Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Beginnings and Friday 56



Book Beginnings on Friday is a weekly meme sponsored by Rose City Reader where one shares the beginning of a book.

Here's mine:

The Duke of Aliquid's hobby in life was philanthropy. He was an ardent supporter of almost every cause devoted to the relief of suffering or to the uplift of the human race. His big sprawling signature was familiar to all those who are accustomed to receive begging letters, and most of them had learnt long ago to throw straight into the waste-paper basket all appeals which bore his name.



The Friday 56 is a weekly meme hosted by Freda's Voice in which one shares a couple of lines from page 56 of any book.

Here's mine:

"I have always understood, "said Miss Perks, "that it is wisest for missionaries to be married because of the black women. What do you think Mr. Rogers?"

"Oh, much best," said David, "though, of course - "

"I know perfectly well what you are going to say," said Miss Perks, "and I don't agree in the least. What I always maintain is that clergymen and even missionaries are no different from other men. And the effect of hot climates in stimulating the passions is notorious. So a wife is a necessity, though not always, I fear, an adequate safeguard. Don't you agree?"

"I suppose it depends a bit on the wife," said David.


Interested in reading the book even as the Duke goes on helping others and Miss Perks goes on worrying about the morals of clergymen, and the effects of hot weather? Get a copy of The Affair at Aliquid by G.D.H and Margaret Cole.


Friday, April 19, 2013

Forgotten Book: Maigret Loses His Temper by Georges Simenon

Jules Maigret is the creation of Belgian writer, Georges Simenon, who made his first appearance in Pietr-le-Leton. Between 1931 and 1972, he appeared in some 100 odd novels and short stories. He has also made numerous appearances on both big and small screens. Despite such a prolific career, I had not heard of him till I started blogging. After that, of course, I was very keen to read him. And then, just when I despaired of ever getting a book of his, I noticed a thin volume tucked between two heavy tomes in a library that I frequent.



Maigret loses his Temper is rather a late book in the series, published as it was in 1963. It is June and the weather is hot in Paris. Chief-Inspector Maigret feeling bored, writing reports that no one would read anyway, is waiting for a chance to get out of the office. Opportunity comes in the way of Antonio Farano, an Italian, long-settled in Paris. Antonio is worried as his brother-in-law, Emile Boulay, a war-veteran and the owner of a string of night-clubs in Paris has disappeared. Since Boulay never did stay away from home for such a long time, Antonio is worried that some foul play has occured.  Recently Boulay had an altercation with Mazotti, a hoodlum who had tried to work the protection racket on Boulay. Mazotti, himself had ended up dead a few weeks later and the police had summoned Boulay in order to solve the case.

Even as Maigret starts his investigation, Boulay's body turns up outside a cemetry. What is unusual about the murder is that the man had been killed days previously and has been strangulated. In Maigret's experience, professional killers do not strangle their victims nor do they keep the body with them. It seems to be the work of an amateur but who amongst the inoffensive circle of Boulay's family and acquaintances is the killer.

I enjoyed the book tremendously, finishing it in a day. Loved the cast of characters including the lawyer Maitre Ramuel who made the same theatrical gestures that he used in court in his private life; Marina, the content wife of Emile; and Emile himself who though being in a profession many would consider immoral was  very much a decent and conscientious man.

Here's an extract from the novel which I found to be very reminiscent of the scenario in India where brothers are extremely (even notoriously so) protective of their sisters:

'You can believe me or not if you like, but he spent weeks circling round me like a young man would have done... When he spoke to me during the show, it was to ask me questions: where I was born, where my family lived, whether my mother was in Paris, whether I had any brothers and sisters...

'Not once during all that time, did he touch me. Nor did he ever offer to take me home...'

Antonio nodded, with a look which implied that he wouldn't have allowed anything else to happen.

'... One evening he asked me if he could meet my brother...'

'He did the right thing,' conceded Antonio.





