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Murder Never Sleeps Monday

What I've Finished Reading

Two crumbling Christies: Towards Zero (1944) and The Seven Dials Mystery (1929), both featuring the solid and (mostly) likable Superintendent Battle.

Towards Zero was a terrific mystery with an impossibly stupid random romance stuck on at the end; Seven Dials spent a lot of time being boring and silly, but the random romance was charming in that meringuey Beresfordian way (and might have been even more so if I could have remembered who the one guy was for most of the book).

I spent the entirety of Towards Zero feeling fairly confident that I had cracked the code, only to be taken completely off guard by the solution (unlocked by an obvious detail that was beautifully sleight-of-handed away in the early chapters, of course). It was very well made and even a little chilling. Seven Dials follows a handful of perky young weekend-partiers whom murder pulls into the orbit of a lot of fake/real/fake conspirators, and the identity of the criminal mastermind is obvious, once you learn that there is a criminal mastermind, from [Spoiler for The Seven Dials Mystery -- or is it??]the way the other characters are constantly reminding themselves what an ineffectual ass he is. And there's a Raffles reference! I should read more Raffles.

I had a whole sightseeing wish list for my trip out of town, but the only thing I actually managed to do was visit this bookshop. It's a nice space, though the used book section was much smaller than I was expecting and did not have the out-of-print Clemence Dane-Helen Simpson books I hoped they might. (Helen Simpson did turn up in one of the Annotated Holmes footnotes, though). On an impulse, I bought a book by Helen McCloy called The Long Body, which was in even worse condition than the crumbling Christies; as soon as I began to read it the cover fell off, and by the time I finished all the pages had detached themselves from the spinal glue and were disintegrating into flakes of crispy brown paper.

It was a tiny book, well under two hundred pages. I read it in about an hour and a half and loved it, even though the xenophobia hinted at in the early chapters was decidedly not undermined by the end, and the reveal/conclusion was so rushed that it felt like the author had suddenly noticed she was about to run out of paper. The "psychological insights" of the police-psychiatrist detective were not always much more convincing than Mrs. Bradley's, but the narrator's were better; the careful depiction of emotional states made suspension of disbelief easy even when the action was frankly ridiculous. And once the killer was revealed, you realize that there was only ever one viable suspect for most of the book. But that doesn't matter at all; it's full of intelligent character details, beautifully readable, and very quick. This was a serendipitous purchase and I'll probably be reading more Helen McCloy in the future.

What I'm Reading Now

It's a good thing I already have enough goodwill toward JKR and the Strike-Ellacott Agency to coast on for another ten books, because if I'd picked up Career of Evil first, I would have put it down immediately after a few paragraphs and never looked back. Why? Killer POV in the first chapter!

I don't want to read a murder mystery from the point of view of a murderer whose identity is being kept from me by the narrator! It feels like cheating because it is cheating. The narrator is reporting from inside the killer's head, but can't be a good sport and tell us who he is? WHY NOT, Rowling? DON'T SAY THAT'S THE MYSTERY; I know it's the mystery, but it's NOT ACTUALLY A MYSTERY if it's Chapter One and we're already listening to him lick his lips and reminisce about his stabby golden days in lurid but carefully non-specific terms. And now we're going to have to limp doggedly all over London and Environs with poor Cormoran, and skulk around in parking lots, and eat all that greasy food at odd hours, and lose all that sleep, and have all those fights with Matthew over going into the office on the weekend, and probably end up talking to this murdering asshole a billion times, when the narrator has just been chilling inside his grody headspace THIS WHOLE TIME without saying anything.

Maybe Rowling will do something interesting with it after all, or maybe not. So far I trust her to write a book that I will enjoy anyway, and maybe even justify the killer POV (maybe), but right now it's looking like a weak foot to start off on.

