Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Girl on a Train

I listened to the audiobook for this one. The narrative follows the inner voices of three women, Rachel (alcoholic with a life in ruins), Megan (soon to be missing presumed dead) and Anna (proud owner of Rachel's ex-spouse). Each one gets a different narrator which really helps keep them separate in your mind and they do a great job immersing themselves in the roles. India Fisher doesn't really have a lot to do as Anna and sounds a little more disconnected than the other two. The male characters are understandably two dimensional in comparison to the female trio as they are realised entirely by the women's view of them rather than their own inner perspective.
The murder mystery that binds the three women is always secondary to the psychological themes; how people make presumptive judgements on other people's lives which are usually quite wrong and how we lie and construct masking personae to fool ourselves as much as others. A bit like the title of the book really. 'The Woman on the Train,' just doesn't sound as cool does it. But if there's a moral in here somewhere, 'never judge a book by its cover,' is as good as any.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Bindlestiff

The tenth Nameless book starts out with our hero in a fair bit of financial difficulty himself. With no licence he has no income.His office is gone and worst of all he's had to fall back on his only way of making enough cash to feed himself, namely selling off some of his precious pulp collection starting with some of his less loved editions. But things are about to change. Ex-cop best friend Eberhardt has had a hand in getting Nameless' licence restored but not without asking for something in return. He wants to go into partnership. But Nameless is a lone-wolf.
His first case back involves tracking down a hobo (bindestiff) rider of the tracks. The trail leads to a town called Oroville in Butte County. It helps the book to be set in a real location, the local colour and history add a bit flavour to a fairly lifeless plot. The location moves on to the wine soaked Sonoma County, which Nameless cites as his ideal retirement location, though to my mind I doubt he'll ever have funds enough to finance such an end even if he was the retiring kind.
Not the strongest title in the series. Pronzini's plotting suffers from having to be played out by a small group of fairly two dimensional supporting characters.

Monday, 4 May 2015

The Case of the Gypsy Good-bye

Warning - this book contains a scene with cat-flinging.
Cat peril aside this was a pretty good sign off for the series. The six book series comes to an end. Although Enola will never push Flavia off her cosy perch there was plenty to enjoy following the young seeker of the lost. The books are short, cosy, amusing and lightly educational for young readers. Springer doesn't shy from disturbing the cosiness with darker edges from time to time and neither does she let Sherlock upstage Enola at any stage. Fans of Holmes would probably be sceptical about how easily he's outmanoeuvred or bested by his younger sister but I think it helps give the books an identity other than just another Sherlock Holmes pastiche. You could say that Enola is telling the story her way as maybe Flavia de Luce would have done but if you have read the series you'd know that Enola just isn't wired up that way.
All good things come to an end, Springer is on record saying that the series is definitely done, so so long and thanks for all the fun..

Friday, 24 April 2015

Woman in the Dark

 Claustrophobic ex-convict Brazil is on parole for a man slaughter sentence and is hoping never to go back behind bars again. All he has to do is stay out of trouble in his quiet cabin in the woods. Then a beautiful woman with a broken shoe stumbles through his door.
This was one of the last shorter stories that Hammett published before he walked away from crime writing. It's not his greatest bit of writing but still well worth a look. To be honest I much prefer the 1934 film version with Ralph Bellamy and Fay Wray in the lead roles.
 It's pretty faithful to Hammett's story though it does smooth off the rough edges, notably Hammett's insistence on having characters with accents and lisps all fully annotated. The romantic element is more developed and there's also a bit of humour along the way mainly from Roscoe Ates. And you get to see Fay Wray's ankles.. so no contest really.
An introduction by Robert B.Parker comments on Hammett's style and suggests the reasons for the story's level of romance.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The World Inside

