Racial discrimination is certainly a major focus, as Tibbs, in the few days he spends on the investigatFor my full review, please visit Casual Debris.
Racial discrimination is certainly a major focus, as Tibbs, in the few days he spends on the investigation, faces various forms of racism. Some are extreme and stem from plain ignorance, while more complex forms of racism are explored via Sam Wood, a relatively positive character. Unlike the other inhabitants of Wells, with the exception of the northern and progressive Italians, Wood recognizes and quickly admires not only Tibbs's intelligence and training, but also his respectful demeanor. Throughout the investigation, the emotional and at times hard-headed Wood finds that his views on race are being challenged, that he has been conditioned to view certain people, black or Italian, through the society in which he was raised, rather by reason, and finds himself by the end of the novel not only admiring Tibbs, but in love with an Italian woman.
Another focus is an interesting situation with the Wells head of police, Chief Gillespie. It is made clear that Gillespie is incompetent and has been hired because of his inexperience. The town council can in this way control the police force and pressure the chief to do their bidding, since his post is not too secure, and since he does not have the respect of the rest of the force. Plot-wise this allows Tibbs to handle the investigation as he sees fit, since Gillespie's involvement becomes minimal. An intelligent and conscientious officer would have taken on the investigation rather than be impressed by an outsider, black or white.The adverse effect of this element, however, is unfortunate. As intelligently as Tibbs is presented, the fact that the law enforcement of Wells, particularly its chief, is less than average, undermines Tibbs's own efforts. Simply put, Tibbs would be truly extraodinary had he managed to solve a murder that baffled a competent police force.
The novel is written through a problematic point of view. The third person is limited to three characters for the most part, Tibbs, Gillespie and Wood, with minor awkward interference from others. Most of the point of view rests with the white men, however, so that Tibbs, the character we should be following, is relegated to the role of outsider. Since he is the outsider in the town, it is as though the readers should be identifying themselves with the racist locals rather than the progressive Californian. Of course Ball was focusing not only on a standard who-dun-it plot, so that point of view had to be stretched out. Wood's point of view in particular is required in illustrating how ridiculous it is to judge a person by their skin colour, and his coming to terms with his own prejudice is important to the novel and the genre. Moreover, by relegating Tibbs's investigation to second-tier focus, Ball is able to withhold evidence that Tibbs uncovers early on, and springing it at the reader at specific points in the text. On one end this gives the novel an artificial feel, while on another it increases drama and allows the mystery to maintain its weight against the book's important and inherent social commentary....more
The Suicide Club is a triptych of individual narratives focusing on separate characters, while interlinkFor my full review, please visit Casual Debris
The Suicide Club is a triptych of individual narratives focusing on separate characters, while interlinking a single main plot. The concept is excellent, though Stevenson's aim is adventure rather than mystery or moral conundrum, both of which are serious potential avenues. To the modern reader this is unfortunate, since the strengths of each of these stories is the heightened suspense and mystery. Despite the emphasis on adventure, the three tales are nonetheless enjoyable and certainly well written.
Since each story has a stronger third, it might be interesting to re-visit this work and create a version that begins with the Hansom Cab, continues with the Cream Tarts, and finished with the Saratoga Trunk. Of course there would be no resolution to the main plot, but even Stevenson rushed his own resolution via an odd decision. The final conflict, a dual between our Bohemian prince and the president of the Suicide Club, is presented away from the action, with two minor characters waiting to know who comes up victorious. Potentially tense, the scene lacks suspense as it is brief, not to mention that it is obvious which party will come out victorious, and which will fall at the blade of the sword...more
The literary myth surrounding Marie Belloc Lowndes's most famous work is that it stemmed from a dinner party conversation. Someone reported that they knew of a former cook and butler who temporarily housed the Whitechapel Murderer, today better known as Jack the Ripper. First published in 1911, just under a quarter of a century after the infamous crimes, Lowndes's novel reflects an interest in that particular scenario and hence does not focus primarily on its titular character. Instead, it focuses on the aging and struggling couple and their strained relationship more than it does on the crimes and the killer. This is to the novel's benefit, as the tense relationship does more to enhance the murders than would any amount of blood.
Moreover, the work acts as an interesting position on the actual crimes: it was written early enough to have avoided the modern Ripper canon, so that there are more murders attributed to the moniker. It also appeared at a time when censorship prohibited any kind of accurate description of the Ripper's brutal slayings. No dismembered corpses and displaced organs; just a little bit of blood.
Lowndes's prose is gaslit: dark and hazy, tight and claustrophobic. Immediately the gloom is established, the room cozy yet in a "grimy" London neighbourhood, where the focus on our heroes is in light of their poverty. Effective too is the contrast between husband and wife: Mr. Bunting is "leaning back in a deep leather arm-chair," while Mrs. Bunting is "sitting up in an uncomfortable straight-backed chair." This contrast is important as it accurately delineates the characters, and might as well be describing how they are settled within their own skins. Whereas Mr. Bunting is mostly relaxed and easy-going, Mrs. Bunting is a ball of anxiety. It is she who first suspects that their Lodger might be the Avenger, and she clutches at this secret though it makes her incredibly tight and wound up, bordering on a nervous breakdown. Mr. Bunting only suspects their lodger fairly late in the narrative, and while he too becomes unbearably nervous, it is clear that his wife has the strongest sensibility and is better able to cope with the anxieties, though unfortunately she releases steam by snapping at her devoted ans sensitive husband.
