Whodunnit? Wednesday.

Whodunnit Wednesday

This is a meme hosted here at AngryGreyCatReads.com.  If you’d like to particpate, just grab the image above and link to your post in the comments.

I thought today I would highlight a particular mystery author, Margery Allingham.  She was an English “Golden Age” writer of detective fiction.  There is a society with a webpage dedicated to keeping her books and memory alive, www.margeryallingham.org.uk   Her most well known books feature the gentleman sleuth Albert Campion.  I have just read the first in the series, the book that introduces Campion as a supporting character, The Crime at Black Dudley and found it completely charming and engaging.

Margery Allingham,the child of two writers, wrote numerous novels, novellas, short stories and reviews.  In addition, several of her works have been adapted to TV and film.  Her contributions as one of the female writers of detective fiction is discussed in PD James’ book, Talking about Detective Fiction.  There have also been articles and biographies written about her life and her work.  Letters she wrote also provide insight into her feelings about her work and crime writing in general.  One quote of hers is:

“Crime writers are a kind of reflection of society’s conscience. We observe, report and show what everyone really wants – that violence ought to be stopped and crime doesn’t pay. That seems perfectly moral to me.”



Source – Wikipedia page Margery Allingham https://en.wikipedia.org/?title=Margery_Allingham

So, do you have a mystery writer you would like to highlight?  Golden age or otherwise…

Fables Vol. 6 & The Crime at Black Dudley

I picked up Volume 6 of Fables and was happy to see the story on track with plot lines that follow Jack and Boy Blue, one on his adventures in the mundane world and the other on a journey back to the homeland.  Both storylines were engaging and held some surprising elements, although the identity of the adversary was not one of them, there had already been many hints that pointed to his identity.  There are hints to future storylines that I can’t wait to read.  I don’t want to give anything away so I won’t say anything more, but definitely a recommended read.

The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery Allingham is the first Albert Campion novel and like in MC Beaton’s first Hamish MacBeth novel,  Albert Campion is not  the central character, he is just being introduced.  The book begins as a classic isolated country manor murder mystery.  The guests are trapped with no way to leave, a murder has occurred and a gangster and his minions are among the guests.  The guests do manage to flee and the mystery is resolved after the guests have returned to London.

This was absolutely charming, witty and full of  engaging characters, a strong sense of place, and just the right element of danger.  Albert Campion appears part con man, part aristocrat, part fool and part sleuth.  You definitely get the sense that what you see is NOT what you get with Albert Campion. There is much more to him than meets the eye.  I look forward to watchng his character develop as the series progresses.

A Clubbable Woman and Fables: The Mean Season

These are my latest two reads.  I have been reading the Fables series for the last couple of weeks and this is Volume 5.  This is not the strongest outing in this series. There are just a couple story lines, Snow White’s babies and the WWII history that just dragged for me.  I am assuming that these stories are building background for things to come. I have greatly enjoyed this series up to now and will definitely continue reading it. I actually have the next one waiting for me.

A Clubbable Woman is the first book in the Dalziel and Pascoe series by Reginald Hill.  I hadn’t read anything else in this series so I was interested to read this.  Also, this series has apparently been made into a TV series which sounds intriguing.  A Clubbable Woman introduces us to the detectives, Dalziel, older, rather stodgy, less politically correct, but experienced and knowledgeable and then Pascoe, younger, apparently a higher class and better educated as far as formal schooling, intelligent but not yet with the years of experience analyzing human nature.  The mystery was fine, a solid three stars.  The victim was particularly unsympathetic as were a few of the other characters.  Fun fact:  The title is quite punny 🙂

Infinite Jest – Did Not Finish

I very rarely ever do not finish, but the opportunity costs of continuing this pretentious piece of ……… with its little boy humor…The year of the adult depend undergarments…wink, wink, snicker, snicker… are just too great. No point, rapidly becoming dated, self indulgent…I’ll stop here..The fact the book makes a list entitled Hipster Life Recommendations says it all.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

This book is a Mann Booker Award winner and weighs in at a hefty 800+ pages.  It is shelved in most locales as “literary fiction”, however at the heart it is a mystery.  I could spend some time railing at the hypocrisy of literary fiction “types” swooping in and grabbing up books that are mysteries, while at the same time pooh-poohing genre fiction and its readers, but that has been done and by much better writers than me.

I was intrigued by this because of several reasons, it won a prestigious literary award while being a mystery, it was appearing on blogs and bookshelves everywhere, and it genuinely sounded  like an interesting story.  I found a copy at my library book sale for $1 so I picked it up gratefully.

