29 May 2006

Cover images and links updated

I have added cover images for some of the books I have reviewed, and am working on adding more. The plan is in the future to include cover images for all the books I review.

I am also in the process of adding masses of links to the sidebar. This should be finished by the end of the week, but I urge my readers to let me know of useful and interesting biblio-websites. Just leave the URL in a comment under this post.

22 May 2006

The 52 Books archive is online

I've finally put all my old reviews online in one accessible place:
Bibliophile's Review and Essay Archive

All that's missing is the essays and other non-reviews. I decided not to include any of the comments, simply because it was too much work.

Please post comments here if you find any broken links.
(I am aware of the symbols that pop up in the text here and there. GeoCities doesn't like apostrophes.)

Once the reviews in Another 52 books start to drop off the page, I will add them as well. (They will still be accessible in the month by month archives here on Blogger).

19 May 2006

Bibliophile discusses Van Dine’s rules for writing detective stories

Writers have been putting down advice for wannabe writers for centuries, about everything from how to captivate readers to how to build a story and write believable characters to getting published. The mystery genre has had its fair share, and one of the best known advisory essays is mystery writer’s S.S. Van Dine’s 1928 piece “Twenty rules for writing detective stories.”

I mentioned in one of my reviews that I might write about these rules. Well, I finally gave myself the time to do it. First comes the rule (condensed), then what I think about it.

Here are the Rules as Van Dine wrote them. (Incidentally, check out the rest of this excellent mystery reader’s resource: Gaslight)

The rules are meant to apply to whodunnit amateur detective fiction, but the main ones can be applied to police and P.I. fiction as well. I will discuss them mostly in this context, but will also mention genres where the rules don’t apply and authors who have successfully and unsuccessfully broken the rules.

1.The reader and detective must have equal opportunity for solving the mystery, i.e. all clues must be plainly stated and described.

Agree. This really goes without saying. There is nothing as enraging for a mystery fan as to be deprived of a fair chance at solving the mystery, which is why I have a dislike for detectives who appear to be psychic. (Really psychic detectives belong in a different genre where these rules don’t apply). For more on this subject, see my review of John Dickson Carr.

2. The writer must not play any tricks on the reader, but the criminal can play tricks on the detective.

Agree, for the most part. This is common sense, and again, few things are as annoying as being played for a fool by the author. More under rule 4.

3. No romance.

Agree and disagree. While a romance is a romance and a mystery is a mystery, there is no reason why the two couldn’t go together, as long as the romantic and mystery elements are pertinent to each other, for example when a detective (or more likely a helper) falls in love with a suspect and it affects the investigation or the detectives themselves are building a relationship like in a book I will review soon. Many mystery authors have broken this rule with impunity and got away with it. It is easy, however, to see why Van Dine set down this rule, because a story where the romance keeps tripping up the mystery can annoy and frustrate the reader exceedingly.
For romance to work in a mystery, the romance must be only a small element of the story, and always pertinent to the narrative. If it is a considerable part of the story it constitutes genre-crossing and should be marked as such and warnings provided to readers who prefer their mysteries unpolluted by romance.

4. The criminal must never be the detective himself, or one of the official investigators.

In general I agree, but one of Agatha Christie’s better mysteries turns on this point. However, once she had done it, it became a cliché and it is unlikely that it will ever be done as well again. Also, it undeniably breaks Rule no. 2.

5. The criminal must be found out by logical deduction — not by accident, coincidence or unmotivated confession.

I agree, which is why I didn’t like the John Dickson Carr novels I read for the challenge. Too many coincidences.

6. There must be a detective, and he must detect.

Agree. It wouldn’t be a detective story otherwise. It is possible to write a mystery without a sleuth, but it’s hard to make it a good one which is why there are not many of them. I have read quite an entertaining mystery where the police investigation took place off-stage and all the main characters did was speculate, but it didn’t really break the rule because the reader was cast in the role of detective.

7. The crime must be murder. Any other crime is not worth writing a whole novel about.

Agree for the most part. It is possible for the crime to be something else, but it is hard to keep a reader’s attention when there’s no murder, unless the crime is that much more interesting and ingenious. None of the Elizabeth Peters novels I reviewed earlier feature murders, and I think she got away with it just fine.

8. No supernatural solutions can be used.

In terms of pure whodunnit mystery, I agree. Cross-genre supernatural mysteries can be quite good, but they are outside the scope of the rules. See also Rule 1.

