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Showing posts from June, 2009

Top mysteries challenge review: The Steam Pig by James McClure

Year of publication: 1971
Series and no.: Kramer & Zondi, no. 1.
Genre: Police procedural
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: A fictional city in South-Africa, 1970s.

Story:
The clever murder of a young woman is discovered by accident and Lieutenant Kramer and his assistant, D.S. Zondi, are handed the case. They discover a number of surprises about the young woman, who had lived a double life, and the people who might have wanted her dead.

Review and rating:
This is the first book in a series featuring the unlikely but efficient detective team of Kramer and Zondi. The story takes place in Apartheid-era South-Africa and Kramer is an Afrikaner and Zondi a Zulu, which makes for a complicated, layered relationship. Kramer is careful to maintain an outward appearance of being a proper white supremacist, but when more closely examined the relationship between the two men is really one between a senior officer and a loyal junior one and clearly based on mutua…

TBR list cull

I’ve decided to cull The Book Club and take if off the TBR challenge list without finishing it. It passed the 2 chapters/50 page test, but by chapter six I realised it wasn’t keeping my attention as it should. None of the characters felt really sympathetic, their stories were falling into predictable grooves, and I only found one of the five storylines appealing. In short, it was becoming tedious to read and I found myself skipping paragraphs - a sure sign I'm not enjoying a book.

I’m replacing it with the next book I feel like reading that isn’t on the list but fits the challenge.

Mystery review: An English Murder by Cyril Hare

Genre/sub-genre: Country-house mystery
Year of publication: 1951
Type of investigator: Amateur
Setting & time: A country manor, England; mid-20th century.

Story:
A man is murdered in a snow-bound country house at Christmas, and it is up to a rather unusual sleuth to put together the pieces of the puzzle of a murder with a peciliarly English motive.

Review:
This is one of only a handful of books that have really surprised and delighted me this year. The story is well written, light, sparkling and excellently plotted and the characters, while all more or less based on certain stereotypes readers of Golden Age mysteries are familiar with, nevertheless are realistic enough to satisfy the literary critic’s demand for rounded characters. What delighted me most, however, was the playful combination of the familiar with the unexpected.

Hare showed with this novel that he really knew the mystery genre inside and out and could manipulate its conventions to produce a novel that is at once both thoro…

Holiday reading and mislaid book

I don't know what I was thinking when I packed for my recent holiday.

I have a rule - a very good one, in my opinion - of travelling with books: when going abroad, take as many as are needed to take you through the "getting there" stage, i.e. the whole trip from home to hotel. This usually means three books, although for a flight to the US I might take five, or load some audio books into my mp3 player. Then, once I get there, I go shopping for more books. When I travel, it's usually with someone else at the wheel, be it on an aeroplane, ship, train, bus or car, giving me ample time to read while being transported from place to place.

When packing for this camping holiday, in a fit of reader's optimism I took something like 15 books with me, forgetting that this time I was driving myself. The plan was to read for 30 minutes or so before bedtime, at mealtimes and whenever the weather was too bad to sight-see or hike. I ended up finishing one book, because at the en…

Wednesday reading experience #25

Try a book by Halldór Laxness.

He was, and still is, the undisputed laureate of Icelandic literature and our only Nobel Prize winner. His best known novel, both at home and abroad, is Independent People, but to a first-time reader I recommend the shorter historical novel Iceland’s Bell or the coming-of-age story The Fish can Sing.

Quotation of the day no. 25

Read to me - Jane Yolen

Read to me riddles and read to me rhymes
Read to me stories of magical times
Read to me tales about castles and kings
Read to me stories of fabulous things
Read to me pirates and read to me knights
Read to me dragons and dragon-book fights
Read to me spaceships and cowboys and then
When you are finished- please read them again.

Mystery review: The Case of the Velvet Claws by Earle Stanley Gardner

This book is getting downgraded - seems the Top Mysteries List I started working with had some errors in it and this book had been put on the list by by a fan who felt it belonged there. No matter, it's a good mystery anyway.

Year of publication: 1933
Series and no.: Perry Mason, no. 1
Genre: Mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Lawyer
Setting & time: Los Angeles, USA; 1930s.

Story:
A woman comes to Perry Mason to get help in keeping certain facts from being printed in a sleasy tabloid, facts that can hurt not just her marriage but also the career of a local politician. But then her husband is murdered and things get complicated.

Review:
Before starting reading this book, my very first Perry Mason story, I had assumed that I would be reading a legal mystery-thriller, perhaps something that would take place at least partially in a courtroom. This belief comes from my mother, who was a fan of the Perry Mason TV show when she was younger and always talked of him as if he…

Review: The Night the Gods Smiled by Eric Wright

Genre: Mystery
Year of publication: 1983
No. in series: 1
Type of investigator: Police
Series detective: Inspector Charlie Salter
Setting & time: Toronto and Montreal, Canada; 1980's

Story:
When a college professor from Toronto is murdered in Montreal, the Montreal police request help from the Toronto police, as the man spent his last hours in the company of his Toronto colleagues, who have all returned home. The case is assigned to Inspector Salter, whose career has stalled because of office politics. He sees this as his chance to get back in the promotions game and starts work on what turns out to be a complicated case, not the least because many of the witnesses have something to hide.

