Death on the Riviera by John Bude

Death on the RivieraAnother Shiny New Books review – this time of the latest British Library Crime Classic, and my first John Bude (despite having the rest of them on my shelf!), 1952’s Death on the Riviera. He does get wonderful covers, doesn’t he? To be honest, it’s not my favourite of their offerings – Alan Melville still holds that crown – but it’s good fun. Read the whole review, or be enticed by the opening to it…

I’ve got all the John Bude reprints that have appeared in the British Library Crime Classics series, and have given several to other people, but Death on the Riviera (1952) is actually the first of his that I’ve read. Like all the others, he has been given a beautiful cover – but what of the contents? Well, it’s a fun detective novel that won’t stand up to rigorous examination, but is none the less enjoyable for that.

Duveen by S.N. Behrman

DuveenThis is a mini post, because I don’t think I ever pointed you in the direction of my review of Duveen (1952) by S.N. Behrman, which was actually in Issue 4 of Shiny New Books. But it’s really good and I should have mentioned before. Not the sort of book I’d usually read – the biography of an art dealer who provided for (and, essentially, manipulated) the super-rich – but I rightly trusted Daunt Books to reprint only good things.

I also had the fun experience of thinking it was a novel for the first chapter. It reads quite differently when you realise it’s not!

Well, better late than never. The link above will take you to Issue 4 of Shiny New Books, rather than the latest menus, but it’s also a fun reminder that all the old issues are still there, waiting to be read.

A Diet of Dame Agatha

For the sake of updating my Century of Books, and because I have precious little else to update Stuck-in-a-Book with at the moment, here’s a rundown of the Agatha Christies I’ve been reading of late. I imagine there will be another update to come soon, but hopefully I can extend my reading range a bit soon, as I need to read Asleep in the Sun by Adolfo Bioy Casares for book group next week!

It’s difficult to write properly about detective fiction, and it’s even more difficult to write differently about lots of detective fiction, so I’ll just give you a couple of impressions per book.

The Seven Dials Mystery (1929)
Very Wodehousian beginning, and Christie does humour well.  But I never like Agatha as much when she’s doing gangs and spy rings and all that.  (I also wonder how recently she’d read The Man Who Was Thursday.)

Elephants Can Remember (1972)
I was warned off this one after I’d started, but I actually loved large chunks of it – Ariadne Oliver (a detective novelist with a famous Finnish detective) is a wonderful opportunity for Agatha Christie to talk about her own career wittily, and (having met her for my first time in Hallowe’en Party) I loved seeing her again.  But the plot was pretty flimsy.

Curtain (1975)
Poirot’s last case, written some decades earlier, it’s amusingly anachronistic at times, but has a good plot and the ever-wonderful Captain Hastings.

Mrs McGinty’s Dead (1952)
More Poirot, more Ariadne Oliver! And a good plot, although perhaps not one of the very best. Or perhaps I’m just saying that because I guessed part of the ending, and I always prefer to be fooled.

Murder in the Mews (1937)
Four novella length stories about Poirot, one of which (the longest) was very good, ‘Dead Man’s Mirror’. The others were fine, but I got the impression that Christie hadn’t considered the ideas good enough for a full-length book.

I have four more Christies out of the library, so I’ll fill you in when I’ve rushed through those… and then hopefully I’ll have broken my Reader’s Block!  Thank goodness there is an author I can turn to during those periods, where it seems inconceivable that anybody could actually finish reading a book (so many WORDS!) as otherwise I’d be going mad.

A few little reviews…

It has come to my notice that it is December, and there are only 27 days left this year.  I have almost 20 reviews to write for A Century of Books… oops, didn’t work this out very well, did I?  (Well, I still have 10 books to read – but I have 4 of them on the go already.)  So I’m going to rush through five of them today – books that, for one reason or another, I didn’t want to write whole posts about.  But do still free to comment on them!

Daddy Long-Legs (1912) by Jean Webster
An orphaned girl is given a scholarship by a mysterious, anonymous man – she has only seen his back – and one of the conditions is that she must write updates to him, without getting any replies.  She nicknames him Daddy Long-Legs.  Can you guess what happens?  Well, I shan’t give away the ending.  I was mostly surprised at how modern this children’s book felt, despite being a hundred years old – a lot of it would have been at home in a Jacqueline Wilson story.  I enjoyed it, but did find it a little creepy, and rather repetitive, but these are probably signs of not having read it when I was the target age.

Metamorphosis (1915) by Franz Kafka
Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to discover that he is an enormous bug.  Which is going to make his job as a salesman somewhat difficult.  The reason I’m not giving this novella/short story its own review is that I don’t feel I have anything new to say about it.  Kafka is famed for his matter-of-fact approach to the surreality in this story, and rightly so.  What surprised me here was how middlebrow it all felt.  It is definitely comparable to David Garnett’s Lady Into Fox – which actually seems to have greater pretensions to literariness.

Married Love (1918) by Marie Stopes
Another one which surprised me – I’d always heard that Marie Stopes started a sexual revolution in the UK, offering knowledge about sex to the everywoman for the first time.  Turns out she is much more conservative, and less revelatory, than a lot of the other guides written around the same time, and earlier.  I read these guides for my current DPhil chapter, by the way – my favourite so far being the person who argued that sexual intercourse and reproduction were acceptable as separate impulses, because protozoa separated them.  Sure, why not?  (I wonder if I’ve just made all sorts of inappropriate search terms for this blog now…)

Miss Hargreaves: the play (1952) by Frank Hargreaves
This is something of a cheat, since it was never published – but it was performed, with Margaret Rutherford in the lead role.  Tanya tipped me off that copies of all performed plays were in the Lord Chamberlain’s archives in the British Library – so I had the great privilege and pleasure of reading the play, with Baker’s own penned changes.  It’s pretty similar to the novel, only with the action restricted to a few settings.  Such fun!

V. Sackville West (1973) by Michael Stevens
I’m a sucker for a short biography, and I hadn’t read one of VSW before, so I gave this one a whirl.  It’s a critical biography, so Stevens discusses and analyses the work while giving an outline of VSW’s life.  About halfway through I thought, “this feels way too much like a doctoral dissertation.”  Turns out it was a doctoral dissertation.  I think I’ll be turning to a more charismatic writer for my next biography of Vita, as this one was rather prosaic and charmless, although very thoroughly researched.

Right, well that’s five down!  How are the other Century of Bookers getting on?