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Gilded Needles - Michael McDowell, R.C. Bray
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Project Hamlet

Reading progress update: I've listened to 1350 out of 1350 minutes.

Lethal White - Robert Galbraith, Robert Glenister

 

Wow.  What a book.

 


Totilas

Reading progress update: I've listened to 1025 out of 1350 minutes.

Lethal White - Robert Galbraith, Robert Glenister

 

Well, good for you, Robin.  This was long overdue.  I hope this time you're going to really go through with it.

(show spoiler)

Reading progress update: I've listened to 1000 out of 1350 minutes.

Lethal White - Robert Galbraith, Robert Glenister

"Geraint was representing me at that event and it will go the way it always goes in the press when it all comes out.  It will have been my fault, all of it.  Because men's crimes are always ours in the final analysis, aren't they, Mr. Strike?  Ultimate responsibility always lies with the woman -- who should have stopped it.  Who should have acted.  Who must have known.  Your failings are really our failings, aren't they?  Because the proper role of the woman is carer, and there is nothing lower in this whole world than a bad mother."

Well, well, Joanne.

 

Reading progress update: I've listened 215 out of 1350 minutes.

Lethal White - Robert Galbraith, Robert Glenister

 

"'I've heard ... that there may be photographs.'

'Photographs," repeated Strike.

"Winn can't have them, of course.  If he had it would be all over.  But he might be able to find a way of getting hold of them, yes.'  He shoved the last piece of tarte in his mouth, then said, 'Of course, there's a chance the photographs don't incriminate me.  There are no distinguishing marks, so far as I'm aware.'

Strike's imagination frankly boggled.  He yearned to ask, 'Distinguishing marks on what, Minister?', but refrained."

Bwahahaha -- don't tell me Rowling has somehow anticipated l'affaire champignon (mushroom)?  Well, of sorts, anyway?  Not that Britain doesn't have a rich history of its own as far as these, um, situations are concerned ...

Reading progress update: I've listened 20 out of 1350 minutes.

Lethal White - Robert Galbraith, Robert Glenister

 

Slight change of plan ... I guess I have a row to catch up on after all now!  (4th row on my card.)

 

SPOILER ALERT!

2018 Halloween Bingo: The Books So Far

Penhallow - Georgette Heyer, Ulli Birvé The Forgotten Beasts of Eld - Patricia A. McKillip, Dina Pearlman Their Lost Daughters - Joy Ellis, Richard Armitage The Wychford Poisoning Case - Anthony Berkeley, Mike Grady Verdict of 13: A Detection Club Anthology - Ngaio Marsh, The Detection Club, Gwendoline Butler, Julian Symons The Ballad of Frankie Silver - Sharyn McCrumb The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley,  Emilia Fox Nights At The Circus - Angela Carter, Adjoa Andoh Ghosts: Edith Wharton's Gothic Tales - Edith Wharton, Corinna May, Tod Randolph, Jonathan Epstein, Alison Larkin, Jim Frangione The Colour of Magic - Terry Pratchett, Nigel Planer

... in the order in which they're appearing on my card (not the order in which they've read them).

 

Soooo ... in this year's twist on RL doing its best trying to throw a spanner in the works of Halloween Bingo fun, I've been spending the better part of the month either sitting around in conference rooms or glued to some piece of writing on my computer screen (or both).  Fortunately this has so far involved a fair amount of driving, too, so I've largely been able to shift my bingo reads to audiobooks ... without, however, also having a whole lot of time to write reviews.  Looks like right now is one of those moments where I might have a shot at catching up -- so let's give this a try, shall we?

 

In other words: Halloween Bingo 2018: the (mostly) audiobook version.

 

 


Georgette Heyer: Penhallow

On the face of it, your classic country house mystery, country estate and horse farm in Cornwall and all; but Heyer wrote this as a contract breaker, and boy, does it ever show.  Neither seekers after romance and after knights in shiny armour nor seekers of a genteel country house atmosphere need apply here, and what might be termed "a somewhat crotchety original" in any other book (including but not limited to Heyer's own), here is styled as a crass, meanspirited old family tyrant who likes nothing better than bullying each and every member of his vast and long-suffering family into submission and downright terror.  With the exception of two creations by Agatha Christie (Simeon Lee in Hercule Poirot's Christmas and Mrs. Boynton in Appointment with Death), I can't think of any character in another mystery, Golden Age or not, who is so totally devoid of redeeming qualities.  However, while both of Christie's two infamous bullies -- who clearly come from he same mold as old Penhallow -- meet their ends fairly early on in the respective books and thus relieve both the reader and their families of their continued presence, we (and Penhallow's harrassed household) have to suffer until almost the 65% mark of this book until someone's nerves finally snap once and for all.  We actually get to witness the murder, so there's no great mystery as to whodunnit -- although I admit that for the longest time I kept hoping for a Christie-esque twist, but that was not to be. 

(Also, though this is a far cry from George R.R. Martin, be careful which of the other characters you invest your sympathies in ... though God knows, few enough of them deserve any empathy to begin with; but then, with old man Penhallow around, it's hard to see how any of them could have grown both a spine and halfway decent manners at all.)

(show spoiler)

There's some ambivalence as to the book's two LGBT characters -- one son of Penhallow's who is obviously modeled on Oscar Wilde and who, apart from a few witticisms, comes across rather negatively and as checking off pretty much every anti-gay cliché in the book, and a daughter who, apart from being a bit "bossy", is one of the few members of the younger generation endowed with a brain, a healthy dose of common sense, and the gumption to stand up to her father (albeit helped, no doubt, by the fact that she is also one of the few family members not financially dependent on the old man).

 

All in all, a far cry from your typical Heyer (or at least, from her mysteries -- can't speak to her Regency romances) -- I'm not sorry I read it, but as far as grumpy old patriarchs and bickering families go, I vastly prefer one of her Inspector Hemingway mysteries, Envious Casca (republished as A Christsmas Party).

 

 


Patricia McKillip: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

My first book by McKillip; a short(ish) fantasy tale substantially in the traditional mold with a strong female heroine -- a sorceress living on a mountainside high above the fighting human empires down in the plain; alone but for the company of a number of magical beasts.  At the risk of sounding jaded, the basic plotline (and the type of ending) is pretty much telegraphed from the very beginning; still, the characters are emphatically drawn, there are enough twists and turns over the course of the story to always ensure that the book held my attention, and I'm definitely interested in reading more books by McKillip in the future.