Review and rating:
This is a nice little detective story, not quite a police procedural and not quite a cosy, but something in-between. In Charlie Salter, Wright has managed to create a very likeable character, and it’s refreshing that while there is some minor conflict within his marriage, it is of …

Wednesday reading experience #24

Try some good horror novels or supernatural thrillers.

I have enjoyed:
Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House
Henry James: The Turn of the Screw
Edgar Allan Poe's short stories
Algernon Blackwood's short stories and novellas, e.g. "The Willows" and "The Wendigo"
H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories
Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”
Bram Stoker: Dracula
Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
William Blatty: The Exorcist (the last horror novel I read that kept me up awake at night)
Stephen King’s short story collection Skeleton Crew and his novel The Shining
Clive Barker: Cabal
Peter Ackroyd: Hawksmoor
Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory
Anne Rice: Interview with the Vampire (I haven’t read any of her other books, but I am told that the Vampire Chronicles get increasingly more tedious as the series wears on)
Laurell G. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series up to The Killing Dance. From then on it degenerates into horror porn, which does no…

Quotation of the day no. 21

Libraries are reservoirs of strength, grace and wit, reminders of order, calm and continuity, lakes of mental energy, neither warm nor cold, light nor dark. The pleasure they give is steady, unorgastic, reliable, deep and long-lasting. In any library in the world, I am at home, unselfconscious, still and absorbed.
Germaine Greer (b. 1939)

Top mysteries challenge review: Sadie When She Died by Ed McBain

Year of publication: 1972
Series and no.: 87th Precinct, #26.
Genre: Police procedural
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Police officer
Setting & time: Isola, a borough in a fictional city in the USA (based on New York), 1960s or 70s.

Story: A woman is murdered and although the fingerprints of a junkie burglar are found on the murder weapon and he confesses to the killing, Detective Carella is still suspicious of her husband, who seems bent on implicating himself in the murder.

Review: This is a tense story, atmospheric, almost claustrophobic at times, with psychological undertones. McBain had a certain style and way with words that lifted his police procedurals above the average and brought him deserved fame, and he was in fine form in this book. The main plot is good, although a bit far-fetched, and the side-story about Detective Kling’s love life balances it nicely.

Rating: Another good offering from the master of the police procedural. 4,5 stars.

Books left in challenge: 1…

Wednesday reading experience #23

If you haven’t discovered Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, do give it a try.

Good starter books include the first books in each sub-series:
Equal Rites, which starts the Witches subseries. Good if you like female protagonists. This particular book is full of magic, but there is less magic in the books that follow, but plenty of good witches vs. evil people, vampires, witches, elves and so on.Guards! Guards!, the starter book in the Guards subseries and a good place to start for a mystery fan. The books center on Commander Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork city watch, and his trusty men, who have to solve various problems, ranging from a marauding dragon to civil war.Mort, the starter book in the Death sub-series - if you’re interested in the supernatural.The Colour of Magic starts the Rincewind subseries, and is the first Discworld novel, but I would only advice a purist to begin there, as it and its sequel, The Light Fantastic are not as good as some of the later novels. I do recommend starting w…

I'm off on holiday

I am going away on holiday today and will not be posting much or at all for the next couple of weeks. Neither will I be able to approve or answer any comments, but don't let that stop you from commenting - I'll get to it when I come back. The Wednesday reading suggestions will post automatically while I am away, as will one or two reviews I have already written.

Quotation of the day

The best stories I have heard were pointless, the best books those whose plots I can never remember, the best individuals those whom I never get anywhere with.
Henry Miller (1891-1980), from The Colossus of Maroussi

Wednesday reading experience #22

Read a book or two of poetry. I recommend reading one anthology from cover to cover, for example one of the Norton or Oxford anthologies (or something shorter) and following it up with a book of poems by an author who is included in the anthology, preferably not a “collected works” or “best of” kind of book but an original cohesive publication, like William Blake’s Songs of Innocence (or Experience depending on your mood), Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portugese”, Langston Hughes’s The Dream Keeper and other poems, Silvia Plath’s Ariel, or Dorothy Parker’s Enough Rope, to name but a few.

If you find it hard to choose an anthology, think about what eras and authors you like in literature – e.g. if you like Shakespeare, you could try an anthology of Elizabethan poetry, if you like reading about the Jazz Age choose an anthology of that era, etc.

If your language is not English, choose similar works in your own language.

If you have never read poetry before, or have always…

Reading report for May 2009

I read 22 books in May. Five of them were travelogues, which is perhaps not surprising, as I am planning my summer holidays and being tickled by the travel bug. I also read four literary novels, or perhaps five, depending on how you categorise Emma Donoghue's book, which can be called either a novel or a collection of interconnected short stories.

The challenges are going well:
Top Mysteries: 4Icelandic books: 4TBR for over a year: 9

The books:
Birgitta H. Halldórsdóttir : Háski á Hveravöllum (romantic thriller)*Truman Capote: In Cold Blood (true crime)*Sarah Caudwell: The Shortest Way To Hades (murder mystery)Emma Donoghue: Kissing the Witch (fairy tales/fantasy)Einar Már Guðmundsson : Riddarar hringstigans (novel)Martha Gellhorn: Travels with myself and another (travelogue)Knut Hamsun: Pan (novel)*Michael Innes: Appleby on Ararat (murder mystery)Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer: The Phantom Tollbooth (children's fantasy)Norman Lewis: A Dragon Apparent (travelogue)Je…