Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Death is a Lonely Business: Ray Bradbury


In Venice, California, 1949, a struggling young author writes tales of fantasy and science fiction for the pulps. His girlfriend is away studying in Mexico, and he is alone and lonely. One night he takes a ride in a red trolley car to the Venice pier and eventually discovers a dead body. The writer is convinced by strange events around him that the death is murder and that the murderer has plans to continue, but has a hard time convincing anyone else, including the police. Eventually, he ends up pursuing the murderer with help from a police detective, Elmo Crumley, and Constance Rattigan, an older actress who had a brief moment of fame.

From the dust jacket copy:
In this, his first full-length work of fiction since Something Wicked This Way Comes was published more than twenty years ago, Ray Bradbury, master of the modern supernatural, works his magic in an entirely new way — giving us a novel that is at once a loving tribute to the hard-boiled detective genre of Hammett and Chandler and a gently nostalgic evocation of a time and place.
This book was published in 1985; I have had the book for eight years and finally got around to reading it. I was not sure how much I would like a mystery written by an author famous for his fantasy novels.  It is a mystery and there are clues, but it is also a very fantastical story, with bizarre happenings and strange characters. For me, it turned out well, but I gather from reviews that some readers have been disappointed. If they have read and loved his sci fi or fantasy books, it may not meet expectations. If they are primarily readers of mystery, the fantasy elements may be jarring.

There are so many things I liked about this book, and many of them had nothing to do with its being a mystery novel. The policeman that the protagonist drags into the hunt for the killer is an aspiring writer. The narrator has only sold a few stories, but he pushes Elmo Crumley into following his dream and actually writing a book instead of just dreaming about it. The unnamed narrator befriends many people in his neighborhood and they help each other out. Bradbury has created characters that I want to keep reading about.

The dedication for the book indicates his love for noir fiction:
With love to Don Congdon, who caused it to happen.
And to the memory of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Ross Macdonald.
And to my friends and teachers Leigh Brackett and Edmond Hamilton, sorely missed.
Of course, Bradbury writes beautifully. I loved the descriptions of fogbound Venice. Santa Barbara sometimes has similar weather.
    Venice, California, in the old days had much to recommend it to people who liked to be sad. It had fog almost every night and along the shore the moaning of the oil well machinery and the slap of dark water in the canals and the hiss of sand against the windows of your house when the wind came up and sang among the open places and along the empty walks.
    Those were the days when the Venice pier was falling apart and dying in the sea and you could find there the bones of a vast dinosaur, the rollercoaster, being covered by the shifting tides.
And later...
    For about 150 days a year in Venice, the sun doesn't show through the mist until noon.
    For some sixty days a year the sun doesn't come out of the fog until it's ready to go down in the west, around four or five o'clock.
    For some forty days it doesn't come out at all.
    The rest of the time, if you're lucky, the sun rises, as it does for the rest of Los Angeles and California, at five-thirty or six in the morning and stays all day.
    It's the forty- or sixty-day cycles that drip in the soul and make the riflemen clean their guns. Old ladies buy rat poison on the twelfth day of no sun. But on the thirteenth day, when they are about to arsenic their morning tea, the sun rises wondering what everyone is so upset about, and the old ladies feed the rats down by the canal, and lean back to their brandy.
    During the forty-day cycles, the foghorn lost somewhere out in the bay sounds over and over again, and never stops, until you feel the people in the local graveyard beginning to stir. 
Now, Santa Barbara has the same kind of weather, and this is what I love about the area I live in. I don’t miss the sun, and there are not enough foggy days for me. But I can understand the sentiments expressed here; that attitude toward gray days is prevalent with residents of Santa Barbara also.

I could endlessly quote from this novel… For me it was an enjoyable and compelling story; but I am not sure how much I would recommend it to others.

At www.raybradbury.com, there is a description of the book and a short excerpt from the beginning of the book that might help you decide if you would enjoy it.  But it gets much stranger than that at times.

Had I but known that the next book in this series is a Halloween mystery (A Graveyard for Lunatics, reviewed at Tipping My Fedora), I would have sped up my schedule and included it for the R.I.P. Challenge. Since I did not do that I will just point that fact out to readers. I would be willing to bet that you could enjoy that book without reading this one first. However, I am usually a stickler for reading in order, and there is always the possibility that reading book 2 first will spoil the first one. There was also a third book in the series, Let’s All Kill Constance, published in 2003. I will be reading the two other books in the series eventually.

