**spoiler alert** It is a long time since I have been this disappointed by a book. I had read often of the charms of Raffles and of how it was the for**spoiler alert** It is a long time since I have been this disappointed by a book. I had read often of the charms of Raffles and of how it was the forerunner of the very modern villain as protagonist. I had read that with Raffles the reader was allowed to see the other side of crime and find at last how such things were really done.
I found instead a painfully adolescent book which reads like a Pythonesque parody of a homosocial best boys story. At no point did I feel that the author, let alone Raffles, actually knew much about crime. Nor did I believe that the author knew (or perhaps more accurately cared) about the ways in which actual detectives functioned. Indeed the only thing I was convinced that Hornung knew and cared about was cricket.
This first Raffles book is actually a collection of short stories of which the first is by far the most interesting since it sets out the circumstances of how and why Bunny decides to turn to a life of crime. Of course, Bunny does no such thing since he is, with a few exceptions, an reactor rather than an actor in these escapades. He and Raffles are no more and no less less upper middle-class wastrels. They have run through the money they inherited and make no attempt to actually earn any of their own. Indeed they despise and look down on anyone who works for a living. They even refuse to consider themselves working “rogues.” No, Raffles is an amateur rogue just as he is an amateur cricketer. They steal from those they despise and they betray the trust of those whose homes they stay in all the while providing themselves with lame justifications. Raffles lies to Bunny and Raffles betrays Bunny and in the end Raffles breaks Bunny’s heart not by leaving Bunny in lurch when finally the law catches up with them but by daring to find a woman more interesting than Bunny to spend time with.
The last story is apogee of the ridiculous as not a single person aboard the cruise ship is anything but a broadly drawn stereotype. Raffles and Bunny prove their lack of understanding of the law by accepting without question the right of a English police officer to serve an English arrest warrant on them as they sail the Mediterranean aboard a German ship.
In short, a book I found neither charming nor pleasant and one I would not recommend to anyone who enjoys a well crafted or a well written detective story. ...more
This book is, as the title indicates, a collection of Thorndyke’s cases. Freeman seems to be “trying out” different approaches to writing detective fiThis book is, as the title indicates, a collection of Thorndyke’s cases. Freeman seems to be “trying out” different approaches to writing detective fiction and so the cases vary from almost painfully complex to straightforward. The degree to which Jervis, and the reader, are included in the process of detection also varies from story to story. It would be tempting to presume that the more complex the method of crime the more the reader would be excluded from the ability to at least share in some of Thorndyke’s suspicions however this proves not to be the case. Although not all the stories are equally successful at mixing ingenuity and charm with serious detection this reader was left with the urge to immediate pick up the next Thorndyke book and start reading it. ...more
This story is not only surprisingly charming to the reader but also unexpectedly relevant to the contemporary fad for forensic procedurals. ThorndykeThis story is not only surprisingly charming to the reader but also unexpectedly relevant to the contemporary fad for forensic procedurals. Thorndyke seems, in many ways, to having been designed to be an interesting not quite anti-Holmes. Thorndyke does not call into question the necessity for the careful checking of clues and scientific examination of all possible aspects of the crime. What he calls into question is what might called the fetishization of particular forms of scientific findings without considering all the possibilities of how that “evidence" came to be found at the scene of the crime. In this case, Thorndyke, in defending Reuben Hornby, has to counter the automatic assumption of the police that “a finger-print as a kind of magical touchstone, a final proof, beyond which inquiry need not go." Indeed, Thorndyke argues that “this is an entire mistake. A finger-print is merely a fact, a very important and significant one, I admit, but still a fact, which, like any other fact, requires to be weighed and measured with reference to its evidential value.”
Thorndyke does not debunk the science behind fingerprinting nor is he skeptical of the process of scientific investigation. What he does present is the difference between true scientific inquiry and the automatic assumption that having mastered a particular scientific technique one may fall back upon it as if it were written in stone. And indeed, he demonstrates that any technique of investigation will soon be countered by criminals who take it into account and counter it with new techniques of their own. It is particularly interesting to read this book today at a time when many treat DNA evidence with reverence but without real understandings of its strengths and weaknesses. Indeed one wonders what opinions Dr. Thorndyke would have as to the reliability of many of today’s labs and many of today’s experts.
For those who are interested in the details of forensic analysis Freeman devotes a good part of the book to that very aspect of forensics which is most overlooked in most television procedurals; how does one present evidence in a way that is understandable and convincing to juries. For those who are less interested in the scientific aspect of “ratiocination” Freeman includes a wonderful analysis of the Holmesian deductive method as Thorndyke explains not only why his supposition that a figure outside the window was a stationmaster was sound but also why it was, for all that soundness, a mere educated guess.