The actual beginning is good. Robin gets a human leg in the mail. That's not a spoiler; it's almost the first thing that happens. And Robin and Matthew are fighting again, SURPRISE SURPRISE. Somewhere in London there must be a relationship counsellor who specializes in dealing with authorial shipping machinations.

Also, Rowling keeps enlisting minor and one-off characters to reinforce the idea that, despite the description you have just read, women totally find Cormoran Strike attractive! (Look, these people I just made up agree!) It's very Sayersesque. Every time some rando turns up to coo about Strike's powerful masculinity and then vanish, it gets a tiny bit funnier. Thank you for your valuable input, randos!

I'll take my entertainment where I can get it, because Career of Evil is a walk on the grim side. Strike has three or four suspects in mind who both 1) bear him a grudge, and 2) seem like the kind of guy who might chop off a dead girl's leg and send it to him c/o his de facto partner, so we're in for a complicated kaleidoscope of guilt and ugly details while he rakes over everything he can remember about each one. (The Killer POV sections are not adding much so far except annoyance, but we'll see). Mixed feelings are inevitable, but what am I going to do? Stop reading? It's highly unlikely to come to that.

What I Plan to Read Next

Also bought at the Mysterious Bookshop: Lady Audley's Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Watson's Choice by Gladys Mitchell. Recommended to me and just waiting for me to open: Malice by Keigo Higashino -- a contemporary mystery featuring another murdered author, which looks promising.

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
osprey_archer
Mar. 7th, 2016 02:12 pm (UTC)
That looks like a fabulous bookshop! Too bad their used book section wasn't bigger.

Hahahaa, I'm glad someone else hates killer POV as much as I do. It's absolutely cheating, and also I just generally don't want to spend that much time in the head of someone so horrible. I mean, there are books when the killer's headspace isn't horrible, but the guy in Career of Evil is AWFUL, and even in books where the killer is a pretty mundane person led astray into murder in a moment of rage or whatever, there's still the bit where killer POV is cheating.
evelyn_b
Mar. 8th, 2016 04:08 am (UTC)
It's a nice place! There are shelves all the way up the walls and those sliding ladders, and the people who run it are friendly.

Career of Evil guy is so awful. And not like, "Oh, what an interesting exploration of the dark side of human nature!!" just wall-to-wall serial killer boilerplate. I mean, I'm sure the inside of an actual serial killer's head really IS tedious, but that doesn't make it any better as leisure reading. I don't mind a trek through the sewers, in theory, if it means learning something important or saving someone. But what do we learn from these chapters? Oh, this dude feels hard done by and slicing up women makes him feel powerful? YOU DON'T SAY.

Oh, well. I just hope JKR doesn't get the idea she has to ramp up the horrors with each new book, because that's going to get old fast.
osprey_archer
Mar. 8th, 2016 02:57 pm (UTC)
I gave up on Career of Evil because the serial killer boilerplate got so repetitive (and I had a horrible feeling that something awful would happen to Robin). I waffle back and forth between wanting to finish it, and thinking BUT THERE ARE SO MANY CHAPTERS OF SERIAL KILLER BOILERPLATE LEFT, UGH.

I suppose I could skim them. They don't seem to be adding much plot-relevant information. Although of course that could just be sleight of hand; maybe secretly they're full of important clues.
evelyn_b
Mar. 8th, 2016 03:18 pm (UTC)
My advice? Skip those chapters. Nothing of value will be lost. There's one prominent connecting object, but even there it's easy to catch up with its significance once Strike finds it. The "valuable information" that they add is the insight that serial killers are assholes, which you can easily work out from the rest of the book even if you couldn't get there on your own from the phrase "serial killer."

The Robin plot was a little frustrating to me, even as it made me love Robin more than ever. If you want spoilers about whether or not she's going to be ok, [SPOILER]she will be ok, though she does get threatened A LOT and has to relive some trauma from her past.

Life is too short to fill up your head with serial-killer boilerplate.

