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A Method to Your Murder Monday

What I've Finished Reading

The Good Detective by H.R.F. Keating, who was president of the Detection Club from 1985-2000. This is a police story, kind of rough and laddish and also very 90s, with its ecoterrorists and pointed pronunciations of "Ms." Ned French is a CID man who, years ago, bullied a young fanatic into confessing to planting a bomb that killed four people. Now, new information has come to light and the case is being reopened. Since Ned and his supervisor deliberately falsified records to make their interrogation look less torturey, this can only mean trouble for Ned and the CID. Will the crusading lawyer ruin Ned's takedown of a dangerous new crime family with her nosy ways? What does it mean to be. . . a good detective?

[Spoilers ahoy]

Ned has an affair with the crusading lawyer, for no reason anyone can see (there is sexual tension; the narration informs us that it is undeniable; that is all ye know on earth etc.), and tries to have the tampered records destroyed in a fairly ham-handed way in between planning sting operations on the Corrigan cousins, a bad bunch of blokes from London who are trying to flood Norchester with cocaine and who keep murdering the friendly local criminals. When the wrongfully imprisoned eco(non-)terrorist suddenly dies in prison, Ned confesses tearfully to her lawyer about falsifying and trying to destroy the record, and she agrees to drop the case and forget what he's just told her because 1) the wench the woman wrongfully accused of murder is dead so who cares I guess, and 2) Ned's impassioned speech about how sometimes you have to do BAD THINGS when you are trying to put BAD MEN in prison is just that touching? Somehow she has never before heard a cop yelling about the toughness of his job, and this novel cri de coeur pierces her sensitive soul. Also, they are in love now; you can tell because they say it out loud.

So that problem is solved, and Ned returns to his big sting, where he shoots his least favorite Corrigan in what looks like a clear case of self-defense. But Ned knows better, and he rushes to the lawyer's side to confess again: he could tell that Corrigan was just shooting in the air to scare people; there was no serious chance of him hurting anyone and so no call to shoot him during the arrest. But he saw the chance to take out a BAD MAN without all that legal nonsense, so he took it. He looks up at his lawyer girlfriend, expecting to drink the sweet nectar of her understanding. This time, though, he's gone too far. She walks out on him, and the book ends. Just say no to murder! Chicks dig it less than you might expect!

This was an attempt to do something interesting that didn't quite work. Ned's side of the story was too poorly developed for the moral quandary (what is a good detective? Is it possible to be both good and a detective?) to be anything other than notes for an outline. Ned swears up and down that he believed the ecoterrorism confession, but in flashbacks it never manages to be the least bit credible - the accused clearly has no idea what the basic facts of the case are and has to be coached on them by the detectives. The lawyer's change of heart, when she decides to give up trying to exonerate her dead client because MAN POLICE HAVE IT TOUGH I NEVER KNEW is so unconvincing that the whole conflict becomes unreal. It probably doesn't help that I don't care about drug cases.

What I appreciated: this book doesn't fall into the Law and Order: SVU trap of making its criminals EXTRA SUPER TRIPLE HEINOUS in an attempt to make an emotional case for unscrupulous policing. There are no serial killers or torture dungeons, just some unattractive middle-aged wankers who are out to make a buck and don't care about beating a few guys to death along the way. I don't know if the sordidness is really successful, but it's an honest attempt.

I also appreciated how unabashedly pasted on the sexual tension was. At the first meeting between Crusading Lawyer and (Not Actually) Good Detective, the narrator says, in effect, "Suddenly, there was sexual tension! Ned couldn't figure out why." Their relationship becomes a driving force of the plot, but no one ever does figure out why. Sometimes that's the true mystery.

What I'm Reading Now

I'm excited to be reading The Mysterious Affair at Styles, because even though I've been reading Christie off and on since 2014, this is the first Christie, and reading it feels like embarking on a long and important journey. . . OF DEATH. It's a great debut novel, brisker and smarter than The Secret Adversary, which will be Christie No. 2. It's a nice job of misdirection to have Hastings, our affable Jam Watson, announce to his hosts at Styles that he has "always had a secret hankering to be a detective."

"But really, seriously, I am awfully drawn to it. I came across a man in Belgium once, a very famous detective, and he quite inflamed me. He was a marvellous little fellow. He used to say that all good detective work was a mere matter of method. My system is based on his -- though of course I have progressed rather further."

Alas, the dream is destroyed once the man himself turns up, now a refugee under the protection of the philanthropic Mrs. Inglethorpe, whose murder is soon to confuse everyone. Poirot is a little more demonstrative here than I remember him from the future, but can you really blame him? He "clasped [Hastings] in his arms and kissed [him] warmly."

"Mon ami Hastings!" he cried. "It is indeed mon ami Hastings!"

The edition is odd - an attractive new paperback with elaborately reproduced handwriting (not handwriting font) for the handwriting parts, but full of typos; about a quarter of the "mon amis" are printed, "Mom ami."