9. There must only be one detective.

Agree and disagree. I have read some good mysteries where the crime was solved by team effort, but the team was always a small one, no more than four people, usually just two (Tommy & Tuppence for example). In general, I prefer there to be one detective, but I don’t mind helpers unless they are as annoyingly clueless as Christie’s Hastings and Doyle’s Dr. Watson.

10. The criminal must be someone who has played a part in the story, i.e. the reader must be familiar with him.

Agree. It’s not fair to lead the reader through all the clues and then suddenly bring in a totally unknown character and convict him of the crime. Of course, the criminal doesn’t necessarily have to appear in person until he is caught, but he must at least be mentioned several times and discussed by the other characters.

11. The criminal must not be a servant. It is a too easy solution. He must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion.

A bit presumptuous, I think. Although “the butler did it” has become a cliché, there really are not that many stories where any servant did do it. I do agree that it is perhaps a bit difficult for some readers to believe that someone who has the brains to plan and carry out a clever murder should be a mere servant, but it can be done believably, and not just by making them be "worth-while persons" posing as servants. If you don’t believe me, watch Gosford Park (I know it’s a parody, but parodies are often excellent examples of the things they parody).

12. There must be only one criminal, no matter how many murders are committed. There can be a helper, but the responsibility must be the criminal’s alone.

Agree, mostly. I think it makes a diverting red herring to have the detective confuse the crimes of one criminal with the crimes of another, or even have the victim have committed a crime and the murderer to be suspected of it, but of course the main story must be about one criminal only.

13. Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story.

Agree. This is really a restatement of Rule 12. Once it’s a group of criminals working together as equals, it has become a thriller or a caper story, unless the criminal is a maverick from such a group, working alone and the group merely acts a cover for him, or if the mystery focuses on the leader of such a group (the assumption being that once the leader is caught, the whole organisation will fall apart).

14. The method of murder and the means of detecting it must be rational and scientific, i.e. no pseudo-science, purely imaginative or speculative devices.

Agree. A writer who can not do this should be writing supernaturals or science-fiction, not straight detective fiction.

15. The truth of the problem must at all times be apparent — provided the reader is shrewd enough to see it.

Agree. This is inherent in Rule 1.

16. No deviations must be made from the story. This includes long descriptions that have nothing to do with the story, side issues, character analysis, atmospheric descriptions. However, there must be a sufficient descriptiveness and character delineation to give the novel verisimilitude.

Agree, mostly. Although I do like atmosphere in mysteries it must not dominate the scene, like it did in The Rule of Four. Digressions have been done successfully in several mysteries I have read, but they have always turned out to have a purpose in the end.

17. The criminal must never be a professional, always an amateur.

Agree. Once the killer is a professional hit-man, the story has become a thriller. Having a burglar commit a murder is a cheap solution.

18. The crime must be a real crime, not an accident or suicide that looks like murder.

Agree. It is a recipe for a disappointed reader to do this. I do think it's fine if the villain accidentally kills himself while trying to murder someone else. Really a sub-cause to Rule 2.

19. The motives for the crime(s) should be personal.

Agree. Once the crime is impersonal, it means it was committed by a professional. A refinement on Rule 17.

20. The following devices have been overused and should not be used again:

*Determining the identity of the culprit by comparing the butt of a cigarette left at the scene of the crime with the brand smoked by a suspect.

I think Arthur Conan Doyle was the first to write about this, although it was actually pipe tobacco and not a cigarette. Other writers took it up ad nauseam.

*The bogus spiritualistic se'ance to frighten the culprit into giving himself away.

Never read about one of those, but Georgette Heyer parodied this device beautifully in one of her crime novels.

*Forged fingerprints.

R. Austin Freeman did this brilliantly in The Red Thumb Mark, but I agree in general that once you’ve read one such story the concept immediately goes stale. After all, how many methods can there be for forging fingerprints?

*The dummy-figure alibi.

Doyle again, although I’m sure others did it before him. He used it to make some criminals think Sherlock Holmes was in his office when he was, in fact, somewhere else. Others have used it to create lame alibis for criminals.

*The dog that does not bark and thereby reveals the fact that the intruder is familiar.

Did anyone beside Doyle do this? (dear reader, if you can tell me, I’d appreciate it).

*The final pinning of the crime on a twin, or a relative who looks exactly like the suspected, but innocent, person.

This is ringing bells. I think it’s another Doyle, but it’s been a couple of years since I last read the Holmes stories. This is a device that has rarely been done justice since Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors.

*The hypodermic syringe and the knockout drops.

