, given its age ... there's the odd cuff, and the pages are yellowed, as was to be expected (and for once I wouldn't want them any other way -- this is a "historic" crime file after all!), but other than that, not a splot or a scratch or a tear ...

 

 

 

 

... and almost the best part is, the seal over the solution part is unbroken!  Woohoo!

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Anger Management

Career of Evil - Robert Galbraith, Robert Glenister

Soooo ... turns out I listened to book 3 almost straight on the heels of book 2 after all, because I've had some fairly major anger and sadness issues to go through lately, and nothing helps in that process like a really dark-hued book, right?

 

As a matter of fact, it turns out that yours truly wasn't the only person in need of some healthy dose of anger management here.  I knew going in that this is a serial killer novel (that much is clear from page one); actually, though, the person ultimately revealed as the killer is only one of several seriously sick and violent bastards, all of whom have a major personal gripe with Strike and therefore pretty much auto-suggest themselves as suspects -- I mean, who other than someone pretty obviously out to make Strike's (and Robin's) lives hell would send them body parts and go stalking Robin, intent on ultimately killing her, too?  (No spoiler here btw.; this, too, is obivous right from the beginning.)

 

But speaking of Robin, in this installment she is having to deal with some pretty substantial anger management of her own in turn, and she's unfortunately not doing all that brilliantly ... in fact, for the better part of the novel she's behaving more like a sulking teenager than like a grown up woman.  We learn a lot about her background here, and about the reasons why she gave up university and kept on clinging to Matthew, her boyfriend of nine years, despite his obvious dislike of her work as Strike's assistant -- and up to a point I can empathize with her insecurities

(she's a rape victim and developed agoraphobia as a consequence, which it took her a full year to overcome and even so much as venture out again at all).

(show spoiler)

  However, I have decidedly more of a problem empathizing with her for throwing a major fit every time Strike doesn't go to the end of the world to treat her as a full-fledged partner -- and for her coming within an inch of fatally jeopardizing both her own and Strike's lives, not to mention his work, on several separate occasions as a result; not least towards the very end.  For an army / MP veteran with 15+ years of experience on the job as an investigator to accord that kind of equality to an untrained temp secretary who'd started in his office barely over a year earlier would be a ludicrous expectation under any circumstances, but even more so after she had repeatedly failed to follow his orders, thinking (wrongly) that she knew better, with disastrous consequences every single time. And no, Robin, you don't get to chalk that one up to your experience in university, horrific as it doubtless was.  Because this isn't a matter of anyone denying you your basic, inviolate human dignity -- it's a matter of (un)realistic expectations, plain and simple; and if you did have even the most marginal claim to the position to which you aspire on the job, this would be the first thing you'd realize.  I don't doubt that your experience created major insecurity issues, but if those are truly still overwhelming to this degree, Strike is even more justified than he is, anyway, on the basis of your lack of training and repeated misconduct, in not treating you as an equal partner.  For him to be able to do that -- and trust you with the blind assurance that true partnership in a dangerous job such as the pursuit of violent criminals would have to entail -- you would have had to demonstrate that such trust on his part would be justified.  You, however, have demonstrated the precise opposite.

And I can empathize even less with Robin for her petty bit of revenge on Strike at the very end, getting married to Matthew after all -- not because she's determined she really loves him and he is the man in her life now and forever, but simply to get back at Strike for sacking her ... for what had been her most blatant act of stupidity and professional misconduct yet.  I hope by the time we get to the beginning of the next book, which it turns out is due to be published sometime soon now, she's got a grip on herself.  And if her marriage had gone to hell in a handbasket in the interim, I wouldn't feel particularly sorry for her -- you don't marry for revenge, period.  Even less so a guy who you've realized is the wrong guy for you to begin with and to whom you're only clinging for sentimental reasons now (as you're very well aware, too).

(show spoiler)

So anyway, minus one star for Robin's temper tantrums, but full marks, as always, for the writing and for Strike's character development -- as well as for introducing us to a guy named Shanker, who I very much hope is going to make a reappearance or two in the future.  The serial killer plot isn't of the ingenious, never-seen-before-new variety, but more than merely competently executed, and I've also had quite a bit of fun touring Northern England and the Scottish borderland with Strike (and, in part, Robin) on the hunt for the killer.

