Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline

The penultimate book in the series tones it down a bit, cutting back on the swinging from the roof fittings and other Errol Flynn style shenanigans. Instead Enola relies on her usual considerable talent for disguise, sketch making, cryptology and of course her endless supply of pluck.
In her hunt to recover her kidnapped landlady she is forced to consult Florence Nightingale, which, teachers take note, means the Crimean War is a part of the story. This series is fun for kids and if the spark of interest in history is fanned then so much the better. Barring casting Florence as a spy the author respects the historical accuracy of the historical figure.
One of the better additions to the series.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Christmas with Longmire

This collection contains four short stories that drop in on Walt during or leading up to the Christmas holidays. Don't expect cosy scenes of fireside cheer though. The first story kicks off with Walt being mistaken for both a tramp and Jesus. It's set not long after his wife's death and he's caught up in grief and depression. He's at work in his dressing gown, smells something bad and there are foreign objects in his beard.  But he still has his dry wit and the hint that things can get better. The other stories are further along in Walt's timeline. The stories here use that peculiar quality of Christmas that focuses and gathers memories of family in our minds. For some of a certain age it can be a difficult time of the year. What we have lost comes to the fore of our minds. But these short Longmire stories aren't ultimately sad. There is hope, dignity, warmth and humour to soften the poignancy.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Dark Holidays

Sadly this ghostly anthology opens with R.H.Benson's The Traveller, standing like Charon demanding payment before the journey begins, as it does in so many such collections. Benson's prophetic works such as 'Lord of the World' may have secured his place in literary regard, but his ghost story only succeeds in being a right bore.
"The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall" by John Kendrick Bangs is not in the least bit scary. As amusing as your mood allows (in my case - not very). If overly prim and chatty is your kind of ghost then you might crack a smile but Bangs is no Oscar Wilde.
Poe's "The Oval Portrait" is a short but powerful piece exploring what the love of art over life might cost. The spark that was fanned into Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray can be found here. There is little sign of a ghost though.
Mark Twain delivers the required spook though in his simply titled "A Ghost Story" along with a few chills and chuckles. 
 "The Wolf" by Guy de Maupassant is not a ghost story, neither is it a werewolf story. It's a spare little tale about obsession end insanity. It's included here for one reason: It gets another short story master's name onto the book cover. 
Washington Irving's "German Student" at least manages to squeeze a ghostly encounter into the brief eight pages but has more to say about the morals of men than supernatural chills.
"The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs is a true horror classic, much adapted, imitated or referenced. Be careful what you wish for the saying goes. I wish for a ghost story with genuine chills and of a length enough to engage me. So far this is the first to hit the marks in this collection.
Next up is William Hope Hodgson's 48 page "From the Tideless Sea". Nearly two hours of the narrator's bass rumble with giant sea creatures prowling the vast Sargasso and no damn ghosts. By about the hour mark I'm firmly rooting for the giant Octopuses. 'For pete/s sake eat him already.'
Beyond their place in superstition and mythology  the cats from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Back Cat" have no certain supernatural role to play. A masterful horror story nonetheless with insanity and alcoholism being the true haunters of the mind. Perfectly constructed and paced it's a dark tale of terror that is hard to beat.
If linguistics were an Olympic sport then I'm sure "Madam Crowl's Ghost" by J.S. Le Fanu would be a good test. It's an atmospheric tale but read out loud it's a challenge. Le Fanu is merciless with his transcription of regional dialect. One perhaps better read than listened to. 
"The Canterville Ghost" by Oscar Wilde doesn't really need another recommendation from me. Love it.
With the inclusion of "Doctor Heidegger's Experiment" by Nathaniel Hawthorne I do begin to despair. It's most definitely not a ghost story. It's not even a horror story. The only possible reason for its inclusion is to place another literary name on the cover. 
"The Old Nurse's Story" by Elizabeth Gaskell is a superbly written ghostly story which is a step above. Much imitated. 
Two stories from Dickens begin with "The Black Veil," Though it is a fine piece of writing it has no ghost and isn't even a horror story though it has a dark moodiness and its theme has a macabre impact. "The Signalman," is as good a ghost story as you will hear.. 
The last story is Arthur Conan Doyle's "Selecting a Ghost" which is very funny and the narrator does a good job of delivering the text in a suitably humorous manner. 
This proved to be as poorly assembled an anthology as I've come across. Many of the stories are either too long, too short or in the case of at least six of the tales have no ghost at all. Most of the stories that do hit the mark are ones that have been over exposed in anthologies already. Maybe I'm being a bit picky but I feel a bit like Mr Doyle's man at the conclusion of "Selecting a ghost."

