Death in a Deck Chair and Peril Under the Palms (K.K. Beck, 1984 and 1989): Bright Young Thing Iris Cooper solves murders on a Transatlantic liner and on Hawaii. Light, frothy, fun. Deck Chair is the better of the two, although as Tomcat points out, it’s really The Secret of Chimneys at sea: deposed kings, pretenders to Ruritanian thrones, royal mistresses, blackmailers, and murderous Comrades of the New Dawn. Unfortunately that includes the choice of killer too. Palms isn’t quite as fun as the first one; it’s a spot-on pastiche of Earl Derr Biggers (Charlie Chan is mentioned in passing): family scandal, rather weakly clued murderer, and a dash of romance. Neither will win any prizes for originality, but they’re agreeable, likeable – and rather forgettable.
The Murders at Mapleton (Brian Flynn, 1929): This is a detective story. Those who like detective stories will enjoy it. (Dyspeptic, port-stained gentleman.) It’s extremely conventional – financier and butler murdered at Christmas – told in pompous, stilted dialogue. Detection tedious, solution incredible and unfair. Below the level of the three other Flynns I’ve read.
Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell, 2004): Ambitious, ingenious, but unlikeable. Middle section unreadable. Splendid film, though.
La ruelle fantôme (Paul Halter, 2005): A vanishing street can travel in time and space, and curl itself up like a snake. Two people went in and never came out; a third explored it, which cost him his life; a fourth managed to get out, but went mad. Here we have the authentic frisson of the uncanny, that Baghdad-on-Thames atmosphere we find in Carr or Conan Doyle. Or Hinchliffe-era Doctor Who. Brilliant situation, plausible solution.
The Ascent of Rum Doodle (W.E. Bowman, 1956): Incompetent Englishmen try to climb a mountain. Amusingly told.
The Honjin Murders (Seishi Yokomizo, 1946): Multiple murders on a wedding night. I’ve read, enjoyed , can’t remember it.
Murder in the Crooked House (Soji Shimada, 1982): Ingenious but exhausting. Intricate, tricky sleuthing; intriguing architecture; too many pages describing the layout of the house; zany detective; no characterization; the laborious solution is less clever than workmanlike. We’re far from the scintillating simplicity of Chesterton or Carr. Its schematic mathematicism smacks of Infocom. I hoped the references to Wagner would amount to something. “Du siehst, mein Sohn, zum Raum wird hier die Zeit.” (Here time becomes space.) Actually, what would a Wagnerian detective story look like?
African Kingdoms (Basil Davidson, 1966): Part of the TimeLife Great Ages of Man series. Fascinating introduction to the hidden cities, the civilisations of the Nile, the tribes, the merchant empires, the forest kingdoms, the gods and spirits, and the religious art of the continent. Wouldn’t you want to see Ife or Djenne or Kush or Great Zimbabwe or the rock churches of Lalibela with your own eyes?
Down with Skool! / How to be Topp (Geoffrey Willans): Fun skit on school life by the precocious adolescent Molesworth.
A Device of Death (Christopher Bulis, 1997): One of the lesser Doctor Who spin-off writers, but a solid, entertaining yarn. Stellar war, secret research bases, invasions, slave planets, and a colossal secret.
And on my main blog:
- Grétry: Raoul Barbe-bleue (1789): Opéra-comique becomes more sinister in this tale of wife-murder.
- Mozart: Così fan tutte (1790): A shrewd old philosopher sets up a School for Lovers to teach them wisdom. The four young people in this opera badly need it.
- Grétry: La jeunesse de Pierre le Grand (1790) / Guillaume Tell (1791) : How did Grétry respond to the Terror?
- Cherubini : Lodoïska (1791) : The first truly Romantic opera, and the foundation of 19th century French opera. Wicked barons, outlaws, maidens in peril, and speeches about liberty, justice, and the French way.
- Mozart : La clemenza di Tito (1791) : Surprisingly one of Mozart’s best operas.