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Up All Night to Get Murder Monday

Special Announcements Can Be Murder

Starting today, I'm shifting Murder Mondays to once every two weeks, to make room for some RL projects that are not as much fun as fictional homicide investigations. If I get really bad at time management, I might eventually do the same with the Wednesday Reading Meme, but we'll see.

What I've Finished Reading

A Study in Scarlet:

"It was magnificent," he said, as he took his seat. "Do you remember what Darwin says about music? He claims that the power of producing and appreciating it existed among the human race long before the power of speech was arrived at. Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood."

"That's rather a broad idea," I remarked.

"One's ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature," he answered.

Holmes, that's not what you said three pages ago!

It was funny to see how abruptly the footnotes dried up once the narrative shifted to Mormon Melodrama. There were a few notes on geographical and historical inaccuracies, and that was about it. Maybe because the milieu is less familiar/more invented out of whole cloth, maybe because the fandom just isn't as interested. Even though the rational portion of my brain wanted to make fun of the Mormon Melodrama, the part that is 9 and hiding behind the couch with a busted library paperback and five Oreos still thought it was pretty exciting.

Also Sweet and Low by Emma Lathen. Murder on the Cocoa Exchange in 1974: Very interesting as a period piece, almost incomprehensibly boring as a mystery.

". . . and, John, this is Mrs. Libby," Charlie was saying.

"M-z-z-z-!" she interrupted fiercely.

"All right, M-z-z Libby," Charlie obligingly buzzed back.

Well, that settled it, thought Thatcher. The woman was going to be you as far as he was concerned. Nobody was committing him to a word that didn't have a vowel.

The little details of life in the business world circa 1974 are great. There are some Straw Leftist Documentarians, who are unfortunately a little too bluntly drawn to be funny even by normal strawman standards. A character is described as "the last man in the metropolitan area to use slides" in an educational presentation, which surprised me because slides were definitely still being used in my Midwestern middle school in the early 90s. What would have been the cutting-edge presentation technology of 1974? The book doesn't say. There are some excellent descriptions of new TV commercials (Dreyer Chocolate Co. is bringing out a new themed chocolate bar in time for the bicentennial), with sarcastic commentary. But the plot was so dull that I lost the trail somewhere around page 40 and never bothered to get it back again. I'm not sure why. The prose is uninteresting but functional.

One interesting thing about this book is that it has enthusiastic blurbs from Edmund Crispin and C. P. Snow, arguably the one writer from each of my reading lists that I am the most indifferent to. Maybe that should have been a sign? But I do like Crispin and Snow a little and under the right circumstances I might like Lathen, too, so I'll try another book in a little while.

What I'm Not Reading

The Abominable Bride was all right! It didn't break my heart or rock my world. The Victorian AU was fun -- I liked John's Moustache of Flourishing (to contrast with his Moustache of Sadness in "The Empty Hearse") and Lestrade's Sideburns of Haplessness. The beautiful Victorian costumes sometimes seemed to underscore the weaknesses in the writing, but I couldn't tell you why.

The solution to the Victorian mystery was SO DUMB, but as a [SPOILER for The Abominable Bride]product of Sherlock's flailing subconscious and a tongue-in-cheek tribute to ACD's goofier moments, I didn't mind it. Well, I did a little, because it was SO, SO DUMB. And in a way [not really even a spoiler]it felt like the writers were patting themselves on the back for. . . noticing that they haven't always treated their female characters very well? Which is sort of in the spirit of the show, I guess, but my inner humorless feminist was glowering from the back of my brain with her arms crossed, looking a little more petulant than imposing but what can you do

Anyway, I enjoyed it a lot more than "His Last Vow." I even kind of liked Moriarty, which I was not expecting.

What I'm Reading Now

Death of a Fool is an odd duck, part return to form for Marsh, part. . . not quite? It's interesting. The Special Topic this time is a traditional dance performed every year in an obscure village. In the dance, five sons betray their father and chop off his head, but he bounces back up at the end. The blacksmith and his five sons have performed it every year, but this year there has been some conflict in the family. Meanwhile, a German folk-dancing enthusiast has been sneaking around trying to get enough material for a full description, and the blacksmith's long-lost granddaughter, whose mother married some posho and betrayed the family honor or something, has turned up in search of her roots.

It's a mix of (mostly) gentle mockery of Traditional Folk Culture enthusiasts, and Village Gothic played (partly) straight, so far, at least. Eventually everyone gathers to watch the dance in its traditional circle of thistles up on the hill, but there's a snag. [You already know what the snag is going to be, right? Is it. . . murder?] One of the dancers' heads is found literally chopped off during the performance, but no one saw it happen and he was dancing just fine a minute ago.

Bizarrely theatrical murder in the middle of a public performance is Marsh's specialty. It's extra interesting here because the entire production is in an open-air round: there appears to be no way the killer could have lopped off someone's head without being seen. These villagers are not as dull as some of Marsh's other villagers, though they are not as sharp as her usual theatre people, either. Alleyn and Fox are just as they ought to be, no more or less.

The original title was Off With His Head, which is much more dynamic and descriptive, and gives you a better sense of the tone and content of the book than the American title Death of a Fool, which could be any old pack of doofuses in a drawing room.

What I'm Reading Next

Nothing this week! I'm on a week-long break from reading to see what happens. I have a Wednesday post written that covers the past few days, which I'll post on Wednesday. I'll start again with my crumbling Christies on Monday, and maybe by then the library will have Career of Evil (or I'll break down and buy it, one or the other).

I was planning to start reading Agatha Christie's autobiography, but someone bought it so it's not at the bookstore anymore. Maybe I'll see if the library has it.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 22nd, 2016 11:03 am (UTC)
Getting ready to study AND read Rivers of London. *Beams*

Did rather like how they poked at ACD a bit with TAB. Bless.

