I actually read this under its American title, Dark Prophecy, which was published by M.S. Mill Co., 1945. It's part of an ongoing project I've taken oI actually read this under its American title, Dark Prophecy, which was published by M.S. Mill Co., 1945. It's part of an ongoing project I've taken on, one where I'm finding and reading the work of obscure women writers, beginning in my favorite field of crime fiction/mystery. Talk about obscure -- while researching this author, all I could find on her is the following:
real name: Doris Marjorie Bumpus born: 1905 number of books: eight, published between 1945 and 1956
One would think that a crime writer with eight novels under her belt would be more widely known, but I've scoured the internet and have come up with absolutely nothing other than what I've written here, absolutely bupkus on Bumpus. If anyone at all has any information about this author, please share -- I would love to know more.
Just FYI: I have a longer writeup about this novel at my online reading journal's crime page - aka in some quarters as "Big Bertha's book blog." Feel free to go and take a look. Or stay here & get it in short form.
Dark Prophecy reads like an English country-house murder mystery with a little hint of romance thrown in. The main character of this story is Valerie Beech, formerly of Abbott's Rest, but now living in a bedsit in London and a "hard-up business girl" in the city. She receives an invitation to a weekend party at Wayfarers, the home of Frank and Carol Logan; Frank was once Valerie's fiancé until Carol stole him away. She decides to go, and although she's a bit uncomfortable at first, things go well for a while until hostess Carol receives a death threat in the mail. But even a death threat won't stop the festivities -- Carol throws a lavish costume party. While everyone is having a good time, Carol decides to play a trick on one of her male guests. She asks Valerie to exchange costumes with her -- and while Valerie is reluctant, she decides to play along with the gag. While she's waiting for a signal to come downstairs and rejoin the party in her new garb, someone takes the opportunity to get rid of Carol in the room next door. There's a large cast of potential killers -- and first on everyone's list, of course, is Valerie.
What's really interesting about this book is what's not there. While the book's publication date is 1945, there's very little in the way of clues as to when the action in this novel actually takes place. My assumption is that it's set during the 1940s, however, I may be wrong here. There's pretty much nothing here that touches on World War II: the men at the house are all young, none of them have any wartime or post war-involvement issues, and the war isn't even brought up anywhere. While Valerie is obviously from an upper middle-class background and Wayfarers is filled with people who seem to be quite well off (at least one guest is an artist whose wife lives in London while he paints in the country), the only hint of any class issues is Valerie's father's financial problems that have set her apart from her former neighbors and sent her to London to work.
The wording of the book will make you work a little harder while reading (but it's not nearly as stilted, for example, as something by John Dickson Carr), and the story takes pretty much forever after the murder to get to the solution. It's also a little too much romance for my taste, but to her credit, it's less simpering-heroine-type stuff than I expected. When all is said and done, however, Alan reveals that basic human nature doesn't change underneath the trappings of the well-kept lawns, the at-home tennis courts, and the Rolls Royces of the rich.
If you can find a copy, and if you're a diehard classic British mystery fan or a fan of country-house murders looking for another author to read, I'd say give it a try. I plan on trying to hunt down some of her other works to add to my library of obscure women crime/mystery writers. The fact that Alan is herself such an enigma actually appeals to me and makes me want to read more of her books. Definitely not a novel for those who want a quick read. ...more
Don't write a comment flaming me because I didn't love this book. I just didn't. Bottom line. I didn't hate it, but it's not going to appear on my perDon't write a comment flaming me because I didn't love this book. I just didn't. Bottom line. I didn't hate it, but it's not going to appear on my personal favorites list for the year. It's a very s--l--o--w buildup of a story to an ending that well, frankly, has been done before. The scenario is very different, but I think having read so much of Lovecraft (and the authors he's influenced over the years) sort of spoiled it for me, so in a way, it's not the author's fault that I didn't like this one as much as I might have. It's kind of like seeing a movie then going back to read the book -- you already know what's going to happen so there's less of an impact by the time the ending comes around.
