Does one thing, and does it extremely well: the secret agent on-the-run, desperately out-thinking his pursuers. (This is the version 1.o agent-- the fDoes one thing, and does it extremely well: the secret agent on-the-run, desperately out-thinking his pursuers. (This is the version 1.o agent-- the film here is in black & white-- whose allegiances are not so much to a secret service or government, but to values and standards, hard lines that cannot be crossed without response).
Breakneck speed, some of the best chase across-open-heath material around, and a master class in outwitting the unseen stalker. Geoffrey Household is of the John Buchan school of clever, two-fisted protagonists and fight/flight suspense outings that are as invigorating and breathless as being chased by a lion. You will never again encounter the expression 'ran them to ground' in quite the same way.
My advice is to load this on an eBook, to accompany your next weekend business conference; pretend to make notes as you read, and watch the braindead motivational talks and datapoint presentations disappear-- with a satisfying "THWACK!" ...more
Spoilers, maybe. This was very disappointing, and moreso because it is represented as Håkan Nesser's last outing with Inspector Van Veeteren, his quirkSpoilers, maybe. This was very disappointing, and moreso because it is represented as Håkan Nesser's last outing with Inspector Van Veeteren, his quirky, intuitive investigator.
It's the usual thing when there's a murder connected to an insular group-- the Theatrical Company, or the family and staff of The Manor House are the too-familiar examples. Boarding Schools are another, with all the power dynamics below the surface. Pre-existing allegiances, unsaid antagonisms, odd customs and taboos of the group-- are all unsettled by the homicide, and then again by the intrusion of the detectives. When the group is a sect or religious cult, there's even more of this culture-clash and obliterated borderlines thing, generally including fierce animosity between investigators and cult people. And that is the setup here.
For some really off-the-wall reason, Nesser decided to time his novel for the height of summer, when small vacation towns swell with tourists, traffic gridlocks, nothing works properly, and everyone's more interested in their own vacation than in finishing or fixing their work at hand. This seems to include the police force, and at first puts an interesting spin on the usual rules of the roman policier. Strict punctuality and competence suffer badly in the heat of high summer, and the reader begins to get visions of a murder mystery conducted with the skewed, sideways logic of Godard's Weekend-- which seems plausibly entertaining. At the outset.
Rather than cataloging what should have been, and what goes wrong, it's probably best just to say that this mystery itself went on vacation; there is the slimmest of narrative lines that is obviously meant to be carried by atmosphere, sun-bronzed pre-teen cult lolitas, scenic Swedish pastoral backdrops and the general wifty laziness of high summer. But nothing is carried, and this all goes according to episodic tv guidelines: nasty murder, establish routine, another murder, upset routine, walk-&-talk the victims & the witnesses, surprise clue, stalk, chase, confront, book-'em. Which is to say that all this goes nowhere of interest.
Since other mysteries by Håkan Nesser are worth reading, and since there is translation involved, I'm tempted to just shelve this forever and move on. But to end your notable, award-winning series detective's career on this note? Something wrong somewhere.
This was more of a fly-over for me than a read; I had read the great novels, Strangers On A Train and The Price Of Salt previously, and was interestedThis was more of a fly-over for me than a read; I had read the great novels, Strangers On A Train and The Price Of Salt previously, and was interested here in the short stories (and somewhat, the introduction, by Joan Schenkar).
There are thirteen stories included in addition to the well-acknowledged novels; they are included in two groupings, early and late, and are a true definition of 'hodge podge'. I've never gotten the idea that Highsmith is very good at the shorter form, or at least very committed to it. She seems to be doing short stories just to give some themes or dynamics a little whirl, to see if they look like taking on their own life, but generally just concluding them without too much interest if not. They're entirely capable short fiction, starting very pulpy in the forties and concluding more wittily/ wickedly toward the 7os/8os.
(On the topic of the dates of the stories, it's hard to know exactly what fits in where. Schenkar unhelpfully notes that as editor she's not putting them in chronological order, and it's not clear from the publishing data exactly what came when.)
Rather than linger on the lesser titles it's probably best to say there are two very-significantly Highsmith signature pieces, called The Terror Of Basket Weaving and Not One Of Us. In each the sense of identity is questioned by a random prompt, and felt to be as cursed or unlucky as anything in Poe; in each, the author touches on human insecurities to ratchet up the tempo and dark atmosphere of the otherwise banal settings.
