Classic crime in the blogosphere: May 2013

The Last Sherlock Holmes Story

The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael ‘Zen’ Dibdin – reviewed this month at Only Detect.

Another busy month for classic crime on the web – this time I’ve opted for a mix of ‘repeat offenders’ and ‘unusual suspects’.

First up, Mark Frauenfelder at boingboing looked at Donald E. Westlake’s The Hunter (1962) and concluded:

Parker fits in with the current crop of charismatic sociopaths that headline shows like Breaking BadGame of ThronesMad Men, and Dexter. I guess their appeal is that even though they are awful people, they have just enough humanity to make you care what happens to them without actually rooting for them. It takes a skilled writer to create bad people that you care about, and Westlake is one of the greats.

For what it’s worth, when I looked at The Hunter last September, I disagreed. But an army of fans can’t be wrong. Especially if they’re as scary as Parker.

Onto gentler heroes. I mentioned Faber’s fancy John Buchan ebook/game The 39 Steps a few weeks ago. It’s had a very mixed reception, none more mixed than at this month’s review at NPR.

This is a thriller. Putting speed bumps in a page-turner is madness. And in a Buchan novel, you need to keep a breakneck pace so you don’t stop to think logically about the plot holes. But this adaptation’s sluggish pace is enough to make the amusements of a spy novel seem as flat as soda-water that’s been standing in the sun, as Richard Hannay might grumble.

Richard Hannay’s adventures of course continued in Greenmantle and then in Mr Standfast, reviewed at I Prefer Reading. It sounds like his third caper finally sees him facing down his – ahem – unfamiliarity with the fairer sex…

His old Intelligence boss, Bullivant, sends him off to stay at Fosse Manor near Isham to get a lead on a very dangerous man, Moxon Ivery – or at least, that’s what he calls himself. Hannay has assumed his old alias, Cornelius Brand, & while at Fosse Manor, he meets Mary Lamington & falls instantly in love. Mary, however, isn’t just the token love interest. She’s part of Bullivant’s intelligence network & is a bright, resourceful young woman who has a crucial part to play in the narrative.

Staying with gentlemen, we move on to Josephine Tey’s unlikely hero, the imposter Brat Farrar (1949). Radish Reviews makes some interesting comments about when it is set…

The novel is not really anchored in any specific time that Tey points out, but it presumably takes place after WWII because there are references to people being “bombed out”.  So given its publication date (1949), one just assumes it’s set somewhere in that vicinity in time.  But it somehow feels like it’s set more interwar, and there are a few iffy timeline items as a result.  Given that the lynchpin events of the book—the disappearance and presumed suicide of Patrick Ashby following the death of his parents in a plane crash off the coast—take place some eight plus years earlier, that puts those events right smack in the middle of The Blitz.  I’ll leave it to you to work out the problem with that and just say that there’s no sign here that the war ever happened—no mention of rationing, of the post-war issues Britain faced.  It’s a little timey-wimey, to quote The Doctor.

Michael Dibdin is famous for coming from Wolverhampton, and also as a crime writer. Before he wrote the Aurelio Zen novels, he penned The Last Sherlock Holmes Story (1978), reviewed at Only Detect.

The cozy structures of Victorian life, which had long kept evil within boundaries that the great detective could negotiate with masterly flair, are now crumbling underfoot. Inciting this affront to order are the exploits of Jack the Ripper.

You’re going to like this last segue. Sticking with Zen, we move to Japan, and Ms Wordopolis‘ review of Inspector Imanishi Investigates by Seichō Matsumoto (1961).

I liked getting a slice of post-war Japan, getting a sense of what was a bestseller in the 1960s in Japan, and digging into how investigations differed technology-wise fifty years ago.

Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
This entry was posted in Classic crime round-up, Classic mystery book review, Information Received and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Classic crime in the blogosphere: May 2013

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Rich – Terrific roundup, for which thanks.I’m glad the classics get plenty of attention around the blogosphere.


  2. Try is a favorite. Have you read any of Nicola Upson’s series featuring Tey as a character? Filled with atmosphere. The most recent “Fear in the Sunlight” feature Alma and Alfred Hitchcock, too, at Portmeirion, Wales, a great setting.


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