I found Red Harvest enjoyable up until the last quarter of it when a plot twist completely threw me off. I w...more(Oh past self. Your earnestness slays me.)
I found Red Harvest enjoyable up until the last quarter of it when a plot twist completely threw me off. I won’t reveal much of the action, though, because the greatest strength of Red Harvest lies on its unpredictability. Also, the twist does get resolved elegantly at the end. I actually became more satisfied when I did a quick re-read and marveled at Hammett’s excellent plotting.
Red Harvest is told in first-person by the Continental Op, a nameless detective and a recurring character in many of Hammett’s stories. He stumbles into the mining town of Personville when a newspaperman contacted him for a job. The Op never finds out the nature of the job, though, as his client is murdered before they could even talk. The story then gets out of control as the Op searches for his client’s killer and he himself is sucked into the spiral of violence and corruption that gave the place its nickname "Poisonville."
What’s neat about the plot is that it’s actually a series of four mini-mysteries. Every time the Op succeeds in solving one of them, a bigger one gets thrown at him. Adding to the chaos is a cast of morally suspect characters trying to kill, pay, or trick him, sometimes all at the same time. All he could depend on is his cunning and his own personal brand of morality. The dialogue is top-class as well, smooth and sharp, exactly the way I like it. The Op’s voice is witty enough that it uplifted a certainly depressing portrait of the American small town, but cynical enough to remain believable. I just wish people still talk like that, all clipped and sexy.
My final verdict: this novel is pretty good. I just wish I wasn’t befuddled by that plot twist from the left field.(less)
Murder Must Advertise is a wry commentary on the inherent ridiculousness of the advertising business, and how people twist themselves into a state for...moreMurder Must Advertise is a wry commentary on the inherent ridiculousness of the advertising business, and how people twist themselves into a state for ten words’ worth of ad copy. Dorothy L. Sayers really uses her experience in the business to great effect, articulating how frantic and potentially soul-crushing the job is. Add a little business about cocaine trafficking and you have a plot that’s surprisingly modern and gritty for a Golden Age Mystery.
First, how much do I love the setting? Wimsey makes me wish I’m a 1930′s copy writer in London. The tempo of office life, from the gossipy typists to the ornery layout artists, rings true. I laughed at the different office shenanigans, which included office-bonding in the form of a rousing cricket match! Not that I can tell whether a cricket game is rousing or not.(less)
2008 can be considered a high watermark for the Philippine novel as Jose Dalisay, already an established name in Philippine letters (as well as column...more2008 can be considered a high watermark for the Philippine novel as Jose Dalisay, already an established name in Philippine letters (as well as columnist, academic, and untiring blogger), came close to bagging Asia’s most coveted literary award.
His quirky hybrid of a novel, Soledad’s Sister has been a literary triumph even before seeing print. It is included among the five shortlisted novels for the first ever Man Asian Literary Prize. Beating other English-language works from much more robust literary scenes like India and China, the Jury calls Soledad’s Sister, “a work of warmth, humanity and confidence."
The story begins with a casket arriving at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Charmed by Dalisay’s dry wit and tongue-in-cheek imagery, we follow a series of mishaps that causes the body labeled “Aurora Cabahug” to take the place of another Filipino OFW, one Filemon Catabay, in the tarmac, much to the annoyance of his family. To add to the confusion “Aurora” isn’t even the corpse’s name, having borrowed it from a younger sister, very much alive and singing her heart out at a karaoke in the far-flung town of Paez.
Snagged into this confusing web is the unlikely hero, a has-been cop whose faint affections towards Paez’s songbird compels him to take on the duty to drive the grief-stricken Rory (the live one) to fetch Soledad (the dead one) and bring back to their hometown.
What happens after is a sort of morbid road trip, two people going through a long and lonely journey through the countryside. For the younger sister Rory, fetching her sister’s body is a filial duty, compounded by guilt for taking all her sister’s sacrifice and hard work for granted.
The exiled cop, SPO2 Walter Zamora, however, it is his time to go back to the city he once called his home, the bustling and often dangerous Manila. His return brings back memories of infidelity and betrayal, a botched kidnapping rescue, and a young girl who disappeared from his life at a 7-11.
Oh, and the body is stolen on their way back.
Dalisay himself has dubbed this tale his, “glorious mess of a novel,” and in many ways, it is. The story itself touches upon many narrative tropes and conventions, turning them over their heads in ways that are often surprising.
Take Walter Zamora, the cop, one of the stock characters in every Filipino action movie. Fernando Poe Jr. or Erap Estrada has never played a policeman quite like this, however, he who prefers the company of an undemanding cat rather than human contact and who considers answering crossword puzzles the highlight of his week.
Throughout the story we catch glimpses of his young, more reckless self, probably with the trademark swagger of an action hero. But the man facing Rory is already a tired gunslinger, resigned to oblivion in Paez.
Rory Cabahug, the karaoke singer is a character described with much warmth and compassion,–a certain zest for life. She prefers Karen Carpenter to Edith Piaf and is unapologetic about it, but at heart, she is a vulnerable girl who suddenly finds herself acutely alone in the world. She will need to find her own strength to live a life that is not chained by duty, the way her Ate Soledad’s existence had been.
If there is an aspect to the story that comes short, it has to be the ending–it loses some of its steam and finally putters off to uncertainty. In the beginning, there has been teasing suggestions of a crime novel, but there is no dramatic final revelation about the culprit or the repercussions of the crime. Soledad’s gruesome fate in Jeddah is only disclosed to the reader as an omniscient aside, bearing no significance for the living. Even a Johny-come-lately carnapper’s entry to the story seems to simply make a point about the randomness of life rather than anything more substantial.
