I had to stay up all night with my sick dog, so I finished this book probably about 3:30 this morning. It's a good read -- not great, and it probablyI had to stay up all night with my sick dog, so I finished this book probably about 3:30 this morning. It's a good read -- not great, and it probably wouldn't be of much interest to anyone except vintage crime readers and people who are into (like I am) historical crime fiction based on actual murder cases. This book, like Marie Belloc Lowndes' Letty Lynton, is a take on the Madeleine Smith case of 1857; unlike Lowndes, who modernized the story and moved it to England, Ashe (who is also known as Christianna Brand) chose to keep her story in Victorian-era Glascow. Another thing that sets the two apart is that Ashe adds a strange twist to the case that I didn't see coming.
I won't give details just in case any vintage-crime reader is interested in this book, but the novel is set up very nicely so that it's only near the end of the story when it hits you exactly what's actually happened here, which turns out to be a big surprise. Getting to that point may seem a little slow and, also like Letty Lynton, Ashe's story seems to hang in the chick-lit realm for quite a while until darkness falls. While I totally dislike romance-ish crime fiction, the folly of l'amour does serve a purpose here and to her credit, Ashe doesn't let it ruin or take over the story. Making just one further comparison to Lowndes' book, while both authors examine class distinction in their work, Ashe takes things a wee bit further by 1) looking at things for a while from a servant's point of view that shows that life in service wasn't always as it was in Upstairs Downstairs and 2) examining the gradations in the system that existed in upper-class Victorian society, where, for example as in the case of the father of the main character, being x number of years away from a family fortune based on trade was actually a stigma to be lived down.
It's a fun little book that satisfied my appetite for historical crime fiction, and I most definitely appreciated the surprising twist in the story. I'm afraid it may be a little tame for modern readers who look for a lot of action or kickass heroines in their crime, but vintage crime lovers should definitely enjoy it, especially those familiar with the Madeleine Smith case.
And that reminds me -- while I'm a work widow this coming week, I'll be watching David Lean's 1950 black-and-white movie about this Victorian murder entitled Madeleine starring Ann Todd, Lean's third wife, who also had a role in one of my all-time favorite BBC productions called "Maelstrom." ...more
Without going into any great detail (you can find that all here), I wasn't going to read this novel at all, because with very few exceptions, I'm jusWithout going into any great detail (you can find that all here), I wasn't going to read this novel at all, because with very few exceptions, I'm just not a fantasy reader. But the book showed up at my door because it was a selection from the Politics and Prose bookstore's signed first editions club I belong to, so I figured what the hell. Boy, was I ever surprised.
It turns out that this novel set in a time of a very skittish, postwar peace left me sobbing like a baby at the end, and really turns on the question of "when is it better to just forget things and keep them forgotten?" (the author's words from an interview) -- and it is asked by nearly every character in this book. But the kicker is that I, someone who detests romance and love stories in novels, was just floored by the relationship between the two elderly main characters, because well, they absolutely get the answer right. The Buried Giant, in other words, ended up becoming a very personal novel for me, and I ended up surprised at how very much I enjoyed it.
Talk about obscure novels! This one is so obscure that I had to enter it into the Goodreads database myself.
Everyone knows Marie Belloc Lowndes for hTalk about obscure novels! This one is so obscure that I had to enter it into the Goodreads database myself.
Everyone knows Marie Belloc Lowndes for her novel The Lodger, but with a bit of digging I discovered and bought a copy of her Letty Lynton written in 1932. As with The Lodger, Lowndes based this novel on a true crime, this time the story of Madeleine Smith, a young woman who found herself standing in the dock in Glascow in 1857 accused of a scandalous murder. At the same time, while Letty Lynton doesn't have that keen psychological edge Lowndes gave to The Lodger, it is still a book worth reading, if for no other reason, for the eye-popping ending that came out of the blue as a total surprise.
[As an aside, this novel (also as was the case with The Lodger) was made into a movie, this one starring Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery. Sadly the movie is out of circulation, as I discovered when I went to try to buy a copy; it has something to do with legal rights, but all I can hope for now is that TCM will run it again some day.]
Bringing Madeleine Smith's story more up to date and moving it out of Glascow, Lowndes' novel is set in the small English town of Thark. The novel's focus is on the somewhat sheltered 18 year-old daughter of a millionaire, Letty Lynton. Among Letty's many traits, she is pampered, shallow, at odds with her mother (for whom the sun rises and sets in Letty's older brother) and yet she is so beautiful that men are drawn to her like bees to honey. Sadly, one of these men, wholly unsuitable for Letty's station, gets it into his head (after being led on shamefully by young Letty, who has a habit of doing that sort of thing) that the two are engaged to be married, and constantly pressures Letty to allow him to meet her family. Things take a terrible turn when our young darling is introduced into London society and becomes the object of a respected lord's affection -- the Lynton family is ecstatic but what they do NOT know is that Letty's future and indeed, the reputation of the entire Lynton family is in jeopardy.