Highsmith has her regular, unavoidable themes, and when she strikes them either gently or full-on, the reverberations carry, and the next few layers of the story take on new drive, inevitability. A meeting on a train, a jealous or envious glance-- casual or fleeting, but all it takes for the next developments to click into place, disastrous and coincidental, sometimes murderous.
This volume is notable for the long pieces, but also a couple of the stories; it's an appetizer, though, for the rest of the menu, which awaits elsewhere. ...more
This is a perfectly brilliant mystery novel, and a fatally flawed one. The idea has unlimited potential : a murder victim bears an undeniable resemblaThis is a perfectly brilliant mystery novel, and a fatally flawed one. The idea has unlimited potential : a murder victim bears an undeniable resemblance to one of the undercover cops on the detective squad; with a little time and a hospital stay intervening, it might be possible to insert the undercover policewoman into the circumstances of the victim. The execution is what we're here to talk about. Author Tana French's first novel, In The Woods, was an intermittently interesting debut, setting up the conditions for a series, but --wisely, bowing out the male half of the detective team in time for this second novel. (In reviewing that one I resorted to the seldom-used description 'jerkwaffle', to convey that character's steadily waning appeal.) (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...)
Something, or a lot of things, happened in between that debut novel and this one; not only is the offending partner out of the picture, but the second outing does major surgery to the remaining female partner. She is no longer the all-purpose, somersault-turning Nancy-Drew-Plus-Wonder-Woman she was in the debut; she's now the narrator and completely human, realistically fleshed out with foibles and self-deprecatory humor. (On that topic, it was something peculiar that the humor touches were so forced and heavy in the first one; here it's light but deadly, sort of streaky and wild-assed, elliptical, in that most Irish of ways. As it only should do, in Dublin, ffs.) Unlike the generic street-crime and mob characteristics of the first, this second one is closer to a boarding-school mystery, or a coming of age novel*, which suits the writing and the authors sense of touch, of observation, so much better. So the 'something' that happened --has happened to the author, and her control and execution show the difference.
There's a literary quality here, and an ease with staging the drama, that just wasn't in the offing in that debut. Her occasional asides are delivered ruefully, in a voice that isn't even telling the half of it; which is to say, completely believably. The tragic backdrop of Ireland's past comes and goes throughout the novel, but not in overt doses. More like wisps:
There are stories like this scattered all over our history. Most of them are buried deep and quiet as last year's leaves, long transmuted into old ballads and winter-night stories. I thought of this one, lying latent for a century or more, germinating and growing like some dark seed, blooming at last with broken glass, and knives, and poison berries of blood all along the hawthorn hedges...
Let's get that flaw out of the way, though. Author Tana French has neatly, nearly classically sequenced her novel into five dramatic acts. The first introduces us and does a gently-pressurizing exposition as the crime scenario is sketched out; the second is the plotting-and-prepping, gearing up the strategy before -- the third act which is the vertigo-inducing, deep dive into Undercover, with all of its illusion, complication, and tension. All good--no, fucking great--this is some of the best, sharpest mystery writing going-- here French draws out the emotional pull, the tactical coordinates, the white-knuckle pace like a safecracker. The tumblers click and fall with uncertain logic and excruciating suspense, the clockwork ticks inexorably... Until.
For some reason or other, in the fourth act, the author opens all the valves and lets the air out. With one of those "confrontation" (and explanation) scenes, best summed by the sort of thing where Goldfinger is lecturing a handcuffed 007. And saying things, like "ah yes, but you are now, of course, in no position to make demands, Mister Bond," or similar. We lose all momentum and a lot of interest here in the Explainatarium, where the reader is sort of hoping someone is simultaneously being poisoned or the roof will fall in or something.
With the same wanton disregard for clever pacing, the fifth act then opens into a thrilling finale that rattles the scenery and finishes with aplomb. It is sort of amazing that this novel, longish for a mystery at 466 hardback pages-- is just about exactly one fourth-act too long. The sympathetic reader may note that the gentle build and the heartracing first second and third needed following with some kind of caesura or transition, but, well, the confrontation-explainatarium really wasn't it, and didn't improve with time spent.