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Booktaker

Very pleasing freebie audio download featuring Bill Pronzini's Nameless detective. It runs for about 90 minutes and is ably narrated by Nick Sullivan who really nails Nameless's personality. Being a short story the character introduces himself more thoroughly than he does in his full length appearances. I'm sure many people discover great series by a chance encounters with stories like this. He compares himself to actor Richard Boone, which was probably a more useful comparison when this story first saw print in the early 80s. He admits to being a bit of a slob. 'To hell with health clubs and to hell with my belly.' he says... or words to that effect.
For fans of the series the continuity places Booktaker a short time after Hoodwink. Nameless is in the happy period of his relationship with Kerry Wade, some time before Scattershot blew all the happiness to the wind. The story revolves around some mystery thefts at a store dealing in rare books. Nameless is hired by the baffled owner to discover the thief. It's just great to be in the company of one of my favourite private eyes doing everything that he loves best; solving puzzling crimes, reading his beloved pulp mags, eating, drinking cold beer and snuggling with Kerry in front of a roaring fire.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Dragonfire

After the events of Scattershot, Nameless and his best bud Lieutenant Eberhardt are soaking their misery in beer. Eberhardt is stewing in bitterness following having his wife walk out on him and Nameless has lost both P.I license and girlfriend Kerry Wade. Misery loves company they say and both men feel they're perched on the lowest step that life can offer. But when the doorbell heralds a hail of bullets they find out the hard way that there's always a lower step.
Nameless wakes up in hospital with a serious mad on, vowing to track down the oriental shooter and take him down... take him right down to Chinatown. 
It's great to be back in the company of our Nameless investigator,, though he's not really completely the man we've followed for eight books or so. He wants payback. But he's no Charles Bronson. Pronzini doesn't really commit to working the theme of the destructive nature of blindly seeking vengeance. The more interesting aspects of the story are his convalescent relationship with Kerry and how he reacts to the discovery that Eberhardt has secrets.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan

Enola Holmes Mystery The Fourth. And considering how much time the book devotes to our dear hoyden's desires to find a friend, soul-mate or mother, there is plenty of time for a right load of swashbuckling and derring-do. She doesn't quite swing from the chandeliers but only because there wasn't one to her convenience. She really should be sliding down those bannisters on the cover - no really. Beyond the bannister surfing and the rope swinging this one really benefits from a proper generous slice of the page count going to her more favoured brother. In the comic books this sort of instalment would be called a 'Team-Up'. But first,before they can take on the villains of the piece, in true comic-book tradition they must FIGHT!!!! There is certainly a good sizzle to the narrative when the two are on the same page; Enola confused by conflicting instincts and emotions and Sherlock just being himself . With such short books it also helps that this one picks up on a previous book (the second) including already established characters like Lady Cecily with whom Enola yearns to one day go sketching with. Fun one.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Lady, Lady, I Did It!

McBain delivers a scorcher for the series, emphatically leaving the last book's city fable indulgences behind. This one is 87th Precinct to the core; short, hard hitting and full of character.
A multiple shooting at a book store has every cop in the precinct searching for the killer as one of the fallen belongs to one of their own. Carella and Meyer lead the investigation as they delve into the backgrounds of all of the victims looking for a lead. Kling, Wilis and Brown aid with the leg work.
Written at the start of the 1960s, long before any State legalised abortion, McBain drags the thorny subject into the light as various closets are emptied of their skeletons.
Loss and grief are explored thoughtfully too, stripped of any histrionics, deepening the characters by shared familiar emotions.
The little linguistic puzzle set by one of the victim's deathbed words kept me busy for a good five seconds. But you can't really blame Carella and co for being distracted.