Even though this novel may sound like a work of 1930s chick-lit, it is actually anything but. At first I was wondering if this novel was going to go anywhere other than Letty's ongoing dalliances with men, but the author didn't let me down. The beauty of this novel is once again on the psychological side -- while not as suspenseful or disturbing as Lowndes' The Lodger, the author does a fantastic job of having Letty repeatedly dig herself into a quagmire of her own creation from which there literally may be no escape.
While written in the 1930s, and probably only satisfying to readers within a certain niche, it is still a very good crime novel and above all, a fine character study, which seems to be the author's forte. I would recommend it to readers of English crime novels, to readers of interwar-period British fiction, and to anyone who may be interested in the works of Marie Belloc Lowndes. If the opportunity ever arises to read this book, I guarantee that you'll discover one of the best and most appropriate endings to ever find its way into a crime novel, which for me seems to be ever more of a rarity these days. ...more
I've cut way way back on reading series novels, but I've been a fan of Tursten's work from the first book of this series, Detective Inspector Huss. FoI've cut way way back on reading series novels, but I've been a fan of Tursten's work from the first book of this series, Detective Inspector Huss. For plot, etc. you can go here; otherwise read on.
There's a very thoughtful blurb on the back cover of my book from The Denver Post which says in part,
"For decades the Swedes have excelled at crime fiction, which is often as gloomy as their long winter nights, filled with philosophical asides on life and politics."
This time around, the dark world of sex trafficking/sex slavery is the main focus, and Tursten doesn't shy away from showing her readers exactly how horrific this "trade" really is. First of all, she informs her readers that "...human trafficking today turns over more money than the narcotics trade." The girls involved rarely make it out; and those who manage to do so often suffer from severe physical and mental damage. She also notes that most men who pay for sex with a "sex slave" do so likely for reasons of power, and because they see these girls as objects -- not real people. Tursten also reveals that the majority of men who participate are "socially well-established men with families." What's even more eye-opening here is that there is even a market for killing these poor victims after they're no longer of any use -- pimps sell these girls to people who take money for getting rid of them. And as an example of an even worse reality, Tursten also reveals that in some cases, the sex-slave trade is protected by politicians and overlooked in terms of the law because of the potentially huge amounts of money involved. So quite frankly, it boggles my brain when I read an Amazon review of this book where the reader reviewer says the following:
"Maybe I am a bit weary of the crime of sex trafficking so this one was not as good as her others."
Weary of the crime of sex trafficking? I ask you. How does anyone get "weary" of hearing about something that needs so much public awareness? Not only that, but hello ... the subject of this novel is right on the dustjacket blurb so caveat emptor. Duh.
What I like about Tursten's novels in general is that she doesn't have to resort to the now-standard trope of the badass heroine, but instead focuses mainly on the procedural side of police work. She situates Irene Huss in a workplace which is very much a male-dominated environment where there's no escaping from a couple of misogynistic jerks as colleagues, which is probably a more realistic situation than we non-police people realize. The down side of this series as a whole is that while I get that the author wants to portray a woman who must juggle work with home and personal life, I'm just not a huge fan of the continuing story of the dog (and I have two dogs of my own) and the issues with the twins, especially now that they're what -- 20?
While The Beige Man is not my personal favorite of her novels, I must say that the story is much better than the last couple of books Tursten's written and this time around I was pretty much hooked right away and stayed with the story until all was revealed. I will also mention that I had some things figured out early on which is pretty bothersome for me as a crime/mystery reader -- I'm one of those people who wants only tiny little clues to work on until the end so that everything is a huge surprise. That didn't happen here, but that's okay. I stick with these books because I happen to like Irene Huss as a character, and as long as Helene Tursten keeps writing them, I'll keep buying them. ...more
I'm going to post abut this book closer to its release date in May; in the meantime, since I seriously need shelf space, someone (in the US) can haveI'm going to post abut this book closer to its release date in May; in the meantime, since I seriously need shelf space, someone (in the US) can have my copy. Free, I'll pay postage - just leave a comment. ...more
for the longer version (which I mistakenly just left long here earlier - my apologies), you can go here; otherwise, read on.
The murder of a call girfor the longer version (which I mistakenly just left long here earlier - my apologies), you can go here; otherwise, read on.
The murder of a call girl in the Villejuif area of Paris has more than a few people on edge. The murder itself is not an event in this novel, but what happens to the protagonist of this novel, M. Hire, is based on fallout from the fear surrounding the killing. It all begins when the concierge of M. Hire's apartment building spies a bloody towel on his washstand while delivering mail, and she makes the leap that M. Hire must be the murderer, setting this story in motion. From that point on, M. Hire's daily life is scrutinized unceasingly, except at night in the privacy of his apartment, when he watches the beautiful red-haired woman in the apartment across the way. However, everything changes for M. Hire when one night he realizes she is watching him as well.
