This was my second Inspector French mystery, which I preferred to the first, The Hog’s Back Mystery. My primary complaint about The Hog’s Back Mystery was that it got bogged down in tedious detailing of the clues, and that Crofts skimped on supporting character development, resulting in characters who were difficult to tell apart.
To be quite frank, those complaints remained in this installment, albeit to a lesser degree. The book begins with a bang – a steamer finds a yacht dead in the water, with two dead bodies on board. From there, it is towed back to port, where the dead are speedily identified and the search for the murderer commences.
Thinking back on the book at its conclusion, I do not think that there was a single female character in this book. Inspector French may have spoken to a female shopkeeper at some point during the tale while he was canvassing for information about a suspect, but, if he did, it was in such passing that it didn’t register with me at all. Every character of consequence in this book was a man.
It is quickly established that the two victims were principals in a financial firm which was on the brink of failure. It being 1931, there was no taxpayer funded Troubled Assets Recovery Program available to bail out the firm, or its clients, which resulted in thousands of ordinary Brits losing their fortunes, such as they were. It was also quickly established that someone had looted whatever was left of the money, and that the murders appeared to have something to do with this financial chicanery.
I loved this aspect of the book. It was, in fact, a “strikingly modern subtext.” I, like the Assistant Commissioner quoted below, find the fraudulent machinations of the already wealthy to enrich their already overflowing pockets, disgusting:
“The Assistant Commissioner was a man who, while utterly relentless in his war on crime, not infrequently showed a surprising sympathy with the criminal. He always deplored the punishment of the out-of-work or the poorly paid, who, seeing his family in want, had stolen to relieve their immediate needs. Even on occasion he had surprised French by expressing regret as to the fate of the murderers. Murderers, he held, were by no means necesssarily hardened criminals. In their ranks, they numbered some of the most decent and inoffensive of men. But for the wealthy thief who stole by the manipulation of stocks and shares and other less creditable means known to high finance, whether actually within or without the limits of the law, he had only the most profound enmity and contempt.”
Trump University, anyone? To the wealthy of 2018, the poor and middle class are merely marks, and there is a sucker born every minute. How I wonder what Freeman Wills Crofts and the Assistant Commissioner would’ve thought of the band of vulpine thieves in charge of our public treasury?
Anyway, Inspector French is a rather plodding character, but in a good way. He is, perhaps, not given to flashes of insight, but he is thorough, and good police work is its own reward. Through many twists and turns and blind alleys and dead ends, he does arrive at the correct solution.
There was, again, some tedious alibi deconstruction, with time tables and analysis of ocean currents and wind direction. I’ve realized that I do not care about these things – I am not going to pull out a pad of paper and start making a little table of distances and times to see if I, before Inspector French, can bust an alibi. I just want to be entertained to the end of the tale, and this minutiae does not entertain me. This particular book is mentioned in Chapter 13 of The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, Scientific Inquiries, on the strength of this element. Apparently Crofts was an engineer, and put that background to work in his fiction.
The problem with characterization persisted in this book and was amplified by the fact that every single character of note, as I stated above, was a middle-aged white guy of moderate wealth and education. There were several occasions where a name came up that I didn’t immediately recognize, but it was clear that this character had been introduced before, so I had to flip backwards in the book to try to identify exactly who it was.
I enjoyed it enough that I will continue to explore Inspector French, but I wish that Crofts would let him off the chain a bit. The man barely has a personal life, and he seems like a decent guy. Give him a vacation, for god’s sake!
Links to the book lists - courtesy of Themis-Athena
The 100 books: The 100 books individually highlighted by the author.
Chapters 1 through 5: (Chapter 1: A New Era Dawns; Chapter 2: The Birth of the Golden Age; Chapter 3: The Great Detectives; Chapter 4: Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game!; Chapter 5: Miraculous Murders)
Chapters 6 & 7: (Chapter Six: Serpents in Eden; Chapter Seven: Murder at the Manor)
Chapters 8 through 10: (Chapter Eight: Capital Crimes (London mysteries); Chapter Nine: Resorting to Murder (detectives solving crimes while on vacation); Chapter Ten: Making Fun of Murder)
Chapters 11 through 15: (Chapter Eleven: Education, Education, Education; Chapter Twelve: Playing Politics; Chapter Thirteeen: Scientific Enquiries;; Chapter Fourteen: The Long Arm of the Law; Chapter Fifteen: The Justice Game
Chapters 16 through 20: (Chapter 16: Multiplying Murders; Chapter 17: The Psychology of Crime; Chapter 18: Inverted Mysteries; Chapter 19: The Ironists; Chapter 20: Fiction from Fact)
Chapters 21 through 24: (Chapter Twenty-One: Singletons; Chapter Twenty-Two: Across the Atlantic; Chapter Twenty-Three: Cosmopolitan Crimes; ChapterTwenty-Four: The Way Ahead)
I've had a productive several days, whipping through a Miss Silver, the first Tommy & Tuppence, and The Secret of Chimneys, checking off, therefore, Chapters 3, 7 & 10, although I still have some discussion posts to write up! I also see that I am one square away from a bingo!
