BrokenTune

Reviews & Rants - Blogging about books, authors, and generally 

The Body on the Pavement

The Body on the Pavement: A Golden Age Mystery - Gordon Meyrick

Rex bent down. By squeezing his hand into the drain pipe his fingers were able to grasp the white object. He pulled it out. It was a pad of absorbent cotton—and wet.

The detective sniffed it, and then gave a low whistle of surprise.

It smelled of chloroform.

Perhaps Sinclair, in order to obliterate the horror of his fall, had rendered himself semi-conscious before he dropped. But this supposition seemed unlikely. For the cotton had been forced into the drain pipe. Obviously a drugged man could not have done that.

The Body on the Pavement was a Golden Age crime story that I picked up purely because I liked the cover. 

On reading the first chapter I was really excited - we had atmosphere, we had tension, and we had a petty criminal finding himself trapped when a robbery takes an unexpected turn.

 

Unfortunately, the rest of the story was incredibly dull, and for most of the book the only mystery to me was why all of the characters revered the leading police detective. He had zero charisma and was rather full of himself. The ending was cute, but by the time I got there I had long lost any real interest in the story. 

 

Writing up a short review only a week after reading the book, I seem to have already forgotten much of the story, too. 

In summary, it wasn't a winner. 

Mort

Mort  - Terry Pratchett

Death was standing behind a lectern, poring over a map.

He looked at Mort as if he wasn’t entirely there.

YOU HAVEN’T HEARD OF THE BAY OF MANTE, HAVE YOU? he said.

‘No, sir,’ said Mort.

FAMOUS SHIPWRECK THERE.

‘Was there?’

THERE WILL BE, said Death, IF I CAN FIND THE DAMN PLACE.

Ok, this made me laugh, as did many of the scenes where we get to know DEATH a little bit. And I did feel for him when he was on his pouring his heart out to the barman after his 47th drink, feeling sorry for himself and being sad that no one ever invited him to hang out.

 

In many ways Mort was the typical fun and charming and complex story that I have come to expect from Pratchett, but this was still an early book, too. 

So, characters weren't as fleshed out as they would be in the later books, and there were elements of the plot that were just a little bit too ... conventional ... for me. Like the ending, ... which I won't go into detail of. 

However, when Pratchett tackles complex and philosophical conundrums, I - having read some of his later books - expect more than a black-and-white template solution. 

I also needed more in the way of the way of description of what motivated Mort. 

 

As it was, I thought he was a bit of an arse in this. So was Albert - he did not come across as the same Albert I met in Hogfather.

 

I already look forward to the next book in this subseries.

The Floating Admiral

The Floating Admiral - Canon Victor Whitechurch, Agatha Christie, Milward Kennedy, Margaret Cole, Henry Wade, Clemence Dane, John Rhode, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts, Edgar Jepson, Ronald Knox, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.D.H. Cole, G.K. Chesterton

What an interesting and fun experiment this must have been for the members of the Detection Club to write a mystery - in full compliance with club rules - where one author built on the previous chapters but without having a collective idea about what the plot should be. 

 

As much as I loved seeing each author bringing their individual style to the project, the overall product left me stranded after a few chapters - by the time Ronald Knox summarised all of the clues the preceding chapters had presented to the reader I was lost. After Knox had finished with his list, I had largely lost interest. 

 

However, the solutions that the authors had included in the appendix (not the actual solution to the mystery but the individual solutions that each of the authors predicted) made up for the struggle to finish the book. 

 

And I have to say, Dame Agatha's chapter and solution stole the show for me. She clearly had fun writing her parts for this project and clearly did not take herself seriously in this at all. It was so much fun to watch this.

The Unexpected Library Sale Find

Guess what I found on sale at my library today?

 

There was no way I could resist.

To be fair, I only got the other two books because it was a 3 for £1 sale.

Reading progress update: I've read 17%.

Mort  - Terry Pratchett

So many great quotable passages, but the idea of DEATH mingling at a party had me laughing out loud:

WE’VE GOT A FEW MINUTES, said Death, taking a drink from a passing tray. LET’S MINGLE.

‘They can’t see me either!’ said Mort. ‘But I’m real!’

