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Monday Murder Madness!

Recently Finished:

“Listen. Elizabeth Restorick was a schoolgirl in America. She went wrong. Now then. You've heard of marihuana, it's home-grown Indian hemp. Since the last war, there's been growing anxiety in America over the practice of dope-pedlars haunting the vicinity of high schools and selling marihuana to the boys and girls in the form of candies or cigarettes. Marihuana creates erotic hallucinations. Haschish or marihuana crops up just before Elizabeth's death. Was it also the original cause of her downfall?”

The Corpse in the Snowman by undercover poet Nicholas Blake is more interesting as a period piece than anything else, dealing as it does with the ruin of a young woman's life through marijuana use (which, we are informed, causes "erotic hallucinations," among other dangers). There's a splash of misogyny and a dash of class conflict and some kids who hang out reasonably near the realistic end of annoying. The mystery plot is nicely complicated, and soaked to the bones with deliciously dated mid-20th century psychoanalysis. Blake cheats a little by introducing the titular corpse in the first chapter, but not revealing who it is until the last, but the book moves quickly enough and there's enough additional interest that I didn't mind.

Nigel Strangeways, Blake's casual investigator, has an Independent-Minded Professional Wife in this one (in the later Head of a Traveler, she is a Tragically Dead Wife), but unlike other Independent-Minded Professional Wives of the genre, she has neither captured my heart nor helped to make Strangeways more interesting. It's possible this is just an off season for Georgia. Her day job is "explorer" and presumably this will become relevant in one book or another.

There's a very odd monologue at the end, by a very odd character, and I'm not sure what to make of it, or whether it's meant to be anything other than one odd character's opinion. It does take up an awful lot of space, and helps direct Strangeways to a conclusion of the mystery, so who knows?
[A brief selection for the curious]"A female may wish her husband to be a mere sleeping partner in a business conducted by herself, but 'tis unnatural and soon enough she will find it so. Will Dykes would have taken a stick to Betty -- and she'd have vastly preferred that to all those young men of hers who behaved like carpets. I protest this modern kow-towing to womanhood is hideously immoral. A man of firm character was what Betty needed -- one who would both support and direct her own exuberance."


The two Blake books that I've read so far have been reasonably competent mysteries with just enough period weirdness to keep me curious. I enjoyed them without really becoming attached. They would be good for keeping my mind occupied, but not overly excited, on a medium-length journey (for a really long one, I'd want to take something I liked a little better).

Also finished: Colour Scheme by Ngaio Marsh.

On page 121 of Colour Scheme, someone remembers that there is a Scotland Yard bloke hanging around somewhere nearby and they should go get him to look into some possible espionage shenanigans that have been happening, but no one remembers his name for another fifty pages, so nothing comes of it.

Later it turns out [Spoilers for Colour Scheme, I guess?]Inspector Alleyn has been around this whole time? Investigating the murder in disguise? I guess you're supposed to guess it's him from the description, but LET'S BE REAL, MARSH, Inspector Alleyn is not the most distinctive fish in the detection bowl. Don't get me wrong; I love him to death, but he is not at all the kind of detective one recognizes instantly from the ghostly tan-line of his moustache. To be honest, I didn't pick up on it at all at first, and was delighted to have reached an Inspector Alleyn book in which Inspector Alleyn completely fails to appear! so the reveal was actually a bit of a letdown.

Barbara, the awkwardly theatrical daughter of the spa owners, is beautifully drawn, and it's more than a little unpleasant to see her treated as badly as she is by nearly every other character in the book. She gets a lot of kisses forced on her by dudes who have been watching too many of those Hollywood movies (or possibly taking advice from Alleyn's mother). Her (equally but differently awkward) brother is also believable and interesting, and so is the vain visiting actor.

Overall, I really enjoyed Colour Scheme. Like A Surfeit of Lampreys, it's more successful as a story about some people's lives disrupted by a murder than it is as a murder mystery. Here, the murder is less of a catalyst, almost an afterthought, maybe a symptom. As usual when New Zealand is involved, the landscape looms largest of all.

