Friday, August 31, 2012

Dead Silence

Louise Penny’s Still Life is one of the most frustrating books I’ve read all year long. Damn it all, this book starts off so well!!! But the wheels fall off so abruptly in the final act, and we’re left with the most anticlimactic ending I’ve come across in a long time… probably the worst since Catherine Aird’s The Religious Body back in November of last year!!!

The quiet community of Three Pines is a small, peaceful village in rural Québec… and one morning, the community’s peace is shattered when Jane Neal is discovered dead, killed by an arrow. Was it an accident? Then why isn’t anyone coming forward? And where is the arrow? And for that matter, if it was murder, who could have done it? After all, Jane was well-liked by everyone. It sounds like a job for Chief Inspector Armand Gamache!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

It seemed to be a good idea at the time...

Get your raggedy little Steven Seagal-lovin' a$$es outta here!
— Ed ‘Eddie’ Pekurny, EdtV 

I was given a review copy of The Man Who Would Be F. Scott Fitzgerald by David Handler, newly (re)published in e-book form by I had nothing but praise for the book, and in fact, I loved it so much that I went out and bought several more entries in Handler’s Hoagy and Lulu series of mysteries—which should give you an idea of just how much I loved the book. Anyhow, once I did that, I couldn’t stay away much longer, and so I went on to read The Woman Who Fell From Grace, the next entry in the series.

Oh, Shenandoah, a 1,032 page Revolutionary War epic by Alma Glaze, is the greatest phenomenon of all-time in the publishing world. It’s one of the best-selling and most talked about novels of all-time, and was also adapted into an acclaimed Oscar-winning film. Before her tragic death in a car accident, the author wrote an outline for a sequel to Oh, Shenandoah, to be entitled Sweet Land of Liberty. But there was one catch: the book was to be written 50 years after the author’s death. That time is up now, and the author’s daughter, Mavis, is to write the sequel…

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

An Interview with Peter Lovesey

Recently, I had the great honour to interview Peter Lovesey, author of such excellent books as The False Inspector Dew, Rough Cider, or Bertie and the Tinman. It is my opinion that Lovesey is one of the finest mystery novelists working today, so as you can guess, it was really quite an exciting event for me! I'd like to thank Doug Greene and Curt Evans for helping to make this interview possible. I'd also like to thank Peter Lovesey himself, for putting up with my questions and graciously responding each time. I loved getting the chance to do this interview, and I now present it to you, the reader, for your pleasure and education.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Patrick: It’s fairly well-known that you wrote your first mystery, Wobble to Death, for a competition offered by Macmillan Publishing, where the grand prize was one thousand pounds. The book was written with a Victorian “wobble” as its background, and as you well know, it was rather successful! It became the first of a series of novels starring the Victorian detective Sergeant Cribb. So just how did you go about writing Wobble to Death? Were you already a mystery reader, or did you have to read some mysteries and figure out what the game was about? Did you look at some previous efforts in the historical-mystery department? Were you influenced by any particular novels?

Peter Lovesey: Wobble to Death had to be written in just over three months for the competition deadline and I was teaching five days a week, so I didn’t have time to look around for templates. Fortunately I knew plenty about Victorian athletics and had written a non-fiction book called The Kings of Distance, so I could work with the confidence that I could finish a book and that the “research” was all in the notebooks I had already filled at the National Newspaper Library. As a kid, I read all the Sherlock Holmes stories and some Leslie Charteris, featuring the Saint. I think I had also read one Agatha Christie called The ABC Murders. The real mystery buff was my wife Jax, who devoured them at the rate of three or four a week, so she was a huge help. She was in hospital for most of the time and she would read through each chapter as I completed it and we’d discuss the progress of the book when I visited each evening. I can’t say I was influenced by any particular novels.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Short List of Great Stories

What better way to end this unofficial week of Crippen than with a return to Peter Lovesey? Better still— a return to Peter Lovesey via a short story collection published by Crippen & Landru! Since there are a few of these collections, it took me a while to decide which one to read—and finally, I decided on Murder on the Short List.

However, as my readers can testify, I’m infernally lazy. There’s quite a few short stories to be found in this collection, but they can be rather short, and it’s difficult to describe them in detail without giving something major away. So instead, I’ll vaguely describe some of the situations that this short story collection will throw at you. Are you ready? Here goes:

A harp heist gone wrong. A parade of elephants that leads to murder. A hearing aid heist planned and executed by a group of geriatrics. An attempt to seduce Adolf Hitler. A woman about to commit suicide discovers a memorial dedicated to her. Bertie, Prince of Wales, solves a Christmastime murder. Sergeant Cribb catches a Jack-the-Ripper-like murderer. Cold War tensions explode in a high-intensity tennis match at Wimbledon.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Doctor is Out

It wasn’t exactly my intention, but I seem to have accidentally made this week an unofficial “Crippen Week” with my literary choices. I started off the week by reading Peter Lovesey’s excellent The False Inspector Dew, and from there I moved on to Martin Edwards’ Dancing for the Hangman. After the excellent All The Lonely People, I was eager to try another one of the author’s books, and I had already purchased Dancing for the Hangman. So the choice was fairly simple.

