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Monday Murder Mishmash

What I've Just Finished Reading

The Great Mistake racked up a huge body count by the end, and was enjoyable on the whole but not always completely engaging -- I got the feeling the characters would have played better in a movie, where their faces could do a lot of the work of making them more memorably likable or un-. Even the Thirties suburban social milieu felt underdeveloped -- suffering a little by comparison with the grubby, sticky intensity of The Group, probably, which is hardly fair to Rinehart. There's a very complicated plot involving several layers of blackmail and secret relatives by the score.

Honeymoons Can Be Murder was pleasant and a little silly and very moderately charming -- far and away the most successful of the random contemporaries I've read so far. The characters are reasonably likable and the difficulties inherent to amateur investigation are handled pretty well, though there are some VERY convenient coincidences (and a possible convenient anachronism -- were enough people really going to weekly confession in Taos in the 1990s to create the crucial data set Charlie uses at one point? I don't know, but I have my doubts). Author Connie Shelton is not really interested in getting eros all over her death or vice versa; the instigating murder is several years in the past and the first-person narration is so thick with fades-to-black that it begins to take on a faintly narcoleptic quality. There's some suspense toward the end, but nothing worrying; the tone of the book is protective above all else. I'll probably pick up Shelton's "cozy mystery Christmas novella," Holidays Can Be Murder, if it's easy to find.

Opening Night (Night at the Vulcan in the US) is excellent. Martyn Tarne, penniless New Zealand actress in London, stumbles exhausted into a show-business fairy tale, and it's just as unpleasant under the surface as fairy tales usually are. Lots of theatre grotesques, some better than they seem at first, at least one a murderer -- you know how it goes.

Nearly all of the action takes place in the Vulcan Theatre during rehearsal for what sounds like a magnificently awful Serious Modern Drama -- not over-the-top comedy awful, but just believably awful enough to be quite funny -- and there's a great atmosphere of sweaty, stale, closed-circuit backbiting that not even the best-intentioned characters manage to escape entirely. Some of the characters are very well drawn, others less so (the murderer never quite manages to be real, for example) but the overall effect is extremely enjoyable. It's another one where the setup is so interesting in its own right that the murder comes as a genuine disappointment and the appearance of Inspector Alleyn almost as a surprise. There is also an unconvincing romance, but it's barely noticeable.

What I'm Reading Now

Night Watch, the Holmes-Father Brown crossover, has four epigraphs, and opens with an introduction in which author Stephen Kendrick describes being given a lost manuscript of Dr. John Watson by Watson's daughter. She's decided to give it to him because she liked that his previous book (apparently a real book of essays about Holmes) did not fall into Jam Watson stereotyping. It's all right so far? I don't know if it's a Holmes fandom tradition that the authors of pastiches should always allude to the shortcomings of previous pastiches, or how I should feel about that.

I promised myself I wasn't going to go another day without trying The Cuckoo's Calling, and I didn't, though the public library did its best to thwart me by changing their Sunday hours. So far, so good. Flat broke and extremely disheveled PI Cormoran Strike is a joy to meet, from his first clumsy act on (possibly because I keep mentally conflating him with Bernard Black?) -- so much so that I find myself wishing Galbraith had begin with the temp's arrival at his office, and skipped the prologue, which gets rehashed within a few pages anyway. But there's probably a method here that I don't see -- maybe? Anyway, we're investigating a high-profile death, ruled a suicide, that the victim's brother is convinced was murder. Want to bet that he turns out to be right? Also, Strike is dragging a camp bed up the stairs to his filthy office because he doesn't have anywhere else to sleep. Very promising!

What I Plan to Read Next

I brought home a Complete Novels of Dashiell Hammett along with The Cuckoo's Calling from the library; I had some vague plans to get another Ellis Peters book, but the library perversely carries only the twentieth book in the Brother Cadfael series, and none of the earlier ones, so Hammett it is.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 7th, 2015 06:34 pm (UTC)
t's another one where the setup is so interesting in its own right that the murder comes as a genuine disappointment and the appearance of Inspector Alleyn almost as a surprise.

The true hallmark of a Ngaio Marsh book! You're reading her detective series and keep stopping to go, wait, there's been a murder, why? Who's Alleyn? :lol:
Dec. 8th, 2015 01:18 am (UTC)
:D So true!

I am now -- I don't remember if I've mentioned this -- at the halfway point of the Inspector Alleyn series! Thirty-two books really is a lot, even if they are delightful (which obviously they are). The next book in sequence is the magnificently (and ominously?) named Spinsters in Jeopardy.
Dec. 8th, 2015 08:51 am (UTC)
But, once you're done, 32 is not enough! ;-)

And, ah, Cuckoo's Calling is one of J K Rowling's isn't it? I've heard they're well done.
Dec. 8th, 2015 04:24 pm (UTC)
It is, yeah! It's a little funny to notice some of JKR's writing quirks in an "adult" book (I haven't read The Casual Vacancy). The two main characters -- aforementioned flat-broke PI and the temp who gets sent to him by mistake -- are absolutely excellent. That's all I can speak to so far, except that the investigation is off to a good start.
Dec. 7th, 2015 08:19 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm interested to hear more of what you think of "Cuckoo's Calling"! I've been meaning to read it myself for ages.
Dec. 8th, 2015 01:19 am (UTC)
I'm sure I'll have more to say, for good or ill. It's love at first sight so far!
Dec. 9th, 2015 03:41 pm (UTC)
I love Opening Night! It is the Marsh mystery I've reread the most, even though the final reveal is anti-climatic and I dislike the romance, because all the theatre stuff is so vivid. I remember reading it twice in one weekend, and then being disappointed when a school friend judged it purely as a whodunit and didn't appreciate it at all.

I hadn't considered the ways in which it is like a fairytale, but that partly explains why Opening Night appeals to me. As well as possibly why the romance unfolds as it does. The lack of development would be right at home in certain fairytale traditions.

I like The Cuckoo's Calling.
Dec. 9th, 2015 07:57 pm (UTC)
It's so good! Those opening chapters with Martyn and the kind night porter, especially are so fairy-tale-esque, and the actors and theatre material is Marsh at her best -- right up until the murder-reveal-and-romance part, but that doesn't matter for this book.

I don't think the romance works, even considered as a fairy tale: the lack of development might have fit in a different story, but here it contrasts too badly with the way the other relationships are drawn. There's no groundwork laid for it to be real, but none for it to be appealingly unreal, either. That's all right, though -- not all romances have to work. Sometimes even in real life there are difficulties. It's a great read anyway.

The Cuckoo's Calling is excellent so far! JKR has already built up enough goodwill to coast on for a long time. I might even read the one with all the sexual violence and the killer POV, despite being put off by descriptions.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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