Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Unfinished Clue

The Unfinished Clue
by Georgette Heyer

Publisher's Blurb:
A houseful of people he loathes is not Sir Arthur's worst problem…
It should have been a lovely English country-house weekend. But the unfortunate guest-list is enough to exasperate a saint, and the host, Sir Arthur Billington-Smith, is an abusive wretch hated by everyone from his disinherited son to his wife's stoic would-be lover. When Sir Arthur is found stabbed to death, no one is particularly grieved—and no one has an alibi. The unhappy guests find themselves under the scrutiny of Scotland Yard's cool-headed Inspector Harding, who has solved tough cases before—but this time, the talented young inspector discovers much more than he's bargained for.

My Reaction:
I found it enjoyable, though (with a few exceptions) rather less amusing than some of Heyer's other mysteries.  Still, it had me convinced through the whole book that I knew "whodunnit"-- until the very last moment, when I learned that I was wrong!  (So shocking, as I never seem to guess correctly. *sigh*)  All in all, a perfectly acceptable cozy mystery.

Tidbits (with SPOILERS):
--  Sir Arthur Billington-Smith.  Wow.  That is an exceedingly British-sounding name, is it not?

-- "'She read a bit in some evening paper about proper dieting, and she's gone all lettucey.  Nuts, too.  That's why I'm here.  There's a filthy beverage you drink for breakfast instead of coffee.  I thought not, so I cleared out.'"  (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

--  "'My dear, didn't you hear me ask you to comfort me?  I have been ignominiously beaten at tennis.  It's what people write letters to the Daily Mirror about.  "What is wrong with the Men of Today?"  So belittling.'" 

--  "'I've seen her dance.  She wore feathers-- not very many of them, but so artfully placed.'"

--  "Geoffrey, who perpetrated, very seriously, fugitive poems without rhyme or (said the uninitiated) reason..." 

--  "'I always say tobacco is the curse of the modern generation.  It goes through all classes.'"  (Well, as it turns out, she was right!  Tobacco's not exactly a healthy habit.)

--  "'Of course, if you admire that bold kind of good looks, I suppose you might call her pretty.  Personally, I never trust people with brown eyes, and I should not be at all surprised to hear that she was not better than she should be.'"  (I always love a good dig at "people with brown eyes".   Yes, we're very untrustworthy-- not to mention that we're full of... oh, never mind.)

--  "'Well, don't hang about looking like seven bells half struck!'"  (Odd saying...)

--  I guessed right away that the mysterious note ("There") was an attempt at writing the name "Theresa" or "Therese"-- and I was equally well convinced that Theresa was Sir Arthur's first wife, who'd killed him to protect her son's interests.  Where I went wrong, however, was in assuming that the ex-wife was Mrs. Twining.  Oops.

--  The Major's constant "er"-ing and nose-dabbing were so irritating.  Argh!  What relief when he (mostly) left the story!

--  Lola was an amusing caricature... "'But I must say that I do not understand why you have not seen me before that stupid woman who I find is not a true blond in the least, but on the contrary dyes her hair.'"  ... "From the moment when I have entered his house he has behaved to me with rudeness and brutality, though partly I blame Geoffrey, who was very foolish not to warn his papa that I do not like gin in my cocktail, but only absinthe.'"

--  Ugh, Dinah's (and everyone else's) attitude toward Inspector Harding is so snobbish!  He's so obviously a gentleman that Dinah "absolutely can't go on calling you Inspector, Mr. Harding.  It sounds so utterly wrong--..."  At least she has the decency to be slightly embarrassed to speak in such a way before the Sergeant, who is not a "gentleman".   This type of thing comes up again and again, throughout the book, and it's just gross.  Oh, and of course, Harding makes the decision that he'll retire after this case-- because he has oh-so-conveniently inherited enough money to start a farming enterprise-- and apparently it would have been unthinkable to ask her to marry him while he was still a lowly detective.  ~grumble~

--  "'Do you really wear a god-forsaken badge under the lapel of your coat, and show it to anybody who wants to know who you are?'  'No, of course I don't.  I'm not an American!' protested Harding."  (Horrors!)

--  "'Let us all put the name of the person each of us thinks did it into a hat, and see who gets the most votes.'"  (Ha ha ha!  You know, if he weren't a gambler and a thief, I'd much prefer the irreverent Francis to the rather dull Inspector Harding... You'd hardly like to deal with him in real life, I'm sure, but he's so much more amusing to read about.) 

--  "'I received notes to the value of one hundred and thirty pounds yesterday morning.'  'How did you receive them, Captain Billington-Smith?'  'Oh, most thankfully!' replied Francis."

--  "'I found Theresa all right.  It was the only one that would fit the letters I had, too.  That was what put me on to Mrs. Twining-- a very false trail.'"  (Well, at least I was in good company...)