Ridiculous side trips and all, however, does not deter from the fact that the accolades have been deserved. The story never runs out of twist and turns, examining pertinent and often sensitive issues like the Philippine Diaspora, crime and corruption without sinking into sermons or invectives.
Cynical yet still hopeful, audacious as it is fumbling, it is a sincere ode to our own glorious mess of a city, of a culture, of a country. Everything is left to the imagination, with only a quiet but steely optimism. Ironic for a novel that starts with a dead body in an airport.
Mystery is a genre that has always been close to my heart, and I have been very much invested in discussions regarding the dearth of crime and mystery...moreMystery is a genre that has always been close to my heart, and I have been very much invested in discussions regarding the dearth of crime and mystery fiction from Filipino authors. Batacan’s novel about two Jesuit priests and their quest to find the murderer and mutilator of young boys in the Payatas Dumpsite is a relative bestseller, consistently read and reviewed in different blogs through the years. But it’s also a bit a of an outlier, unique in its position as the only Filipino novel so far that I believe follows the convention of a proper mystery novel.
Books like Jose Dalisay’s Soledad’s Sister and Miguel Syjuco’s Ilustrado feature elements of crime in their plots but they’re entirely different literary animals. You can’t say they’re following the conventions the likes of Agatha Christie or Patricia Cornwell have cemented within the genre. What I’ve been wishing for from the Filipino publishing world is a concerted effort to churn out solid, pop-y crime novels that are both accessible to casual readers but are also rich with decidedly Pinoy sensibilities.
I don’t think that’s an impossible feat at all. Smaller and Smaller Circles shows that it can be done, and despite its shortcomings as a novel, I still maintain that it’s the kind of book that everyone who’s Filipino and loves book should read. It can be nice gateway to more productive discussions, and hopefully, more Pinoy mysteries.(less)
An erudite and gripping thriller, Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Flanders Panel uses two arguably low-key elements (art restoration and chess) and turns t...moreAn erudite and gripping thriller, Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Flanders Panel uses two arguably low-key elements (art restoration and chess) and turns them into the building blocks for an intelligent puzzle. I tore through my copy of this book in a couple of days until the reveal at the end, swept away by the descriptions of the Madrid art scene, the sharp dissection of chess gameplay and motivations, the reimagining of political intrigue in 15th Century Flanders.
**spoiler alert** In the hands of a more skilled prose writer, VL McDermid’s Final Edition could have been a pleasure to read. The premise itself is c...more**spoiler alert** In the hands of a more skilled prose writer, VL McDermid’s Final Edition could have been a pleasure to read. The premise itself is compelling: investigative journalist Lindsay Gordon returns to Scotland after a brush with the Secret Service sent her to self-exile. She immediately finds out that she’s been replaced by her girlfriend. Meanwhile, a close colleague of hers named Jackie Mitchell is in jail for the murder of the notorious Alison Maxwell, Lindsay’s former lover. When Lindsay is asked to prove Jackie’s innocence, she becomes involved in a sordid tale of blackmail and scandalous relationships that ultimately affects the life she is trying to rebuild.
Literary detectives are different from you and me, those haughty geniuses with photographic memory who navigate a crime scene with laser-like precisio...moreLiterary detectives are different from you and me, those haughty geniuses with photographic memory who navigate a crime scene with laser-like precision. Because they are masters of detection, we the audience are often left scrambling in the dust, unable to make sense of the mystery until the genius detective deigns to explain everything to us. So it’s quite refreshing when I encounter a mystery where the problem-solver is as clueless as the average reader. In fact, Atty. Jack Knox in Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Window at the White Cat is a true bungler, prone to moments of clumsiness and self-injury.
Reading this book is a thorough pleasure, a perfect blend of realism and lightness. Though the discovery of the corpse is described baldly, the story...moreReading this book is a thorough pleasure, a perfect blend of realism and lightness. Though the discovery of the corpse is described baldly, the story never delves into grittiness for very long. Camilleri with moments that actually made me laugh out loud, as well as loving descriptions of food and art, two of Montalbano’s interests. While the plot itself is decent enough, the best part of the book are the deft characterization of the characters and the society they live in. That the dialogue succeeds in translating some of the flavor of the Sicilian slang originally used by Camilleri is the mark of a very good translation by Stephen Sartorelli.
I found the mystery interesting enough, if a bit slow moving. The world Anne Perry paints fascinates the Victorian fetishist (no pun intended) in me,...moreI found the mystery interesting enough, if a bit slow moving. The world Anne Perry paints fascinates the Victorian fetishist (no pun intended) in me, particularly the parts where the art of photography and transgressive theatre are explored. However, the moralizing tone the author uses when discussing issues like censorship was difficult to ignore. Had there been less pontificating, the final reveal wouldn’t have felt forced and uncomfortably pointed. The red herring is also kind of pointless–I would’ve liked if Perry took a quite interesting premise to a totally different direction.
This book is better than my three-star rating would lead you to believe. I thoroughly enjoyed it for what it is: a thriller with touches of political...moreThis book is better than my three-star rating would lead you to believe. I thoroughly enjoyed it for what it is: a thriller with touches of political theory. There are some instances where it's clear that Rabb is an inexperienced writer, but I still enjoyed it regardless.(less)
This does not even hold a candle to what Grisham was able to achieve with his first two books, A Time to Kill and The Firm. I've come to the conclusio...moreThis does not even hold a candle to what Grisham was able to achieve with his first two books, A Time to Kill and The Firm. I've come to the conclusion after reading him through the years that he's basically gone autopilot with his writing and merely checks off plot points these days. Such a shame.(less)