Detection Club Bingo: My Progress So Far

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books - Martin Edwards The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards Lonely Magdalen: A Murder Story - Henry Wade Margery Allingham Omnibus: Includes Sweet Danger, The Case of the Late Pig, The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham The Franchise Affair - Josephine Tey Family Matters (British Library Crime Classics) - Anthony Rolls Death on the Cherwell - Mavis Doriel Hay The Hog's Back Mystery - Freeman Wills Crofts The Red House Mystery - A.A. Milne The Lake District Murder - John Bude

 

First bingo (bottom row) and three more in the making (second column from right, diagonal top left to bottom right, and 4 corners + central square).  Not that it greatly matters, but still. :D  Progress!

 

The Squares / Chapters:

1. A New Era Dawns: Ernest Bramah - The Tales of Max Carrados;

Emmuska Orczy - The Old Man in the Corner

2. The Birth of the Golden Age: A.A. Milne - The Red House Mystery
3. The Great Detectives:
Margery Allingham - The Crime at Black Dudley, Mystery Mile, Look to the Lady, Police at the Funeral, Sweet Danger, Death of a Ghost, Flowers for the Judge, The Case of the Late Pig, Dancers in Mourning, The Fashion in Shrouds, Traitor's Purse, and The Tiger in the Smoke;

Anthony Berkeley - The Poisoned Chocolates Case

4. 'Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game!': Freeman Wills Crofts - The Hog's Back Mystery
5. Miraculous Murders: Anthony Wynne - Murder of a Lady
6. Serpents in Eden: John Bude - The Lake District Murder
7. Murder at the Manor:
Ethel Lina White - The Spiral Staircase (aka Some Must Watch)
8. Capital Crimes
9. Resorting to Murder
10. Making Fun of Murder
11. Education, Education, Education:
Mavis Doriel Hay - Death on the Cherwell
12. Playing Politics
13. Scientific Enquiries
14. The Long Arm of the Law:
Henry Wade - Lonely Magdalen
15. The Justice Game
16. Multiplying Murders
17. The Psychology of Crime
18. Inverted Mysteries:
Anne Meredith - Portrait of a Murderer
19. The Ironists: Anthony Rolls - Family Matters
20. Fiction from Fact: Josephine Tey - The Franchise Affair

21. Singletons
22. Across the Atlantic
23. Cosmopolitan Crimes: Georges Simenon - Pietr le Letton (Pietr the Latvian)
24. The Way Ahead

 

Free Square / Eric the Skull: Martin Edwards - The Golden Age of Murder

 

The book that started it all:

Martin Edwards - The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books

 

The Detection Club Reading Lists:
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: The "100 Books" Presented
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 1-5

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 6 & 7
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 8-10
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 11-15
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 16-20
The story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 21-24

A Wasted Opportunity

The Lake District Murder - John Bude The Lake District Murder - John Bude, Gordon Griffin

John Bude, Martin Edwards writes in The History of Classic Crime in 100 Books, deliberately set his first three books in picturesque real life locations -- which then also appeared in the books' respective titles -- to set a counterpoint to the golden age mystery trope of concocting fictional country house settings at more or less remote distances from London.  If that truly was Bude's intention, then in The Lake District Murder, his second mystery and the first one featurling Inspector / Superintendent Meredith, he egregiously wasted a magnificent opportunity.  The Lake District is indisputably one of England's most striking regions, with its stark, towering fells (= hills / mountains), huge shimmering lakes, deep isolated valleys and ragged coastline.  Yet, although if Edwards is to be believed Bude was deeply familiar with the area -- and deliberately even chose its less touristy part as his setting -- none of this, nor any of the region's other characteristics, is invoked by way of setting the scene.  Even about nearby Carlisle, seat of the district police headquarters, we only learn that it's an "ancient walled city"; never mind the town's manifold charms, which you'd have to be blind to miss even as the most casual of visitors. -- Obviously, Bude wasn't writing a tourist brochure, but damnit, setting and atmosphere matter in fiction, and there are plenty of novels that skillfully exploit the austere beauty of the Lake District (and of its less touristy parts, at that) in setting their scene.

