Donna Tartt is a talented author. It's harsh to give such a good writer only two stars. Actually the two stars belong to her editor and she deserves 4Donna Tartt is a talented author. It's harsh to give such a good writer only two stars. Actually the two stars belong to her editor and she deserves 4 stars. There's a beautiful 400-page book hiding in here. Repetition of scenes, emotions, descriptions, mar the pace and effect of this narrative. Characters are generally well developed and unique, settings and plot appealing, but the overall effect is overkill....more
A blind girl, a brother and sister separated by war, a reclusive, shell-shocked uncle and a crazed Nazi are the main characters in a story that coversA blind girl, a brother and sister separated by war, a reclusive, shell-shocked uncle and a crazed Nazi are the main characters in a story that covers the years of WWII. Pluses for character development, poetic scenery, a slightly different take on the horrors of Nazism we're all familiar with, and surprises. Minuses for length (too long),sentimentality (just a little too much for me, protracted ending.)...more
Vanessa Shield’s I Am ‘That Woman’ is feminist literature in that it speaks to women and explores their many roles, but it goes beyond that. She writ Vanessa Shield’s I Am ‘That Woman’ is feminist literature in that it speaks to women and explores their many roles, but it goes beyond that. She writes of the emotions involved in growing up, grief, pain, sex, suffering, aging, death, thankfulness, of life itself and of love. Actually she writes of many forms of love. Her poems are alive as she writes about exhilaration, jealousy, happiness and she sparks some entries with humor. The poems also show the sexual side of being a woman, a woman’s view of sex, the drives and the satisfactions. You find few euphemisms; some of the works are straight up sexuality. Some of my favorite lines in the book: “We French-kiss nuns and die in the Fall then / spring back to life in cherry pies” “Laughter floating on the frivolous wind through my / Open window.” “Like a helpless Thespian forced / To take the stage” “I zigzag through the rooms like a drunk moth to a cheap flame” Favorite title: “Why I Won’t Meet Tom Cruise For The First Time When I’m In A Coma” The poems range from a handful of words to several pages. There are many situations, random thoughts and emotions for women to identify with or to ponder. Women will enjoy sharing in and discovering what Shields means to be a woman and That woman. Men will too. ...more
The Wright Bros were not quite the American heroes we thought they were. Yes, they were our first powered fliers but they spent the decade after theirThe Wright Bros were not quite the American heroes we thought they were. Yes, they were our first powered fliers but they spent the decade after their history-making flight in a protracted legal battle over patents. The sued pioneer pilot and aircraft maker Glenn Curtiss and virtually anyone else who wanted to build an aeroplane that could be safely controlled. The Wrights, especially Wilbur, and Curtiss could have advanced aircraft design much further than they did but instead spent too much time with attorneys. Goldstone tells us that Wilbur was a design genius, but let himself be taken over by the desire to monopolize flying. Curtiss was a successful engine designer and builder who eventually created better aircraft than the Wrights.
Goldstone wanted to balance the story between the harrowing tales of early dare-devil air shows, the continued legal wrangling over the Wright's "wing warping" patent and the story of how early planes were designed and tested. People who are more interested in the details of early aircraft design and manufacture will be wanting for more. The tales of early air-show pilots is compelling, the details of the sad legal wrangling not so much. ...more
New York City has Bricky Coleman in its clutches. The small-town girl came to the city to become an actress, but it didn’t work out. Now she’s a dime-New York City has Bricky Coleman in its clutches. The small-town girl came to the city to become an actress, but it didn’t work out. Now she’s a dime-a-dance girl living in a dingy walk-up, bereft of spirit and hope. One evening she dances with Quinn Williams, another small-town transplant with equally dismal prospects. Somehow Quinn manages to erode Bricky’s layers of cynicism and suspicion and they become friends and allies in solving a dangerous puzzle.
Like most Cornell Woolrich novels, this one is dark and fast moving. The entire book occupies only a few early morning hours. Getting around a burglary and solving a murder stand in the way of the two young protagonists’ escape from their bleak lives. An early coincidence and one or two later plot twists require a significant suspension of disbelief, but you sign on quickly because the dark corners of the city and its malevolent denizens are easily accepted as Woolrich draws you and his young protagonists into a race against the clock.
The atmosphere is thick. Bricky looks up a dark street. “Three anemic light-pools widely spaced down its seemingly endless length did nothing to dilute the gloom; they only pointed it up by giving contrast.” For Bricky, the main enemy isn’t a lurking murderer, it’s the city itself. It wants to possess her and grind her down. The young protagonist’s unhuman nemesis is similar to a lead character’s unnatural fear of the stars in the sky in Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes. Merciless, mysterious forces conspiring to thwart success is a common Woolrich theme.