REALITY IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT IT SEEMS, said Death. ANYWAY, IF THEY DON’T WANT TO SEE ME, THEY CERTAINLY DON’T WANT TO SEE YOU. THESE ARE ARISTOCRATS, BOY. THEY’RE GOOD AT NOT SEEING THINGS.

WHY IS THERE A CHERRY ON A STICK IN THIS DRINK?

‘Mort,’ said Mort automatically.

IT’S NOT AS IF IT DOES ANYTHING FOR THE FLAVOUR. WHY DOES ANYONE TAKE A PERFECTLY GOOD DRINK AND THEN PUT IN A CHERRY ON A POLE?

Reading progress update: I've read 22%.

The Floating Admiral - Canon Victor Whitechurch, Agatha Christie, Milward Kennedy, Margaret Cole, Henry Wade, Clemence Dane, John Rhode, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts, Edgar Jepson, Ronald Knox, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.D.H. Cole, G.K. Chesterton

“I say ‘No,’” repeated Mrs. Davis, nodding her head very violently.

“No to what?” asked the Inspector, still puzzled.

“I say, if you ask me if he’s the murderer, I say ‘No!’”

“Oh! I see, but I never suggested anything of the kind.”

“Not in words, but it’s what it comes to. Cut the cackle and come to the horses, as Mr. Davis used to say. I’m never one for beating about the bush.”

Ok, ok, Dame Agatha must have had fun with this one. It certainly reads like she wrote this chapter with a twinkle in her eye. 

 

Mrs. Davis sounds like a fun character. 

 

Oh, and I am already looking forward to using "cut the cackle and come to the horses" in whatever next work meeting goes around in circles.

Reading progress update: I've read 16%.

The Floating Admiral - Canon Victor Whitechurch, Agatha Christie, Milward Kennedy, Margaret Cole, Henry Wade, Clemence Dane, John Rhode, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts, Edgar Jepson, Ronald Knox, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.D.H. Cole, G.K. Chesterton

I just finished Chapter 2 and I really like it. 

However, this is going to be a much slower read for me than anticipated. 

Real life shenanigans, work trip preparation for next week, etc. are using up most of my ability to focus on details and clues this week. 

Corpse Ahoy!

The Floating Admiral - Canon Victor Whitechurch, Agatha Christie, Milward Kennedy, Margaret Cole, Henry Wade, Clemence Dane, John Rhode, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts, Edgar Jepson, Ronald Knox, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.D.H. Cole, G.K. Chesterton

Just a quick note to say that I have started The Floating Admiral for our buddy read this lunchtime.

I have skipped the Introductions etc. and have jumped in right at Chesterton's Prologue - which I liked a lot.

It had all the snark of Chesterton and all the atmosphere of an old Mr Moto movie, which I am sure will come with some a hefty dose of eye-rolling at some point, too. Or at least a reminder to some of the abysmal aspects of The Big Four.

"We talk of the mystery of Asia; and there is a sense in which we are all wrong."

Reading progress update: I've read 37 out of 252 pages.

Those Who Walk Away - Patricia Highsmith

He and Peggy had never quarrelled, Ray thought. Perhaps that had been part of what was wrong. Ray considered himself – because he had been told it often enough by other people – easy-going, which was on the helpful side in a marriage, he supposed. On the other hand, Peggy had never been demanding, had never held out for anything he thought unreasonable, so there had simply been no occasion for quarrelling. He hadn’t particularly wanted to spend a whole year in Mallorca, but Peggy had (some place very primitive and simple, simpler even than southern Italy), so Ray had decided to look on it as a long honeymoon, and had decided he could spend the time well by painting and reading, especially reading art history books, so he had agreed. And the first four months, she had been amused and happy. Ray could even say the first eight months. The novelty of the rather barefoot life had worn off by then, but by then she had been painting, fewer hours a day but more constructively, he had thought. His thoughts trailed off, and he was as lost as ever for a reason for her dying. Coleman now had her paintings, had corralled every one, and also all her drawings, and had shipped them to Rome, not asking Ray if he might like one. Ray reproached himself for having let it happen. For this, Ray felt extremely bitter against Coleman, so bitter he tried to forget it whenever he recalled it. He looked now at the Lido lights, a long low streak ahead. He thought of Mann’s Death in Venice, of the hot, festering sun beating on that strip of land. Passion and disease. Well, this was not at all the weather, there was no disease, and the passion was only in Coleman.