In conclusion: This is an enjoyably written book which avoids unneeded plot complications, does a good job of introducing the reader to Dr. Thorndyke and his methods and may do well to assuage that empty feeling the reader is left with after consuming the last of the Holmes stories. ...more
This is very much a book of its time, albeit a well-written one. Roger Sheringham and the five other members of his Crimes Circle each attempt to solvThis is very much a book of its time, albeit a well-written one. Roger Sheringham and the five other members of his Crimes Circle each attempt to solve a murder which has stumped Scotland Yard. Sheringham had appeared as an amateur detective in previous Berkeley mysteries and the other participants were all suggestive of one or more prominent figures in contemporary English fiction and public life.
This reviewer found Berkeley’s prose style to be enjoyable. Each character had a different “voice” and each proposed a solution to the murder that was both reasonable and predictable given that person’s (and the people for whom that person was a stand-in) understandings of the world. Reading each of these proposed solutions and the responses each “solution” elicited from the group told this reader more about a particular slice of English life and culture than would several volumes of academic exposition. The writers of murder mysteries routinely use short-cuts, exaggerations and stereotypes in order to make the story believable (for fiction is often held to a higher stand of “reality” than is reality itself) and yet the picture that they draw must adhere either the reality the reader understands or proscribes. Since different authors attracted different audiences the varied realities one comes across in these books gives the present day reader a vivid picture of the actual and mental world of the English reader of popular murder mysteries in the first half of the interwar period.
While some of the presumptions and understandings upon which the amateur detectives’ solutions are based will probably come as no surprise to today’s reader others seem to be more appropriate to a Monty Python sketch than a book that is not categorized as farce or magical realism. As this reader expected servants and clerks exist only to be questioned and to fulfill their practical functions. For example, at no point in the story did any person suggest that a member of the working or lower middle class might have played an intentional role in the murder. What was surprising was the degree to which the differences in the way in which men who went to one of the public schools and men who were “merely” well educated were considered as real, tangible evidence of who could and could not have committed the crime given the different solutions proposed. There was also a general agreement not only that men acted (and thought) differently than did women but that methods of murder would differ not only by the gender and education of the murderer but also by the gender of the murdered.
Although The Poisoned Chocolates Mystery is not a collection of short stories it can be read in a similar fashion as the the reader (and the members of the Crime Circle) are introduced to the crime and each of the six present, on separate nights, their proposed solution. There are no maps or complicated alibi checklists to reference. In short, a well written and diverting story for the reader who enjoys murder mysteries written in the early period of the “Golden Age.” ...more
Before the reader opens an H. C. Bailey book they may wonder why his name is not well remembered even by those who have a particular liking for EnglisBefore the reader opens an H. C. Bailey book they may wonder why his name is not well remembered even by those who have a particular liking for English fiction written in the “golden era” of murder mysteries. After reading just a few pages this puzzle is solved. Bailey’s writing style is pedestrian, his characters caricatures and his plotting nonsensical. Coming across writers of this ilk helps the reader to understand the treatment book reviewers gave Christie, Allingham and Sayers.
In addition to infelicities of style, structure and plotting, this particular volume reads as though it was at best cursorily edited with sentences of various tenses packed together into the same paragraph. Although not every character is imbued with the same voice there are fewer voices than there are characters. Fortune, the surgeon/private detective, is obnoxiously self important without, apparently, Bailey being aware of that fact. Fortune is able to solve cases because the police are incompetent: Fortune is aware of information he does not share with them and occasionally he simply intuits the truth. Yes, Bailey indeed uses the oldest trick in the book to make his protagonist outwit the police by have the police having little wit to better. In the occasional case, such as “The Business Minister” Fortune is actually shown in some detail inspecting the possible scene of the crime. And it is here that one can see, lain bare, the method by which Bailey had his amateur detective outdo the professional police. The police, one sees, are barely able to fulfill the most basic aspects of their jobs. They do not even call upon their own coroner to inspect the corpse. They follow Fortune about as he inspects the likely scene of the murder. Having looked in the living room and the bedroom Fortune suggests they move on to the bathroom “‘We haven’t seen the bathroom,’ said Reggie. Bell looked and him and shrugged. ‘Not likely to be much there, sir,’ said the Inspector. ‘There could be,’ said Reggie gravely, and led the way.” Yet, in comparison to such incompetence Fortune is still able to shine only dimly given Bailey’s leaden prose and incoherent plotting....more
Although an improvement on Allingham’s first two Campion books this outing still suffers from many of the flaws so obvious in its predecessors. CampioAlthough an improvement on Allingham’s first two Campion books this outing still suffers from many of the flaws so obvious in its predecessors. Campion himself is shown to do little actual detecting or deducing. He just “knows” things -- often because of an immense circle of informants who, for no particularly obvious reason, have warm feelings towards him. The reader does not follow Campion in his various investigations and quests for information and is often kept ignorant of information in what appears to be an attempt to make Campion seem to be all knowing.