The premise is Walter Moody arrives in a small isolated mining town in 1866.  He finds himself in a room with 12 men where the tension is evident.  It was a dark and stormy night… and a man walks into a bar… all rolled into one.   One by one, the men tell him their stories and the events unfold. (Why would they even do this, is my first question?)  The main plot surrounds an isolated hermit, Crosbie Wells, who is murdered and a whore found beaten and drugged on the roadside.  From these simple ideas a twisting tale evolves that includes stolen identities, theft, murder, prostitutes and pimps, smuggling, and astrology, lots and lots of astrology.  Sounds exciting, right?…

Not so much, I really feel that I will be in a small minority here but I didn’t find this book extraordinary or even engaging. I really had to push my way through it.  The 12 men are based on their astrological signs for their characters, there really is not an incredible difference between them and when you find one that engages you, it is time to move on to the next one and start again.  There is a huge amount of “telling” and then eventually some showing about each character.

The author presupposes that everyone has a knowledge of astrology rather more than the occasional reading your horoscope in the newspaper.  There is a “mystical” element of characters being linked by their accidents of birth, which is explicitly told to you but then makes huge leaps. There is also no development of a sense of place, I would think that such an interesting setting would be fully developed so that the reader could immerse themselves.  Think about a gold rush town in New Zealand in 1866, as a reader I would expect to be able to feel the rush of the water, sense the desperation in the miners, experience the “gold fever” of the prospectors as they arrive, the heat, the dirt, the beauty of the pristine (unmined) Maori lands…but no, we get none of that.  I had other really specific issues but it would be telling the book over again so I will stop here.

Color me significantly underwhelmed.  My biggest issue is the opportunity cost of reading this book.  I am a relatively fast reader (unless I am not engaged) and in the time it took me to read this, I could have read several other books from the teetering tower by my bed.  This book seems to contribute to the “big book” theme that is floating around.   I am concerned that young authors like Ms. Catton are feeling that for their book to be “important” it needs to be big and that is such a false idea.  At around 300 or so pages in length, this would have been a better book.

I’d welcome any thoughts!

Whodunnit? Wednesday – Gone Girl 2? or not?

Whodunnit WednesdayThis is Whodunnit Wedneday, if you’d like to join in just grab the picture and post on your blog putting your link in the comments below!  The theme this week is Gone Girl clones or the marketing of books that way.  I thought about that as I read The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison, one of the many books marketed or talked about as “for fans of Gone Girl”>

This is the next in a long line of books that are being trumpeted as the next Gone Girl.  It seems that every book with a dysfunctional marriage and some twist surrounding the murder is labeled Gone Girl-esque.  I think this is getting to be pretty lazy marketing, just a way to tag on to the Gone Girl money train.

This book is only like Gone Girl in that it is a psychological story with a damaged husband and wife and that infidelity seems to be a catalyst for the events in the story.  The similarites really end there.  Jodi is a stay at home wife and part time therapist, who is floating around in a whole wide ocean of denial.  Todd, her husband, is a self made man who works hard and now feels entitled to what he wants, including a mistress.  Both of these characters have tunnel vision and although they spend  a lot of time in their own heads, they don’t really spend that time analyzing how their actions and inactions impact others.  In fact, they seem shocked by some of the outcomes of their actions, that anyone else would have seen coming.

There is a murder and a twist.  There is no real sense of closure, but that echoes what often happens in real life.  Real life is messy and often doesn’t have nice neat endings.  Well written with strong characters, who are fully developed, if flawed, this is a good read for fans of Gone Girl 😉 if they go into it not expecting a carbon copy and for psychological mystery fans.

So, what do you think about the Gone Girl phenomenon in book advertising? Over done or not?  Do you pick up books advertised as the next Gone Girl?

Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James

This was a fascinating non-fiction turn by P.D. James.  In this book, she discusses the genre of detective fiction, the Golden Age of Mystery Writing, the “rules” of detective fiction, the rise of the hard boiled detectives, prominent female writers, and then individual components, setting, viewpoint and  people.  In particular she discusses that genre fiction has a place in writing just as literary fiction does.

We can honour and celebrate the genius which produced Middlemarch, War and Peace, and Ulysses without devaluing Treasure Island, The Moonstone, and the The Inimitable Jeeves.  The detective story at its best can stand in such company…

If the references are anything to go by, then P.D. James was a huge fan of Dorothy Sayers, particularly Gaudy Night.  She mentions a virtual who’s who of mystery fiction throughout the book.  Some of the authors mentioned include:

  • Agatha Christie (of course)
  • Margery Allingham
  • Dorothy Sayers
  • Ngaio Marsh
  • Wilkie Collins
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
  • G.K. Chesterton
  • Josephine Tey
  • Dashiell Hammett
  • Raymond Chandler
  • Colin Dexter
  • Reginald Hill
  • Ruth Rendell

This was a fascinating glimpse into P.D. James thoughts about detective fiction.  In particular, I would note the concept of traditional detective fiction as bringing order back from chaos.  I would recommend this to crime fiction readers and anyone interested in writing.