Oh, for a half star. Mark de Castrique's mysteries are fun to read because they are set in my own backyard. It is as tiny thrill to see your favorite...moreOh, for a half star. Mark de Castrique's mysteries are fun to read because they are set in my own backyard. It is as tiny thrill to see your favorite restaurant or hangout pop up here and there as the tale unfolds. This is probably not much of a novelty for those who live in a place like NYC, but lil' old Hendersonville it is a gas. In this case the killing field is a wooded grove in The Kingdom of the Happy Land. A commune founded by freed slaves which straddles North and South Carolina, The Kingdom was largely abandoned by the early 20th century. While mushroom hunting in the Kingdom, Sam stumbles on the skeleton of a murdered man. Thus the mystery begins.
The author knows how to develop a tidy plot. His principal characters are well-wrought. His use of dialogue to develop plot and character is nicely handled. I like that he sticks to the main story. It seems so many current mysteries diverge into romantic subplots or other such nonsense. This is some times annoying. Sam Blackman and his partner Naklaya are romantically involved, but this never takes over the story.
So why not a four? I rarely give fives. There are some aspects if the book which I find heavy handed. De Castrique at times will wax platitudinous. Veterans and race are mostly likely to bring out the solemn bowed head tone. Then there is the mystery itself. DeCastrique's red herrings never really qualify. This seems to be a pretty common problem with his book. Usually there is only one plausible suspect. Others are thrown in rather half heartedly.
A Murder in Passing offers an intriguing set up. Add to this Mark's intelligence and wit, and you have a pleasant mystery outing. (less)
Oscar Wilde famously proclaimed that there was no such thing as a moral or immoral book, only one that was badly or well written. I would never say th...moreOscar Wilde famously proclaimed that there was no such thing as a moral or immoral book, only one that was badly or well written. I would never say that Dorian Gray is badly written. It is full of pretty words, lush descriptions and witty repartee. However, it lacks a compelling central character. It, in fact, lacks any compelling characters. It works as a morality play, but not as a fully wrought novel. We never understand Gray beyond his shiny exterior. As I read, I kept thinking, "what a book this would have been if Conrad had written it!" Then I would think what if Poe or Hawthorne had.
When Marlowe sees the horror that had become Kurtz, the reader is deeply affected. Though absent for nearly all of the book, Kurtz becomes for the reader a man of substance, depth, at one time, of integrity. When Othello, Hamlet, Oedipus fall we mourn. While deeply flawed these men represented some level of worthiness. One does not mourn the destruction of a piece of frippery. From the start Dorian is nothing more than that. A pretty boy. He is vapid, callow beyond belief. His descent into turpitude is not affecting because he was really nothing to begin with.
As for the plotting, there are large chunks that could have been axed. The catalogue of collectors and collections gave Wilde a chance at heaping on gorgeous details, but bogs down the story. Gray's rumored depravity is too vague to be believed in. Granted a great bit of the novel was axed by the publisher and Wilde himself donor is hard to fault the author here. Yet, Stevenson is able to impress us with the abject hideousness of Hyde's corruption without being especially graphic. The plot only really becomes interesting with the murder of ---.
The two foils to Gray, Lord Henry and Basil, are really no more interesting than Gray. Basil the hand wringing moralist could have been the most interesting character. Lord Henry who plays Mephistopheles to Gray's Faust is a witty bore. How Gray could have fallen under his spell is mystery.
I wound not call Dorian Gray a bad book, just marginally silly one. It earns three stars on the merit of the last 1/3. Perhaps it should have been a short story. (less)