Both are clichés, but at least the sleeping potion is still being used successfully.

*The commission of the murder in a locked room after the police have actually broken in.

Dear reader, do you know of such a story? If so, please let me know because I’d like to read it.

*The word association test for guilt.

Popular when detective writers began taking psychoanalysis into consideration. I have never actually read a fictional crime story where it was used, so don’t feel capable of commenting on it.

*The cipher, or code letter, which is eventually unravelled by the sleuth.

One more Doyle (plus Freeman and many others). What is a coded letter doing in a murder mystery anyway? Don’t they belong in spy stories?

15 May 2006

Bibliophile reviews The Englishwoman in America (travel)

Author: Isabella Lucy Bird
Year of publication: 1856
Genre: Travel, USA and Canada
Time period: Mid-19th century

I have mentioned my love of travelogues before. I don’t just like to read new or newish books about places I would like to visit some day but also about places I have visited and historical journeys. Historical travelogues are especially interesting when they draw up a snapshot of places as they were at a given point in time, even though one always has to keep in mind that travellers often write about what they think they should have experienced or what they think the readers will want to read about rather than their actual experiences. I have a great admiration for the leisure travellers of the past who often went through amazing hardships just to be able to briefly visit a place, and I respect the commercial travellers who sometimes had to travel for many months or even years to get to their destination. Before the advent of aeroplanes and express trains the actual getting there was often a bigger adventure than being at the actual destination. In this particular book even train travel is an adventure.

Isabella Bird belongs to the group of intrepid female adventure traveller that also includes Edith Durham and Alexandra David-Neel. This book is about her first journey abroad, to the United States and Canada, and is revealing not just about what those countries were like at the time, but also about her character and opinions.

The book has its high and low points. Isabella is at her best when describing people and places as she saw them, especially he journeys between places and observations of people and human behaviour. The passages about her visit to Niagara, which was then already a tacky tourist destination, are especially interesting, as are the chapter about her stay on Prince Edward Island, a place I have always wanted to visit ever since I read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books.

Isabella’s opinions are often quite contradictory – it’s as if she was filled with admiration of the things she saw but felt that expressing only admiration and no criticism was to put down old England, so after each expression of admiration there almost inevitably follows something negative and often a comparison with the old country which she usually declares to be the better place after all. Her descriptions of the hardships of travel are some of the liveliest passages in the book, especially 2 or 3 of her journeys by steamboats across lakes and down rivers, some of which were quite perilous due to harsh weather. Her sense of humour is dry and is never far away, especially when describing people and customs she encountered. She seems to be trying to exude a polished air in her writing, but her enthusiasm and sometimes almost childish joy of travelling shines through and makes the book enjoyable to read.

The low points of the book are the passages and chapters of guide book stuff that are interspersed with her observations: information about the social structure and institutions and descriptions of buildings that she thinks her readers want to hear about, full of numbers and dry facts that were probably of much interest to British readers of the time, but break up the narrative and sound as if she copied them straight from a rather dry guide book or encyclopaedia.

Her almost obsessive dislike of Catholics and the Irish struck me at first as offensive, but as it was repeated more and more often, it made me giggle every time she brought it up, especially when contrasted with her obvious admiration for everything Scottish. She opposed slavery, which was then still in practice in the USA, but the wording she uses when referring to blacks is sometimes quite offensive to a modern reader (for example in one place where she likens a black baby to an ugly little monkey). Thus she reveals her opinions and prejudices to the reader, sometimes quite unwittingly.

Rating: A sometimes entertaining travelogue that gives a snapshot of Canada and the USA as they were in the mid-19th century. Will definitely read more of the author’s travelogues. 3 stars.

Read it online

13 May 2006

Mystery author #17: Dorothy Cannell

Title: The Thin Woman
Series detective: Ellie Simons, aided by Bentley Haskell
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1984
Type of mystery: Cosy w/ treasure hunt, possible murder, murder attempts
Type of investigator: Amateurs
Setting & time: England, 1980’s
Some themes: Dieting, insecurity, missing persons

