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Posts tagged ‘Detective Stories’

The Black Bird

Kaggsy and Stuck in the Book are hosting this absolutely fabulous event, called the 1930 Book Club; the idea being that we read a book that was published in the year 1930. Now anyone who has even remotely waded through my posts will know that I have a fascination for late 19th century – early 20th century works. Therefore there was no way I could pass this event! The most amazing thing about 1930 was the number of amazing books that were published across a host of genres, from Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, to Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie, to The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield , to the very first of Nancy Drew books, to Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents,  this was a prolific year of brilliant books and some of which will be handed down to posterity as classics! It was really really hard to chose and I was really tempted to read The Diary, though I have already it read it twice, in the last 1.5 years or even Vicarage which I have read like a thousand times already. But I instead, decide to read something which is out of my usual selections and instead turn towards The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.  I have never been much of a fan of American Hard Boiled Detective genre’s and books like The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler left me wondering why anyone would read them. However, I wanted to keep an open mind, and I picked up a copy from the Kindle stores.

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Set in the late 1920s San Francisco, the novel begins with the introduction of our main protagonist Sam Spade (oh! yes! that’s where this starts!), a private detective,who is advised by his secretary, Effie Perine, that a beautiful woman named, Miss Wonderly is here to consult him. Miss Wonderly when shown in, shares she wants to hire Sam Spade to find her runaway younger sister. She tell him that her sister is only 17 and is under the influence of a thug named, Floyd Thursby. Miles Archer, Spade’s partner, agrees to trail Thursby personally on the behest of Miss Wonderly and promises to share a report soon. However that very night, Miles is shot dead, presumably by Thursby. Sam is summoned by the local police to identify Miles and help in the investigation, and while all of this is in play, somebody shots Thursby. Soon Spade is embroiled in high stake game with all kinds of characters all of whom seemingly have different ends and means, and Sam needs to navigate this labyrinth to reach to the truth!

This is not an epic read, this is not a chunkster, but it did take me a while to get to the end. I could not like any of the characters much – Sam Spade is a product of the generation, smooth talking, hand to hand fighting, ladies man. In fact his ladies man persona put me off completely. I understand that the attitudes about woman were very different 90 years ago, but respect I thought is key, all through history. He is cool and in your face and in the end, seems to have some moral compass, which makes him, for ,e mildly redeemable. Miss Wonderly, with her large tears and babes lost in the wood and needing rescue, left me wanting to throw the book at someone. The only remotely interesting character was Mr. Gutman, a businessman with a style and Effie Perine, who seems to be the only genuine character in the book, though her taste in men leaves much to be desired. There are prejudices, a character from Levant, may not only be a villain, but also have sexual preferences, which are to deviant and therefore to be abhorred. The plot however was very interesting and though the book did lack a a-ha moment, the unraveling, peel after peel was very intriguing; and though I felt a few character’s less would made it for a slicker read, it was nevertheless a well thought through puzzle. The author builds the atmosphere beautifully, and as a reader, you are left wondering and second guessing. The language is reflective of the times and the sights and sounds of a 1920s global city with all its linkages comes alive.

All in all, I am glad to have read this one, if for nothing else, I now know. But I do not think I will be re-visiting a Sam Spade novel very soon! In fact, I gave into tempation a picked up Diary again. ( I have earned it!)

Thank You Kaggsy and Stuck in the book for an awesome event! I loved reading for this year and feel like there are so many books which I was not aware of yet again and need to get to them soon!

The 7 Views of the Death

Mary Robert Rienhart defined the genre of detective/mystery novels as  two stories, saying – “The mystery story is two stories in one: the story of what happened and the story of what appeared to happen.” As I read through the Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, over the Christmas weekend, I could feel all the truism of this statement and more. It seemed to be a regular whodunnit from the era of Golden age of mystery; the very usual setting of several guests, visiting over the weekend, in a English Country House in the initial decades of 20th century where a murder happens and there are the usual suspects, with a plausible back story, linking each guest to the victim in one way or another, until the protagonist finds the actual murder. Usual stuff, except Mr. Turton, takes all of these ingredients, and turns everything on its head an to write, what I can unequivocally say is one of the best mystery novels of modern times!

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Lord and Lady Hardcastle, the owners of Blackheath, an estate, in England, have invited several guests, over a weekend, to celebrate the return of their daughter, Evelyn Hardcastle, to England after her 19 years stay in Paris. The guests are all friends of the family and the only unusual fact of the celebrations is it’s dated on the 19th anniversary of the death of Lord and Lady Hardcastle’s elder son, who was killed as a boy of 7, by the then gamekeeper of the Estate, after he was fired by Lord Hardcastle. The other strange fact, is that all the guests invited are the one who were present 19 years ago, on that fated day and while the then children have now become adults, and the adults, now senior citizen, in essence most seem to stay the same. There is also one uninvited guest at the gathering, unrelated wholly from the family who, is also seeking a closure on an injustice. Then there are maids, butlers, gamekeepers and host of other who live in the premises and who all are in some way connected to the murder that is going to happen.This then is the background of the event, which will see the death of Evelyn Hardcastle, and the quest to find the killer.

My friend Helen, when reviewing this book, wrote that she could not even begin imagine how much time and effort must have gone in writing this book! I not only agree with her, but add that as an aspiring writer, I cannot even begin to fathom, how I will keep track of the times, the threads and the characters. Very often, we find novels, with great style but no real plot or a great plot, but a dull narrative, that it simply does not come together! It is a testimony of the incredible brilliance of the author, that not only could he manage to create a narrative, that is absolutely unique and totally untested until now, but somehow hold on and make all the voices come together, all the while, sticking to the basic ethos of writing a cracking good thriller! At the core, there is a murder, but whose murder and how do we find the killer and the journey with author through the eyes of several characters and their own histories, makes for a fast paced read, where, each page gradually unfolds and adds anew new layer to the story. This plot as it evolves is anything but normal, and makes the mind do all kinds of gymnastics, without slowing for even a minute, and each chapter closes with one shocker after another, each exceeding and heightening the excitement from the previous chapter! In fact, the reader from the very beginning joins the journey in the middle of the events and therefore is able to join in the narrator’s confusion and agony, as they try to piece together, the full picture. The scope of the novel, the richness in the details and how the details, integrated further and further to become one new whole, is simply scintillating. Even in mapping out the characters, nothing was left to the chance. They are all full flesh and blood creatures, who while not being all good, have their own redeeming qualities and despite not liking them, you cannot help but feel empathy and even respect for many of their qualities. This ability of the author to be able to build a connection with not wholly positive characters with the readers, in yet another point, in praise of this work! There is so much, simply so much I can write about this book, but one must read it, to actually understand what I am talking about. It seems like a chunkster, but once you start, there is no way, you cannot finish it in the earliest possible manner, in the way it draws you in!

I had read somewhere, that all stories are the same after a point; on on surface, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle does seem like that,  but with it’s narrative style, the fine tuning the nuances of the usual Golden Age mysteries and a wholly innovative perspective, Mr Turton has taken a “same story” and made it into a masterful, ingenious, novel.

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