Jamie Morton, a man in his early sixties, recounts his life story in this book, one that first took a strange turn when he met the Reverend Charles Jacobs at the age of six in 1962. Jacobs, as Morton notes, is his "fifth business," "the joker who pops out of the deck at odd intervals over the years, often during a moment of crisis." Jacobs has an odd hobby, working with electricity, and his "youth talks" with the kids of the Methodist Youth Fellowship often involved lessons where he used electricity or couched his lectures in electro-speak to illustrate the points he was trying to make. He was very well liked among the congregation, swelling its numbers to peak levels, and really made an impression when he used an electrical device to help bring back the voice of Jamie's brother Con after an accident that left him mute. All is well until the fateful day that the reverend's wife and little boy went out in their car and were killed. Afterwards, in his grief, Jacobs goes to the pulpit where he began "edging into blasphemy" by renouncing doctrine on the afterlife and by renouncing religion in general as the
"theological equivalent of a quick-buck insurance scam, where you pay in your premium year after year, and then, when you need the benefits you paid for so --pardon the pun--so religiously, you discover the company that took your money does not, in fact, exist."
The reverend is fired, of course, and leaves town, but it's not the last time Jamie sees him. Over the next several years, he will cross and recross paths with Jacobs, and a connection is made that will ultimately change Jamie's life and question his understanding of all that he has come to know as reality.
There is a veritable slew of literary influence to be found woven throughout this book -- Arthur Machen and Lovecraft are the big ones, but you'll also find in Jacobs a bit of Captain Ahab going after his white whale. Mary Shelley is definitely represented here (in more ways than one), as is M.R. James, Ray Bradbury, and I'm sure there are a few others that I've missed. There are also, as in many books by this author, bits and pieces of King's own life (and other work) to be found here. As usual, he starts out in small-town America, where the people in the community are your neighbors in the true sense of the word, making everything seem so normal and easygoing that you just can't wait to see what's going to provide the catalyst that changes everything. He also continues his theme of innocence lost, here with a major twist. When King is writing on religion and the whole spectacle of the religious-healing-tent-revival he is amazing, making the reader feel like he/she is right there in the crowd. But on the flip side -- it's so slow -- by page 299 I was thinking that ""maybe, just maybe, we're starting to get somewhere in this book. One can always hope." And frankly, I just didn't feel like the payoff was worth wading through Jamie Morton's entire life story. I see so many ways that this book could have been better, but oh well.
Perusing the normal book-related websites, it seems that people just can't get enough of this book, and the ratings are definitely high. I wouldn't be surprised to see Revival jetting into the top ranks of the NYT bestseller list soon, but for me, I'm doing that hand thing that means iffy. ...more
3.7 (I hate star ratings, but I feel so obligated to give a number --aarrgh!)
Originally published in 1938, Postscript to Poison is the first of only f3.7 (I hate star ratings, but I feel so obligated to give a number --aarrgh!)
Originally published in 1938, Postscript to Poison is the first of only five books by British author Dorothy Bowers, who died ten years later after a battle with tuberculosis. Bowers had wanted to "make creative literary work" her career, but found herself the owner of “a fairly regular spate of rejection slips from various editors” instead. She also read a great deal, and discovered an "intermittent" attraction to detective fiction, selecting "only ...the best." She eventually started writing mystery novels herself which ultimately led to her being inducted to the detection club in 1948, but her novels soon went out of print. Thanks to Rue Morgue Press, her works live on and are widely available. I've already ordered her second book in this series, Shadows Before, which I'm definitely looking forward to reading after having finished this one, so obviously it means that I enjoyed this book enough to merit another.