Looking for a murderer so they can put a regrettable event in Quinn’s life behind them and escape to small-town paradise, the two split up and dash about the city at night. In back-and-forth chapters each amateur sleuth thinks he or she is on the right trail, but of course there are complications, dead ends and unexpected dangers. We move quickly from Quinn’s perilous encounter with a stranger who he follows around the city, to Bricky’s capture by a pair she thinks did the murder.
I have a copy of the first printing of the “Tower Books Motion Picture” edition illustrated with photos of the 1946 film based—very loosely—on the book. Instead of chapter numbers or titles, there are faces of a clock, and each chapter heading has the hands moving closer to the 6 a.m. deadline Quinn and Bricky are racing toward. That’s when they hope to catch the interstate bus and escape New York City. The photos from the movie don’t match the novel. Quinn is represented as a sailor—in uniform—by Bill Williams.
Note that Deadline at Dawn is an example of Woolrich’s practice of recycling scenes, characters and events from short stories into novels. The first scene of Bricky’s dance hall dysphoria is similar to the beginning of a short story, Dancing Detective, that focuses on another cynical taxi dancer with moxie. After this first scene, however, the novel departs completely from the short story.
Like so many Woolrich stories, Deadline at Dawn looks at the many faces of fear. “And the man who says he’s never been afraid is a liar,” Woolrich says. Later he tells us, “Fear rots the faculties.” Unlike the movie version, the novel maintains the pessimism, the dread and the eerie notion of noir....more
A simple, astounding story of love, institutional arrogance, ignorance, bogus medicine and a protracted, uneven journey. Skloot devoted a chunk of herA simple, astounding story of love, institutional arrogance, ignorance, bogus medicine and a protracted, uneven journey. Skloot devoted a chunk of her life to this and it shows. ...more
Police procedurals, sometimes plodding compared to their PI and amateur sleuth cousins, usually follow a cop’s methodical investigation. In Donna LeonPolice procedurals, sometimes plodding compared to their PI and amateur sleuth cousins, usually follow a cop’s methodical investigation. In Donna Leon’s Beastly Things, Commissario Guido Brunetti moves one step at a time as he seeks the killer of a kindly veterinarian whose body is found floating in a Venice canal, but it’s Brunetti’s ruminations on official corruption, the human condition, treatment of animals, food and life in the Italian island city that make it a satisfying journey and, at times, a disturbing one.
Leon’s fans will enjoy this 21st installment that revisits familiar characters, although the book can be an easy introduction to the series (as it was for me). All you need to know to enjoy the novel you’ll learn along the way.
The body pulled from the canal was not immediately identified by the medical examiner except to recognize the deceased’s deformity–extraordinarily thick shoulders and neck–caused by a rare disease. Ultimately Brunetti identifies the victim as Andrea Nava and learns that he lives not in Venice but in Mestre, a nearby mainland city thus setting up a minor jurisdictional confrontation, almost obligatory in cop novels. In an interview with Nava’s wife, Brunetti learns that she was separated from her husband, that her husband was having sex with another woman and that in addition to his veterinary practice, he worked part time in a slaughter house.
The commisario follows up these leads, unconvinced that Nava’s wife had anything to do with his stabbing death. On the trail of evidence, Brunetti invariably stops off in a café for coffee or wine and a snack with his assistant, Inspector Vianello and goes home for lunch with his wife.
As I read this I realized I was looking look for clues; I read mysteries expecting the plot to proceed apace or reasonably so. (Even Poirot keeps the little grey cells moving.) I try to figure out who did it before the detective does. To Brunetti, (or Leon) life itself is as important as the case. We learn Brunetti is not the troubled loner of many detective stories but has a good home life and easy relationship with his wife. His rich, influential in-laws are another story, but they don’t figure heavily in this novel.
He’s also sensitive. When he interviews Nava’s wife he delays telling her the bad news, hoping she will figure it out first. His sensitivities–and vulnerabilities–show up clearly in a gruesome slaughter house scene, and after, when Brunetti discusses the values of vegetarianism with his family.
You could call him cynical. He’s an Italian cop; he sees officialdom as a less than ethical system but he manages to go with the flow without compromising himself. Or so it seemed in this installment of Leon’s series. The system he’s a part of is explained in an internal dialog Brunetti has when he’s called into the office of his boss, Vice-Questor Giuseppe Patta. His boss’s decade-long stay in his position was,
“in anomalous defiance of the rule that high police officials were transferred every few years. Patta’s tenacity in his post had puzzled Brunetti until he realized that the only policemen who were transferred away from cities where they combated crime were those who met with success, especially those who were successful in their opposition to the Mafia.”
Brunetti and Vianello visit Nava’s veterinary office then the slaughterhouse where they meet the boss and his attractive assistant. The detective pair also interview the vet who worked at the slaughterhouse before Nava and they ultimately uncover a dirty secret.
Leon’s prose is effective and her occasional figurative language imaginative. When Brunetti finally tells Nava’s wife that he’s dead, she faints in her chair.
“…her head fell against the back of the chair. Then, like a sweater placed carelessly on a piece of furniture, she slithered to the floor at their feet.”
