I have read so many of Georges Simenon's Maigret mysteries, and always with such avidity that I would deeply regret getting to the end of his bibliogrI have read so many of Georges Simenon's Maigret mysteries, and always with such avidity that I would deeply regret getting to the end of his bibliography. Maigret Sets a Trap (1955) is about a serial killer who stabs plump women in Montmartre with a pen knife and slashes their clothing.
Even when the Superintendent finds a suspect, he is dismayed to discover that yet another woman has been killed. It is then that we see Maigret at his most impenetrable. We never really get into his mind in any of the stories. We, as it were, stand next to him and watch his mind and instincts at work. When the crimes are solved, we are surprised, because we were not privy to his thinking. In fact, at the end of Maigret Sets a Trap, we hear his monologue, as he is not quite willing to admit that his prime suspect was not, in fact, the killer.
How he solves the case is nothing short of brilliant -- and, typically, instinctive. ...more
Georges Simenon rarely disappoints me, especially in the Jules Maigret mysteries he wrote over a forty-year span. By now, I have read probably twentyGeorges Simenon rarely disappoints me, especially in the Jules Maigret mysteries he wrote over a forty-year span. By now, I have read probably twenty of them -- without so much as scratching the surface.
Madame Maigret's Own Case (L'amie de Mme Maigret] gives the French police inspector a seemingly impossible problem: A bookbinder is arrested for suspicion of murder when two human teeth are found in his furnace. Also, not a million miles away, Mme Maigret is waiting on a park bench chatting with an acquaintance with a child. She is about to go into the adjoining dentist's office when suddenly the other woman thrusts her child on Mme Maigret and disappears.
Eventually, we find that the two incidents are connected. Instead of a strange omnium-gatherum of a plot, we have a tight case in which several people are charged, after TWO murders have been committed.
There is something so French about how Maigret goes about solving a case: Yes, he is methodical, but he can receive sudden inspirations which suddenly tie the case together in a neat package with a pink bow. ...more
The Big Sleep was Raymond Chandler's first novel, launching him on a career which went way beyond the noir genre. I have read the book several times nThe Big Sleep was Raymond Chandler's first novel, launching him on a career which went way beyond the noir genre. I have read the book several times now, and seen Howard Hawks's film version with Bogart and Bacall at least as many times. Of neither of them do I show any signs of becoming tired.
This is a book that calls for a good deal of attention, because the plotting is intricate, with multiple murders and multiple murderers connected in strange ways:
(1) Arthur Gwynne Geiger, killed by Owen Taylor (2) Joe Brody, killed by Carol Lundgren (3) Owen Taylor, killed by ??? (we never learn) (4) Harry Jones, killed by Lash Canino (5) Lash Canino, killed by Philip Marlowe (6) Rusty Regan -- I'm not going to tell you because it's a big surprise
The plot hinges on the two wild daughters -- Carmen and Vivian -- of the wealthy General Sternwood, who brings Marlowe into the picture and starts the bloody wheel rolling. How marlowe avoids being picked up by the police for his involvement in all the bloodshed.
Do not expect the book to run too close to the film, though there are a surprisingly large number of dialog lines common to both. The main variance is at the end of the book, which was probably too hot for Warner Brothers to put on film....more
This is no Sherlock Holmes, this is no "tale of ratiocination" to use Poe's term. No, Inspector Maigret is a superb tuned intellect with years of expeThis is no Sherlock Holmes, this is no "tale of ratiocination" to use Poe's term. No, Inspector Maigret is a superb tuned intellect with years of experience dealing with crime. His five foot ten frame, weighing some 200 pounds, is almost totally impassive. You will never see this investigator running off at the mouth. He will hang around until the facts make themselves clear, and then he will act with decisive speed to tie up the loose ends.
Georges Simenon is, to my mind, a crossover writer. He has gone well beyond the mystery and whodunit genres, just as (again in my opinion) John LeCarre and Eric Ambler are far more than writers of spy stories. We are dealing with genre fiction that has more than a little universal about it in its study of the criminal mind.
In Maigret's War of Nerves a rich widow and her maid are brutally stabbed to death in a St-Cloud mansion, and a hapless young man named Heurtin is arrested, convicted, and sentenced to the guillotine. He would have been executed, too, except that Maigret saw him as too hapless for that sort of thing; so he convinces his superiors to let Heurtin "escape" -- with Maigret's promise that he would produce the real killer in ten days.