When the epigraph in the first chapter of a novel has to do with Lady Macbeth, it's definitely notice worthy. Good old Lady Macbeth -- that ambitious, ruthless and very powerful woman -- could almost be an alter ego to the matriarch in this family drama. I say almost -- unlike Lady Macbeth, Cornelia Lackland is an elderly widow and she dies by the end of chapter two. It's only after her death that the full scale of her tyranny is revealed, which brings to light just how much everyone at Lacklands hates her, and with what I'd say is good reason. She probably would have made a good murderer had she not been a victim.
Before Mrs. Lackland dies, however, there is some monkey business at work in the town of Minsterbridge. Her physician, Dr. Faithful, has received a couple of nasty poison pen letters accusing him of poisoning his patient, and decides to turn them over to the police. While Mrs. Lackland had been ill, she'd recently been making a very good recovery, and was healthy enough to have been excited about the coming visit with her solicitor Mr. Rennie. But even though the good doctor has given her a good prognosis, he is called out to Lacklands one night only to find her dead. He refuses to give a certificate of death, and calls for the coroner, ultimately leading to the involvement of Chief Inspector Dan Pardoe of Scotland Yard, who quickly discovers how very much the old lady was hated by just about everyone in the household and that she had a rather shady past. He has to sort through not only this mess, but also has to find whoever may be responsible when a second death occurs.
Even though it's the 1930s, some Victorian attitudes still prevail in this novel, for example, with the use of the term "hysteria." Our intrepid detective from New Scotland Yard has a "natural man's horror of hysteria," and is surprised when Mrs. Lackland's companion, Emily Bullen, doesn't live up to his expectations. The same character is also described by the inspector as "a crafty, hysterical, harmful, but ultimately stupid type." There are more uses of this word scattered through the book, but you get the idea.
At the same time, I can't help but wonder how much of herself the author may have put into Bullen's description when she says that Bullen
"has all the traits of the disappointed spinster that has to face a future of starved affections and economic insecurity."
"Bowers struggled for years to find a job as history tutor, supplementing her meagre income by compiling crossword puzzles."
Then again, I could be totally wrong here, but these are a definitely a couple of interesting and possibly noteworthy parallels!
Postscript to Poison is definitely a yes for anyone interested in golden-age mysteries, in 1930s British crime/mystery fiction, and for anyone like myself who is or who has become interested in rather obscure women writers of past decades. It does have that sort of language that is pretty typical of golden-age mystery stories which may seem sort of weighty (and which causes some readers to unfairly judge this sort of book) to readers who haven't delved into the crime-fiction/mystery past, but the story does flow pretty well and the characters are all very well established. It's also a fun whodunit loaded with of clues that will satisfy any armchair detective for a few hours. ...more
Rustication begins with an absolute teaser. Someone, presumably the author since the initials at the end ofI hate star ratings ... this one like a 3.75
Rustication begins with an absolute teaser. Someone, presumably the author since the initials at the end of the Foreword are given as CP, has discovered a document that had "lain unnoticed for many years" in Thurchester's county records office, one that "casts light" on a now-forgotten murder. Inside this journal he had found a "number of anonymous letters" that had some bearing on that case, and he is intrigued by the testimony of a police officer who admitted that while investigating the murder and going through these letters, there was one which he'd only been allowed to read part of. The rest of the novel is this recently-unearthed journal kept by seventeen year-old Richard Shenstone, and what follows is a dark, twisty and ultimately satisfying story which takes place 1863-1864 on the southern English coast.
