Moore and O’Neill’s side story about Captain Nemo’s daughter is a refreshing addition to the League world. The art continues in its spindly glory, witMoore and O’Neill’s side story about Captain Nemo’s daughter is a refreshing addition to the League world. The art continues in its spindly glory, with cool Victoriana and vast expanses of ice. In this episode, Nemo’s daughter travels in a Lovecraftian hellscape hidden in Antarctica. These comics always make me feel like I should have read more literature....more
Another winner from British SF master John Wyndam. The Kraken Wakes imagines an invasion of the Deep parts of our ocean by a malevolent force from theAnother winner from British SF master John Wyndam. The Kraken Wakes imagines an invasion of the Deep parts of our ocean by a malevolent force from the outer solar system (Neptune? Jupiter? I can't remember). After they settle in and start mucking around down there, they show that they were up to no good by destroying our sea lanes and ships, melting the ice caps, murdering people who live on the coast, and generally trying to extinguish us. It's a dark story, but pretty good. A few thoughts:
- As in Day of the Triffids, Wyndam focuses as much on the stupidity and terrible choices humans make in the face of bad events. The slow burn of Kraken lets Wyndam explore how governments fail to respond to real problems, how we hand-wave and avoid the truth of the thing until it's too late to stop. If this book weren't written in 1953, I would suggest it's a parable about Global Warming. Hell, you should read it that way just 'cuz.
- There's truly horrifying and awesome moment in the book when the creatures have begun invading the land, driving up in egg-shaped "tanks" and deploying sticky tentacles that collect organic matter into compressed, writhing, screaming balls. These then roll into the ocean and, presumably, down to the deeps. One character suggests that it's the monstrous equivalent of shrimping. I was particularly horrified until I thought of Katamari Damancy and its rolled-up balls of stuff. When you roll a person into the ball in that game, they wiggle and scream--and it's funny. Poor bastards.
- My favorite part of the book is the poor scientist who sees it all coming. Each time he suggests that something is happening, people call him a fool and ignore his advice. Then, when the thing he predicted has come to pass and they're trying to deal with it, he suggests something else and they call him a fool again. He compares himself to Cassandra, and is right.
A little slow at parts -- not the cracking thriller that Day of the Triffids is--but a good book nonetheless....more
Goldsborough does a fantastic job channeling the witty and snappily-dressed Archie Goodwin as he becomes the sidekick of Nero Wolfe through a couple kGoldsborough does a fantastic job channeling the witty and snappily-dressed Archie Goodwin as he becomes the sidekick of Nero Wolfe through a couple keen cases involving kidnapping, ransom, and gunplay. A solid story, definitely worth reading for Nero Wolfe fans....more
A pretty solid end to the dramatic tale of the Bard’s characters come to live and fighting one another. Nothing too surprising in the way the characteA pretty solid end to the dramatic tale of the Bard’s characters come to live and fighting one another. Nothing too surprising in the way the characters act, but having all of Shakespeare’s characters in one world, bringing their motivations from the plays into the single text, works well....more
Like many detective stories of the era (and still being written today), Raffles is told by an admiring sidekick, someone who knows the hero but isn’tLike many detective stories of the era (and still being written today), Raffles is told by an admiring sidekick, someone who knows the hero but isn’t able to see inside that big brain of theirs. In many ways, Hornung’s story works much like a Sherlock Holmes story would, if Holmes were a cat burglar rather than a detective. A few thoughts:
In the early stories, Raffles appears to just enjoy burgling for its own thrill, and only steals from the obscenely wealthy to maintain his own wealthy position. In those stories, it’s easy to like the charming Cricketeer. But later stories reveal Raffles to have an appalling amorality, something the narrator (whom Raffles calls ‘Bunny’) continually reacts to, though usually by saying “I don’t like this,” and then going along with it anyhow. I like the slow development of the tenacious detective who tracks and baffles Raffles. It adds tension at just the right moment when the stories were getting a bit repetitive. The story reveals some of the pressure on the upper class, as Raffles and Bunny both resort to crime in order to maintain their good standing, as being poor (or rather, letting others know you’re poor) is just about the worst thing that can happen to them. I also like how ‘Bunny’ continually puts his foot in it because Raffles hasn’t clued him into the plan. SPOILER: There’s one case in particular where Raffles switches a forgery for a valuable painting, and then Bunny, thinking Raffles has failed to steal the painting at all, chloroforms the victim and steals the forgery. Several of the capers have amusing or interesting twists that helps them hold up even for a modern reader, or at least for a modern reader who enjoys turn-of-the-twentieth century writing.
