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Found 5 results

  1. This was the second collection of short stories published posthumously after PD James’s death. Not known for her short story, this collection gives a very different view of James’s writing. She’s known for her very well written novels, where the handsome and cultured Commander Dalgliesh steps in and meticulously takes apart a vicious crime. Instead, these stories present murder where the guilty aren’t punished, and some are even rewarded. In several of these short stories the central character is the murderer, men plotting their revenge. The other stories are told from the point-of-view of an innocent caught up in a murder. The Girl Who Loved Graveyards is the stand out story of this collection. It begins with an almost modern fairy tale feel and ends with a nasty shock. The weakest story is by far Mr. Millcroft’s Birthday. It felt like James was trying for a lighter, more satirical tone, unfortunately she missed her mark. James excelled with a dark tone in her writing, where she leans into this with these stories then the story is far better for it. These stories rely on nostalgia, most of them are set long before they were written, and they benefit from it. This is not the nostalgia of cosy crime, instead she uses her setting to aid her stories. These are stories where people can be easily isolated, where the police are far away, where forensics are not there to save the day. Instead, these are stories full of dark human behaviour. But these stories also pack a punch with a twist in the tale, an unforeseen ending. These stories are very different to James’s Dalgliesh novels, and show she had a talent for dark, gothic stories. Maybe she might have had an alternative career writing novels in this style, or maybe she just enjoyed writing the occasional dark, gothic short story. This is still a fascinating and dark collection of short stories, showing why James was such an accomplished writer, which I finished reading all too quickly. Find it here on Amazon
  2. It was no secret that Ruth Rendell also wrote as Barbara Vine. Writing under this pseudonym, she created many gripping psychological thrillers. They are not so much who-did-it as how-they-did-it or why-they-did-it. The House of Stairs is the best example of this. The book opens with a chance meeting between the narrator and Bell, a woman she hasn't seen in over twenty years because Bell has been in prison for murder. The story slips back and forth in time between the 1980s, as the women begin to reforge their relationship, and the 1960s when the events that lead to Bell becoming a killer unfold. The setting is London and Vine/Rendell paints such a vivid picture of 1960s Notting Hill that you can almost taste the counterculture and see people dropping out. The title comes from the Notting Hill house, owned by the flamboyant and eccentric widow Cosette, around which the 1960s section revolves. It’s a tall, narrow house where it seems every room has someone different in it. The house appears as just as strong a character as any of the people who pass through it. The suspense here does not come from wondering who the killer is; we are told almost from the beginning that it is Bell. But rather from the question, “Who is she going to kill?” This also gives the novel a sense of doom as we wait for the inevitable death but don’t know when it is coming or who it will be. The suspense builds as the twists and turns of the complicated relationships between the characters unfold. The characters, with all their faults, failings, and needs, are all too human. They are not mere devices to keep the plot flowing; it is the reverse; the plot comes from them, with their human foibles and shortcomings driving it forward. The main Vine/Rendell take on human relationships is present here; all are equally dysfunctional. From the friendship between the two central women that turns into a secret lesbian affair, to the siblings who appear strangely too close, to the older woman and younger man who may or may not have found true love together. The tale is dark, sinister, repressed, and doom-laden, but also page-turning. The House of Stairs is one of the best Vine/Rendell creations, and, like the best of her work, it is not only a thriller; it is also a contained novel. It paints a picture of 1960s Notting Hill that feels all too real, especially to someone too young to remember it. At the heart of it is a repressed and secret lesbian affair that drives along so many of the events, but that is also one of the most important relationships in at least one of the women's lives. Some people say Rendell’s view of gay and lesbian relationships was homophobic, but I find that she treated all relationships the same and had a cynical view of all of them. For me, I wanted this novel to never end, so involved was I with the characters and their spiralling downward journey, but I also desired to know what was going to happen next, and that pushed me onwards. This is truly a page-turning novel.