I thought I hadn't read anything of Simenon before this but just casually flipping through a list of books read years ago, I was surprised to find that I had read his The Girl in his Past.


*

First Line: It was a quarter past twelve when Maigret passed under the perpetually cool archway and through the gate flanked by two uniformed policemen who were standing right up against the wall to obtain a little shade.

Title: Maigret Loses His Temper

Original Title: La Colere de Maigret

Original Language: French

Author: Georges Simenon

Translator: Robert Eglesfield

Publication Details: London: Hamish Hamilton, 1965

First Published: 1963

Pages: 140

Other Books read of the Same Author: The Girl in His Past.

*

I borrowed it from DS Public Library at I.T.O. [823 S 41 M]

*

Submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, 2013 Translation, Books on France, European Reading, Let Me Count the Ways, Library Books, What Countries Have I Visited

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Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Day at the Races: D.J. Taylor's Derby Day: A Victorian Mystery




According to the writer of The Modern Sportsman: His Dress, Habits and Recreations - whom D.J. Taylor quotes at the beginning of his book - if there is a place which has a meadow and a rail for jumping than you will find the sporting men of England over there. With such a beginning and with a title such as Derby Day, one is not surprised that story is about a particular race on a particular day when the whole of England goes marching to Epsom Downs.

Or perhaps not the whole of England, if one believes Mr. Pritchett of the Pictorial Times, who is there to cover the event and who rues to his assisstant that ' the crowds are nothing like what they used to be. It is that d_d electric telegraph. Folk can find out the result now without leaving their parlours. Why, I remember taking two hours to walk a mile once, and there were people who never got there at all. It is very different now... (351)

In fact, the voice of Mr. Prichett as he issues commands to his hapless assistant or passes on delicious gossipy tidbits is what I enjoyed most in the novel. Also enjoyable are the quotes from other texts that form the epigraph of each chapter. Sample this which is from A New Etiquette: Mrs Carmody's Book of Genteel Behaviour (1861):

The gentleman who brings an acknowledgement of his preference to a young lady's father must not be surprised if he is received with no great cordiality. Inadequate birth, dress, demeanour, income - all these things may prejudice the opinion of a paterfamilias, vigilant upon his hearth-rug, in away that would be very disquieting should the precise dimensions of the gentleman's falling short ever be publicly conveyed. What is needed on these occasions is good nature, persistence and pertinacity, and the constant recollection that faint heart ne'er won fair lady... (25)




A black race-horse Tiberius is widely supposed to win the race that particular year. However, Tiberius' owner, Mr. Davenant has fallen on bad days. Enter Mr. Happerton a young man on the rise who does not mind using underhand methods to rise to the top. Using the disreputable Captain Raff, he manages to get hold of many notes that Davenant has given to his creditors with the result that he manages to procure both Davenant's estate and Tiberius. Everybody assumes, at first, that Happerton has bought Tiberius because he wants his own horse to win but later doubts surface. Perhaps Happerton doesn't want Tiberius to win and has secretly betted on other horses.

Meanwhile he has also made a good match by marrying Rebecca Gresham, the daughter of an old respectable lawyer, Mr. Gresham. This has opened doors for him in a society that would have denied him entry otherwise. With his schemes succeeding and his fortune flying, Happerton seems all set for a flourishing political career. But has he met his match in Rebecca?

The novel is an interesting look at a society in flux in which the old gentry is fading away at the onslaught of an upwardly mobile class. It is always difficult to capture another age but the novel does do so in an adequate manner though the praise lavished on it does seem a little extravagant.

*


First Line: Sky the colour of a fish's underside; grey smoke diffusing over a thousand house-fronts; a wind moving in from the east: London.

Title: Derby Day: A Victorian Mystery

Author: D.J. Taylor

Publication Details: London: Vintage, 2011.

Pages: 405

Other Books read of the same author: None

Trivia: Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011.