Humor here is of the nod-your-head-and-smile variety, often reflecting Brunetti’s foibles, such as when he visits a hospital.
“A lifetime of good health had done nothing to counter the effects of imagination; thus Brunetti was often subject to the attacks of diseases to which he had not been exposed and of which he displayed no symptoms.”
Brunetti is vaguely reminiscent of Inspector Jules Maigret, commenting on social conventions, popping into convenient cafes for a glass of wine and exploring the fascinating corners of his native city. Rather than Paris, Venice is Brunetti’s beloved home and the city quickly becomes a character in the book. Brunetti ponders Venice’s palazzos, churches, bars, and even the bothersome portable vendor stalls that block sidewalks. In Beastly Things, Leon combines the city’s canals along with its natives, its tourists and its bureaucrats to paint a detailed, intriguing portrait....more
This is a remarkable coming of age novel set in Africa just as World War II starts. It's inspiring, touching, sad, with one of the most winning characThis is a remarkable coming of age novel set in Africa just as World War II starts. It's inspiring, touching, sad, with one of the most winning characters you'll find. A wondrous novel to be read again. A couple of samples:
"Hoppie had sensed my need to grow, my need to be assured that the world around me had not been specially arranged to bring about my undoing."
"In teaching me independence of thought, they had given me the greatest gift an adult can give to a child besides love, and they had given me that also."
Movie version? It has a decent cast, but is a lousy interpretation of this book. Extremely disappointing. To be avoided. ...more
I have a signed copy of Laguna Heat, T. Jefferson Parker’s first mystery novel. It was a gift from a friend. My wife and I were living not far from LaI have a signed copy of Laguna Heat, T. Jefferson Parker’s first mystery novel. It was a gift from a friend. My wife and I were living not far from Laguna at the time and it was a huge treat to receive the book. Everyone in Orange County was talking about it.
A few years later I met Parker when he was a speaker at an unusual college course on forensic science. In class, Parker talked about his book, his background as a newspaper reporter and some of the details of writing a good mystery story.
Here’s Parker’s first sentence in Laguna Heat: “A perfect morning in a city of perfect mornings; an artist would have worked, a god would have rested.” On his blog he says he was proud of that sentence. But it was the next two Silent Joesentences, especially the metaphor at the end, that I remember:
“The convertible slowed as it approached the stables, then pounced from the road onto a gravel driveway. Its headlights swung left-to-right, acute angles filling with dust, while gravel popped under the tires like grease in a skillet.”
Laguna Heat was a hit. It became a TV movie starring Harry Hamlin, Jason Robards and Rip Torn. Parker’s career was set. Since that time, he’s written 20 novels and picked up three Edgar awards. Silent Joe earned Parker his first Edgar in 2000 and it does not take a detective to see why the first-person novel about “acid baby” Joe won the award. If you’re looking for a place to acquire a taste for T. Jefferson, this is a good starting point.
Joe Trona is a 24-year-old Orange County Sheriff’s deputy assigned to jail duty. Many evenings, he serves as driver and often guard for his adopted father Will, a kind-hearted but dishonest county supervisor. The extent of his dishonesty, albeit with mostly good intentions, is exposed slowly to Joe throughout the novel. One evening as Joe is escorting his father Will on an errand that includes rescuing a young girl who apparently has been kidnapped, Will is trapped and murdered in an alley while Joe looks on, unable to dispatch all of his father’s attackers.
The balance of the book is Joe’s search for Will Trona’s killers. Along the way, Joe revisits his painful past. His birth father poured acid on Joe’s face when he was a baby, forever scaring him. Five years, later Will adopted Joe from an orphanage, an act of kindness that Joe has never forgotten. When he grew up, Joe went into law enforcement.
When possible, Joe wears a hat pulled low over his face. Parker’s description of Joe’s face makes him sound somewhat like the phantom of the opera.
Double-dealing Orange County politics forms the background for the story. A rich developer and his psycho son, a county department head on the take, the county’s premier televangelist, an odd assortment of inmates and other crooks plus members of Joe’s unusual family populate the novel. But Joe is the star.
He’s a tough cop. He’s muscular and works out regularly, knows how to handle himself and is a skilled marksman. As a result, this could be a Rambo type story with a hard-ass tough-guy protagonist bent on revenge, but Joe is a complex character and the complications in his life lift this story to surprising and rewarding heights.
I marveled at Parker’s creation and wondered if other readers–or reviewers–recognized the subtle, elusive nuances I sensed in Joe. Bill Sheehan, a Barnes and Noble reviewer, said Joe was an “evolving protagonist with love and loyalty issues.” Some reviewers referred to Joe’s intelligence. He is smart and has an eidetic memory. He recalls everything he sees and hears.
But there’s more to Joe. He’s polite–not smart-alecky–and doesn’t swear. He’s slow and introspective; his scars are not just on his face. One reviewer said Joe was “hesitant.” The voice Parker gave Joe, however, is unique in a way that makes other “unique” voices in fiction sound commonplace.
