Saturday, October 30, 2010

{weekend words}

A significant number cropped up this week...
'All women ought to be painlessly put to death at the age of forty,' she said to herself...
From 'The Eavesdropper', in E.F.Benson's Fine Feathers.

Fine Feathers And Other Stories

Thursday, October 28, 2010

{wishlist}

Begging to join the groaning shelves this week:


David Cesarani (2004):
(US title: Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, 
Crimes and Trial of a Desk Murderer)
This has been on the wishlist for a long time, 
ever since I read Hannah Arendt's 1963
A Report on the Banality of Evil.

 Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (Penguin Classics)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

{reviews} it happened in arles

Mabel Esther Allan It Happened in Arles (1964)


Another much loved, much re-read book. My copy was 30 cents from my old high school's library sale. A young English girl, on the cusp of adulthood, goes to visit her cousin in Arles and discovers mystery, intrigue and romance. 
Sitting there, the past was strangely, heavily upon me, and it was so all the time I was in Arles. The vague menace of ancient history seemed to rise up from the stones everywhere I went, but later I got it mixed up with a menace that was much more modern.
Mabel Esther Allan was a prolific writer (see here, here, here) of children's stories filled with well-mannered decent young English/Scot/Manx boys and girls who go on holidays (or to school or ballet lessons) and encounter adventures which test their character and from which they emerge strong and morally reinforced. There are lots of nice frocks, gloves and sensible but pretty sandals. The protagonists have lovely and unusual names: in this case, Damaris Cleveland. Tourist sites are rarely dirty, over-priced or filled with undesirables. Beds don't have bugs. The food is always plentiful, although it may be strange to English tastes. Taking a photo takes a long time (and you have this amount of time, since travel is leisurely). And sometimes you take a photo of a murder... 

This is what happens to lovelorn Damaris Cleveland as she whiles away her time in Arles (her cousin having conveniently broken her foot) and very soon she is being pursued by French gangsters, her room is robbed, her host family's son is arrested and she encounters a brave young Englishman named Thomas who saves her life.

I visited Arles in February and it was just as beautiful as Allan's descriptions. I thought to myself that one day I would return and stay for a month. Sadly I don't think there are enough months to spare to spend one everywhere I fall in love.



This book appeared in 1964 and it gives one a pang of sorrow to think of how brutal and ugly the close of that decade (and that which followed) would be. You can't picture a Mabel Esther Allan heroine at Altamont.

Rating: 7/10.

If you liked this... I notice that fidra books are republishing some of Allan's books but I have not had one in my hand to assess the quality. I have Two in the Western Isles (1956) somewhere to read. If you like this sort of genre, I'd recommend Rumer Godden's The Greengage Summer (review here).

Monday, October 25, 2010

{review} out of print

Susan Gilruth Postscript to Penelope: A Detective Novel (London: Robert Hale Ltd., 1954).

Someone has murdered internationally sought-after model Penelope Russell-Moore and hidden her body in the garage of Cumberland Mews. Liane Craufurd, lady of leisure while her husband slaves away at the War Office, has been renting Penelope's mews home and cannot resist looking into the circumstances of the murder. Who would kill the lovely Penelope?

What does the millionaire invalid in No. 4 have to do with Penelope? What is the "precious and chi-chi" interior decorator in No. 3 doing in his sound-proof room? Why is his housemate Colin mooning about instead of writing "endless intense psychological novels which nobody could ever be persuaded to publish". Why does the milliner in No. 6 loathe everyone? What has the sleazy American business man in No. 5 been up to that makes his frightened wife desert him? Has the milliner's shy daughter really caught the eye of Lord (Slinky) Cavanagh, aristocratic playboy? Does Madame Rozanne the clairvoyant know the answer? And why shoot a barrow-boy?

Fortunately Liane has a good friend in Detective-Inspector Hugh Gordon from Scotland Yard who can help her sort out what's going on in the panopticon-like setting of the mews. But not, of course, before Liane faces terrible danger, buys a devastating new hat and has really decent meal "somewhere much more amusing" than the Ritz - "the crêpes suzettes were heaven".

OK, this book is very fluffy, but it is amusing: the motives are nice and neat and the dialogue is crisp. The mews setting provides a suitably closeted atmosphere and even if the murderer does conform to a popular wicked stereotype, this is a neat take on it after all. There are other Liane 'Lee' Craufurd books, should the fancy take you.

