OOPS! Excellent salaries and benefits are offered along with marital status for the Executive Chef.—CATERER AND HOTELKEEPER
A forbidden list for crime authors
19 November 2018
WHAT should authors avoid in writing a murder mystery?
Interesting question, and one that has changed since the Golden Age of Agatha Christie and others.
I raise the issue on reading WILD CHAMBER by Christopher Fowler, published last year. One of the characters in this baffling plot defines the whodunit, then goes on to list what should nowadays be forbidden. I quote:
- “A murder mystery is an intellectual exercise, a game between reader and writer in which a problem is precisely stated, elaborately described and surprisingly solved.
- “The traditional rules of fair play demand that the criminal must be someone we’ve met. There can be no supernatural elements, no secret passages, no imaginary poisons, no Chinamen, no twins, no mystical intuitive powers, and the detective himself can’t have done it.
- “To them I would add several further moratoria: no more alcoholic policemen with dead wives, no autistic idiot-savant crime scene specialists, no oppressed female detectives derided by sexist colleagues, no overweight computer nerds in dimly lit rooms, no erudite killers arranging corpses in tableaux reminiscent of medieval paintings, no renegade detectives sharing a psychic bond with the killer, no cryptic messages hidden in museums by victims, no opera-loving loners who solve crimes because without them their lives would have no meaning, and absolutely no more reinventions of Sherlock Bloody Holmes.”
- Strictly followed, this no-no list would eliminate most of the whodunits I have read in the past year. It is rare indeed for a reader to discover total originality in crime fiction. Which is why the rare authors who achieve it are global favourites.
PS – try Ann Morven. https://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=ann+morven
Happy reading! from Cathy.
Tony Abbott tells Brits how to Brexit
When he was Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott stopped illegal immigration by simply stopping the boats. On a visit to London he has now given an equally simple – and painless -- way to achieve Britain’s break from Europe.
Read it in the Spectator: https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/10/tony-abbott-how-to-save-brexit/
THE CURSE OF FAKE BLURBS
24 October 2018
OH the nuisance, the trauma, the curse of fake jacket blurbs! And they seem to be getting more frequent. Mostly I encounter them in my local public library, but I have also suffered after making a purchase.
How does it happen that a jacket blurb misrepresents the content? My verdict: a careless person given the blurb-writing chore. Not easy to do if one has not read the book. In any case, the best person to write a blurb is the author who wrote the book.
My latest let-down was Witness For The Defence as published by House of Stratus. It is a classic by A.E.W. Mason, originally a 1911 play and then a 1919 novel. Created for an Edwardian audience, the characters are somewhat stuffy. Even so, there was no excuse for my copy’s backcover info omitting the hero of the title and otherwise misinforming potential readers.
The book is well rated at Goodreads and Amazon, but there are also detractors.
Briefly: the witness tells a lie in court so that the woman he loves is acquitted of murdering her husband. Then he learns she plans to wed someone else.
This plot has lots of scope for heartful animosity and soul-searching, the author’s forte. Unfortunately, it falls down on structure.
After a tense first half set in colonial India, the narrative moves to rural England, a new central character, and dreary exchanges by all concerned. My rating is two stars.
For totally different entertainment, here is lighter, laugh-aloud fare:
HELP I AM BEING HELD PRISONER *****
by Donald E. Westlake
Rediscovered gem. Thought I had read all Westlake’s books, and discovered this one by chance. Thanks to the publisher for a reissue. Written in 1974, it is funny, pageturning and totally satisfies the feel-good genes.
JEEVES AND THE FEUDAL SPIRIT *****
by PG Wodehouse.
All the PG spirit. The metaphors, the situations, the characters . . . only PG writes like this and I found all his spirited prose in ridiculous flow. Chuckle a minute stuff.
THE MONKEY KING ***
by Timothy Mo
Colonial Chinese. There is not much of a plot, and there does not need to be. Chinese family lore and the Hong Kong of colonial days provide a slightly amusing content. The writing is light and talented, as always with this author. I know the Monkey King of myth, but on conclusion I was still trying, without success, to reconcile the content of this book to its title!
Happy reading! from Cathy.
2018’s MOST UNUSUAL
10 October 2018
THE most unusual murder mystery of 2018 must be The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton, frightening with a serial killer burying children alive. That’s not all. The detective whose investigation we share is an insecure female constable. Her fellow cops (all male and disapproving) appear to nurse secrets and, to top it off, there’s the occult and English rural witches.
Seems a bit much, yet the whole is credibly narrated by this reliable author whose characters always appeal.
There’s a slight romantic fringe, too – with input that leads to the final horror. Never have I encountered such a daring conclusion to a murder story. Nuff said. This five-star plot both thrills and mystifies.
Happy reading! from Cathy. And here are some more recent reads of note:
GREEKS BEARING GIFTS *****
by Philip Kerr
Real villains. Thrills, revelations and sardonic dialogue entertain, as always in a Bernie Gunther novel. Also as always, author Kerr reveals the dirty doings of real villains in Germany and Greece in the years after World War 2.
Philip Kerr died of cancer in March 2018 at age 62, but this is not the last of the Gunther bestselling series. There is one to come: Metropolis is due to be launched in April 2019.