Those ten days are a real nail-biter, until we run into a hyper-intellectual med student named Radek who seems to know too much and who tries too hard to twit Maigret and his associates. From that point on, Maigret bides his time until Radek's confidence begins to fray. And then it happens.......more
I have become fond of the Victor Legris mysteries by Claude Izner (who is actually two sister booksellers, Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre). At timeI have become fond of the Victor Legris mysteries by Claude Izner (who is actually two sister booksellers, Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre). At times, their plotting is a little overdone, but there are compensations:
* The characters of Victor, Joseph, and Kenji are likeable. * The stories are set in the Paris of the 1890s, which is a fascinating period about which the Izner pair know a great deal. * The three heroes are booksllers (when they're not solving murders). * The love interests are suitably luscious, even the potential ones.
The Assassin in the Marais is ostensibly about the search for a mysterious goblet that might be descended from the Templars, or from an Asian archaeological dig, or from something else. There is one unnamed (until the very end) character known only as The Emissary who is in hot pursuit of the goblet and who is willing to leave a trail of murdered bodies in its wake.
Izner has succeeded in making me want to read more about the background of the period. After all, it is also much the same background as Marcel Proust's world.
There is something contrived about a locked room mystery. A crime has been committed, but it seems impossible as the criminal could not have escaped.There is something contrived about a locked room mystery. A crime has been committed, but it seems impossible as the criminal could not have escaped. And yet Mlle Stangerson lies bleeding and at the edge of death.
Gaston Laroux, who is perhaps better known for The Phantom of the Opera, was a journalist who was well acquainted with criminal cases. In The Mystery Of The Yellow Room, his hero is an eighteen-year-old journalist who goes by the name of Joseph Rouletabille who inserts himself into the case and comes up with some brilliant deductions, not all of which pan out. In the end, however, he discovers the mystery.
I could have discovered the mystery much sooner had I been there. Around 1900, no one could imagine putting the screws to a woman who very obviously knows who her assailant was. Everyone tiptoes too delicately around this fact -- and it takes something away from the ingenious final solution that Rouletabille finds to the case.
My review will concentrate on The Scandal of Father Brown as well as the two previously uncollected stories, "The Vampire of the Village" and "The MasMy review will concentrate on The Scandal of Father Brown as well as the two previously uncollected stories, "The Vampire of the Village" and "The Mask of Midas." (The other two were previously read and reviewed by me.)
G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories follow a pretty clearly definable pattern: Near the beginning of the story, we are introduced, almost in passing, to a dumpling of a man in clerical garb, most notable for his general aura of nondescriptability. Around the time the crime is introduced, we have a brief, strikingly described scene of nature somehow gone awry, indicating an atmosphere of moral wrong. (This is not true of all the stories, but certainly most of them.) Finally, the little priest tags along with the policemen, or his colleague Flambeau, or some other person and it is always his comments which solve the crime.
Does Father Brown ever actually physically collar the malefactor? I can't recall any case of that happening. It is his unique responsiveness to the fact that something is amiss in the natural order of things that brings his powerful mind into play.
The famous illustration on the cover of this Penguin edition has been altered. What the arch-criminal Fantômas is grasping in his right hand is a blooThe famous illustration on the cover of this Penguin edition has been altered. What the arch-criminal Fantômas is grasping in his right hand is a bloody dagger which he is holding by the hilt, for which see the the original.
The eponymous character of Fantomas by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre is perhaps the greatest of the arch-villains in literature. His ruthlessness is greater than Professor Moriarty's, and his slipperiness ever so much more pronounced. Fantômas does not at any point come out and say that he is Fantômas. Instead, he moves about disguised with diabolical cleverness -- as do the detective, Juve, who pursues him, and at least one other character who disguises himself as a female and holds down the job of a cashier at a luxury hotel.
In this arch-villain, there is not a trace of Robin Hood. He robs from everyone, and gives to himself. Why? The reason is never explained. Always, he attacks with savagery and strength and leaves a trail of bodies in his wake. It is as if his criminality were a principle of evil in his own person. I am reminded of an old Star Trek episode directed by Joseph Pevney and written by Robert Bloch entitled "Wolf in the Fold," in which Redjac and jack the Ripper are the same character traveling through time and space.
At the same time, there is something Gallic about Juve and his nemesis Fantômas. Both are talented and relentless, and one feels that, somehow, beyond the boundaries of this book, there will ultimately be some resolution. For me to discover that, however, I would have to read some 42 other novels, most of which are not available in English. A pity!
After a lifetime hating Stephen King -- not that I ever really gave him a chance -- I picked up Joyland because I thought the cover illustration by GlAfter a lifetime hating Stephen King -- not that I ever really gave him a chance -- I picked up Joyland because I thought the cover illustration by Glenn Orbik was hot. It showed a scene that was not even in the book: a red-headed Erin Cook screaming in fear while casually holding onto a Speed Graphic camera which, if she had ever made a regular practice of doing so, would have given her left forearm like Popeye's.