Kristen Hughes does a great job with the narration of this book for Librivox. I’ll definitely be looking for more books from her....more
Volume 3 of the League has lurched into the challenging territory that most long-running Alan Moore comics wander, a kind of self-imposed inscrutabiliVolume 3 of the League has lurched into the challenging territory that most long-running Alan Moore comics wander, a kind of self-imposed inscrutability in which narrative threads become so entangled that the reader struggles to find purchase. If I’d only read the first twenty pages of this 80 pager, I would probably have been pretty disappointed. But then things snap into place and the end of the whole project is pretty darn entertaining. Moore has to be a bit more opaque about how he brings new literature into the story, but let’s just say at one point the League wanders through a wall between two platforms at a train station. Oh yes....more
Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy story about the adventures of Captain John Carter (of Virginia) among the six-limbed people of Mars is a rousing adventurEdgar Rice Burroughs fantasy story about the adventures of Captain John Carter (of Virginia) among the six-limbed people of Mars is a rousing adventure in the old style, with tales of derring-do, sword fights, honor, and villainy. Carter, succombing to a wound in a mystical cave in the American West, finds himself transported to Mars, where he falls in with a vicious warrior race (the Green men of Mars) and discovers the love of his life, a beautiful princess (of the Red men of Mars). Because he was raised in the heavy gravity well of Earth, Carter has immense strength on Mars, making him a formidable warrior. A few thoughts:
Having just read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, I was particularly sensitive to this book's depiction of the Native Americans in the West as vicious killers. "John Carter," I thought to myself, "you're trespassing on their land!" Of course, it's not hard to read the two peoples of Mars as analogous to the two populations in nineteenth century America. Burroughs depicts the green men of Mars as vicious killers living in a society based on violence and Communist ideas. He explicitly explains their nomadic existence as a degradation due to their unwillingness to work hard. By contrast, the Red men live in cities and do the essential work of maintaining the oxygen supply of Mars, without which everyone would die. (I can't help wondering how creatures requiring an oxygen-rich environment evolved in such a place, but Burroughs doesn't go into that. In fact, his suggestion that high civilizations from thousands of years ago had fallen away and left remnants all over the planet reminds me of a tale of far-future Earth, in which (perhaps) water purifying plants provide the only uncontaminated water in the world, or something like that. There are quite a few science-fictional elements in the novels: hovering ships, rifles that can shoot two miles, bombs, shells that explode when sunlight touches their powder, and an air-refinery that services the whole planet. Also? Everyone on Mars is psychic, including John Carter. But while he can hear their thoughts, he can neither send them actively nor be heard by anyone passively. The life cycle of the Green Men is incredibly slow. Eggs are laid only once every five years, and they are left in sealed remote buildings. After an additional five years, the tribe returns to break open the building and let out the hatchlings, who will have just hatched. They are collected into families at random without-- we're supposed to gasp-- any idea who their blood parents are. John Carter suggests that this random parenting process creates the loveless violence that plagues the Green men. At the same time, the green men have a habit of destroying any opposing incubators they find in their wanderings, thus cutting off another tribe's young for at least five years. It's a particularly grim aspect of the Green Men's culture, and one of the ways Burroughs helps highlight their vile nature. Last, A Princess of Mars is a classic white messiah fable. John Carter shows up among the green men and turns out to be a better warrior than any of them are. Then he leads them to a civilized detante with the Red Men of Mars and teaches them about love and caring and friendship. What a guy!