Story: Interior decorator Ellie Simons is fat and insecure and has always been made to feel inferior by her beautiful cousin Vanessa. When she is invited, along with all her other relatives (Vanessa included), to Merlin’s Court, her eccentric uncle’s fairy-tale castle, for a family weekend, she hires handsome Bentley Haskell, a writer who moonlights as a social escort, to accompany her and pretend to be her boyfriend. Uncle Merlin is not only eccentric, but also rich, and most of the relatives only come in the hope of getting a mention in his will. When he dies shortly afterwards, Ellie is stunned to learn that she and Ben have been left Merlin’s Court and most of Merlin’s considerable riches, with the condition that a) she lose 63 pounds, b) he write a book without a word of smut in it, and c) they find the treasure connected with the house. All this they must do while living in the house and they only have six months. Should they fail, the vulturine relatives will get everything. Someone seems to want to help them to succeed by sending them clues. Through one clue Ellie discovers that there is some mystery surrounding the death of Merlin’s mother and tries, with the help of the vicar, to find out how she died. Before long, it becomes apparent that someone wants them to fail: a strategically placed box of chocolates trips Ellie up on her road to losing weight and Ben’s manuscript is stolen and doused with bleach. These incidents get increasingly serious and before long it seems that someone is attempting to murder Ellie. There are plenty of suspects: Ellie’s relatives, the local vicar, the new housekeeper and the suddenly sprightly old gardener.

Review: This is a very entertaining story which only barely manages to be a mystery in the classic sense, but does quite well as a modern one (i.e. The Classic Rules are bent more than a little). Ellie, who tells the story, thinks a lot about the mysterious events taking place but doesn't do much actual sleuting, i.e. following up on clues and asking around (I could have pointed out several things for her to investigate). In fact, she only follows one line of clues while other, rather obvious ones, gather up for no-one but the reader to follow. Although Ben finally figures out who the villain is, just in time to nearly get murdered along with Ellie and another character, this discovery happens off-stage and the reader does not get to see how he put the clues together. Happily, Cannell does not cheat the reader of clues - there are enough clues here to make anyone happy, but we only get to see a few of them actually used for anything, which is the weakest part of the story structure.

There is an unexpected twist in the story about half-way through, when what promised to be a crazy treasure hunt turns into something else. This twist really makes one wonder why several of the characters were brought in and fleshed out only to remain almost unseen until near the end when all they did was appear briefly and then disappear again, breaking that all-important convention of story-telling: do not introduce more characters than are necessary for the story. All I can think of is that Cannell was already planning more stories and wanted to set the stage and introduce them beforehand, because all they do here is act as a very annoying, very big and very obvious red herring.

Characterisation is skilful. Since Ellie is the storyteller, we see all the characters through her eyes, and naturally she is the best developed character. Her insecurity over being fat is very realistic and is quite common in overweight people. Her dieting, however, is unrealistically easy – it takes more than just healthy eating with lots of vegetables and very little exercise to lose 28,5 kilos in 6 months – but the insecurities and feeling sick after a relapse are very realistically described. Ben is rescued from being a typically aloof sexy love interest by his apparently contradictory behaviour and his sense of humour and the most surprising minor characters are shown to have unexpected depths in the course of the narrative and come alive before one’s eyes.

The big twist is rather obvious, the identity of the villain slightly (but only slightly) more difficult, and the location of the treasure is an interesting twist which a clever reader will have had figured out long before Ellie and Ben.

Rating: An entertaining mystery with unexpected turns and twists. 3+ stars.

Since this is a first book, I have good hopes for the next ones in the series and intend to get the two available from the library once I renew my library card. I have already requested one from TitleTrader and look forward to reading it.

P.S. I din't like the cover. While pretty when considered as commercial artwork, the floral design with the gold locket makes it look like a classy romance novel and not a mystery. Only the title, a parody of The Thin Man, and the cover blurb hint that it may be a mystery. Another annoyance is that the author's name is in bigger lettering than the title, an obvious hint that this is a reprint after the author has had a bestseller. This kind of cover always makes me suspect that the book is considered worth reading only because it was written by this particular author, and not because it's a good story.

09 May 2006

Mystery author #16: Boris Akunin

Title: The Winter Queen
Original Russian title: Azazel
Translator: Andrew Bromfield
Series detective: Erast Petrovich Fandorin
No. in series: 1
Year of publication: 1998
Type of mystery: Conspiracy, murder, thriller
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Russia: Moscow & St. Petersburg, England: London; 1876
Some themes: Obsession, love, social improvement

Story: Young Erast Fandorin, a lowly police clerk of good family but small means, is sent to investigate a mysterious suicide in Moscow. This leads him to a beautiful and mysterious woman who is not all what she seems. Events lead him to London where he discovers that she is involved in some kind of conspiracy. From then on, his life is in constant danger.