What will strike anyone who's familiar with Simenon's Maigret series and then reads this novel is the huge difference between the two. The series novels tend to work toward a solution, have a policeman as a main character who cares about some sort of justice and has definite clues to follow. Here, Simenon sort of turns the roman policier on its head, and the result is one of the best books I've read in a very, very long time. It is a fine example of his "roman durs" ("tough" novels), much more serious "in tone and intent" than his series novels; it is the term Simenon used "to refer to all those novels that he regarded as his real literary works."
The Engagement is short, but don't let that fool you -- it is a beautiful book that should be (imo) on everyone's reading list. Most especially recommended for people who prefer reading about people over plot. ...more
The Lodger has long been one of my favorite novels; reading it again a second time proved no less suspenseful than it did the first time through.
MariThe Lodger has long been one of my favorite novels; reading it again a second time proved no less suspenseful than it did the first time through.
Marie Belloc Lowndes based her novel very loosely on the story of Jack the Ripper, and the novel is set in London at a time when a series of horrific murders blamed on a person known only as "The Avenger" is the big news on the streets. At the same time, the story is not really about these murders; it is actually the story of a husband and wife who find themselves in dire financial straits and who are quite literally pulled back from the edge of starvation and ruin when a gentleman takes a room in their home. Calling himself Mr. Sleuth, the man has strange habits, including walks in London's foggy streets and reading Bible verses about wicked women. But for the Buntings, especially for Mrs. Bunting, the lodger and his money is literally their salvation, and it is because of this that Mrs. Bunting is forced to carry a terrible burden, one that tears her up inside with both guilt and fear.
While some readers might be disappointed that the focus of the novel isn't on Jack the Ripper (or his Avenger persona here), I think Lowndes' intent was much more of an intense psychological study of a woman who is caught up in a horrible dilemma that offers her very little choice and leads her to a near breakdown. This may be why some people found it slow going, with very little happening vis a vis the Avenger and the crimes. However, my feeling is that it's possible that the book has often been misread -- to me it is very successful, highly atmospheric and downright claustrophobic. For me, it's a story where the tension and feeling of dread builds slowly as the novel progresses, and when the ending came around, I felt like I could actually breathe again. To me, if a book has that much impact on a reader, it's a damn good one.
Highly, highly recommended -- but it's a book best gone into with an open mind and no preconceived notions. ...more
When I started reading this book, I had absolutely no idea just how timely my choice of books was. While starting the section about the 197like a 3.8.
When I started reading this book, I had absolutely no idea just how timely my choice of books was. While starting the section about the 1975 evacuation of Phnom Penh, I did a google search to find photos and discovered that tomorrow, April 17, marks the 40th anniversary of this event, which also marked "Day One" of the new regime headed by Pol Pot under the Khmer Rouge. It also marked day one of roughly three and a half years of starvation, disease, and executions that in total took the lives of 1.5 million people -- about twenty percent of Cambodia's population.
Very briefly, the focus of this book is to reveal how Cambodia's history, its politics, its inner workings at the highest levels and its place in the international scheme of things (the Sino-Soviet split, the Vietnam War, French colonialism, American foreign policy, Cambodian nationalism and its corrupt and repressive government, the divisions of class and society in the country, etc.) all combined to make it possible for someone like Pol Pot and those who followed him to take absolute control of the country and to implement their horrific policies afterward. Short then examines those policies established by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in their efforts to make Cambodia a truly independent nation (which they never did), and “a precious model for humanity." He looks at Pol Pot's paranoia, his failure to take the measure of conditions before putting his revolutionary practices to work, his constant flip-flopping back and forth over his own policies, his insistence that everything done at the top levels should be done in complete secrecy; in short -- the author examines an experiment that ended in not only failure, but also in the senseless deaths of over one million people. While everyone should be familiar with Cambodia's killing fields, Short's book doesn't really dwell there. So if you're looking for books that go into detail about the victims of Pol Pot's ruthless practices, you should really look elsewhere.
I do not agree with the author's ideas about how Pol Pot's Buddhist education served as the basis of some of his programs; there is absolutely no proof that there's any basis for that notion offered here, and to me it's just ridiculous to even say so. Another thing: the title may be slightly misleading in that as I noted earlier, it's much more about historical and other factors in Cambodia than a straightforward biography of Pol Pot. However, putting aside my complaints, it is a very well written, very in-depth and informative approach to understanding the conditions under which something so horrific could have been allowed to happen.
I didn't find it dry at all -- I couldn't stop reading this book. ...more
A Cold Coming is book #11 in my quest to gather and read the novels of women crime writers whose work has a) been forgotten/neglectplot etc -- here.
A Cold Coming is book #11 in my quest to gather and read the novels of women crime writers whose work has a) been forgotten/neglected over time or b) remained in the shadows of the more well-known crime fiction/mystery writers of their times.