 

 


Mary Roberts Rinehart: Locked Doors

The second of Rinehart's "Nurse Hilda Adams" stories; in terms of setup, of the "woman in peril" kind of tale that Rinehart specialized in -- and which I'm usually not a fan of, but I'll gladly make an exception here.  Nurse Hilda is the epitome of what is called a "feisty" young woman in certain types of fiction: especially taking into account that this story was written shortly after the turn of the last century (published in 1914), she is independent (and independently-minded) and able to take care of herself to an extraordinary degree, and thus makes for an admirable protagonist.  Here she takes a position in a stately home where, as she soon finds out, bedroom doors are locked at night, beloved pets go missing, all the servants have recently left or been let go, and there seems to be a strange, slithering presence on the stairway at night and a mystery madwoman (or invalid) in, you guessed it, the attic -- but before you cry "Gothic cliché", beware ... just like Nurse Hilda, Rinehart actually had her feet planted firmly on the ground, and was also very much up to date with the state of medical knowledge and research, which in an unexpected way made this story an enjoyable companion read / listen to Jennifer Wright's decidedly less enjoyable Get Well Soon.  I guess at some point I should also read Rinehart's Circular Staircase, which I'm still not entirely sold on however, but I'll definitely read more of her Nurse Hilda stories.

 

 


Joy Ellis: Their Lost Daughters

Why, oh why did anybody think that this book's title (!!) needed an appendage such as "a gripping crime thriller with a huge twist" on Amazon (and likely thus also on every other site that draws its feed from Amazon and where there aren't any librarians to do away with this sort of nonsense) in order to generate proper sales?!  That sort of hype is, ordinarily, a sure fire turn-off for me, and it almost would have been here, too, had Their Lost Daughters not been reviewed favorably by friends whose opinions I trust (and, cough, I admit the fact that the audio version is narrated by Richard Armitage helped as well).  As a result, I'd almost have missed out on one of the best books I read all year ... and that makes me even madder at whoever was the eejit that came up with that super-hypey tag line.

 

Beyond the fact that this begins as a "missing girls" investigation, there is little I can say in terms of plot description that wouldn't be a huge spoiler, so let's just stick with the fact that Ellis draws the sombre, downright oppressing Fenlands setting very, very astutely and expressively, and her team of detectives (led by DI Rowan Jackman and DS Marie Evans) are among the most likeable, rounded, and overall believable investigators that have appeared on the mystery scene in recent years -- and I also very much like Marie's (Welsh) mother, who I hope is going to be a continued presence in the series, too.  That all said, and much as it pains me to admit it, the "huge twist" thing from Amazon's abominable tagline is actually true: even if you think you sort of see part of the solution coming, you don't clue into how it all hangs together until it's unraveled right under your very nose.  (And lest anyone say the solution is too outlandish to be true, there are several real life cases published in the past couple of years that featured decidedly more gruesome facts, and which may easily have inspired this book's solution; or at least, certain parts of it.)

 

 


Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber

Reviewed separately HERE.

 

 


Anthony Berkeley: The Wychford Poisoning Case

The fifth time, this year alone, that I've found myself running into a fictional incarnation of the (in)famous real life case of Florence Maybrick, the American-born Liverpool housewife convicted, in 1889, of having murdered her husband by administering to him a dose of arsenic obtained by soaking flypaper in water -- allegedly in aid of concocting a beauty cream.  Mrs. Maybrick's method, if indeed this was how her husband found his premature end, may have engendered several real-life copycats (including, most famously, just after the turn of the 20th century, Frederick Seddon and Herbert Rowse Armstrong ... if the medical evidence given at their respective trials is to be believed, that is), and British mystery writers have downright flocked to her footsteps ever since in fiction as well.  Agatha Christie used a variation of the Maybrick case as a basis for Crooked House; Anthony Rolls based Family Matters on pretty much every salient detail of the Maybrick story except for the flypaper bit; which in turn, however, makes a starring appearance in P.D. James's short story Great Aunt Ally's Flypaper (later republished as The Boxdale Inheritance), which features a very young Sergeant (Inspector-to-be) Dalgliesh and is included in my very first read of this year, the P.D. James short story collection The Mistletoe Murder (as the title indicates, a "holdover" from my 2017 Christmas reads), as well as in the Detection Club anthology Verdict of 13, which I read for this year's Halloween Bingo (see mini-review below).  Finally, also in that latter anthology, Christianna Brand has the real-life Mrs. Maybrick meet two other alleged, famous 19th century women poisoners in a story aptly entitled Cloud Nine.

 

No wonder, then, that Anthony Berkeley, like his fellow Detection Club members acutely aware of the criminal causes celèbres of his own and of bygone eras, would also seek inspiration in Mrs. Maybrick's legacy.  Martin Edwards makes the case, in The Golden Age of Murder, that Berkeley's books offer clues -- perhaps more so than the books of his fellow Golden Age mystery novelists -- to his own personality, experience, and outlook on life.  I haven't read enough books by Berkeley yet to make up my mind how much I think there is to this theory, but if The Wychford Poisoning Case is any indication indeed, Mr. Berkeley (despite his reportedly boisterous persona) was, deep down, a very reticent and private man ... and supremely uncomfortable around women, who are either "high" or "low", either vamp, stupid chicken, naughty girl, mother, MissMarpleSilverBradleyVane incarnate, or grand dame, and only in the last-mentioned cases accorded a halfway rounded, three-dimensional, individual personality (with some allowances made in favor of girls from a decent background, who have the makings of turning either into true ladies / grand dames, or into women detectives or fiction writers, or even into all of the above, later in life).  There are passages in this book that are redolent with blatant mysogyny, and yet, I hesitate to append this label wholesale ... more than anything, it seems to me that Berkeley very much wanted to, but simply didn't "get" women and, consequently finding himself rejected and dissatisfied (none of his several marriages were happy), resorted to the stereotype prevalent in his era anyway; essentially, the "sinner or saint" dychotomy.

 

That all being said, the mystery itself is cleverly constructed, and notably this is not the only book where Berkeley's series detective, Roger Sheringham, comes into the case on the side of the accused woman and with the express intention to exonerate her from what he considers a rash and unjustified charge.  And while the true facts of the Maybrick case will almost certainly never be unraveled, it is just conceivable that Berkeley did, in fact, hit on the one solution that was closest to the historic truth.

 

 


Jennifer Wright: Get Well Soon

Reviewed separately HERE.  Also a Flat Book Society read.

 

 


The Detection Club: Verdict of 13

An anthology published by the 1970s' incarnation of the Detection Club, edited by its then-president Julian Symons, featuring 13 short stories all premised, in a very loose sense, on the concept of a jury (even if it's only a jury of one).  Contributors include -- in addition to Symons -- P.D. James and Christianna Brand (see comments above, re: The Wychford Poisoning Case / Florence Maybrick), Gwendoline Butler, Dick Francis, Michael Gilbert, Michael Innes, Patricia Highsmith, Celia Fremlin, H.R.F. Keating, Michael Underwood, Ngaio Marsh, and Peter Dickinson.

