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Imperfect Messengers of Murder Monday

Flowers for the Judge was ok. Not great, not terrible. There are a couple of good moments and a lot of meandering. It seems as if Allingham gets in about one good scene and one interesting character per book, and even their dark secrets are a little weak. But her writing is still improving noticeably. Flowers for the Judge probably has about as many good paragraphs as clunkers, and a few memorable ones. I'll probably check out an episode of the TV show before I pick up the next book.

Just began: Head of a Traveler by Nicholas Blake

I learned about this one via a review on vintage_crime, and since I am somewhat more pro-literary posturing than dfordoom I thought I'd give this poetry-loving sleuth a try. Nicholas Blake is the pen name of Cecil Day Lewis, a poet paying the bills. It's ok so far? It's actually not quite as pretentious as I might like, given my expectations.

The narration is a little weird -- it starts out in first person with lots of casual present tense and somewhat careless figurative language, then abruptly switches to a more subdued and impersonal third in the second chapter. Nigel Strangeways is a semi-amateur who has an informal arrangement with the police. So far he is the boring kind of gentleman detective. There's also a Mute Dwarf of Significance, who is connected with the family tragedy in some way, but who is jarringly gothic and out of place in this parlor-Bohemian setting. No one has bothered yet to do any work toward making him a character; he's just a wandering signifier who represents The Sins of the Past or Whatever.

There's also a mild undercurrent of wrist-grabbing -- you know how in every episode of Star Trek: TOS there is a female scientist or engineer or ship's captain, and at some point Kirk (or whoever's handy) will grab her by the wrist and shout, "But you're still a woman! What about your woman's heart!?!!?"? That kind of thing. No actual wrists have been grabbed yet, but you feel like it could happen at any moment.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
therck
Sep. 7th, 2015 02:24 pm (UTC)
I know I read a couple of Nicholas Blake books, many years ago, but I can't remember much about them. My main impression was that I really didn't understand what on earth was going on in the books either because I was missing a lot of details in the text or because those details weren't explicitly there and the text expected me to be able to fill them in. At any rate, I didn't keep trying.
evelyn_b
Sep. 7th, 2015 04:37 pm (UTC)
I think I know what you mean! There's an understatedness to the way characters and images are introduced that would be fine for a quiet novel of manners but is a little too colorless for readers who need to be able to remember key details in order to follow a fairly convoluted mystery plot.

Though actually, given the characterization so far, I'm not sure that quiet novel of manners would be that good, either.

And for someone who actually is a poet, Blake isn't really selling me on the importance of this guy's poetry. I'm pretty sure we're supposed to take the whole "protect the genius at all costs!" thing at least semi-seriously, but it's falling a little flat. Then again, I'm reading it right on the heels of The Horse's Mouth, which includes a really intense picture of artistic vision and drive, so I'm probably being a little unfair by comparison? And it's probably at least a little easier to convince someone that a character is a good painter than it is to convince them of the awesomeness of fictional poetry. You can invent the best painter without having to paint anything, but if you go around calling a character the best poet, people expect some poetry on the page.

Blake can't very well paste in a bunch of his own poetry and expect people not to laugh at him, no matter how good it is. But maybe it would help if he did.
osprey_archer
Sep. 7th, 2015 02:43 pm (UTC)
"But you're still a woman! What about your woman's heart!?!!?"

Hahahaha oh Star Trek, that is absolutely how it deals with women. It's so uneasy with having women on board the starship, actually doing work and stuff.
evelyn_b
Sep. 7th, 2015 07:44 pm (UTC)
I respect TOS for trying, because they really did try, and sometimes they even succeeded. But at the same time, they could have tried a lot harder than they did. There are so many competent women doing important jobs in space, and they all get wrist-grabbed sooner or later.

I'm only on the first season of Classic Doctor Who, so it might get worse later, but so far I'm pretty impressed with how much it's managed to avoid the Star Trek temptation to throw a lot of women into space and then spend the whole time fretting about mid-twentieth century Hollywood psychology.

There's a female astronaut in the most recent serial I watched, and she has a personal stake in the plot (guy being mind-controlled by aliens is her fiancé) but the it couldn't be further from the wrist-grabbing model. Her femininity isn't constantly being pointed out or set in opposition to her job; she may have giant 60s hair and talk like the BBC, but she's as comfortable in her fictional future as if she were born there, and everyone else takes it for granted that she should be. It's such a difference. Maybe because DW was conceived as a kid's show, the writers felt less like they had to address The Issue of Sex at every opportunity? I don't know.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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