Sadly, as eager as I was to read something by an author I'd never heard of, this book just fell flat for me. I have to say, this is certainly one of the more confusing 1950s British mysteries/crime novels I've read -- it moves from a stay at a research/treatment facility for colds to a cancelled opera, then on to kidnappings, back to the opera, ever further outward to discussions of potential brainwashing, biological weapons and then to corporate warfare ...I mean, seriously, it was hard to keep track of what was actually going on here. Then everything is all muddled with the two main characters, one of whom, it seems, is trying to keep a lid on the fact that he comes from wealthy parents, not that his ancestry has anything to do with the actual storyline. For a novel that starts out so strongly, it certainly takes a nose dive once the clues start falling into place, a very unusual phenomenon in my experience. Normally it's the other way around -- here, I felt the author was sort of confused and couldn't piece things together in a coherent way. In short -- this book takes the reader sort of all over the map and the experience just wasn't pleasant.
I'd be willing to try another novel by Mary Kelly, but probably one of her later ones; maybe the one that won her the 1961 CWA Gold Dagger. This one -- well, it just didn't do anything for me. I was rather disappointed, actually, but considering it's her first novel, chances are it's most likely a case of author inexperience. I would seriously hate to think all of her books are this poorly executed....more
"The artists of the School of Paris came to France in a mass and rare migration, honed their art in the schools and museums of France, ignored the sty "The artists of the School of Paris came to France in a mass and rare migration, honed their art in the schools and museums of France, ignored the styles of French painters as young as themselves and produced a host of exciting and unique works of art. A good deal of great art would have been lost if they had come to Paris and did nothing more than mimic the bland work of young French painters."
Meisler is talking about artists such as Modigliani, Chagall, and Jules Pacsin, but the "key artist" in this group, the man who gets the bulk of the attention here, is Chaim Soutine. This may be because when Meisler graduated from college in the early 1950s, he discovered a family connection to the artist, and as he notes, whenever he saw a Soutine painting in a museum afterwards, he gave it extra notice. The anti-social, anti-hygienic, often downright bizarre artist most definitely has an interesting story, especially once his work was discovered and people started trying to acquire his paintings and he literally went from rags to riches. And while Soutine's life and work is definitely the main thrust of this book, Shocking Paris also reveals much more: a brief examination of Russia and the anti-Semitic policies that drove many artists to find a haven in France, a look at forces inside Jewish orthodoxy that also had an impact on some artists' emigration to Paris, a look at the changing art scene that had moved from Montmartre to Montparnasse, French anti-Semitism, the effects of outside forces (the Depression, or luck in finding a patron to support one's work) that had the potential to make or break an artist's career and set up rivalries among the artists, and then there's the exploration of the Nazi occupation of France that sent huge numbers of foreign-born Jews to the camps and sent some of the artists in this book into hiding. Moving chronologically through 20th-century French history, he intertwines these outside events with the stories of some of the artists of the Paris School, although as I've already said, it is Soutine's work and life that is the main thrust of the book, so perhaps the title is a bit misleading.
Personally speaking, if he had just made this book about Soutine, it would be much more reflective of what Meisler's actually accomplished here than what the title makes the reader think is going to be in this book. Even the paintings by artists of the Paris School he's chosen to illustrate this book are dominated by Soutine's works, and his "Aftermath" chapter is given largely over to discussions about Soutine. At the same time, Soutine's life was anything but dull and makes for really good reading -- especially his life in hiding after the Nazi occupation. As part of his focus on this artist, Meisler also points out the problems with trying to get a handle on the man from the biographical standpoint, and even from criticism of his works. For example, he notes how Jewish critics have come up with some "convoluted theses" about him by looking for Jewish content that isn't reflected in his work.
When all is said and done, the book is very reader friendly, interesting from an historical standpoint, and even if the reader knows absolutely nothing about the School of Paris or any of the artists that composed this group, Meisler makes the information accessible and interesting from the standpoint of human interest. However, the focus on Soutine, while incredibly interesting, detracts a bit from what is seemingly implied by the title. Still, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who may have an interest in the topic -- even though it's a bit top heavy on the Soutine side, it's still a good introduction to the Montparnasse art scene and the history of the time that helped to shape this group of incredible artists and which had a major impact on their careers. ...more
While I wouldn't classify this novella as great, it is quite entertaining, but most importantly, it led me to the work of Victorian writer Charlotte RWhile I wouldn't classify this novella as great, it is quite entertaining, but most importantly, it led me to the work of Victorian writer Charlotte Riddell. To be very frank, The Uninhabited House is a story you don't read in hopes of being scared out of your wits ... it's more something you read in appreciation of the author's craft and as a representation of a woman writing Victorian supernatural fiction.
The "uninhabited house" of the title is River Hall, the property of Miss Helena Elmsdale who inherited the property after the death of her father. Miss Elmsdale has not yet reached her majority however, so the business of keeping the house rented falls to her aunt Miss Susannah Blake who puts it in the hands of her attorneys, Messrs. Craven and Son. She is not the easiest of clients, but the lawyers do their very best to keep it rented for her so that some money comes to her in her situation. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the house has a history of tenants who are only too eager to leave shortly after taking the place. After one tenant decides he's had enough, Mr. Craven realizes that the house that is doomed by reputation to never again see a tenant grace its threshold. With Miss Blake demanding that something be done, one man takes it upon himself to stay in the house so he can discover the secrets that plague River Hall.
