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I’ve been increasingly enjoying each book in the series, except for #7, which went to my “I quit” list when I was already half-way through: too many train schedules, too little Harriet. So it was with fingers crossed that I picked up Have His Carcase.
I actually think this book is a milestone for Sayers’ writing. I guess that by making it a Harriet-centered book, she put as much energy (or more) in the character/relationship development as in the crime-solving part.
Every interaction between Harriet and Peter is exquisite and full of subtext. I’ve come to realize I’m a huge fan of subtext and really admire authors to use it well – thank you Dorothy Dunnett!
In the end I kept reading mostly for the sake of those sips of dialogue and interaction, which made me even more impatience to reach the renowned Gaudy Night.
One thing I appreciated in Have His Carcase is the fact that, although there’s angst, it doesn’t feel out of character, it’s not just there to force drama (looking at you Veronica Roth!) and it doesn’t make me resent one of the parties for lack of honest or fairness. Harriet is great in this respect because while her past justifies her reticence, her personality validates her progressive understanding and acceptance of her feelings.
It’s maybe strange for a crime novel, especially one from the Golden Age, but the actually detective-ing parts became very secondary. The plot even felt a bit convulsed and the resolution forced. Also, Sayers has my admiration from creating a complex code that works, but reading the pages-long detail on how to decode it was beyond me.
I’m sure that if I looked hard enough I’d discover some wholes in the plot, but I was too busy reading things like this:
“Peter! Were you looking for a horse-shoe?”
“No; I was expecting the horse, but the shoe is a piece of pure, gorgeous luck.”
“And observation. I found it.”
“You did. And I could kiss you for it. You need not shrink and tremble. I am not going to do it. When I kiss you, it will be an important event — one of those things which stand out among their surroundings like the first time you tasted li-chee. It will not be an unimportant sideshow attached to a detective investigation.”
“I think you are a little intoxicated by the excitement of the discovery,’ said Harriet, coldly. ‘You say you came here looking for a horse?”
One of my favorite moments as a reader is when a book out-wits me; when I think I know what’s going on and then a twist catches me off-guard. I’m usually pretty good at spotting a twist (my boyfriend makes fun – “wish we could make some money out of it!”) so it’s always a thrill to be surprised.
With Gillespie and I it helped that I went into it without knowing anything about the plot. It helped, but it also made me *this close* to giving up half-way. For a long time the pace felt slow and without direction, but I later realized that was just Harris preparing the ground very carefully.
So no summary from me – it’s up to you how much you’d like to know.
I didn’t completely love Gillespie and I as much as a lot of you out there did. I thought it was very clever and well done. I’m glad I read it and spent some happy hours discussing all the details with friends – it’s the kind of book that demands a post-reading deconstruction. But I wish Harris had been able to pull it off with 100 pages less.
It would also help if the Victorian-speak didn’t feel forced at times, as if the author applied Word’s “Replace All” tool to exchange “house” with “habitation” or “happiness” with “felicity“. Some expressions were really on the border of the ridiculous and I’m now sorry I didn’t write them down. One of then, however, stuck in my mind: someone asks the main character if she’d like something else to eat and she replies “no thank you, I’ve had ample sufficiency“…
Other thoughts: Savidge Reads, Reading Matters, Iris on Books, Reviews by Lola, nomadreader, BookNRound, Sam Still Reading, She Reads Novels, BooksPlease, Vulpes Libris, Buried in Print, Capricious Reader, Secluded Charm, an adventure in reading, A Musing Reviews, The House of the Seven Tails, Cornflower Books, Wordsmithonia Yours?)
Bellfield Hall first came to my attention through a post by Eva, and now that Summer is in full swing a cozy Georgian mystery felt just the thing.
It’s a locked-room mystery (or in this case a locked-country house), set during a hunting party in the English countryside. The “detectiving” is done by the most inconspicuous of guests, Miss Dido Kent, the spinster aunt of the fiancée of Bellfield Hall’s heir.
Dido knows it’s often useful to be underestimated and she puts this to good use when several mysterious events threaten her niece’s happiness, not the least of them the discovery of an unknown young women’s body on the Hall’s grounds.
The plot is all coziness, but the language feels right for the period and Dido’s sharp intelligence and ironic sense of humor brings in a welcome zest and saves her from Mary Sueness.