Palliser has always been a personal favorite. Some time ago I read and re-read his The Quincunx, which was my launching point into the world of Victorian sensation writers such as Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Just FYI, the term "sensation novel" refers to works of the period that deal in a very large way with family scandals, crimes, sex and all sorts of lurid things not spoken of in polite society. Palliser has in many ways has recreated the same sort of atmospheric creepiness here in Rustication with the isolated, gloomy house filled with secrets, a few characters who are prone to delusions, the undercurrent of sexual and other tensions that run through day-to-day village life, the portrayal of women jockeying for position among their own and the higher classes, and the reproduction of the hand-written threatening letters. He also gives us a somewhat unreliable narrator in Richard Shenstone, now cut off from Cambridge and slowly heading toward another "severance," providing all the makings of a good, mysterious melodrama that kept me from putting the book down for longer than absolutely necessary. It may start a little slow, but keep reading -- you will not be disappointed....more
In the book's opening pages, author Harry Crews says that he has "never been certain of who I am," and that he's "slipped into and out of identities as easily as other people slip into and out of their clothes." But he knows for an absolute certainty that whoever he "has its source" in Bacon County, Georgia, and that
"... what has been most significant in my life had all taken place by the time I was six years old."
What he's put together here, he says, is "the biography of a childhood which necessarily is the biography of a place, a way of life gone forever out of this world." With an old shoebox full of photos by his side, Crews goes on to tell of a hardscrabble first six years of life first on a farm in Bacon County, his "home place," then in a brief move to Florida, and finally back again to Georgia.
I haven't had the pleasure of reading any of Crews' novels yet, but my guess would be that themes that will be found in any of his writing are probably found in here as well. Here are a few I've discovered: the power and art of storytelling, poverty, family, "courage born out of desperation and sustained by a lack of alternatives," fantasy/myth as an integral part of survival, alcoholism, women, and fathers. And then, of course, looming over all of those likely candidates, there's the American South, which is why, whether or not all of the events depicted here in Harry Crews' young life are true isn't really an issue here. It is, after all, a "biography of a place," and somehow, he manages to pull it off without roaming into the usual poor-Southern farmer stereotypes, and does it in such a way that humor manages to come through the worst of harsh and tragic.
The only thing left to say, since this is a book best experienced on one's own, is that the quality of the writing drew me in pretty much immediately. I know it's cliché and even trite to say this, but frankly, I was just spellbound all the way through it. Reading this book was an experience on its own -- it was so very easy, even without the help of McCurdy's drawings, to imagine it all in my head, as if Crews was writing and illustrating all at the same time. It was also very easy, once I got the reading rhythm going, to see just how his small world made sense to him in the context of his young life.
Highly recommended. One of my favorite books of the year. ...more
still catching up! BTW, I screwed up and this is NOT the e-book edition.
Once again, Edouardo Halfon has entranced me with his writing, his travels, astill catching up! BTW, I screwed up and this is NOT the e-book edition.
Once again, Edouardo Halfon has entranced me with his writing, his travels, and above all, his storytelling. There is no "plot" here - just a series of short but very powerful stories.
I was especially struck by something that he said in this book while writing about his grandfather: " a story is really many stories," and "a story grows, changes its skin, does acrobatics on the tightrope of time." This is more or less how he himself writes as he tells of traveling from place to place in an effort to uncover how people (including himself) define/identify themselves. Is it through religion? He is a Guatemalan Jew, but his Orthodox Jewish sister, for example, tells them on a visit home that "as far as she and the Orthodox rabbis and teachers saw it," the rest of the family weren't Jews. Is it through place? His grandfather's siblings all fled Beirut at the beginning of the 20th century, each ending up in a different country. Through experience, memories or history? In the names our parents give us? Through the eyes of others? In the clothes we wear?
The book may only consist of just over 150 pages, but it speaks to very big questions. It also speaks to the act of writing. Halfon may be not be the most reliable storyteller, but even there, not all stories are built on absolute truths, a point he very clearly gets across not only in this book, but in his earlier book, The Polish Boxer as well. People who are expecting a tidy ending in either book might be a bit disappointed, but Halfon is on a journey, and as he notes,
"all our journeys are really one single journey, with multiple stops and layovers...every journey , any journey, is not linear, and is not circular, and it never ends." (83)
I loved the bird imagery in this book, and that of walls - but even more, I absolutely love the way this man writes. Highly, highly recommended.
my sincere thanks to Bellevue Literary Press for my advanced reader copy. ...more