This is a story in which Ms. Riddell's art reflected parts of her own life -- after her father died and left the family in financial straits, Charlotte and her mother relocated to London where Charlotte took up writing as a way to help support herself. Her skills came in handy after her marriage when her husband also suffered some financial setbacks. It seems to me that in many ways, one of the points of this story is that it isn't money that brings happiness -- in fact, it is just the opposite in some situations. Combined with the supernatural elements of this story, it definitely should have made for interesting and edifying reading at the time.
I will say that for a while I wasn't quite sure how this tale was going to play out, since it reads like a mystery novel in some parts. Actually, as a crime/mystery reader that's not a bad thing, but I really wanted to know exactly what was happening at River Hall. As it turns out, it becomes sort of a hybrid mystery/ghost story when all is said and done; the downside is that it also has a wee bit of sentimental sappiness there at the end, which frankly, given the time it was published doesn't really surprise me.
While it has its issues, I enjoyed The Uninhabited House very much, and when I finished it, I bought two more books of her work for my home library, Volumes I and II of The Collected Supernatural and Weird Fiction of Mrs. J.H. Riddell, published by Leonaur. I foresee many hours spent reading Riddell's work in my future -- and would recommend this book to readers who are interested in Victorian-era women writers, to readers of old ghost stories/haunted house tales, and to anyone like myself who is trying to discover previously-unknown authors and bring their obscurity into the light. ...more
I have to say I'm very surprised at the number of one-star and two-star ratings for this book. Then again, maybe not. I suppose few people have too muI have to say I'm very surprised at the number of one-star and two-star ratings for this book. Then again, maybe not. I suppose few people have too much patience for old-style writing these days. That's a shame.
While published in 1827, the author chose to set her novel in the mid 1600s and in the milieu of the Puritans of Massachusetts in order to examine her present and America's future "by way of the past." More here re plot, etc.
I can't possibly begin to expound on all of the issues that Sedgwick raises in this book -- serious reflections on the roles and futures of women in America, the presence of women in the public sphere, their submission to male authority, the ethical treatment of Native Americans, the rigidity of the Puritans, the historical record vs. an alternate theory re what really happened as far as Puritan-Native American interaction, whether or not tolerance can exist between Native Americans and the people who continue to move further out into the American frontier -- all of these subjects would demand much more time than I can give to them. The focus is on the two main characters of Hope and Magawisca, who are each in their own right heroines of their time, each able to use her own good judgment and sense of moral right to better an entire community even though their actions are at odds with prevailing authority. Each lets her own moral code guide her in her actions, each strongly speaks out against injustice, and each is a strong representation of what all people, not just women, can aspire to as individuals in a quickly-growing and changing America of Sedgwick's time.
Hope Leslie is an amazing book on several levels and I have no hesitation in recommending it even to the most casual of readers who may want something very different. The only issue that people unacquainted with novel writing of this time period might run up against is in the way Sedgwick writes, which is sort of bulky and complicated while we're used to more streamlined prose; despite this minor impediment, though, the story flows nicely and very quickly over the nearly 400 pages. It is another book I'm very happy to have discovered....more
As always, I'm chatty Cathy about this book, so if you want the longie, you can go here; otherwise, carry on with the short version.
Originally writteAs always, I'm chatty Cathy about this book, so if you want the longie, you can go here; otherwise, carry on with the short version.
Originally written in 1934, Harriet is based on an actual British murder case from the 1870s known as "The Penge Murder Mystery." It is one of the more disturbing books I've read, although I must say it is also one of the best crime novels I've had in my hands in a very, very long time. While information is widely available online about the Penge Murders or The Staunton Case (the real name of the fictional title character), I held off reading the facts of the actual case until I finished the novel, because I didn't want to have any expectations at all going into this book.
I give major credit to the author here -- she has brought true evil to life in these characters. Her writing is just outstanding. She employs the use of contrast and irony to great effect, she spends a great deal of time in her characters' heads so that the reader can see exactly how such evil is justified, and through it all, she never has to resort to graphic detail to get Harriet's horrific situation across to the reader. But it's not just about the crime or the sordid details here -- you also develop an appreciation for how she layers in commentary on socioeconomic class distinctions, about social mores, and especially on how women have very little in the way of legal rights at this time.
To say I walked away from this novel completely floored is an understatement. One the one hand, it was extremely disturbing in the sense that it's amazing how anyone could do what these people did for the sake of money without ever batting an eye. On the other, this book was so well done that even without knowing anything about the case, I could see it all happening right in front of me.
I love these old books and I am in awe that Valancourt continues to find such great works to bring back into print. I highly, highly recommend this novel to anyone who is appreciative of good writing, writers of the Interwar period, and to anyone who wants something far above ordinary crime. It's also a great choice for people who enjoy crime fiction based on real cases. I love these old books and I am in awe that Valancourt continues to find such great works to bring back into print. It really is one of the best historically-based novels I've ever read. ...more
If you're looking for an average haunted house novel with ghosts and ghoulies and things that go buThe very long version is here; otherwise read on.