 

The stand-out stories, to me, are P.D. James's Florence Maybrick-inspired look at an early moment in Inspector (then-Sergeant) Dalgliesh's career (see comments above) and Michael Gilbert's Verdict of Three, a cleverly constructed public-school-morphing-into-public-service combined update of Arthur Conan Doyle's Adventure of the Second Stain, The Naval Treaty, and The Bruce-Partington Plans, told from the perspective of the person who, in a Sherlock Holmes story, would be Holmes's client (except that Holmes, here, has contrived to be part of the jury).  "Place" and "show" honors go jointly and equally to Ngaio Marsh's Morpork (which I'd also read before, but long ago; a story set in the wilds of her native New Zealand); as well as Dick Francis's  Twenty-One Good Men and True (involving race track betting), Gwendoline Butler's The Rogue's Twist (in which dogs are, depending how you look at it, either part of the jury or part of the prosecution), and Michael Underwood's Murder at St. Oswald's (as the title indicates, another story set in a public school; here, involving a bullying teacher).

 

 


Mavis Doriel Hay: Murder Underground

Hay's first of the only three mysteries she ever wrote, but the last one I read.  Of the three, I'd rate it the middle entry -- it's not anywhere near as enjoyable as The Santa Klaus Murder (Hay's final book and one of the highlights of my 2017 Christmas reads), but I liked it quite a bit better than Death on the Cherwell.  Oddly, the titular murder is completely taken as a fait accompli here: we're not even in on the discovery of the body, never mind meeting the victim-to-be in the flesh and seeing her interact with the suspects-to-be (all of them, residents of the same North London longterm-accommodation hotel as herself; two, in addition, young relatives of hers and her presumptive heirs).  As a result, I needed quite a bit of time to find my way into the story and connect with the characters, only few of whom I ultimately ended up liking (though I will say it was refreshing to see a male TSTL character for a change).  Still, even though I had a suspicion as to the murderer early on, which turned out to be correct, it was a fun, light, if somewhat chatty read.  Hay could write, and she'd definitely found her stride by the time she got to The Santa Klaus Murder -- it's a shame she stopped just when she'd gotten going for good.

 

 


Sharyn McCrumb: The Ballad Frankie Silver

Holy hell St. Maloney, what a book.  Part of McCrumb's Ballad series set in the Appalachian Mountains, this is the story of two executions -- and the convicts sentenced to death in each case, as well as their (purported) crimes and the lawmen called upon to witness their executions.  In modern times, Sheriff Spencer Arrowood (one of the Ballad series's central characters) is called upon to witness the execution of a man whom he himself had helped convict of murder when he was young and comparatively inexperienced, but all the more cocksure to make up for his lack of experience.  Recuperating from an injury sustained on the job and thus with some spare time on his hands, he decides to take a fresh look at the case ... and comes away dismayed and disillusioned.  He also sees parallels to the (real life) case of Frankie Silver, an 18 year old girl hanged for the murder of her husband in Burke County, NC, in 1833; probably the first white woman to be executed in that county. 

 

Frankie's story makes up the bulk of the book: we're learning it chiefly from the (fictional) diary of the 1832 Clerk of the Court, Burgess Gaither, who witnessed both her trial and the execution of her death sentence; interspersed with some passages in Frankie's own voice.  Her story stayed alive and became a local legend on account of the girl's ethereal beauty and meak, yet diginfied persona, as much as on account of the fact that she was very likely innocent of the crime of which she was convicted and went to her death in order to protect the real culprit; all of which also contributed to (alas, futile) efforts by prominent citizens of the community to obtain a gubernatorial pardon.  This is not an easy book to digest -- it does not flinch from a close-up view of all aspects of the death penalty, as administered both then and now; and it asks hard questions about justice, equality, and the judicial process.  Yet, precisely for this gut-punch quality, and for Sharyn McCrumb's spellbinding writing, it makes for an absolutely unforgettable experience.

 

One additional word on the audio version, which is narrated by McCrumb herself: Though by far not all authors excel at reading their own books, Sharyn McCrumb is one of the truly happy exceptions, and listening to the story read in her own voice greatly contributed to the lasting impression of this particular audiobook experience.  Even among the many excellent narrations I've had the pleasure of listening to this month so far, Sharyn McCrumb's performance is a stand-out experience ... singing of the titular Ballad of Frankie Silver included as the icing on the cake!

 

 


Alan Bradley: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Sigh.  There is a lot to like in this book: the writing, the setting and the atmosphere, the underlying historic research (including appropriate pop culture references as much as a sensitive treatment of post-war PTSD), the opening nod to Jane Eyre, the bickering sisters, the fact that Flavia has given her bike a name and treats it as if it were a horse, and, well, the mystery as such.  Unfortunately, the one character I'm having a problem with is Flavia herself.  Oh, I get it -- she's intelligent and beyond precocious, she loves books, and she spends a lot of time alone and she has decided to turn vice into virtue ("if nobody else loves me, I have to love myself" -- remarkable insight to be expressed by an 11-year-old in pretty much these terms). 

 

But that's exactly where my issues begin ... despite the odd age-appropriate behavior towards others, by and large both her mental processes and many of her emotional responses come across as way too adult.  I'll even grant her love of chemistry -- Graham Young was obsessed with chemistry from an early age, too, and knew enough about poisons to murder his stepmother, after almost having succeeded in killing his sister, at the tender age of 15 -- and nearly get away with it, too.  But leaving aside that going from age 11 to age 15 is still a virtual quantum leap in the development of a child: (1) knowledge of chemistry doesn't equal medical knowledge, and Flavia seems to dispose of an unreasonable amount of highly specific medical knowledge along with her knowledge of chemistry, including certain rare medical conditions (and don't get me started on how she could (not) have read about all of that in Gray's Anatomy); (2) book knowledge doesn't equal experience, and more often than not Flavia's analysis, actions and responses are not explicable by book knowledge, but only by the insight and reflections generated by a life experience far above and beyond even the most precocious 11-year-old child (this is particularly true in the final scene -- actually that whole scene is ridiculously implausible on pretty much every single level, but Flavia's age-inappropriate responses had started to bother me right at the beginning, with her discovery of the dying man); and (3) similarly (and on a related point), the grown ups' treatment of Flavia is way too "eye level" to be believable.  Kudos to her dad for taking her seriously and trusting her with the full, tragic back story of the events, but for anybody else, let alone a policeman, to take an 11-year-old girl entirely seriously and communicate with her essentially like they would with an adult is just simply not realistic.

 

Maybe I've simply outgrown "child investigator" books -- I used to love the Three Investigators series and Enid Blyton's Famous Five, and Arthur Conan Doyle's "Baker Street Irregulars" make me smile to this very day.  But even the "Irregulars", for however streetsmart they are, don't display any age-inappropriate behavior or reasoning; ACD knew as well as Enid Blyton and the Three Investigators authors that adults tend not to take children seriously, and even more importantly, they all understood that even fictional children get to outfox the police only if the policemen in question are just plain too dumb to solve the case on their own.  But Inspector Hewitt doesn't strike me like that at all.

 

So, sorry for spoiling everybody else's party; I know I'm the odd one out here.  Don't mind me -- just go on enjoying Flavia's adventures.  I simply won't be along for the ride.

