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That Elusive Toyshop Monday

The Floating Admiral lags and wanders a lot in the middle, but what can you expect? It's still better plotted and more engaging than some single-author books I can think of. The wrap-up by Berkeley was funny and fairly smart, and it was a lot of fun to read the solutions that had been posted along with each chapter and to see what got picked up on and what got left behind.

I've been anticipating The Moving Toyshop for such a long time, and on the basis of such a beautifully weird description from P. D. James, that I guess it would have been more of a surprise if I hadn't been disappointed. Still, it wasn't what I expected -- it was much clumsier and more superficial, with big clumps of Clever Dialogue and Literary Reference pasted all over a haphazard plot like so much dried pasta and glitter.

The Moving Toyshop's Gervase Fen may be a milestone in my reading life: the first fictional detective to earn my wholly uncomplicated dislike. It's probably too early to tell after just one book, but he's a pretty good contender so far. Fen is a snarky English professor, which I guess theoretically I should enjoy, but for whatever reason his brand of snark doesn't do anything for me. Anyway, he's glib and gauche and makes fun of the female undergraduates for being too earnest and has a knee-jerk aversion to Jane Austen fans, none of which would prevent me from liking him if he were funny or if he had other redeeming qualities, or even if the plot were good. But as it stands the plot is just a lot of wacky scenes stuck together, and Fen's personality seems to hang eternally on the threshold between boring and abrasive.

NB for future readers: A friendly and likeable dog is harmed in this book.

I'd like to read at least one more of these in case The Moving Toyshop is a fluke, so I'll probably read Love Lies Bleeding, which was recommended by lost_spook (and whose plot will give Fen the opportunity to do more with his lit-professor skills than just listing books he hates in pubs). Who knows where the next book will take me? I might start to like Fen, or my dislike might grow until it metastasizes into a kind of affection, or things might stay as they are.

Murder Is A Girl's Best Friend (by Amanda Matetsky) is something different -- a contemporary mystery set in the 1950s, starring hard-working true crime writer and amateur sleuth Paige Turner (who spends a lot of time explaining her name to people). Paige is an engaging narrator if not always a totally convincing one, and I like that this book is about freelance crime-solver with a day job (which is constantly being threatened by her freelance crime solving). The writing is eccentric (the author has a stronger than usual predilection for multiple exclamation points and interrobangs) and badly in need of editing, and the period atmosphere is very far from seamless (it consists mostly of Paige throwing pop-culture references at the reader) but Paige is an earnest, enjoyable character and the plot was not bad at all. It might make a good TV series, with the stock characters rounded out a little by charismatic actors.

I have no idea where Dead Man's Folly is going to end up. It stars everyone's favorite detective novelist and corpse magnet Ariadne Oliver, wisely catching on to the fact that she has become a corpse magnet and calling Poirot in before the Murder Hunt she's been hired to write for a country house party turns into an actual murder. So far, so good. In the meantime, though, there's all this feeble-mindedness and racial purity talk, which I think Christie is going to disavow (it's nearly all been in the mouths of obviously unsympathetic characters, and Christie in general seems to skew a little less racist than her contemporaries, despite And Then There Were None and all the talk about Latin v. Anglo-Saxon crime styles -- though I could easily turn out to be wrong there) (several different hats have also been described as "coolie style").

Also present in Dead Man's Folly: a mysterious relative newly arrived from foreign lands, a member of a former landowning family who may have a grudge against the new owners of her family's house, and a trophy wife who may be only pretending to be stupid. I'm currently rooting for the trophy wife. There are several passages complaining about women who wear shorts to go hiking; don't they understand that it isn't attractive? Poirot, I know you're the best at what you do, but maybe you should confine your opinions to who did the murder and what kind of flavored syrup to put in your flavored syrup drink.

I have a whole lot of books in from the library today. Next Murder Monday could feature Father Brown, my last (and Tey's first) Inspector Grant book, another book by Ngaio Marsh, and/or the hopefully-triumphant return of The Most Comfortable Man in London. We'll see which one I get to first, I guess.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
lost_spook
Apr. 27th, 2015 11:49 am (UTC)
But as it stands the plot is just a lot of wacky scenes stuck together,

I don't really remember much about Fen from TMT, and I didn't have any high expectations because I found it for about 10p in a charity shop many years ago, but this pretty much matches my memory of it. I appreciated the wacky, though, because that was new in my then limited experience of classic crime. Whereas I seem to recall feeling that Love Lies Bleeding was a lot more coherent. (I have a lot clearer memories of Michael Innes both as wacky in The Daffodil Affair and more coherent in academia in Death at the President's Lodgings. But as ever, my memories are unreliable and vague.)

I don't recall insulting Jane Austen fans, but I disapprove highly and suspect I would have done then, too. If I could remember anything.
evelyn_b
Apr. 27th, 2015 03:51 pm (UTC)
I'm not complaining! It's nice to finally meet a detective I don't care about at all, after all this time. I don't have to worry about anything and nothing can frustrate me; I can just go, "Well, those were some words on a bunch of pages."

I think I could have enjoyed the wacky a lot more if the narration were funnier or less colored by misogyny or both, or if the plotting had been ingenious, or the mystery of the toyshop more persistent, or even if the character of Fen had been sharper and more detestable. But it all just felt muddy and labored to me -- and my high expectations probably didn't help. There's a good chance I'll enjoy Love Lies Bleeding better.

Michael Innes is on my horizon! I'll get there eventually.
lost_spook
Apr. 27th, 2015 04:11 pm (UTC)
Michael Innes is frequently a bit disappointing - I think he wrote too much? Because every so often he can pull something really decent off, but most of it is too rushed. I haven't read all that many of his to really say, though, or in order, so it may rather have been a bad period or something, and I was unlucky in some of the books I came across. But the ones that were good (or in one case just completely bonkers) I did enjoy quite a lot.

I do think Love Lies Bleeding was better, but... my memory! At this point, I'm disclaiming everything. :lol:

:-)
osprey_archer
Apr. 28th, 2015 01:23 am (UTC)
Your earlier post about the book inspired me to acquire Marsh's Vintage Murder. I will let you know how it goes when I read it.

Also I love the idea of Ariadne Oliver calling in Poirot before shit goes down. It's so meta.
evelyn_b
Apr. 28th, 2015 10:07 pm (UTC)
I hope you enjoy it! Or if you don't, that you at least dislike it in a semi-enjoyable way.
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