Rating: 6/10

If you liked this... some sort of posh detective is required. Ngaio Marsh's A Surfeit of Lampreys (1941) would do the trick.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

{weekend words}

Next month I am 42... I don't care, I am settled in life now, & anyway for a woman 30 is the rubicond (or rubicon? Pity not to be educated, & it comes out more in writing than in speaking when one can slur things over a bit).
Letter from Nancy Mitford to Evelyn Waugh (31 October 1946) in The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh edited by Charlotte Mosley (Hodder & Stoughton, 1996), p.60. 

 The Letters of Nancy Mitford 
and Evelyn Waugh

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

{wishlist}

Begging to join the groaning shelves this week:

Last Curtsey: The End of the Debutantes

Fiona MacCarthy (2007):
The End of the Debutantes

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

{review} australian crime

Peter Temple Truth (2009)
Leigh Redhead Cherrypie (2007) 

What unites these two books is their authors' enviable ability to capture the sounds of the Australian voice on paper.

Truth: A Novel
Villani thought about the dead he had seen. He remembered them all. Bodies in Housing Commission flats, in low brown brick-veneer units, in puked alleys, stained driveways, car boots, the dead stuffed into culverts, drains, sunk in dams, rivers, creeks, canals, buried under houses, thrown down mineshafts, entombed in walls, embalmed in concrete, people shot, stabbed, strangled, brained, crushed, poisoned, drowned, electrocuted, asphyxiated, starved, skewered, hacked, pushed from buildings, tossed from bridges. There could be no unstaining, no uninstalling, he was marked by seeing these dead as his father was marked by the killing he had done, the killing he had seen. (Truth
Peter Temple writes so beautifully (well enough to win the Miles Franklin) but it is not the writing one expects to encounter in a crime novel: "He felt Kiely's hatred enter his ear like warm olive oil." You need to pay attention, a lot of attention, to the clipped, sometimes opaque dialogue; otherwise Temple's extreme allusiveness will catch you out. At times the reader feels a total outsider, completely left out of the loop. Genre is being fiddled here, and no bad thing. 

I loved Truth – it was so evocative of Australian life, both city and country. As the bushfires rage and the city swelters, a (stereotypically) flawed but driven cop struggles with murder, corruption, white slavery and gangland warfare as his personal life crumbles. As his past comes back to haunt him, Inspector Stephen Villani faces losing the substance and purpose of a life spent in the pursuit of truth. But are there truths or are there only compromises? What compromises can you accept and which ones cross the line? Temple's cop is hard to like and he might not be a good man; or is he the best man? Hero? Anti-hero? They're by no means mutually exclusive. 
To Dove he said, 'Charge him with accessory to murder, conspiracy to pervert, deprivation of liberty, any old fucking thing crosses your mind. Then he can wait for Monday, have a little time to think.'
(Dove, incidentally, is an interesting character - an Aboriginal policeman recovering from a near death experience. I kept thinking, 'The sweet dove died' (Keats, not Pym). Was I meant to?)

Police corruption has been a fiery issues for more than a decade now in Australia and Temple perfectly captures that age-old problem, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? ('Who will guard the guards themselves?') - what if the guardians of law and order can't be trusted?
Vallani said, 'Cop is all I know... I've got what I hear is called a restricted skill set. I copied my bosses, they copied theirs.'
'That can work,' said Hendry, 'if you don't copy something flawed. Then the copies get worse in every generation.'
'That's what I'm saying,' said Villani. 'I'm several generations flawed. The object will soon be unusable.'
Regarding the narrative's construction: some might consider the attunement of the twin narratives of city and country to be overly contrived, but I thought they worked together well to build the tension. Bushfires – such as those which devastated Victoria the year before this novel is set - are a raw, painful scar on the Australian psyche and Temple perfectly captures the violent menace of nature – far more lethal than your average Eastern European gangster torturer. Temple is terrific with the details – the suburban allotment, the smell of the hot bitumen at the local shops, the taste ("ancient, of zinc nails held in the mouth") of rainwater from the tank, a woman's collarbones "deep enough to hold water. Small birds could sit on her shoulders and nod to drink", etc. His cop literally sniffs around crime scenes. You can smell the dust, the trees, the sweltering city, the burning country: "The bar was in the basement of an office block, smelled of pissed-on camphor balls, nylon carpet outgassing, the fears of failed salesmen." There are many more small ekphrastic masterpieces:
In the street now, the night wind had brought the smoke from the high country, mingled it with the city's smells of petrochemicals, carbon, sulphur, cooking oils and burnt rubber, drains, sewers, hot tar, dogshit, balsamic nightsweats, the little gasps of a million beer openings, a hundred trillion sour human breaths.
I highly recommend this thoroughly Australian novel which is far, far more than a cop thriller.