The book is a retelling of the story of Dr. H. H. Crippen, a notorious murderer hanged in England in 1910. A fascinating idea, that, and it immediately convinced me to buy the book. But I wasn’t quite sure what I was about to get myself into. Was this going to be a work of non-fiction—a laborious reconstruction of the case with Edwards’ personal theory as to the solution? Or was this going to be a cheerfully fictitious work that invented a wild theory in which Crippen was the victim of a conspiracy? The product descriptions didn’t quite help, so I asked Martin Edwards himself. Here is his reply:

" [It] was conceived as a novel about the character of Crippen that remains true to the established facts, as I understand them, but tries to make psychological sense of them so as to explain the various paradoxes of the case. It's meant to be psychologically plausible, but of course since nobody knows what actually happened, I don't claim this as a definitive interpretation of the case."

Monday, August 13, 2012

I am Chief Superintendent Lookout; Lookout of the Yard...

H. H. Crippen was one of the 20th century’s most infamous murderers—or, at the very least, accused murderers. Over time, much doubt has been cast upon the “guilty” verdict, and some controversial new DNA evidence suggests that the remains found in Crippen’s basement may not have been his wife’s after all. (This evidence cannot be completely trusted, however.) Whatever the truth of the matter, Crippen and his lover, Ethel le Neve, fled to Canada, but thanks to the miracle of wireless communication, were arrested upon arrival by Inspector Walter Dew, who simply took a faster ship to get there first.

It is this infamous real-life murder case that inspires The False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey. In it, a dentist named Walter Baranov decides to murder his shrew of a wife Lydia on board the ocean liner Mauretania. The plan is a perfect one— he will be free to live with his lover Alma, a girl absolutely devoted to him. And in a touch of irony, to get away with the scheme he registers under a false name as Walter Dew, after the famous inspector who caught Crippen. There’s no way the scheme could possibly fail. But, irony of ironies, when a body is found bobbing in the ocean, the captain of the ship quite innocently asks the eminent Inspector Dew to investigate!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Girl With the Sorcerer Tattoo

There is a legend about three powerful sorcerers who once lived in the Nagano prefecture. They were known as Tsunedahime, Jiraiya, and Orochimaru, and have been the subjects of numerous legends, plays … and tattoos. Akimitsu Takagi’s The Tattoo Murder Case involves the story of three such tattoos.

Mysteries in Japan have evolved in a completely different direction than those in the Anglo-Saxon world, at least from what I can gather. I don’t know Japanese, nor am I too familiar with the culture, but the translations we get into English only seem to confirm the idea. It seems that in Japan, the “game” is still highly respected—you give the readers all the clues and you tell a story instead of wallowing in angst and self-pity. In other words, a Japanese detective novel is about a mystery, and not about telling readers how awful society is. (Honestly, though, you're better off asking an expert to explain.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

How long have you been a lonely guy?

I have been a reader of Martin Edwards’ excellent blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name?, for quite some time. I can’t recall when I started to read it, but it was one of the first blogs to make it onto my blogroll. His blog is literally one of the very best mystery blogs on the Internet; he shows great admiration and respect for masters of the form, both past and present, such as Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, or Peter Lovesey. But much to my shame, I had not read any of Martin’s books. The shame was only compounded when a fellow blogger, PuzzleDoctor, began to review Martin’s books on his own excellent blog. The praise was consistent and recommendations were handed out as freely as Hallowe’en candy. I finally visited my Amazon shopping cart and added All the Lonely People to my digital cart, purchasing it for my Kindle.

Why All the Lonely People? Well, the Doc’s praise was of the very highest calibre: “this is one of the best mystery novels that I’ve read in ages” he declared. And you could tell that he meant every word of it. So I eagerly began to read, hoping that I would see the same things in this book.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Sleep No More

Oil spills are nasty. The oil doesn’t dissolve in water, which is why an oil slick forms, and it pretty much kills life in that area. Worse, they can take a long time to fix—it isn’t a simple mop-up job. Oil spills can cause millions of dollars worth of damage, permanently alter an entire ecosystem… and in Ross Macdonald’s Sleeping Beauty, it starts to rip a family apart.

This is no regular family—this is a family that is incredibly rich thanks to the oil industry. But one member of this family, Laurel Russo, seems personally affected by the oil spill. Lew Archer, private eye, finds her on a beach, contemplating the spill and mourning a dead bird she was unable to save. He takes her to his apartment, where she phones her husband Tom. But Tom, a pharmacist, is about to go to work and explains that he cannot pick Laurel up. Suddenly, something snaps. Laurel leaves Archer’s apartment with Archer’s Nembutal pills, more than enough to kill herself. But suddenly, a ransom demand is made, and it seems like this might be a kidnapping case. It brings back echoes of an earlier case and an unsolved murder in the past... and things get a whole lot more serious when a dead body washes up on shore and violent anti-oil protests commence. In the midst of all the chaos, Lew Archer must find Laurel before she takes the pills or before her kidnapper does something violent… and if that happens, this princess will have embarked on the Big Sleep.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Itsy Bitsy Spider...

Marvel Noir was a concept from 2009-2010, in which Marvel released a bunch of miniseries inspired by their popular comic books. But here’s the twist: these comic books are set in an alternate reality inspired by film noir! (As a big fan of film noir, this really piqued my interest.) This sounds like a great idea, turning superheroes into private eyes and going for a more realistic tone than the Marvel Universe. And so today I’d like to take a look at the mini-series Spider-Man Noir, which lasted four issues and was followed with a second Spider-Man mini-series, Eyes Without a Face.

In Spider-Man Noir, we find ourselves in 1933, during the Great Depression. We open on a helluva situation: J. Jonah Jameson has been shot in his office at the Daily Bugle, and when police break down the door, they find the masked vigilante known as “the Spider-Man” inside. They immediately assume that the masked man has murdered the newspaperman and open fire, despite Spider-Man’s protests that “this isn’t what it looks like”.