Saturday, June 30, 2012

Crime Fiction Pick of June




Crime Fiction Pick of the Month is a monthly meme hosted @ Mysteries in Paradise where one cites one's favourite crime read(s) of that particular month. Well, my vote goes to John Dickson Carr's The Eight of Swords which not only has a decent mystery but plenty of humour too.





Challenge Complete: Classic Double




With the reading and reviewing of Drood, and The Last Dickens, I have completed the Classic Double Challenge 2012. The aim was to read one classic and an off-shoot of it. The classic that I read was Charles Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood and then read not one but two books inspired by it: Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens and Dan Simmons' Drood.

More than completing the challenge, I am relieved at finishing Drood, considering it took me almost six months to complete the 'Monster'.

I enjoyed the challenge and hope to participate in it next year too. If you want to participate in it, you can do so over here.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Paris in July: 2012



Karen from BookBath and Tamara from Thyme for Tea are co-hosting the 3rd Paris in July event where the participants celebrate all thing French: Literature, Visual Arts, Cuisine, Movies...or anything French Inspired. I am signing up for it and if you want to do it too, just click on the links above for details.

See you in Paris....

Spanish Literature Month: July 2012


Last Year, one of the events that I enjoyed immensely was the German Literature Month, hosted by Caroline and Lizzie. This year, even as I wait for that event to be announced, I am signing-up for the Spanish Literature Month, co-hosted by 
Richard [http://caravanaderecuerdos.blogspot.in/2012/05/spanish-lit-month-july-2012.htmland 
Stu [http://winstonsdad.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/spanish-language-lit-month-july-2012/] . 


The idea is to read texts (or even a single text) from the Spanish speaking countries. There are also read-alongs and view-alongs. The event takes place in the month of July, so if you too are interested, head to the links provided above.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

F is for Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey



At times, a book can lead you to another book. When I read Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, I came to know that the book was influenced by Waters' reading of Josephine Tey's The Franchise Affair. Since I wanted some questions answered as regards The Little Stranger, I downloaded Tey's book.



About to close his office, the lawyer Robert Blair, receives a call from Marion Sharpe, a rather reclusive lady who resides with her mother in a house called The Franchise. Marion wants legal advice from Blair as a young girl by the name of Betty Kane is pressing criminal charges against Marion and her mother claiming that they had kidnapped and kept her in captivity. Intrigued by this, Blair takes up the case. Soon The Scotland Yard, represented by (Tey's recurring hero) Inspector Alan Grant, gets involved. They are all ready to dismiss the case when Betty drops a bomb-shell by accurately describing the room where she claims she was held captive.

 Persuaded by his growing attraction for Marion, Blair has to use all his resources to get the Sharpes out of this mess. But, at times, he too is assailed by doubts about their innocence.

What intrigued me the most while reading the book was not so much the mystery as the depiction of the class divide in England. Betty is a working class girl (moving about, taking up odd-jobs etc) while the Sharpes are genteel upper-class ladies (rooted in their home and culture). Even in moments of adversity, they are stiff-upper lip and head held high etc...Marion rings up Blair because he is "one of us." Though he doesn't take up criminal cases, she refuses to go to the criminal lawyer, Blair suggests to her, because he doesn't seem like "one of us." One of Blair's friends whom he calls in for assistance is at once convinced about the innocence of the Sharpes because they were related to somebody (obviously upper class) whom he knew too. In fact, Blair feels ashamed at times that he doesn't have that kind of belief in his clients.

 Uncomfortable reading at times (like Allingham's Police at the Funeral though the issue there is of race rather than class) but interesting because of the depiction of the Post-War churning of the classes and the author's own sympathies.

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Entry for letter F in the Crime Fiction Meme.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Wondrous are the Ways of the Web




Yesterday, I got a proper scare. As I was about to sign-out of my blog, I was informed that my blog no longer existed. Panic-stricken, I tried to access my mail, only to be told that as some unusual activity had been detected over there, google had shut all access to it as a precautionary measure. I was asked to provide my phone-number. Wary of it, I waited and waited, while I thought of my labour of love of two years vanishing in a second. Finally, I did provide my mobile number, was sent a code, fed it and lo and behold, the mail-account and blog was back!