Oh I bet this one has been a firecracker at many a book club meeting.The World Inside began life as a short story (chapter one) in 1970. But it proved to be such a fertile idea that a year later five more stories were added to expand and more fully explore the world inside Urban Monad 116. Each story is from the point of view of a different character though they all interlink with each other to give a wider view of life in Silverberg's vertical monoliths; a narrative microcosm I suppose. The Urbmons are huge sky-scraping towers housing over 800,000 people. Society is rigorously regulated and procreation is celebrated and venerated. People are controlled by limitless sex, fear of being fed down the garbage chute, sex, religion, indoctrination, drugs and sex. Over population is another issue that has been visited often by Science Fiction writers; Harry Harrison's "Make Room! Make Room!" (the basis for the movie "Soylent Green") springs readily to mind as does tv episodes like Star Trek's "Mark of Gideon". Silverberg chooses to delve deep into the psychological effects of living with high population density and the social mores and laws; the inside of people's heads being another "World inside". Although it's not always an easy or pleasant reading experience there is much here to think about. Most of the main characters highlight the flaws and cracks of the society by getting as close to their psychological make up as it is possible to get. Though in terms of insight into the state of humanity with its propensity with enslaving itself with desire and triviality, comparisons to Orwell's 1984 or especially with Huxley's Brave New World is apposite and probably where the concept of "slavery of absolute freedom" comes from. Comparisons with today's society with its Twitter, unlimited porn, on demand tv....etc are frighteningly easy. The range of ideas is pretty rich. I was particularly fascinated by how comparative ethics was taken to extremes of separation via first a human visitor from Venus and later a 24th century historian examining the 20th century through its films and literature. And here I sit passing judgement on literature from a previous century that speculates on a century yet to come.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Like Love

The book begins with suicide. Carella tries to prevent one and Cotton Hawes gets an apparent love pact suicide that just doesn't ring true. This one isn't one of the stronger titles in the series. McBain opens up with his now familiar turning of the seasons line - this time Spring gets characterised as a rather lively lady. It's a line he's used before. McBain doesn't really explore the theme of suicide either. He doesn't seem interested. Finding the absence of suicide is all that matters and Mcbain is mostly interested in the crime just like his detectives. Hawes has been absent from the series for a few titles which made me think he'd been written out but I think the real explanation might be due to McBain going through a period of publishing some of his previously abandoned or delayed material. It's a side effect of being such a prolific writer.
McBain through Carella rather pooh-poohs the importance of first discovering motive to solve a crime. I don't know whether he believed that or whether it was just the frustration with the difficulties of maintaining mystery in a story when clear motives are detectable.
Mayer and Parker lend a hand when needed as does Bert Kling. Kling has not moved on from the loss of his girl. He's being eaten up by the tragic event. Hawes has settled down more and seems happy with his long time relationship. Gone are the days of him falling in love every thirty pages.
Although the mystery isn't the best it does show the precinct at work  due to the investigation stalling so early resulting in other business getting priority.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Case of the Hail Mary Celeste.

Jack Wenlock is a Railway Gosling. Imprinted at birth with the image of a railway locomotive as their mothers a young group of detectives are nurtured during the era of the great wars. Years later with all his Gosling compatriots either missing, mad, dead or, worst of all, in possession of a blotted copybook Jack is all that is left of the experimental group. He's counting out the days that remain of his entire world; the Great Western Railway, which is soon to be privatised. His last case begins as a young woman with a Veronica Lake hairstyle walks into his office.
Malcolm Pryce distils a sometimes dream-like surreal England from a multitude of influences spanning the gamut of popular culture and the mythical golden haze of nostalgia. It's awash with imagery, language and attitude drawn from the Boys Own magazines, Pathe film reels,  radio adventure serials like Dick Barton, a wash of films often with railway settings; Brief Encounter, The Lady Vanishes, King Kong and adaptations of Agatha Christie like the 4.50 from Paddington.
Jack Wenlock is an engaging mix of almost child-like naivety and steely resolve. He looks at the world through that Boys Own filter of fair play, Englishness and manliness, good chaps giving bounders a bloody nose, venerating his beloved railway the GWR with such love and devotion that getting him talking about it in public risks a 'When Harry Met Sally' moment of embarrassing decibels. Oh and he carries a lump of Formica in his jacket pocket - oh the wonders of modern technology.
Chapters are preceded by extracts from Vol. 7 of the Railway Goslings Annual 1931 featuring Railway Gosling Cadbury Holt in search of the missing nuns plus the answers to reader's questions.
Pryce writes well, delighting in the language and the skewed view of the world presented by Jack in an era full of propaganda and exaggerated recollection. The book is fun, funny, sad, poignant, nostalgic and romantic. Noir with knobs on.