Silent Joe gets more gritty and compelling as it goes along. Joe learns more about his suspects, his parents and himself. He exchanges barbs with the sadistic jail inmates and also falls in love.
Parker keeps up the pace using staccato sentences and fragments to move the action swiftly in some scenes. He doesn’t neglect metaphors, either. Explaining rush hour traffic he says, “But cars on Orange County freeways at six o’clock move about as fast as cars on showroom floors.”
The novel’s supporting cast–particularly the jail prisoners–from the crazy biker who carried the head of a victim around in a pillowcase tied to his hog for a week to a former assistant DA who planned to go to Tahiti with his family when he got out, fills the story of Joe’s life with fascinating details.
Toward the end of the book, Joe talks to one of his father’s friends, or more appropriately, acquaintances. After the meeting, Joe summarizes his situation and reviews his father’s oft-repeated advice that was possibly Joe’s nascent philosophy:
“The idea struck me that I was inheriting my father’s friends, as well as his enemies. I just wasn’t positive which was which. I wondered if Will was. You only had to be wrong once.
John Keller’s is a sedate existence. He lives by himself in an apartment on First Avenue in New York City, walks his dog, does crossword puzzles and oJohn Keller’s is a sedate existence. He lives by himself in an apartment on First Avenue in New York City, walks his dog, does crossword puzzles and occasionally flies out of town on business. When his travels take him to a small town, he frequently wanders about, pondering what it would be like to live in a quaint, out-of-the-way place. Eventually though, he settles down and does what he’s come to do. John Keller kills people.
Keller is the creation of Lawrence Block one of the best known and best selling names in crime fiction. He penned his first story when Eisenhower was in the White House and he’s hardly paused for a breath since. He’s authored more than 50 books and countless articles and short stories. He has several book series going; most well-known is the Matt Scudder series. Scudder, a detective in New York City, is a recovering alcoholic. Although when the series began Scudder was not recovering, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are now a big part of the character’s life.Untitled-1
Block has won multiple Edgars for novels and short stories (not to mention a raft of other awards), has written scripts for large and small screens and even posts regularly on his blog. You can read him online and join his 7,600 followers.
Hit Man is the first in a series of five books: one novel and four story collections. This book contains 10 closely linked short stories in more or less chronological order. We’re introduced to Keller and his trade in the first installment and learn a little more about him with each story. As you might imagine, every story revolves around a particular murder assignment, usually taking place in a different city.
Keller receives his assignments from “the old man” who lives in a large house in White Plains, NY. Usually Keller visits the White Plains house and has iced tea or lemonade with “Dot” a vaguely sketched, middle aged woman and seemingly one of Keller’s only friends. He then goes upstairs to find out who his next target is.
Each story stands on its own, often with a delightful twist ending–predictably, linked to how Keller accomplishes his objective. Rarely does he use a gun; flying out on his assignments pretty much precludes taking a firearm along. He improvises, and in more than one story, the murder weapon is uniquely tailored to the circumstances or the victim. This is particularly true in “Dogs Walked, Plants Watered” where Keller’s weapon of choice is ingenious and amusing.
Unlike the Scudder series, the Keller stories are third person but with Keller himself as the only point-of-view character, so we experience the stories solely through his eyes and thoughts. We don’t learn much about his private life–such as it is–in any one story. In several of the stories we see him with Andria, his dog sitter who becomes his short-lived, sleep-in girlfriend. She discerns what he does for a living and eventually leaves–not necessarily because Keller is a hit man–and takes the dog with her.
Many of the stories contain Keller’s mundane digressions–having to do with stamp collecting, pets or small-town life–that draw you temporarily into Keller’s quiet reveries. “…you’ve always got this fantasy living the good life in Elephant, Montana,” a girlfriend tells him once. “Every place you go you dream up a life to go with it.” But just when Keller’s daydreams lull you into thinking you’re reading introspective chic lit, he strangles an unsuspecting victim and catches a plane home.
