I’ve risen, Lazarus-like, from the sick-bed.
Still not 100%, though. Funny thing: pneumonia plays hell with the memory. Even now, I sometimes forget names. That’s nothing; since I came down with pneumonia a fortnight ago, I’ve forgotten my phone number, making phone calls, and other things I can’t quite remember.
I do, though, remember what I’ve read and listened to. (Most of it!)
I’ve also learnt to play cards. Djinn rummy is a tricky game; you have to summon up Middle Eastern spirits, then ply them with more spirits!
Michael Gilbert: Be Shot for Sixpence
A spy thriller that starts better than it finishes.
My notes: “Sometimes one knows, even before a story has got underway, that one will enjoy a book! Chapter 1 gives us:
- a clever intrusion of the author (narrator’s cousin, Michael, who writes thrillers);
- businessmen “like burst brown paper bags”, “foaled by Money out of Timidity”, discussing strikes
- the narrator breaking up with his mistress, after she visited his father: “He knew all about us.” “He knows all about myxomatosis. But he doesn’t want diseased rabbit served up for breakfast.”
- a vivid description of an aquarium
- a small club committee room with 200 volumes of Punch, a buffalo’s head with one eye, and no windows of any sort. “Even bailiffs have been removed from it screaming in less than 30 minutes.”
It doesn’t quite stay on that level of wit. The book breezes by, and Gilbert is never less than readable, but it turns into a somewhat routine tale of kidnap to, and escape from Communist Hungary, with lots of cross-country travel.
(Prompted by Noah Stewart’s post.)
John Dickson Carr: Till Death Do Us Part (1944)
Back in the dark old days (c. 1997/1998), when the internet was still in its infancy, the universe was still recovering from the Big Bang, and I read nearly 60 Carrs in just over a year, the only online information about John Dickson Carr was Grobius Shortling’s site.
He liked this one.
I read it in a day. I thought it had a great opening situation: the young hero learns from a famous pathologist that his fiancée is really a cold-blooded poisoner with three dead husbands. Pathologist is then poisoned in a locked room – in the same way the husbands died.
But it didn’t quite live up to expectations. It didn’t have the WOW! factor of Green Capsule, The Red Widow Murders, Death in Five Boxes, The Plague Court Murders, or In Spite of Thunder (to name five around that time I loved); the creepy atmosphere of Poison in Jest; the comedy of The Blind Barber; or the sheer fun of The Waxworks Murder, To Wake the Dead, and The Sleeping Sphinx.
(I didn’t, for the record, love The Three Coffins, The Burning Court, The Judas Window, The Case of the Constant Suicides, He Who Whispers, The Curse of the Bronze Lump, or The Nine Wrong Answers either.)
Carr’s narrative is lean and fast-paced, and there’s more emotional involvement than some of his earlier books. On the other hand, the plot is less complex, and the detection slighter.
I found the solution hard to visualise. This is the third time I’ve read the book, and I STILL want illustrations and a diagram. It feels mechanical and tricky, rather than simple and inspired.
But it’s Carr – so streets ahead of almost anybody else.
Elizabeth Gill: Crime de Luxe
This is the kind of elegant, clever detective story that Hogarth would have reprinted back in the ’80s, in those large purple-spined paperbacks with introductions by Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan.
(You remember; Gladys Mitchell’s Saltmarsh Murders, When Last I Died, and Laurels are Poison; Romilly and Katherine John’s Death by Request; Anthony Berkeley’s Dead Mrs. Stratton; Nicholas Blake’s Smiler with the Knife…)
Gill’s artist sleuth Benvenuto Brown is travelling to New York by ship when an inoffensive spinster falls overboard. There are some fine descriptive passages, observations of people, and discussions of politics and time.
It’s light as a detective story, but Gill passes suspicion neatly around – and knows how the experienced reader thinks. (Brown outlined the case against my suspect in Ch. XXIV.) In hindsight, the truth is obvious; it all fits neatly together, and we feel we ought to have known!
Doctor Who: The Serpent in the Silver Mask / Lure of the Nomad
Two Big Finish audio plays set on space stations / ships.
The Serpent in the Silver Mask: Doctor Who does Kind Hearts and Coronets. Samuel West plays six members of the obnoxious Mazzini family, bumped off one by one. A clever plot – and Big Finish has pulled off the impossible: they’ve made the companions from hell likeable.
Lure of the Nomad: There’s a whopping great twist in Episode Three. For those familiar with the range, I’ll just mention Omega and The Kingmaker. It’s that good. Otherwise, this is an entertaining tale of gaseous beings in body suits, sociopathic businessmen, and squids in murderous exoskeletons.
And I’m playing Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption, the new adventure game by the Coles, designers of Quest for Glory. [*] I’ve waited six years for this – and it’s rather good.
[*] Not to be confused with the other Coles. One were a husband and wife who wrote Left-wing books about economics, and some occasionally clever, occasionally funny, often rather loose detective stories; the other are a husband and wife who write clever, funny, well-crafted RPGs.