Mark Nelson does a great job once again, though something about his vocal styling tends to add an air of humor that I suspect some lines weren't supposed to have. That said, I'm continuing to enjoy my journey through Mark Nelson's audio catalog on Librivox....more
Brown’s history the years between 1850 and 1900 (or thereabouts) documents the brutal genocide of band after band of Native Americans (whom the book cBrown’s history the years between 1850 and 1900 (or thereabouts) documents the brutal genocide of band after band of Native Americans (whom the book calls Indians as was common in 1970) by whites who wanted the land they occupied. It’s a difficult read, but a crucial one for anyone who values a deep and complex understanding of the past as part of an understanding of the present and the future. A few thoughts:
- By the halfway point in the book, even the most dense reader will have uncovered the pattern: 1. Whites arrive in an area occupied by a band of Native Americans, demand a piece of the land for their own. The band either agrees or fights. If they fight, the whites kill them mercilessly, or bring in bigger and bigger military forces until they can. In the treaty for the land, whites promise rations and annual payments in exchange for the land the band gives up. 2. Whites fail to deliver the rations and/or payments that were promised. Often, new settlers in the region begin encroaching on the reservations for mining, hunting, or general settlement. If the Native Americans react to these violations in any way, they’re blamed and held solely responsible. 3. Whites decide they want the reservation land too, and send “peace commissions” to negotiate further sales of the limited land. Return to step 1. Brown writes the book from the Native American perspective, using language like ‘pony soldiers’ for cavalry and ‘one star chief SoandSo.’ This distinct style choice continually reminds the reader of the perspective and experience being documented. - The sheer volume of tribes on whom the land grab / extermination was practiced is grueling and mind-numbing to contemplate. By the end of the book, it’s painful to continue reading. Sometimes well-intentioned individuals managed to scrape together reasonably solid situations for the tribes for whom they mediated, so the reader could foster hope for a moment. But inevitably, other individuals driven by greed, arrogance, and a system that favored whites over natives in every way upset these situations, driving the Native Americans mercilessly until they rebelled, and then bringing in the Army to kill them. - I was particularly sad to read the chapters on Minnesota, as I’d learned nothing of the treachery my ancestors brought along when they settled the land of 10,000 lakes. The particular brand of betrayal we used was to persuade natives to settle on reservations and promise to give them rations and money in annual installments, then forget or refuse to pay them the rations and money. Then, when they got mad about being lied to, my ancestors killed them. As I said above, this happened in nearly every encounter between White Americans and Native Americans. But somehow, I wanted to think Minnesota was different. Of course, many places in the state are named after the men and peoples they killed: Shakopee, Wabasha, Minnetonka. - Two “fun facts” I’ll take away from this book are: 1. The Native Americans who encountered George Custer (a particularly brutal military leader who well-deserved what he got at Little Big Horn) called him “Hard Backsides” because he could ride for hours without a break. 2. Sitting Bull received a trick pony from Buffalo Bill Cody after he toured with Cody’s Wild West Show. The pony was trained to sit down and raise one hoof at the sound of a gun shot. When Sitting Bull was killed in a scuffle that triggered the massacre at Wounded Knee, his horse performed its trick right on the field next to the dying Chief.
Two books came to mind as I read this history. First, Jared Gardner’s Guns, Germs, and Steel helps explain the historical accidents that gave some cultures (Western Europe, particularly) a leg up in the technological race that determined the outcome of so many battles. But it doesn’t explain the attitude that accompanies them, the idea of ownership and conquest that drive the people who arrived from North America and proceeded to murder the people already living there.
Second, Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael suggests that the modern world has been swept, in the last 5,000 years or so, by the mindset of the takers rather than that of the sharers (it’s been a long time since I read that book, so forgive me if I’m using the wrong language here). He suggests that the equilibrium developed by many societies hinged on an idea of shared ownership and communion with the land, but that this perspective conflicted with the new perspective of takers, who believe in ownership and dominion over the land. This latter perspective fosters greed, etc, and also provides an incentive to overwhelm one’s neighbors. The clashes in North America and Australia represent two of the more recent encounters between takers and sharers, with the takers brutally sweeping the sharers aside.
I also can’t help but notice what a strong role the belief in religious superiority had in shaping the white political and military actions. (Usually greed was the first role, with miners and settlers encroaching on land the government had already ceded to the Native Americans.) Usually the whites believed their Christian views gave them moral superiority–even the “manifest destiny”–from which they could decide the fates of the tribes with whom they dealt. It also gave them the justification to punish the tribes who had come to live on reservations. Often, almost immediately after the tribes had given up their land, their agents and the legislators who funded them resented the “handouts” they had to give the reservation residents, conveniently forgetting that these were not charity, but payment owed for land purchased. Already by the 1880s, the U.S. was welching on its debts.