Also see Sergio's review of this book at Tipping My Fedora.

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Publisher:   Alfred A. Knopf, 1985 
Length:       277 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Elmo Crumley
Setting:       Venice, California
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Midsomer Murders: The Magician's Nephew

My husband and I found this Halloween-themed Midsomer Murders episode to watch for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX challenge at Stainless Steel Droppings. From Series 11 and first aired in 2008, it stars John Nettles as DCI Tom Barnaby and Jason Hughes as Sgt Ben Jones. The story begins with Joyce, Barnaby's wife, preparing for a Halloween party, and ends with Barnaby dressed as Dracula.  A very fun show, with a decent mystery centering around witchcraft and past and present members of a cult.


This is the description of the episode from Wikipedia:
A children's magic show goes horribly wrong when one of the performers dies during a trick. Barnaby and Jones discover that the victim was poisoned with a rare toxin extracted from Ecuadorean poison frogs - so the hunt is on for a particularly ruthless and imaginative killer. The detectives soon learn that a feud is raging between local occult practitioner Ernest Balliol and famous writer Aloysius Wilmington. While some of the villagers - such as Ernest's daughter Isolde - believe that powerful magical forces are at play, others think the reasons for the bloodshed may have their roots in the distant past.
While watching the show, I was puzzled by the various groups of people and their relationships. But that is one of the many good points of Midsomer Murders episodes. With 90 minutes per episode, there is time to have a realistically complex plot and tie it all togethr in the end.

Wilmington's nephew, Simon, is going through his uncle's library in search of rare books. Balliol's daughter, Isolde, seeks a secret text about dark magic in that same library. His son, Tristan, is a solicitor and cares for his mother, who has mental problems. The group that runs the magic show is linked to the pagan cult called the Temple of Thoth. Very confusing, but gradually it all falls into place.

Even though this was my second viewing of the episode, I was again surprised to find out who the murderer was. There were some wonderful scenes of the Englefield House in Berkshire and its grounds. This episode has a commentary with John Nettles and Jane Wymark (Joyce Barnaby), an unusual extra on a set of Midsomer Murders episodes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Books of 1932: Keeper of the Keys by Earl Derr Biggers

In Keeper of the Keys, Charlie Chan is working on a case in California. He has been invited to the home of Dudley Ward on Lake Tahoe. Ward was the first husband of the famous opera singer Ellen Landini. Chan arrives at Ward's home along with Luis Romano, opera conductor, and fourth husband of Landini. He finds that he is joining a gathering of all of Landini's husbands, past and present. And Landini just happens to be in Reno, across the border in Nevada, waiting to get a divorce from Romano. An interesting setup, which leads to murder.

This book, the last in the series, has plenty of atmosphere. Much is made of the cold weather and snow, which Charlie has never experienced. Because it was written in 1932, I was surprised to see that a charter airplane and its pilot feature prominently in this book. The picture of the sparsely populated area around Lake Tahoe in the early 1930's is intriguing. Chan takes the train to Truckee; he and other guests are driven to a tavern on the lake, then taken by motor boat to Ward's home across the lake.  His home is very isolated.

There are six novels featuring Charlie Chan, and many movies. Most of the movies are not much like the novels, but they are a lot of fun. And in the movies, Charlie Chan is known for his pithy sayings. The first book, The House Without a Key (review here), is set in Hawaii. Charlie Chan does not show up until later in the book, and he seems to be in the background during most of the investigation. He doesn't speak English very well, and does not use the aphorisms for which he is known in the movies. In the second book, The Chinese Parrot (review here), Charlie is on a special case for a friend in California. In that one, he does use aphorisms, but sparingly. By this last book in the series. Charlie is spouting aphorisms very frequently and just about as much as in the movies. Each motto fits the scene though; they are not just there for effect. Some may even contain clues.