Favourite word: "eusuchian" head.
Rating: 10/10.
If you liked this... I've not read The Broken Shore (which won the Crime Writers Association 'Gold Dagger' - Temple is the first Australian to win this award), but it's on the TBR.

Cherry Pie

Cherrypie, Leigh Redhead's third volume in the 'Simone Kirsch PI' series isn't up to the standard of her previous efforts (Peekshow; Rubdown). I quite enjoyed the first two outings of the stripper who wants to be a private detective. They were brazen, funny and very, very Australian in tone:
The other blokes thought I was a top sheila, pressing myself against the guy and letting him cop a feel of my tits while I whispered sweet and dirty into his ear. What they didn't know was, I had his middle finger bent back at an unnatural angle and was increasing the pressure of my knee on his balls as I said, 'Sweetheart, you try that again and I'll snap this thing off and shove it up your arse, understand?'
This book still offers many titillating thrills and the subject is topical in this world of Masterchef, namely dark doings in the restaurant industry. But Simone Kirsch's constant undermining of her endeavours grates on this reader – why is the topic of women stuffing up their lives so popular? - and I think this will be the end of the series for me. Kirsch ('cherry', geddit?) is drawn along Stephanie Plum lines (plumb lines, oh dear, pun), and I also became quite irritated with Plum after a book or two, for much similar reasons. Or do I just dislike women named after fruit?! 

There is a lot going on in this book – too much? – what with the Melbourne restaurant scene, the Sydney underworld, the delving into the family history with tragic results, etc. The latter was in places incongruous with the lighter tone of the book in general, though interesting in terms of character development. I also found the narrative relied on occasion on not-so-believable contrivances to move the plot along. Like Temple's writing, what really held me in this book was Redhead's ability to put down the idiosyncrasies of the Australian voice on paper.

Rating: this book 5/10 (the first two are much better)
If you liked this... I didn't warm to Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum but that's the territory. Shotguns and a good mani-pedi; or, in this case, your most agonising Brazilian.

Monday, October 18, 2010

{review} alone in berlin

Hans Fallada Alone in Berlin (1947)

'If only I could be sure they wouldn't torture me, that it would be swift and painless, then I would give myself up to them. I can't stand this waiting any more, and in all probability it is futile. Sooner or later, they'll catch me. Why does every individual survivor matter so much, myself most of all?'
Fallada was the nom-de-plume of Rudolph Wilhelm Adolf Ditzen (1893-1947). Set in Berlin in 1940, Fallada's novel about the attempt of one man and his wife to resist Adolf Hitler is a masterpiece. It is a chilling story of the futility of resistance in a society where all trust has been lost and paranoia has free reign: son betrays father; neighbours turn on one another; no one can trust their closest friends or family members; and any small act of resistance - or defeatist murmur - is punishable by death. I found Alone in Berlin deeply shocking; even more so when I read about Fallada's life during the Nazi years and about the police evidence on which the substance of the plot of Alone in Berlin is based (see more here).