So, what did I think? Actually, I liked the book. Partly because I am drawn to the whole carnie world after reading William Lindsay Gresham's Nightmare Alley, and partly because King exercised admirable restraint in crafting the novel. I wasn't quite sure about the action scenes at the end, and there were a couple of connections I never quite understood, but I liked the tone of the whole thing.
Devin Jones is a college student who spends a summer working for a North Carolina amusement park called Joyland. He is a man who has been thrown off for someone else by his girlfriend Wendy, who, once she parts from him, consigns him to oblivion posthaste. He likes the work, discovers he has a talent for entertaining "zamps" (small children), and doesn't particularly mind some of the less desirable tasks around a carnival.
He is drawn by the mystery of a young woman named Linda Gray who was killed by an unknown assailant in the funhouse. In fact, he drops out of college and hangs on into the fall, when the only work is preparing the park for the next summer. During that time, he makes the acquaintance of a young mother with a severely disabled son -- one who has the second sight. You can bet this figures in the plot. For one thing, Devin loses his virginity to Annie Ross, the mother, and becomes a favorite of little Mike.
Finally, it all comes together for Devin. The killer is ... someone Devin knows who calls him at home minutes after his discovery and invites him to the park, where King suddenly goes overt. Perhaps one of the reasons I haven't liked King all these years is that I thought he was too overt and not enough psychological. But Joyland actually strikes a nice balance.
Also, I loved all the carnie slang, which King took from this website. Maybe, I'll read some more King: I always liked Kubrick's film version of The Shining....more
I read Arnaldur Indridason's Strange Shores in an English translation from my Kindle. It was without a doubt one of the best of the series about InspeI read Arnaldur Indridason's Strange Shores in an English translation from my Kindle. It was without a doubt one of the best of the series about Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson of the Reykjavik police.
In an earlier book, we found that Sveinsson is haunted by a childhood accident in which he lost his little brother Berger in a blizzard around his home in East Iceland. While still trying to investigate why his brother's body was never found, Sveinsson takes up the case of a woman who disappeared during World War Two in the same part of iceland.
Curiously, investigating this other case helps lead him to solve the mystery of his brother. My question is: Will Erlendur still be haunted in the novels to come by Indridason?...more
I think I have found a new favorite mystery series. A Cold and Broken Hallelujah tells the story of a homeless man killed by three gangbangers in LongI think I have found a new favorite mystery series. A Cold and Broken Hallelujah tells the story of a homeless man killed by three gangbangers in Long Beach. Homicide Detective Danny Beckett is the star of Tyler Dilts's Long Beach Homicide Series.
We know at the beginning who killed the homeless man. What is unknown is the identity of the victim. Juries tend to soft-pedal sentences when the victim is a homeless John Doe, so Danny and his colleagues try to find out who it was who was killed and why. In the end, they put together all the pieces into a satisfying whole.
I think I will soon be reading more of Dilts. I like the cut of his jib....more
I've always enjoyed reading books by P.D. James, especially when I travel. This murder mystery takes place in an isolated British writers' community iI've always enjoyed reading books by P.D. James, especially when I travel. This murder mystery takes place in an isolated British writers' community inhabited by some quirky residents. A writer is found in a boat that drifts ashore with his hands cut off. Vacationing Scotland yard detective superintendent Adam Dalgliesh is sucked into the case because he is staying with his aunt in the area at the time.
It took me a while to warm up to The Case Of The General's Thumb: At first, it struck me as being an earlier effort than Andrey Kurkov's two penguin nIt took me a while to warm up to The Case Of The General's Thumb: At first, it struck me as being an earlier effort than Andrey Kurkov's two penguin novels -- Death and the Penguin and Penguin Lost -- but it looks as if it were written between the two. In The Case of the General's Thumb, there is no Mischa the Penguin, but there is a tortoise named Nina. It must be said, however, that Nina has not a hundredth the character of Mischa.
Kurkov was born in Leningrad and writes in Russian, but he appears to be a self-identified Ukrainian. (This leads me to think that this is not an unusual situation these days.)
The case of the General's Thumb, like the two penguin novels, is a murky stew of various security agencies going at one another hammer and tongs. We see the story through the eyes of Viktor Slutsky (not the same Viktor as the penguin novels) of one unnamed Ukrainian security agency and Nik Tsensky, a military translator. Ostensibly, Viktor is on the trail of the person or persons who murdered a Ukrainian general, cut off his thumb, and left his body dangling over Kiev attached to a Coca Cola advertising balloon. Nik, on the other hand, is paired with an assassin and directed by telephone to perform various odd and threatening actions, mostly in Germany. For most of the book, the chapters are interspersed between Viktor and Nik, eventually coming together at the end.
At first, I was disconcerted by the flipping back and forth between the two characters, but as I grew to know Viktor and Nik more, I came to accept it.