KINGDOM LOCK ***
by I.D. Roberts
Boys Own romp. Oil, Arabs and enemy agents, much the same strife as today. Except this is 1914 with the Great War at its hottest. Enter a James Bond figure charged with stopping German intrigue among the desert tribes. This is a Boys Own romp, nothing else.
FOOLS AND MORTALS ****
by Bernard Cornwell
Bard reborn. Elizabethan theatre comes to life with all its dangers, frustrations and bitching between the people involved. There are pageturning thrills and, for play lovers, lots of on-stage recital. Bernard Cornwell, himself a repertory performer, shows a special eye and ear in narrating the catastrophic theft of the only Romeo and Juliet manuscript.
PRIVATE INDIA *
by James Patterson & Ashwin Sanghi
Fiction factory. The idea is to blend James Patterson’s name with regional favourite authors to churn out global bestsellers. From the massmarket assembly-line this is the first I have read, and it will be the last. The content, apparently written to formula, never comes alive.
PEOPLE BEING PEOPLE
20 Sept. 2018
I AM glad I found this author, and must thank my local library for the discovery. Now unfound in bookshops, D.E. Stevenson (1892-1973) wrote a bestseller every year for 40 years. And believe me they are still worth reading. Described as ‘light romance’, they are much more than that.
People being people is the crux of all fiction. Nobody does it better than this Scottish great niece of Robert Louis Stevenson. Her plots are simple, even seemingly accidental, fuelled by entertaining insights into memorable characters, social interactions and different locations.
Sarah’s Cottage, which I am immersed in now, was written in 1968. It switches between Scotland and England and includes attitudes and customs long past yet remarkedly entertaining.This author’s creations are well covered at Wikipedia:
She is also, thank goodness, readily available at Amazon, including a few digital titles:
Alan Bradley’s latest
FLAVIA de Luce fans will find a particularly clever murder mystery in The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place. It amazes me how the author sustains extreme entertainment for grownups in the antics of his 12-year-old female sleuth. This latest whodunit is one of the best in a brilliant series.I
On a different theme, the British Raj, Bryce McBryce attains pageturning entertainment for adult readers via a child in Ceylon in the 1930s. BRAT features the perplexing Wee Charlie, regarded by Army brass as a problem more pressing than militant Japan. My last blog gives more detail, but again I’m pushing an original and entertaining writer who is not widely known these days. Happy reading! from Cathy.
Hurray for the Raj
19 August 2018
IN days of old, when Britain ruled the world and the natives knew their place and corruption was unknown, or undiscovered . . .
seeds were planted for wonderful tales to be penned by authors of the future. India, Pakistan, Malaya, Egypt and the rest of Africa, West Indies and many other locations enriched the Raj and inspired imaginations into our present wealth of fiction.
Kipling, Henty, Frances Burnett, JG Farrell, MM Kaye, Paul Scott, John Masters and the like have been succeeded by others who charm Space Age readers with British Empire tales. In recent times a good percentage of Raj authors are indigenous to the former colonies. And this gives a fresh slant to the ‘ripping yarns’ of imperialist days.
One Indian author I particularly like is Abir Mukherjee, who recently published Smoke And Ashes, book 3 of his crime fiction series featuring Captain Wyndham (ex Scotland Yard) and his irrepressible sidekick Sergeant Surrender-not Banerjee. Following A Rising Man and A Necessary Evil, this one sympathetically relates to India’s 1920s agitation for independence.
At the worst possible time, the Prince of Wales, future King-Emperor, is on a ‘goodwill’ visit. This actually happened in 1921 and nobody tried to assassinate him. Step forward a storyteller who brilliantly blends thrilling plots with real history. Abir Mukherjee’s research is keen and often, as here, uncovers shock facts. His rare sense of humour adds to the entertainment.
Even more chuckles and some succinct philosophy accompany another of my favourites, Raj joker Bryce McBryce. He claims to have been the BRAT of his book thus-called.
In pre WW2 Ceylon the British Army brass label him ‘a bigger menace than militant Japan’. The colonel trembles in rage, the nuns pray, while Wee Charlie strives to understand that peculiar species the Adult.
Believe him or not, the episodes he chronicles are delightful humour from a social niche in Empire’s history.
The author explains: “We all live in the big human comedy which never changes. I give it a setting in a far fortress of the 1930s, where a well-meaning child spotlights the pomposity of grownups.”
Happy reading! from Cathy.
HOW TO CAPTURE READERS
5 AUGUST 2018
FROM the opening sentence to the very end, author Ann Morven captures readers in her latest whodunit, Unfaithful Unto Death. For August release in paperback, it features the murder of a promiscuous princess on a cruiseliner.
Bumbling female sleuth Sheil B Wright is on board to entertain the passengers with her songs, and thus finds herself thrust into a mystery that will (as always!) threaten her own life.
This amateur detective appeared in earlier Ann Morven puzzles and is one of my favourites in the genre. I like her inevitable rivalry with a police investigator, which now seems to be a repeated pattern in Morven plots. The cop this time is a pedantic knowall female descendant of Sherlock Holmes, previously outsleuthed in Morven’s bestselling Murder Piping Hot.
Not all the action is on board. There are pageturning developments in a West Australian vineyard and pagan blood rites on a tropical island.
In innovative style the author takes readers inside flashbacks imagined by different suspects. It’s a technique that maintains the pace and teases with possible outcomes.
Happy reading! from Cathy.