“Keller’s Therapy,” the third story in the book, about his relationship with his psychologist, earned Block an Edgar Award. My favorite story is “Keller on the Spot,” which sees him save someone from death, then form an unusual relationship with his assigned target.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Keller is not the slick assassin dressed in black, bristling with exotic weapons who dispassionately dispatches his victims. Morality is an underlying theme for the stories. Keller’s code prohibits him from petty larceny unrelated to an assignment and he occasionally contemplates the ramifications of his murderous acts. But ultimately, although lacking in dash, he performs the deadly rites he’s been hired to do. Afterall, change one vowel in his name and you spell his occupation....more
It’s the late 1950s, Ginger works in a dime-a-dance joint in a rundown part of town, and someone is killing taxi dancers. When two police detectives shIt’s the late 1950s, Ginger works in a dime-a-dance joint in a rundown part of town, and someone is killing taxi dancers. When two police detectives show up at the dance hall one night, Ginger falls for the taller one. “…if I’d had any dreams left, he coulda moved right into them.” The cops only know the killer’s favorite song, the kind of ring he has on one finger and the bizarre way he leaves the dancers’ bodies. With nothing more to go on, they try a stake out. Luckily, Ginger is one sharp cookie and a step ahead of the police. Question is, will she be a step ahead of the serial killer? This carefully crafted tale, The Dancing Detective, is classic noir by Cornell Woolrich and it’s one of 40 short stories in Masterpieces of Mystery and Suspense, a must for the library of every mystery and short story lover. The stories are short--10-20 pages--and not quite short enough to qualify as flash fiction. But they clearly demonstrate how a skilled mystery/suspense writer can weave a tale, create characters with depth and have you guessing right up to the end--all in a tiny package. Woolrich’s story is a good example, combing rich characters and dialog with a snappy plot. Aspiring mystery writers: read this story. See how Woolrich creates a thick, gloomy atmosphere and tells us so much about his characters through the way they talk in addition to what they talk about. Woolrich, like many of the authors in the anthology, were or are known as much for novels as well as short stories. And again, like other authors, many of Woolrich’s stories became movies. One of his most famous was Hitchcock’s 1954 Rear Window. I discovered this collection of gems in a used book store. It can be found easily online. See the note at the end of this review. Writers from Poe to Sue Grafton and Lawrence Block are represented here. Stories of suspense, mystery and those featuring hard boiled detectives fill the pages. The collection’s anthologist, Martin Greenberg, introduces each story with a brief biographical sketch of the author and a few words about the selection. The usual suspects are all here: Dorothy Sayers, Earl Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James, Ross Macdonald, Ellery Queen, Dick Francis and John Dickson Carr. A few writers not known for mysteries also provide fascinating stories. Greenberg included Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury and Stephen King in the collection. King’s Quitters, Inc. has Dick Morrison run into an old friend in an airport lounge, back when you could smoke in an airport. The friend has quit the habit for good, he tells Morrison, with the help of an organization that guarantees its results. In this suspenseful story, the method is the mystery and Morrison’s trials trying to stay off cigarettes can be most appreciated by ex-smokers. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Copper Beeches, Holmes and Watson are approached by a governess who lives in a country house and works for an eccentric gentleman. She becomes fearful when her employers ask her to pose for them in certain ways. Frederick Forsyth’s contribution is, There Are No Snakes In Ireland, a creepy tale of revenge set in Ireland and India. Rex Stout offers, Help Wanted, Male. One of the longest entries in the collection, the story begins with a man who has received an anonymous letter saying he is about to die. He goes to Nero Wolfe for help. Archie Goodwin figures the man would need to look elsewhere: "In the years I had been living in Nero Wolfe’s house…I had heard him tell at least fifty scared people, of all conditions and ages, that if someone had determined to kill them and was going to be stubborn about it, he would probably succeed." The next day, of course, the man is killed and the police want to know what Wolfe and Goodwin know about it. If you’re looking for a collection of new crime and detection stories, obviously this isn’t it. The book is 25 years old and many of the stories are decades older than that. If, however, you want to be challenged and entertained by some of the best mystery and suspense writers who ever pounded a typewriter, this is the collection for you, if you can find it. Note on availability: The book is out of print, but used copies are available from many online sellers. I purchased my hardbound copy (International Collectors Library edition, listed above) from our local library’s used book store. A check of listings for the book at Amazon and other online stores yielded the names of three other publishers and page lengths. Most common was an edition from St. Martin’s Press at 672 pages. Minotaur and Doubleday are also listed as the publisher on some sites. Most available copies are paperback going for $1 or less; shipping charges vary. ...more