If you're looking for an average haunted house novel with ghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night, do not look here. What you get in Nazareth Hill is a great story where the supernatural provides a backdrop for an intense psychological examination of a man as he sinks into his own madness. Sadly, he drags his daughter right along with him.
I don't understand the negative reviews of this novel -- some people didn't find it scary enough, some thought it was too long and too clunky in terms of how Campbell writes. Okay, each to his own, but I found it exceptionally frightening on a very human level. And while I'm a huge fan of the author's short stories, he manages to keep the tension not only flowing but also building throughout the entire length of this book. A lot of authors I've read can't make that transition and do it well, but in this case, I was hopelessly lost in this story until the ending. Actually, the ending was what I found not so great about this novel, but for me it's usually about the journey anyway. I have zero qualms recommending this book. ...more
Alonzo and Melissa is an example of early American Gothic, appearing first in serialized form in 1804. The Revolutionary War is the big star of this sAlonzo and Melissa is an example of early American Gothic, appearing first in serialized form in 1804. The Revolutionary War is the big star of this show. While it is an active element that provides the rationale for a lot of action in this story, it's also reflected within the context of the domestic drama that's occurring as well.
This novel highlights the gothic heroine who maintains her cool, logical head in the face of extraordinary events, which in turn allow her much more freedom to act than do the normal constraints of home or society.
Briefly, Melissa and Alonzo meet, fall in love and become engaged, to the delight of both sets of parents. Sadly, the Revolutionary War intervenes and Alonzo's father, a wealthy merchant, loses his fleet to the British. On top of that, he is owed a lot of money that his erstwhile partners decide not to pay him, and he loses everything. His reverse in fortune changes everything with Melissa's father, and he refuses to let Melissa marry Alonzo because of his lack of money. Melissa's mother and brother want her to be happy and indeed, her brother is on her side, but the father is adamant that she will no longer be his daughter if she does not adhere to his wishes. Although the two are still very much in love with each other, circumstances propel Alonzo into a series of adventures that take him to London, to France, and then back to America once more. But Melissa has it much, much worse. When she refuses to obey her father's command to drop Alonzo, the story moves into high gear and well on into Gothic territory, complete with "house of real Gothic architecture, built of rude stone, with battlements," and a drawbridge and moat. There are also disembodied voices, a hand "cold as the icy fingers of death," on her arm, mysterious gunshots and "sulphurous" smells.
At surface level the novel can be read as a fun adventure with Gothic overtones, but it's another case of a story that is filled with way too many implausible coincidences on which events turn. The twists in plot are obvious from a mile away. However, it's a pretty good read, and once the little light bulb in the brain clicks as to what's going on beneath the surface, it becomes that much more enjoyable. ...more
a much longer version of what I think about this book can be found here. Here's the uber-short version:
Ms. Leovy reveals in her book that African-Amea much longer version of what I think about this book can be found here. Here's the uber-short version:
Ms. Leovy reveals in her book that African-American men have been "the nation's number one crime victims," only six percent of the population, but a staggering "40 percent of those murdered." Her book focuses on the area of Los Angeles formerly known as South Central; more specifically, she zooms in on the Watts area, and part of her thesis is that more often than not, "the idea that murders of blacks somehow didn't count." "Black-on-black" murders in Watts are rarely reported since the media prefers to focus on "the spectacles" -- "mass shootings, celebrity murders" etc.; in the recent past, the police would even report these kinds of killings as "NHI - No Human Involved." Ms. Leovy's book reveals that despite popular opinion, the victims in this neighborhood weren't just druggies, gang members or people from dysfunctional families -- a number of innocent people from good families, with no history of breaking the law or gang membership also found themselves too often caught up in the violence that plagues this area. She believes that for the most part, the LAPD failed in its job to keep these people safe; she cites a number of factors that underscore her idea that the scarcity of resources (including policemen that actually care about the people in the community they're supposed to watch over) that should be afforded to these neighborhoods and to the law-abiding people who live there is, in fact, one of the factors that actually helped to perpetuate the violence, leading to the rise in gang-administered "justice." As she notes, "The system's failure to catch killers effectively made black lives cheap," and the failure of the system to "respond vigorously to violent injury and death" paved the way for homicide to become "endemic."
Ghettoside has indeed been an eye-opener of a book, and while I don't agree with everything Ms. Leovy says here (most especially the idea of more policing,especially after recent events) the biggest idea that every reader of this book ought to come away with is that discounting or ignoring the violent deaths of African-Americans -- just because they're living in troubled communities and because they're not white -- under any circumstances is just wrong and should absolutely not be tolerated. Discounting or ignoring the problems that affect lives in these communities is even worse. Obviously, this is not a new problem that is limited to the neighborhoods in South Central in modern times; this attitude of black lives having less value than white lives has been perpetuated (especially in the context of the criminal justice system) from the beginning of our nation's history. That's the real problem -- an even bigger one is how to solve it.