Review: I didn’t really know what to expect when I picked up this book, and after reading the first couple of chapters I wasn’t sure whether I was reading a mystery or the parody of one, so parodic, almost satirical at times, is the style. Akunin has a way of making subtle fun of his characters, especially Fandorin, who is callow and vain and makes a series of mistakes that would have left an unlucky person dead many times over. But Fandorin is very lucky and quite resourceful and good at extricating himself from trouble. Although his luck is phenomenal, coincidence is fortunately not a big feature in this story, because Fandorin is also clever, and uses his brain to solve the case, rather than fumbling around until the solution falls in his lap like so many other fictional detectives.

The story starts out like a mystery and you expect that it will be about finding out how the apparent suicide really was a murder, but it quickly changes direction and becomes a thriller and continues to change direction throughout the book while Fandorin unravels a far-reaching conspiracy. As it changes from mystery to thriller, the light, funny parodic style fades away and the story keeps getting darker until the extremely unpleasant ending.

Although this is a rollercoaster read, with something dangerous happening in nearly every chapter, I found myself unable to concentrate on it for more then three chapters at a time. I have not been able to put my finger on just what it was that made the book so difficult to concentrate on - it was certainly not a heavy read and is quite well translated (in the sense that it reads almost like it was written in English, with the exception of a number of rather annoying footnotes whenever someone uses French or German phrases). But there was something, possibly just me being stressed waiting for my grades. Anyway, I’m not letting it affect my rating of the book, and I will definitely be on the lookout for more of Akunin’s books.

Rating: A thrilling conspiracy mystery, a genuine rollercoaster of a book. Recommend it to both mystery and thriller fans. 4 stars.

Read an excerpt from The Winter Queen

05 May 2006

Bibliophile’s reading report for April 2006

In spite of having loads of school work (did I mention that I’m about to finish my graduate studies?) I still managed to read 18 books in April. They would have been much fewer if it had not been for Easter. It’s amazing what a determined person can do over several days uninterrupted by work or classes, so I managed to finish an amazing amount of school work and read a book or two per day besides.

The Barbie Chronicles: a living doll turns forty: Yona Zeldis McDonough (social history)
The Case is Closed: Patricia Wentworth (murder mystery)
Every boy's got one: Meg Cabot (romance)
Grey Mask: Patricia Wentworth (mystery)
Latter End: Patricia Wentworth (murder mystery)
Maigret has scruples: Georges Simenon (murder mystery)
Maigret in exile: Georges Simenon (murder mystery)
The Murdered House: Pierre Magnan (murder mystery)

Belle of the Ball: Pam McCutcheon (historical romance)
The Daughter of Time: Josephine Tey (murder mystery, historical)
Desert divers: Sven Lindqvist (travel, biography)
Gulliver's Travels: Jonathan Swift (satire)
In search of Genghis Khan: Tim Severin (travel)
Jonathan Swift: a portrait: Victoria Glendinning (biography
The Loves of Lord Granton: Marion Chesney (historical romance)
Mali blues: Traveling to an African beat: Lieve Joris (travel)
Thud!: Terry Pratchett (fantasy)
When lightning strikes: Jenny Carroll (teen lit. supernatural adventure)

I am saving up some reviews to post in June to keep the blog going while I slave away at the first draft of my master's thesis. Look for reviews of some of these books then.

04 May 2006

Other reading challenges

When I started my original challenge, I knew of 2 other bloggers with 52 book challenges (under that title). Now there are a lot more. Here is what some of them are reading. I have tried to stick to blogs that are mostly about a book-a-week challenge, or reading blogs similar to this one that include such a challenge.
(Links will open in a new window).

Keris Stainton has already read several books I’m interested in.
Largehearted boy’s challenge is now in its third year. Check out the previous years’ archives at the bottom of the page.
Ryan Pilling is reading one business book per week.
Exxie of Exxie’s Book Lounge is on her second round.
Marisa is “striving” to reach the goal. Here is her Book Project.
Heliologue’s challenge: A Modest Construct
People on 43 Things who have the goal of reading a book a week.
-and the ones who are reading 52 book in 52 weeks.
Scott made a new year’s resolution to read 52 books in 2006. He seems to be doing well so far.

Other reading challenges:
felynbelarra is doing a 75 book challenge.
The Library Girl is reading four books a week: . She also discusses other book and library related subjects. One of my regular stops.

If there is a reading challenge blog you want me to know about and include in this list, leave the URL in a comment and I’ll take a look at it.