Two women are hacked to death with an axe and some valuables stolen from their apartment. The killer, Rodion Raskolnikov, is at first trapped in the aTwo women are hacked to death with an axe and some valuables stolen from their apartment. The killer, Rodion Raskolnikov, is at first trapped in the apartment when two men knock at the door and refuse to go away. After a suspenseful few minutes Raskolnikov manages to escape unseen. The mystery then becomes not who did it, because most of the book is written from the killer’s point of view, but which of two forces will ultimately be his undoing, the police or his dark, deranged mind that leads him to alternately wander the streets at night or hold up in his claustrophobic apartment while suffering fever, fainting and fantastic dreams. After the murder, which takes place in mid-nineteenth century St. Petersburg, Russia, Raskolnikov’s mother and beautiful sister Dunya arrive from the country followed by the sister’s manipulative fiancée who Raskolnikov insults at their first meeting. Raskolnikov’s sister is also pursued by a lecherous former employer bent on having Dunya one way or the other. Soon a casual alcoholic acquaintance of Raskolnikov dies and sends his family into hysterics while the drunk’s self-effacing daughter, who has become a prostitute to support the family, catches Raskolnikov’s eye. In this edition’s foreword, translator Richard Pevear compares the book to the Hindu parable of the blind men describing an elephant each by touching a different part, and indeed the subplots mentioned above head in different directions all held together by Raskolnikov. So rather than explore all of Dostoevsky’s complex characters, his overlapping themes, historical and literary allusions, let’s look at the book simply as a murder story. Even though we know whodunit, the murder investigation and the exploration of Raskolnikov’s psyche is anything but straightforward. A handsome young man in his early 20s, Raskolnikov is an impoverished, sickly former law student dressed in rags. He lives in a garret or tiny flat and is afraid to run into his landlady because he’s behind on the rent. He develops a scheme to kill and rob an elderly pawnbroker which he does early in the novel. He also kills the pawnbroker’s sister who drops in unexpectedly. The crime accomplished, the majority of the book focuses on the punishment which takes place largely in Raskolnikov’s head. While he may regret the crime for what it may cost him, he doesn’t regret taking the life of someone he considers worthless. Getting rid of the miserable crone was a favor to society. The sister simply became, in modern vernacular, collateral damage. Taking a view that separates mankind into the “ordinary and the extraordinary” Raskolnikov feels he is above most men and that the extraordinary ones may transcend conventional morality if the betterment of society is at stake. As it quickly becomes obvious, Raskolnikov is far from a level-headed polemic. Either his wacky moral beliefs are not enough to assuage his seeping guilt, or he’s on the verge of madness and all bets based on logic--even a twisted one--are off. As mentioned, he wanders the streets having extended conversations with himself about his crime, his pursuers and a strange notion that since he’s committed a crime he is now free to do good deeds for others, for society. But even when he donates some of his limited money, he seems to reinforce his appearance of derangement. Hot on Raskolnikov’s trail is Porfiry Petrovich, a police detective who seems to understand the complex psychological aspects of the young man’s motivations. A pudgy official of 35, his method of dealing with Raskolnikov is essentially to give him enough rope as the crime cliché says, but perhaps this method was not as commonplace when the book was published in 1866. In a masterful scene slightly beyond the halfway point of the book, Raskolnikov is summoned to Petrovich’s office where the detective lays out, in theoretical terms, what a perfectly solved murder case might involve, while he professes to be an awkward investigator. “…suppose there is evidence sir,” [he tells Raskolnikov] but evidence, my dear, is mostly double-ended, and I am an investigator and therefore, I confess, a weak man: I would like to present my investigation with, so to speak, mathematical clarity; I would like to get a hold of a piece of evidence that’s something like two times two is four! Something like direct and indisputable proof! But if I were to lock him [a suspect] up at the wrong time--even though I’m sure it was him--I might well deprive myself of the means of his further incrimination.” Petrovich even admits his interrogation techniques are clumsy, but he uses a telling metaphor. “Tell me, really, who among all the accused, even the most cloddish peasant doesn’t know, for instance, that they [investigators] will first lull him with unrelated questions (to use your happy expression) and then suddenly stun him right on the head, with an axe…” Again talking theoretically, Petrovich tells Raskolnikov that in some cases letting a suspect think that he knows his inner secrets and that he, the suspect, is being followed day and night will push the suspected person into making fatal mistakes. Although Petrovich seems to be talking abstractedly, his message unnerves Raskolnikov to the point where he tells himself he’d like to “hurl himself at Porfiry and strangle him on the spot.” Near the climax of the scene, Raskolnikov pounds his fist on the table and shouts, “Don’t taunt me! I won’t have it!” The case against Raskolnikov is not assured, however, compounded by another person’s confessing to the crime and the possibility that Raskolnikov may be completely loony so that the “cat and mouse game” (Petrovich’s words) proceeds with unexpected turns throughout the novel. If anything in this book sounds familiar, it’s because mystery and suspense writers have had nearly 150 years to read Dostoevsky and benefit from his insights, copy his style or simply lift ideas. The book is filled with what has become standard detective story fare: the killer returning to the scene of the crime, a protracted search for the best place to hide the loot, paranoia over being followed, frantic attempts to remove all blood stains, confiding the crime in secret to a girlfriend (a hooker with a heart of gold), the criminal’s belief that he’s somehow entitled to his plunder and a detective seeking a confession. Petrovich’s roundabout interrogation of Raskolnikov sounds remarkably like the bumbling yet savvy Lieutenant Columbo (Peter Falk) from the TV series of the 1970s and 80s. It would be a mistake to call this the original hardboiled detective book, but the mood and the settings are decidedly grim. The characters populate cramped, oppressive rooms decorated with faded, pealing wallpaper and frayed furniture. Many are dressed in ragged clothes, have little or no money and, with a