Thursday, May 31, 2012

Batman!

My name is Patrick and I have a confession to make: I freakin’ love Batman. Perhaps it’s a silly obsession. A multi-millionaire dresses in a dark blue costume and stalks the streets of his cities fighting crimes? (It’s particularly hard to believe in this day and age where you can be famous for doing nothing whatsoever— just ask the Kardashians!) Not to mention the Rogues’ Gallery, featuring such unlikely psychos as The Mad Hatter (who is my personal favourite), The Penguin, Catwoman, or The Joker.

But there is a poignancy to the Batman story. This is a man who saw his parents gunned down as a young boy, and so he dedicates his life to making sure nobody else has to experience the same thing he did. In the recent Christopher Nolan reboot film Batman Begins, an intriguing angle was added by making the young Bruce Wayne partly responsible for the death of his parents. It was indirect, of course, but it was another thing that could eat away at his psyche at such a fragile age, and which makes his determination to fight crime that much more believable.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Presenting The Great Merlini!

Clayton Rawson is a pretty well-known name from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. A magician and a great friend of John Dickson Carr’s, Rawson gave us one of the all-time great debuts of detective fiction when he invented his detective, The Great Merlini, and took him on a wild journey as Merlini had to solve the mystery of Death from a Top Hat, a complex affair involving multiple impossibilities that The Great Merlini explains rationally. Not only is it a great debut, I consider it one of the greatest detective novels of all-time. Rawson followed that classic up with three further novels and a series of short stories. But darn it all, those short stories are so hard to find!

But then, last week, while browsing my Facebook account, I suddenly noticed an update from MysteriousPress.com! I gasped and made sure I was reading it right. Clayton Rawson was back in print! All his novels have been resurrected into e-books, but that wasn’t enough for the folks at MysteriousPress.com. By some miracle worthy of The Great Merlini himself, they managed to reprint Rawson’s Don Diavolo stories… as well as all the short stories starring The Great Merlini! And thus, I instantly went to Amazon and purchased three books, one of which is entitled The Great Merlini: The Complete Stories of the Magician Detective.

Would Clayton Rawson be able to match the ingenuity of Death from a Top Hat? Were these stories really worthwhile? How would The Great Merlini handle the impossible disappearance of a person from a phone booth, a challenge that the great John Dickson Carr failed miserably (in Scotland Yard’s Christmas)? What about those short-short stories? Reader, I present you my critiques of the stories found in this brand new e-book:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mr. Queen on the Essence of Boredom

The Spanish Cape is located somewhere on the Atlantic coast, and it is the scene of a violent death when notorious philanderer John Marco is found bludgeoned to death. This comes right on the heels of a botched kidnapping effort also directed at Marco. Apparently, someone wasn’t fond of the man… but why on earth would anyone have removed the dead man’s clothes???

Yes, Marco is naked as the day he was born, but luckily Ellery Queen is on hand to investigate the business. There’s a lot of nasty secrets hidden, and blackmail is tied into Marco’s death as well. Which of the people on the Spanish Cape have stained their hands with blood? You can find out in Ellery Queen’s The Spanish Cape Mystery

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Beyond This Point are Monsters

Alice Brennan is going to marry a millionaire, Innes Whitlock, and they are on an excursion with the chauffer when the car breaks down in the town of Ogaunee, Michigan… Innes’ hometown. And so Innes decides that there’s no way out of it: he’ll have to visit his sisters. Known collectively as the Whitlock girls, they are three repulsive creatures all disabled in their own unique way. Gertrude is blind. Maud is deaf. And Isabel is missing her right arm.

Innes lets his sisters know that he intends to marry Alice… and then the accidents begin to happen. A lamp crashes down from an upstairs table and nearly hits Innes over the head. A detour sign is removed from the road and causes a car accident. Someone messes around with the gas… Alarmed, Innes summons his lawyer and Alice summons her old history professor, MacDougal Duff. Will they get there in time? Will the sisters accomplish their murderous goal? And who on earth is the mysterious Mr. Johnson, who seems to be doing some work around the house?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Talk to me!