Edited at 2016-03-08 03:19 pm (UTC)
ladyherenya
Mar. 12th, 2016 03:23 am (UTC)
I ended up skipping or skimming the killer POV chapters and that worked out pretty well.
liadtbunny
Mar. 7th, 2016 03:45 pm (UTC)
I like the name Mysterious Bookshop:) Was it hard to find or quite easy once you locate a dark corner?
evelyn_b
Mar. 8th, 2016 04:12 am (UTC)
:D

Apart from the sign being in a spoooky font, the location was not mysterious at all! I'd spent the previous day getting lost, so it actually felt pretty easy to find -- right on the corner of a semi-major intersection.
a_phoenixdragon
Mar. 7th, 2016 04:49 pm (UTC)
Hmmm...need a list of JKR's other books. Just to have something to ruminate over when looking for procrastination excuses, lol!

*HUGS*
evelyn_b
Mar. 8th, 2016 04:18 am (UTC)
The Cormoran Strike books are written under JKR's pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, so that's usually how they're shelved in the library. The Cuckoo's Calling is the first one, the second is The Silkworm. This one is the third and (so far) the latest.

They have some flaws, but I like the detectives so much that it hardly matters at all. This one is more of a trial than the other two, because serial killers and sexual violence are usually dealbreakers for me -- but I'm still reading it. That's a recommendation, I guess!
scripsi
Mar. 7th, 2016 06:16 pm (UTC)
Towards Zero is one of my favourite Christie's, though I agree the romance in the end feels a bit off. But it's a clever story and more psyological complex than most of her books. I also like that the gold digger and the dago character, who usually don't get much sympathy from her, actually come across as persons with both good and bad sides. But The Mystery of the Sevian Dials is one of those I completely forget between re-reads...
evelyn_b
Mar. 8th, 2016 04:39 am (UTC)
Towards Zero was so good! Some of the dialogue was so well-constructed I was copying bits of it in my notebook. The random romance is just Christie being Christie; I can't hold things like that against her, even though at the time, I was like, "[spoiler], no! At least have a few beers and talk about your career goals first! D:" And part of me always wants the random last-minute romances to "work" in some way; I have a soft spot for the Shakespearian comedy ending where everyone left on stage has to pair up quick so we can all go home.

It was interesting to see the contrast between Towards Zero and Seven Dials, early Christie vs. height-of-her-powers Christie. There's a lot to like in Seven Dials, mostly at the level of detail -- character sketches, conversations, the prank gone wrong -- but on the whole it feels a little like reading the manual for one of those weekend mystery games that people are always getting themselves ironically killed in the middle of. She hasn't completely learned to walk that silly-serious line yet.
scripsi
Mar. 10th, 2016 04:20 pm (UTC)
but on the whole it feels a little like reading the manual for one of those weekend mystery games that people are always getting themselves ironically killed in the middle of.

Very aptly put! :)
wordsofastory
Mar. 7th, 2016 07:36 pm (UTC)
Mysterious Bookshop! Despite living in NYC, I've somehow never been there. I really need to fix that.
evelyn_b
Mar. 8th, 2016 04:45 am (UTC)
You should! It was friendly and fun -- many more new books than used, but that's not actually a flaw.

I imagine it's very easy to live in NYC and never see a lot of great things that are right down the street. There was so much going on that I barely knew where to look (one of several reasons I got lost).
wordsofastory
Mar. 8th, 2016 09:10 pm (UTC)
Yup. There's an old joke that NYC natives never do any of the famous tourist stuff until someone from out of town visits and drags them along. It just seems so unimportant to go to the top of the Empire State Building, or anything else like that, when you know you could do it at any time! And then it never quite gets done.
evelyn_b
Mar. 9th, 2016 03:47 am (UTC)
I hope you go to Central Park sometimes, at least! That is a beautiful giant park.
a_phoenixdragon
Mar. 13th, 2016 11:59 pm (UTC)
I'll be sure to remember the name!

*HUGS*
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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