This is certainly different. Instead of a lead up to a death, we have the aftermath of one in this book. It's not a spoiler - the first sentence of the book tells us this.

I somehow can't believe Ray is a trustworthy character, but so far we have no clues otherwise, except that Coleman also suspects Ray to hide something (to say the least).

Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 252 pages.

Those Who Walk Away - Patricia Highsmith

I'm going to make something quick and easy for lunch, and then I am absolutely ready for this new buddy read with Lillelara

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 242 out of 340 pages.

Spring - Ali Smith

Did you know, Alda says, that the word slogan was a Gaelic word originally? Your man there saying the word reminded me. From the words for the shout of the army. Sluagh-ghairm. Slogan. It means war cry. Tells you all you need to know about what slogans are always about, whether it’s take back control or leave means leave or don’t buy from Jews or I’m lovin’ it or just do it or every little helps.

"Alda Lyons". Now that's an inspired name, Ms Smith.

 

Also, I'm loving the interplay of current affairs, Shakespeare (Pericles), Dickens, modern art, history and ancient Greek mythology.

 

The story hits all the right buttons for me. But then we all knew it would.

Reading progress update: I've read 83 out of 340 pages.

Spring - Ali Smith

As he thinks it, an email appears in his inbox.

 

Subject: Re: our mother’s memorial service

Dear Richard

very sorry but its close family only who will be speaking at the memorial. Will pass on the suggestion about the poem thank you but it is already a v busy programme. It is shaping up to be a v special day.

Look fwd see you Friday,

vbw

Dermot and Patrick Heal.

 

He sits back in his chair.

Don’t go, the imaginary daughter says.

How can we not? he says.

We don’t need to, she says.

I can’t not. I have to honour her, he says.

So do something that’ll really honour her, she says.

Richard has lost his best friend and much of this book so far is about grief. However, there these glimpses of something rising from the ashes, something growing out of the grief, scattered throughout the narrative.

 

Needless to say, I'm really keen to find out where this is going.

I also have feeling that tomorrow may need a lot of coffee to make up for the sleep I'm not going to get tonight.

Reading progress update: I've read 51 out of 340 pages.

Spring - Ali Smith

Katherine Mansfield? she says. Really? Are you sure?

That's the name, he says.

Neighbours with Rilke? she says. And is it true?

The acknowledgements page at the back of the novel swears it's true, he says.

What kind of a novel? she says. Written by whom?

Literary, he says. Second novel be Nella something, Bella. A lot of language. Not much happens.

Oh, how I do like a good mockery of the literary novel in a literary novel.

Reading progress update: I've read 3 out of 340 pages.

Spring - Ali Smith

Now what we don’t want is Facts. What we want is bewilderment. What we want is repetition. What we want is repetition. What we want is people in power saying the truth is not the truth. What we want is elected members of parliament saying knife getting heated stuck in her front and twisted things like bring your own noose we want governing members of parliament in the house of commons shouting kill yourself at opposition members of parliament we want powerful people saying they want other powerful people chopped up in bags in my freezer we want muslim women a joke in a newspaper column we want the laugh we want the sound of that laugh behind them everywhere they go. We want the people we call foreign to feel foreign we need to make it clear they can’t have rights unless we say so. What we want is outrage offence distraction. What we need is to say thinking is elite knowledge is elite what we need is people feeling left behind disenfranchised what we need is people feeling. What we need is panic we want subconscious panic we want conscious panic too. We need emotion we want righteousness we want anger. We need all that patriotic stuff.

Fresh off the press, Spring landed on my kindle this morning (I may have to pick up the gorgeous hardback edition this weekend...just because). 

 

So, after a few weeks of watching the parliamentary debates on most nights, the opening paragraph of Ali Smith's new book is already resonating with me. 

 

Unfortunately, I'll need to put off further reading until my lunch break. :(

Reading progress update: I've read 8%.

The Body on the Pavement: A Golden Age Mystery - Gordon Meyrick

Confession: I only got this book because I love the cover. 

 

I know nothing about the author or story.