If you want my recommendation, however, the penguin novels are clearly better. ...more
It is not a good sign when I re-read a book I read eight years ago without being aware of the fact until I checked my book log. Eric Ambler is an exceIt is not a good sign when I re-read a book I read eight years ago without being aware of the fact until I checked my book log. Eric Ambler is an excellent writer of spy novels, but not such an excellent writer of mystery short stories. Waiting for Orders collects all eight of his known short stories and reprints them in this single volume.
Six of the stories are based on Baroness Orczy's Old Man in the Corner Stories, in which an old hand at crime detection explains a number of cases in which a young lady reporter is interested. What happens in both books is a discussion of evidence, rather than live crime and apprehension of the criminal. In the Ambler stories, the detective is a retired "Late Prague Police" official as his business card states, who has been stranded in England as a refugee after the Nazi takeover of his country. Dr. Jan Czissar has the makings of an interesting character, but we never see him in play, as it were, but always explaining evidence to Assistant-Commissioner Mercer of Scotland Yard. Too bad, because Ambler is good at action.
The two non-Czissar stories in the collection are moderately interesting, but really only a further demonstration that Ambler is first and foremost a writer of novels....more
Agatha Christie is very good at what she does. My only problem is that I do not value a tale of ratiocination -- to use Poe's term -- carried to the nAgatha Christie is very good at what she does. My only problem is that I do not value a tale of ratiocination -- to use Poe's term -- carried to the nth degree. The Mysterious Affair at Styles was not so much written as diagrammed like a complex sentence a hundred thousand words long. I do not think, for instance, that the board game of Clue could have come into existence without Christie whose extreme permutations of places, weapons, times, and so on made her stories the ultimate in the whodunit genre.
In the process, I feel she slighted the notion of character development. Hercule Poirot's character varied as the point he was trying to make at the time, as was just about everyone else's. The British country house is the murder site par excellence because of its plethora of bedrooms, gardening and housekeeping staff, and visitors.
No, I am drawn more to Josephine Tey and Dorothy Sayers, and yet more to G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown. If a tightly reasoned whodunit is what you are looking for, why then Agatha Christie is for you. It's all the other things -- the characters, the atmosphere, the repartee -- that matter more to me.
I think I have given Agatha Christie enough chances. There are so many others in the genre that I prefer to her.
I have not read any of the Bond novels since I went to college some time before the Cretaceous Extinction. There I was, an English major at DartmouthI have not read any of the Bond novels since I went to college some time before the Cretaceous Extinction. There I was, an English major at Dartmouth College, reading every Ian Fleming novel I could -- anything but study for my courses. It was a marvelous diversion from my studies.
You know nwhat: Based on my re-reading of Casino Royale, they weren't half bad. In the meantime, I have read that Fleming pooh-poohed these excellent entertainments, but I find that Casino Royale had some excellent scenes, most particularly a spine-tingling game of baccarat between Bond and a Russian spy -- and that despite the fact that cards normally bore me. Fleming knew how to accumulate small details to create an effect.
The only weak part was the denoument when he is forced to deal with a not quite convincing romance between Bond and his colleague Vesper Lynd. But, after all, this book was written in 1952, and Fleming was at the beginning of his career....more
This is one of Georges Simenon's later mysteries -- it was published in 1970 -- but it is every bit as good as his masterpieces of the 1930s. MaigretThis is one of Georges Simenon's later mysteries -- it was published in 1970 -- but it is every bit as good as his masterpieces of the 1930s. Maigret and the Wine Merchant is the story of the murder of someone who needed murdering. Occasionally, as in several of his earlier books, we see the Chief Superintendent sympathizing more with the murderer than the victim.
The interest thing to me if that Simenon himself was something of an ogre, somewhat like his murder victim Oscar Chabut. Both Simenon and his murder victim were Casanovas and borderline rapists. My late friend Norman knew personally a woman who had been raped by the mystery writer. So, I think that, in a sense, Simenon was writing about himself and allowing himself, toward the end of his life, to be judged harshly by his police hero, Jules Maigret.
About halfway through the book, we have a good idea who the murderer is: The problem is finding him. That is all the more curious since the murderer is tracking Maigret -- not to do him harm, but to have someone to talk to. Eventually, the two meet and ... and ... read the book, and you will see what happens. In all, it is a very satisfactory ending....more
This is not only the first Harry Hole mystery novel I have read: It is also the first in the series by Jo Nesbø. At first, I was disappointed that theThis is not only the first Harry Hole mystery novel I have read: It is also the first in the series by Jo Nesbø. At first, I was disappointed that the entire novel is set in Australia. I suddenly remembered my complaints about Arnaldur Indridason's The Draining Lake, half of which took place in Communist East Germany. I instinctively feel that when a mystery writer is out of his element, the novel suffers for it.