Just Begun:

I've been wary of mystery short stories since the Father Brown series, but the title story of Agatha Christie's short story collection Witness for the Prosecution is a neat and nasty masterpiece, and the next couple of stories are not bad, either. So far, the collection is heavy on ghost stories that turn out to be scams of some kind.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 5th, 2015 08:13 am (UTC)
To be honest, I didn't pick up on it at all at first, and was delighted to have reached an Inspector Alleyn book in which Inspector Alleyn completely fails to appear! so the reveal was actually a bit of a letdown.

:loL: I'm laughing quite a lot over here at your annoyance that Inspector Alleyn was actually in the Inspector Alleyn book! Undercover! (And, yes, I know, really. It's hard to remember even when you're re-reading and you KNOW it's him.)

But I believe you've already read Died in the Wool, so are you re-reading it, or going straight to Final Curtain (which, btw, since you're so almost there, I think I can safely say now, will give you all the TRoy and all the awkward Troy/Alleyn that you've been impatient for. Alleyn will still be absent for quite a few chapters, though... ;-D)

(I don't think I've read any Nicholas Blake, but I'm not absolutely sure. There was a phase of a whole lot of reprints of classic crime and I may have tried to read one. Or read one. Or not. It's hard to tell when you have a dodgy memory. I should put my Book Diary on a spreadsheet so I can answer these questions, but would it be worth the effort?? I think I would rather write fic.)
Oct. 5th, 2015 01:56 pm (UTC)
I was planning to skip straight to Final Curtain, but I might skim Died in the Wool to see if I want to re-read it or not. I am happy to be able to anticipate the return of the beautiful HMS Awkward to its native shores.

should put my Book Diary on a spreadsheet so I can answer these questions, but would it be worth the effort?? I think I would rather write fic.

If you hadn't kept a Book Diary, I would recommend starting one, but if you already have one, I wouldn't go cutting into fic time just to make it more efficient. It's important to have priorities. :)

(I might regret not nominating Alleyn and co. for Yuletide once the Great Awkward Homecoming is in effect. Oh, well? Either they'll turn up in the tagset or they won't)

Nicholas Blake is . . . not overly memorable, I think. His books are a little more interesting to me for how they relate to other books I've read than they are in themselves. I'd say they're worth reading as part of a general classic crime spree, but beyond that I'm not sure yet. His training as a poet helps make them sort of smoothly readable, but not as much as you might expect.

Edited at 2015-10-05 01:58 pm (UTC)
Oct. 5th, 2015 03:57 pm (UTC)
Fair enough! Getting everything in the right order is part of the experience. :-)

And while I am very sad to know that you have not nominated Alleyn & Co, they might still turn up. It's happened a couple of times before - and one time there was a beautiful Final Curtain-related fic!

I did read an awful lot of classic crime, including trying odd one-off reads of things with that label that I didn't necessarily follow up on. I think I may have just thought about reading Nicholas Blake. I might get bored enough to type up my book diary one of these days. I say I'd prefer fic-writing and I would, but most of the time my brain is only up to more simple tasks!

(Not that it would make much difference if I still can't remember the first thing about the book anyway...)
Oct. 5th, 2015 05:09 pm (UTC)
I was considering it, but then I thought I should finish out the series first. . . oh, well. Even if they don't turn up, there's always next year -- or maybe I will start my own detection-centric fic fest, who knows.

Sometimes "I read this, but I don't remember anything about it" is valuable information in itself.
Oct. 5th, 2015 07:20 pm (UTC)
There is, indeed, always next year! Though, ooh, detective-fest sounds cool, too! I am not so good at doing other fests at the moment, but that would be tempting. I would certainly pimp and read the resulting fics. :-)

Sometimes "I read this, but I don't remember anything about it" is valuable information in itself.

I'm not entirely sure it is with me any more. I am terrified by the amount of books I apparently have read and forgotten!
Oct. 7th, 2015 06:41 am (UTC)
Oh, that's which one Colour Scheme is! I have a very clear memory of my surprise when Alleyn was revealed - but I still can't remember anything else about the book. (Apparently I read it 10+ years ago, so maybe that's not surprising... )
Oct. 7th, 2015 01:48 pm (UTC)
That's the one! It's kind of an odd one. The mystery wasn't all that great, but the setting and characters are interesting, and it was mostly setting and characters. I like how Marsh is branching out into books that are only about 20-30% murder mysteries and 70% "novels in which a murder might occur."
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )


blase ev

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