Reginald Pound's history of The Strand Magazine probably qualifies as literary criticism, but really it reads more like a memoir. After all, Pound ope...moreReginald Pound's history of The Strand Magazine probably qualifies as literary criticism, but really it reads more like a memoir. After all, Pound opens his account of The Strand with personal descriptions of interviewing Sir Winston Churchill, who regularly contributed articles to the popular monthly magazine. The book reminds me a lot of Amy Cruse's book The Victorians and Their Reading in that both books have a very chatty, intimate tone towards these now long dead authors, illustrators, and editors.
Pound's books is probably not the place to go for a really detailed analysis of editing practices or circulation figures (for example, the impressive figure of 400,000 copies a month regularly gets inflated a bit to "half a million" without much fuss). That said, the book is a gold mine of anecdotes about Victorian and Edwardian cultural and political figures. One does not regularly encounter in more contemporary literary criticism, for example, the story of a waiter stealing a chicken bone from Anthony Hope's lunch plate to give to his girlfriend. Or about how Sir George Newnes (the publisher of The Strand) had to open a vegetarian restaurant in order to fund what would become the immensely popular magazine Tit-Bits, only to be caught eating at chop-houses.
A book by no means hard on the eyes, although probably really only of interest to Baker Street Irregulars and those of us who can't get enough of Victorian publishing history. Still, good fun, as far as literary criticism goes. (less)
**spoiler alert** An Instance of the Fingerpost is one of those novels I always recommend--it's complex, compelling, and even though it's a historical...more**spoiler alert** An Instance of the Fingerpost is one of those novels I always recommend--it's complex, compelling, and even though it's a historical novel about blood transfusions, it feels modern and contemporary. So I don't know why it took me so long to discover that Pears wrote another mystery, using the same narrative structure as Instance, that takes place (mostly) in 19th century England and Venice.
I strongly doubt, though, that SF will be as popular as Instance. There's less gore in this one--far, far fewer suspenseful blood transfusions and autopsies--and fewer narrators, as well. This narrative is also less complexly layered. In Instance, each new chapter proposes an alternate solution to the central mystery. That doesn't happen as seamlessly in Stone's Fall, but then the mystery in SF is also less mysterious from the beginning. There is less doubt that Stone was murdered and fewer suspects to guess from. Instead of setting up multiple characters to have motives, Pears makes it so that one can’t really imagine anyone killing Stone.
But for all that, SF is a really great book. The characters are compelling, the voices differentiated, and the plot complex enough to keep one guessing. And on top of that, Pears’s account of the rise of the international military industry, the devastating effects of free-market capitalism on conventional belief systems, and the complexity of modern global economics, is just plain good. The nineteenth century financial revolution he describes seems eerily prescient, given the recent meltdown of our own global markets. The repeated discussions of money—-where it is going, where it has been, how it is hidden, and how it is used—-might become tedious to some after a while, there’s no doubt. But that’s also part of Pears’s point: financial schemes on the scale created by Stone and others become dangerous because we aren’t paying close enough attention. It is when we get bored—-tired out by talk of derivatives and bonds—-that huge amounts of money are made. Stone benefits, for example, because Macintyre completely loses interest in the proprietorship of his own patent. The rules of behavior that supposedly governed, limited, and controlled industry (the female as the moral compass, gentlemanly conduct in business deals, Christian charity towards the unfortunate) almost completely deteriorate, to the point where even the most basic and fundamental taboos are broken. If Stone repeatedly argues throughout the novel that governments exist for the purpose of allowing industry to flourish (even when that industry involves selling weapons to the enemy), that moral is tarnished by the end, when he attempts to draw a direct line of cause and effect between his actions in Venice and the breakdown of his marriage.
On the whole, I think Instance is a better novel—-it is more cohesive and more complex. But this one, for me, is more resonant. There’s no doubt we’re still grappling with the questions about religion and science that Instance raises, but many of those questions now seem philosophical rather than concrete. Not so with Stone’s Fall.
Anna Maynard Barbour wrote the kind of novels that you either expect to find in a very dusty section of the local "Friends of the Library Book Sale" o...moreAnna Maynard Barbour wrote the kind of novels that you either expect to find in a very dusty section of the local "Friends of the Library Book Sale" or in a mini-series version on "Mystery!" That's a bit of a shame, really, because as far as late 19th and early 20th century mysteries go, this one's pretty good. That Mainwaring Affair is more or less a classic courtroom drama, in which a death occurs among a wealthy class of people and the denouement is saved for the trial. There's something rather refreshing about this; read enough Agatha Christie novels and you get used to the murderer always being disclosed around tea time, just as the deacon is passing around a plate of biscuits. TMA, by contrast, is a very public mystery--the narrator repeatedly updates the reader about the general populace's interest in the case, the mystery is solved by both amateur and professional detectives, and the final solution is presented in a court of law, where the guilty party is revealed to all, rather than a select few.
The plot takes such a twist at the end, that Barbour had to be pretty careful in how much information was revealed to the reader in order to maintain suspense. This is not, in any way, one of those mysteries that can be solved by the reader based on the evidence presented in the text. Barbour takes her mystery a step further, though, in creating a mystery that can't be solved by a reader who is familiar with the workings of the genre. And she makes that fairly obvious. While the reader is regularly privy to every conversation, including those of the more tender and intimate variety, the narrator deliberately blocks readerly access to important information by having the conversants speak in "hushed tones" or "low voices." In other places, the reader's line of sight is blocked by a closing door or a hat pulled over a face. These are rhetorical tricks that help maintain suspense, but frankly come off as "cheating" on the part of the narrator. There's something annoying about a mystery that allows me, as a reader, to witness the main characters confess their love for one another, but treats me as a third wheel as soon as someone has to pass along vital information.
The only other shame of this novel is that it is so morally conventional, even for its time. There's a rigidity about the main character's sense of honor that makes his attitudes towards women, money, and character slightly annoying. He's an interesting enough person in other ways, but I found many of his motivations tiresome. Chief amongst them--his willingness (and presumption) in bribing the press to keep his involvement in certain affairs from being made public. The novel, on the whole, assumes the reader will be sympathetic to such maneuvers--that the reader will want the main character to remain as protected and as insulated from public scrutiny as possible. This is clearly at odds with the fact that the courtroom denouement ultimately serves as a public vindication of the same character's good name.
For all its drawbacks, though, this is a fun mystery and ingenious enough. If a printed copy isn't around, you can listen to it for free at librivox.(less)
In the afterword, Ellroy claims that Josh Hartnett is "brilliant" in the film version of the novel. That should give you a clue right off . . .
For th...moreIn the afterword, Ellroy claims that Josh Hartnett is "brilliant" in the film version of the novel. That should give you a clue right off . . .
For the rest . . . meh. It's alright. If you are interested in a fictionalized crime novel that can really draw out suspense and explore the implications of seemingly random violence, then this is not the novel for you. Try In Cold Blood.(less)