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A Modicum of Murder Monday

It's not really fair to say so, because they have been so sporadic, but most of my attempts to read post-Golden Age mysteries have been unsuccessful. There was the cat book and Murder is a Girl's Best Friend, and some other ones I couldn't even get through the first chapter of, and A Time to Kill probably doesn't count because it's horrible and there's no mystery to speak of, but it was recommended to me immediately after I said I liked mysteries, so it feels like part of the general dissatisfaction pile.

The only two exceptions so far have been P. D. James' two Cordelia Gray novels and Charles Finch's Most Comfortable Man in London series, which are kind of opposite variations on the GA model. James sets up camp in the dark underbelly, while Finch doubles down on the coziness at every opportunity and does his best to minimize any lingering nasty bits. (James' prose is the Golden Age gimlet eye turned on her own present; Finch builds a model of Victorian London with an earnest contemporary genre style).

Anyway, Murder Uncorked by Michele Scott is another random bookstore pickup with elements that I like in theory. Wine snobs! Murder! I guess that's about it.

The first sentence is terrific: "Nikki Sands hated her job almost as much as she hated her past." Unfortunately, the rest of the chapter did not endear me to Nikki or the author: it was a long and repetitive feud between Nikki, a wine consultant, and an unnamed customer who makes the mistake of visiting a restaurant in the company of a man whom Nikki found attractive. Oh, and she's also a rude customer, allegedly.

Which, again, is something I could like; reveling in the awfulness of entitled customers has been a private consolation for more than half my life now. What kills it is that Nikki doesn't wait for the customer to start being awful before she starts in judging her. She's an "overblown blonde" whose makeup choices are "passé," and Nikki promptly labels her "The Bimbo." The narrative scrambles to confirm this prejudgment, but it's too late; Nikki's pettiness has already been established beyond a doubt, and every new attempt to make The Bimbo loathsome in my sight just increases the general atmosphere of joyless cattiness.

I don't even dislike cattiness! It's not fair at all to compare this scene to Pride and Prejudice, because Jane Austen is a genius and most people are not, but unfortunately I was reading about Lizzy Bennet's sojourn with the Bingley sisters only a few hours before, so the comparison made itself felt. I don't hate Nikki Sands -- or judgmental characters in general, obviously -- but right now I'm skeptical about the ability of the author to draw them convincingly. The second chapter is a lot more enjoyable, because it's mostly undisguised infodumping about wine. There's no body yet.

It's the kind of book that has recipes between the chapters. The mixed mushroom bruschetta sounds good and pretty easy to make, and there's a nice appreciation of port + Stilton. But "proper appreciation for things that are delicious" may not be enough to carry me through a whole book, even a small one. I'm probably a little more likely to try the recipes than to actually finish the book. But I haven't given up on it yet, and will read at least a few more chapters before I decide.

In other Murder Monday news, I finally got some Miss Marple DVDs from the library! Sleeping Murder is nicely cast and pretty decently paced, with good photography and some very intrusive musical cues. Gwenda, the nice young New Zealander who accidentally buys the house in which her stepmother may have been murdered, is adorable; her English husband is a little less memorable, but on the same general "young and likable" scale. Joan Hickson is a joy to watch, with her piercing eyes and subtly intelligent face.

One thing that a lot of the detective adaptations I've seen have in common is. . . I guess a slight mangling of emotional beats? Here, in addition to the overbearing music, the sense of looming revelation and regret that made the book so memorable doesn't always quite come off, even when the object of the revelation is right there in the room, being creepy. But that's a minor complaint in this case. Sleeping Murder is brisk and well-made and a lot of fun, in that morbid everybody-has-a-secret Agatha Christie way.

More or less OT aside: Dr. Kennedy is played by an actor named Frederick Treves, which is also the name of the surgeon in The Elephant Man (a real guy who was also a friend of Thomas Hardy). It turns out the Victorian Dr. Treves is his great-uncle. That has nothing to do with anything except that I found it interesting.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 3rd, 2015 05:38 pm (UTC)
Joan Hickson is a joy to watch, with her piercing eyes and subtly intelligent face.

