Thursday, April 27, 2017

Forgotten Book: The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

A couple of years back, I read Josephine Tey's Miss Pym Disposes which was not so much about a murder in a boarding school as a deconstruction of the process of detection where it was the limitations of the detective - subjectivity, prejudices, likes, dislikes, - that was interrogated. It was a novel that broadened the scope of a detective novel.

This week, I read Tey's Daughter of Time, a book that often features in the best -100 -mysteries- of -all- time lists. Again Tey broadens the scope of a detective novel, this time examining a historical mystery which gives her the opportunity to examine the way the past comes down to us.




Bored stiff after fracturing his leg while pursuing a criminal, Inspector Grant becomes interested in the man generally viewed as a monster: Richard III, the last of the Plantagenets and the man considered to be the killer of his two young nephews. Fascinated by the portrait of Richard, Grant dwells deeper into the story and with the help of a young research scholar (who does all the leg-work for him) makes a convincing case that rather than being a murderer, Richard was instead a victim of false, malicious propaganda initiated by the Tudors and their lackeys, especially as that first Tudor - Henry VII's claim to the throne was rather shaky.



But as said earlier, the novel is more than just an investigation into a murder done long ago. It is also about how the past gets narrated - Who is writing it? - How objective is the account?' What are the writer's intentions? - Is there anyone to whom the 'historian/ writer/ narrator' is bowing to? - Who is in power? -In fact, while reading the book I kept on thinking about that Big Brother maxim - "Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past."




I quite enjoyed the book but I have a few reservations. Through Grant, Tey pokes a lot of fun at Sir Thomas More whose The History of King Richard III has been used as a standard book of reference by writers and historians. The 'Saintly' More is shown to be in a despicable light who fudged facts but Tey hardly mentions the even more saintly Shakespeare whose play Richard III presents the king as a deformed hunchback as villainous as villainous can be. Wasn't Shakespeare also through his History plays pandering to the Tudors? Why does Tey not question the Bard-of-Avon?

And for a novel that asks us to question the veracity of historical narratives, to dismiss the IRA as a murderous mob is a travesty.



These things apart, I really liked the novel. And yes, Richard III has a very-very strong case in his favour. But then I always liked the Richards more than the Henrys:)


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First Line: Grant lay on his high white cot and stared at the ceiling.

Source: Project Gutenberg Austalia

Other books read of the same author: (Amongst others) The Franchise Affair

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Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books, today @ Todd Mason's Sweet Freedom.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

1977: Invisible Green by John Sladek

1977 is the year chosen for this month @ Past Offences' Crimes of the Century meme and that has given me the opportunity to read the book that had long been on my wishlist: John Sladek's Invisible Green.





The novel opens on a day in 1939. The world is sitting on a pile of dynamite as the seven members of the murder club meet to discuss a Sherlock Holmes adventure and have a group photograph taken.





Time passes. One day, the only female member of the group, Dorothea Pharaoh, now in her sixties, decides to host a reunion of the club. One member is dead but the others all receive her invitation. One of the members, Major Stokes, a rabid anti-communist in the days of yore, rings up to tell her that a certain Mr. Green is planning to kill him as he is about to uncover a great communist conspiracy to take-over Britain. Ravings of a lunatic? Perhaps. But Dorothea is still concerned enough to call her friend, the detective Thackrey Phin, to look into the matter. He keeps an all-night vigil outside the Major's house.... but to no-avail...come the morning and the Major is dead. The police dismiss the death as heart-attack but then two more members of the murder club die. So who is the person behind these murders? What are the secrets that the members are trying to hide? And what is that unsavoury story behind the one member who is supposed to have died during the Blitz?

I guessed the identity of the killer because of a slip that the murderer made but it gave me no pleasure and I kept on hoping that I was wrong about his/her identity.




That apart, I enjoyed this novel and it is sad that the author wrote no Phin mystery after this, turning to SF for financial reasons. And I also found an underlying note of sadness in the novel. Part of it was that it is written in the style of an age that was past (and going by the writer's comments had no market value during the seventies). Part of it was that with the passing of an era, some of the characters seemed to have no place in the world:

Phin read it through, half-horrified at the writer's obvious mental anguish, half admiring his fertile imagination. The letter stopped just short of Martians and the great Pyramid, but it was of the same order of madness: An unhappy, lonely, probably ailing old man magnifying his misery into a world-wide plot against him.

In a sense, the plot was all too real. The world had indeed turned against people like Major Stokes. The battle was not between the long-defunct "NKVD" and "M.16" - it was between that sinister and nebulous force called Modern Society and a handful of forgotten pensioners. Society, employing the weapons of neglect, starvation, indifference, and bureaucracy, was certain to triumph.

Ah... the unrelenting march of time.




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For more on the book, here's Sergio's review it and here's Bev's.

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Opening Lines: Autumn, 1939.
                   "LOOK PLEASED, EVERYONE," said the photographer.


Source: Open Library

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: Death And The Pleasant Voices

Death And The Pleasant Voices Death And The Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A gem of a read. A good mystery with the right sort of intrigue and atmosphere. The Anglo-Indian's angst was a tad exaggerated though. Poor fellow. To imagine that he was the result of two people's love for each other and yet to be so lonely and wretched.


First Line: I have never seen such lightening or such rain in all my life.

Source: Open Library

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: In Bitter Chill

In Bitter Chill In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Should have been subtitled: A Warning against One-Night Stands.


First Line: BLADE CLANKED ON FLINT.



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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every other book, nowadays, is marketed as a psychological thriller/ mystery. I wish the writers of those books would read this book first before sitting down to write yet another tale narrated by a hysterical/ neurotic female.

Immensely moving and tragic. I want to read more of Shirley Jackson.

First Line: My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood.
Source: Open Library.
Other books read of the same author: The Haunting of Hill House.

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mount TBR: 1st Checkpoint 2017

It's time for the year's first check-point at Mount TBR @ My Reader's Block.



I have barely started on my climb, having reviewed only one book from my shelves: The Blue Note.




My favourite character of the book happened to be Julian.