 

 


Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus

You know that scene in Amadeus where the Austrian emperor comments on Mozart's music that it contains "too many notes"?  That's how I began to feel after a while about the individual episodes, destinies, and narrative detours making up the sum total of this book -- they simply started to run into each other.  Adjoa Andoh, who reads the audio version, said in an Audible interview about Nights at the Circus that Angela Carter is "generous" with her use of words (and towards her characters) ... which I don't necessarily mind; in fact, I've been known to downright revel in exuberant prose, but I confess that Carter has tested even my limits here. 

 

Based on a simple premise -- journalist interviews "human swan" trapeze artist in the attempt to show her up as a fraud, instead falls in love with her, and ends up joining her circus as a clown so as to follow her to Russia --, this is an exploration of the world of Victorian carneys, circuses, and freak shows, of the divisions of class and culture(s), and of the exploitation of women and of the disabled (especially those perceived as freaks).  If, going in, you have any misconceptions about the nature of Nights at the Circus based on its title and setting, or based on the fact that it is frequently described as "magic realism", at least in the audio version Adjoa Andoh's earthy reading will disabuse you of any such notions literally from the first word on: there is no question that Fevvers, the book's protagonist, is cockney to the bone; and more generally speaking, between them Carter and Andoh leave no doubt about the fact there is (or was) nothing remotely glorious or magical about the behind-the-scenes world of Victorian carneys -- nor about the previous lives of most carney artists, or the destiny awaiting them once they were too old to be able to perform.  While pulling off enough of the veil for the reader / spectator to understand that much of what (s)he sees is an illusion, the lines are occasionally blurred, and not all is revealed to the naked eye -- and even where Carter applies her exuberance to the plainly ridiculous, never once does she lose an ounce of respect for her characters (nor, for that matter, does Andoh's narration).  Yet, this is one book where I'll likely want to revisit the printed version at some point in the future, because Andoh's performance, splendid as it is, is so dominant that I couldn't help wondering sometimes if the characters -- first and foremost Fevvers herself, but others as well -- would have sounded exactly the same in my head without anybody else's intervening interpretation. 

 

In the meantime, though, give me Fellini's La Strada (and The Clowns) any day of the week ...

 

 


Daphne du Maurier: Frenchman's Creek

If it weren't for du Maurier's indisputable gifts as a writer, and for the splendid things that are Rebecca and The Birds, my most recent reads of hers, between them, would have seriously made me doubt if she is for me at all, had these been my only introduction to her writing.  While Jamaica Inn at least excels in terms of creating a truly oppressive and spooky atmosphere (and since I read it primarily for that, I was willing to give du Maurier considerable slack in terms of the plotline ... until I got to the beyond-eyeroll-worthy ending, that is), Frenchman's Creek lost me even before it really had started to get going and never recaptured my attention.  That being said, it's the sort of totally implausible, romantic pirate adventure that would have riveted me in my early teens.  Problem is, I'm not a teenager anymore, I expect people (both fictional and in real life) to act with at least a minimal amount of rationality -- and book characters to be at least substantially self-consistent (and consistent with their station in life) --, and I no longer believe in insta-love.  So I'm just going to say thank you to Ms. du Maurier for once more taking me to 19th century Cornwall, which comes across as decidedly more lovely here than it does in Jamaica Inn (but then it would, this being a romance at heart), and thank you to John Nettles for giving his utmost to make this a captivating audiobook experience.  But for once, I was glad to have contented myself with an abbreviated version ... and I don't think anything will tempt me to revisit this novel anytime soon (even though here, too, I actually own a print edition as well).

 

 


Edith Wharton: Ghosts: Edith Wharton's Gothic Tales

As the title says, a selection of audio narrations taken from Edith Wharton's collection of ghost stories: big on atmosphere and on Wharton's lovely, insightful, empathetic writing; negligible to nonexistent on blood and gore.  This is how I like my gothic fiction!  As in her novels, Wharton relies entirely on subtle means of psychology; on our innate fear of the unknown, on our need to empathize, on uncertainties -- about the right way, about another person, or the accuracy of ancient writings and legends, or how far to trust our own senses; on changes of light, visions barred, sounds more devined than actually heard, and ethereal smells wafting by but impossible to source.  There is room for delicate humor here as well as for compassion; my favorite stories being, probably, Mr. Jones and Kerfol

(warning, however: the dog dies.  Or rather, the dogs die -- several of them in short succession.  But they get their revenge in the end)

(show spoiler)

... though, really, it's difficult for me to pick any clear favorites at all.

 

 


Terry Pratchett: The Colour of Magic

"The discworld offers sights far more impressive than those found in universes built by Creators with less imagination but more mechanical aptitude."

Aaah ... Sir Terry.  What would Halloween Bingo possibly be without you?  Especially this year, what with Wyrd Sisters being the official bingo group read --and having inspired Booklikes's very own Discworld group, which very properly decided to read all the books in the order of publication.  So, another Halloween Bingo with no less than two Pratchett books -- yey!

 

Before I started to explore the Discworld universe, people told me to just dive in anywhere, it didn't matter with which book I started; and that's just what I did.  But after going a-roving here and there, it's been pure joy to come back to the very beginning and see where it all started.  The Colour of Magic is a hilarious romp through 1980s fantasy (and to a lesser extent, science fiction) conventions; Big Bang turtle theory, imagine-dragons, magic sword, hero lore, staffless wizard (Rincewind), naive tourist and all.  The tourist (Twoflower: an inn-sewer-ants agent by trade with a reckless disregard for his own and Rincewind's personal safety) has even brought a precursor of the glorious Hex, as it were; an iconograph ("device for taking pictures quickly") with a demon inside who will sketch a perfect likeness of you in anywhere from 30 seconds upwards.  And then, of course, there is The Luggage ... can there possibly be a more apt application of the "Relics and Curiosities" bingo square?  All the essentials of what makes Discworld -- well -- Discworld are in place here already, even if Pratchett may have further fine-tuned his style in the subsequent books (many of which, as a result, are even funnier).  I was glued to my speakers from the first second of Nigel Planer's hilarious, spot-on narration, and I also have to say that I liked The Colour of Magic quite a bit better than Equal Rights, the first Witches book (and overall, Discworld #3).

"This tourist is a thing that is out of place.  After acceding to his master's wishes Nine Turning Mirrors would, I am quite sure, make his own arrangements with a view to ensuring that one wanderer would not be allowed to return home bringing, perhaps, the disease of dissatifaction.  The Empire likes people to stay where it puts them."

 

 

 

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 40 out of 176 pages.

The Fabulous Clipjoint - Fredric Brown Hunter and Hunted: The Ed and Am Hunter Novels (Frederic Brown Mystery Library) - Fredric Brown

@Tigus: I've finally started Ed & Am No. 1 ... and am loving every page.  Thank you so much, once more!