Bellfield Hall’s target audience is clearly all the Jane Austen fans out there. It’s unavoidable to make connections, but the ones I made were less with her books and more with Austen’s own life: Dido’s close relationship with another single sister, a handicapped brother who’s raised away from the family, other who’s in the Navy, etc.
I’d also like to thank Anna Dean for producing a mystery that the reader, if observant enough, can solve. I love when this happens and feel incredibly cheated if at the end the detective presents a clue he/she got off-line. I appreciate the challenge of creating a transparent story and at the same time guaranteeing a progressive unraveling and a conclusion that’s not given away too soon.
A book to carry around next to your beach or picnic towel.
Lately, life hasn’t been easy for 11-year old Pia. First her grandmother explodes during Christmas dinner, then young girls start vanishing is her small village. To top it all, her classmates irrationally connect the two and Pia is branded as unlucky. Only Stinky Stevan has the courage to commit social suicide and talk to her.
In search for justice, they decided to investigate the disappearances, amidst a community traumatized by the realization that evil might be living next door.
This was a good Halloween read, a mix of psychological suspense and horror. The first part of the book subtly builds up tension, and the rest is more action-based, with a dose of gruesomeness that could compete with the likes of Stephen King.
But what makes this book stand out is that it’s so hard to categorize (take that as a compliment, Ms Grant!). It’s a mystery involving a child sleuth, so it includes comic moments and quirky observations. The writing is fluid and mistakenly makes readers assume the story is all breezy, but then you get hit with pretty sinister moments and topics. Even guessing the solution half-way through didn’t soften the climax.
Setting the book in 1999 in a small German town was also surprisingly refreshing. Helen Grant is British, but you can tell by her descriptions of German life that she lived there, not only through the national celebrations and food, but more importantly through details like the way children address grown-ups or people’s reaction to anything connected to WW2.
Grant also lived here for a while, so I’m hoping she’ll release a book about la vie Bruxelloise. Also: how great is that cover?!
Ishiguro has written one the best and definitely the scariest book I’ve ever read. The best was Never Let Me Go and although it’s also pretty scary, that prize goes to The Unconsoled. Has anyone out there read this one? It’s not blood-and-gore-scary, it’s nightmare-scary. Like those dreams where you run away from something and don’t leave the same place. It’s a piece of genius, but I get a bit anguished just thinking about it.
It’s because of those two books that I’ve decided to read everything that Ishiguro has ever written, even if the rest are disappointments. The Remains of the Day was amazing, but When We Were Orphans is the first that didn’t quite do it for me. I’m afraid I let myself be influenced by what Ishiguro himself though of it. He said it was not his “best book” and how can you disagree with the source?
The book is about Christopher Banks, an Englishman born in Shanghai in the early 1900s. When he was still a child, his father (an opium businessman), mysteriously disappears, followed within a few weeks by his mother. Christopher was sent away to live with his aunt in England, but that moment in his life leads him to eventually become a detective, one of the best of his time. In the late 1930s, he starts having flash memories of events he’s been blocking, so right at the brink of the Battle of Shanghai he decides to go back to China to deal with the still unsolved case of his missing parents.
When We Were Orphans was written after The Unconsoled and in both the borders between reality and a dream-like state blur. For instance, at some point Christoph becomes convinced that his parents are still being held captive at a certain house. Although this is highly unlikely, everyone accepts it as a fact. The way characters act is also positively surreal at times, like the Embassy officer who keeps telling Christopher about the details of the party he’s organizing to celebrate his parents’ return.
It’s hard to explain the feeling if you haven’t read it, except to say that it’s similar to what happens in dreams, where impossible things happen and everyone just accepts it as a given. It’s a very intellectual (and Freudian) approach to story-telling, but Ishiguro masters it.
Christopher tells the story in the first person and is very like Stevens from The Remains of the Day. They both have a certain mental image of themselves and sometimes we realize that the people around them see them differently. During those moments you see a weaker man, which inspires pity in others and the reader. It’s fascinating to follow a story inside the head of a character with such distorted views of the world, to see him deal with isolation and the possibility of happiness. Despite its surreal qualities, the resolution of the story, was (satisfyingly) grounded on reality.