The big question, for me, is not how we can recuperate these moments, as we’ve tried to do with films like Dances with Wolves or Avatar (the latter of which strikes me as a science-fictional Native American revenge fantasy--despite being tainted with the White Messiah plotline–-that should be shelved right next to Inglourious Basterds at the video store). Instead, I would like to know how we can move forward while both accepting that our culture is built on that horror, and acknowledging that no individual should be punished for the sins of his/her parents. That said, the systemic poverty on reservations stems directly from the actions of the government and its agents in the years since the treaties were signed.
This isn’t a question I have a satisfying answer to yet, I’m afraid....more
When Spargo, the reporter for the Watchman, happens upon a man who has just found a dead body, he stumbles into a shocking story of murder and intriguWhen Spargo, the reporter for the Watchman, happens upon a man who has just found a dead body, he stumbles into a shocking story of murder and intrigue in the heart of the wealthy (and presumed safe) Middle Temple neighborhood. A few thoughts:
- Unlike a lot of mysteries from this era, the inspector at New Scotland Yard (Rathburn) is neither excessively antagonistic toward the reporter/detective nor is he excessively incompetent. Instead, he and Spargo work the case in tandem, sharing vital clues as they uncover them. Of course Spargo, our intrepid protagonist, gets out ahead of most everyone on the case. - Also like many stories of the era, the connections between people grow fast and furious. In particular, the book seems concerned with changed identities and the hauntings of the past. - My biggest complaint is how easy Spargo has it in his investigation. Each time he goes somewhere to look for something, as with the rural town where he goes to learn the history of an object he finds, the exact person or object he needs is there waiting for him. He also has a 100% success rate in seeding information in the paper and getting accurate results from it. - The mystery itself holds up throughout the book, neither too obvious nor outrageous. Alas, like many such stories, the novel withholds the key piece of information until the end. Fortunately, the narrative wasn't contrived so that the hero uncovered the clue but hid it from us (as at the end of nearly every novel in the Hamish Macbeth series). - I can't help but wonder if J.S. Fletcher inspired the writer who created Angela Lansbury's famous English teacher turned novelist, J.B. Fletcher. Seems likely!
The Librivox recording of this book is good, but not great. Some of the readers are excellent, while some stumble a bit or have mediocre sound quality. None of the accents was too overwhelming, but the multiple author format does take some getting used to.
Overall, a solid classic mystery. Enjoyable but not amazing....more
It’s a good year when you read at least one Wodehouse book, and it’s even better when the book is narrated by Mark Nelson, perhaps my favorite narratoIt’s a good year when you read at least one Wodehouse book, and it’s even better when the book is narrated by Mark Nelson, perhaps my favorite narrator after Scott Brick (and perhaps Neil Gaiman). In the usual Wodehouse mode, The Intrusion of Jimmy follows the adventures of a clever, quick-witted protagonist who keeps his cool in the face of ever-expanding chaos among the upper crust in England and America. In this particular case, our intrepid hero stumbles into trouble when he is discovered burgling a flat on a bet. It’s a good ride — not quite up to Jeeves and Wooster standards, but pretty close. At least as good as The Indiscretions of Archie. A few thoughts:
- Wodehouse loves giving fair-minded and capable people generous luck rolls. This novel sets up its denouement with a bit of silliness, but nothing too outrageous. There’s a fair amount of coincidence in the way characters bounce off one another, but that’s to the best. - One of the themes in the novel is the making-heroic of gentlemen thieves, whom Jimmy is imitating in the burgling incident I mentioned above. His interactions with the average house-breaker are particularly funny, as his plain assertion that he’s a master cracksman assuages all doubts in the mind of his less-astute counterpart. - This novel also epitomizes Wodehouse’s belief (or tendency) to hang people on their own petards. Whereas Bertie Wooster always ended up in trouble because he dug his own holes, but he never ended up in serious straights because he never did anyone serious harm, the characters in this novel come closer to just desserts, quite enjoyably. - The biggest downside to all the Wodehouse I’ve read thus far is that women usually play very little role in moving the action of the story forward. In this case, there are only two female characters with speaking parts, and only one of them appears more than a couple times. While she does help decide things, we see little of the story from her point of view, and she’s pretty wishy-washy about the whole thing. If anyone has read a Wodehouse book that gives a lady the helm, please let me know. - As always, the highlight of the novel are the hilarious turns of phrase Wodehouse employs. Two favorites from the end of the novel were thus: At one point, Jimmy sees someone in handcuffs and asks whether there’s a parlor game afoot. The other comes from a few minutes later, when Jimmy has convinced the detective to release his prisoner, but the detective realizes that the prisoner–a stout man with a history of violence–will be quite angry over the false arrest. “The detective looked uneasily at Mr. McEachern. There were indications in the policeman’s demeanor that the moment following release would be devoted exclusively to a carnival of violence, with a certain sleuth-hound playing a prominent role.”
