71) Barry Perowne — Raffles of the M.C.C.
Not the original Raffles stories, but one of the pastiche collections. Alas, I have not yet read the original as created by EW Hornung (though I’m currently enjoying the 1970s tv series on DVD), so I have no idea how well this compares, either in fidelity to the tone of the original, or in quality of writing. It was simply the Raffles book that happened to be possessed by my local library in the dim and distant past, when the way one tracked down books one had heard of was to consult the library’s copy of “Books in Print”. I liked it well enough as a teenager to grab a copy when I saw it a few years ago, and thought I’d re-read it in conjunction with watching the DVDs.
I don’t find it quite as good now as I remember it being thirty years ago, but that’s a change in my reading tastes rather than a criticism of the book. It’s still good fun, and staying on my bookcase. This collection includes 11 short stories, each a nicely constructed mystery/caper. Some of them also include as secondary characters historical figures that a contemporary reader at the time of publication would be expected to recognise, although in the period of the story they were as yet unknown to the public at large. I suspect that this conceit could prove irritating to some readers, but I enjoyed it.
Back to posting July’s book log…
69) Agatha Christie — “How does your garden grow?” and other stories [audiobook]
Five short stories taken from the collection “Poirot’s Early Cases”, read on 3 CDs by the man who plays him so perfectly on tv, David Suchet. The stories included in this set are “The Plymouth Express”, “The Submarine Plans”, “Problem at Sea”, “How Does Your Garden Grow?” and “The Market Basing Mystery”. Entertaining short mysteries, and Suchet is an excellent reader. I’d like to get more audiobooks read by him.
67) Margery Allingham — My Friend Mr Campion and other mysteries
Collection containing the novella The Case of the Late Pig, four short stories, and a short essay excerpted from a radio broadcast by Allingham.
This was my first encounter with amateur sleuth Albert Campion, as I’d not even seen the tv adaptation. It struck me as covering some of the same territory as Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, although much lighter in tone. Very enjoyable light reading, but the stories didn’t really stick in my memory for the most part, and I thought the solutions rather too obvious in one or two stories. I suspect that they suffered somewhat from the strictures imposed by the short story format.
First of the books read in April…
30) Reginald Hill — There are no ghosts in the Soviet Union, and other stories
Collection of half a dozen crime stories first published in 1987, which has some bearing on the tone of some of them. The collection is laced with a biting humour, and some superb if sardonic observations of human nature.
My favourite in the collection is the eponymous novella, in which Inspector Lev Chislenko arrives at the scene of an accident at a government building in Moscow, where the witnesses say they saw a man in old-fashioned clothes fall down a lift shaft – only there is no body. It’s an embarrassing case to be involved with, especially as the higher-ups want the rumours of ghosts quashed as un-Soviet. There are no ghosts in the Soviet Union. But to his discomfort, Chislenko’s investigation intended to prove the non-existence of ghosts by showing that no such accident happened even in the past leads him in a direction he hadn’t expected to go.
Other stories include “Bring back the cat!”, private detective Joe Sixsmith’s first case; “The Bull Ring”, a nasty little tale about brutal training methods used on Great War recruits; “Auteur theory”, a nominally Dalziell and Pascoe story which turns out to be meta discussion on more than one level; “Poor Emma”, which I can only describe as one of the odder pieces of literary fanfic gamesmanship I have encountered, probably as likely to infuriate Austen fans as please them; and “Crowded Hour”, about a “take the wife hostage at home” armed robbery attempt that twists and turns.
I didn’t like all of these stories, but they were all well-crafted pieces that made me think. Only half of them are ones I’d really want to read again, but I don’t regret the time spent on any of them.
15) Agatha Christie — The Complete Miss Marple Stories
Does what it says on the tin – every short story about Miss Marple, collected into a single volume. We have here the collection “The Thirteen Problems”, the six Marple stories from “Miss Marple’s Final Cases and Two other Stories”, and “Greenshaw’s Folly”. Twenty short stories in total, and in my edition there is also an introductory essay by Stella Duffy, which is well worth reading.
I think that reading all of these in one or two sittings would be a bit much; they would seem too formulaic. And in fact I listened to some of them in audiobook format read by Joan Hickson, and then read the others on and off over a period of a couple of weeks. But taken 2 or 3 at a time, the formula can become an asset to the story-telling, particularly in the Thirteen Problems collection. You have the same set-up in each story (a group of friends telling each other stories in the evening, and trying to guess the solution), and then the fun of watching the different approach each character takes to telling his or her story for the others to try to solve. Christie has created distinctive personalities for each of her recurring characters in these stories, and uses various quirks in their personalities to present and hide clues.
They’re short stories, so by their nature they can’t have the depth of the novels. But each story is an engaging puzzle, with the sharp observation of human nature, wittily told, that is Christie’s trademark. The quality varies from story to story, but as a whole this is a collection well worth reading.
Anthology of 20 short stories with the theme of elf love, published by new small press Pink Narcissus Press. This is an ARC I received through the LibraryThing Early reviewers programme.
While the cover art suggests fantasy-subgenre romance stories, the contents are a good deal more wide-ranging. There’s a good sampling of traditional themes about elves, some in modern settings and some not, and the endings cover the full span from happy through bittersweet hope to tragic. The genre styles vary considerably as well. And to go with the prose stories, there’s one in graphic form.
Unfortunately the quality varied considerably as well, and for me a few of the stories were a waste of dead trees; but the best were well worth my time. There were several authors whose stories felt a bit unpolished but made me inclined to find more of their work once they’ve got a few more kilowords under their belts. Of particular note was Duncan Eagleson, who provided my two favourite prose stories in the anthology, together with the art for the graphic story (and the cover art, which I liked less than the graphic story).
There’s some violence, and some sexually explicit and some erotic content (the two are not identical) covering a range of sexual orientations, mostly not gratuitous.
In spite of the uneven quality, this is a worthwhile anthology — this is a good selection covering a range of story types, and I could have quite happily read the whole thing in one sitting without feeling that the stories were too repetitive. While my copy was an ARC, I personally wouldn’t have been disappointed had I paid the full cover price of US$15 for the trade paperback. Whether other readers feel the same will really depend on how many of the stories work for them, and regrettably I have to say that the anthology is sufficiently uneven and unpolished that I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it at that price.
I’ll try to write up some detailed notes on individual stories later, but in general I’d agree with TPauSilver’s comments on LibraryThing.
Released in February 2011, but available now for pre-order direct from the publisher.
Book 90 (there was a glitch in earlier numbering, which I’ve corrected from here on, and in the master list for the year which will be posted soon)
Re-listen of the second CD set taken from The Thirteen Problems, read by the incomparable Joan Hickson. The four short stories on this double CD set are the titular “The Blue Geranium”, “The Four Suspects”, The Companion” and “A Christmas Tragedy”. The format is a group of friends telling each other creepy mysteries after dinner, allowing the others to try to guess the solution, and then revealing the answer. Miss Marple, of course, is able to solve each by her observation of human nature. Superbly read by Hickson, and highly enjoyable, though probably best listened to one or two at a time rather than the whole lot in one sitting.