I checked off Chapter 6, Serpents in Eden, with the Patricia Wentworth Miss Silver mystery Poison in the Pen and Chapter 4, Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game by finally finishing The Hog's Back Murderer by Freeman Wills Croft.
I am currently working on a buddy read with Tigus for Chapter 4 (Play Up! Play Up! And Play the Game!) with The Hogsback Murder. Admittedly, however, Kill Your Darlings has taken up a lot of my reading time!
As promised, I put together a bingo card for The Detective Club, based on the chapter headings in Martin Edward's The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.
Each number refers to the relevant chapter in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. The images are either a detail from the cover image of a book mentioned in the chapter, with the exception of #3, and I couldn't resist an image of Hercule Poirot for a chapter called The Great Detectives!
2. The Birth of the Golden Age: image: cover detail from The Mystery of the Red House by A.A. Milne
3. The Great Detectives: image: Hercule Poirot as played by David Suchet
4. Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game!: image: cover detail from The Hog's Back Mystery by Freeman Croft
5. Miraculous Murders: image: cover detail from Miraculous Murders anthology, edited by Martin Edwards
6. Serpents in Eden: image: cover detail from Serpents in Eden anthology, edited by Martin Edwards
8. Capital Crimes: image: cover detail from Capital Crimes anthology, edited by Martin Edwards
9. Resorting to Murder: image: cover detail from Resorting to Murder anthology, edited by Martin Edwards
10. Making Fun of Murder: image: cover detail from Ask A Policeman by The Detection Club
11. Education, Education, Education: image: cover detail from Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay
12. Playing Politics: image: cover detail from The End of Andrew Harrison by Freeman Wills Croft
13. Scientific Enquiries: image: cover detail from Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg
14. The Long Arm of the Law: image: cover detail from anthology of the same name, edited by Martin Edwards
15. The Justice Game: image: cover detail from Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate
16. Multiplying Murders: image: cover detail from The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon
17. The Psychology of Crime: image: cover detail from Payment Deferred by C.S. Forester
18. Inverted Mysteries: image: cover detail from Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith
19. The Ironists: image: cover detail from Family Matters by Anthony Rolls
20. Fiction from Fact: image: cover detail from The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey
21. Singletons: image: cover detail from Darkness at Pemberley by T.H. White
22. Across the Atlantic: image: cover detail from Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
23. Cosmopolitan Crimes:image: cover detail from Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon
24. The Way Ahead: image: cover detail from The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake
As most of you are aware, I absolutely love the Mary Russell series by Laurie King. I haven't really dipped into her other books. I do think that I previously read A Grave Talent because the story is familiar, but I can't remember the plot well enough for that to be a problem for me here.
I am totally loving this book, and am even more convinced that Laurie King is herself a rare talent. While the books are quite different, there is a commonality with the Inspector Gamache series (besides just the coincidence that both authors are named Laurie) in that they both use the mystery novel as a springboard for deeper concerns.
I am liking it so much that I've agreed to drive my daughter's cat back to school today, just so that I can have 4 hours in the car alone with Kate Martinelli.
This was the best entry in the series so far, in my opinion, more than making up for the festival of meh that was F is for Fugitive. It started out with a delightful little moment where Henry unveils Kinsey's new studio apartment, where the reader is treated to the full understanding of how much he loves Kinsey.
Authors are exhorted to show and not tell, and this entire scene exemplifies that maxim. Neither Henry nor Kinsey are very articulate about their friendship to one another, and Henry creating, and reveling in the creation, of a space that is absolutely perfect for his friend Kinsey shows the reader just how important she is in his life. It was adorable and warm and refreshing to have Grafton create this wonderful friendship and show us how much these two people mean to each other. Kinsey, after all, is an orphan, so she operates in the world with a chosen family only, as there seems to be no biological family at all.
From there, the book really takes off. Someone is trying to kill Kinsey in a murder for hire plot at the same time that she becomes involved in a rather strange investigation into the disappearance of a woman named Agnes Grey. I recognized the name right away - although Kinsey (not being a fan of Victorian literature, I presume) did not, but I didn't make much of it, so it was actually completely delightful to learn late in the book that the name was in fact significant.