When We Were Orphans is not original, but it’s still an enticing piece of work. The plot doesn’t matter, don’t let yourself be fooled by the detective and the mystery waiting to be solved. It’s all about Ishiguro’s smooth, elegant and subtle writing.
Other thoughts: A Striped Armchair (yours?)
Two more Peter Wimseys, both a quick fix, especially good if you’re in a book slump.
Despite this shamefully attitude, The Unpleasantness became my favorite of the series so far. I liked the plot, the elaborate crime and twists, but above all I liked the portrait of post-war England, in particular the experiences of the soldiers who returned. Together with the first decade of the 20th century, my favorite historical period is the Interwar. The Innocence and the end of it.
The Unpleasantness was not only written but it’s set in 1928, ten years after the end of WWI. When the curtain opens it’s Armistice Day and the Bellona Club, an old-fashioned establishment for military officers, is celebrating it with pomp. As usual, ninety-year-old General Fentiman is reading in his favorite chair since morning… or has he? It turns out he’s actually been dead for many hours without anyone noticing. Exactly how many hours is an uncertain but extremely important detail, since it determines who inherits a large fortune.
The impact of the Great War, which is never absent from the Sayers’ I’ve read so far, is especially noticeable here. It might have had something to do with Sayers’ own recent marriage to a veteran. I don’t know if she was supporting him financially, but the bitter scene where Wimsey witnesses firsthand the pressures that shell-shock puts on a marriage, looked pretty realistic…
And here’s a great book quote:
Books…are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with ‘em, then we grow out of ‘em and leave ‘em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.
No woman was good enough for Peter Wimsey… apart from Dorothy Sayers herself, fictionally incarnated into Harriet Vane. Someone out there should write a Psychology thesis about this. It’s fascinating!
It’s 1930 and crime novelist Harriet Vane is accused of poisoning her ex-lover, Philip Boyes. Philip’s anti-bourgeois morals making anti-marriage as well, so Harriet agrees to simply live with him. When some time afterwards he proposes, Harriet decides (very wisely) that their domestic arrangements – for which she was willing to face censure from society – had just been Boyes’ test to see if she was good enough for him. They fight and go their separate ways, but shortly afterwards Boyes is killed by a strong dose of arsenic.
As a mystery, Strong Poison is not Sayers best, but who cares? We get the chance to see rational Wimsey fall in love at first sight and clumsily try to persuade Harriet or his merits as a potential husband. The first conversation they had, in prison, made me go “You what?… wait a sec… excuse me?… jeeez”. It has to be one of the most awkwardly sweet proposals in the history of literature.
I’m usually a bit cynical about love at first sight, but here Wimsey gets extra brownie points for the reasons why he fell in love with Harriet. Just by looking at her, reading her books and knowing her recent history, he felt he found the perfect partner. He’s looking for someone who can intellectually stimulate him and Harriet is clearly intelligent, unconventional and (the cherry at the top of the cake), she also likes mysteries!
It was also in this book more than the others that I clearly noticed the similarities between Wimsey and Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond. It was actually this connection that made me read this series in the first place. This passage in particular brought Francis Lymond back with a vengeance:
He played the Concerto through, and then, after a few seconds’ pause, went on to one of the ‘Forty-eight’. He played well, and gave a curious impression of controlled power, which, in a man so slight and so fantastical in manner, was unexpected and even a little disquieting.
That is the description of one sexy man!
In Victorian London, Sally Lockhart becomes an orphan at 16. Shortly after she receives a mysterious letter which kick-starts an adventure in pursuit of the truth about her past and family.
I’ve read it in audiobook and it might be the reason I didn’t feel strongly about anything in the book, either in a good or bad way. I’ve been building the theory that with audio, the existence of a reader between me and the story somehow detaches me from it.
The story was interesting enough, and I was surprised at how Philip Pullman approached opium addiction and organized crime in a YA book, but Sally was just to perfect.
She’s “uncommonly pretty” and although not familiar with the more feminine arts of languages and music, she’s an expert in military tactics, accountancy, business management and a great shot and rider (sounds cool doesn’t it? I thought so too!). Pullman went for the unconventional heroine, but Sally is just too aloof, never directly affected by dangerous situations (unlike the secondary characters, who are kidnapped and beaten bloody because of her) and smoothly solving the problems of everyone around her.