Fortunately, that does not seem to be the case for The Bat. Nesbo seems to have either spent considerable time in Australia or researched the area intensively to get the right geographical feel.
The bat is about the Norwegian detective Harry Hole investigating the death by strangulation of a young Norwegian woman. Upon discovering that there is a pattern of rape/murders of young blond women, he frantically tries to identify the perpetrator. His first few guesses, however, are wrong. It is not until his Swedish girlfriend Brigitta is kidnapped that he has to think fast.
I will probably read at least one or two more of the Harry Hole novels to see if they come across better in a Scandinavian setting....more
Claude Izner is the collective pseudonym of two bookseller sisters, Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre, both of whom are second-hand booksellers alongClaude Izner is the collective pseudonym of two bookseller sisters, Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre, both of whom are second-hand booksellers along the Seine and, what is more, two enthusiasts on Paris during the fin-de-siècle. The Montmartre Investigation: A Victor Legris Mystery is the third of their Victor Legris mysteries (himself a bookseller), and, like the other two, shares in their zest and intricate plotting.
Although I am at times put off by the complexity of the tale, I cannot help buy enjoy how it unfolds. Mind you, I am not always 100% sure that I caught all the hints dropped by the authors, what with all the aliases and misleading clues. Still, I have come to like Victor Legris for his insatiable detective work, Kenji Mori for his Oriental impassivity, and Joseph (JoJo) Pignot for his deep desire to make something of his life -- not to mention a whole host of minor characters who become memorable after a short acquaintance.
I have to thank my friend Dagny Wilson for introducing me to Izner. You may consider me hooked....more
I will tentatively give Penguin Lost five stars because I loved the book only until the last few wish-fulfillment plot twists. The world of Viktor ZolI will tentatively give Penguin Lost five stars because I loved the book only until the last few wish-fulfillment plot twists. The world of Viktor Zolotaryov is a strange one: In Death and the Penguin, of which this novel is the sequel, he lived alone with a penguin named Mischa he had rescued from the local zoo, which was unable to care for its animals. He befriended a militiaman named Sergey Stepanenko, who suddenly winds up dead. He adopts the daughter (Sonya) of a friend, then is joined by Sergey's niece Nina. But Viktor is in danger of losing his life, and Mischa becomes ill. On the lam, Viktor escapes to Antarctica, of all places.
... where we join him in Penguin Lost. Viktor returns from Antarctica with some ill-gotten gains and finds Mischa disappeared. Sonya and Nina are all right, but Viktor leaves in search of Mischa, who has been taken to Moskow, In Moskow, he finds it has been taken to Chechnya (then in the middle of the worst of its war) where it is owned by a Chechen entrepreneur named Khachayev. Viktor works for him at an informal crematorium burning Russian and Chechen bodies that have to be gotten rid of. Eventually, he comes to the attention of Khachayev, who reluctantly promises to return Mischa. First Viktor returns to Ukraine, and Mischa finally shows up some time later.
Andrey Kurkov still tries to get Mischa back to Antarctica, and here the story falls apart somewhat. What remains in my memory, however, is the sad, good-hearted household of Viktor, consisting of a penguin, a jealous cat, a legless Afghan War veteran, Sonya, and Nina. Even the villains are occasionally good-hearted, especially Andrey Pavlovich, a politician who hires Viktor as his idea man.
It's worth reading Kurkov's two penguin books. There won't be any more, because Mischa is now in the Antarctic. ...more
This is the first Japanese mystery novel I have read, and it is quite different from the Occidental variety. For one thing, the main character for theThis is the first Japanese mystery novel I have read, and it is quite different from the Occidental variety. For one thing, the main character for the first hundred pages is arrested for murder, and thereafter the action shifts to an investigating prosecutor named Kirishima, the hero of a number of Akimitsu Takagi's mysteries.
Ostensibly, The Informer is about a former stockbroker Shigeo Segawa who got caught during a stock downturn doing some illegal trades. He takes up with a shadowy company called Shinwa Trading, which is actually an industrial espionage firm run by a young man named Mikio Sakai. He is assigned to investigate a chemical firm run by the husband of his former girlfriend. Then he is murdered. And Miss Yamaguchi, who is Shigeo's alibi, is also killed. All indications point to Shigeo, who is pulled in and interrogated.
In the meantime, Kirishima and his main police inspector contact, Ishida, begin to suspect that there is more going on then they suspected. Then the wife of the murdered industrial boss, Shigeo's ex-girlfriend, commits suicide -- and all heck breaks loose.
