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All Murders Great and Small Monday

Crossposted to Dreamwidth as usual.

What I've Finished Reading

Aunt Dimity's Death develops into a very mild mystery with the help of a ghost - Dimity's spirit carefully preserves plausible deniability by communicating through written messages that only specific people can hear. She also subtly alters reality to make Lori a good cook for the first time in her life, and puts a rock in a cookie to break the tooth of a pompous ass, which I thought was a little much. Dude was severely pompous, but there was no real harm in him, and he was going to leave soon! I couldn't root for his tooth being broken. It would have been better to confront him with undeniable evidence of his factual errors or something, though I admit a rock in the cookie is easier.

How does she do it? The physics of being a ghost are not explored. The mystery is: what is the thing Dimity can't forgive herself for? The answer is: it was all a sad misunderstanding, and since consciousness persists after death in this book, everyone can reconcile in the afterlife and there's no harm done in the end.

Parker Pyne Investigates by Agatha Christie: a thoroughly enjoyable short story collection. Parker Pyne is a detective of the heart, not the murder kind, though every now and then a murder interposes itself between Pyne and a peaceful vacation because that just can’t be helped. Every story includes Mr. Pyne’s intriguing newspaper advertisement:

Are you happy? If not, consult Mr. Parker Pyne.

Pyne arranges adventures for people whose lives are too dull, and concocts predictable romance restoratives for listless marriages (only some of which backfire). Sometimes he gets people’s jewelry back for them out of complicated jewel thefts. I don’t know exactly how I should feel about the one where he solves a rich woman’s malaise by dumping her back in her class of origin. Probably a little critical!

Quite a few of the stories take place in the Middle East or Iran, probably reflecting archaeological trips she took with Max Mallowan. The snapshots of English tourism and travel abroad are always interesting, even if they breed some startling and downright bizarre stereotypes along the way. (How could it even it be true that “no Armenian would have the nerve to kill anyone”?) There’s a jewel theft on the Orient Express! There’s a doting rich American and his self-satisfied daughter. I sometimes wish Christie would stop lecturing harmless uxorious Englishmen about the importance of not being too nice to women, but you can’t have everything in this fallen world.

What I'm Reading Now

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammet!

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn’t think anything of what he had done to the city’s name. Later I heard men who could manage their rs give it the same pronunciation. I still didn’t see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves’ word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better.

Is this as great an opening paragraph as I think it is? Now that I type it out, there seems to be something a little clumsy and flat-footed about it. Raymond Chandler would have handled the same material and the same twist with more eccentric music. But it works, doesn’t it? Personville = Poisonville. The narrator thought it was a meaningless joke, but then he learned better. And of course the narrator is a character, himself a little clumsy and flat-footed but you can’t deny that he gets the job done. It’s not a pretty job! But it’s going to get done, whether you like it or not. The Continental Op isn’t here to weave metaphors at you. He’s here to point guns and take names, and maybe make some sense of this garbage scow of a town. Maybe, if there’s any sense to be made. No guarantees in Poisonville.

I like Red Harvest so far, but I have to keep reading chapters twice to figure out where we’ve gotten to from the last one, if anywhere.

One thing I like a lot: Dinah Brand’s sloppiness. She’s a femme fatale with a bad haircut who cannot keep her cheap stockings from snagging, for love or money. It just can’t be done. She’s gone through three pairs of stockings in as many days. Why do I love this detail? It's just a small persistent reminder of physicality, one of several that prevents Red Harvest from being a collection of words and poses. It feels like it's anchoring the story even though I'm still confused. What’s more real than runs in your stockings?

What I Plan to Read Next

Possibly Why Didn't They Ask Evans? if I can get to it in time.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
liadtbunny
Jun. 13th, 2017 01:36 pm (UTC)
Yeah, no fair breaking a man's tooth! The writer must have excellent teeth as a dental disaster is an over the top punishment for pompous assery.
evelyn_b
Jun. 16th, 2017 10:59 am (UTC)
WAY over the top. :( It was the only harsh note in a soothing concert of coziness. I'm not sure the author realized it was as jarring as it was.
chez_jae
Jun. 15th, 2017 04:07 am (UTC)
I've been eyeballing the Aunt Dimity books, but I've yet to try any. Hmm.
evelyn_b
Jun. 16th, 2017 10:56 am (UTC)
They're worth a look! I enjoyed this one. I don't think I enjoyed it in a way that makes me want to go out and read a bunch more, but I thought it was quite well done. Very cozy, and very comfortable with being a cozy story through and through. The moral is not even "love conquers all," because despite some lip service to things being a bit sad during the Blitz, there's hardly anything to conquer, more like "love makes life in your impossibly cozy free cottage even nicer."
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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