 

Halloween Bingo 2018 Update Post

 

The Books:


Country House Mystery: Georgette Heyer: Penhallow (Ulli Birvé audio)

Cryptozoologist: Patricia A. McKillip: The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (Dina Pearlman audio)

Romantic Suspense:

Terrifying Women: Mary Roberts Rinehart: Locked Doors (Anne Hancock audio)

Terror in a Small Town: Joy Ellis: Their Lost Daughters (Richard Armitage audio)

 

 

A Grimm Tale: Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber (Emilia Fox / Richard Armitage audio)

Genre: Horror:

Gothic:

Murder Most Foul: Anthony Berkeley: The Wychford Poisoning Case (Mike Grady audio)

Doomsday: Jennifer Wright: Get Well Soon

 

 

13: The Detection Club: Verdict of 13 (anthology)

Supernatural:

Free Space: Mavis Doriel Hay: Murder Underground (Patience Tomlinson audio)

Amateur Sleuth:

Southern Gothic: Sharyn McCrumb: The Ballad of Frankie Silver (audio version, narrated by the author)

 

 

Ghost Stories:

Cozy Mystery: Alan Bradley: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Emilia Fox audio)

New Release:

Diverse Voices:

Creepy Carnivals:

 

 

Fear the Drowning Deep: Daphne du Maurier: Frenchman's Creek (John Nettles audio)

Classic Horror: Edith Wharton: Ghosts: Edith Wharton's Gothic Tales (audio version, various narrators)

Darkest London:

Genre: Suspense:

Relics and Curiosities: Terry Pratchett: The Colour of Magic (Nigel Planer audio)

 

 

My Square Markers and "Virgin" Bingo Card:

"Virgin" card posted for ease of tracking and comparison.

 


 


Read but not called

 


Called but not read

 


Read and Called

 

 

          


 

Wild Card Author: Neil Gaiman



 

Spreadsheet:

 

FOR ARBIE:

 

You may have seen this -- but in case not ... thought you might enjoy it.

Reminder: September 15 -- Discworld Group Read of "The Colour of Magic"

The Colour of Magic - Terry Pratchett, Nigel Planer

... and for those who also want to use this for the Halloween Bingo, this fits (at a minimum) the Supernatural, Spellbound, Relics and Curiosities, and Cryptozoologist squares.

 

Come and join us!

 

 

 

Reblogged from Themis-Athena's Garden of Books

Epidemics are horrible. Well, duh ...

Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer   Wright

In substance, I don't really have a whole lot to add to my one ill-humored status update on this book.  This is the book-form equivalent of a cross-breed between tabloid journalism and a series of superficial, but opinionated and self-centered blog posts: short on bonafide science, history, and research generally; long on sweeping, generalizing judgments, inappropriately flippant tone, ill-matched pop culture references, character assassination, vagueness and imprecision, the sensational aspects of the diseases treated, and the personal histories of some of the protagonists of the episodes chosen for presentation (clearly not all of them selected for their "heroic" attributes but for their "human interest" and sensationalist appeal).  Several of the chapters do not deal with genuine epidemics (never mind "plagues") at all: the "dancing plague" was arguably collective hysteria, encephalitis lethargica doesn't qualify on either overall numeric or "sudden mass occurrence" grounds, and if Wright's grounds for including lobotomies seriously were (as she writes) that you can't possibly leave a gruesome procedure such as this out of a book on "medical horrors," then that statement alone shows what she was truly after; never mind her book's extremely misleading subtitle.  Most of all, however, Get Well Soon is extremely long on MeMeMe: the book's true protagonist is not in any way, shape or form any of the brave, poor, heroic, stupid, bright, unfortunate and other souls remembered for their accidental, unwilling or deliberate involvement in one epidemic or another, but the author herself, who clearly considers herself God's gift to popular science writing. 

 

Well, no, Jennifer.  You're not.  And contrary to what you seem to be hoping, history won't remember you, either.  Not even because you've written a book.  Because this just isn't the sort of book that either scientific or general literary history will remember.  Not even because it's taking a scientific position that will be shown off as outrageous in the near or far removed future.  It's just a run-of-the-mill, subpar, badly-researched tract that would be (and, as the books you cite show, has in fact been) in better and more competent hands with just about any writer who, unlike you, actually understands what they're talking about.

 

To the above comments, I will add only one thing that began to bug me (no pun intended) progressively more after I'd posted my only status update:

 

Wright's view is extremely Anglo-centric: in a book that makes so much out of the benefits reaped by humanity at large from the medical and scientific advances of the late 19th and the 20th century, and a book that purports to deal with, inter alia, cholera and tuberculosis, you'd expect scientists such as Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch and their research to be given fairly big play, but Wright has either never heard of them at all or is completely unaware of their immense contributions to the diagnosis and treatment of the very diseases she writes about, including in the areas she trumpets over and over again: disinfection / sterilization, sanitation, and vaccination (which contributions to science and medicine justly earned both of them the scientific community's highest honors -- Pasteur was, inter alia, a member of the Académie Française and the Académie des Sciences, and gave his name to the Institut Pasteur and the procedure known as "pasteurization"; Koch was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine).  Even more than that, however, Wright's world is divided into "core countries" and "periphery countries" -- which seems to translate vaguely into "the North American and Western European parts of the industrialized world" and "all the rest."  If that isn't outright racism -- and not of the casual sort, either -- I don't know what racism is.

 

Wright is adamant enough about the importance of vaccination and disinfection / sterilization / sanitation for me to give her the benefit of the doubt that she really is passionate about these subjects -- and about the importance of science and scientific research generally.  On those grounds, and those alone, and in light of the undeniable importance of these topics (not only in connection with the current anti-vax idiocy), I'm willing to award her books two stars.  But that doesn't stop me from wondering who at Henry Holt (of all places) thought this book would be a good idea in the first place, and where they hid both their science editors and their general editors before they let it go to print.

 

Finally, two fun facts:

 

1)  "Lone genius" or not, I learned more about Edward Jenner and his research from my 5th and 6th grade English language textbook -- i.e., from a book whose primary purpose was not to teach science, but to teach English to nine- and ten-year-olds who were just starting to learn the language from scratch, and who were in the very first stages of building a very basic English vocabulary.

 

2)  I happen to know one of the authors Wright cites.  He is a friend of my mother's and, when in Germany, always makes sure to spend some time with my mom / with us.  On one of those occasions, we took a trip to Speyer, which is some 2 - 2 1/2 hours south of Bonn (near the Luxembourg and French borders), has a certain significance in the history of Germany, and was founded, like many cities in the southwest of Germany, by the Romans.  Not surprisingly, it therefore has a museum dedicated to its Roman history, which the three of us decided to visit.  Having peroused the museum's exhibits, we afterwards proceeded to discuss the decline and fall of the Roman empire and my mom asked her friend what he considered the key causes of Rome's eventual downfall.  Now, that was a very apt question not merely on general grounds in light of our just-concluded museum visit but more specifically because her scientist friend had published, a few years earlier, a book on the collapse of certain civilizations (including some highly advanced ones), and even before that, a book that deals with the way in which [resistance to] epidemics, warfare and technological advances combined have historically favored the descendants of the inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent over the indigenous inhabitants of other parts of the world (say, the Americas) (this, incidentally, is the book that Wright cites in Get Well Soon).  So you could say that he knows his stuff.  And you'd think that if a scientist who had researched, in depth, these specific aspects of scientific, medical, geographical and social history, were to consider the Antonine Plague even remotely among the things that brought to an end a millennium's worth of Roman history, he'd say so, right?  Well, guess what was the one thing he did not consider worth mentioning at all?  (Spoiler alert: yes -- the Antonine Plague.)