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The book can be bought on the Net. I borrowed it from CRL [0111, 3N601, DD Q1]

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Submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, British Books, Historical Fiction, Let Me count the Ways, New Authors.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Forgotten Book: Death in Cyprus by M.M. Kaye

For a long time I knew of M.M. Kaye only as a writer of historical romances like The Far Pavillions, and The Shadow of the Moon. I had no idea that she had penned a series of murder mysteries set in exotic locales. In 2010, I read one of them - Death in Kashmir. The story with its evocative atmosphere, and its brooding melancholy regarding a way of life passing away right in front of one's eyes struck a chord. The mystery was terrific too. Since then, I had been trying to get my hands on other books in the series. Thus, I was delighted to pick up Death in Cyprus from a library.



Amanda Derington, who has but recently emerged from under the thumb of her over-bearing guardian, Oswin Derington, decides to visit Cyprus. Accompanying her on the voyage from Fayid in Egypt to Aphrodite's island is a motley group consisting of Captain Toby Gates, a young man who has fallen in love with her; Persis Halleday; a best-selling writer of romances; Julia Blaine, a neurotic middle-aged woman who suspects her husband Major Alastair Blaine of infidelity; the Normans-Claire and George, who are related to the Blains and with whom the latter would be staying in Cyprus. Also on the ship are Lumley Potter, who pretends to be an artist and his companion Anita with whom the Blains and the Normans are acquainted and who is quite the scarlett woman right down to the lip-paint that she applies so liberally on her mouth.

Things go awry right from the beginning. Julia Blaine gets steadily agitated at Clair's flirting with her husband who himself seems to be getting steadily drunk. A hysterical Julia comes to Amanda's cabin to complain about her husband. A concerned Amanda asks her to take an aspirin which Julia does and then dramatically collapses right in front of her. A distraught Amanda goes calling for help and runs into Steve Howard, a painter she had been introduced earlier in Fayid. Howard helps her but his efficient actions belie the fact that he is merely a painter interested in painting the ruins of Cyprus.

The crushed and subdued party reaches Cyprus where Amanda takes her leave from them as she has to stay in another city with the Bartons as Glenn Barton is the manager of her uncle's firm at Cyprus. Glenn, however, seems to have troubles of his own. His wife is unwell, he says, would Amanda mind staying with a friend of his, the appropriately named, Miss Moon. No trouble at all as Amanda is more than happy to stay in that fairy-tale house.

But then another death occurs... and this time there is no doubt that it is murder. So who among this small circle of English expatriates is the murderer?

Unlike Death in Kashmir where I could not guess the identity of the criminal master-mind, here I could guess who the murderer was but that did not take away moments that chilled me to the bone:

She began to count the steps - four - five - six - seven. Then all at once she stopped, and stood frozen and still.

There was someone on the stairs behind her. She was quite sure of it. She listened intently, every nerve strained and alert, but she could only hear the muffled music of the gramophone two floors above her. There could not be anyone on the stairs behind her! it had only been an echo - or imagination. She must go on - eight - nine - ten - (114-115)

or

She began to write, aware as she did so that the scratching of the pen sounded astonishingly loud in the quiet room. But she was not alone in the room. It was not a suspicion but a certainty. There was someone else in the room besides herself. Someone was hidden there...

An ornately framed looking-glass that hung above the writing table reflected another and similar mirror on the  opposite wall, and Amanda could see herself in it; endlessly repeated. A long line of slender, frightened girls standing in a dim, silvery corridor in the dusk.

But it reflected something else as well. Something that lay beyond the range of her vision, though not beyond the compass of that glimmering oval. A hand -  (161-162).



  After finishing the book and re-reading certain scenes, I could only marvel at the consummate skill of the writer. Much recommended, the only thing that I found jarring were a few typos. Surprising since the publisher is Penguin.



*

First Line: Amanda had not been really frightened until she found the bottle. Horrified certainly: shaken by incredulity and shock, but not with fear. Not with this cold, crawling apprehension of evil...