As funny as Jimmy is, though, the winner for Wodehousian dialogue goes to Lord Dreever, a wispy man who calls himself “a bit of an ass”. I like it so much that I’m including his speech about men, both what kind of man he is and what kind he is not:
“You see, dear old top—I mean, sir, you see, it’s like this. As far as women are concerned, fellers are divided into two classes. There’s the masterful, capable Johnnies, and the—er—the other sort. Now, I’m the other sort. My idea of the happy married life is to be—well, not exactly downtrodden, but—you know what I mean—kind of second fiddle. I want a wife—” his voice grew soft and dreamy—”who’ll pet me a good deal, don’t you know, stroke my hair a lot, and all that. I haven’t it in me to do the master-in-my-own-house business. For me, the silent-devotion touch. Sleeping on the mat outside her door, don’t you know, when she wasn’t feeling well, and being found there in the morning and being rather cosseted for my thoughtfulness. That’s the sort of idea. Hard to put it quite O. K., but you know the sort of thing I mean. A feller’s got to realize his jolly old limitations if he wants to be happy though married, what? Now, suppose Miss McEachern was to marry me! Great Scott, she’d be bored to death in a week. Honest! She couldn’t help herself. She wants a chap with the same amount of go in him that she’s got.”
A great book, as most of them have been so far. I highly recommend the Mark Nelson reading as well....more
Nero Wolfe doesn't like leaving his house. But when a rival orchid fancier brings a new hybrid "Black Orchid" to the New York Flower Show (or some sucNero Wolfe doesn't like leaving his house. But when a rival orchid fancier brings a new hybrid "Black Orchid" to the New York Flower Show (or some such), Wolfe overcomes his agoraphobia and leaves the brownstone, only to stumble onto a murder. The second tale in this slim volume involves a return of the orchids in another case, one where Wolfe investigates not for a fee, but out of some other motive (spite for the police?). A few thoughts:
- Like all Wolfe novels, Black Orchids works best for its snappy banter, the jostling between Wolfe and Goodwin, and the way people get both incensed and dissected under the detective's keen gaze. - The mysteries tend to focus mostly on method and motive, not a search for the suspect. This is the shape of most Wolfe mysteries -- he operates not in the vacuum of the police investigating a serial murder, but rather in the narrow window of the manor-house murder, where every suspect can fit into his drawing room at the same time. - While the novel included a little bit of the old team sneaking around town, I would have preferred more. Both of these stories involved fairly straightforward investigations by Archie and Saul, with only a little Cramer-baiting for flavor. = Two things about the era emerge from these stories: first, the simple pleasures of the 1940s. Archie and many others show up every day to see a pretty woman paddle her feet in a pond. I just don't see that plot point working very well today. Second, a wealthy manor house has all sorts of wild animals, including an orangutan and a big cat (panther? I don't remember). Again, this seems less likely now, though we do see the occasional pet tiger at Mike Tyson's place.