 

Nice try, Jennifer.  Better luck next time.  Or on second thought -- maybe better not.

 

 

 

Reminder: September 15 -- Discworld Group Read of "The Colour of Magic"

The Colour of Magic - Terry Pratchett, Nigel Planer

... and for those who also want to use this for the Halloween Bingo, this fits (at a minimum) the Supernatural, Spellbound, Relics and Curiosities, and Cryptozoologist squares.

 

Come and join us!

 

 

 

Reading progress update: I've listened 120 out of 833 minutes.

Penhallow - Georgette Heyer, Ulli Birvé

 

A very different Heyer -- more a social study than a cozy mystery (and certainly no romance in sight as yet, either).  The victim-to-be is still with us, and going by Golden Age standards, he has to be one of the most loathsome and deserving murder victims yet.  It's a miracle he's managed to survive past middle age, in fact.

Reading progress update: I've read 107 out of 336 pages.

Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them - Jennifer   Wright

This reads like a series of blog posts by an overconfident twentysomething with an only superficial grasp of both history and medicine / science, who won't, however, let her lack of in-depth knowledge and research keep her from jumping to unsupported conclusions by the dozen. (All of which being said with profound apologies to the twentysomethings on this particular site -- no reflection on present company is intended, of course!)

 

The asides and pop culture references were cute at first, and might perhaps still be, if there weren't such an awful lot of them.   Frankly, though, at this point I wouldn't mind if there were not a single pop culture reference and snide comment anymore, but if instead we'd finally move on to hearing about the scientific aspects of the epidemics under discussion -- but I suppose that's asking a bit too much of an author who seriously has to rely on her family doctor's shorthand illustrations for medical laypeople in order to describe, even on the most basic level, the effects of the smallpox virus on the human immune system.

 

If this doesn't drastically improve, it's headed for a 2 1/2 star rating at most (and it owes even that rating only to the fact that at least Wright makes a serious argument for sanitation, vaccination, and the general availability of at least a basic standard of healthcare).  If I weren't reading this for Halloween Bingo in addition to the Flat Book Society, however, I'd DNF at this point.

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT!

Summer of Spies - Terminated

The Scarlet Pimpernel  - Stephen Crossly, Emmuska Orczy Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 - Stella Rimington The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - John le Carré They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie Berlin Game - Len Deighton, James Lailey Night Soldiers - Alan Furst Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene, Jeremy Northam Above Suspicion - Helen MacInnes Black Roses - Jane Thynne, Julie Teal The Moneypenny Diaries: Guardian Angel - Kate Westbrook

Memorial Day Weekend -- Labor Day 2018

 

The Books:

Fiction

Eric Ambler: The Mask of Dimitrios (new / print) ****

Phyllis Bottome: The Lifeline (new / ebook-to-printed-PDF) ***1/2

John le Carré: The Tailor of Panama (revisited on audio, narrated by the author) ****1/2

Agatha Christie: N or M? (revisited on audio, narrated by Samantha Bond) ***

Agatha Christie: They Came to Baghdad (new / audio, narrated by Emilia Fox) ***1/2

Paulo Coelho: The Spy (new / English print version + German audio, narrated by Luise Helm and Sven Görtz) ***1/2

Len Deighton: Berlin Game (new / audio, narrated by James Lailey) ****

David Downing: Zoo Station (new / print) ****

Alan Furst: Night Soldiers (new / audio, narrated by George Guidall) ****1/2

Graham Greene: Our Man in Havana (audio, narrated by Jeremy Northam) ****1/2

Graham Greene: The Captain and the Enemy (audio, narrated by Kenneth Branagh) ***1/2

Rosalie Knecht: Who Is Vera Kelly? (new / audio, narrated by Elisabeth Rodgers) ***1/2

Helen MacInnes: Above Suspicion (new / print) ****1/2

Francine Mathews: The Cutout (new / audio, narrated by Trini Alvarado) **1/2

Valerie Plame Wilson, Sarah Lovett: Blowback (new / audio, narrated by Negin Farsad) ***

Jane Thynne: Black Roses (new / audio, narrated by Julie Teal) ****

Patricia Wentworth: The Traveller Returns (new / print) ****

Kate Westbrook: Guardian Angel (new / audio, narrated by Eleanor Bron) ***1/2

 

 

Emmuska Orczy: Adventures of The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel (revisited on audio, narrated by Stephen Crossly) ****1/2

I Will Repay (new / audio, narrated by Johanna Ward) ****

 

 

John Le Carré: George Smiley Cycle

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (revisited on audio, narrated by the author) *****

The Looking Glass War (new / audio, narrated by Michael Jayston) ***1/2

Smiley's People (revisited on audio, narrated by Michael Jayston) *****

 

 

Stella Rimington: Liz Carlyle Series

Secret Asset (new / audio, narrated by Rosalyn Landor) ****

Illegal Action (new / audio, narrated by Emma Fielding) ****

 

 

Ian Fleming: James Bond Series

Quantum of Solace (short story only; new / audio, narrated by David Rintoul) *1/2

Dr. No (new / audio, narrated by Rufus Sewell) ***

 

 

Nonfiction

Stella Rimington: Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 (new / print edition) ****

Peter Finn & Petra Couvée: The Zhivago Affair (new / audio, narrated by Simon Vance) **1/2

Valerie Plame Wilson: Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government  (new / audio, narrated by the author) ****

 

 

 

 

Mission Assessment:

Loads of fun; thanks to Moonlight Reader Madness and Wanda for coming up with the idea!  In addition to advancing my "Women Writers" project because of a certain focus on the Women of Intelligence, I've discovered several new writers and series to take a closer look at, reconnected with some "old familiars", got to take a trip down memory lane to Cold War-era Berlin, got to travel the world and back in history -- from revolutionary France to WWII era (plus pre- and post-WWII) Iraq, Turkey, the Balkans, Russia, Spain, France, Britain, Austria, and Germany, and post-WWII as well as more recent Latin America and the Caribbean -- and I've seen some of my literary prejudices pleasantly upended (looking at you, Dame Agatha and They Came to Baghdad); even if others were, however, unfortunately confirmed (looking at you, Mr. Fleming).

 

Side note: My personal library now needs a new, separate "espionage" shelf: Lumping in spy books with mysteries, thrillers, and other suspense fiction clearly won't do any longer ... they've just grown too numerous for that sort of approach.  Ah, well.  A serious reorganization is overdue anyway -- I've only got to find the time for it ...