As is often the case in British “mysteries” of this time, there are secret (and yet well known to all the senior members of police and government) organizations whose exploits cannot be thwarted by the standard representatives of authority. This invulnerability is not well justified in the text of the book and appears to have no purpose other than to give a reason for the protagonist to break a variety of rules without fear of arrest or other form of punishment.
In this and the two previous Campion books are set in corners and byways of England that are backward even by the standards of popular English fiction of the time. It is a constant irritation to this reader that poor education, poor health, and bad hygiene are presented as colourful, picturesque and entertaining. The aristocracy seems almost to have a glow about them, the gentry are to be sympathized with if they actually have to work for a living and the rural folk and poor are caricatures more reminiscent of Dickens than of any realistic portrait of England at the time.
Finally, this reader found the ending of the book to be very disappointing for a number of reasons. Campion does not solve anything himself, he does not personally thwart the crime he was hired to prevent and the reader is left to suspect that some mysterious supernatural force intervened at the last minute. Logic dictates that if some unseen and mysterious force was able to prevent the crime then Campion need never have been involved and the whole adventure was an exercise in futility. If that thought occurred to this reader then it should have crossed the mind of at least one of the characters we visit at the end of the book....more
Like many of the early Simenon’s this book is more an exploration of the atmosphere and culture of a small European town than it is about the solvingLike many of the early Simenon’s this book is more an exploration of the atmosphere and culture of a small European town than it is about the solving of a crime. As the reader finds out late in the book, Maigret’s apparent passivity in the early part of the story was due not to confusion but rather was a conscious choice. One wonders if Simenon consciously created a story in which the reader would feel the same frustration with Maigret as did many of his critics in the story. When Maigret reveals in the final chapters that he knew exactly what he was doing at the very moments that others were most unsure of his competence the reader may feel that they have fallen into the same trap. One may imagine that Simenon enjoyed knowing that the reader, who felt such joy at feeling superior to the petty provincial officials would be suddenly forced to realize just how much like them she was.
The denouement is both depressing and uplifting. The reader is aware that nothing that Maigret does, indeed nothing Maigret could do, would change the enormous inequities and inequalities of the world Simenon was writing about. Yet those who Maigret considered truly guilty did pay for their crimes and those who Maigret considered the true victims are allowed to escape and make a reasonable life for themselves. It is, perhaps, only after the reader has closed the book for the last time that they realize that Simenon has once again used Maigret, a character who supposedly stands for justice and order, to provide a cutting critic of the social order he is tasked with upholding. ...more
This review is divided into two sections: the first deals with this reviewer’s assessment of this volume as an annotation while the second assesses thThis review is divided into two sections: the first deals with this reviewer’s assessment of this volume as an annotation while the second assesses the book annotated.
Part One: The Annotated Christmas Carol as a volume of annotation.
Frankly this reviewer was not impressed by the annotating. While some annotations seemed superfluous there were points where comment seemed called for and none was included. The annotator did point out some instances of cant but failed to discuss other points of possible confusion in the text. For example, it is difficult to judge generosity or economy when there is no clear sense of the ‘real world’ or ‘present day’ cost of things. Did Scrooge pay Cratchit more or less than was common for men in that situation? What are we to imagine Scrooge’s nephew did for a living? Was it normal for a clerk not to have actual winter coat or is Cratchit’s need to wear a comforter for warmth common? How unusual was it for someone to have rooms in a building otherwise let out only to offices? Was the Cratchit house of typical size for a family of that number? And was a family of that size typical for a clerk making the wages Cratchit could expect?
While the annotations were not adequate to answering these questions they also did a bad job of contextualizing the ways in which the England of Dicken’s time was changing as the industrial revolution took hold and society became more and more urban.
Part Two: The Christmas Carol - a story by Charles Dickens
The reviewer has always found this story to suffer from fractured logic and distasteful theology. Scrooge is initially visited by the ghost of Marley warning him as to the “after life” consequences of the way Scrooge has chosen to live. Then that aspect of the story is dropped. Scrooge’s visitors do not terrify him with warnings of punishment to come but rather taunt him with memories, loneliness and death. The Spirit of Christmas Past does no more than remind Scrooge of past hopes and disappointments. As Scrooge himself said, a bit of undercooked potato could bring about the same kind of vivid dreams. The Spirit of Christmas Present shows Scrooge all the people who are celebrating Christmas that year. Yet Scrooge knew that people were doing this long before he was visited by this Spirit. Indeed he complained of them doing so since their behaviour wanted thrift on their part and presumed much on the generosity of those who, like him, did not celebrate the season. Indeed the Scrooge, first met by the reader, would have asked what good all the singing, praying and worship was doing these people who would be as cold and hungry the day after Christmas as they were the day before. Would they have not been better off to invest the money spent on the Christmas dinner and used the energy they expended on Christmas celebrations to improve their own circumstances? As for the horror previewed by the Spirit of Christmas Future it was simply that Scrooge would die alone (something he must have long since realized) and that enterprising people would attempt to make money from his corpse and belongings. This reviewer is tempted to believe that the Scrooge met in the opening pages would have actually approved of, if not applauded, the behaviour of these men and women who did not let superstition and convention stand between them and the making of a profit. In sum, Scrooge’s dread realization was that he had once had foolish dreams, that those around him who partook in Christmas were not all repaid with warmth and good food and that he, like all human beings, would die. It is unconvincing that even three nights of dreams that underscored that reality would do much to shake him from the habits, attitudes and beliefs of a lifetime. Scrooge is not convincingly motivated by fear of the afterlife: he is, apparently, suddenly visited with the emotions that Charles Dickens imagined he would feel were he in Scrooge’s circumstances. Since someone who felt about the world as did Dickens would not have made the choices Scrooge made in the first place this realization is actually a tautology.
The denouement of Scrooge’s bad night with the ghosts does not make this reader feel that Scrooge was a man reformed but rather that Scrooge was a man who had been brainwashed. If the Scrooge of the next morning was shown to struggle with his newfound understandings of the implications of his actions then it might possibly have been uplifting for this reader. How can one applaud the generosity of a man who no longer struggles with the demons of avarice? How can one applaud the open-handedness of a rich man who has suddenly realized that he may die alone and that a small investment in those around him will guarantee care and attention in his old age? To praise Scrooge’s behaviour is like praising someone on Prozac for no longer acting depressed.
If this annotated volume ignored the reader’s “issues” with the book while addressing the questions mentioned earlier in this review it would be a fulfilling read for many. If this annotated volume had ignored those questions while dealing with the logical and theological issues it would be a worthwhile read.
Another disappointing early Allingham. Campion is less consistently fatuous than in his first appearance but still exhibits less than impressive skillAnother disappointing early Allingham. Campion is less consistently fatuous than in his first appearance but still exhibits less than impressive skills at deduction and reasoning. For the greater part of the book this reader was able to deduce the "surprise" that Campion uncovers near the end of the story. As was true in the case of the first Campion book the author appears to have written herself into a corner than required a deus ex machina resolution.
Allingham does not play fair with the reader. Indeed at various points in the book three different characters are "holding out" on the reader even though the experiences of one of them is sometimes written in an 'implied omniscience' voice.
This reader found the book more interesting for what it said (and did not say) about the class system in England at the time -- in particular in ways in which people were limited in their actions and opportunities by their placement in society. There is no hint in the book that this was unfortunate or unfair for those whose education and freedom were truncated....more
There is nothing surprising in this book for those who are well read in the areas of cognitive bias or who have extensive training in probability howeThere is nothing surprising in this book for those who are well read in the areas of cognitive bias or who have extensive training in probability however it is a well written and well rounded summation of the value of social prediction from the point of view of those familiar with those fields.
The crux of Gardner's argument is that "hedgehogs" (those with one big idea) are less accurate in making predictions than are "foxes" ( those who drew information from a variety of sources and then synthesized it.) Gardner also discusses the many studies that indicate that audiences are more convinced by stories and confidence than they are by statistics and accuracy.The three key aspects of a "fox" way of thinking are; aggregation, metacognition and humility. ...more
I find myself having very mixed feelings about this book. Having not read any of Paretsky’s previous Warshawski novels I am unable to judge this bookI find myself having very mixed feelings about this book. Having not read any of Paretsky’s previous Warshawski novels I am unable to judge this book relative to others in the series. The writing itself strikes me as serviceable and the book unwinds at the pace that one expects in a thriller. I enjoyed the fact that Warshawski is depicted as a middle-aged woman whose personal life was as interesting and active as that of a man of the same age. I did, however, feel that the detective and those around her suffered from the Mary Sue syndrome. Warshawski has useful friends who have exactly the skills and knowledge she needs: she is always somehow able to afford the outside experts she needs to call in. And even more fortunately, the various villains of the piece always over-react and over-reach in ways that lead Warshawski to discover what is truly going on. Several minutes after finishing the book I realized that if the evil masterminds had simply sat back and done nothing Warshawski would have had nothing to investigate in the first place. ...more
The writing quality of the four books that make up this collection varies but what does is the sense of wonder and excitement that underlies the entirThe writing quality of the four books that make up this collection varies but what does is the sense of wonder and excitement that underlies the entire series. For this reader the latter two books (Earthman, Come Home and The Triumph of Time) were, with Clarke's Tales of the White Hart Inn, crucial in the development of an early and ongoing love of the entire field of science fiction....more
A light, enjoyable and well illustrated book that can be enjoyed on two levels. For children and young adults it is just a fun story. For adults who aA light, enjoyable and well illustrated book that can be enjoyed on two levels. For children and young adults it is just a fun story. For adults who are aware of the history of archeology and cultural anthropology the text and illustrations carry secondary amusing insights and references....more
This book is presented as an approachable and “friendly” apologetic (or explanatory) response to the furor around Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. One cThis book is presented as an approachable and “friendly” apologetic (or explanatory) response to the furor around Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. One can understand why since Brown claims in the preface that “all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.”
Whether by design or happenstance there are a number of similarities between the original Da Vinci Code and McDowell’s response; each is divided up into very small units and neither has believably human characters. The first of these similarities is easier to explain than the second while both reflect more negatively on Brown than McDowell as a writer. The original book by Brown seemed to be formatted in a manner that made it easy to digest in very small chunks while conveying the illusion of having read much at each sitting. The response appears to be formatted so that each point of rebuttal has a section of its own. This may make it easier to locate specific information but it does make it more difficult for the reader to experience the book as anything but a study companion.
McDowell’s book is written with leaden obviousness and painful dialogue. Characters point out the inaccuracy of various claims Brown puts forth as facts but all the while these same characters talk of The Da Vinci Code as a fascinating page turner. Leaving aside the painfully long time it takes these characters (purportedly college students) to read what they claim to be a hard-to-put-down page-turner they are presented as, at best, naïve readers in the sense that they do not critique the writing, the plot or the characterization of the book that they are supposedly discussing as a group over several weeks. One might almost suppose that McDowell presumes that critical or thoughtful readers will be suspicious as to the accuracy of Brown’s alleged facts when they notice that Brown is barely competent at writing English and clearly unable to create believable human beings who act in believable ways. Unfortunately the pedestrian nature of McDowell’s writing and the obliviousness of his characters to occurrences and claims that are clearly counterfactual suggests that McDowell’s work is not aimed at the informed or critical reader.
When one turns one’s consideration to the purpose of this book this reader feels that it falls far short of its goal. In order for this conceit to work (that the book follows the experiences of three college students attempting to determine the truth of the claims made in Brown’s book) the students should at least be vaguely believable as students. The idea that college students would seriously struggle with the relative factual merits of scholarly books written by academics and a book written by a popular author of mysteries and thrillers makes this reader wonder if the author is writing a book set in an alternate universe. In point of fact what McDowell has done is create ‘straw doubters’ to make the arguments of the experts in the book seem far more persuasive than they would otherwise appear. Time after time, as an ‘expert’ demonstrates that something in Brown’s book is factually wrong, one of the students will say something to the effect ‘but everything in the book can’t be wrong so why not believe this other claim it contains?’ After the four or fifth time something such as this would happen in real life the expert would suggest that when a source has been repeatedly proven to be unreliable the reasonable thing is to take all further claims with a grain a salt rather than presume that, for a change, Brown is correct.
It further undermines the utility of this book as a study companion to The Da Vince Code that McDowell’s “experts” explanations of, among other things, the conversion experience of Constantine and the Arian “heresy” are so over-simplified as to be misleading if not simply wrong. At least some of McDowell’s readers will themselves do the research to notice this and end up doubting the veracity of McDowell’s debunking of Brown at least as much as they doubt the veracity of Brown....more
Although a serviceable account of the struggle between polytheism and monotheism in the Mediterranean region, principally from the time of Josiah to tAlthough a serviceable account of the struggle between polytheism and monotheism in the Mediterranean region, principally from the time of Josiah to the death of Julian, the books cover promises more than the text delivers. This reader was disappointed that Kirsch did not address directly the question as to why Christianity, a minority religion, triumphed over paganism so quickly after the death of Julian. The author mentions, almost in passing, that Roman emperors had totalitarian powers as if that was an obvious and inarguable explanation for the phenomenon without demonstrating that it was true or why it inevitably led to the effective end of monotheism....more