In brief, Alone in Berlin is the story of a penny-pinching and not particularly heroic works' foreman, Otto Quangel, who reacts to the death of his only son in France by deciding to leave postcards throughout the city denouncing Hitler's regime. Pitted against Quangel's ineffectual rebellion (276 postcards over two years) is Gestapo Inspector Escherich and gradually every contact that Quangel and his wife Anna have ever had becomes drawn into the Gestapo's net. No one, it soon becomes apparent, is entirely innocent:
Inspector Laub followed the watchword of the times: Everyone is guilty. You just need to probe for long enough, and you'll find something.
Woven through the story of Quangel's small and futile act of resistance - but resistance nevertheless - are multiple other interconnected narratives which fan slowly outwards from the apartment block in which the Quangels live and draw in his workplace (where, aptly, they make coffins), his son's fiancée, his wife's relatives, various petty crooks, shop-keepers, doctors, other resistants, and even inspector Escherich himself.
'Show me one that isn't afraid!' said the brownshirt contemptuously. 'And it's so unnecessary. They just need to do what we tell them.'
'It's because people have got in the habit of thinking. They have the idea that thinking will help them.'
'They need to do as they're told. The Führer can do their thinking for them.'
Those who find the cards left in stairwells are already so paranoid that they suspect the cards have been left specifically to see what they do when they find them:
Perhaps such cards were a fiendish device, to be distributed among suspicious individuals, to see how they reacted? Perhaps he had been under surveillance for a long time already, and this was just a further means to monitor his response?
Quangel's small act of resistance backfires, and the majority of cards are handed straight in to the Gestapo, enabling the astute Inspector Escherich to construct a map which will slowly but surely lead him to Otto Quangel's doorstep.
'What did you expect anyway, Quangel? You, an ordinary worker, taking on the Führer, who is backed by the Party, the Wehrmacht, the SS, the SA? ... It's ludicrous! ... It's a gnat against an elephant. I don't understand it, a sensible man like you!'
'No, and you never will understand it, either. You see, it doesn't matter if one man fights or ten thousand; if the one man sees he has no option but to fight, then he will fight, whether he has others on his side or not. I had to fight...'
Is resistance ever futile? What makes ordinary men and women turn on each other? How did this ever happen? This novel will make you think, a lot.

Typo! undiminshed for undiminished.

Rating: 10/10.

If you liked this... Traudl Junge's account of how a fairly ordinary German girl became Hitler's secretary offers some insights into how the woman on the street became able to overlook what was happening around her: Until the Final Hour - Hitler's Last Secretary.

Until the Final Hour: Hitler's Last Secretary 

Incidentally, in the US Alone in Berlin is published as Every Man Dies Alone:

Every Man Dies Alone 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

{weekend words}

I think of the Postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows that he cannot say to her, 'I love you madly', because he knows that she knows (and that she knows that he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still, there is a solution. He can say, 'As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly.' At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said clearly that it is no longer possible to speak innocently, he will nevertheless have said what he wanted to say to the woman: that he loves her, but he loves her in an age of lost innocence. If the woman goes along with this, she will have received a declaration of love all the same. Neither of the two speakers will feel innocent, both will have accepted the challenge of the past, of the already said, which cannot be eliminated; both will consciously and with pleasure play the game of irony... But both will have succeeded, once again, in speaking of love. 
Umberto Eco, Author's Postscript to The Name of the Rose (1984), pp.67-8.

The Name of the Rose: including the Author's Postscript 


Thursday, October 14, 2010

{wishlist}

Begging to join the groaning shelves this week:


Maggie Joel (2010):
Maggie Joel is based in Australia. 
The book is set in the UK in the 1940s.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

{review} east lynne

Ellen (Mrs Henry) Wood East Lynne (1860-1).

East Lynne (Oxford World's Classics)

What a 'sensational' read! Fleeing poverty, the Lady Isabel marries a man whom she doesn't love enough and thus becomes fair game for an evil seducer. Leaving her children and her home, she lives in sin on the Continent until, abandoned, reduced (again) to penury, and disfigured in a shocking train accident, she returns incognito to her husband's home disguised as a lowly governess -- just in time to nurse her dying child.
The very hour of her departure she awoke to what she had done: the guilt, whose aspect had been shunned in the prospective, assumed at once its true, frightful colour, the blackness of darkness; and a lively remorse, a never dying anguish, took possession of her soul forever. Oh, reader, believe me! Lady -- wife -- mother! should you ever be tempted to abandon your home, so will you awake. Whatever trials may be the lot of your married life, though they may magnify themselves to your crushed spirit as beyond the endurance of woman to bear, resolve to bear them; fall down upon your knees and pray to be enabled to bear them: pray for patience; pray for strength to resist the demon that would urge you so to escape; bear unto death, rather than forfeit your fair name and your good conscience; for be assured that the alternative, if you do rush on to it, will be found far worse than death.
Lady Isabel's cautionary tale is woven through by other equally interesting stories - murder, mistaken identity, village life, electioneering and many lesser love stories.

'Did you ever hear that it was necessary, or expedient, or becoming for a young lady to set on and begin to "like" a gentleman as "her husband?"'

