"I shouldn't put real people into a novel and manipulate them for the sake of a story. It's not right."
So thinks Josephine Tey in this book. I wonder"I shouldn't put real people into a novel and manipulate them for the sake of a story. It's not right."
So thinks Josephine Tey in this book. I wonder what Nicola Upson was thinking when she wrote that.
This is one of the stranger mysteries I've read. Taken purely as a mystery, it's very good: well-written (although Upson needs to learn the difference between "that" and "which"—unfortunately, copy editors are a thing of the past), well-plotted (with a nice twist at the end), and full of interesting characters and scenes. However, she goes farther than any other author I've ever read in blurring the distinction between fact and fiction. Using real people (long dead, in most cases) as fictional characters has become commonplace in detective fiction, but consider this:
"Josephine Tey" was one of the pen names used by Elizabeth Mackintosh (1896–1952), who wrote plays and detective novels. She never used the name except on her books, and no one ever called her by it, but in this book it's the only name she has. She was friends with Margaret and Sophie Harris, who with a third woman formed the theatrical design firm called Motley. "Motley" plays a large part in this book, but the owners are sisters named Ronnie and Lettice Motley, who have a cousin who happens to be a Scotland Yard detective. The detective is also a friend of Tey's, and he does the real sleuthing in the story. The plot is bound up in a series of murders from the turn of the century which were, once again, real: a woman named Amelia Sach, in association with another woman, killed an unknown number of illegitimate infants. In this book, Amelia Sach is a leading character, as are her husband, daughter, and maid—but the other characters have been given fictional names and fictional fates. Upson has spun an elaborate fictional web out of some real people.
It all amounts to fiction developed out of shards of truth, and I wonder about the ethics of that. It seems unfair to the real people involved, who would surely have been indignant about having themselves manipulated for the sake of a story (see quote above). Upson clearly has no qualms, because she's continued to write "Josephine Tey" mysteries. And I will probably read them, because this one was absorbing and entertaining. But I can't help wishing that she'd allowed her imagination free rein and fictionalized the real characters as well as the ones she invented.
SPOILER ALERT, DO NOT CONTINUE IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK: One thing bothered me. When Marjorie Baker went to visit Ethel Stuke, why didn't she simply show her the photo and ask if the woman in question really was Celia Bannerman?...more
This sounded like an enjoyable listen: cosmopolitan Shanghai in the 1930s, which I'd heard was a glamorous and exciting place. But Taras Grescoe's booThis sounded like an enjoyable listen: cosmopolitan Shanghai in the 1930s, which I'd heard was a glamorous and exciting place. But Taras Grescoe's book lacks focus. The title led me to expect a tale of the foreign colony in Shanghai. It's partly that, but it's also a great deal about the American writer Emily (Mickey) Hahn, whose columns for The New Yorker and the books that came out of them were very popular, and Victor Sassoon, a British businessman who owned, among other properties, the Cathay Hotel (the "Shanghai Grand" of the title).
If the book has a focus, it's on Hahn, but she doesn't even appear until Part Two, and Grescoe often drops her to write about other people and events. At least her backstory is presented coherently; Sassoon's is confusingly fragmented and events are repeated several times. Most critically, though, is that none of these colorful characters ever come to life, because Grescoe seldom quotes them. In the case of someone like Sassoon, whose literary output was limited to telegraphic entries in a diary, that is no loss, but Hahn was a prolific and lively writer. We get excerpts of her letters to family, but none of what made her a famous and popular writer. Her lover, Zhau Sinmay (the so-called "forbidden love" of the subtitle) was a poet, but we never hear him in his own voice. Nor do we hear from the novelists, playwrights, and many journalists who formed a large part of Shanghai's foreign colony.
Christine Marshall's reading suggests that she is an inexperienced narrator: she is over-expressive, as though she felt that she ought to be "contributing" something to the auditory experience, and she sometimes gives the impression that she didn't read the book before recording it. (For instance, when Grescoe writes that someone walking down a street in Shanghai "would have seen" something, she stresses "would" as though it meant "might.")...more
A partial return to form after two disappointing books. My main beef (potential spoiler) is that the killer is introduced early in the book in a way tA partial return to form after two disappointing books. My main beef (potential spoiler) is that the killer is introduced early in the book in a way that is unrelated to Chen's investigation, and plays no real part in it until Chen begins to suspect him. By then we are hardly surprised.