Ms French trained in theater and her sensibilities and timing are on sparkling display here, mostly. This book is so head & shoulders above the debut that it was intoxicating to read, to see an able-enough author hit her very considerable stride, and spin a near-masterpiece of the genre-- that I almost have to think that In The Woods was a beginner-course, training wheels for what would come later. She may have even had the idea for The Likeness first, and known she'd need a little stretch and exertion before facing it full on. Very glad she did, one of the best mysteries I've read in a long time. __________________ * reverberations of literary ancestry here-- perhaps as befits a mystery set in the atmosphere of Trinity College english majors, but moreso than 'detective' influences. Certainly readers of Ishiguro, Waugh, James (even Joyce, as with the passage quoted above) will feel the echoes.
Putting this series on probation; three stars probably overstates the case, but the overall subject matter and atmosphere were pretty well done. The mPutting this series on probation; three stars probably overstates the case, but the overall subject matter and atmosphere were pretty well done. The mechanics, well ...
Author Whellams constructs a fairly unwieldy mystery here, and then keeps adding clanking bits and pieces as he goes, as if it's not feeling complicated enough yet. He sets up a giant wheel of coincidence and consequence that continues to turn when nobody is looking.. all that's good, if you can bring it to earth again. But the complexities are not always linked back to a root cause or causes.
One definite "don't" is having a couple of killers running amok on the same turf at the same time; it's no spoiler, that exists right from the first chapter of this very much too-longish book. That one is written in stone from the dawn of mysteries. A newer don't --is having a convenient Search Results History turn up on an impounded hard drive when the clues aren't forthcoming in a more natural way (that one and checking the Recently Called List from cell phones are now officially not-for-big-revelations-anymore; they've been hammered too hard and may only be used as incidental backup, (say I, in my new capacity as Master Of Rules...))
Last, along with losing sight of the idea that linkages should seem inevitable when revealed to the reader, when the truth comes out, it should be plausible. And it should never ever strike the reader that the finally-emerged truth was clearly constructed and designed to instill max mysterioso for effect. That happens here, a bit.
In fairness, Whellams has a good Detective character going, gets a lot of things right, and probably has a great mystery in store for us. Next time. ...more
A kind of miniature symphony, from Peter Dickinson, master of the alternative-style mystery of the seventies and eighties. (By which I guess I mean thA kind of miniature symphony, from Peter Dickinson, master of the alternative-style mystery of the seventies and eighties. (By which I guess I mean that subject matter and construction were often a point of departure for Dickinson; the familiar milieu of the classic English mystery provided the landscape, but he invariably has other things in mind. As author he strikes me as some eccentric Cambridge don who liked atonal music and talking to his literature students while everyone was tripping.. Tweedy to a fault, but unmistakably indie/alt. In a late 70s-80s way.)
The ornate Death Of A Unicorn coincidentally takes up that very fracture in sensibility-- the familiar postwar austerity-britain themes are deftly upended here, with a 'bookended' narrative that encapsulates two eras, late fifties and early eighties.
Semi Spoiler : Before we go much further, it should be said that the conclusion of this novel doesn't actually resolve anything, and that's going to be a dealbreaker for some readers. (How they could traverse the eras described so beautifully here and still nitpick the ending is beyond me, but there is no real 'eureka' at the finale. More of a bleak 'nothing is revealed' sort of closing.) For this reader there is such extravagant period detail, such an intriguing cast, such perfect voicing and pacing-- that there was no problem having no grand resolution.
We begin in the drab postwar era, though the upper-crusty ingénue heroine feels no privations beyond, perhaps, having to find suitable employment at a 'Tattler' style society magazine:
Until this morning I'd hardly thought about Night And Day. It was just another magazine, slightly more exciting than some of them because Mummy wouldn't have it in the house... she hated the 'Social Round' pages... she disliked all that sort of thing. I think because she thought that what they were about was extremely important but private, and it was obscene to have it all written down for dentists' wives in Wimbledon to read.
Dickinson manages a fairly unmanageable trick, that of giving the lie to the flighty, effervescent heroine's observations while never coming off as icky-male-author-does-ingénue or, even more difficult, never allowing the reader's affections to be separated from her voice. We're led thru a carefully constructed working model of English reserve in the coldwar era, elegant and fizzed up while being deliberately deflated, as we witness the spectacle.
Disclaimers aside, there is a mystery in the works, and it is just interesting enough to carry us to the second era, when great country manors are managed with droll despair by the formerly posh. More intriguing for me was the shift in the rules, the sea change in practicalities that were required to weather the cultural storm at hand.