As social commentary this is pretty scary stuff. East Lynne is a longish novel but if you're a fan of, say, Wilkie Collins, it is well worth reading.

Rating: 8/10.

If you liked this... definitely Wilkie Collins' Armadale

Armadale (Oxford World's Classics) 

Monday, October 11, 2010

{review} cluny brown

Margery Sharp Cluny Brown (1944)

 Source: coverbrowser
"The trouble with young Cluny," said Mr. Porritt, "is she don't seem to know her place."
At last it was out, Cluny Brown's crime; and her uncle could never have put into words -- not even to a stranger, not even in a park -- the uneasiness it caused him. To know one's place was to Arnold Porritt the basis of all civilised, all rational life; keep to your class, and you couldn't go wrong. A good plumber, backed by his Union, could look a duke in the eye; and a good dustman, backed by his Union, could look Mr. Porritt in the eye. Dukes, of course, had no Union, and it was Mr. Porritt's impression that they were lying pretty low.
I can't understand why Cluny Brown hasn't been picked up in the revival of 1930s/40s' fiction. It is screaming out to join The Bloomsbury Group. Track down a copy: it's a wonderful book and I keep returning to it as an old favourite.

Mr. Porritt's world -- circa 1938 -- his 'place' can be illustrated by one fine passage:
He sat down and removed his boots, placing them neatly on the lower shelf of a bamboo whatnot. The top of the whatnot bore a chenille mat, a brass tray, a brass pot, in the pot a fine rubber-plant; the whole standing just where it ought, plumb in the centre of the bow-window.
Poor Cluny Brown is a girl who doesn't know her place. Mr. Porritt, her plumber uncle, despairing of the naïveté and curiosity which lands her in a series of social scrapes (when, for instance, she decides to try her hand at plumbing and is led astray by scented soap and strong cocktails), despatches her "into service" in deepest Devonshire as a parlour-maid. After all, she's much too tall (though perfect for a parlour-maid) and not particularly good-looking either ("Mr. Ames... took one look at Cluny's nose and dismissing all frolicsome thoughts at once led the way into a small malodorous scullery."). But Cluny possesses the quality of unexpectedness, and all who encounter her are changed forever. First there's the Colonel who gives Cluny a ride from the station:
"Could I keep a dog at Friars Carmel?"
"I don't see why --" began the Colonel; and paused. For the last few minutes he had quite forgotten he was talking to a parlourmaid, but now he remembered. Well, of course she couldn't keep a dog; parlourmaids didn't. "I doubt it," said the Colonel hastily.
Cluny said nothing; but she turned her black eyes upon him and in a most mournful look. What a look it was! At once bright and liquid, tragic and brave, innocent and deep... And under the influence of Cluny's gaze a strangely unorthodox notion -- his first in ten years -- suddenly struck him: what was the use of treating servants well, giving 'em good food and all that, if you wouldn't let 'em keep a dog? He felt really disturbed.
Meanwhile, in hitherto peaceful Friars Carmel, the heir to the estate, has invited a exiled Polish intellectual who fell foul of the Nazis to stay indefinitely with his parents in the countryside. It's somewhat of an adventure to Andrew, offering shelter to this refugee, but he has no idea what unexpected trouble Adam Belinski will bring to his parents, his girlfriend and, of course, the new parlour-maid. Belinski, the 'Professor', is drawn wonderfully well:
"...Look at Paderewski -- the greatest musician in the world, we had to make him President as well. If you win a motor-race, you are made secretary to the Board of Trade. I have a success with my writings, so I must become a lecturer. Thank heaven they did not give me the Police Force..."
Cluny and the Professor represent the cracks appearing in the social and political fabric of England as Europe moves inevitably towards war. They both serve to bring a heightened sense of self-awareness to those around them. When Cluny-the-parlourmaid is allowed to visit the Colonel's dog, the housekeeper "remembered some of Mr. Andrew's sayings... about cracks in civilisation, the breaking-up of society, world revolution, the decay of the West; and for the first time, their meaning struck home."