Scott K. Ratner is no stranger to the blog—last year, I reviewed his wonderful play Kill a Better Mousetrap, a play in which he tackles the curse of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap and how the play refuses to go away. Ratner is a very intelligent fellow who has an excellent appreciation for the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, and as a result, the play was an excellent satire and homage to the Queen of Crime (when it could easily have turned spiteful in the wrong hands). Now, Ratner is back with All Talking! All Singing! All Murder!!!, a three act play which has plenty of fun with the conventions of the Golden Age mystery.

What is ATASAM about? Well, it’s a very traditional mystery, in which an incredibly annoying gossip columnist, Cornelia Cram, manages to make enemies left and right and then drops dead. She has been stabbed in the back, and Inspector Roscoe Tennant comes down to investigate the crime. But with so many motives and secrets, who could have done it?

Monday, May 14, 2012

CCL. In which a picture is unveiled and a blogger reaches drinking age.

Before I say anything else, I’d like to turn your attention to this brilliant picture that was drawn for me by Daniel, a fellow Pole who goes by the moniker of “daekazu” on DeviantArt. You can find his profile here. He does some really fine stuff, and I’m absolutely delighted with this picture!

“Ah, but Patrick,” you must surely be saying, “that’s not all! Would you create a new post just to show off a new picture of yours?” I can only congratulate your deduction skills, for this is a post that will deal with several things at once. The first of these is, of course, the new picture, which will be displayed on some parts of the site from now on, such as the “Prime Suspect” page (which had a fairly generic and somewhat dull picture before this).

Well, another year has gone by and guess what? Today is May 14th! (Unless, of course, you’re from the future, in which case, please let me know whether the public has had the sanity to forget the Kardashians, whoever they are.) And do you know what that means? It’s my birthday—more specifically, my 19th birthday! For those of you who fail to grasp the significance of this, the legal drinking age in Canada is 19. So how about joining me in a glass of rough cider?

No, seriously, I went to LCBO just for these.

What does this new milestone mean? Well, for one thing, I am no longer saluting you with a glass of Perrier (which is the nectar of the gods, of course, but that’s for another day). By a strange coincidence it’s also my 250th post! But more importantly, it gives me the opportunity to write a reflection on this blog… and I swear this is all heading somewhere, so please, don’t change that channel.

When I started the blog, I was doing it for my book reviews. I had been doing something similar for a while, doing a sort of one-man-book-club by reading several books and posting my running commentary as I progressed through them, summing up my thoughts in the end. Unfortunately, at times my fast reading pace meant that I would write two posts: one to announce that I had just started The Affair of the Abominable Albino and looked forward to reading more, and the other to announce that I had just finished the book and here-are-my-thoughts and what-book-should-I-read-next... A blog seemed a good solution, especially after TomCat created Detection by Moonlight.

But it took me a while to put the idea together—more specifically, it took an infuriating book to kick-start it. Readers are probably well-aware by now of the embarrassingly bad video I put together mocking George Baxt’s The Affair at Royalties. I have already expressed embarrassment at my line delivery and the way the video was shot, so I will spare you my detailed thoughts. But the mystery community is a forgiving one, and instead of being crucified I was welcomed into the world of mystery blogging.

Remember this monstrosity? It used to be on top of the page...

They were humble beginnings, right enough, but where am I, over a year after the blog’s creation? Well, I can now legally consume alcohol, so my first video is far easier to watch now… My book collection has also increased at an alarming rate—when I started out, I didn’t even own a single Paul Halter novel. Now, I have almost all of them, and have sizable collections of books by other French authors, such as S. A. Steeman and René Reouven.

There have been several memorable moments on this blog— reading J. J. Connington and Henry Wade for the first time, finding out about Margaret Millar (thank you, Julian Symons—and no, that wasn’t sarcasm), blatantly plagiarising Doug Greene in an article on Derek Smith and his novel Whistle up the Devil, getting to do several crossover reviews with other bloggers, contacting Roland Lacourbe and Paul Halter (and getting to interview the latter!)… and now I’d like to announce something else that I will be focusing on for the next little while...