It's probably safe to say that Dickinson was much more passionate about rendering these shifts, and the eras that produced them, than he was in hanging them on the frame of the mystery plot. I think he may have seen enough of the standard escape hatches: There was a secret twin! She was pregnant at the time! He was a deserter! She was married once before! He was secretly gay! -- Often enough he wanders pretty far afield, generally scattering the clues-solution model (squandering it, you may think) but looking instead toward the internal mysteries :
Mummy let go of Jane but not me and by swinging a few inches round managed to split us off completely from the others. 'I hope you'll introduce me to your friend, darling,' she said. 'Tom? He's in the other room.' 'The one who settles your account at Harrods.' She smiled at me, the witch-who-will-find-you-in-the-end. Ever since I could remember she'd been able to do this ... I discovered that beneath my recent happiness and exultation--part of it, adding to its excitement--had been the certainty that this was going to happen. Of course I'd sometimes wondered what I'd do or say if she found out, but that's not what I mean. The rhythms of my life decreed that she had got to find out... In dreams of escape you glance back along your secret path and see that at the entrance you have left your pullover, caught on a blackthorn, a huge and obvious clue for the lion-faced people to find. You left it there on purpose, though you didn't know, because that is the logic of the dream...
Looking back on this, my second read of the novel, I realize there is some danger in its not-quite mystery status for some to see it as a kind of disguised historical fiction; which it is not, though the only real defense to that is to read the other Peter Dickinson novels. They are nearly all mysteries-run-astray from the pack, and a good thing, too. Having read them all in their era, I'm now revisiting the better ones, and with much pleasure. Next up, Hindsight, Sleep And His Brother, and the list has only begun. ...more
Second Vargas novel I've read now, and this one doesn't quite reach the brittle, vaguely wifty heights of An Uncertain Place, a later excursion in theSecond Vargas novel I've read now, and this one doesn't quite reach the brittle, vaguely wifty heights of An Uncertain Place, a later excursion in the same series, with Commissaire Adamsberg, her lead dectective.
This one is clearly a station on the way to that, though, and is much more interested in character and exposition, which is probably only natural. Vargas is interested in implausibilities and random contortions ... which is something very central, if non-intuitive, for a genre that relies on reaching a plausible conclusion in the end.
Vargas doesn't care; she'd like to show that even in the pursuit of crystal clear logic, a solution to the mystery, that life is itself an exercise in absurdity. And to miss that is to distance any detective, any one at all from the central part of the endeavor.
Seeking Whom goes onstage with the regular elements, the usual suspects and the familiar start-up noises of any intriguing mystery. Once established, all that is packed into the trunk of the car and we're off on a picaresque tour of the countryside with little notice given. The author is determined to let her characters and their milieu stand well forward of the plot machinery. No real effort is made to cover for the insane collision of coincidence and absurdist/ meta story developments.
Occasionally the story itself hums with jabberwocky-style counterpoint; the Commissaire's non-method and free-floating approach perfectly match the non-organization of the story, and that's as planned. In some ways this early Vargas is better understood if you've seen where she's going, once she has her ensemble up and running-- the latter chapters here, or even the later novels. If you're looking for equivalents, a look into the work of Michael Innes, or Patrick McGinley will offer clues. Looking forward to others in this series. ...more
Not sure how I came to this, though it may have just looked peculiar on the library shelf (it doesn't, it's a regular mass production trade paperback)Not sure how I came to this, though it may have just looked peculiar on the library shelf (it doesn't, it's a regular mass production trade paperback). But because of the inflammatory nature of book-jacket and goodreads blurbs, it's probably good to get one thing certain, right off the top: while the topic of vampires comes up here, this book is by no means to be considered in the current crop of teenage (or other) paranormal-emo vampire schlock.
On the contrary, Ms Vargas gives us an irregular, confounding, and contradictory policier mystery, one which has more in common with Ionesco and Beckett than, well, whoever writes those emo-paranormal things. Even though he is a police detective, Vargas' detective works by intuition and round-about logic, seemingly inspired by the technique of the mad-hatter's tea party, it seems. One defining characteristic will probably do the summing up: the Commissaire wears two wristwatches, on the same hand. Nothing is absolute, so 'exact time' must be considered a variable in his world; in order to confirm when something has happened-- he averages them.
In mysteries and detective fiction, there is the honorable tradition of the 'amateur investigator'. This is such an ancient convention that it probably started before Sherlock Holmes, though he is the iconic example. This allows for several layers of complication that the standard Police crime story would not. Since this isn't about the history of the genre, suffice it to say that over time and a thousand variations on this style, we are often treated to more and more eccentric variations of the amateur persona (again, though: Holmes himself was no regular-guy investigator, shredding the Victorian domestic peace with violin sonatas late into the night, whilst partaking of that famous 7% cocaine solution).