 

 

The Hits:

* Emmuska Orczy's Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel.  The first book was a revisit, but I finally got around to reading book 2, which -- though not chiefly focused on Sir Percy and much more overtly a romance than book 1 -- confirms why this whole series has a loyal following to this day.  And of course, it gets kicked onto yet another level once Sir Percy makes his appearance.  I'm sort of familiar with some of the later entries in the series, but I'm now going to make a concerted effort to read the whole thing in order.

 

* John le Carré's Smiley Cycle and Tailor of Panama.  This was largely a revisit, too, but I just can't help it -- nobody writes spy fiction like Mr. Cornwell.  Even Stella Rimington, the ex-"K" (head of MI5) herself, acknowledges that he gets it right ... and although he does have the odd duds, when he hits the spot, he's second to none.

 

* Stella Rimington's autobiography and Liz Carlyle series.  Speaking of "K" (also likely the inspiration for Judi Dench's "M" in the Bond movies), even though her autobiography is necessarily short on detail as far as actual secret service operations and policy are concerned, it gives great insights not only into her personal history but also into the actual work done by MI5 (and to a lesser extent, MI6, and secret service organizations in general), particularly in the final four decades of the 20th century.  Moreover, like le Carré, she has very successfully capitalized on her experience and translated it to fiction.  Rimington can write -- both fiction and nonfiction -- and her autobiography and fictional series nicely complement each other in providing an even greater understanding of "the business of spying" in days past and present.  (In the first Liz Carlyle book, At Risk, which I read -- and liked -- a few years ago, she was maybe still in the final stage of finding her voice, but both Secret Asset and Illegal Action, Liz Carlyle books 2 and 3, are fine examples of mature writing that clearly draw on Rimington's personal experience.)

 

* Helen MacInnes: Where has this author been in my life until now?  Once more thank you to Moonlight for bringing her to my attention.  I immensely enjoyed the one book by her that I read during the Summer of Spies -- Above Suspicion -- and have already ordered several more (the three Colin Grant books plus Accident in Place).  Great historical and political insight and characters that you can easily (and very much want to) empathize with, all built into a suspenseful narrative arc -- what more can you possibly ask for?

 

* Len Deighton: Between his Berlin Game and le Carré's Smiley books, man, what a trip down memory lane to Cold War Berlin.  And Deighton, like le Carré, gets it exactly right, down to individual Berlin locations and settings (I was tempted to compile a post just on those at one point), life style, attitudes, you name it.  Another author I'm definitely going to follow up on in the future.

 

* The group read of Agatha Christie's They Came to Baghdad. What a fun group read that turned out to be!  I'm not the biggest fan of Christie's spy fiction (most of it -- especially the books where she actually "means it" -- range between somewhat unrealistic and completely over-the-top-and-out-there preposterous), but if, like here and in The Secret Adversary (as well as some of the stories in Partners in Crime), she decides to poke fun at the genre, she can be very entertaining indeed.  At one point I thought the plot of They Came to Baghdad was going to veer off in the same direction as that of Destination Unknown, which has to be one of her worst books ever, albeit not counting those she wrote in the last years of her life, but fortunately my fears were unfounded.  If only she'd written more spy books like this one!

 

* Patricia Wentworth's The Traveller Returns.  Speaking of Golden Age mystery novelists trying their hands at spy fiction, I'm tempted to point to Ms. Wentworth's contribution to the genre and tell the rest of them -- the whole lot, from Christie to Marsh, Allingham and beyond: "See: This is how you do it!"  For the first half or so, the book looks like a simple variation on the Martin Guerre theme, which I confess is not one of my favorites, but just when I thought I was going to be somewhat underwhelmed, the spy element kicked in and we were off to a whole lot of fun.  So, many thanks to Tigus for yet another great "Miss Silver" recommendation!

 

* Jane Thynne's Clara Vine series.  A huge shout-out to Mike Finn for mentioning this -- yet another series I have every intention to follow up on after having read the first book (Black Roses).  Extremely well-researched and well-written; easily on par with David Downing's much more acclaimed Zoo Station (which is likewise chiefly set in Nazi-era Berlin).  Now if only they'd picked an audio narrator who had actually put some effort into finding out how to pronounce the multiple German words and place names figuring in the story ...

 

* The Carribbean and Latin American setting.  I confess I'm not particularly drawn to Greene's African fiction and only a minority of those books of his set in England, but I have a soft spot for his fiction set in the Carribbean and in Latin America.  In part, surely, that's because I have a penchant for that part of the world anyway, but those particular books by Greene also have more of a pull on me topically -- I suppose I'm just more interested in reading about the morality and choices associated with politics and the economy (read: corruption) than with the morality of purely personal choices (read: religion) ... at least where it comes to Greene's writing.  (It certainly also helps that the particular Carribbean branch of this easily lends itself to satire -- it's not a coincidence that le Carré's Tailor of Panama covers large parts of the same ground as Our Man in Havana, and from a very similar writerly perspective, too.) -- Rosalie Knecht's Who Is Vera Kelly? provided for an interesting and well-written additional side light in its focus on Argentina and the Malvinas / Falklands, from the point of view of a heroine who is coming to terms with her personal history at the same time as she is trying to decipher what is happening in the country where she has been sent. (Another shout-out to Mike Finn for finding this one.)

 

* The Bond Connection.  By which I don't mean Fleming's books themselves, but those books (all written by women) unearthed by BrokenTune -- one more shout-out! -- as tangentially related to Ian Fleming and his super-spy, all of which turned out vastly more engaging and entertaining than Fleming's own: Phyllis Bottome's The Lifeline, the book that is said to have inspired the creation of James Bond's character (and which incidentally bears a certain superficial topical likeness to Helen MacInnes's Above Suspicion, in likewise featuring its English protagonist's involvement with an underground resistance network in Nazi-occupied Austria), and Kate Westbrook's Moneypenny Diaries, which intelligently use both Ian Fleming's real biography and the plots of some of his James Bond novels for a series of three spinoffs interweaving a look back from present-day England to what might have happened if Jane Moneypenny had been more than M's faithful secretary ... and eternally, fruitlessly infatuated with Bond.

 

* The "Eastern Theatre".  Since most spy fiction (well, at least most spy fiction published in English or German) focuses on what, post-WWII, would be considered a Western perspective, I made a certain point to also include books -- albeit written by Western writers -- set in pre-WWII Russia, the Balkans, and Turkey (in addition to Christie's They Came to Baghdad, that is).  Although I am familiar with the general interwar history of those countries (and areas), Eric Ambler's Mask of Dimitrios and Alan Furst's Night Soldiers filled a lot of gaps, and I also liked the fact that both of them deliberately chose organizations other than a Western intelligence service as their focal point.  Plus, both of them include extended sections in Paris / France (as well as Civil War Spain, in Night Soldiers) -- the city of cities when it comes to WWII intrigue (with the possible exception of Lisbon).