The Agnes Grey mystery was absolutely wonderful and I loved everything about it. I love mysteries where the past and the present intertwine or intersect in interesting ways, and this one really successfully accomplished that goal. The murder for hire plot wasn't quite so well done, in my opinion, but I loved Dietz, her "bodyguard," who ends up being a bit of a love interest for Kinsey before he heads off to Germany on a job. There was also a storyline with one of Kinsey's friends, Vera, who is trying to set Kinsey up with the perfect man. Unfortunately, he's the perfect man for Vera, not Kinsey. It was extremely cute.
With that terrific read, I'm re-energized to continue on with the series. Plus, I've now caught up to Obsidian, so the K is for Kinsey buddy read can truly begin! Huzzah!
I know, I know, that post title could apply to basically every single gothic romance ever. In fact, as Linda Hilton knows, as I actually cribbed the title from an essay she discusses in this post (which is well worth reading, so you should read it!).
Nine Coaches Waiting centers around Linda Martin, a young French woman who is hired as the English speaking governess for Count Philippe Valmy, the nine year old heir to the Valmy estate and fortune. There are a couple of "accidents" where Philippe is nearly killed, at which point Linda begins to wonder if they were really "accidents" at all, or if someone really is trying to get rid of the young count.
As always, Mary Stewart's descriptions are truly lovely and evocative. Linda meets Raoul Valmy, Philippe's much older cousin, who is dashing and handsome and oh so mysterious. He doesn't live at Chateau Valmy, rather he lives at one of the lesser Valmy family properties near by. As the conspiracy unfolds, Linda falls head over heels in love with the enigmatic Raoul, which she realizes after possibly the most epic first date ever set down in fiction.
I am not going to describe that evening in detail though, as it happens, it was desperately important. It was then, simply, one of those wonderful evenings … We stopped in Thonon beside a stall where jonquils and wallflowers blazed under the gas-jets, and he bought me freesias which smelt like the Fortunate Isles and those red anemones that were once called the lilies of the field. Then we drove along in a clear night with stars as warm and a waxing moon staring pale behind the poplars. By the time we reached Geneva – a city of fabulous glitter and strung lights whose reflections swayed and bobbed in the dark waters of the Lake – my spirits were rocketing sky-high; shock, loneliness, the breath of danger all forgotten.
OMG, can Mary Stewart turn a phrase or what?
Linda realizes the truth about the so-called accidents and takes flight from the Chateau with young Philippe, and what follows is several chapters of suspense where the two of them are being chased, hiding, escaping and trying to make their way to safety, without really knowing who is behind the attempts to murder Philippe. As was true of This Rough Magic, Stewart has a definite talent for ratcheting up the reader's anxiety. As is de riguer with romantic suspense, there is a happy ending.
This is my fifth Mary Stewart, each one more delicious than the last. At some point, I assume, I will have to hit a clunker.
I'm not very far into this one - I've been looking for a new audible series to dive into because I have a bunch of credits that I need to use. I love the Mary Russell series, especially in audio format, so I decided to give Kate Martinelli a try.
I initially wasn't crazy about the narrator, because her delivery was extremely slow. Once I increased the speed to 1.25%, I found it much better. I am enjoying the story so far.
I added four books to my shelves this week.
1. The Mayfair Mystery by Frank Richardson: this is the first book reprinted by Harper Collins under their Detective Club label. It was originally published in 1907, and if the book is half as awesome as the cover, it will be great! 2. Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Wills Crofts: This is an Inspector French mystery. I wasn't crazy about The Hog's Back Mystery, but I liked Inspector French, so I will give Crofts another go. 3. A Grave Talent by Laurie R. King: I am a huge fan of King's Mary Russell series, and I needed to spend some audible credits, so I decided to try out her Kate Martinelli series. I'm early in the audiobook, but so far I am enjoying it. 4. The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley: I've been waiting to read this one for a while, and final broke down and bought it for Detection Club bingo.
Looking back over the week, I finished 5 books: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie, Latter End by Patricia Wentworth, The Disappeared by C.J. Box, This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart and Prelude to Terror by Helen MacInnes. They were all at least 3 star reads or better, and my two favorites were Latter End and This Rough Magic.
Plans for Next Week:
I am currently reading Nine Coaches Waiting and The Legend of the Seventh Virgin, both of which I will finish in the next few days. I am still working on The World Undone, and really need to make some progress on that one. Aside from those books, I don't really have any grand plans and will fly by the seat of my pants!