I found that of the three books I have read, each is very different. The first one involves a romance, and Charlie plays a smaller part. The second one seems more to be a classic puzzle plot. This book does fit the traditional mystery form, and there are clues. But this one was more entertaining for me than the second one, which was set in the desert. Maybe it was the location or the different set of characters involved. Although Charlie is a policeman in Hawaii, in most of the books he is outside of Hawaii working for an individual.

Charlie is easygoing and pleasant, but he never loses sight of his goal, to catch the murderer and prevent further crimes. In this book he is working in tandem with the sheriff. The rustic sheriff makes this clear:
It's going to be pretty unpleasant for all of us, I guess. I'm Don Holt, sheriff of the county, and I don't aim to cause no innocent person any unnecessary trouble. But I got to get to the bottom of this business, and the shorter the route, the better for all of us—well, most of us, anyhow. I've asked Inspector Chan, who's had more experience in this line than I have, to give me a hand here, an' I want to say right now, that when he asks, you answer. That's all, I reckon.
Don Holt is a nice guy and he and Charlie work together well. All in all, a very enjoyable book.


Two years ago I read my first Charlie Chan book, and I read it for the first R.I.P. event that I participated in. I submit this review for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX. This book is also for the Books of 1932 challenge at Past Offences.

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Publisher:    Academy Chicago Publishers, 2009 (orig. pub. 1932)
Length:        251 pages
Format:       Trade Paperback
Series:        Charlie Chan, #3
Setting:       Lake Tahoe, California
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I own a Dell Mapback edition but I read my husband's reprint edition.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Death of a Hollow Man (TV episode)

This episode of Midsomer Murders centers around the amateur theatrical group in Causton, of which Joyce Barnaby, wife of Inspector Tom Barnaby, is a member. The members of the group are a motley group, and seem to be very true to the types who take part in amateur theatricals. These individuals have known each other so well and so long that there are petty resentments and misunderstandings simmering. All of this builds up to murder while working on the current play, Amadeus. Barnaby has done volunteer work for this group over the years, so he knows all the suspects well.


I recently reread the book that this episode is based on and my review is here. I enjoyed it just as much this time around.

The episode is faithful to the book, for the most part. It includes the preparations for the play, the in-fighting among the various members of the theatrical group, the performance of the play itself. Some of the characters in the book have been cut and relationships changed. The adaptation also differs in that there is a murder that occurs at the beginning of the episode. Personally I did not find that this added anything to the story. Initially it is unclear what the link is between the Causton Amateur Dramatic Society and this death. Caroline Graham wrote the screen play, so she must have felt theses changes were needed or at least beneficial for adaptation as a TV episode.

The TV adaptations don't have the same depth of dissection of English village life as the books did, but I enjoy them all the same. I love the characters, even the boorish Sergeant Troy. The book spends much more time explaining why Joyce has given up her budding career as a singer to be the wife of a policeman. This is just one example of how the character development can have more depth in a book. But each entertains in its own way.

Only five of the seven books in the Inspector Barnaby series by Caroline Graham were adapted for television. Death of a Hollow Man was the second book in the series and the fourth episode in the TV series. The episode first aired in 1998. It stars John Nettles as DCI Tom Barnaby and Daniel Casey as Sgt Troy. Joyce is played by Jane Wymark. Cully Barnaby (Laura Howard) plays a significant part in this episode, as she does in the book.

This TV adaptation is submitted for the 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Planned Parenthood Book Sale, Part 3

My son purchased 14 or 15 books at the book sale. Most of them were in the fantasy or sci fi genres. He was lucky to find all the books in one trilogy and some books from series he had already started.

Two of the books he found were cross-genre mysteries. The PI in these books is a zombie. Unfortunately, he found books 2 and 3 and wants to read book 1 first.


























A brief description of the series at TV Tropes:
A horror-comedy detective series by Kevin J. Anderson, chronicling the cases of Dan Chambeaux, private investigator in the Unnatural Quarter. Shot dead while seeking his girlfriend's murderer, Dan returns to "life" as a zombie: one of countless "unnaturals" spawned by the supernatural upheaval of the Big Uneasy.
The series is also described at The Thrilling Detective Web Site.


Some of the other books he found:


One book that intrigues me is The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove. I have not read anything by this author and this is also the first time my son has tried a book by Turtledove.