What I Plan to Read Next

More from 1921's most promising debut author, Agatha Christie! I've actually read a couple chapters of A Conspiracy of Paper, too, but I don't have anything to say about it yet.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 4th, 2016 04:55 am (UTC)
The Mysterious Affair at Styles is surprisingly finished, considering it's a first. We have a the very Christie family with secrets and we have Poirot and Hastings in their right places.
Oct. 4th, 2016 02:41 pm (UTC)
It's so much more polished than The Secret Adversary, which doesn't have very well-defined characters apart from Tommy and Tuppence, and much more exciting than Murder on the Links, the second Poirot. I think it's that first novel thing where you've had your whole life to work on a first novel, but only a couple of years for your second.
Oct. 4th, 2016 08:42 am (UTC)
Bless Hastings! So optimistic...
Oct. 4th, 2016 02:36 pm (UTC)
Hastings' method is an improvement over Poirot's in one important way: when Poirot gets stuck, he has no one to call on but his own resources. When Hastings gets stuck, he can call on Poirot.
Oct. 4th, 2016 10:48 am (UTC)
Hastings is my fav (besides Poirot..and Ms Lemon...and Captain Japp...)

Oct. 4th, 2016 02:34 pm (UTC)
Some people don't like Hastings because he's too stupid to be involved in a murder investigation, but I say there's no such thing! I'm always happy to see him.

Captain Japp will also appear in this book! He worked with Poirot on a big case back in 1904.
Oct. 4th, 2016 11:58 am (UTC)
OH HASTINGS. "Of course I have progressed rather further," Hastings says, just a trifle full of himself and his Englishness, and then Poirot shows up and solves the case right out from under him. Oops.

The Good Detective sounds SO DEEPLY FRUSTRATING. Why are so many detective stories obsessed with the idea of going outside the law? (Well, probably it's partly because shoot-outs are more exciting than waiting patiently for DNA analysis.) I'd like to read the tale of a by-the-book detective who stays by-the-book the whole damn story, even as their cop friend who has always had a hankering to go rogue begs them to indulge in an illegal search and seizure.
Oct. 4th, 2016 02:31 pm (UTC)
That's why I like Inspector Alleyn! None more by the book. I'd rather wait patiently for DNA analysis any day.

Do we ever hear again of Hastings' detective ambitions? I'm not sure. He'll get plenty of opportunities to act as Poirot's sounding board.
Oct. 4th, 2016 10:10 pm (UTC)
I'm really more familiar with the Poirot TV series than the books, but in the TV series I think The Mystery at Stiles is the only time he mentions detective ambitions. Perhaps once he becomes Poirot's sidekick he decides it would be silly? Certainly he doesn't seem to have a Robin-like desire to become a private eye himself.
Oct. 4th, 2016 02:15 pm (UTC)
Ah, Poirot!:)

Can't say I'm drawn to reading the 90s 'tec one.
Oct. 4th, 2016 02:24 pm (UTC)
I'm sure you could do a lot better even within the tough morally ambiguous 90s 'tec subgenre, with better moral ambiguity and better cases and everything. This one was just a mildly interesting failure. Poirot is the best.
Oct. 4th, 2016 03:26 pm (UTC)
After finishing James Mitchell's terrible last 'Callan' book don't give me ideas!

He is:)
Oct. 4th, 2016 10:50 pm (UTC)
The Good Detective sounds pretty terrible. Alas! You would think being President of the Detective Club would have given him an advantage in writing one, but perhaps not.

I read A Conspiracy of Paper years ago, so I don't remember it too well, but I'm interested to see what you think!
Oct. 4th, 2016 11:06 pm (UTC)
I don't think you're allowed to be President of the Detection Club without writing a lot of detective fiction first. H.R.F. Keating has written about a million books; his main series, which I haven't read, is about Inspector Ghote of the Bombay Police. They might be totally different, but based on this book I'm not frantically rushing to check them out.

This made me curious about the past presidents of the Detection Club. There have been nine! I've read fiction by only three of them. A new TBR list???

A Conspiracy of Paper includes a roving gang of recreational mutilators in fancy dress, but still manages to be moving pretty slow.
Oct. 6th, 2016 01:13 am (UTC)
Inspector Ghote of the Bombay Police

Oh, that sounds very intriguing to me! And yet... this review sounded so bad. :/ What to do!?

I've read fiction by only three of them. A new TBR list???

That does sound fun! Have the other two been better writers than Keating?
Oct. 6th, 2016 01:36 am (UTC)
Oh, whoops, it's actually four now counting Keating. The others are Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers (favorites) and G. K. Chesterton, whom I keep feeling guilty about not liking as much as I could, if I could only be a little more indulgent toward his G. K. Chestertonness.

You could always try the first one and see if you like it! If it helps you decide, Wikipedia tells me that Keating was setting novels in India for ten years before his first visit to India.

Edited at 2016-10-06 02:33 am (UTC)
Oct. 6th, 2016 06:13 pm (UTC)
You could always try the first one and see if you like it! If it helps you decide, Wikipedia tells me that Keating was setting novels in India for ten years before his first visit to India.

That is... not promising. Hmm. On the other hand, I see they made a movie out of one of the series! So it must be doing something right. Perhaps I'll put it on my to-read list, but near the bottom.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )


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