As I mentioned last week, or whenever it was that I reviewed Ready Player One the book, my son was super-excited to see this movie adaptation because he really loved the book a lot. We went to the movie on Saturday afternoon at our local theater.
If I were reviewing my local theater, it would get five freaking stars, because it was renovated four or five years ago, and now all of the theaters have those amazing recliners that are roomy and comfortable. They also sell craft beer and cider. Seeing a movie there is delightful and highly recommended.
I am not, however, reviewing my local theater. I am reviewing this movie. And this movie was . . . disappointing.
I didn't love the book, but I liked it quite a lot. This was one of those disappointing situations that goes beyond just "the book was better," because with the exception of The Wizard of Oz, the book is almost always better. Nope, this was one of those disappointing situations where the movie and book bore a passing resemblance to one another, in the same way that La Croix bears a passing resemblance to fruit.
Aside from sharing character names and a general story arc, there were quite literally no consistencies between the book and the movie. All of those bits I loved about the book - War Games, Rush, the Pac Man battle - not in the movie. For fuck's sake, it started with a driving game. There was no goddamned driving game in the book.
If I try to analyze the movie in a vacuum, pretending as though the book doesn't exist and I didn't like it, then maybe the movie works OK? I mean, I was entertained enough while I was watching. But it left nothing, really, to the imagination of the viewer. It didn't push those nostalgia buttons nearly as effectively as the book. It was just another overdone CGI-fest with a minimal story about an out of control corporation (honestly, this makes me wonder if the Supreme Court Justices have ever even seen a movie, with their clear failure to understand that giving corporations political power and constitutional rights is clearly going lead to a dystopian end for all of us) and way too many chase scenes.
My son enjoyed it more than I did. My husband was more irritated about the changes than I was. I tried really hard to just pretend like they were two completely different things, which worked okay. But, weirdly, this reasonably entertaining but wholly mediocre and forgettable movie stole the title of a book that I had really enjoyed.
Cross Posted on my classic crime blog, Peril at Whitehaven Mansion
Published in 1922, The Secret Adversary was Christie’s second novel, coming directly on the heels of The Mysterious Affair At Styles, her first Poirot outing which was published in 1920. For the first decade or so of Christie’s career she dabbled heavily in the thriller/espionage genre, publishing The Man in the Brown Suit, The Secret of Chimneys, The Seven Dials Mystery and The Big Four, all of which deal with international crime gangs and conspiracies with varying levels of competence and success. After the 1929 publication of The Big Four (which is nominally a Poirot, the plot of which, however, deals less with garden variety murder than with a strange, Austin Powers-esque international crime conspiracy), her publisher must have convinced her to abandon her not wholly convincing thriller career in favor of writing whodunnits, because she doesn’t write another international spy thriller until the second Tommy and Tuppence novel was published in 1941.
I am of mixed emotions about this because I find her early thrillers (with the exception of The Big Four, which was absolutely terrible) to be weirdly charming in their innocence about the incompetence of the political criminal/international criminal mastermind. The Secret Adversary definitely falls into the category of charming and innocent. The basic plot is whisper thin (literally – it’s based on Tommy overhearing two people whispering about a woman named Jane Finn) and is generally about the possession of some government documents by a young woman (with amnesia. Yes, really) and an international crime syndicate who want to get a hold of those documents in order to foment revolution in England. If this doesn’t make any sense to you, that’s because it doesn’t actually make any sense. Tommy and Tuppence are two broke Bright Young Things who decide that the best way for them to come into possession of a few pounds is to place an ad in the newspaper, to try to hire themselves out as adventurers.
It’s preposterous and in the real world (or in modern fiction, which goes for verisimilitude) they’d have been dead within about 25 pages, and the rest of the book would’ve been spent with the professionals attempting to figure out why these two charming young people ended up murdered by terrorists. That’s not how this one goes, though. It feels like such an innocent world in The Secret Adversary (and in The Secret of Chimneys as well). I can only wonder if this was simply a reaction to the trauma that WWI inflicted on the British people, and surmise that, perhaps, what they really needed was to believe that a pair of children, with very little money, a great deal of sparkling wit and a fetching hat could, in fact, save the world. Because there is nothing even remotely convincing or realistic about this plot, but somehow, it’s impossible to care because it is all so delightful.
This was my first time reading The Secret Adversary, and I doubt that it will become one of my favorites although I thoroughly enjoyed it. I went into it convinced that Tommy and Tuppence were lifted wholesale from Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles – imagine my surprise when I actually looked it up and learned that T & T predated N & N by a dozen years. I should’ve known better, though – The Queen sets trends, she doesn’t follow them.