Three of the books my son purchased were in the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy. They have beautiful covers. Description of the first book in the series on Wikipedia:
Foundling is the first book of Monster Blood Tattoo, a children's/young adult's fantasy trilogy written by Australian author, D.M. Cornish. It tells the story of Rossamünd, a boy unfortunately christened with a girl's name, who has lived his entire life in a foundlingery (kind of an orphanage) before he is chosen to become a lamplighter in a far away city. The book's action takes place entirely on the Half-Continent, a Dickensian world run by arcane science and alchemy, and plagued with deadly (and not-so-deadly) monsters. It also won Best Young Adult Novel at the 2006 Aurealis Awards.
I personally don't go much for young adult fiction, but the best young adult fiction is enjoyed by all ages, so I may give this series a try one day. My son has read the first in the series, Foundling, and did like it. You can see from the photo above that the books get longer as the series continues, but each book has a good portion of back matter to explain the world and the terminology. There are also some very nice illustrations by the author sprinkled throughout the books, 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Books of 1932: The Saint vs. Scotland Yard by Leslie Charteris


The first book featuring the Saint, Meet the Tiger! by Leslie Charteris, was published in 1928. The Saint vs. Scotland Yard, published in 1932, is the eighth book published in the series. I found this book recently at a book sale. Serendipitously, it fit perfectly into the Books of 1932 challenge at Past Offences.

The Saint, aka Simon Templar, is not new to me. I have read books about the Saint and I am sure I have watched various adaptations over the years, but I don't remember a lot about any of them. So I was surprised at what I found in this book. I honestly don't know what I was expecting. This book consists of three novellas, so was a perfect re-introduction to The Saint.

The book was originally titled The Holy Terror, and that is exactly what the Saint is. The stories are lighthearted, sprinkled with songs written by the Saint. He has a female side-kick and lover in this book, Patricia Hall, who fully participates in the shenanigans. And that is how I would describe the Saint's adventures in this book. He doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. Throughout the novellas in this book, the Saint is feuding with Claude Augustus Teal, Chief Inspector of the C.I.D.

The bottom line is I enjoyed these three novellas, and I want to read more of the earlier books. John's review of The Avenging Saint at Pretty Sinister Books motivated me to look for books in the Saint Series. Sergio at Tipping My Fedora reviewed a later book of short stories, The Saint in Europe, and also covered the TV adaptations of those stories.

Quote from the introduction to this book, titled "Between Ourselves":
Then come with us.... the Saint and I will inspire you.
     We will go out and find more and more adventures. We will swagger and swashbuckle and laugh at the half-hearted. We will boast and sing and throw our weight about. We will put the paltry little things to derision, and dare to be angry about the things that are truly evil. And we shall refuse to grow old.
     Being wise, we shall not rail against the days into which we have been born. We shall see stumbling blocks, but we shall find them dragons meat for our steel. And we shall not mourn the trappings and accoutrements of fancy dress. What have they to do with us? Men wore cloaks and ruffles because they were the fashionable things to wear; but it was the way they wore them. Men rode horses because they had nothing else to ride; but it was the way they rode. Men fought with swords because they knew no better weapons; but it was the way they fought. So it shall be with us.
     We shall learn that romance lies not in the things we do, but in the way we do them. We shall discover that catching a bus can be of no less adventure than capturing a galleon, and that if a man loves a lady he need not weep because the pillion of his motor-cycle is not the saddlebow of an Arab steed. We shall find that love and hate can still be more than empty words. 
Some biographical facts from www.saint.org:
Born Leslie Charles Bowyer Yin in Singapore (then a British colony) on May 12, 1907, Leslie legally changed his name by deed-poll to Leslie Charteris in 1926. He died in Windsor, England on April 15, 1993 at age 85. His father, Dr. S. C. Yin was a wealthy Chinese surgeon, a direct descendant of the emperors of China during the Shang dynasty; his mother was English.
In 1952, Leslie Charteris married an actress, Audrey Long. The couple remained married until he died. She died recently, on September 19, 2014. Long had roles in many movies between 1942 and 1952. See this post at The Hollywood Reporter for more information.

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Charter, 1980 (orig. pub. as The Holy Terror, 1932)
Length:       274 pages
Format:      Paperback
Setting:      London
Series:       The Saint
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Purchased.