A fine entry in the Wolfe canon, eminently readable; perfect for a quick summer read....more
One of Bradbury's more famous short story collections, The Illustrated Man gathers a variety of classic RB tales, with several focusing on Mars and itOne of Bradbury's more famous short story collections, The Illustrated Man gathers a variety of classic RB tales, with several focusing on Mars and its settlement, and many others dancing around the science-fictional or the fantastic. Here's commentary on a few I like:
There are several stories that turn on the viciousness or uncontrolled wildness of children. "The Veld," "Zero Hour," and "The Playground" all imply that children have a brutal streak we don't like to think about. My favorite stories in the collection are those that ponder the life of the everyman in the world of the future. The best of these is "The Rocket," but almost as good are "The Highway" and "The Last Night of the World." Bradbury also likes to contemplate the vast terror of space itself, as in "Kaleidoscope" -- a story about men set adrift when their ship was hit by an asteroid, and the slowly fading radio contact they share. "No Particular Night or Morning" touches on some of the same themes. "Usher II" is perhaps the strangest story in the collection. Set in the same world as both the Mars stories and Fahrenheit 451, it tells of an eccentric oligarch who builds a replica of Poe's House of Usher, and fills it with traps from other Poe stories. An odd tale, but amusing. I have to say, though, I was disappointed not to see the story that provides the title of the conclusion become a tale in its own right--the adventures of the eponymous character on whom all the other stories take place was primed to be my favorite tale, at least until it turned out not to be told.
All in all, an excellent collection. The Illustrated Man solidly demonstrates why Bradbury has come to be seen as one of the grandfathers of modern science-fiction....more
When a spaceship lands and the locals all start acting weird, it’s up to secret government agents Sam, Mary, and their boss The Old Man to figure outWhen a spaceship lands and the locals all start acting weird, it’s up to secret government agents Sam, Mary, and their boss The Old Man to figure out what’s going on before things get out of control. Turns out the spaceship was full of mind-control slugs that ride people and control them, gaining full access to their memories as well as their bodies. As the slugs spread, Sam and the others must convince the government that the threat is real, and they must find a way to stop this insidious invasion. A few thoughts:
As a thought experiment — something Heinlein does very well in other novels like Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress– this novel works well. The novel leads us through many of the things we’d need to address if this sort of invasion occurred, and how we’d likely react. His innovation about “operation Bare Back” and “Operation Sun Tan” are particularly apt ideas — people must walk around in virtually no clothes in order to prove they aren’t carrying slugs. At the same time, unlike some authors who made a habit of writing a little less specifically, The Puppet Masters feels pretty dated in many of its assumptions about the future and attitudes about the present. Most striking is Sam’s way of speaking about women and relationships. The novel suggests a future in which women have a more equal role in society than they did in the fifties, but he has trouble imagining changes to general sexuality, such that Mary describes sex as the privilege of marriage when she offers it to Sam without that precondition. Shocking! Heinlein’s technological predictions fall pretty short as well. Like many SF novels of the 1950s, he imagines innovations in movement far outpacing innovations in communication. By the mid-2000s, The Puppet Masters imagines that we have colonized Venus and have been to Mars, we have flying cars, and spies have blue-tooth mobile phones and laser guns. But we still communicate through television and newspapers, with no indication of a wide-spread de-centered network. We had World War 3 and won it, but Russia is still Communist and still an enemy. It’s a zombie novel: From the cover, you might think this is a zombie novel, but it’s much closer to Invasion of the Body Snatchers than anything else. The Puppet Masters predates the Jack Finney novel by three years, but both concern themselves with the notion of an ideological invasion by something (Communism?) that changes a person without being evident. The possessed individuals can pass as normal folks, but they’re being controlled by a malevolent force, and they’re working against the rest of us. This type of story actually provides a bridge from the controlled-but-not-infectious narratives of Voodoo zombie stories to the infectious-but-uncontrolled chaos that started with Night of the Living Dead. The fifth-column aspect to the invasion carries a significant 1950s flavor. It’s not a zombie novel: At the same time, very few zombie stories allow for the rescue of the infected, and the slugs really change the dynamic of the narrative. The insensible aspect of most zombies is not in play here, and the coordinated efforts of the invading force make this more of a war film than a zombie film. If one uses “coordinated effort” as the key divisor to determine whether invasion/possession narratives ARE or ARE NOT zombie movies, both Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Slither would join The Puppet Masters outside the “Zombie movie” circle. This is in contrast to Night of the Creeps, for instance, in which the slugs just turn the people into zombies mindlessly infecting everyone around them. Ultimately, though, we don’t spend enough time with possessed people to have the uncanny sense that they are different than they usually are. The only part of the novel that aims for that aspect of the story is the early sequence in which Mary becomes the key alien spotter because she’s so attractive that all men react to her coquettishness, but the aliens don’t. Inhuman bastards.