few exceptions, bleak prospects. Suspicion, shame and fear are common and the dirty city streets are filled with falling-down drunks. One particularly dark scene describes a horse being beaten to death in the street in front of cheering onlookers when it fails to pull an intentionally overloaded wagon. Raskolnikov’s extended, abstract inner dialogs can become a little mind-numbing, and complicating the read is the custom of Russians to be called by their last names sometimes, or their first two names, or sometimes a nickname. Within the same paragraph a character can be referred to by several different names--a challenge to English-speaking readers. These issues aside, it’s easy to see why this novel is a towering classic. It’s a powerful story, with complex characters, a strong emotional--and intellectual base--and an engrossing blueprint for the crime novels that followed it. ---------- E-book notes This print version of the novel has many useful footnotes explaining aspects of Russian culture and language, historical and geographical references, plus relevant elements of the author’s background. It also contains a foreword by one of the two renown translators and a useful character list with a guide to pronunciation of the names. This novel also appears in an e-book collection of all of the author’s work, translated by Constance Garnett, that was available for the Kindle. All of the novels were combined in the file, making the percentage read gage and word search all but useless. According to the Amazon Web site, Dostoevsky’s books, also translated by Garnett, are now available separately--and free. Cinema notes According to imdb.com, there are no fewer than 30 Crime and Punishment films, many produced in other countries. The most recent US production was a 2002 film starring Vanessa Redgrave, John Hurt and Crispin Glover. A 1935 version starred Edward Arnold as Porfiry Petrovich and Peter Lorre as Raskolnikov. ...more
Warning: this book review contains a spoiler. No, I’m not going to give away the plot of this Cornell Woolrich thriller (originally published under aWarning: this book review contains a spoiler. No, I’m not going to give away the plot of this Cornell Woolrich thriller (originally published under a pen name), I’m going to alert you to a spoiler of sorts, written by the author himself. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
City homicide detective Tom Shawn is on his way home from work late one evening, walking along a river. As he approaches a bridge, he finds money, loose bills drifting in the breeze like leaves. As he turns across the bridge he finds a diamond ring, then a purse. This shadowy bridge setting and the scenes immediately following exemplify noir as well as anything written during the period and pull you into a twisted tale.
Det. Shawn follows the trail of money, jewelry and other purse contents until he sees high-heel shoes and finally a woman standing on the bridge parapet. With difficulty, he talks her out of jumping and she steps down and out of the shadows. He sees her clearly for the first time. “The arc light gave him a drenching flash of surprise, as it tore the darkness apart and she stepped through the rent into full view.”
He’s surprised to find that she’s a beautiful young woman, barely 20. She tells Shawn she’s afraid of the stars twinkling above, so they make their way to a deserted restaurant where Shawn persuades her to tell her story.Night has a Thousand Eyes
She begins rambling on about “darkness and fear and pain and doom and death.” As she begins to settle down and explain, she soon outlines the theme of the book saying, “…God permits us to look backward, but God has forbidden us to look forward. And if we do, we do so at our own risk.” Her lengthy tale involves her father, a wealthy investor, who has become involved with someone who seems to be able to predict the future.
The predictions bring a promise of riches and fears of death. The story of Jean Reid and her father draw Shawn into a race against time and against capricious, malevolent forces that ultimately mobilize the city detective squad.
Woolrich’s noir style and attention to details highlight the novel. An early chapter focusing on terror is as close to Poe as anything I’ve read by Woolrich and one of the later “police procedure” chapters demonstrates–at length–the finer points of tailing a suspect.
As I read, I was dragged firmly into the heroine’s malaise until it sounded familiar. Too familiar. I had not read the book before, yet after rounding the half-way point in the novel, I knew exactly what was going to happen. Was a book about clairvoyance imparting some of its mystical powers? Was Woolrich a plagiarist?
I found the answer–although I had a notion what the problem was–in the book’s introduction by Woolrich biographer, Francis M. Nevins. He explained the 1945 novel was based on a novella Woolrich had published eight years earlier. And I read the novella, “Speak to Me of Death,” in a Woolrich collection some time before. Apparently this is not the only short story or novella that Woolrich turned into a novel.
So, my advice for readers who are just getting into Woolrich is to be cautious. Try several novels before you pick up a story collection. If you have already read Woolrich short stories, there’s still hope. Most Woolrich books available today come with introductions by Nevins or others. Scan the intro to see if the novel might be based on a short story you’ve read.
In a cursory online search, I could not find a list of his novels that come from his shorter works. In fact, some of the references in the first search engine list I encountered were to my mystery blog.
And don’t be fooled by the different names Woolrich used. As mentioned, this book was originally published under a pen name, George Hopley, Woolrich’s two middle names. He also published under the name William Irish.
Meanwhile, back at the Thousand Eyes, the race against time that Shawn and other detectives embark on is typical of Woolrich thrillers and as Nevins says in the introduction, imminent death and the ticking of the clock are as central to this book as any Woolrich novel. (The description is also true of the story, “Speak to Me of Death.” ) Incidentally, the novel title comes from two of the characters’ aversion to stars, i.e. a thousand eyes.