--  "'I have just mentioned the matter (their engagement) to the rest of the party.  Camilla looked awfully sick.  She hinted that you'd been pretty matey with her.'  'I was,' said Harding. 'I paid her fulsome compliments.  That's how I got her to talk.'  'It is quite evident to me,' said Miss Fawcett with decision, 'that it is time you left off being a detective.'"

--  And now everyone lives happily ever after.  Well, except that Mr. Chudleigh has lost a beloved wife-- and will have to cope with the knowledge that she hid her past from him (which is not a small thing, considering his strong convictions on the subject of divorce and remarriage).  Oh, and poor, pathetic Geoffrey has just lost his mother without ever having the chance of reconciling with her.  But other than that, it's peachy keen.  ...But it's a murder mystery, despite the cheerful trappings and witty banter, so...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Murder at the Vicarage

The Murder at the Vicarage
by Agatha Christie

The Murder at the Vicarage was Christie’s very first mystery to feature her most popular investigator—as a dead body in a clergyman’s study proves to Miss Marple that no place, holy or otherwise, is a sanctuary from homicide. 

My Reaction (with SPOILERS):
(Read-along with Donald.)  Pretty good.  There were a few instances where my nit-picking tendencies took me out of the story-- the same word used almost back-to-back, for instance-- but overall, fine.  I've seen a TV adaptation of this book very recently, so (for once) I knew exactly what had happened, from the very beginning.  Well, I knew the TV adaptation's version of what happened, and I thought this particular adaptation was likely to be fairly faithful.  (It was.)

The best parts were Miss Marple and the little touches of humor.  I could've done with more of the humor, but where it was present, it never failed to please. 

One thing the TV version did change was the source of the false gunshot sound.  I have to say, I think the TV version (a speaker placed out in the woods) was more plausible than the book's (a stone somehow rigged up to fall at a fairly precise time onto a small crystal of some explosive chemical). 

Donald was surprised that Miss Marple herself wasn't in the story that much.  I wonder how much that changes in the later novels...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

(Parts of)Kiss Kiss

(Parts of) Kiss Kiss
by Roald Dahl

My Blurb:
Audio from the BBC.  Five fifteen minute radio dramatizations of some of Roald Dahl's short stories for adults.  "William and Mary", "Parson's Pleasure", "Royal Jelly", "Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat", and "The Landlady".

My Reaction (with SPOILERS):
This isn't the full collection of short stories in Kiss Kiss, but the ones presented were very easy listening.  Just fifteen minutes each-- adapted for a narrator and voice actors.  Very nicely done.  I'd be interested in listening to more adaptations of this kind.

Reactions to each story (again, with potential spoilers):

"William and Mary"--
A bit predictable from a modern perspective, but not bad.   So, would you take the deal William took?  (Assuming you didn't believe in an afterlife, of course.)  I don't know that I see the point... I guess you could hope that a time would come when you'd be given a new (possibly robotic) body, but otherwise... If you at least had the ability to really communicate, possibly, but without that, no thanks.  Seems like a form of torture.

"Parson's Pleasure"--
I recognized this one.  It was in a collection of Dahl's short stories that Donald and I read together some time (years) ago, but I didn't remember the twist until just before it happened.  Even as someone who's not in the market for expensive antiques, I still felt a pang over the needless destruction of such a rare piece of furniture.  What a waste!  And yet-- what an exquisite punishment for our imparsonator.  ;o)  As if it's not bad enough to swindle people out of valuable belongings (because this goes well beyond making a decent profit-- in compensation for his expertise and for recognizing the thing), he has to go and do it in the guise of a man of God!  Shameful!

"Royal Jelly"--
Weird...  Yeah, it's Roald Dahl, so "weird" shouldn't come as a surprise.  Speaking of surprises, some of these twist endings are not quite so surprising as they ought to be, perhaps.  Is this a consequence of success?  You write a good twist and other people "borrow" it, are inspired by it, and so on, to the point that when someone well into the future reads the original idea, they've already seen so many iterations of it that they go, "Ho-hum.  Been there, done that!"  (Or maybe that's not the case here.  I don't really know.  Just a thought.)

"Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel's Coat"--
Yuck.  So many of Roald Dahl's characters aren't nice people.  I guess that's true in his children's books, too, but I don't remember noticing as much as a child as I do now, reading/listening to his stories for adults.  I was interrupted in the middle of this one, and for some reason, though I dutifully disliked her in the beginning, I found myself sympathizing with Mrs. Bixby in the second half!  Both Mrs. and Mr. Bixby are equally disgusting, though.  No reason why I should dislike him more than her-- unless it's some sort of "female solidarity" thing.  (g)

"The Landlady"--
Ooooh... ~shiver~  Creepy.  Shades of Psycho.  As such, it's another of those familiar twists, but still pretty effective.  This is definitely my favorite of the bunch, right ahead of "Parson's Pleasure".