This 1951 novel is a fine example of early Heinlein, with solid story telling and world building. It’s a bit dated, but enjoyable nonetheless....more
Another classic bit of noir fiction read for my mystery book club in December. Laura follows the mysterious murder mystery of the eponymous girl, founAnother classic bit of noir fiction read for my mystery book club in December. Laura follows the mysterious murder mystery of the eponymous girl, found with her head blown off in her apartment one Friday night. We see the story from several perspectives, told in reports, journals, police interviews, and more. The men in Laura’s life are particularly interesting, with the fawning fat cultural critic and novelist Waldo Lydecker snuggling up to the police detective and Laura’s meek dandy fiance Shelby obscuring evidence and making everything confusing. It’s a great read, with a solid story and good characters. A few thoughts:
I’ve seen the Otto Preminger film, of course, and enjoyed it immensely. I will need to go back and watch it again, now that I’ve read the book. I think the biggest shift will be Waldo, whose rotundity in the novel reminds me of Sidney Greenstreet, but who is played by Clifton Webb in the film. It was hard to blend these two images in my mind as I read the novel; instead, I found myself thinking of one or the other at any given time. Caspary’s writing pulses with life, bringing the different voices for the different characters out really strongly. Most distinct are, of course, Lydecker’s and McPherson’s (the detective). Lydecker has an erudite, metaphor-filled style, while McPherson has a straightforward style with manly metaphors reminiscent of Raymond Chandler. I’m definitely going to hang on to this book, both for the delightful writing and for its meta-conversation about detectives. I’ve included a few choice quotes (without commentary) below the break. Particularly interesting is the subtext of damage in Caspary’s book. Waldo’s experience as an intellectual superior surrounded by men who best him in physical attractiveness cultivated a resentment of beautiful women and a possessiveness of Laura that is really creepy. He’s the worst kind of man to put in the ‘friend zone’ I guess.
It’s a great mystery, well worth the read even if you’ve seen the movie. And if you haven’t seen the movie, get on that!...more
The provocative title of this burlesque novel is, I’m afraid, its most provocative part. Given that it was written in the 1940s, I suppose I shouldn’tThe provocative title of this burlesque novel is, I’m afraid, its most provocative part. Given that it was written in the 1940s, I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised. The G-String Murders follows the adventures of Gypsy Rose Lee, writing about herself, imagining a fictional string of murders in the burlesque house where she does her shows. The novel’s title refers to the article of clothing used to strangle the two strip-tease artists murdered in the course of the novel. A few thoughts:
In my mystery group, there was a fairly heated discussion about whether or not Craig Rice, another more established crime writer, actually wrote this novel, or if she consulted on it. Wikipedia says she mostly consulted. Either way, the authentic aspects of the burlesque theatre and its actors’ lives makes the novel work well, and provides solid evidence that Lee was heavily involved. As far as mysteries go, this novel isn’t much to thrill about. The end is pretty convoluted, and it felt like the author could have introduced any number of tiny facts at the end to explain the circumstances so that any of the suspects could have been the murderer. I also had trouble getting all that excited about the murder mystery aspect, perhaps because our narrator is mostly a bystander in the murder investigation: she’s there during the murders and the investigation, but she isn’t the detective, nor does she want to be. When the agent solving the crime isn’t the main character (nor is the main character involved at all, really) the story ceases to be a murder mystery in a lot of ways. The novel’s most positive aspect is its dialogue, which sings with with and humor, as well as giving a solid sense of how these ladies felt and interacted with one another. One member of our book group commented that this book works nicely for burlesque the same way The Sopranos worked for the mafia, as a way of reminding us that these stereotyped people working at a job not respected or understood by many were actually people with strong feelings and hopes for their lives. The lovely romance that develop between Alice and Mike, for instance, is pretty heartwarming.
It’s an okay novel, but ultimately I didn’t like it very much. Not recommended unless you’re really interested in the burlesque culture....more