Feeling really adventurous right now. ;D

Above Suspicion

Above Suspicion - Helen MacInnes

Whichever way you added up your plans, you should always leave a margin on either side for luck.

This was my first experience of MacInnes' work and I am delighted to say that I am looking forward to reading more of her books. It appears that I have found a new series of books to sink into when I need something that is straightforward, smart entertainment now that I have finished Agatha Christie's books. Not that MacInnes books are mysteries in the same vein as Christie's - they are not, MacInnes wrote thrillers - but judging by this first one, they have the same atmospheric, comforting feel to them. At least, Above Suspicion gave that impression. 

 

In this book we meet Richard and Frances Myles, an Oxford couple, who are persuaded by a friend to use their summer holiday in pre-war Germany to investigate the disappearance of an informant who helped people to flee the country in the face of the rising Nazi state. 

 

What follows is the adventure of the couple who are acting as amateur spies. It was an addictive and thrilling read for the most part and I really enjoyed their exploits, even if some parts were showing their age. 

 

Richard and Frances are a lovely couple. I really liked them and in some ways they reminded me of Paul Temple and his wife, Steve or Tommy and Tuppence - no longer bright young things but still with sparkle enough to not take each other too seriously all the time: 

“I’ve found the difference between twenty and thirty,” said Richard. “At twenty you never think of rheumatics or a chill in the bladder.”

- - -

He grinned. “You know, Frances, just at the stage when a man thinks women have no brains they confound him by some low cunning like that.

 

I especially liked Frances. She was smart and I liked how MacInnes gave her inner thoughts about the state of the world that went beyond the adventures at hand.  Her thoughts matched in many respects those of the characters of another favourite pre-war author of mine, Phyllis Bottome, who also used her pre-war thrillers to describe the rise of fascism in the 1930s.  

If only the methods of hate and force had been resisted at the very beginning: not by other countries for that would have been called the unwarranted interference of those who wanted to keep Germany weak), but by the people of Germany themselves! But, of course, it had been more comfortable to concentrate on their own private lives instead of dying on barricades, if in the last extreme they had had to pit force against force. It was easier to turn a deaf ear to the cries from the concentration camps, to harden their hearts to the despair of the exiles, to soothe their conscience with praise of the Fatherland. And now it had come to, the stage where other peoples would have to do the dying, on barricades of shattered cities, to stop what should have been stopped seven years ago.

 

And this is where the book becomes more serious than just a spy adventure. There are elements of the book that unfortunately still carry a relevant message today. There is a scene where Frances holds a discussion with a young man whose only responses are slogans and pathetic quotes that he had been fed by the propaganda peddlers around him. During the discussion with Frances, he realises for the first time that none of the answers he has make any sense, and this stumps him. It is a poignant and powerful scene, even though it is not one that is central to the plot. 

 

With respect to the plot, this is where I have some criticism: Unfortunately, the book is a product of its time and despite the author's efforts to give Frances a mind of her own, there is a certain plot development that sees Frances as damsel in distress. It does not do the beginning of the book justice. While I can understand why this particular plot development would have been appropriate at the time of writing, it did distract from what otherwise was a splendid, smart, and thought-provoking read. 

“Don’t let the tragedy of the human race get you down at this time of the morning. Come and have some breakfast first.” He drew her gently from the window. “An empty stomach only turns thought into worry.”

Frances smiled and kissed him. “You keep worrying about me, Richard.”

“Well, whenever you start a train of thought these days, it runs non-stop to the sorrows of the world.”

“I’m sorry, Richard. I’ll give up the habit.”

“Do. It would be frightful if you ever began to enjoy it.”

Frances laughed. “A kind of mental pervert, working herself into depths of depression to enjoy her secret thrills of pity No, thank you, Richard. Instead I’ll become accustomed to the idea that man is born in pain, lives in struggle, dies in suffering.”

“Well, that’s a better defence against the new Middle Ages than the nice ideas you got from your liberal education.

 

Currently reading

Mapp and Lucia by E.F. Benson
The Complete Works (Oxford Shakespeare) by William Shakespeare, John Jowett, Gary Taylor
Progress: 24/1344pages
Blood on the Tracks by Various Authors, Martin Edwards
Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography: New Evidence of an Authorship Problem by Diana Price