 

Bude's novels are in the tradition created by Freeman Wills Crofts in his Inspector French mysteries; i.e., they painstakingly "play fair" with the reader, which may result on occasion -- and certainly does here -- in an excessively detailed description of the steps undertaken by the protagonist investigator, to the point of getting bogged down with schedules, time frames, and the technical detail of machinery that, at least as far as I am concerned, tends to go straight over my head (in the present instance, even though I had some previous knowledge of the workings of at least part of the machinery involved).  Add to this a murder investigation that, not even 1/4 of the way into the book, gets seriously derailed by an investigation into a related criminal conspiracy (related, hence ultimately relevant also for the resolution of the murder, however completely sidelining the murder in terms of focus for the majority of the book) -- which ancillary investigation, in turn, likewise takes a huge detour before finally moving onto the right track -- as well as investigative methods that must make the fingernails of any modern reader with even the most marginal familiarity with real police work and criminal law roll up all the way to their cuticles in pain, and you've got ... well, let's just say a book that would have hugely benefitted from an unafraid editor's honest pruning but which, as it is, only ever impinged on my reading brain whenever the results of the past 100 or so pages' (or 3 hours') worth of painstaking investigation were summed up for another character's benefit.

 

I like Budes understated sense of humor, and I like Meredith -- or rather, I liked him until a comment (albeit from the authorial, not the character's perspective: not that that makes it any better if course) towards the very end of this book playing into the cliché according to which it is in woman's nature to respond to any profound shock by fainting (for perspective: we're talking about a very young housemaid who opens the door in the middle of the night to find a score of middle-aged policemen -- emphasis: men; emphasis: in uniform; emphasis: armed -- on the doorstep, who in turn, with nary a "by your leave", proceed to enter her employer's, and hence also her home, intent on arresting said employer, who thereupon instantly shoots himself).  So anyway, I will probably give Bude's writing another chance at some point.  But it's likely not going to be anytime soon, and the more books I read of the variety that define "playing fair by the reader" as holding back the protagonist sleuth's investigation so as to make it patently easy for the reader to follow along every step of the way, the more I am convinced that this is not "my" type of mystery.  There may be situations, even in the most ingeniously crafted mysteries, where such a thing may be necessary (think: Dorothy L. Sayers's Nine Tailors and Five Red Herrings), but by and large ... give me Hercule Poirot's "little grey cells", Sherlock Holmes's "observation of trifles", and a rousing surprise finale any day of the week.

 

I read this for chapter / square 6 of the Detection Club Bingo ("Serpents in Eden").

 

In the Lake Dsitrict:

On the road from Ambleside to Coniston / Castlerigg Stone Circle

 

Far from the Hundred Acre Wood

The Red House Mystery - A.A. Milne

 

 

... and yet, not anywhere near far enough into the territory of the writers whose company Milne sought with this book (or whom he obviously even thought to surpass).

 

In the introduction to The Red House Mystery, Milne writes that his editor had warned him to stray off the path expected of him by the reading public (namely, Punch satires and, ultimately, Winnie the Pooh, although The Red House Mystery predates Winnie's first adventures published in book form by four years); and that he -- Milne -- had therefore contented himself with authoring a single mystery novel, but that he had written this one exactly to the prescription that he himself favored: an ingenious Sherlock Holmes-style amateur sleuth with a Watson-style sidekick by his side "besting" the meticulous but plodding police but, unlike in Conan Doyle's tales, taking the reader along with them every step of the way instead of springing the solution on a wide-eyed reader in a big final surprise round-up.

 

The result, alas, is however not, as Milne hoped, the "ideal crime novel" but, at least to this fan of Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, an entertaining but somewhat bland novel that, despite the odd moment of mild frisson, entirely neglects the one element that most makes outstanding mystery fiction tick: namely, the battle between the reader and the protagonist sleuth.  This has nothing to do with "playing fair" with the reader: The great masters of the genre -- namely Milne's contemporaries Christie and Sayers -- didn't neglect to drop all the relevant clues throughout the book; they were just skilled enough to hide those clues so well that their relevance only becomes apparent when the solution to the mystery is finally unravelled.

 

Not so here: The identity of the murderer is fairly obvious early on, and since we're also let into the two amateur sleuths' mental processes and the reasoning behind their investigative steps down to the very last detail every step of the way, the whole thing resembles nothing so much as a leisurely stroll in the park -- mildly entertaining, but about as exciting as a pot of tea slowly and inexorably going tepid.  Even the murder itself, for all the characters' both express and unspoken protestations of the shock of seeing a human life suddenly and brutally extinguished, feels more like the opening move of a parlour game than llike a real and horrifying event.