That’s right.

I’m going to try my hand at translation.

More specifically, I intend to attempt translating René Reouven’s Tobie or not Tobie, a wonderful book I read last year which I consider a masterpiece of a detective story.

Why am I going to do this? There are several reasons. Most notably, I’m going to have several months off of school, and during my break, I want to do something useful with my time. Translating a novel like this seems like a good idea, and the only challenge left (once I’ve made up my stubborn little mind to go through with such a project) is talking to the people responsible to negotiate the English translation rights. But like I said, I can be incredibly stubborn, and I hope I will soon be able to announce something more definite on translation rights.

But wait! That’s not all! What else can I possibly be holding up my sleeve? Well

Thanks to the help of M. Roland Lacourbe (to whom I will forever owe a debt of the deepest gratitude), I was able to contact M. René Reouven himself over the weekend! This was an incredible honour for me, as someone who holds the deepest admiration for the author’s work. M. Reouven turned out to be an extremely intelligent and kind man, who was only too glad to help me out as best as he could (although unfortunately he himself did not own the translation rights to his work). And afterwards… he consented to give me an interview!!! But that’s not the best part yet… what’s even better is that this interview was recorded and is now on YouTube (with the author’s permission, of course)!!!

That’s right, it’s a 50 minute session of me pestering M. Reouven with questions, which he kindly answered. After a while, though, I decided to abandon a traditional interview format, and the discussion went its own merry way, while I tried to worm in some questions here and there that I had prepared. The result is a discussion between two enthusiasts, as M. Reouven elaborates on his reasons for writing his new young adult novel, how he came to love mystery and science fiction, and what he considers is the greatest crime a mystery author can commit. We talk about locked-room mysteries, French authors both past and present, Jules Verne, Nero Wolfe, political correctness in modern day reprints, and of course Sherlock Holmes, whom we both admire—in particular, we spend quite a bit of time on the untold stories in the Canon that Dr. Watson alludes to!

Those who can understand French can find the YouTube video posted on my French-language blog, along with an introduction in which I apologise for my atrocious French accent and some factual errors I made in the interview. I also warn viewers of potential spoilers (the spoiler-heavy section is between 4:30 and 10:00), although for a 50 minute discussion, I think we did an admirable job avoiding spoilers as a whole!

But what if you do not understand French? Well first off, I must thank my lucky stars that you will not understand just how bad my oral French is. But rest assured you will not be forgotten: I will translate our interview (all glorious 50 minutes of it!) and will post an update when the translation is ready. So here’s my question for you: would you rather read subtitles on the French-language video, or have a text interview like the one I did with Paul Halter?

It was a true honour to get to talk with an author I admire so much, and to let him know how much his work means to me. I’m cursed with the knowledge that I can never write a fan letter to John Dickson Carr. I can never ask Agatha Christie where she gets her ideas, though she kindly answered me anyways in Passenger to Frankfurt’s introduction. I’ll never get to correspond with Edmund Crispin, and I can only insult Julian Symons posthumously (which is too easy a target). That’s why this interview is such a major moment for me. And I cannot think of a more perfect birthday present.

Thank you to everyone for checking in to the crime scene, because without you, I wouldn’t be writing these reviews. I hope you all enjoy the interview, whether you get to see it today or whenever I finish translating it.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Return of Sherlock Holmes

I adore the work of French author René Reouven. He is so intelligent and his works are so delicious, often full of references to other works of literature. He also enjoys blatantly rewriting history to such an effective degree that it’s hard to figure out where history ends and where fiction begins. And – just my luck! – Reouven is himself an admirer of Sherlock Holmes!