Secondary characters are all very Dickensian as suits the Victorian setting, but the wonderful world building and brilliant atmosphere he created for “His Dark Materials” was missing here. Descriptions, plot twists and characters, they all felt a bit hurried and lacking depth (no excuse that it’s YA!).
Has anyone seen the TV adaptation with Billie Piper? What did you think? Haven’t see it yet, she fell in my consideration after staring in the worst Jane Austen adaptation ever made to date
This is my third Peter Wimsey novel and the one I least enjoyed, since there’s less Wimsey than in the others and we only get treated to a couple of glimpses of his True Self .
The only time we see the “real” Peter Wimsey in Unnatural Death is when he’s dealing with his guilt. There’s a lot of utilitarianism vs. absolute morality in this book: if Wimsey hadn’t decided to investigate a seemingly natural death, only that first crime would have been committed (that of an old lady dying of cancer already). His interference led to two other people dying, because the killer tried to cover his tracks. So, is Wimsey somehow responsible for these deaths? Would it have been better for him not to interfer? Shouldn’t he feel guilty for the indirect deaths he caused?
To compensate the reader for the lack of Wimsey, Sayers introduced a great secondary character, one which I suspect will continue to delight me in the books to come: Miss Climpson. She’s a middle-aged single woman who Wimsey employs to get information out of the people involved in his cases. Where a policeman would draw a blank, a harmless lady with an inquisitive mind and gentle ways can go a long way. With this clever use of a forgotten part of society, Wimsey believes he’s exploring new grounds:
“May I ask—?” began Parker.
“It is not what you think,” said his lordship, earnestly.
“Of course not,” agreed Parker.
“There, I knew you had a nasty mind. Even the closest of one’s friends turn out to be secret thinkers. They think in private thoughts which they publicly repudiate.”
“Don’t be a fool. Who is Miss Climpson?”
(here Lord Peter waxes lyrical for a bit, concluding with)
“One of these days they will put up a statue to me, with an inscription:
“’To the Man who Made
Thousands of Superfluous Women Happy
Without Violence to their Modesty
or Exertion to Himself’”
In a novel where some of the main characters in the case don’t even get a direct line, Miss Climpson is not only Wimsey’s eyes and ears, she’s ours as well. She has a very peculiar way of talking (and writing), and Sayers’ use of italics allows you to easely imagine how she would sound:
“Well, now, so am I, Mrs. Peasgood,” rejoined Miss Climpson promptly, “and that is what I said to Mrs. Budge at the time. I said, ‘Do I understand that there was anything odd about the old lady’s death?—because she had spoken of the peculiar circumstances of the case, and you now, I should not at all like to live in a house which could be called in any way notorious. I should really feel quite uncomfortable about it.”
And moving on from Miss Climpson, I have yet to see a female character in Sayers’ books that I feel is… whole. From Wimsey’s sister Mary, to this book’s villain Miss Whittaker, they all have their motivations, but we never really go deeper. I would like to know more about how Mary feels about Peter, why Miss Whittaker hates men so much and how come Miss Climpson has such a good understanding of both herself and other people. Maybe I’ll be more satisfied once Harriet comes along?
As a rule, the first couple of weeks of November are extremely busy in Brussels. This year we had five events in three days, the culmination of weeks of hard work, but in the end, all extremely rewarding. The downside is having no time at all for blogging. It was the first time I spent so many days away from the blogosphere since I started, and I’m afraid I had to hit the “mark all as read” on my Google Reader, so please let me know if I missed anything important.
At the end of The Crazy Period, and as a well deserved reward, we did a road trip to visit some friends in lovely Zaragoza, where the sun was shinning and the tapas were to die for. Andre’s own pictures:
I still managed to get through five books (mostly audiobooks) and would like to do a longer review of three of them, but meanwhile, and to get me up to speed, I’ll just quickly go through the others.
I decided not to go for a long review of this one because honestly, I don’t really have much to say about it. I read the first in the series during the Trans-Siberian and wasn’t very impressed. While that book was all about adventures and battles, this one is a fantasy of manners. Our heroine Melaria, after overthrowing the Evil King and a period of self-education, agrees to spend some time in court and has to deal with the expected gossip, politics and general backstabbing.
