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Close Enough for Murder Monday

I'm a little dazed, but pretty sure it's Monday, or close enough! Response to comments may be sporadic, but eventually I'll get to it (if any appear)

What I've Finished Reading

In A Guilty Thing Surprised, shocking secrets were revealed! Mike Burden can feel a little better about the relative unnaturalness of his family (or not). This book went by very fast. I haven't been sucked into Ruth Rendell quicksand, but I'll be keeping my eyes open for other books in the series.

I do want to note that this edition has an appalling density of typos. Rendell is a good, lucid writer, but whoever is in charge of paperback mysteries at Ballantine couldn't be bothered. There's an "of" for "if" or a "than" for "then" on practically every page. One of Wexford's pointed quotations (intended as a turning point in the investigation) is confused by someone in the print room slapping a period at the end of a line that never asked for one. This made me sad.

What I Gave Up On for Seemingly Petty Reasons

I'd been eyeing The Jewel that Was Ours by Colin Dexter for a while, ever since it showed up at the bookstore. I kept passing it on the shelf and thinking, "That's a nice pretentious title." By "pretentious" here I meant something more like "melodic." There's a Historical British Cities Bus Tour for querulous American retirees, and one of them dies of a heart attack, how unfortunate and mundane! But wait. . . what if it was actually MURDER? This is not a bad premise at all, and who doesn't love American tourists who keep yelling at Historical British Cities for having too much rain and modern architecture? Maybe this wearily sardonic bus driver character doesn't love them, but I do.

Unfortunately, I had to stop reading before I even had the chance to meet the detective, not because of anything in the writing (it was just ok) but because the book as a physical object was so badly put together that reading it was a chore. The font and margins were a little more awkward than normal and every chapter epigraph, note, sign, or letter text had to be set apart from the main text in a BOX, for some reason -- but the real problem was that the entire book had been bound too far into the page, so that it was impossible to open all the way. I felt bad for Colin Dexter, who probably went to a lot of trouble to write a book only to have it served up so uninvitingly by the publishers (Ballantine Books again), but not bad enough to power through. Maybe next time.

What I'm Reading Now

The Red House Mystery, A. A. Milne's stab at writing the perfect mystery novel. A man's long-lost brother appears, only to fetch up shot to death in a locked study, like you do. There are naturally a lot of guests staying over, bantering over breakfast and playing plenty of golf. An Amiable Amateur wanders onto the scene to visit one of the guests and, having a guaranteed income and nothing better to do, decides to play detective. Like you do. Everyone is a bit blase about the fact that a man has been killed and their friend and host (irritating as he may be sometimes) is a possible murderer, and there is a great deal of easy genre-savvy chatter about who gets to be the Watson. It's ok so far!

This one comes with a blurb from Alexander Wollcott declaring it to be "one of the three best mystery stories of all time." What are the other two? I haven't been able to find out. Mystery fans of my friends list, what would you pick?

What I Plan to Read Next

I brought The Ampersand Papers with me because it was tiny, so maybe that?


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 27th, 2016 12:41 am (UTC)
The Ampersand Papers has an A++ title, so I vote for you to read that.

I'm also curious to hear how The Red House Mystery turns out. I've thought about reading it to see what Milne's non-Winnie-the-Pooh writing is like, although generally I prefer murder mysteries with casts who seem at least a bit alarmed by the murder in their midst.
Jun. 27th, 2016 04:38 am (UTC)
It's charming enough so far, though as with the Georgette Heyer mystery it's more the charm of the generic than the charm of the particular. The main (non-murderering?) characters are mystery fans who are eager to hit all the right beats in the investigation, and the author is in the same position; he wants to make sure you get everything you expect in a country-house murder (and nothing you don't? That last part remains to be seen).

My only other inkling of Milne's non-Pooh writing was from a Dorothy Parker review of one of his plays -- it was about a melancholy old successful man wistfully remembering the joys of his childhood, and included a scene in which he communicates (apparently excruciatingly slowly) by knocking out the letters of the alphabet - one for A, two for B, and so on -- possibly eventually causing the reviewer-persona to shoot herself. It sounded pretty bad, but Dorothy Parker could make anything sound bad.
Jun. 27th, 2016 01:00 am (UTC)
Um, it's Ruth Rendell, actually, not Rendall. Sorry! :-)

The Colin Dexter novel sounds a bit like Nemesis, the Miss Marple novel, in which she's going on a tour of Great British Gardens, only it was paid for by a late friend who wanted her to investigate a fishy murder for which his son was, he believed, wrongly convicted. Pity about the layout situation. It might be worth emailing the publisher to complain. They should know better.

On the other hand, plenty of them do weird things. I remember a YA werewolf novel that was really very good, but had the stupidest layout and was printed in red! I don't know how I got through it without a blinding headache.

When A.A Milne was writing, the country house murder mystery, filled with rich people doing nothing much, was the thing. Agatha Christie, for example. And he wasn't exactly a working class man. He wrote what he knew.
Jun. 27th, 2016 04:26 am (UTC)
Fixed! Thanks for noticing; I left the book at home and probably would have been too drowsy to notice the difference anyway, like Ruth Rendell's dozing proofreaders.

Obviously the red print was for EXTRA SPOOKINESS. :D I would be theoretically interested in experimental or non-traditional layouts for books, but maybe not in reading an entire book printed in red.

I would never dream of faulting an author for filling up a country house with lazy rich people and then killing one of them; it's my favorite thing. Well, one of my favorites.
Jun. 27th, 2016 05:37 am (UTC)
Kerry Greenwood's tribute to the Agatha Christie country house murder, Urn Burial, had a humble maid as the murder victim, alas. But at least one if the rich good-for-nothings, the murderer, got it in the end, so that's okay.
Jun. 27th, 2016 11:07 am (UTC)
I've seen a LOT of books with crazy typos and errors here of late. Seems they laid off all the editors??

Jun. 27th, 2016 03:47 pm (UTC)
The Rendell paperback was printed in 1987, so it's not an exceptionally recent decline in this case. The Jewel that was Ours was '93. I have noticed some recent books that suffered from bad/no proofreading -- in The Golden Age of Murder it was especially noticeable, though not quite as bad as with these books.

Bring back the editors!
Jun. 27th, 2016 02:33 pm (UTC)
Also paper quality. I was in my local bookstore and picked up a Penguin and, as well as being brown, the paper felt awful to the touch. I couldn't bear to hold that and read, ugh. If I want any Penguins I'm going second hand.
Jun. 27th, 2016 03:50 pm (UTC)
Oh, no! This was in a new book?

I will tolerate a lot of unfortunateness in cheap used books, but a badly-made new book is too sad.
Jun. 29th, 2016 01:47 pm (UTC)
Yes, brand new. It was in Waterstones which is a proper book store chain and not a discount book chain (which often sell history books with a title change for less money) too.

Books are a lot shoddier these days:(
Jun. 27th, 2016 05:35 pm (UTC)
That's too bad about the Colin Dexter book! The premise is very appealing.
Jun. 28th, 2016 04:01 pm (UTC)
It had so much going for it! I love tour groups and Americans with preconceptions and seemingly mundane deaths that turn out to be murder, plus the back cover promised me a hard-drinking (or maybe just persistently drinking) detective who Has Seen Better Days. But I just couldn't keep peeling it open with both hands to keep it from snapping shut, and still losing a chunk of each line to the crease. Sorry, Colin Dexter! :( maybe someday, in a less terrible edition, the jewel will be ours.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )


blase ev

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