Although not a noir or a psychological novel, An Uncertain Place verges on both of those. Although the cultural chimera of vampirism is encountered, it is actually madness that is the subject of the chase. And an exquisitely literate --and loopy- chase it is. I know of no mystery novel that would ever see fit to mention both Dante Gabriel Rossetti as well as Martin Lampe, the valet of philosopher Immanuel Kant without breaking stride. (Ok, fair enough, Umberto Eco would, but he'd belabor it to the extent of a 45-page aside. Here, we fly by on the black bat-wings of absurdism, and so much the better.) It's probably worth noting that Vargas' French forbears include Robbe-Grillet and the whole general nouveau roman/Wtf school, of figurative meta-detection.
Finally, it should be emphasized that I'm a really snooty, snobby mystery enthusiast, and cannot stand cozy mysteries, humorous mysteries, or one-trick-pony mysteries that offer a quizzical formula detective, or a fanciful crime. Vargas clearly shares that preference and gives us a crisply peculiar mystery that succeeds on several levels and leaves the reader wanting another- a difficult needle to thread.
Some additional trepidation on this, the grand finale of maestra Rendell's life mystery work. No reason, of course, to assume the author saw it any diSome additional trepidation on this, the grand finale of maestra Rendell's life mystery work. No reason, of course, to assume the author saw it any differently than as yet-another mystery; she didn't know she'd be leaving us (5.2.2015) before it was in book form. But for the lifelong fan of her oblique storytelling, there will be questions; how finished was it? How far along was she before it came into the hands of ... whom? An appointed executor, a chosen editor, or maybe just an apparatchik of the publishing concern who knew it needed to be a "finale" rather than an "unfinished" work ..?
Not sure the general reading public will ever know, but Rendell's reputation is safe. Though not really a finished product (in my guesstimation), Dark Corners doesn't fail to tick almost all the highly specialized areas that are vital to the Rendell Readership. Since we are mystery fans, it isn't a stretch to think that nearly every longtime reader had these same questions, though.
Inconsequential ambiguities that don't serve as actual red herrings or misdirection --a Rendell specialty-- are found in this fairly slim book. (This book is only 228 pages and features that Editor's Fake-out, the blank 'spacer' pages that provide the placebo of empty-calorie heft to an already thin product). There are slightly disconcerting narrative hiccups and incongruities that would never have made it thru the editing process when Rendell was alive. Minor but glitchy things like a character going back to sit "on the stack of bricks" that was never mentioned or established; tense and timing problems that are almost unnoticeable but slightly jarring on a close reading. Elements that would have been carefully ironed out by the author.
Most noticeably-- but again without major damage-- is the murder itself. Rendell was expert at lulling the reader into thinking that, although spinning an uncomfortable situation, perhaps there would be nothing untoward in a long sequence... And then unleashing, bringing down the whip so that the murder happens in the most abrupt and breathtaking manner possible. It would allow her, contrarily, to snap back into civility in the next chapter with considerable drama and contrast. Here we have a murder situated exactly in that fashion, but told in shorthand, not measured, snipped and fitted into exact shape; it's something a new reader to the Rendell catalog wouldn't even notice.
Dark Corners features the late-career Rendellism of the unreasonably large cast, a kaleidoscopic ensemble that morph in and out of the frame with minimal lead-up and no standard (eye-patch, missing tooth) memory-aids for the readers. This time, though, rather than sprinkling them heavily into the first thirty pages or so, she goes a bit easy in the beginning, (maybe only ten or twelve in the first pages), but continues to introduce them, unapologetically, throughout. This could tip the scale toward the idea that she had a much longer book in mind, or that as in the case of her last half-dozen mysteries, she was still playing with the elements of the large ensemble.
What is sure is that the slightly abbreviated form here is an interesting excursion into her methods, whether intentionally tightened up by Rendell herself, or in this condensed state just the result of her early passing, something she hadn't quite gotten to. But with nothing too fleshed-out or elaborated, the narrative here benefits by also having nothing belabored or telegraphed.
However you work it out, it is Rendell's plot, and her characters and world; the frame is up, even if the building isn't quite built yet. The bones are good, though.
I first read Ms. Rendell's work in the seventies; to say she will be missed is a vast understatement. She's left us over sixty books, though, so .. a world of mystery, for the ages now.