This is an exciting novel. The only problem is my unfamiliarity with Japanese names, an unusual number of which begin with the letter "K." I frequently found myself backtracking to refresh my memory who is Toshiko or Kazumi or Kitano. Still, it didn't detract from Takagi's expert plotting and characterizations. Unfortunately, the author died in 1995; and only three of his mysteries, including this one, have been translated into English. It makes me wonder what I am missing....more
Superintendent Jules Maigret has somehow offended his bosses in Paris, so he is sent out to the town of Lucon, where he is mightily bored -- until anSuperintendent Jules Maigret has somehow offended his bosses in Paris, so he is sent out to the town of Lucon, where he is mightily bored -- until an interesting murder case turns up. Georges Simenon is one of my two or three favorite mystery writers, and I have now read over a score of his Maigret novels, plus a handful of his romans durs, which do no feature the great detective.
In the nearby oyster port of l'Aiguille, a man has been murdered and lies on the floor of a retired judge's house, and is noticed by two nosy neighbors. These, knowing the Parisian from one of his previous cases, go to Maigret and whet his interest. In Maigret in Exile, we have a body, a judge who doesn't know who the murder victim is, a somewhat mentally disturbed daughter who has been sleeping around with the locals, and a large and angry son who is estranged from his father.
As he is about to begin the interrogation which solves the crime, the Superintendent is like a vibrating wire:
Maigret switched on the lights, took off his coat and hat, and refilled the stove. Then he began pacing up and down the room, and, as he did so, a faint flicker of anxiety crossed his face from time to time. He paced back and forth, his glance resting on this object or that; he moved things about, smoked, and grumbled, and generally behaved as if he were waiting for something which eluded him.
And that something was inspiration, though he preferred to call it a sense of well-being.
It was that inspiration, that sense of well-being, that is this detective's modus operandi: Simenon's books are not tales of ratiocination, but of a very French sense of muddling through a forest of unrelated details until a picture emerges that leads to a solution.
Maigret in Exile was written in 1940, just as France was to be invaded by the German army. Perhaps he author wanted to set this story in la France profonde because he had a sense of what was about to happen....more
It was oddly appropriate that I read Ian Rankin's Knots and Crosses at this time because, like its hero Inspector Rebus, I have been contending in myIt was oddly appropriate that I read Ian Rankin's Knots and Crosses at this time because, like its hero Inspector Rebus, I have been contending in my mind about the meaning of the Old Testament Book of Job. At one point, he reads from a Bible while in the hospital after having blacked out:
When an innocent man suddenly dies, God laughs. God gave the world to the wicked. He made all the judges blind. And if God didn't do it, who did?
Knots and Crosses is about a serial killer who kills 12-year-old girls by strangling without having sexually abused them. It's all because he knows Detective Sergeant John Rebus, while Rebus himself is blocked from remembering him by a cruel amnesia that blocks out his experiences in the Special Air Service (SAS), an elite and secretive wing of the British military. That amnesia is the only reason I have given the book four stars rather than five, because I have always thought of amnesia as a literary gimmick.
There are a few other gimmicks, such as the taunting notes that the murderer keeps sending Rebus. But then, this is the first of the Rebus novels, and I suspect that Rankin has the talent to improve....more
I had thought that, after three volumes of short stories about that intrepid priest/detective, Father Brown, G K Chesterton would tire of his creationI had thought that, after three volumes of short stories about that intrepid priest/detective, Father Brown, G K Chesterton would tire of his creation, with a resulting diminution in the quality of the stories. But, no, The Secret of Father Brown is as fresh as ever; and its author has instituted some interesting changes.
First of all, the stories are framed within a story in which an American writer comes to ask Father Brown about his "secret." The priest's answer startles him: "You see, it was I who killed all those people.... So, of course, I knew how it was done." He did not mean that he had literally committed the murders: Rather, he had looked deeply enough into the heart of man to understand how and why the crime was committed.
You see, Father Brown's interest in crime is actually an interest in sin, in the psyche and soul of the person who committed the crime. This is perhaps shown to best advantage in "The Vanishing of Vaudrey," though at least three of the other stories also develop this theme.
My favorite stories in the volume were "The Worst Crime in the World" and "The Chief Mourner of Marne," in which Brown manages to penetrate particularly resistant knots to arrive at paradoxical truths.
Although I call Father Brown a detective, he really wasn't one. In fact, he has no interest in apprehending the guilty party and seeing him or her standing in the dock to receive sentencing. Once he has determined who and why and what, he leaves the rest to the police. There is only one policeman in this volume, James Bagshaw in "The Mirror of the Magistrate," and he is no more than a secondary character who doesn't have a clue. ...more
Robert Barr was a Canadian author who moved to England during the heyday of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. While remaining a friend ofRobert Barr was a Canadian author who moved to England during the heyday of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. While remaining a friend of Doyle's he published several humorous detective stories mocking the British detective. And then, in 1906, he came out with The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont.