Two more complaints about this series in general. First, although it's supposed to take place in the mid-1990s, the technology is that of a decade later, when Qiu wrote the books. Cell phones and the Internet were not ubiquitous in the West in the mid-90s, let alone China. Secondly, the publisher really needs to hire someone to edit Qiu's English. There are too many clunkers ("depravation" for "depravity," "self-depreciating" for "self-deprecating," etc.)....more
The weakest of the first four Inspector Chen books. Hardly even counts as a mystery, and Qiu is badly in need of an editor to polish his clumsy EnglisThe weakest of the first four Inspector Chen books. Hardly even counts as a mystery, and Qiu is badly in need of an editor to polish his clumsy English ("More suspicions barged into his mind")....more
Not as good as the first two, but an interesting read nonetheless.
One problem I have with Qiu is that he is a terribly earnest writer with no sense ofNot as good as the first two, but an interesting read nonetheless.
One problem I have with Qiu is that he is a terribly earnest writer with no sense of humor whatsoever. At the end of this book there's a scene that, in other hands, would have been played as comic—Chen, the detective, overhears a phone conversation in which someone who had always been friendly to him calls him a prig. Not only does Qiu not see the humor in that, but Chen's reaction doesn't reveal anything new or interesting about him. ...more
I'm going to be generous and give this four stars, although I have so many problems with the ultimate explanation for the murder that I should reallyI'm going to be generous and give this four stars, although I have so many problems with the ultimate explanation for the murder that I should really give it less. But I enjoyed reading it, for the most part.
While Cormoran Strike is a reasonably well-drawn character, Robin is not. The writing is rather pedestrian. But I will probably give the next book in the series a try.
Warning: the rest of this review reveals the name of the killer and other details about the murder.
My biggest problem with the book is that I don't understand why the killer would hire a detective to investigate when he'd already gotten away with it. I've looked through some of the reviews and a discussion thread and read some explanations, but none of them work for me. If John was really worried about Tony, he just would have done what he'd already done three times before: kill. Strike said repeatedly that he was worried that there would be further killings.
Also, why didn't John destroy Rochelle's phone? He put it in his mother's safe—why? He'd been careful to delete the photos of Rochelle on Lula's computer, but he kept highly incriminating evidence? It makes no sense.
This was my introduction to this series, and I will be reading more. It's a bit different from the American and British mysteries I usually read: theThis was my introduction to this series, and I will be reading more. It's a bit different from the American and British mysteries I usually read: the pace is slower, more contemplative, and a great deal of its interest lies in the detailed portrayal of life in early 1990s China.
Chief Inspector Chen is a rising star in the Shanghai police department—favored by the political elite, despite his liberal leanings. He studied English in college and writes poetry. In this book, he is assigned to look after a U.S. marshal who has come to escort a Chinese woman to the United States to join her husband, an illegal immigrant who has agreed to testify against the gangsters who transported him overseas. Unfortunately, the woman disappears, and Chen and Catherine Rohn (the marshal) have to find her before the gangsters do.
Don't choose this book for an action-packed adventure, or you'll be disappointed. But if you're interested in life in modern China and don't mind some poetry and philosophizing thrown in, by all means give it a chance....more
I've read all of Hornby's novels, and this one struck me as sightly under par. It lacked focus: despite the title, it'sI'd really give this 3.5 stars.
I've read all of Hornby's novels, and this one struck me as sightly under par. It lacked focus: despite the title, it's not really about Sophie, but about the group of people who created her first sitcom. Also, it kind of petered out.
After the sitcom comes to an end and Sophie and Dennis get together, there's nowhere for the book to go. So Hornby pulls the rug out from under it and skips to the present, gathering the survivors together for a reunion. He handles it very well, but I still finished the book wondering what it was supposed to be about.
Actually, I think Hornby was trying to wring some fictional profit from his years writing screenplays. (I wish he'd stop and stick with novels.) The contrast between "old" and "new" Britain, first in the sixties and now in the 21st century, is interesting, but it's not at the heart of the book. I'll read almost anything Hornby writes, but I'm still not sure what he was after in this book....more
Like so many books today, this one would have been better at one-third the length. Victoria Wilson seems less to have written it than to have slappedLike so many books today, this one would have been better at one-third the length. Victoria Wilson seems less to have written it than to have slapped together all her notes. In the process, her subject gets rather lost. Barbara Stanwyck is a fascinating subject—a superb actress and a mostly admirable woman who led an interesting life—but Wilson is skittish about coming to grips with her. She'd rather inundate us with facts than ask what they meant. If you're a diehard fan of old Hollywood, you might enjoy all the trivia, but it's all so scattered that you're more likely just to give up. It took me months to get through this book because it was so exasperating. 860 pages of text (not counting footnotes, index, etc.) and it ends when Stanwyck is just 33....more