  3. This is a slim volume, just one short story, The Part-Time Job, and an essay, Murder Most Fowl, but it’s a perfect quick read as an eBook. The Part-Time Job is a story about revenge and murder. The unnamed narrator was bullied at school by Keith Manston-Green and at twelve vowed to kill him. The rest of the story is how he achieves this. As a motive for murder this might seem petty and trivial but to anyone whose school days were blighted by bullying will identify with this narrator’s actions, though may not agree with them. But this is a very pedestrian plot, the narrator achieves his goal in a rather obvious way. What lifts this story is the unexpected and dark twist at the end. If you stay reading to the end, then you are rewarded with a very dark and satisfying ending. Murder Most Fowl is an essay about why James wrote mystery crime novels, and this is a real gem. She doesn’t write about how she writes, where she finds her plots and inspiration. Instead she writes about why she writes in mystery/crime genre and what she hopes to achieve doing that. It also gives an interesting reading list of her favourite authors, what she enjoyed from their books. PD James was an amazingly talented author, whose novels were always more than just about the puzzle of who the murder is. Her novels also explored different and interesting themes, underneath her murder plots. Like so many great authors, after her death there seemed a rush to publish the remainder of her unpublished work, the short stories and essays that had been published in magazines and newspapers, but were never published in book form. This slight volume is a product of this. James was always a great writer, even here, but this book is more for the PD James fan, it isn’t a place to first discover her work, there are several of her novels that are better for that, but this book is still an interesting read. Find it here on Amazon
  4. Lord Peter Wimsey has fallen in love with the crime novelist Harriet Vane. Unfortunately, she is on trial for her life, accused of poisoning her former lover. Lord Peter, to demonstrate his love for her, sets about to prove Harriet is innocent before she faces a retrial. Dorothy L. Sayers has often been called the best writer of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, but I have never found this. Her descriptive style is certainly better than Agatha Christie’s and Ngaio Marsh’s, but I find her plots and characters’ motivations so lacking. This novel is a prime example of this. There is no mystery as to who the killer is, there is only one other suspect here, and the how-he-did-it factor is not presented with enough mystery to hold the anticipation. There some interesting elements here, the female detective agency that Wimsey occasionally uses should have been given their own novel, but these elements do not add up to an interesting whole. The premise is interesting, Harriet Vane on trial for murder, but Sayers begins this novel at the end of the trial, the judge’s summing up, we do not even get any degree of courtroom drama. Many of the working-class characters are uncomfortably deferent to the nobility. The biggest problem for me is at the heart of the novel, Wimsey himself. He’s a playboy detective, full of charm, though Sayers never explains where his detective skills come from. Is he so good at solving murders because he’s so upper class and therefore bred to be superior at everything or is it because Sayers’ mysteries are so easy to solve? Not everyone is going to like every author. Many people have told me that Sayer is the greatest of the Golden Age crime writers but I have never seen how this is so, there are many other authors I’d read before her. Find it here on Amazon
  5. Agatha Christie was the queen of the literary three-card trick. She would create a mystery, lead you down a path thinking a certain character was the murderer and then at the end pull the rug from under your feet with the murderer as a totally different character—the last character you would suspect or the first one you’d discounted. Reading one of her books is like playing a game against her, can you spot the murderer before she reveals them? It can be said, and not unfairly, that many of her books are comfy and reassuring. There is a murder, often more than one, but by the end order has been restored and the good can live happily ever after. But this is not the case with all her books, especially her finest ones. And Then There Were None is one of her finest novels, if not her finest. The plot is simple, but in its simplicity lies the genius of this novel. Ten people are invited to a mansion on an island off the Devon coast, ten people all with a personal secret. Once on this island, they find their host, the strange Mr Owen, fails to appear. After dinner, on the instruction left by the mysterious Mr Owen, a record is played that accuses everyone there of causing another person’s death through neglect, incompetence, cruelty, greed or prejudice—though none of them are actual “murderers”. Then, one by one, the ten people begin to die, murdered following the lines of the children’s poem Ten Little Indians. To begin with, this does have the feeling of other Agatha Christie novels, light in mood with the expectation that the murderer will be unmasked and all will be returned to normal, but this doesn’t happen. More characters die and the tone gets darker and darker as fear grips the surviving characters. At first, the characters believe the murderer is an outsider, not one of them, hiding somewhere on the island. Then the realisation comes that one of them is the killer; with that comes the real fear. This novel has been filmed many times, so original is its premise, but all of them follow the stage play version, not the novel, and have a far brighter and upbeat ending. The novel has all ten characters die on the island before the murderer is unmasked. Only at the very end of the novel, when the murderer’s confession is finally found, is the mystery revealed. This is by far Agatha Christie’s darkest novel with a very original premise. A tense psychological thriller with a real feeling of cat and mouse about it. It has all her stock-in-trade favourite characters (the old maid, the doctor, the major, the servants who see too much, the attractive young couple), yet here she puts them in a very dangerous situation that pushes them out of the realm of architypes and into real characters living a dangerous game. If you have only ever seen one of the film versions of this novel, try the original novel because you will find it very different and gripping. If you have only known Agatha Christie through her Miss Marple and Poirot stories, then try this novel for a far darker read. If you are an Agatha Christie fan, sit back and enjoy her at her best. Find it here on Amazon
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