 

Obviously Milne was a talented writer; it only takes one look at the Winnie-the-Pooh books, or his contributions to Punch (or his other essays, for that matter) to devine as much; and ultimately it's his writing that elevates this book from a 2- or 2 1/2-star read to a 3 star rating at least.  Also, as far as his editor's attempts to keep him on the beaten track are concerned, more power to Milne for seeking to break the barriers imposed on him and explore new authorial ground.  But if this is truly what Milne considered "the ideal mystery," then at least in the final result I'm afraid I am with his editor on this one: He was decidedly better off in the world of Punch and in the Hundred Acre Wood.

 

I read this for chapter / square 2 of the Detection Club Bingo: The Birth of the Golden Age.

SPOILER ALERT!

Jacobean Revenge Tragedy Has Got Nothing on This

The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith, Robert Glenister

Jesus H. Christ, where did that come from???   Oh man, talk about "leagues from Harry Potter" ... more like, in a different galaxy.  And I mean content-, not quality-wise.

 

It's no coincidence that every single chapter of this book is prefaced by a quote from a different 16th / 17th century revenge tragedy: This is not a book for the faint of heart, dealing as it does with

(1) a seriously twisted, depraved book [whose content is laid out in some detail] and (2) that book's author, who weeks after having disappeared is found murdered, with his now rotting corpse having been made the sick centerpiece of a [graphically described] scene that exactly replicates the end of his final book.

(show spoiler)

I have to confess it was at this point that I almost stopped listening, and it was only the author's s skill as a writer that pulled me back into the story and made me care about what happened next at all.

 

In terms of the technique(s) of crime writing and character development, this is even better than the first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo's Calling; and I admit one other factor that kept me glued to the book until the end was the very skillfully unraveled backstory of Strike and his ex-fiancée Charlotte, or rather, their final breakup.  If there had been one thing that had left me mildly unsatisfied at the end of the first book, it was not having learned what precisely was behind Charlotte's explosive exit from Strike's office, with which the first book opens, and the specific reason for which -- and the reason for their final dispute and breakup -- was at best hinted at in book 1.  Well, curiosity satisfied now, and boy is it ever. -- Now if Robin would finally get rid of Michael ... (That being said, I'm not sure I want Strike to be her next boyfriend, even though that seems to be where we are headed.  They work increasingly well together as a team, but Strike is carrying a heck of a lot of baggage, and I'm not sure at all that their professional relationship would benefit from a change of dynamics that would bring all of that baggage AND emotions into the mix as well.)

 

So, 4 stars with a golden ribbon on top for the writing and character development (not only of Strike and Robin, but also of this story's supporting cast of murder suspects and their respective entourage), and extra kudo points for the sheer chutzpah of ditching every last expectation that readers coming to this book straight from Harry Potter might be bringing, and for taking a full-blown, unflinching dive in the opposite direction instead.  That self-same latter dive is, however, also the reason why I'm subtracting a half star from my overall rating.  It's going to take some time and a considerable amount of mind bleach to rid my brain of the images

of that murder scene ... and the imagery of the [fictional] book inspiring it.

(show spoiler)

My KYD Reads ... or: Harry Potter, and What Else I read in March 2018

Harry Potter Box Set: The Complete Collection - J.K. Rowling Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Gryffindor Edition - ROWLING J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows  - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry The Hog's Back Mystery - Freeman Wills Crofts, Gordon Griffin The Red Queen - Margaret Drabble A Red Death: An Easy Rawlins Mystery - Walter Mosley, Michael Boatman Imperium  - Robert Harris The Distant Echo - Val McDermid, Tom Cotcher Unterleuten: Roman - Juli Zeh "A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" by George North: A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare's Plays - Dennis McCarthy, June Schlueter

A big thank you to Moonlight Reader for yet another fun, inventive BookLikes game!  I had a wonderful time, while also advancing -- though with decidedly fewer new reads than I'd origianlly been planning -- my two main reading goals for this year (classic crime fiction and books written by women).

