Monday, 30 January 2017

Mrs Mac suggests - what to read in February

How about a crime novel with no body, no blood, no murder?  I wonder how many of those there are around?  No - don't all shout at once!

 I am suggesting, for you in February

                             a crime novel more than 50 years old.  

There are loads of them available, and in the last few years there have been republications of books that have been out of print for a long while.... the style will be different - but what you may find, apart from the style of writing which is very different from today's style, is a glimpse  into a life quite different from that which we live today.  I have just read a book I mentioned in the first line of this post - no body, no blood, no murder and I recommend it to you.  It's:


The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

  

Friday, 27 January 2017

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..... by Jim Smith


Darth Vader was really a welder from Fife..... WHAT?
This little clip from a radio recording is by a Scottish comedian, Jim Smith.  No matter what he does for the rest of his life, I thank him for this little chunk of wonderfulness.

Of course, being married for a very long time to a Scot means I understand (most of) it... but even if you are unfamiliar with any Scottish accent (and there are lots!) do listen a few times, and you'll get the hang of it, honestly!  You'll hear him say "I ken a boy" - roughly translated that's I know a guy".


The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach


I am a UK blogger.  So here we don't have baseball....we have the old fashioned and much more gentle game called "rounders".  Here we don't award college scholarships just on the strength of a young sportsperson spotted who might do well for the college.  (I don't think, so, anyway).  And then, along comes a book a book about an American college and baseball.  Hey!  don't turn away.... I am not interested in baseball, either.    But the book, the book, oh! It was a wonderful example of what you might call "the human condition". How people's lives cross paths, and what effect they may have on each other.

Henry gets to have a place at a small mid-West college because he can play baseball well.

Schwartz was the guy who spotted him and who got him the place at college.  But Schwartz is in his last year at that college, wants to go to law school, and has so worn out  his body that at the very least he is going to need new knees very shortly.  Oh! and he has fallen in love with Pella.

Pella is President Affenlight's daughter, newly returned home to Dad after running out of a four year marriage to a manipulator who she had eloped with.

And of course the President of the college, Affenlight, must be seen to be above reproach in all ways, which is fine until he falls for a student.

The student?  Well - I won't give the game away except to say that a stray baseball which hurts the student sets of a chain of events that are seemingly unstoppable.

All of these lives will become entwined.  All of these people will have an effect on at least one of the others.  All of them have problems and right until the very end of the book I was not sure if all those problems would be resolved.  It highlights life in general and the problems that some people have (bad marriages;  addiction to drugs of any kind;  coping with homosexuality; feelings of low self esteem) in particular.    I liked it so much that I kept stopping after a couple of chapters to think about everyone, and to slow down the predictable feeling I knew I would feel when I got to the end which was a real "sorry that I finished it" kind of feeling.  That hasn't happened to me since I read The Book Thief.

PS - as a non-sporty type of person, I just skimmed the baseball stuff!  But if you are a tiny bit interested, Wikipedia will have some info on baseball rules.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms - J P Donleavy








"Ladies should only take a pee in clean rest rooms".  One of those singular sentences that people older than you trot out from time to time, and this one from her grandmother obviously stayed with Jocelyn Jones from childhood, for wherever she is in New York city, she knows the best and cleanest rest rooms (toilets if you are reading this in the UK). 

Jocelyn is divorced from her husband, who left because, as he said, he had found some "fresh flesh".  For that statement alone I would have removed him from my life!  She asks only for the house plus a sum of money, and not an annual income.  He is happy to do that, and  she's on her own.  With no further income, no job, no skills, and only the good manners inherited from her southern grandmother, she finds that the money runs out sooner than anticipated (especially as the money from the sale of the family house disappears when an investment expert turns out to have no experience whatsoever).  After downsizing several times and being reduced to public transport only, she finds herself asking a male former friend for $500 when he turns up at her home, drunk, and looking for sex.  Things are desperate, and when she fires her gun at him (she misses) and he falls down the stairs, that seems to be the end on all accounts.  But help is coming in the most peculiar of ways, provided, of course, that she pees in a clean rest room. 

Donleavy has his own style, and he's not too fond of punctuation (except commas and full stops) either.  So it took a couple of pages before I fell into the rhythm of his writing.  But at only 119 pages, it's worth taking the time to read.  It's a delight.


Friday, 13 January 2017

Curtain Call - Anthony Quinn

Welcome to the Golden Age of Crime..... (Agatha Christie and all that, Penguin crime with green covers, heroines with names like Fliss, Bunty; heroes who were well informed and had names like Jolyon, Rupert), and the villains - ah! the villains!

Written only recently (pub. 2015) this is a great take on the genre.  Anthony Quinn makes sure that we know the era he is writing about.  Oswald Moseley;  King (not quite) Edward and Mrs Simpson are in the news, Crystal Palace has not yet burnt down, and homosexuality is a crime.  And in London, a serial killer is on the loose, and two women can identify him.  Dangerously, he saw them.

The key characters in the book are well drawn.  A married artist and his actress lover;  an unwilling prostitute;  a gay theatre critic and his straight male secretary will all have parts to play in this drama.  Other characters, though smaller in the scheme of things are well done too - there is a snivelling mother in there that I would gladly have slapped myself!  So when the artist sketches the face of the man the actress saw, it starts a chain of events that touch on everyone's lives.  And at least one of them is going to die because of it.