03 May 2006

Breaking the addiction

It is a known fact that I am biblioholic, a raving book addict. I make no secret of that. But I am also addicted to libraries. Going to the library does for me what shopping does for shopaholics and eating for food addicts. Well, I’m going on a diet, aimed at reducing my TBR stack. I have allowed one of my library cards to expire, the one for the city library where I get most of my casual reading material. It’s not that I have taken a sudden dislike to the library or anything, but I have approximately 300 books at home waiting to be read and I can’t see myself doing that when I keep going to the library to get one book and then bring back 20. The aim is for at least 80% of the books I read every month to be mine (the rest I will get from the National Library). If this works and I manage to reduce my TBR stack by at least 50% by the end of September (when the other card expires), I will reward myself by renewing the city library card.

The card expired on April 28, and I still have some books on loan, but I am already feeling withdrawal symptoms. Wish me luck!

02 May 2006

Mystery writer #15: Pierre Magnan

Title: The Murdered House
Original French title: La Maison assassinée
Translator: Patricia Clancy
Year of publication: Translation: 1999; Original: 1984 (I think)
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Amateur
Setting & time: Rural France, 1910’s
Some themes: Love, hate, murder, revenge

Story: In 1896 three week old Séraphin Monge is the only member of his family left alive after a bloody mass murder takes place in the family house in Upper Provence. In 1919 the angelic-looking Séraphin returns to his birthplace to work as a road mender and lays eyes on his legacy: the murder house, which has, like murder houses often do, stood empty and unsellable because people believe it's haunted. In an attempt to eradicate the dreams and visions that begin to haunt him after he is told the story of what happened there, he begins to tear down the house, making everyone think he is mad. He is befriended by another war veteran, who is as scarred on the outside as Séraphin is on the inside, and three different women begin to show more than a little interest in him. When he finds something in one of the walls it causes him to suspect that three respectable citizens of the town were involved in the murders, and he begins to plot a blood revenge, stalking his intended victims in order to detect their weaknesses. But whenever he thinks he is ready to act, another hand acts for him, killing the people in gruesome and ingenious ways.

Review: Here is a really good, well written and intense mystery of the kind often referred to as literary because of the non-mystery themes it tackles and the high quality of the writing. Although some things about the mystery are obvious to an experienced mystery reader, there are still a couple of twists that really take you by surprise, unless you are a very, very careful analytical reader (the kind who writes down possible clues), because Magnan plays by the basic rule of mystery writing and gives the reader an opportunity to solve the crime through reasoning. He goes even further and gives the readers an edge over the characters by allowing them to see the events leading up to the murder of the Monge family. There are several important clues that don’t look like clues hidden in that chapter.

But this book is not just about a murder investigation. It is just as much about love, family and the lack thereof, revenge and healing, among other things. The translation is very good and the translator has allowed some local flavour to remain, I guess to remind the reader that this is a translation, by letting some French and Provencal dialect words stand untranslated in the text with parenthetical and in a couple of cases, footnote, explanations that don’t detract from the enjoyment of reading. I am already planning to try to get my hands on the sequel, Beyond the Grave and would in fact like to read even more of Magnan’s books. They are being translated into English one by one, but what I would really like to do is upgrade my French so I can read them in the original language (plus of course I could really savour Simenon’s writings).

There is a movie version as well, but I have little hope of seeing it unless I buy it on DVD.

Rating: A juicy literary murder mystery with a touch of the supernatural to sink one’s teeth into. 4+ stars.

Coming up: Boris Akunin (hopefully)

01 May 2006

The dustcover dilemma

I have a problem with dustcovers on books. On one hand they prevent the real cover from fading and dirt and books usually have a higher resell value with an intact dustcover, but on the other hand they are usually not as attractive as the real cover. I have books bound in fake leather with gilded lettering that look quite beautiful naked on the shelves, but with dustcovers they are not as attractive, but admittedly less prone to fading. All this makes me waver between using the dustcovers and not using them.

Some of my books look much better without dustcovers, while others look better with the dustcovers on, usually because the bindings are an ugly colour or one that clashes with the rest of the books on the shelf. I have many books that need to be together on the shelves because they share a subject. Some have such ugly bindings that the dustcover is a blessing, but sitting side by side with naked books they look like clothed visitors in a nudist colony. Fortunately my library is not of the kind that is used for decoration purposes, so I usually just keep the dustcovers on them for protection. But the technicolour view of my bookshelves sometimes hurts the eye, especially when the mind is aware that under some particularly gaudy cover there lurks a beautiful book.