 

Harry Potter - The Complete Series

This was a long-overdue revisit and obviously, there isn't anything I could possibly say about the books that hasn't been said a million times before by others.  But I've gladly let the magic of Hogwarts and Harry's world capture me all over again ... to the point of giving in to book fandom far enough to treat myself to the gorgeous hardcover book set released in 2014 and, in addition, the even more gorgeous Gryffindor and Ravenclaw anniversary editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

 

 

That said, particular kudos must also go to Stephen Fry for his magnificent audio narration of the books, which played a huge role in pulling me right back into to books, to the point that I'd carry my phone wherever I went while I was listening to them.

 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J.K. Rowling, Stephen FryHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling, Stephen Fry

 

 

As for the rest of my KYD books ... roughly in the order in which I read them:

 

Ngaio Marsh: Death at the Dolphin (aka Killer Dolphin)

Killer Dolphin - Ngaio Marsh Death at the Dolphin - Ngaio Marsh

Also a revisit: One of my favorite installments in Marsh's Roderick Alleyn series, not only because it is set in the world of the theatre -- always one of Marsh's particular fortes, as she herself was a veteran Shakespearean director and considered that her primary occupation, while writing mysteries to her was merely a sideline -- but because this one, in fact, does deal with a(n alleged) Shakespearean relic and a play based on Shakespeare's life, inspired by that relic.

 

 

The Hog's Back Mystery - Freeman Wills Crofts, Gordon Griffin

Freeman Wills Crofts:
The Hog's Back Mystery

 Part of Crofts's Inspector French series and my first book by Crofts, who was known for his painstaking attempts to "play fair" with the reader; which here, I'm afraid, hampered the development of the story a bit, in producing a fair bit of dialogue at the beginning that might have been better summed up from the third person narrator's point of view in the interest of easing along the flow of the story, and in holding French back even at points where a reasonably alert reader would have developed suspicions calling for a particular turn of the investigation.  But I like French as a character, and as for all I'm hearing this is very likely not the series's strongest installment, I'll happily give another book a try later.

 

 

Unnatural Death: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery - Dorothy L. Sayers, Ian Carmichael

Dorothy L. Sayers: Unnatural Death

Not my favorite Lord Peter Wimsey book by Sayers, but virtually the only one I haven't revisited on audio recently -- and as always, I greatly enjoyed the narration by Ian Carmichael.  That said, here again Sayers proves herself head and shoulders above her contemporaries, in devising a particularly fiendish, virtually untraceable method of murder (well, untraceable by the medical state of the art of her day at least), and perhaps even more so by hinting fairly obviously at two women's living together in what would seem to be a lesbian relationship.

 

 

The Red Queen - Margaret Drabble

Margaret Drabble: The Red Queen

Ummm ... decidedly NOT my favorite read of the month.  'Nuff said: next!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Red Death: An Easy Rawlins Mystery - Walter Mosley, Michael Boatman

Walter Mosley: A Red Death

I'd long been wanting to return to the world of Easy Rawlins' mid-20th century Los Angeles, so what with Mosley's fiction making for various entries in the KYD cards, including at least one book by him in my reading plans for the game seemed only fitting (... even if I ended up using this one for a "Dr. Watson" victim guess!). -- This, the second installment of the series, deals with the political hysteria brought about by the McCarthy probes and also makes a number of pertinent points on racial discrimination and xenophobia, which make it decidedly uncomfortable reading in today's political climate.

 

 

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe - Hugh Fraser, Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe

Another revisit, and in no small part courtesy of Hugh Fraser's narration, I liked the book a good deal better than I had done originally.  This is one of several entries in the Poirot canon where we learn about Poirot's phobia of dentist's visits, which obviously makes for the high point of the book's humour ... and of course it doesn't exactly help that it's Poirot's dentist, of all people, who turns out the murder victim. -- The plot features several clever slights of hand, and you have to play a really long shot to get the solution right in its entirety (even if strictly speaking Christie does play fair).  Well, that's what we have Monsieur Poirot's little grey cells for, I suppose!

 

 

Imperium - Robert Harris

Robert Harris: Imperium

The first part of Harris's Cicero trilogy, and both a truly fast-paced and a well-researched piece of historical writing; covering Cicero's ascent from young Senator to Praetorian and, eventually (and against all the odds), Consul. 