Edge of seat kind of read - Recommended.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Dirt Music - Tim Winton

As usual, before I write about a book I have enjoyed, I look at Amazon.  I don't need to read the 4 and 5 stars, they liked it, so I move straight down to the 1 stars, for an idea of why the reviewer didn't like it.  "Didn't like the non-use of speech marks" is an OK comment which I understand entirely although it never worries me.  But "no plot"?  That's an odd one, as there certainly is one in this book!

Georgie is 40, an ex-nurse, living with a successful commercial fisherman and his two sons in a small, rich town on the West coast of Australia.  Why?  Well, somehow that's where she ended up.  It isn't a love match - it is certainly driving her to drink.  She spends hours at night drinking vodka and surfing the net.  One night she sees someone down on the beach, and steps out to investigate, finding a truck and a friendly dog, which, it turns out, belong to a poacher - Luther Fox.  They meet, sex rears its ugly head, and well..... life takes a turn in the road for both of them.  At the same time, Georgie's mother dies, and on a trip to Perth for the funeral, she finds that none of her 3 sisters is really happy.  should she look for real happiness? 

Then things get worse, much worse.  Little secrets are starting to come out of the woodwork, and what seemed like a tale of unhappy families all round, now turns into a mystery and a thriller.  When Fox disappears, Georgie takes the decision to stick with Jim and get on with her own life....but it may not work out that way.

I must say I like Tim Winton.  Cloudstreet was the first of his I read, and so far it's the one I loved the best.  But Dirt Music comes a very close second.  If I say it's a love story, don't get me wrong.  It is, but it's about all sorts of love.  Love of parents long gone, love of siblings, love of yourself and love of strangers.  And, I think, from Winton, a love of his own country, Australia.

  

Saturday, 7 January 2017

That wonderful detective Nero Wolfe

Rex Stout wrote 33 Nero Wolfe novels and 39 novellas between 1934 and  his death in 1975.  in the mid-2000s, someone was showing some episodes from a  US TV series over here in the UK, and I caught a few of them.  I really liked Timothy Hutton as Archie, Nero Wolfe's acerbic secretary, driver, and all round gofer matched against the man himself, Nero Wolfe, played by Maury Chaykin.

Over My Dead Body (A Nero Wolfe Mystery Book 7)Black Orchids (A Nero Wolfe Mystery Book 9)Nero Wolfe is a big man.  So big, in fact that his chair was specially made to fit his bulk, and most of this bulk seems to be because a) he has a private chef who uses a lot of cream and butter; b) Wolfe likes beer as well as good wine and drinks 3 bottles several times a day ( keeping account of his beer drinking by saving the bottle tops in  his desk drawer; and 3) exercise is an anathema to him.

He has two hobbies - growing orchids and solving crimes.  The crime solving brings in the cash, but I must say I think he might have a private income too, as a lot gets done for sometimes very little money and living in a rather nice brownstone in New York with staff and good food and wine and orchids must cost!

The Rubber Band/The Red Box 2-in-1 (Nero Wolfe)Wikipedia has two pages, one for Rex Stout the author, and one for Nero Wolfe; there is a website for Wolfe fans called The Wolfe Pack, and someone in Australia is making Nero Wolfe charm bracelets for sale on Etsy!

The League of Frightened Men (A Nero Wolfe Mystery Book 2)So how come I didn't know about Rex Stout and all those books?  The Red Box was one of those "found" books - second hand shop/house clearance warehouse/charity shop?  One of those anyway; and I have found, in my reading career, that any publication in the early Penguin Books crime series - always green covers - will be readable.  I'd never heard of Rex Stout, didn't know he was American and didn't connect him with the TV shows I had seen until I saw the words Nero, Wolfe and orchids.

The Silent Speaker (A Nero Wolfe Mystery Book 11)The first book (Fer-de-Lance) was set at around the time it was written (mid 1930s), and although the series moves on through the years, apparently Nero and Archie don't age.  That's OK by me.  I may never read every one, but what a lovely surprise to find - all those books, a great hero (or not, as he is scathing when cross, and hardly ever leaves the house) and some clever thinking.  I did see a remark somewhere out there on the Internet that Stout is a cross between Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie.  I don't have any comment on that as I have never read either of them (GASP!) but I looking forward to more Rex Stout. 





Thursday, 5 January 2017

Not Forgetting the Whale - John Ironmonger

Sometimes you read a book with a tear, sometimes with a smile and some you throw across the room. This is the book I told you I was going to read in January - and look, we are only  five days in and I've done it!!

 
I finished this with a smile, even though it is a tale of dystopia - a city analyst who runs away from his job when he realises that a computer programme he invented is definitely showing him what he thought it would, but with disastrous results. The disaster could be an end-of-the-world scenario, and when he finds himself being given the kiss of life on a beach in Cornwall it may already have happened. And if it hasn't, it is going to. He isn't dead, he doesn't know why, but there must be a purpose here somewhere. Perhaps his purpose is to save the villagers from starvation? infection? what?  There are some dark moments in this book, but it isn't a dark tale. It is a heartwarming one, of how, if we are lucky, friends and neighbours just may help out when something is obviously going badly wrong. A clever and rather lighthearted telling of what might be. And of course .. not forgetting the whale.                                                                                                                                                                                       PS. Do please read the author's postscripts when you have finished... there are a few eye-openers there.