Even as my viewed my blog with relief, I found out that it had gained a new follower. AH! Something good, finally as I searched for my new follower....only to realise that I, myself was the new follower!!! I don't know how it happened. And being technologically-challenged, I am not even going to try finding it out. I am just happy having my blog back.

Has it happened to you to? What did you do? Are you having problems viewing the blog?

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The image is copied from chrissiecool.deviantart.com







Sunday, June 24, 2012

As the War-Clouds Gather: E.P. Oppenheim's The Double Traitor


The Right Honourable John William Hebblethwaite took the hat from his footman, stepped into his car, and was driven rapidly away. He leaned back among the cushions, more thoughtful than usual. There was a yellow moon in the sky, pale as yet. The streets were a tangled vortex of motorcars and taxies, all filled with men and women in evening dress. It was the height of a wonderful season. Everywhere was dominant the note of prosperity, gaiety, even splendour. The houses in Park Lane, flower-decked, displayed through their wide-flung windows a constant panorama of brilliantly-lit rooms. Every one was entertaining. In the Park on the other side were the usual crowd of earnest, hard-faced men and women, gathered in little groups around the orator of the moment. Hebblewaite felt a queer premonition that evening. A man of sanguine temprament, thoroughly contented with himself and his position, he seemed almost for the first time in his life to have doubts, to look into the future, to feel the rumblings of an earthquake, the great dramatic cry of a nation in the throes of suffering. 









Conversations! Conversations!! And Yet More Conversations!!!


E.Phillips Oppenheims' The Double Traitor had been on my wishlist since the time I read a reviewer praising it grandly at Manybooks.net. Finally, this week I downloaded and read it. I don't think there is  any other book that I've read that has so little of action and so much of talk.


Francis Norgate is a young diplomat attached to the British Embassy in Germany. When the novel opens, he is dining with the beautiful Baronness von Hasse at a fine restaurant in Berlin. Unknown to Norgate, the Baroness is also a favourite of Prince Karl who soon enough enters the restaurant, creates a scene, and orders Norgate to leave. Norgate stands his ground with the result that soon he is out of a job and travelling towards England.


His fellow-passenger happens to be a garrulous German crockery dealer, unimaginatively named Selingman. As Norgate is in no mood for small talk, he pretends to know no German. Thus when an agent of Selingman enters the train at one of the stations and starts conversing with him, Norgate realises that the effusive crockery-man is actually a German spy. Thru sheer luck, Norgate is also able to obtain a slip of paper with the names of German spies in England.


Once in London, Norgate makes his way to the Foreign Ministry, the Scotland Yard, and a Cabinet Minister but they all pooh-pooh away his fears.Not knowing how to save his country from what he sees as impending doom, Norgate joins Selingman, hoping to ruin the man's game by giving him wrong information while all the time making him divulge his secrets, in short being a double traitor. Things get complicated with the arrival of the Baroness to London. Norgate knows Anna is an Austrian spy and working with Selingman but is hopelessly in love with her. Would love make him betray his country?


The problem with The Double Traitor is that there is very little of edge-of-the-seat-excitement.[Come to think of it, there is hardly any excitement, let alone of the e-of-s variety].You know that the English Novice would outclass the German Master Spy. [And it would seem that Austria, England, and Germany have only one spy each!]. Though, it is supposedly a novel of espionage there is very little action in it. Characters spend most of their time talking. To top it all, there is a gaping plot-hole too.**
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However, Oppenheim does capture well the world of the upper-class and aristocracy. As the idle rich move across clubs, race-courses, restaurants, and theatres, one cannot help but feel a pang for the world that is about to be buried forever in the trenches. Here is a conversation at the club:


"Mr. Norgate is, or rather he was," Mrs. Paston Benedek remarked. "He has just left the Embassy at Berlin."


Selingman leaned back in his chair and thrust both hands into his trouser pockets. He indulged in a few German expletives, bombastic and thunderous, which relived him so much that he was able to conclude his speech in English.