It kept me interested enough (as all ugly-duckling stories do), and the romance had a good pace, but in the end, it was just too YA. This is a recurrent problem with some of this year’s books: a bit too predictable, a bit too formulaic, a bit too… cute.
Audiobook heard on the way from Zaragoza and which kept us sane during the traffic jams around Paris. It’s a set of 9 stories, read by different people, including the man himself – David Suchet - and Hugh Frasier (Captain Hastings). I’ve read “And Then There Were None” and “Endless Night”, but these were my first Poirot and Miss Marple. I was enchanted. Now I really understand Christie’s power as a story-teller. Even in a very short story, such as for instance, Yellow Iris, she’s able to create the right atmosphere and play with the pace so masterfully, that she has us wrapper around her finger in a matter of minutes.
In particular I liked “Problem at Pollensa Bay” because it was the first time I came across Parker Pyne (have you ever heard of him?). After some Googleing I find out that not only he seems to be inspired by Mycroft Holmes (a secondary character I was always curious about), but that he once employed Miss Lemon. So you see, he must be someone worth knowing.
He’s the type of men who makes people comfortable and has an instinctive way of solving problems – any type of problems. In “Problem at Pollensa Bay” be helps a mother and her son see eye-to-eye on the subject of his bride, and in “The Regatta Mystery” he solves the theft of a diamond during regatta festivities at Dartmouth harbor.
Someone at Goodreads commented that Parker Pyke is the most emotional of Agatha Christie’s detectives, since he prefers matters of the heart to pure puzzles. I definitely want to know more about him now.
What are you favorite Agatha Christie’s? Any recommendations?
Quotes by Mr. Pyne:
I have had a long experience in the compilation of statistics. From that experience I can assure you that in 87% of cases dishonesty does not pay.
Unhappiness can be classified under five main heads–no more, I assure you. Once you know the cause of a malady, the remedy should not be impossible.
My Dearest Readers,
Wanting to celebrate the first “Talk like Jane Austen Day” I have endeavored to write this review in the style appropriate to that most beloved of periods – Regency.
The Erast Fandorin Historical Mystery Novels first came to my attention with the praise sang by Lonely Planet as a fine example of modern Russian literature. During my stay in Russia earlier this year, I endeavored to look for it but alas, when we found ourselves at a delightful little English book seller, it pained me to discovery that our guide had been left at our lodgings, and I could not, try as I might, remember the name of the author. I insisted on inquiring after a “Winter Queen” and even my references to the “Russian Sherlock Holmes” failed in bringing about success. So I was left with no other choice but to immediately order it from the kind people at Book Depository as soon as we returned to our humble Abode.
As I have earlier mentioned, “The Winter Queen” is but the first of the Erin Fadorin Mysteries and also the realization of a fascinating Idea by Mr A. – he believes there are 16 different types of Mystery Novels and decided to dedicate each of Mr. F’s books to a different one. This first example is a Conspiracy Mystery, the following a Spy Mystery, then a Closed Set-up Mystery and so forth. I hope you agree with me on how Devilishly fun this endeavor sounds like?
At the start of the narrative, in the year of 1876, Mr. F is not yet one-and-twenty and has just started his career at the Criminal Investigation Department of the City of M–, Russia. His first real assignment is the investigation of a university student who unfortunately decides to kill himself using the so called Russian Roulette – which at the time was called American Roulette!
On his search for the Truth, Mr. F finds himself in the middle, if you can believe it Dear Readers, of a far-reaching International Conspiracy. Mr. A very effectively contrasts the comical innocence of his Hero – who is by no means lacking in intelligence – with the decadence of XIX century M–, not unlike that of our own Victorian London. Indeed, Mr. A shamelessly describes aristocrats giving way to the most appalling of vices while the winds of Revolution surround them.
So it came to pass that I found in The Winter Queen exactly what I was looking for – lively descriptions of life in Czarist Russia, a main character who is not perfect (as you well know, pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked), but who you can see is learning from his mistakes. I also took great enjoyment from the very melodramatic Russian ending.
I am very much looking forward to the next one in the series.
I remain yours, etc,
Post Scriptum: Halloween has almost come and with it the end of my very first RIP Challenge. Oh what good fun we had!