Andrew's parents are wonderfully stereotypical mad aristocrats:
"How well you speak English," observed Lady Carmel.
"It is the universal tongue."
"Ha!" exclaimed Sir Henry, much pleased. "That's what I say. As a young man my dear parents sent me on a tour round the world. I left speaking English and I came back speaking English, and I never spoke a word of anything else the whole time. Didn't need to."
"And did you enjoy your travels, sir?"
"No," said Sir Henry.
Of Lady Carmel:
It made no difference to her reception of him whether Mr. Belinski had been the victim of appendicitis or of mob violence; but it made a great difference to Lady Carmel, who was mildly interested in the first, but could not bear to contemplate the second.
Will Cluny fall for the dull and sober charms of Mr. Wilson the chemist? Can Andrew wrestle his beloved away from the exotic Pole? Can parlourmaids keep dogs?
Several years before she had made quite a friend of an old man who took a tortoise into Kensington Gardens; and he told her he was never sure whether the tortoise enjoyed these outings or not, whether it didn't after all think, damn this grass.
This is a wonderful book, deliciously written and full of wicked self-knowledge: the lady chatting idly with Cluny's uncle in Kensington Gardens while she awaits her younger lover is already translating their mundane conversation into something more piquant:
Even as she smiled fragments of dialogue were forming in her mind -- "But people always talk to me!" she would say. "I feel like that man in Kipling who sat still and let the animals run over him." Or was Kipling just a little bit -- dating? "Like that man in the jungle," perhaps -- and leave his provenance vague...
BTW, there is a 1946 film of Cluny Brown with Charles Boyer as Adam Belinski and Jennifer Jones as Cluny. It is worth watching if it appears again, though it can't compete with the book.

Rating: 10/10

If you liked this... if you can imagine a book that combined the sense of ridiculous of a Just William book, the sparkly romance of a Georgette Heyer and the knowing eye of Zuleika Dobson, that'd be the book to read next.

Source: wikipedia

Saturday, October 9, 2010

{weekend words}

Αἴσωπος οὖν τὸν μῦθον εἶπε δηλώσας 
ἐλεεινὸς <ὅσ>τις εἰς γυναῖκας ἐμπίπτει·
ὥσπερ θάλασσα <προσ>γελῶσ' ἀποπνιγει.

Aesop told this fable in order to show how pitiable a man is who falls into the hands of women. Women are like the sea; which smiles and lures men on to its sparkling surface, then snuffs them out.
Babrius (unknown date, ?not later than AD 200), fable 22, lines 13-15. The lines are considered spurious by most editors -- a later epimythium added to give a 'moral' to the fable. Translation by B. E. Perry in Babrius and Phaedrus (Loeb Classical Library. Harvard University Press: 1965), p.35. For other versions of the fable it accompanies -- The Middle-Aged Man With Two Mistresses -- see here.

Fables: Babrius and Phaedrus (Loeb Classical Library No. 436)

Friday, October 8, 2010

{lit link}

Robert Messenger on
(The New Criterion, May 2010)

Wigs on the Green (Vintage)

Two other reviews I liked were by vintage reads and book snob.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

{wishlist}

Begging to join the groaning shelves this week:

Christopher's Ghosts

Charles Mccarry (2007):

The Paul Christopher espionage series is unbelievably good: complex, beautifully written, intricately plotted (from 1930s Germany to 1980s Washington). I was sad when I thought that Second Sight (1991) was the last -- and very happy now that isn't so. Favourite: the epic The Last Supper (1983). If you like CIA spy and 'spook' stuff, try these.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

{review} eric ambler

Eric Ambler Cause for Alarm (1938), Journey into Fear (1940), Uncommon Danger (1937), Epitaph for a Spy (1938), The Mask of Dimitrios (1939).

There would have to be another night of watching and waiting in the cold. He had no patience with it. If this Englishman had to be killed, let him be killed easily, quickly. A dark stretch of pavement, a knife under the ribs, a slight twist of the wrist to let the air inside the wound, and it was done. No fuss, no trouble, practically no noise. (Cause for Alarm)

I'd read these books for the gorgeously atmospheric covers alone.


 These are the Penguin Modern Classics covers.


Eric Ambler is the master of the menacing 1930s' spy story. The typical storyline is of an innocent abroad caught in the evil machinations of fascists (Ambler's leanings were towards the communists in this period). The innocent is always a man who is very capable and assertive in his own field but is a complete fish out of water in the espionage game. The hero thus requires rescuing by a wiser professional spy who explains what is really going on in this exotic part of the world (Italy, Turkey, Germany, France, Greece). Often the hero is quite unheroic. Sometimes there is a lovely and clever woman on the side of the angels too, just to make it interesting.