"I am the densest blockhead in all Europe!" he announced emphatically. "If I had realised your identity, I would have willingly left you alone. No wonder you were feeling indisposed for idle conversation! Mr. Francis Norgate, eh? A little affair at the Cafe de Berlin with a lady and a hot-headed young princeling. Well, well! Young sir, you have become more to me than an ordinary acquaintance. If I had known the cause of your ill-humour, I would certainly have left you alone, but I would have shaken you first by the hand."


The fourth at the table, who was an elderly lady of somewhat austere appearence, produced a small black cigar from what seemed to be a harmless-looking reticule which she was carrying and lit it. Selingman stared at her with his mouth open.


"Is this a bridge-table or is it not?" She enqured severely. "These little personal reminiscences are very interesting among yourselves, I dare say, but I cut in here with the idea of playing bridge."


Selingman was the first to recover his manners, although his eyes seemed still fascinated by the cigar. "We owe you apologies, madam, " he acknowledged. "Permit me to cut."


The rubber progressed and finished in comparative silence.


If only this humour had been present through out. Rather I had to plod through the entire book. However, I don't want to dismiss this self-styled 'Prince of Storytellers' and would like to read at least one more work of his.


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The book can be downloaded from various sites. I downloaded it from manybooks.net


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First Line: The woman leaned across the table towards her companion.


Title: The Double Traitor


Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim


First Published: 1915


Other Books Read: None


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**SPOILER


Why would Selingman consider Norgate's engagement with Anna as a proof of his having come over to their side considering the fact that he was just warning the Austrian ambassador against Anna as her loyalty was suspect. Shouldn't it have made him more wary of Norgate?












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Submitted for the E-Book Challenge








Also submitted for the following challenges: AZRC, British Books, Find the Cover, Merely Mystery, Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, Vintage Mystery, War through the Generations, Wishlist.







Thursday, June 21, 2012

E is for Eight of Swords by John Dickson Carr


Chief Inspector Hadley reaches his office in a content state of mind. About to retire in a month's time, his thoughts are on the book that he is writing chronicling his experiences in the Police force. A call from his superior soon takes away his cheer, however. A Vicar, it seems had gone visiting a Colonel and had stayed over. In the night, he was visited by a poltergeist -Who? What? (The Chief Inspector, you see, having never been to Hogwarts and thus having never received a welcome by way of water-balloons by Peeves the Poltergeist - is stumped and the explanation provided stumps him still further).

Anyway, this relative of Peeves, smashed the furniture and threw ink-bottles at the vicar#. As the concerned family of the host, aroused by their guest's screams, rushed towards his room, they found another of their guests, a bishop, standing in his night-shirt out in the lawn, claiming that he had seen a notorious criminal there.

Even as Hadley is wondering whether his superior is pulling his leg, he is visited by the Military gent who had played host to vicars, bishops, and poltergeists. Colonel Standish tells it all in detail also adding that the bishop has a habit of sliding down bannisters and pulling the hair of unsuspecting house-maids.

As Hadley is trying to gather his wits round him, his junior brings round the card of a visitor. Herr (Dr.) Sigismund Von Hornswoggle would like to see the inspector. A peeved Hadley (all happiness gone and suffering a head-ache) tells his subordinate that he is too busy to see anyone but a massive figure barges into his cabin....

This is just the beginning of a book that has young men who fly the inner-clothing of ladies on the mast, ginches who fall into the arms of the heroes, murderers who eat the dinner of the person they murder, criminals who pose as gentlemen, mystery writers who write under two names, bishops who play detectives, and detectives who judge beauty pageants. All rollicking fun and a decent mystery.


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John Dickson Carr is quite a favourite writer in the blogosphere. For two recent well-written posts on him go here and here.

For a review of quite a few of his books go here.


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Submitted for Support Your Local Library Challenge:



Also submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles), Borrowed Books, Criminal Plots, Find the Cover, Mystery and Suspense, Vintage Mystery.

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Opening Line: Chief Inspector Hadley had been almost cheerful when he reached his office that morning.