 

The first part of the book deals at length with one of Cicero's most famous legal cases, the prosecution of the corrupt Sicilian governor Verres, and Harris shows how Cicero employed that case in order to advance his own political career.  Notably, Cicero quite ingeniously also ignored established Roman trial practice in favor of what would very much resemble modern common law practice, by making a (by the standards of the day) comparatively short opening statement -- albeit a supremely argumentative one -- and immediately thereafter examining his witnesses, instead of, as procedural custom would have dictated, engaging in a lengthy battle of speeches with defending counsel first.  As a result of this manoeuver, Verres was as good as convicted and fled from Rome in the space of the 9 days allotted to Cicero as prosecuting counsel to make his case. 

 

The second part of the book examines Cicero's unlikely but eventually victorious campaign for consulship, and his exposure of a conspiracy involving Catiline, generally believed to be the most likely victor of that year's consular elections, who later came to be involved of conspiracies on an even greater scale, and whose condemnation in Cicero's most famous speeches -- collectively known as In Catilinam (On, or Against Catiline) -- would go a great way towards securing both Cicero's political success in his own lifetime and his lasting fame as a skilled orator.

 

 

Murder is Easy - Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie: Murder Is Easy

Another Christie revisit, and I regret to say for the most part I'm down to my less favorite books now.  This isn't a bad book, and the ending in particular is quite dark ... but the middle part, much as I'm sorry to have to say this, simply drags.

 

 

 

 

The Distant Echo - Val McDermid, Tom Cotcher

Val McDermid: The Distant Echo

Holy moly, how did I ever miss this book until now?!  Even more so since the Karen Pirie series is actually my favorite series by Val McDermid ... OK, Pirie herself has little more than a walk-on role here; we're talking absolute beginning of her career, and the focus is decidedly not on her but on her boss and  on a quartet of suspects involved in a 25-year-old murder case -- in fact, the whole first half of the book is set 25 years in the past, too, describing the immediate aftermath of the murder and its consequences for the four main suspects, chiefly from their perspective.  But still!  Well, I sure am glad I finally caught up with it at last ... definitely one of the best things McDermid ever wrote.

 

 

Unterleuten: Roman - Juli Zeh

Juli Zeh: Unterleuten

A scathing satire on village life, on post-Berlin Wall German society, on greed, on the commercialization of ideals ... and most of all, on people's inability to communicate: Everyone in this book essentially lives inside their own head, and in a world created only from the bits they themselves want to see -- with predictably disastrous consequences.  The whole thing is brilliantly observed and deftly written; yet, the lack of characters that I found I could like or empathize with began to grate after a while ... in a shorter book I might not have minded quite so much, but in a 600+ page brick I'd have needed a few more characters who actually spoke to me to get all the way through and still be raving with enthusiasm.  If you don't mind watching a bunch of thoroughly dislikeable people self-destruct in slow motion, though, you're bound to have a lot of fun with this book.

 

 

Von Köln zum Meer: Schifffahrt auf dem Niederrhein - Werner Böcking

Werner Böcking: Von Köln zum Meer

Local history, a read inspired by conversations with a visiting friend on the history of shipping and travel by boat on the Rhine. -- A richly illustrated book focusing chiefly on the 19th and 20th centuries, and the mid-19th-centuriy changes brought about by diesel engines and the resulting disappearance of sailing vessels (which, before the advent of engines, were pulled by horses when going up the river, against the current): undoubtedly the biggest change not only in land but also in river travel and transportation, with a profound effect on large sectors of the economy of the adjoining regions and communities.

 

 

And last but not least ...

 

 

Dennis McCarthy & June Schlueter: "A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" by George North -- A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare's Plays

The lastest in Shakespearean research, also a read inspired by conversations with the above-mentioned visiting friend, and a February 7, 2018 New York Times article on a possible new source text for passages contained in no less than 11 of Shakespeare's plays.  The story of the discovery itself is fascinating; the research methods applied are in synch with modern Shakesperean scholarship ... and yet, for all the astonishing textual concordance, unless and until someone proves that Shakespeare not only had the opportunity to see this document but actually did (at least: overwhelmingly likely) see it, I'm not going to cry "hooray" just yet.  According to the authors' own timeline, Shakespeare would have been about 11 years old when this text was written, it was kept in a private collection even then, and there is no record that the Bard ever visited the manor housing that very collection -- which collection in turn, if the authors are to be believed, the text very likely at least did not ever leave during Shakespeare's lifetime (though it was undoubtedly moved at a later point in time).  And Shakespearean research, as we all know, has been prone to a boatload of dead-end streets and conspiracy theories pretty much ever since its inception ...