Mar. 2nd, 2016 10:42 pm (UTC)
Rivers of London is one of those things I keep meaning to read but then don't, somehow. Soon! (I keep saying).
Feb. 22nd, 2016 02:12 pm (UTC)
Oooooh, I love Marsh's ridiculous public theater murders. Her characters and their yearning to display their virtuoso talent for murder!

My elementary school also used slides in the nineties. In fact, I'm pretty sure there were some ancient professors still clinging to their beloved slides in the early 2000s. What were they using in metropolitan areas? Was there some early precursor of powerpoint floating around?

I hope your projects go well! Even if they are not as fun as fictional homicide investigation.
Mar. 2nd, 2016 10:50 pm (UTC)
Nothing is quite so satisfying as dramatically murdering someone in front of hundreds of witnesses, preferably with music and applause! Apparently.

The book is very clear on slides being passe, not so much on what had replaced them. Overhead transparencies are cool because you can write on them, maybe?

I was still converting photographs of paintings to slides for an art competition in 2002.
Feb. 22nd, 2016 03:09 pm (UTC)
I'm quite fond of Lathen's books, including the ones the duo wrote as R.B. Dominic, but when I read mysteries, I pretty much never care about the mystery. I'm there for the characters and/or the setting. I think that's why I almost always bounce off of Christie's novels. I can read her short stories and really love some of them, but I seem to be interested in something different from a short story than from a novel.

For the Lathen books, I'm mainly interested in the continuing characters, the details about the financial world, and the details of whatever subset of business and/or government (the Dominic books feature a congressman from Ohio as the main character) the particular book focuses on. The Lathen books are, as a series, pretty much unanchored in time. John Putnam Thatcher and his coworkers never get any older, but the world they inhabit changes, depending on when the book was written.

I think that one problem is that the main character is always a witness to events rather than a participant. He doesn't go out and poke at things in an effort to figure out what has happened.

My guess is that you won't like another Lathen book because Sweet and Low is fairly typical. If you still want to try one, my suggestion is to select it based on the industry involved rather than on any description of the crime.
Mar. 2nd, 2016 10:58 pm (UTC)
That's interesting -- I also think of myself as a "character" reader, but haven't bounced off a Christie since the first time she clicked for me (though it took some tries to get to that point). I really liked the setting aspect of Sweet and Low but I kept forgetting who the characters were along with not quite following the plot. It's also possible that I was just tired at the time.

If you still want to try one, my suggestion is to select it based on the industry involved rather than on any description of the crime.

That's my plan, actually! The one I'm going to try next is set in the auto industry in my hometown. I get a lot of easy pleasure out of recognizing buildings and streets, so all Team Lathen has to do is avoid get everything too terribly wrong -- which I don't expect, based on my impression of Sweet and Low
Feb. 22nd, 2016 05:03 pm (UTC)
Off With His Head is one I don't own any more (not for any reason, just that once I have away a stupid lot of books, including all my Ngaio Marshes with the wrong covers, which was one of my worse moves in life) so I unhelpfully can remember almost nothing about it beyond what you say (Morris dancing + murder, why not). That was a useful comment, sorry.

Hmm, some sort of projection technology is part of cinema, so must have been around for a good while, back to the late 19th C although the common slides + projector + talk I don't know. *heads off* *comes back* The internet says it was common from 1950s, which would make that comment fair enough. (We had slides in the 90s, too. It took computers being able to cope with images to dislodge it, though, it seems.)

Good luck with rl! And, hey, too much murder could make a person cynical about life, probably best not to risk it.
Mar. 3rd, 2016 12:32 am (UTC)
The wrong covers? Were they accidentally printed with the covers of different books on them (or were these just the editions with ridiculously lurid covers?)

One interesting thing about Off With his Head: the German folklorist, who has been mostly a pretty mild comic figure up to this point (sometimes effectively, sometimes not) is reluctant to cooperate with Alleyn and Fox because she was an anti-Nazi activist in Germany and does not trust the police as a result.
Mar. 4th, 2016 08:54 pm (UTC)
At one point, second-hand Ngaio Marsh books were plentiful in chjarity shops, so I was aiming to get a full set in one type of cover (thus the others having the 'wrong' covers). Although the really lurid ones were the first to go and I don't regret them so much. They were very lurid!!

Oh, cool. I really must get that one back again sometime.
Feb. 23rd, 2016 08:40 am (UTC)
I really must read Sherlock one day... but my to-read list, oh it topples...
Mar. 3rd, 2016 12:41 am (UTC)
I can certainly understand that!
Feb. 23rd, 2016 03:42 pm (UTC)
We had no slides in my school in the 90's, just stuff on the overhead projector. Possibly less flashy!
Mar. 3rd, 2016 12:45 am (UTC)
Overhead projectors were very popular at my school because you could write on the transparencies with marker. This didn't actually make much of a pedagogical difference, as far as I can tell, but it felt dynamic and interesting to the teachers, and maybe that helped a little. But for complicated images like reproductions of paintings, slides were the go-to -- plus some presentations that had clearly been put together a decade or two ago for the slide projector and had not been changed.
Mar. 3rd, 2016 04:03 pm (UTC)
We had no slides it was pics in books or nothing!
Feb. 24th, 2016 05:04 pm (UTC)
The Momon backstory is so out of the blue. I remember when I first read it I thought that it had been a mistake or that the story had ended abruptly and here was a new one! It is compelling once you get on with it, since the characters are so sympathetic.
Mar. 3rd, 2016 12:47 am (UTC)
Hah, I had a little of the same feeling the first time I read it! "Is this the same story?" Eventually some of the same names come into it so you make the connection, and then later you know what's coming -- but it was quite a jump!
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )


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