Title: Death in Cyprus

Alternate Title: Death Walked in Cyprus

Author: M.M. Kaye

Publication Details: Middlesex: Penguin, 1985

Originally Published: 1956

Pages: 271

Other Books read of the Same Author: Death in Kashmir

*

Both old and new copies of the book can be purchased on the net. I borrowed it from HM Library at Fountain. [F.K 156]

*

Submitted for the following challenges: 52 Books in 52 Weeks, 2013 Mystery/ Crime, 2013 Women, British Books, European Reading, Let me Count the Ways, Library Books, Vintage Mystery, What Countries Have I Visited.

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Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tuesday Memes



Tuesday Intros is a weekly meme hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea in which one shares the opening of a book. Here's mine:

Amanda had not been really frightened until she found the bottle. Horrified certainly: shaken by incredulity and shock, but not with fear. Not with this cold, crawling apprehension of evil...



Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by Should be Reading in which one shares a couple of lines randomly from a book. Here's mine:

But Amanda was not listening. She was seeing again the shadowed drawing-room as she had seen it on the previous evening when, rigid with the terrified conviction that the silent room contained someone besides herself, she had looked about it with panic-stricken eyes.



Interested in what is terrifying Amanda so much? Then go read Death in Cyprus by M.M. Kaye.




The gals at The Broke and the Bookish want us to make a list of ten books that one read before one started blogging.




 Well, I started blogging only in the middle of 2010 and therefore to choose only ten out of the hundreds of books read before that is quite a task! So right from the top of my head (and only novels):


 1. The Room on the Roof by Ruskin Bond


This story of young Rusty was part of my sister's syllabus. When Nitu di finished it, she asked me whether I'd be sad if it ended in a particular way. I remember saying not at all. And then I finished it, and it did end in that particular way, and I wasn't merely sad, I literally howled. This bildungsroman is part of my own growing-up.


2. Chandrakanta by Devki Nandan Khatri


When I think of those lazy years of yore than Chandrakanta (and its sequels) comes to mind. This tale of beautiful maidens, handsome princes, and dare-devil aiyars has it all: Magic, romance, tilism, bravery, valour, cowardice. Thank you Papa for imparting your love for this enchanting series to us.

3. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie


After the Five Find-Outers, and the Three Investigators, one graduated to Agatha Christie. I still remember the shock that ran through my body when Poirot announced the name of the murderer. Novels were simply not written this way...

4. The Birds of Paradise by Paul Scott


Paul Scott is one of my favourite authors. This novel which has three friends meeting after a long time, when they are no longer young and hopeful, is written in a language that is absolutely poetic.

5. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth


I am very proud of the fact that I read Seth's mammoth of a book in a matter of days. Seth's novel about the search of a young girl for a suitable match brilliantly captures the spirit of a newly-independent India.

6. The Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh


Borders are shadowy things and yet in moments of trouble they become insurmountable barriers. Ghosh's book about the troubled history of the Indian sub-continent with lines that both tie and divide us is a classic in its own right.

7. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque


Remarque's novel about a young German boy who receives his baptism in the trenches is heartbreaking in its depiction of the futility of war. Perhaps the best WWI story I have ever read.

8. The Tomorrow Country by Jack Wilson
A heart-wrenching novel about a dysfunctional family. There are passages in it that I would read over and over again.

9. The Quiet American by Graham Greene


Like Paul Scott, Greene is also one of my favourites, and this story of love, loss, and longing is an absolute winner. If only we were sure of what we wished for...

10. Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White


For a long time, I thought that there was no other mystery writer other than Christie or if there were they were second-grade. And then one day I read this book -right through the night and then unable to sleep in the dark for days together - and realised how very wrong I was, how very wrong. There are other writers who are as good if not better than Christie.

Have you read these? Do you remember them still? What are some of your favourites? Do share.