Valmont is a French detective who was made to leave the force when, through a mistake (explained in the first three stories in the collection, he arrests an English detective rather than the jewel thief. He sets up in London and, while shaking his head over the vagaries of English justice, manages to develop a clientele for himself. He is never quite so perfect as Sherlock Holmes, but he is at times amusing, though not always successful:
I hope I may never follow an example so deleterious, and thus be tempted to express my contempt for the stupidity with which, as all persons know, the official detective system of England is imbued. I have had my failures, of course. Did I ever pretend to be otherwise than human?
The only problem is that Valmont is too much the stage Frenchman. Compare him to, say, Flambeau in Chesterton's Father Brown stories, and you will see what I mean.
Still, these are amusing stories, though they never reach the level of excellence of either Doyle or Chesterton....more
Serendipity strikes again. I just read an obscure Ukrainian crime story by Andrey Kurkov entitled Death and the Penguin. The narrator is one Viktor AkSerendipity strikes again. I just read an obscure Ukrainian crime story by Andrey Kurkov entitled Death and the Penguin. The narrator is one Viktor Akelseyevich Zolataryov who writes for publication what his editor refers to as obelisks. These are obituary essays written about living people so that, when death comes to them, the newspaper is not caught short for materials to publish quickly. Oddly, though, it seems that all too many of the individuals Andrey memorializes is deathless prose wind up … dead.
My favorite character is Viktor’s pet and companion, the King Penguin Mischa. When the zoo in Kiev was suffering a financial meltdown, they sold their penguins; and Viktor bought the one he called Mischa.
Mischa is very like the King Penguin at the right in the photo on my blog site, which was taken on the Isla de Pájaros on the Beagle Channel in Tierra Del Fuego. The largish penguin took a wrong turn into the Beagle Channel and wound up in a rookery consisting mostly of Magellanic Penguins and some Gentoos. It was obviously very lonely and disappointed. Every once in a while, he would try to mate with one of the Magellanic females, but caused uproars every time he tried.
Viktor’s Mischa shambles around the apartment, looking into the mirror, establishing a kind of hiding place behind some furniture, and displaying all the symptoms of a morose and puzzled disposition occasionally verging on depression. Even while Viktor worries that his writing job is connected with an assassination ring, Mischa slowly keeps getting worse. At the same time, he winds up taking care of Sonya, the daughter of one “Mischa-non-penguin,” who was associated with the editor who hired the writer, and who disappears after leaving money and a pistol. He also hires a teenage girl, the niece of his friend Sergey (who dies mysteriously) as a nanny for Sonya, who lethargically enters into a relationship with him.
I loved Death and the Penguin for its mellow strangeness. For a man surrounded by violent death, to which he may be contributing in some unexplained way, Viktor is relatively cool. Eventually, the situation changes rapidly. Mischa becomes ill and gets a heart transplant; and Viktor, well, let us say he takes action of an unexpected kind....more
We all live in a world that threatens to make us depressed and anxious. So, too, did Chesterton. Anarchy and international socialism were at their apogee; and Germany and Britain were slowly sliding into a world war. Then, too, GKC was grossly overweight and uncertain about his own personal future. But he had a powerful weapon: He faced down the darkness and denied it the power to harm him: All the things that threatened were mere phantasms that we ourselves created to keep us down.
What better analogy was there than the great scourge of anarchism, which resulted in numerous assassinations of heads of state in the 1890s and early 1900s. A poet named Gabriel Syme is appointed to a sinister Central Anarchist Council, consisting of seven men, each of whom is named after a day of the week. In charge is Sunday. Syme gets himself elected as Thursday, and the fun begins ...
In a way, GKC gives it all away at the beginning, in a poem dedicated to his friend, the mystery writer E. C. Bentley:
This is a tale of those old fears, even of those emptied hells, And none but you shall understand the true thing that it tells -- Of what colossal gods of shame could cow men and yet crash, Of what huge devils hid the stars, yet fell at a pistol flash. The doubts that were so plain to chase, so dreadful to withstand -- Oh, who shall understand but you; yea, who shall understand?
What I remember most, however, is this quote from Syme when confronted by an anarchist named Lucian Gregory:
"All the same," replied Syme patiently, "just at present you only see the tree by the light of the lamp. I wonder when you would ever see the lamp by the light of the tree."
And that is what Chesterton is all about: By repositioning ourselves, we see the lamp by the light of the tree. ...more
A real find! It was a sales clerk at a long closed bookstore that recommended James Sallis to me, and I casually picked up a copy of Black Hornet. NowA real find! It was a sales clerk at a long closed bookstore that recommended James Sallis to me, and I casually picked up a copy of Black Hornet. Now, some years later, I read Sallis story about Lew Griffin's attempts to track down a sniper in mid-Sixties new Orleans.