Congratulations to all of the sleuths!
I've opened up a new thread in the Bingo group for everyone to report their scores!
Does anyone else write like Mary Stewart? Because if there is another Mary Stewart out there, I want to find her. Her books are the perfect combination of romance and suspense, set in the most beautiful places. I really enjoy the fact that they are contemporaries for the time that they were written.
I would say that the closest that I have found to Stewart is Phyllis Whitney, who writes very similar romantic suspense/gothic romance, but she just doesn't have the writing chops of Mary Stewart. I'm wondering if anyone is aware of any modern authors who are writing this same type of book. I don't really enjoy the Pamela Clare style of romantic suspense, and J.D. Robb doesn't do much for me.
This was my first time reading This Rough Magic - it was one of my massive Mary Stewart kindle book purchase last fall. It is definitely up there with The Moonspinners for me in enjoyability, and I liked it better than both The Ivy Tree and Wildfire at Midnight.
This Rough Magic follows the Mary Stewart playbook - attractive young woman on her own goes to exotic place, becomes embroiled in something dangerous - espionage, smuggling, murder - falls in love with an equally attractive young man after they cross paths. Stewart has a gift for creating suspense, and one of the things that I liked about This Rough Magic is that the main character, Lucy Waring, extricates herself from danger with resourcefulness and persistence. She doesn't wait to be rescued - she rescues herself. I liked this a lot, and it placed Lucy on a footing of equality with the male love interest.
The Corfu setting is beautiful. Mary Stewart used Shakespeare's The Tempest as a jumping off point for the book, with quotes from the play as chapter headings, and discussions about The Tempest between the heroine, Lucy, a not-terribly-successful actress from London and Julian Gale, a very successful Shakespearean actor who has come to Corfu to recuperate from a nervous breakdown. Stewart's descriptive talents are formidable and she does a wonderful job of painting a mental picture of beautiful places. It had the same effect on me as The Moonspinners in making me want to jump on an airplane and fly off to a sunny climate, especially given that I am suffering mightily from spring fever in the midst of a grey Oregon winter.
As a downside, as is the case with a lot of mid-twentieth century fiction, there is a lot of colonialism and superiority in Lucy's interactions with the native Corfuites - the "nobility of the peasantry" condescension. This is likely inevitable given the time in which it was written, but, still, it is present.
Overall, This Rough Magic was a delightful read.
A compulsively readable autobiographical novel about a quixotic child's mission to pursue feminism.
That sounds terrible! What's yours?
These books are a huge pleasure of mine - I won't say guilty pleasure, because I refuse to be guilty about anything I read. Nonetheless, they are like a bit of cotton candy, tasty but without much substance. This is the 18th in the series of books centered around Joe Pickett, erstwhile Wyoming Game Warden and man who has destroyed more state cars than anyone in fiction or reality.
Box has a formula for the Pickett stories - Joe is in the doghouse with his agency brass and is dispatched by the Governor to handle some problem that really has nothing to do with being a game warden, but which needs a man of discretion and integrity to deal with it. Shit goes badly wrong. Joe blows up a house or destroys a truck, or both, some bad guy or another ends up dead, and a conspiracy at the highest levels of business or government is uncovered, Joe is again persona non grata and he fears that his family will starve. His mother in law, a truly awful person, tries to get his wife to leave him.
Before the Trump administration, these huge conspiracies felt a whole lot more fictional. But, I digress.
Anyway, this one follows the formula. There's a new governor, as Governor Rulon has lost the election to a fancy pants ivy league rich guy Republican who looks the part of Governor, but has the grasping heart of any one of the Trumps, which is to say, he likes money and doesn't much care where it comes from. There's also a missing British woman who was vacationing at the very exclusive, very expensive, very five-star vacation ranch, a game warden who has just up and disappeared, and a puzzling situation with Nate Romanowski, master falconer. Joe is instructed to find out what happened to Kate, the missing woman, without making too many waves.
Joe makes waves. It ends predictably, which is to say badly.
I don't think that it would really be possible to pick this series up on book 18 and make a lot of sense out of the various characters and plot lines without the backstory of the preceding 17 installments. Nonetheless, it's a solid entry into the series, and an afternoon with Joe Pickett is always good fun.
I've read a lot of these, but not all of these. It looks like a pretty good list!
Taking a brief break from vintage fiction to read something brand new! This is one of the few series that I stay current on - along with Ruth Galloway, Inspector Gamache & to a slightly lesser degree (because I'm stuck on book 14 and I can't quite get myself past it) Harry Bosch.