I love Sherlock Holmes and I owe him a serious debt of gratitude. It was the Sherlock Holmes stories that introduced me to the detective novel (after which I eventually graduated to the Agatha Christie School of Mystery, which would eventually lead me to John Dickson Carr and many more!). I have always admired Holmes: he sees everything other people see, but he observes and deduces as well, with seemingly-miraculous results! And so I have read many Sherlock Holmes pastiches in my time, and last year I had the pleasure of reading Robert L. Fish’s Schlock Homes stories, which I called “single-handedly the wittiest, funniest, most wildly entertaining, and (to put it simply) the best collection of Sherlock Holmes parodies I’ve ever read”.

And today, it is with pure pleasure that I can say something very similar about René Reouven’s own Sherlockian pastiches. Les passe-temps de Sherlock Holmes (The Pastimes of Sherlock Holmes) is a collection of three stories in which Sherlock Holmes must solve mysterious cases that Dr. Watson referred to in the Canon. And each of these stories is absolutely delightful. In fact (and this is literally the only time this has ever happened) I was at times convinced I was reading a French translation of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lost adventures... and that’s no exaggeration!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Never fight a Scotsman!

It was supposed to be an easy score. After all, Dortmunder had an inside man: the owner of the painting wanted him to steal it. The client, a rich guy named Arnold Chauncey, needed the insurance money badly… but he had already pulled off such a trick once before, so this time the burglary needed to be authentic. But at the same time he wanted to keep the painting. And so when Dortmunder is caught stealing televisions, a high-profile attorney, J. Radcliffe Stonewiler, suddenly shows up to save the day, reinterpreting the case completely and getting the judge to clear Dortmunder’s name. Turns out Stonewiler wasn’t sent by God but by Chauncey, and the price of this favour is Dortmunder’s compliance on the art theft.

And for once the theft goes well! That is, until Dortmunder gets trapped by the elevator… and the security guards turn out to be patrolling areas that were supposed to be left unguarded… and a large mass of Scotsmen are next door at the theatre… Oh, and just to be on the safe side, Chauncey has hired an assassin to kill Dortmunder should he fail to deliver the painting on time. So it’s no wonder that Dortmunder spends some very uncomfortable time when the painting gets lost following a scuffle with the Scotsmen!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The Sequel to the Curious Case of the Unnecessary Butchering of Murder on the Orient Express

This review is something of a follow-up to my sarcastic play-by-play commentary on the atrocious 2001 TV adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. I wrote many of these comments a long time ago (at least in Internet minutes) when I first saw the episode in question. I have revisited some of these thoughts and edited some. Please let me know if you enjoy reading these articles, and if there's interest, the next time I do one of these I will attempt to prove that Suchet's version of Appointment With Death is really a thinly-veiled remake of The Mummy.

Murder on the Orient Express has been an episode looked forward to by Poirot fans for a very long time. And about the first 18 minutes are as close as you can get to a total mess. The movie begins with an uninspired and boring case to account for Poirot’s presence in Istanbul, which is extremely repetitive in insisting the perpetrator lied (How inconsiderate!). All Poirot does is shout about how much dishonour this man has brought—it’s basically a 1930s way of saying “You’re a disgrace to me, you’re a disgrace to your country, and you’re a disgrace to your momma!” It gets very boring, and the actor decides to commit suicide, which finally gets Poirot to shut up and look shocked for a few seconds. Unfortunately, he doesn’t stay silent for very long…

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Let there be blood...

Someone has a grudge against the police department… more specifically, the cops at the 87th Precinct. Cops are being gunned down left and right, apparently at random by a “cop hater”. It is up to the cops of the 87th, already overworked and understaffed, to avenge their fallen colleagues and bring their murderer—or is it murderers?—to justice.

This plot device has been used many times in mystery fiction—whether in X Vs. Rex by Phillip Macdonald, or, more recently, Cop to Corpse by Peter Lovesey. (Why yes, this is a pathetic attempt at foreshadowing some soon-to-be-read books!) But this time it is being used by Ed McBain in one of his 87th Precinct police procedurals: Cop Hater. Sergio over at Tipping My Fedora is on a quest to review the entire series, and his reviews are always extremely intelligent and for the most part enthusiastic. So I decided to give McBain a chance despite my historical dislike of the police procedural… so could McBain rise to the challenge?