\o/ She is wonderful, isn't she? I have kind of mixed feelings on the BBC Miss Marples, but she's just so perfect I don't care so much about the rest. (I haven't seen them all yet, but I think my favourite is still A Murder Is Announced.) Sleeping Murder terrified me when I was a child. My parents were watching it and it took about ten years for me to stop thinking that Agatha Christie and Miss Marple was the scariest horror stuff ever made. (I was more scared of Miss Marple than anything else, too.)

Dr. Kennedy is played by an actor named Frederick Treves, which is also the name of the surgeon in The Elephant Man (a real guy who was also a friend of Thomas Hardy). It turns out the Victorian Dr. Treves is his great-uncle. That has nothing to do with anything except that I found it interesting.

Oh, but it is interesting! :-)

I'm with you on the having problems reading any murder mysteries that aren't golden age. Happily, there are a lot of golden age mysteries out there, but it is frustrating. Maybe my problems aren't quite the same, because I can't read any of those grim & gritty ones at all.

What I've found often works better for me are the historical whodunnits. I know you've had a mixed reaction to Ellis Peters, who's the forerunner of the genre, but in terms of modern authors, I've definitely had a higher hit rate with those. (I seem to want some distance from the real world in my mystery reading maybe?)

Some annoy me, or I can't get into, but a thing I'd recommend if you can get your hands on it is one of the several collections of short stories by all the hist whodunnit authors to see who takes your fancy.

As I've said before, I enjoy Brother Cadfael (or most of them; I have one or two I really don't like so much); the Falco series by Lindsey Davis, as I mentioned before (The Silver Pigs is very flawed, but the rest of it is so great, and it is best read in order) and Anne Perry's various Victorian London series (particularly the William Monk and Hester Latterley books which are basically about an Inspector who suffers amnesia mid case via a carriage accident and an ex-Crimean nurse who has strong opinions about everything.) Anne Perry is, um, actually a murderer, in case that might put you off. (Not any more, though.)

There have been quite a few others I wanted to try, but couldn't find the first book, or then I got too ill. I used to enjoy the Sister Fidelma books, but then I got annoyed with Sister Fidelma. (For being too perfect, I think, but I forget).
Aug. 3rd, 2015 07:19 pm (UTC)
Grim & gritty is pretty unappealing to me in general, whatever the genre. I can like things that fit that description, but it has to be pretty damn good to get me to overcome my natural inclinations.

I think I like a little distance, and I also like learning about the physical and social details of the past, where the investigation forces a lot of natural infodumping. I'm also just kind of attached to the GA prose style and focus on memorable characters -- Christie and co. can nearly always be relied on to keep me entertained even when I've temporarily lost track of the plot.

Ellis Peters! I knew I was forgetting someone. I'll probably grab her next book from the library tonight. That's a weird case where I kept feeling like I liked it, or was going to start liking it any second, but had a hard time paying attention. We'll see what happens. (I was just about to add “and Margery Allingham!” before I remembered for like the tenth time in as many days that the public library doesn't have any, and I will have to trek out to the university library if I want to meet DI Celery Doctor. :\ Not that I won't do it! But come on, public library! It's not like you don't have the shelf space!)

Anne Perry is, um, actually a murderer, in case that might put you off. (Not any more, though.)

It does a little bit, to be honest (I've known about Anne Perry since before I got into mysteries). She might be great, and I don't wish her any ill or think she shouldn't have a career, but I've never actually been able to open one of her books. I just feel weird about it. They sound interesting, though.
Aug. 3rd, 2015 07:52 pm (UTC)
Well, you never know - one day your library might miraculously have some Campion... ;-)

I think I might have been put off about Anne Perry, too, but I was halfway through two of her series when I found out, and by then I knew what the books were like, so I just carried on reading. (It does actually make sense of some of the things that she writes that I like, though, even.)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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