Title: The Eight of Swords

Author: John Dickson Carr

Publication Details: London: Pan Books, 1961

First Published: 1952

Pages: 187

Series: Gideon Fell

Other Books Read: He Who Whispers, The Three Coffins

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The book is available on the Net. I borrowed it from a library.

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Entry for letter E in the Crime Fiction Alphabet Meme.

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vicar# For another vicar who had a torrid time, read this post.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

D is for Drood: The Mystery Continues


'Then Ned - so threatened is he, wherever he may be while I am talking to you, dreary - should live to all eternity!'

                                    Charles Dickens: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

'I will tell you how I see it. Every reader who picks up the book, finding it unfinished, can spend their time guessing what the ending should be. And they'll tell their friends to buy a copy and do the same, so it can be argued.'

                                      Matthew Pearl: The Last Dickens

"Better that the world never knows who killed Edwin Drood - or indeed, if Edwin Drood is dead... than a lesser mind pick up the Master's fallen pen."


                                        Dan Simmons: Drood























Charles Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood is an endearing mystery. Left unfinished at the time of the authors death in 1870, the incomplete book has fascinated readers and authors alike who have all strove to resolve the mystery of the missing (murdered?) Edwin Drood. The book had long been on my wishlist and this year I read it during the Charles Dickens month celebrated in the month of January.

The story is of a young couple, Edwin and Rosa, who though to wed shortly have discovered that they do not really understand each other. Combined with this is Edwin's young uncle John's (Ned and Jack to each other) passion for Rosa of which Edwin is totally unaware. The entry of a brother-sister duo, Neville and Helena, further strains the relationship between the couple as Neville falls in love with Rosa while Edwin is attracted towards Helena. Then one fine day Edwin disappears and suspicion falls on Neville with whom the former had had a violent quarrel only a few days prior to his disappearance.

If you have read my review of the book, you'd know that, for me, the most fascinating aspect of the book is the character of John Jasper. The opium addicted choir master who leads a double life, caught between love and hatred for his nephew, Edwin, is a masterly creation. And for long I have refused to believe (and continue to do so) the most commonly held view-point that Jasper is the murderer of Edwin.

So when I heard of two off-shoots of the book, Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens, and Dan Simmons' Drood, I picked them eagerly hoping to read another interpretation of the events described in Dickens' book. However, my expectations were belied.

The Last Dickens focusses on the opium thread of the original novel. Alongside it also discusses the fledgling publishing industry of America, which in the novel is very much a satellite of England. England's other colony India too features in the novel because that's the place where much of opium cultivation is done and conveniently Dickens' son Francis is posted in one such district. The story starts in Bengal than moves on to Boston travels to London. and ends in horrifying finale (all fire and brimstone) in Boston.

James Osgood is a junior partner in a publishing house. The survival of the firm depends upon the publication of Dickens' Edwin Drood. However, as copyright laws are lax in America and piracy is rampant, the firm has to keep one step ahead of unscrupulous competitors. Then even as the sixth installment of the novel reaches Boston, Osood's clerk who had gone to collect the papers is found murdered and the pages missing. Just as Osgood is trying to get over the shock, more horrifying news follows: Charles Dickens is dead. The novel is unfinished.

Osgood's senior partner, J.T. Fields, a close friend of Dickens, is convinced however (and how it gladdens my heart) that  the novel cannot have the rather tame ending of Jasper killing Edwin and that somewhere Dickens must have left clues as to how the novel was to end. He asks Osgood to travel to England and collect all material available as to the ending of the book which they can publish exclusively and save their firm.

Excited at this, Osgood leaves for England in the company of Rebecca Sand, a young woman employee in his office and sister of the murdered clerk. Their adventures take them to the literary haunts as well as the underbelly of London. And in the midst of their adventures, they conveniently (and to the total non-surprise of the reader) fall in love though Rebecca is a divorced working woman and not a 'young, virginal, Dickens-perfect' heroine who has the tendency to make Wilkie Collins 'strangle her immediately.'