 

* Valerie Plame Wilson: Fair Game.  The subtitle of Plame Wilson's memoir ("How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government") sounds more than a bit sensationalist, but in fact, in the current crazy political climate her experience seems more on point than ever and serves as a healthy reminder that the power structures currently at play didn't fall from the sky in January 2017: at their core, they were already in place in the early 2000s, and it's certainly not a coincidence that one of the first persons to be pardoned post-2016 was Scooter Libby.

 

The Misses:

* Ian Fleming.  Not that this one was unexpected; the early Bond movies alone (and in particular), for however great liberties they may be taking with the plotlines, make it clear that the books are bound to brim with casual and not-so-casual sexism and racism.  Both of these are innately written into Bond's character.  Fleming was a talented writer; I'd just wish he'd employed his talents somewhat differently.

 

Peter Finn & Petra Couvée: The Zhivago Affair. Oh, I had so much higher hopes for this one.  A look at how the CIA used Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago in their subversive activities in Russia in the 1960s and 1970s and at the American and Russian inforwars of the day -- what's not to like, right?  Except that ... the vast majority of this book actually consists in a biography of Boris Pasternak and an extended work history of Dr. Zhivago, with a detailed analysis how Pasternak drew on his personal life experience (and the real life people in his life) in creating the novel.  Only in the second half of The Zhivago Affair do we even get to the CIA's involvement (the actual story how the manuscript was smuggled into the West occupies a mere few pages of the preface) -- and even there, while the Russian-American infowars are covered in some detail, the better part of the focus still seems to be on Pasternak himself, and on how the Russian government treated him as a result of the publication.  Also, while the authors do seem to have had access to (and cite in the annex) certain previously unpublished sources, the vast majority of the material they're using is not only not new, it's easily accessible in major libraries and online.  All in all NOT, therefore, the new and unprecedented focused analysis of the CIA's activities and the Cold War infowars promised in the book's subtitle ("The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book") and in its advertising. -- As a side note, my enjoyment might at least have been marginally enhanced if the audio narrator had been anyone other than Simon Vance.

 

Francine Matthews's The Cutout.  A fairly ludicrous plot, set in Germany and various Eastern European countries and written by an American author who seems to have spent her entire time in the region concerned among Americans.  The name-dropping of streets, tourist attractions and other random geographical features replaces the genuine building of atmosphere and setting, and "the locals'" actions, reactions and attitudes are built straight from cookie cutter cliché -- if Mattews ever had any in-depth conversations with anybody in the areas where she was posted as an agent, she obivously learned nothing at all from them (or she is completely unable to translate what she learned onto the page).  This is a shame, because her book (published in the early 2000s) actually has an interesting and timely premise: A Germany and Eastern Europe where the neonazis are on the rise.

 

Valerie Plame Wilson & Sarah Lovett: Blowback.  Plame Wilson shows in her autobiography that she clearly can write, but either (unlike Stella Rimington) she had trouble translating that ability into fiction writing or she was talked into some pretty nonsensical plot and character choices by her co-author Sarah Lovett (or by an editor).  I'd almost DNF'd by the time the book finally gained a sense of direction and of "self" -- and I was brought to thinking about quitting not least when I hit a big boo-boo that Plame Wilson, as an ex-CIA agent, really ought to know better. 

(There is a character clearly modelled on Stella Rimington, down to the fact that this character is the [fictional] director of MI5 ... only trouble is, this character gets involved, on the British side, with a CIA operation against a foreign government and on the ground in that foreign [Middle Eastern] country -- i.e., an operation that is neither within the remit of domestic intelligence in Britain nor in America, and which would therefore have to be handled by MI6 in the UK, not by MI5.  Since Rimington's autobiography was one of the books I'd just recently finished by the time I got to Blowback, this authorial snafu was impossible for me to miss, and it instantly made me question what other inaccuracies might be contained in Plame Wilson's & Lovett's book.)

(show spoiler)

  Still, Blowback did find its feet towards the end at least in terms of the thriller element, so I at least won't entirely rule out reading its sequel -- maybe it simply took Plame Wilson a while to translate her nonfiction writing skills to fiction.  I just hope I won't run into any more errors of the kind that she really should know better.

 

All in all, though, the number of my Summer of Spies "misses" is infinitesimally small compared to its many hits.  So I'm going to declare this project a rousing success and right on target!

 

 

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);

Margaret Atwood: The Penelopiad (new) and The Blind Assassin (both audio);

Elizabeth von Arnim: The Solitary Summer

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

Phyllis Bottome: The Lifeline (new)

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

Agatha Christie: The Moving Finger, One, Two, Buckle my Shoe, Murder Is Easy, They Do It With Mirrors, N or M?, and Ordeal by Innocence (all revisited on audio), Crooked House (revisited on audio and DVD), Destination Unknown, and They Came to Baghdad (both new);

Peter Finn & Petra Couvee: The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book (new);

Angela Carter: The Bloody Chamber (new)

D - Margaret Drabble: The Red Queen (new);

Daphne Du Maurier: Frenchman's Creek (new)

E - Joy Ellis: Their Lost Daughters (new)

F -

G - Elizabeth George: For the Sake of Elena, Playing for the Ashes, and Well-Schooled in Murder (all revisited on audio);

Elizabeth Gaskell: Cranford (revisited on audio) and Cousin Phillis (new)

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

Mavis Doriel Hay: Death on the Cherwell (new);

Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr. Ripley (revisited on audio);

Kathryn Harkup: A Is for Arsenic (new)

I -

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

K - Rosalie Knecht: Who Is Vera Kelly? (new)

L - Valerie Plame Wilson & Sarah Lovett: Blowback (new)

M - Val McDermid: The Distant Echo and Trick of the Dark (both 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), Hand in Glove, and Death in a White Tie (all revisited on audio);

Francine Mathews: The Cutout (new)

Helen MacInnes: Above Suspicion (new)

N -

O - Emmuska Orczy: The Old Man in the Corner (new), The Scarlet Pimpernel (revisited on audio), and I Will Repay (new)

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

Ellis Peters: The Sanctuary Sparrow, Dead Man's Ransom, and The Pilgrim of Hate (all revisited on audio);

Valerie Plame Wilson: Blowback and Fair Game (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 on audio);

Stella Rimington: Secret Asset, Illegal Action, and Open Secret (all new)

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);

Jane Thynne: Black Roses (new)

U -

V -

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

Patricia Wentworth: Miss Silver Intervenes, Latter End, Poison in the Pen, The Watersplash, and The Traveller Returns (all new);

Kate Westbrook: The Moneypenny Diaries: Guardian Angel (new);

Edith Wharton: Ghosts: Edith Wharton's Gothic Tales (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: 92

- new: 63

- rereads: 29

 

Books by male authors: 49

- new: 45

- rereads: 4

 

Books by F & M mixed teams / anthologies: 2

- new: 2

- rereads: