In this, the second Maiget novel, one once again sees a world of stereotypes and presumptions about people of different “ethnicities,” levels of educa...moreIn this, the second Maiget novel, one once again sees a world of stereotypes and presumptions about people of different “ethnicities,” levels of education and geographical background. This is even less a mystery than was Simenon’s first Maigret novel--instead it is an exploration of a way of life of which even many people living in France at that time would have been quite unaware. Maigret, or rather Simenon, finds the lives of the working class fascinating and especially the lives of those who have been buffeted about by chance, circumstance and misfortune. At the end Maigret feels no sense of triumph that the murderer has been found out. Simenon does not explore the psychology or methods of his detective but rather uses his experiences to paint as small portrait of a type of life and the people who inhabit it. (less)
Warning--although the murderer is not identified by name in this review it does spoil aspects of the book.
My short review of this book: By this point i...moreWarning--although the murderer is not identified by name in this review it does spoil aspects of the book.
My short review of this book: By this point in the Philo Vance series S. S. Van Dine’s writing and plotting has degenerated in something that resembles self-caricature. The “subtle” “diabolical” and “ingenious” murder plot is laughably and unnecessarily convoluted. Vance is allowed free rein at the crime scene and with suspects in a way that would make any defense lawyer ecstatic. Members of the police force do little other than appeal to Vance for direction and he searches crime scenes, pockets evidence and interrogates witnesses without legal or police officials present. The person who any competent police officer would have suspected as having done the crime did indeed commit it. Vance’s supposed insights and knowledge never advance to two simple questions: who had the opportunity to commit the crime and who would benefit from it. The rawest of police officers would have cut through the nonsense in the first 24 hours and actually been able to arrest the culprit. Since Vance spent most of the book interfering with any credible evidentiary chain of custody the only way to “catch” the criminal was to have him explain “what and why” like a bad Bond villain and even then Vance had to arrange that someone else could justifiably shoot the murderer to be sure he didn’t get away with it. Indeed, given the way in which Vance described his preparations for that last showdown I wonder if Vance himself could have been charged with reckless endangerment.
A longer review: I know that one is supposed to suspend disbelief when reading books such as these but Vance’s behaviour at crime scenes is beyond ignoring. Yes, he often arrives at the scene of the crime with the DA; yes, the books are set long before the birth of modern forensic science; yet I still find it beyond belief that the police would not complain at Vance (with his writer friend) searching a crime victim’s rooms without any form of supervision and pocketing potential evidence to later present to the police. Again, I am aware that the modern concept of ‘chain of evidence’ was not yet fully developed when this book was written however I still believe that any competent defense attorney (and since the characters in these books are almost all from wealth or society they will have legal representation) would tear apart any case based on evidence supposed found by a ‘friend’ of the DA.
Neither do I find the portrait of Vance as a super detective to be convincing. Vance appears to be more competent than the police because generally the police either do nothing or behave in patently incompetent ways. For example, the police are called to the house of woman who may have been murdered or may have committed suicide. The suicide note was typewritten. The police do not get a typing sample from the machine in the house let alone secure the machine. Matters of police routine are routinely not carried out and thus obvious clues and pieces of evidence lie waiting for Vance to find them hours, and sometimes days, after the initial discovery of the crime.
As often happens in the Vance series, Van Dine begins by “instructing” the reader how she/he is to understand the nature of the story they are about to read. This case, the reader is told, “was probably the subtlest and most diabolical criminal problem of his career.” This cues the reader to interpret the inability of the police and Vance to immediately solve the crime as evidence of the ingenious nature of the murderer rather than incompetence of the investigators. Without those instructions what the reader might note is that Vance is not particularly good at his job and it is no surprise that the DA, who used his power to interject Vance into police investigations, served only one term in office.(less)
It is hard to remember when reading this first of many Maigret novels and stories that it was published the year after Van Dine’s The Scarab Murder Ca...moreIt is hard to remember when reading this first of many Maigret novels and stories that it was published the year after Van Dine’s The Scarab Murder Case, the year before Queen’s The Dutch Shoe Murder and the same year as Christie’s The Sittaford Mystery. In some ways the closest equivalent to the world Simenon introduces us to is the San Francisco we get glimpses of Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon. Maigret is both like and unlike Sam Spade. Like Spade he is aware of, and not discomfited by, the underside of life yet unlike Spade one never wonders about his fundamental honesty and respect for other human beings.
As Simenon describes them, Maigret and the other members of the Parisian police force are ordinary people who have to fill out forms to justify the money they spend, who get colds when they stand around for hours in the rain and who are neither corrupt, nor stupid nor brilliant. And instead of lauding his detective as a special master of ratiocination or incomparably skilled at analyzing the psychology of people just met Simenon describes Maigret’s method as follows:
“Maigret used the same procedure as anyone else. And like everyone else he employed the wonderful techniques devised by Bertillon, Reiss, Locard, and others, which have turned police work into a science. But above all he sought for, waited for, and pounced on the chink. In other words, the moment when the human being showed through the gambler.”
In other words Maigret, in addition to using the scientific tools available to the police patiently waits for the moment when he can see the human being behind criminal. And in order to do this Maigret must to some degree get inside the skin of the people he is observing rather than standing outside of them judging, measuring and categorizing.
It is this quality of Maigret that allows the reader to read past the prejudices and stereotypes of the time (and Maigret and Simenon) because they are leavened by Maigret’s embrace of the humanity of the many outcasts, low-lifes, and criminals he meets. Indeed the people that Maigret is contemptuous of is the rich, the greedy, and the politically powerful. In short, Simenon’s awareness of the realities of class, education and power keeps him, or the reader, from seeing the rest of humanity only through the eyes of the privileged.(less)
While I found it interesting to read this book due to the part it played in Allingham’s success as a writer and as the birthing story of Albert Campio...moreWhile I found it interesting to read this book due to the part it played in Allingham’s success as a writer and as the birthing story of Albert Campion I found it otherwise to be an extremely dated and quite unfulfilling read. The datedness of the story lies not in the language or the gender roles nor the stereotypical treatment of anyone who wasn’t a member of the English upper class but rather in the author’s need to include, as was true in so many of the mystery books of that time, a massive international criminal gang. It is as if the author, unsure that the murder itself would be sufficiently interesting to keep the reader involved in the story, felt a need to pile on more and more distractions. And, given the fact that the identity of the murderer is not discoverable without information not provided in the book and yet not hard to suspect given the mise-en-scene this reader believes the author’s worries were justified.
I doubt this book would be much remembered were it not for the fact that it marks the first appearance of Albert Campion. For the reader who knows what ‘happens next’ it is amusing to watch the author attempt to make Abbershaw a protagonist on whom a series could be hung while her own creation, Albert Campion, makes off with the heart of the author if not the reader. Campion, as he is described in this story, is very much the upper-class dilettante that English authors of the 1920s and 1930s appear to find fascinating for the very reasons that many modern readers find them annoying. This reader must admit that if Campion had been in the room while she was reading the story she would not have been able to suppress the urge to give him a shake and tell him that he was not nearly as fascinating or charming as he imagined.
The attempt, at the end of the book, to engage the reader in a philosophical discussion as to the meanings of justice, law and order seem to be motivated more by the author having written herself (and her detective) into a evidence free corner from which no arrest could be made than by anything else.(less)
This is the third of Heyer’s detective novels and this reader gets the sense that the author is still searching for exactly the mix of plot and charac...moreThis is the third of Heyer’s detective novels and this reader gets the sense that the author is still searching for exactly the mix of plot and characters to achieve the desired effect. Unlike her first two excursions into the murder mystery genre in this book the detecting is done by a professional and the local constabulary are not portrayed as hayseeds. Instead the reason given for calling in Scotland Yard is prosaic and believable--that when a murder takes place in the home of a locally powerful and influential family it is best that it be investigated by someone who is not local and not likely to be intimidated by the suspects and witnesses.
Like so many of her contemporaries Heyer fell back on stereotypes as she constructed her stories however unlike those many contemporaries Heyer not only seems aware of this but she also tips a wink at her reading audience. Some of the servants are wide-eyed devotees of cinematic cliches and others are even minded, thoughtful and responsible. Lola de Silva is an over-the-top Mexican cabaret dancer and yet she is not presented as typical of Mexicans rather as typical of self-centered egotistical people.
Heyer’s writing style is lively without being comedic; a voice she perfected in her Regency Romances. The reader is likely to be so entertained with intertwined stories of the cast the characters that they do not notice with what dispatch the detective quite professionally finds out what happened over the course of the weekend. Heyer needs to provide neither maps nor charts for the reader to follow the story and she falls back on neither the locked room nor an unusual or convoluted method of murder. In a pleasant reversal of the habit of other mystery writers of claiming to have provided the reader with all the information necessary to solve the crime while having done so in the most misleading fashion Heyer provides the reader with more information than her detective has any reason to know while convincing the same reader that the detective showed no unrealistic amount of intuition in solving the crime. (less)
A disappointing outing after the more sophisticated play on the classic detective story form found in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder in the Ca...moreA disappointing outing after the more sophisticated play on the classic detective story form found in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder in the Calais Coach/Murder on the Orient Express and the light self-aware touch shown in Murder at the Vicarage Christie returns to the pedestrian style, plotting and characterizations of The Big Four, The Seven Dials Mystery and The Secret Adversary. (less)
If the writers of Scooby Doo had teamed up to write a Philo Vance novel with S. S. Van Dine the result would surely have been very similar to The Drag...moreIf the writers of Scooby Doo had teamed up to write a Philo Vance novel with S. S. Van Dine the result would surely have been very similar to The Dragon Murder Case. No more than the audience of the modern cartoon would the readers of Van Dine’s day have felt that there was really a supernatural explanation for the strange events at the Stamm home. Van Dine resorts to having various characters refer to legends while having someone state at least once a chapter that the occurrences are particularly horrific. Yet Van Dine actually delivers few true moments of uneasiness let alone terror. Shorn of all the legerdemain this is a fairly straightforward mystery that is only difficult to solve because Van Dine (through Vance) neglects to mention some details while burying others in Vance’s endless disquisitions on irrelevant matters.(less)