Since I've finished this novel and won't be reading it again, I'm giving it away. If you live in the US and you want this book (a signed edition, mindSince I've finished this novel and won't be reading it again, I'm giving it away. If you live in the US and you want this book (a signed edition, mind you!) it's yours. Free. I'll pay postage. Just be the first to leave a comment.
Oh dear. I sort of find myself swimming upstream again as far as my take on this novel.
For me, Wolf Winter is a liked it, didn't love it kind of novel -- it's something I probably wouldn't have chosen on my own and I probably wouldn't have even considered reading it except for the fact that it was an Indiespensable selection that just arrived. As far as the historical aspect, it's very well done -- exploring (among other things) the connections between Sweden's king and the church, the king and the people during the ongoing war, and enforced Christianization as opposed to the religious beliefs and practices of indigenous people. The book also paints a portrait of a woman struggling to survive on her own in the middle of a horrible winter in 1717. The sense of place that is evoked through this author's writing is excellent.
On the other hand, it seems like it is yet another book designed to catch as wide a reading audience as possible, incorporating a 14-year old girl who hears and sees things the others don't, a murder mystery, the supernatural, etc. ... I even saw it listed as "Nordic Noir" somewhere. And there's a reference to "fans of Jo Nesbo" on the inside dust jacket cover. Jo Nesbo? -- no way. The obvious comparison, of course, is to Hannah Kent's outstanding Burial Rites, with the most obvious parallel between the two found in how people managed to live in remote areas and survive in unforgiving conditions. They are also both historical novels, and there is a murder in both as well. But clearly, imo, Burial Rites is the better novel.
So here's my bottom line ... it worked for me as an historical novel, but many of the rest of the elements put into this book gave it a "cluttered" sort of feel, which was really distracting. If you can get past all of the extraneous stuff going on here, it is a good historical fiction novel and I'd recommend it as such. ...more
I recently ran across an article written by author Peter Dickinson that touches on why the English Country House murder mysteries were so popular in tI recently ran across an article written by author Peter Dickinson that touches on why the English Country House murder mysteries were so popular in their day. It's something I've been wondering about as I've been making my way through the work of some pretty obscure women crime writers, and Dickinson offers an explanation. He says that
"... the ideal setting for the mystery novel is the imaginary world of the country house. There, supposed balance and harmony is broken by the act of violence, just as in the real world it had been broken by the war. That is why the ideal murderee is the nouveau riche millionaire, the embodiment of the economic upheavals, contrasted with the dwindling resources that had kept the grand old families going".
That is most definitely the case in The Punt Murder, where the main character is an incredibly wealthy but very young heiress who marries into a very old but now broke British family. She is Merle Holroyd, wife of the squire of Wissingham. The family home, naturally called Holroyd, was given over to the family by Henry the Eighth although it had been around long before Henry's time. Merle, of course, is expected to conform to tradition -- but she's something of a firecracker and refuses to settle into the life expected of her. In this book, the traditional world collides with the modern, dividing the small village (even down to the police) when a murder occurs.
The author's strength becomes apparent after a while in the way that she establishes this closed, traditional village world and the tensions between it and the more modern, outer world that makes its way into the village of Wissingham. She accomplishes this feat mainly through the exploration of her characters, and it is done so well that there is very little in the way of long-winded explanations or backstory such as I've found (and been utterly bored by) in other novels of this period.
The Punt Murder is a whodunit with a couple of good twists and turns that do not allow the reader a clear vision of the "who" until the very end. It can be a bit sappy in terms of romance here and there, but ultimately, it ends up being a good, not great, little mystery novel that nicely captures not only the flavor and feel of the English village but the encroachment upon it by the outside world as well. Thanks to Ostara Publishing, this book is now widely available and they also offer a selection of other long-forgotten works to explore.
Recommended -- less so to hardcore crime readers than to readers more into the traditional sort of mystery novel. ...more
Storylines, etc are detailed at my online reading journal's crime page while in this space I'll just leave my impression.
This is an absolutely super Storylines, etc are detailed at my online reading journal's crime page while in this space I'll just leave my impression.
This is an absolutely super book, and something entirely different. Rather than having an entire series follow a main character's arc, James Sallis manages to put it into one book. There are five books which follow this one in his Lew Griffin series which I haven't read, but The Long-Legged Fly covers a span of time from 1964 through 1990.
Set in New Orleans, each section of The Long-Legged Fly centers around Griffin's search for someone who is lost. Taken as a whole, one could argue that Griffin is also searching for himself in this book. Who is this Lew Griffin exactly? When we first meet Griffin, he's hell-bent on vengeance and actually kills a man before he goes back to settle into his office, where we discover he's a PI who is friends with a local cop -- pretty much standard pulp-fiction fare. Then another surprise -- he hits the skids and comes back as a collector for a loan outfit, spending time in a halfway house after weeks of detox for his alcohol problem. At some point he becomes interested in writing and changes his life again, becoming the author of a Cajun detective series, until there's a big twist at the end where just who is actually doing the narrating becomes a central question that forces the reader to completely re-evaluate everything he or she has just read.