Ambler's locations are exotic but believable (considerably more so than his helpful communists) and there is plenty of contemporary detail - politics, culture, and so on:

'My nerves', I snapped, 'are perfectly all right.'
He nodded calmly. 'That's good. You're going to need them in a minute. We're going to drop off this train when it slows down for the curve at Treviglio.'
... I couldn't adjust my mind to these new and fantastic circumstances. I found myself wondering seriously whether perhaps by pinching myself I might wake up to find that I was, after all, still in bed in Rome. But no: there was Zaleshoff smoking and gazing intently out of the window and in my pocket there was a safety-razor, a leaking tube of shaving cream, and a pair of American underpants.

These are the sort of solid, escapist reads which make good B&W films.


Rating: 7/10.
If you liked these... definitely read W. Somerset Maugham's Ashenden (review here).

Monday, October 4, 2010

{review} daisy miller

Henry James Daisy Miller (1878).

 Daisy Miller (Penguin Classics)
'Here comes my sister!' cried the child, in a moment. 'She's an American girl.'
Poor naïve Daisy Miller, who comes to a bad end after trying to shake up the good ol' Anglo-European mores of Vevey and Rome with her youthful and loose American ways: "She was a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect." 

This novella is a beautifully written, albeit not cheery read. James perfectly captures the young Americans' voices:
...Randolph... continued to supply information with regard to his own family... 'My father ain't in Europe; my father's in a better place than Europe.'
Winterbourne imagined for a moment that this was the manner in which the child had been taught to intimate that Mr Miller had been removed to the sphere of celestial rewards. But Randolph immediately added, 'My father's in Schenectady. He's got a big business. My father's rich, you bet.'
The descriptions of Rome make me long to be back there:
It seemed to him that Rome had never been so lovely as just then. He stood looking off at the enchanting harmony of line and colour that remotely encircles the city, inhaling the softly humid odours and feeling the freshness of the year and the antiquity of the place reaffirm themselves in mysterious interfusion.
 
 
And oh such an apt death for the young American social martyr, catching malaria ('Roman fever') while sitting at the foot of the great cross in the Colosseum (one can't do this nowadays; allegedly one can't catch malaria in Rome either) and being buried in that most beautiful of resting places, the Protestant Cemetery (with Keats and a few bits and pieces of Shelley).

Photos by the author, Feb. 2010 (Top: Colosseum; Bottom: Protestant Cemetery)

Rating: 9/10.

If you liked this... I'm going to read more Henry James. But I don't think I liked Portrait of a Lady. Oh dear. Maybe The Golden Bowl. And do read that Edith Wharton short story 'Roman Fever' (I read it in That Kind of Women: Stories from the Left Bank and Beyond, edd. B. Adams & T. Tate; Virago, 1991).

That Kind of Woman

{READ IN 2017}

  • 48.
  • MAY
  • 47.
  • 46. Strange Ending - E. R. Punshon
  • 45. The Attending Truth - E. R. Punshon
  • 44. The Golden Dagger - E. R. Punshon
  • 43. The Secret Search - E. R. Punshon
  • 42. Spook Street - Mick Herron
  • 41. Real Tigers - Mick Herron
  • 40. Dead Lions - Mick Herron
  • 39. Slow Horses - Mick Herron
  • APRIL
  • 38. Everybody Always Tells - E. R. Punshon
  • 37. So Many Doors - E. R. Punshon
  • 36. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
  • 35. A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon
  • 34. A Murder is Arranged - Basil Thomson
  • 33. The Milliner's Hat Mystery - Basil Thomson
  • 32. Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? - Basil Thomson
  • 31. The Dartmoor Enigma - Basil Thomson
  • 30. The Case of the Dead Diplomat - Basil Thomson
  • 29. The Case of Naomi Clynes - Basil Thomson
  • 28. Richardson Scores Again - Basil Thomson
  • 27. A Deadly Thaw - Sarah Ward
  • MARCH
  • 26. The Spy Paramount - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 25. The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 24. Ragdoll - Daniel Cole
  • 23. The Case of Sir Adam Braid - Molly Thynne
  • 22. The Ministry of Fear - Graham Greene
  • 21. The Draycott Murder Mystery - Molly Thynne
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • FEBRUARY
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • JANUARY
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore

{READ IN 2016}

  • (K = Kindle; rr = re-read)
  • DECEMBER
  • 92. Richardson's First Case - Basil Thomson [K]
  • 91. The Alington Inheritance - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 90. Orphan X - Gregg Hurwitz [K]
  • 89. The House of Godwinsson [Bobby Owen 24] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 88. Music Tells All [Bobby Owen 24] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 87. Helen Passes By [Bobby Owen 23] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • NOVEMBER
  • 86. It Might Lead Anywhere [Bobby Owen 22] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 85. There's a Reason for Everything [Bobby Owen 21] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 84. Secrets Can't Be Kept [Bobby Owen 20] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • OCTOBER
  • 83. Night's Cloak [Bobby Owen 19] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 82. The Conqueror Inn [Bobby Owen 18] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 81. The Diabolic Candelabra [Bobby Owen 17] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 80. The Dark Garden [Bobby Owen 16] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • SEPTEMBER
  • 79. Picture Miss Seeton - Heron Carvic [K]
  • 78. Down Under (Benbow Smith 4) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 77. Walk with Care (Benbow Smith 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 76. Danger Calling (Benbow Smith 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 75. Fool Errant (Benbow Smith 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 74. The Annam Jewel - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 73. Mr Zero - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 72. Will o' the Wisp - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 71. Red Shadow - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 70. Pursuit of a Parcel (Lamb 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 69. Who Pays the Piper (Lamb 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 68. The Blind Side (Lamb 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 67. Outrageous Fortune - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 66. The Amazing Chance - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 65. Red Stefan - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • AUGUST
  • 64. The Coldstone - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 63. Anne Belinda - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 62. The Black Cabinet - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 61. Hue & Cry - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 60. The Skin Collector - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 59. The Kill Room - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 58. Nothing Venture - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 57. Kingdom Lost - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 56. Beggar's Choice - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 55. Hole and Corner - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 54. Touch and Go - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 53. The Red Lacquer Case - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 52. Run! - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 51. Fear by Night - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • JULY
  • 50. The Dower House Mystery - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 49. The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 48. Weekend with Death - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 47. Blindfold - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 46. Silence in Court - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 45. Acts of the Assassins - Richard Beard [K]
  • JUNE
  • 44. Hack - Kieran Crowley [K]
  • 43. The Portable Veblen - Elizabeth McKenzie [K]
  • 42. The Spirit Murder Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • MAY
  • 41. The Ginger Cat Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 40. The Pleasure Cruise Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 39. The Polo Ground Murder - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • APRIL
  • 38. The Outsider - Jason Dean [K]
  • 37. The Hunter's Oath - Jason Dean [K]
  • 36. Missing or Murdered - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 35. The Beetle - Richard Marsh [K]
  • MARCH
  • 34. A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell 1) - Deanna Raybourn [K]
  • 33. The Chimera Vector - Nathan M. Farrugia [K]
  • 32. An Infamous Army - Georgette Heyer [K]
  • 31. Mr Bazalgette's Agent - Leonard Merrick
  • 30. Don't Tell - Karen Rose [K]
  • 29. Say Goodbye - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 28. Gone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 27. The Killing Hour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 26. The Next Accident - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 25. The Third Victim - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • FEBRUARY
  • 24. The Perfect Husband - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 23. Find Her - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 22. Fear Nothing - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 21. Catch Me - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 20. Love You More - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 19. Live to Tell - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 18. The Neighbour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 17. Hide - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 16. Alone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 15. The Humans - Matt Haig [K]
  • 14. Utopian Man - Lisa Lang
  • 13. Love Insurance - Earl Derr Biggers [K]
  • JANUARY
  • 12. The Ignition Effect - Viv Ronnebeck [K]
  • 11. My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin [K]
  • 10. Dangerous & Unseemly - K. B. Owen [K]
  • 9. In Bitter Chill - Sarah Ward [K[
  • 8. Half a Crown - Jo Walton [K]
  • 7. Ha'penny - Jo Walton [K]
  • 6. Hilda Wade: A Woman with Tenacity of Purpose - Grant Allen [K]
  • 5. The Case of William Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 4. Blue Murder - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 3. Bleeding Hooks - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 2. Knock, Murderer, Knock! - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 1. Ten Star Clues [Bobby Owen 15] - E. R. Punshon [K]