Mrs. Bunting can come across as unlikeable in her extreme treatment of her easygoing husband, yet there is the understanding that this side of her is a result of the stresses of poverty, heightened by the suspicion she is housing a serial murderer. Most interesting in her characterization is an instinctive, irrational need in the early part of the text to defend her lodger. While part of this is denial that Mr. Sleuth is a killer, there is a side of her that feels compelled to protect the man. Having been servant and servient throughout her career, she harbours a sense of responsibility to the man whose basic household needs she is catering to. All this despite the guilt--and in this she is guilty--of allowing the Avenger to commit more murders. In protecting his identity she is an accomplice to the deaths that occur during his stay at her home. An unlikeable character who is accomplice to murder makes for a unique protagonist, and this heightens the novel both in interest and in complexity.
For my review of the individual stories, please visit Casual Debris.
The January 1969 issue of AHMM replaces the usual "Alfred Hitchcock" introductionFor my review of the individual stories, please visit Casual Debris.
The January 1969 issue of AHMM replaces the usual "Alfred Hitchcock" introduction with a colourful "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year." Moreover, the usual signature at the end of each story (at least when there's space to print it) is now encircled by a yuletide wreath. Moreover, inside is a full page subscription offer at the "Christmas Gift Rate" of $6.00 (which I can't place in proper context as I was not yet alive). I can, however, compare it to the current annual subscription rate of $34.97 USD (or $49.97 if, like me, you live in a foreign land). That is quite the Chritmas Gift Rate, and I'm tempted to fill it out and send it in to see the response, but I wouldn't want to damage the (browning) issue and certainly not that page add printed all in (of course) green.
Overall the issue is quite good with only one flop (Edwin P. Hicks's "Chaviski's Christmas"), and while there are no spectacular stories, there are some good ones. My favourite is Jack Ritchie's "Dropout" (though I tend to be partial to his shorts), but I also like those by Richard Deming, Miel Tanburn and the issue's novelette by Ed Lacy. What highlights this issue is the variety: two quick shorts with surprise endings, some private investigators, criminal protagonists, some humour, a serial killer and even a UFO....more
The 22 November 1957 edition of The Spectator blurbs that Lady Killer is a "readable" crime novel featuFor my full review, please visit Casual Debris.
The 22 November 1957 edition of The Spectator blurbs that Lady Killer is a "readable" crime novel featuring "yet another mild-mannered man" in a work that adds "little to what Mr. Iles did, once and for all, in Malice Aforethought." I'm not familiar with Francis Iles's novel, though it appears to hold up well, while William Hardy's Lady Killer seems to have been immortalized in lukewarm a Spectator review blurb. In fact, I had to manually add the novel to Goodreads where it did not yet exist, though a small number of little-read Hardy works do (intermingling, incidentally, with other books written by other William Hardies).
In Lady Killer, mild-mannered Earl Borstleman decides, on his fortieth birthday to kill his wife. As a mathematician he feels he can, via the supreme logic afforded by his intellect, produce a perfect crime. With some pondering, both patient and impatient, he settles on a plan to confuse the crime amid others, to essentially kill five unrelated women in his college town, and insert wife into victim slot number three. Conveniently, a bright student, a recent returnee from the Korean War, would fit in nicely to take the fall for the crimes, and Prof. Borstleman could live happily in his little OCD world.
The flaws in the novel are numerous, yet as the reviewer of The Spectator pointed out over half a century ago, it is readable. Quick, somewhat enjoyable, somewhat interesting. Utterly flawed....more
Moore's second novel, currently bookended by Anagrams and A Gate at the Stairs, is a short work that reads like a memoir, a narrator's personal guide through a specific time in her life. The narrator is on vacation in Paris in the midst of a seemingly failed marriage, and interspersed with brief conversations with and thoughts of her husband, hearkens back to a summer in the 1970s during which she was obsessed with popular best friend Sils.
The work focuses on the relationship, the narrator's insecurities and very much on the decade. Though it is well written (very well written), it is lacking. The plot is incidental and awakens late in the work, which generates an uneven read. (Ironically, this is one of the threads running through Moore's famous short story "How to Become a Writer.") The ending is rushed and acts as an epilogue which makes me wonder if it is even necessary. I would have liked to have been left in the uncertainty of the past as mirrored by the uncertainty of the present, as the two narratives should coincide. But it's not my work.
While I did not care much for the work as a novel, it is a fast read and worthy of a read for Ms. Moore's writing skills are impressive. The characters are solid and real, and the small town universe they live in is constructed with great care.
The main plot and its related threads begin well into the novel, as protagonist Ned Dunsta3.5/5 or 7/10 For my full review, please visit Casual Debris.
The main plot and its related threads begin well into the novel, as protagonist Ned Dunstan returns to his home town of Edgerton, Illinois, sensing that his mother is in danger. In Edgerton he takes on the task of discovering his father's identity, a man seemingly obsessed with Lovecraft to the point that he believes his works are fact. Over the course of a few days, Ned is being pursued by a dark entity he refers to as Mr. X, meets his doppelgänger, gets to know his eccentric family while learning their many secrets, and discovers that he has some latent supernatural powers. Amid all this he finds the time to fall in love with the wife of one of the town's wealthier and more influential personages, and thereby becomes embroiled in town affairs. A busy man, this is a busy novel to keep any character occupied.
The novel contains a general mix of family mystery, the supernatural, Lovecraft parody and some horror violence to transcend genre (it is a supernatural horror mystery, with strong elements of family drama along with small town life, which Straub presents with great realism). The novel is complex in both genre and plot, its mystery quite enmeshed in detail, and is quite a fascinating read on many levels....more
Among the visual art and poetry, Bete Noire 16 offers four short stories. Though mostly a For my full review of each story, please visit Casual Debris.
Among the visual art and poetry, Bete Noire 16 offers four short stories. Though mostly average stories, Jeremy Lloyd Beck's "The Devils of Somerset, Mississippi" is good while Tobacco Jones's "Eyes of the Dog" is by far the strongest piece....more