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Wednesday is Reading Meme Day

What I've Just Finished Reading

Talking About Detective Fiction by P. D. James! It's all right! It's chock full of spoilers. I was hoping for something a little more in-depth, but it wasn't very focused or analytical except in small bursts. It was more like having a pleasant chat with someone who has read a very large number of mystery novels and keeps forgetting that you haven't (and might prefer not to hear all the endings). It's a meandering history of British detective fiction through about the 1960s, with brief forays into American crime fiction of the same period and a little bit about James' Impressions Of The State of the Art Today, whose accuracy I am not equipped to judge.

My favorite part of Talking About Detective Fiction was how obviously James was resisting the urge to talk about Dorothy Sayers 100% of the time. I can relate, P. D. James! Teleport over to my apartment sometime and I'll make you some tea. She also has a much higher G. K. Chesterton tolerance than I have, though to be fair to Chesterton, I haven't read the Father Brown stories and maybe they're good. In addition to her own original detective books, P. D. James has apparently written Jane Austen murder mystery fanfiction, an endeavor of which I approve.

Also just finished: JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL. I picked this up at the bookstore because it was cheap and because I'd read it as a tiny child and hated it with an unusual vehemence, so I was curious. It took only about twenty minutes to read. I didn't hate it this time, but I was also completely unmoved. It's an allegory, I guess, about Seagull Bodhisattvas. There's a seagull who wants to do trick flying, but the other seagulls shun him for caring too much and not eating enough fish heads, and then he goes to the Seagull Plane of Enlightenment, flies some more, comes back to the Regular Plane and teaches other seagulls to do the same. Like a lot of fables for adults, it never quite figures out what tone it wants to strike. The tone it ends up with is "vague and smug," which accounts for my dislike. I actively avoided Ray Bradbury for years and years because of his blurb on the back of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but that isn't really fair to Ray Bradbury.

This book was a best-seller a little while before I was born. Neil Diamond was sufficently impressed to compose and perform a “Jonathan Livingston Seagull Suite” which you can listen to if you have tastes very different from my own.

What I'm Reading Now

Died in the Wool, by Ngaio Marsh!

This book wastes very little time in getting started. There's a wool auction in New Zealand in 1939, featuring a quantity of casual racism and some suspicious behavior on the part of a yellow-haired lady MP. Then the MP goes missing and is discovered gruesomely squashed in a bale of wool! (I don't think this counts as a spoiler; it happens on page 7 and is the first event mentioned on the back cover). Then it's time to investigate, so Inspector Alleyn gets a ride up into the mountains to visit the isolated sheep farm where she was last seen. Also, apparently, there might be an espionage plot? But we haven't gotten there yet.

For some reason I had gotten the impression that Ngaio Marsh's books featured a stylish lady detective who was also a sculptor or something, but that doesn't seem to be the case here, unless she turns up later. The inspector for this story is an official government inspector rather than an amateur detective, and he's a little. . . not boring, but notably non-conspicuous by the standards set for me by other fictional detectives. Inspector Alleyn comes bearing no distinctive accessories (even nice, normal Charles Lenox is anchored to the mind by his frequent proximity to good food, tea, and a pleasant fire) and so far has had hardly anything to say, acting instead as a blank screen on which the survior-suspects of Mount Moon Farm are invited to project their observations, experiences and emotions. What I like about him is that he resists making extravagant Sherlockian conclusions, even when he's asked to do so, because observation + speculation does not necessarily = evidence and he'd like to be clear on that point.

Best parts of Died in the Wool so far: the New Zealand landscape, and all the details about wartime New Zealand “men on the land” politics and mail delivery in remote mountain areas.

Note on the paperback edition: Two out of three cover blurbs are all about how Ngaio Marsh is a better writer than Agatha Christie. I'm not convinced yet that that's true? I think they may just be writing a slightly different kind of book.

What I Plan to Read Next

I just picked up The Locked Room by Paul Auster, which I vaguely remembered being annoyed by when I read it in college, but which I will probably like better now that I am in A Detective State of Mind. I've already started Till We Have Faces, but I haven't fully committed to it yet. I'm impressed, though! So far, it seems to be C. S. Lewis' best-written book by a long reach.

Also, canon review for whatever I get assigned to write for Yuletide! But I don't know what that is yet. It could be a book or a bunch of books, or something that isn't a book at all.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 30th, 2014 12:51 am (UTC)
I read Till We Have Faces ages ago - possibly too many ages ago, because it went totally over my head and I didn't like it all that much. Probably I should try it again now that I am no longer in high school.

There is a stylish lady sculptor in Marsh's books, although alas she isn't a detective. Well, sometimes she does detective-y things? She becomes Alleyn's wife (I believe at some point in Died in the Wool he writes her a letter), and occasionally they're involved in cases together.
Oct. 30th, 2014 01:15 am (UTC)
I'm glad to know that the stylish lady sculptor is not a figment of my imagination, even if rumors of her detectivery have been exaggerated.

It's too early to tell if I'm going to end up liking Till We Have Faces or not! So far, it's all ominous scene-setting. But it does feel like Lewis is bringing his A game.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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