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Murder is the Reason for the Monday

What I've Finished Reading

The Return of the Continental Op is five short stories by Dashiell Hammett , told by and about a nameless operative for the Continental Detective Agency. I really like Hammett’s first person here: short punchy similes, sardonically understated re-statements, “I lied” as dialogue tag. The Op is at his best when he’s castigating criminals, or watching them castigate each other, for being shit at crime. It’s a very specific form of satisfaction. In one story, he gets through twelve perfectly good reasons for why the elaborate set-up was a bad plan from the start before deciding he’s too thirsty to keep going. It usually happens some time after the Op has suffered some bodily trauma, since the Op gets knocked out constantly. Knocked on the head and thrown into the Bay, knocked on the head and beaten half to death, just plain knocked on the head. My Dell paperback edition (complete with crime map on back cover) is falling apart in my hands, and so cheaply printed that some of the pages have a blurry 3-D effect, so I won’t be keeping this one around, but it’s no fault of Dashiell Hammett’s.

Peril at End House was almost too overstuffed with Poirotisms, but what am I talking about? There's no such thing. Is there? Apparently I'm of two minds. On the one hand, it gets laid on a bit thicker in this book than in some of the others. On the other - well, the other hand is just the same sentence with "and it's great!" appended. Hastings and Poirot bicker about breakfast and modernity; Hastings takes great pleasure in describing the peculiarities of his friend to outsiders. This one is fast, fun, and a little crazy, but in the best Agatha Christie tradition rather than the worst. Nick Buckley, the hapless "modern" near-murder victim who charms Hastings and dismays Poirot with her disorderly ways, is a standout character from beginning to end. In the end, the mystery grows so dense that only a fake seance can dispel it. When in doubt, hold a fake seance!

What I'm Reading Now

I've started P. D. James' Death of an Expert Witness. I've read two P.D. James books a while ago, which I admired but didn't quite love - James leans more toward the disquieting end of the puzzle-horror continuum and -- I was about to say I like my murder stories to have less in common with actual murder, but that isn't always the case. I tried to read a couple of other books by James off and on, but wasn't able to keep my attention on them for some reason. I'm guardedly optimistic about this one.

It starts with a late-night call to a forensic pathologist, who reflects briefly on his unhappy middle age before setting off to work. Then the pathologist's daughter reflects a little on her parent's unhappy marriage. That's a lot of unhappiness for the first ten pages, when we haven't even met the corpse yet. But I like this pathologist. He couldn't hack it as a doctor for the living, so he's trying to do his best by the dead.

What I Plan to Read Next

It's all a mystery! Either Christie or not-Christie, depending on whether the library has Thirteen Problems. I keep forgetting to check.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
scripsi
Apr. 10th, 2017 08:07 am (UTC)
I like Peril at End House, but somehow it falls a little short of being a favourite. Don't know why, really.

I've read several of P. D. James' books, but only really like Shroud For A Nightigale. It's very melancholy, though.
todayiamadaisy
Apr. 10th, 2017 09:31 am (UTC)
I read Death of an Expert Witness a few years ago after lack of success with other of James's works, and found it all right, if a bit negative about people in general. I've just checked my own comments on it and I seem to have been distracted by the amount of characters wearing fawn-coloured wool.
evelyn_b
Apr. 10th, 2017 02:37 pm (UTC)
P.D. James loves for things to be fawn-colored! Or hates it with a hatred that can't be contained. . . I'm not sure which it is. Fawn-colored clothing shows up a lot.
evelyn_b
Apr. 10th, 2017 03:12 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure, either! I liked it a lot, but it was just a little bit. . . not formulaic, and "formulaic" wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Just very concerned that you Got It about all Poirot's traits.

I'll have to try Shroud for a Nightingale! I'm not sure what it is about James that makes her not quite my thing. It's not a failing to be unable to see the funny side of murder, is it?
scripsi
Apr. 13th, 2017 06:53 am (UTC)
Yes, exactly!

It's not a failing to be unable to see the funny side of murder, is it?

Hmm, well, I remember when it was discussed who was to finish Sayers unfinished novel, and James was pretty high on that list. And someone said it was impossible, because it would require someone with a sense of humour. :) I'm not sure I Think Walsh has one either, on the other hand.
evelyn_b
Apr. 13th, 2017 01:54 pm (UTC)
Have you read it? Is it any good? (Did I ask you this before?) The finished-unfinished Sayers novel, I mean. My library has is, but I have such a knee-jerk aversion to Authorized Continuations that I've never even looked inside.

P. D. James, I don't know how I feel about her. This book has a good investigative pace and good clear prose and it's fine, I'm enjoying it. James likes to explore the darkness within us all, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to want to do. I don't think there's actually a higher dark secret rate per capita than in your average Ngaio Marsh, but the approach is very different. Not necessarily worse! But I did get to associate murder investigations with a certain amount of wit and I get disappointed when it's not there, whether that's entirely fair or not.
scripsi
Apr. 13th, 2017 05:19 pm (UTC)
No, you didn’t. :) I actually like it, even if it is weak compared to the “real” Sayers. On the other hand the other Wimsey-books Walsh has written are really boring, and it’s very obvious those are solely Sayers work. I don’t know exactly what is Sayers and what is Walsh. I think Sayers wrote an outline and a couple of scenes here and there, and I can’t detect any obvious seams. To give Bunter a love interest seems way too pat to be Sayers, though. There are some interesting parallels between Lor Peter and Harriet’s marriage and that of another couple, visavi love and lust, which is pretty interesting, and I quite love the description of them setting up house. I’m a bit miffed at Walsh who admitted to have omitted a scene where Harriet has a pretty frank discussion about sex with Uncle Paul. She felt a women in the 1930’s would never had that discussing, blatantly ignoring that Sayers wrote it back then.

I say it’s worth reading, but don’t bother with the other ones.
evelyn_b
Apr. 13th, 2017 06:03 pm (UTC)
scripsi, you have made me sad. I don't even like Uncle Paul and I'm still sad. I don't want to read this book but now I'm going to feel compelled to read it just so that I can glare at it pedantically.

She felt a women in the 1930’s would never had that discussing, blatantly ignoring that Sayers wrote it back then.

:|

Maybe she thought it was something Sayers wrote in her notes for fun but assumed she wouldn't have the bad taste to actually include in a book? But why would anyone make that assumption??

Being the officially appointed author of an Authorized Continuation must be a strange and difficult job for any writer, so I shouldn't prejudge. But it does seem like an odd line of reasoning.

Edited at 2017-04-13 06:59 pm (UTC)
scripsi
Apr. 14th, 2017 06:08 am (UTC)
I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to make you sad. But you might enjoy it. :)

I got the feeling it was Walsh herself who felt uncomfortable with writing around that scene. She’s a nice person, though. I was part of a mail group which discussed the Lord Peter-books, and she joined in on the discussions when she was doing her research. She was clearly very much in awe of Sayers and very keen on doing a good job. The book is definitely the best “sequel” I have read, but those usually are horrible, so it doesn’t say much.
evelyn_b
Apr. 14th, 2017 02:41 pm (UTC)
Hah, don't worry! I'll get over it. :) I'm just feeling unduly fascinated by the position of Official Continuer. It seems like it would cause all kinds of difficulties for the writer. In your own books you can just make things up, and in fanfiction you can put your own obsessions into something old and make something new out of it, but what can you do as official continuer except try to do a good job? But that's just something I made up in my mind to justify my kneejerk aversion, it might not be true at all - and probably reflects a false idea of authorship, come to think of it.

Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Someday I'll overcome my prejudice, maybe.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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