This acrid tongue of Wilkie Collins is the strongest point of Dan Simmons' Drood. The author of such fascinating tales such as The Woman in White describes the Inimitable (as he disparagingly calls Dickens) the way only a close companion (and closet competitor) can. Not for him is Dickens the literary giant of Victorian England. Instead Collins presents an egotistical giant who wants to control everybody round him. However Collins is an unreliable narrator and the more he tries to dig a pit for Dickens, the more it becomes a pit in Dothan.

Charles Dickens, shaken after the Staplehurst Railway accident in which he almost lost his life, narrates to Collins that he had seen a spectral figure by the name of Drood devouring human flesh at the time of the accident. He takes Collins to sleazy nightly haunts in search of this spectral figure. Slowly Collins finds himself questioning the sanity of Dickens even as he himself spirals further in opium addiction and corrosive jealousy of the renowned author. The novel becomes a study of the mind of a man forever doomed to remain in shadows of somebody more illustrious and famous. As an exhausted Collins confesses at the end: Charles Dickens was the literary genius and I was not.

Both the books sound exciting on paper but fail to deliver. The Last Dickens is tedious almost from the beginning while Drood is uneven. There are times when you simply cannot put the book down and then there are times when you wonder if it is ever going to end (and at 777 pages, it is one mammoth of a book). I don't think I'll be picking up a book by these authors anytime soon. For that matter, I don't think I am going to pick up a Dickens too though Our Mutual Friend has been on my TBR list for quite some time.

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First Line: An ancient cathedral town?

Title: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Author: Charles Dickens

Publication Details: Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1983

First Published: 1870

Pages: 302

Other Books read by the Same Author: A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, Hard Times, Oliver             Twist, A Tale of Two Cities.

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First Line: Neither of the young mounted policemen fancied these subdivisions of the Bagirhaut province.

Title: The Last Dickens

Author: Matthew Pearl

Publication Details: London: Vintage Books, 2010

First Published: 2009

Pages: 460

Other Books read by the Same Author: None

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First Line: My name is Wilkie Collins, and my guess, since I plan to delay the publication of this document for at least a century and quarter beyond the date of my demise, is that you do not recognise my name.

Title: Drood

Author: Dan Simmons

Publication Details: London: Quercus, 2009.

First Published: 2009

Pages: 777

Other Books read by the Same Author: None

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The books can be easily ordered online. I bought The Last Dickens from a shop at South Ex while Drood was borrowed from the college library. [823 S 53 D]. The Mystery of Edwin Drood, I borrowed from the University Library. [0111, 3M12, ME, L4].

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Submitted for The Classic Double Challenge.



Also submitted for the following challenges: A-Z Titles, AZRC, Chunkster, Death by Gaslight, Find the Cover, Merely Mystery, Mount TBR, Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, Smooth Criminals, South Asian, TBR Pile, Unread Book.

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Entry for letter D in the Crime Fiction Alphabet.





Friday, June 8, 2012

C is for Case of the Imaginary Detective

The Case of the Imaginary Detective

What happens when your godmother not only makes your father a character in her book but also goes ahead and presents him as a murderer, of his wife, no less?




This is the interesting premise that gripped me when I started reading Karen Joy Fowler's The Case of the Imaginary Detective. Rima’s life has had its share of loss and pain. In a series of tragedies, she has lost her mother, brother, and father. At twenty nine, adrift in a world with no emotional anchor or relationship, she comes to her godmother’s house. The Godmother is Addison A.B. Early – a writer of mystery books whose creation  - the detective Maxwell Lane - has a massive fan following. He has been enacted on screen and there is a whole lot of fanfiction based on him. The house is strange with dolls’ houses replicating the murder scenes from the novels. The people who live in it – Tilda, the house keeper, her estranged son Martin, the dog walkers Scorch and Cody all have their share of problems. The two women - Rima and Early - are stranger to each other and the question that Rima wants to ask her more than anything else is: "What exactly was it that went on between you and my father?”

Having a publication date of 2009, this novel has a very contemporary feel to it. There is a lot of discussion of readers' involvement in the text; their own take on it; the parallel universe of fan-fiction and how it influences the writer. The book is interesting but doesn't quite live up to its premise.



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Submitted for letter C in the Crime Fiction Alphabet Meme.