Perhaps due to the novel’s genesis, it has more than one climax. In fact, it has more ups and downs than many mysteries, making it something of a noir rollercoaster. You will cling tightly to the coaster’s safety bar waiting to see if there’s a final descent and crash.
Video note: Like most, if not all Woolrich novels, this was made into a movie. Edward G. Robinson, Joan Lund and William Demarest star in the John Farrow-directed film. It retains the title of the novel. Although the first scene makes it look as if the film will follow the book closely, it doesn’t. At all. The movie is based on a relatively creative concept, but one that’s not in the book. Woolrich, rather than George Hopley, receives screen credit for the novel. Apparently he was not involved in the script. Remarkably, the one-hour, 20-minute film is available on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RH3bzU......more
I recommend the 1941 novel, The Black Curtain, as an introduction to Woolrich. In it, Frank Townsend gets a bump on the head and suddenly three yearsI recommend the 1941 novel, The Black Curtain, as an introduction to Woolrich. In it, Frank Townsend gets a bump on the head and suddenly three years of his life disappears–or reappears. He searches for his home and discovers his apartment is vacant and that his wife has moved out. He finally finds her and she tells him she hasn’t seen him for three years.
So starts this different version of an amnesia story. After he’s been back with his wife a short time, Townsend discovers someone is following him. The more dangerous the pursuit becomes, the more Townsend realizes he must figure out what happened during the missing three years.
His struggle to discover his past leads him through a threatening world of suspicious looks and dead ends. The fast-paced story includes a case of murder and a decrepit, isolated mansion.The Dancing Detective
Like most roman noir novels, there isn’t exactly a Hollywood ending. The plot twists at the end leave some unanswered questions, but each step along the quick trip through Townsend’s cloudy world is worth the effort and then some....more
This British novel lives up to its name as the first chapters present–at length–three separate stories of death and disappearance, all of which happenThis British novel lives up to its name as the first chapters present–at length–three separate stories of death and disappearance, all of which happened years ago. It’s not until page 71 (Kindle version) that we meet Jackson Brodie, ex-cop turned PI specializing in finding people. When we meet him he’s tailing Nicola, a flight attendant whose husband suspects her of infidelity. Nicola’s story soon fades into the background and Brodie eventually takes on the three cases already introduced.
In the first case, a three-year-old disappears from a back yard campout and 34 years later is still missing. The second case involves a seriously overweight attorney who wants Brodie to find the person who knifed his daughter to death in his law office 10 years earlier. The third case presents a scene of a husband and wife spat that ends with an ax planted in hubby’s skull.
To solve the crimes, Atkinson doesn’t take us on a procedural trail, rather she explores participants’ souls and secrets while Brodie, appearing now and again, offers solace to members of the emotionally wounded cast and leisurely looks for clues. Brodie’s character links the cases together but it’s polar opposite sisters Julia and Amelia–looking for their lost sister Olivia–who seem to take center stage. Amelia is sexually repressed, Julia not so much, a condition not lost on Brodie. The sisters tell Brodie a tale of four sisters living with a cold, distant, frustrated mathematician father and ineffective mother. “Olivia was the only one she loved, although God knows she tried her best with the others.”
Of Brodie we learn that he’s divorced and angry at his ex-wife who has taken up with a professor. Brodie’s ex has custody of their daughter and is threatening to move to New Zealand and take Marlee with her.
“For the most part, the work he [Brodie] undertook now was either irksome or dull,” Atkinson tells us early on. Case HistoriesFortunately, his Case Histories are more than irksome and far from dull although peppered with digressions. When the digressions have digressions it’s a challenge to follow the flow. Some of the digressions or other sections of the book could be short stories themselves. An early murder scene would make a dandy suspense short story.
The clients and their respective troubles are dreary and depressing with a capital D, weighing down Brodie and the reader. “Time did not heal—it merely rubbed at the wound, slowly and relentlessly.” This line, referring to the attorney’s grief over his daughter’s death, could apply to almost any of the characters in the book–including Brodie.
In the latter half of the novel, Brodie is regularly assaulted for reasons that remain unclear until the end. “All the bones in his skull seemed to have been rearranged like tectonic plates slipping and sliding against one another.”
Wounded in more ways than one, Brodie presses on. Ultimately he solves the poignant cases of lost loves–a subject he’s familiar with, details of which are saved for late in the book. The conclusion packs an emotional, touching punch, Brodie solves one of the cases with evidence that seems a little too convenient (but it was originally missed due to sloppy police work) and the end of the story could turn Brodie’s life around.
Video Notes In 2011, a series of three Jackson Brodie mysteries were aired on PBS and are now available on DVD. The series is called Case Histories though only the first episode is based on this novel. Jason Issacs, known to some viewers from the Harry Potter films, plays Brodie as a sympathetic, vulnerable yet rugged PI, giving him as much character as you’ll find in the novel. The video is, of necessity I suppose, faster moving than the book and ultimately satisfying....more