Clearly, Griffin is no ordinary man and is definitely not the stock PI of pulp fiction. There is a certain richness to this book that makes it unlike any other in this genre. First, there's New Orleans, a city that, like Lew, reinvents itself while keeping its history intact; there's also an abundance of literary references and references to local blues artists and their work sprinkled throughout this novel. Griffin has to work through a lifetime of pain and, as noted on the back-cover blurb, he fears "becoming as lost as the frail identities he is trying to recover." I genuinely appreciate an author who allows his or her characters to discover themselves around a plotline rather than making the plot the central focus of a novel -- and since I prefer understanding people and why they do what they do in a given situation, I've always felt a plot should be secondary with characters coming first. Then again, not everyone reads like I do, so readers looking for a fast-action, pulpy PI novel will definitely not find it here. Readers who also prefer a strictly linear chronology may also not care for this one, but for me, The Long-Legged Fly is something completely out of the ordinary. Recommended with absolutely no qualms whatsoever, but mainly to readers who are much more into fullness of character rather than straight-up action....more
In my case, book does not match reader at all -- I thought by the description of the novel that it was going to focus on Mexican cartels along the borIn my case, book does not match reader at all -- I thought by the description of the novel that it was going to focus on Mexican cartels along the border (a topic that actually interests me), since its subtitle is "A Border Noir." The cartels that work along the border are sort of sidelined except in terms of one man's ambition to get a foot in the Zeta door, and with the exception of the first chapter, the action takes place in Mexico City, which is nowhere near the border. Nor is it "noir" ... it's an action-packed thriller that, when all is said and done, comes down to a story of family justice and revenge -- and it's a showcase for mega amounts of violence. Basically it's a case of one of ours has been taken -- screw the cops, we'll go get her ourselves. Viva la frontier justice, Texan style.
I don't care for thrillers, but anyone who loves them will find House of Wolfe irresistible. It's filled with action: kidnapping, daring escape attempts, chases, explosions, lots of gunplay, death in fiery pits, feral dogs, even torture -- everything a diehard thriller reader could possibly want. It speaks to the need to be self-sufficient and to have enough money to buy your way into positions of power and control -- in that sense, both bad guys and "good" guys have the same goal, the "good" ones having achieved it long ago. And to his credit, the author had one major storyline and didn't go off the rails (unlike so many current authors do) trying to incorporate everything under the sun in this book.
plot, etc can be found here; I still can't get over the fact that a woman who has just saved the butts of a group of men gets called a "cooze." ...more
This is one of the most darkly claustrophobic novels I've read in a while (a feeling I loved while reading it) and sadly, it's also one where I can't say too much without ruining things. This is a good novel that takes reader expectations and turns them on their heads in a very big way. Its main focus is on truth and reality; however, having read von Schirach before, I'm not surprised to see his ongoing themes of the nature of crime, the judicial process, and the nature of guilt repeated in this novel.
The way this book is set up is genius, but again I can't say why. I will say that long before this story was over I had figured things out (hoping as usual that I was wrong) -- but not the who or the how, and I was still blown away. Throughout the book I was entirely wrapped up in the main character's world of darkness and pain and truthfully, I enjoyed the getting there more than the reveal of the actual solution. von Schirach is a great storyteller, and while this book is very different than his The Collini Case, which I absolutely loved, there are a number of the same elements that are explored in The Girl Who Wasn't There. This is an incredibly intelligent novel that demands a reread -- and after the second time through, the book made much more sense. What the author does here is so different than the norm that it was actually refreshing from a reader point of view. It is also one of the better books I've read so far this year and is certainly a candidate for favorite books of 2015. Definitely recommended....more
I will get around to posting about this book shortly, but in the meantime, if anyone would like my copy (in the US), I'm not keeping it and it needs aI will get around to posting about this book shortly, but in the meantime, if anyone would like my copy (in the US), I'm not keeping it and it needs a home. Just be the first to leave a message -- and I'll give it to you and I'll pay postage. ...more
for plot and a very lengthy commentary etc., click here.
Written in 1812, Kelroy focuses on social/class pretensions, the very limited range of optiofor plot and a very lengthy commentary etc., click here.
Written in 1812, Kelroy focuses on social/class pretensions, the very limited range of options for women at this time, and has as its central character a truly evil, greedy and above all, hypocritical woman who treats her daughters as investments rather than people to safeguard her own future. It may have just been the Mommie Dearest of its day. Forget evil stepmothers -- the mother in this book is about as nasty as they come. The truly awful thing is that I can actually understand why she did what she did, given the context of the time.
I loved this book and I am grateful that it's been reprinted and made available. My copy is a part of a series of publications called Early American Women Writers from Oxford University Press and there are many others in this series I want to get my greedy little hands on. Of all of the books in my American novel survey so far, this one has been by far the easiest to read and to understand, and even though it was published in 1812, there's so much going on in here which, in my opinion, has some relevance for our own time. Definitely recommended....more