There's something different about this book: At the same time, it's hard-edged like Chester Himes (who actually makes a guest appearance in the book) and yet literate as all get-out. Griffin reads some really good stuff while he's trying to get a bead on the sniper without getting done in by the police or any number of tough guys who come knocking at his little place while he's trying vainly to get some sleep and recover from his last concussion and broken ribs.
Sallis, whose photographs make him look white, throws me for a loop. As I read the book, I was certain that he was Black -- but I have been wrong before, and often. He has an edgy style that cuts through anything that could slow down the story. I love his writing:
It takes a while for us to realize that our lives have no plot. At first we imagine ourselves into great struggles of darkness and light, heroes in our Levi's or pajamas, impervious to the gravity that pulls down all others. Later on we contrive scenes in which the world's events circle like moons about us -- like moths about our porch lights. Then at last, painfully, we begin to understand that the world doesn't even acknowledge our existence. We are the things that happen to us, the people we've known, nothing more.
I think I'm going to like reading more of his books. It seems he's also published poetry. An interesting guy, well worth looking into....more
Cornell Woolrich is one of the glories of American noir literature. And I Married a Dead Man is one of his best books. Unless you've spent the last haCornell Woolrich is one of the glories of American noir literature. And I Married a Dead Man is one of his best books. Unless you've spent the last half century cowering under your bed, you've heard of such films as The Bride Wore Black, Rear Window, Phantom Lady, The Leopard Man, and Mississippi Mermaid. Not once, not twice, but scores of times, Woolrich's stories have been turned into films.
I Married a Dead Man tells the story of an abandoned young pregnant woman who takes a cross-country train trip, on which she meets a pair of newlyweds the wife of whom is likewise pregnant. The train derails, but not before Patrice Hazzard asks Helen Georgesson to try on her wedding ring. Both the real Patrice and her husband perish in the wreck, but Helen awakes in a hospital with the ring still on her finger. It turned out that the dead Hazzards came from a rich family which thinks that Helen -- whom they had never met -- and her newly delivered infant son are all that is left of their family.
Helen decides to act the part of Patrice, though not without a sense of dread. Sure enough, complications begin to emerge. First, the late Hugh Hazzard's brother Bill falls in love with "Patrice"; and the lowlife who had seduced and abandoned Helen figures out what happened and comes a-blackmailing.
The blackmailer is killed -- but by whom? "Patrice" thinks she did it. Bill says he did it. The dying Mrs. Hazzard, his mother, writes a legal confession that she did it.
Despite the absence of any legal pursuit, the thought of murder begins to wear away at Bill and "Patrice's" relationship. This is an interesting twist, as pure guilt and the sense of mutual recrimination is so horrible of and by itself.
Woolrich writes his novel with a deft hand and a brilliant style, such as when "Patrice" is driving with the intent to confront her blackmailer:
Outside, the street-lights went spinning by like glowing bowls coming toward her down a bowling-alley. But each shot was a miss, they went alternately too far out to this side, too far out to that. With herself and the car, the kingpin in the middle that they never knocked down.
She thought. That must be fate, bowling against me. But I don't care, let them come.
I think it is time that Woolrich and the other great noir writers of the Thirties and Forties -- men like James M. Cain, Horace McCoy, Edward Anderson, Kenneth Fearing, and William Lindsay Gresham -- be recognized side by side with the academic standards of the same period....more
Even late in his career, Georges Simenon could write great Maigret novels -- in his sleep, if necessary! Maigret Bides His Time (in French: Patience dEven late in his career, Georges Simenon could write great Maigret novels -- in his sleep, if necessary! Maigret Bides His Time (in French: Patience de Maigret) is about a series of grab-and-run jewelry robberies that has bedeviled the French police for some twenty years. The curious thing is that Superintendent Maigret knew who planned the robberies all along: A wheelchair-bound Corsican cripple named Manuel Palmari. It's just that he didn't know the entire cast of characters and how they interacted, most especially the diamond-cutter who took the stolen goods and reset them for sale to a fence.
In 1965, thirty years after he published his first Maigret -- Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett -- was just as exciting and well crafted in Maigret Bides His Time. Maigret is still the same massive detective superintendent who can suck the air out of the room just by entering it. Inspector Janvier here observes his boss at work:
The day before, Maigret had plunged into the case with a light-hearted frenzy, producing characters out of the dark, turning them this way and that in his large paws like a cat with a mouse, and then putting them back in their corners. He sent inspectors left and right, as though he had no definite plan, telling himself something would always emerge. [Italics mine]
Suddenly he was no longer playing. Janvier was sitting next to another person, a human bulk that nothing could affect, an almost terrifying monolith.
What Maigret does is not the classical Anglo-American method of ratiocination first postulated by Edgar Allan Poe, but the French method of débrouillage -- cutting through the fog.
It is not that Maigret deduces. Rather, he creates an environment where the solution comes to him. Very gallic, very different.