Kill Your Darlings - Team MbD / Lillelara / TA: Master Tracking Post and FINAL RESULT

 

Aaaand ... that's a wrap.

 

Round 1

Suspect

Own guess / card played: Madeleine L'Engle - wrong - 5 points

Correct guess: None

 

Victims

Own guess / card played: Katniss Everdeen - 5 points

Correct guess: None

 

Crime Scenes

Own guess / card played: None

Correct guess (by Nighttime Reading Center): Gryffindor Common Room

 

Causes of Death / Weapons

Own guess / card played: Mauled by a demon hound - wrong - 5 points

Correct guess: None

 

 

Round 2

Suspect

Own guess / card played: None

Correct guess: None

 

Victims

Own guess / card played: None

Correct guess: None

 

Crime Scenes

Own guess / card played: Green Dragon Pub - wrong - 5 points

+ claiming already correctly ID'd card: Gryffindor Common Room - 10 points

Correct new guess: None

 

Causes of Death / Weapons

Own guesses / cards played: Dark alley beat down - correct - 20 points

                                                   Crushed in a bad tesseract - wrong - 5 points
 

 

Round 3

Suspect

Own guess / card played: None

Correct guess: None

 

Victims

Own guess / card played: Meg Murry - wrong - 5 points

Correct guess: None

 

Crime Scenes

Own guess / card played: Planet Camazotz - correct - 20 points

 

Causes of Death / Weapons

Own guess / card played: None

Correct guess: None

 

Round 4

Suspect

Own guess / card played: J.K. Rowling - wrong - 5 points

Correct guess: None

 

Victims

Own guess / card played: Severus Snape - wrong - 5 points

Correct guess: None

 

Crime Scenes

Own guess / card played: None

Correct guess: None

 

Causes of Death / Weapons

Own guess / card played: Shot with an old-fashioned hunting rifle - correct - 20 points

 

Round 5

Suspect

Own guesses / cards played: Harper Lee - correct - 20 points

                                                   Jane Austen - wrong - 5 points

                                                   Stephen King - wrong - 5 points

 

Victims

Own guess / card played: None

Correct guess: None

 

Crime Scenes

Own guess / card played: None

Correct guess: None

 

Causes of Death / Weapons

Own guess / card played: None

Correct guess: None

 

 

Round 6

Victims

Own guesses / cards played: Samwise Gamgee - correct - 20 points

                                                   Easy Rawlins - correct - 20 points

                                                   Ariadne Oliver - wrong - 5 points

 

Crime Scenes

Own guess / card played: None

Correct guess: None

 

Causes of Death / Weapons

Own guess / card played: None

Correct guess: None

 

 

Round 7

Victims

Own guesses / cards played: The Gunslinger - correct - 20 points

                                                    Lydia Bennet - wrong - 5 points  

 

Crime Scenes

Own guess / card played: None

Correct guess: None

 

Causes of Death / Weapons

Own guess / card played: Run over by a carriage - wrong - 5 points

Correct guess: None

 

 

Round 8

Victims

Own guess / card played: Dr. John Watson - correct - 20 points

 

Crime Scenes

Own guess / card played: near a tor, Dartmoor - correct - 20 points

 

Causes of Death / Weapons

Own guess / card played: stabbed with a sword - correct - 20 points

 

 

Round 9

Crime Scenes

Own guess / card played: Maycomb County Courthouse - wrong - 5 points

Correct guess: None

 

Causes of Death / Weapons

Own guesses / cards played: shot with a revolver - correct - 20 points

                                                   shot with bow and arrow - wrong - 5 points

 

 

Round 10

Crime Scenes

Own guesses / cards played: The Hob, District 12 - correct - 20 points

                                                    Pemberley - wrong - 5 points

                                                    The Orient Express - wrong - 5 points

 

 

Supplemental Round

Total additional points based on additional books read: 260 points

Individual team members' tallies:

MbD: Here.

Lillelara:  Here, here and here.

Themis-Athena: Here, here, here and here.

 

 

Points earned:

Total points based on cards played until all crimes were solved: 335 points

Total extra points based on additional books read: 260 points

=> Total number of points earned by the team: 595 points

=> Divided by number of team members: 198,33 points (= rounded: 198 points)