Every month on Past Offences we pick a year and review its crime fiction – a meme called Crimes of the Century. In August we looked at 1980, and Karen helpfully posted a list of eligible titles over at Eurocrime.
As usual, apologies if I’ve missed any entries. It’s nothing personal.
First up, an unexpected entrant. Dame Ngaio Marsh surprised us all by still writing in the 80s. Crossexaminingcrime looked at Photo Finish, in which famous New Zealand opera singer Isabella Sommita is being plagued by a rogue photographer named Strix who takes unflattering pictures of her.
Troy is invited [to New Zealand] in order to paint a picture of Isabella, whilst Alleyn is asked to find out who Strix is, an invitation supported by the Yard as a good cover for checking up on a potential drugs selling connection. This part of the book does seem a bit forced and it gets odder when Troy wears a jumpsuit. For me, Troy and Alleyn don’t really fit in the 80s and seem more at home pre-1960s.
The Game’s Afoot reviewed Reginald Hill’s A Killing Kindness, in which Yorkshire detectives Dalziel and Pascoe investigate a Hamlet-quoting serial killer.
The Puzzle Doctor also read A Killing Kindness (at the end of a staggering 15-day run of reviews):
Psychics, linguists, psychologists. They all have something to say to the police to help them with their enquiries. And Dalziel has something he wants to say to them. One word, four letters. But as the deaths continue and the police seem to be making little progress, any help is better than no help. Isn’t it?
Moira at Clothes in Books, Simon Brett’s Dead Side of the Mike:
As a 1980 book – I was surprised by a mention of ‘energy conservationists’ discouraging too much aimless driving. And it hit home to me: someone dies in an editing suite, and all modern radio people, much younger than I, would not understand why there were razor blades there, all very handy for the criminal. Children, that’s what we used to edit tape in a pre-digital age.
The Puzzle Doctor ploughed through Ellis Peters’ Monk’s Hood, en passim making a convincing case that Brother Athelstan is a better monk-detective than Cadfael.
it’s boring. So dull and without a trace of humour. Not that it’s dark, just completely flat. The murderer is obvious – there’s no cleverness to the plotting – and there’s so little to the book that it felt padded in the extreme, and it’s not that long a book. There’s a lovely surprise on the ebook version that the last 20% is a preview of the next book, so it ends much earlier than expected. Very welcome.
Oof. I kept things monky with Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, admitting to thinking it overlong and a bit self-indulgent.
Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise also read The Name of the Rose.
There are eventually seven deaths at this Italian abbey but they come very slowly, amid an absolute plethora of lengthy Latin quotations that I had little hope of translating and swathes of medieval ecclesiatical debate about such riveting topics as whether Jesus ever laughed, or whether the Devil ever does any good.
And yet loads of people seem to love The Name of the Rose. Differentus strokus.
The ones I have difficulties with seem too much a copy of the plots and style of the early authors of PI novels, specifically Raymond Chandler. Too much emphasis on metaphor and flip remarks, and all the characters seem to be seedy and / or sleazy. There is nothing wrong with that, what I object to when the stories don’t feel original.
But Loren D. Estleman’s Motor City Blue bucked the trend:
The writing was beautiful and the author kept me engaged in the story.
Bev at My Reader’s Block, reviewed The Old Die Young:
…the last book published by Richard Lockridge. It features Lieutenant (recommended to be Acting Captain) Nathan Shapiro and his right-hand man Detective Tony Cook. And Nate Shapiro is once again out of his depth and convinced that someone, somewhere made a mistake when they made him a Lieutenant in the Detective Branch and “they” are certainly out of their minds to think he should make Captain in the wake of Bill Weigand’s promotion to Inspector.
Back to the Puzzle Doctor, who read a book I wanted to, H. R. F. Keating’s The Murder of the Maharajah. I’ve read Keating’s Murder Must Appetise, and a handful of stories, but never one of his novels. However, Maharajah is on the CWA top 100 list, so I’ll get there eventually.
What does it say about the year it was written? Not a lot, as it’s set in 1930, but the India of the book does seem to smack of the stereotype that was on television at the time, but it may be perfectly authentic – I’ve never been to India (especially not in 1930) so it could be totally authentic.
And the Doctor was able to correct my own preconception of the book…
Oh, and ignore Wikipedia – the book doesn’t feature Inspector Ghote, partly as he didn’t possess a time machine…
Col tackled a hard-hitting mystery at the Criminal Library, with Jonathan Valin’s first Harry Stoner book – The Lime Pit.
an ugly, sordid tale of a missing 16 year old street-wise girl and the bereft old man who had been caring for her, whilst she in turn gave him back something other than the ridicule and contempt her friends across the street, Laurie and Lance disdained him with. Stoner has just wrapped up an easy case and to balance the scales takes Hugo Cratz’s offer of $8 and change in return for half an hour’s time and Harry to get across the road and ask the Jellicoes where his Cindy Ann went.
Sounds a long way from a comfortable read…
Bernadette at Fair Dinkum Crime reviewed Peter Corris’ The Dying Trade, which introduced ‘Australia’s first hard-boiled private investigator of any substance in the form of Cliff Hardy’.
Although Corris makes no secret of the fact his inspiration for the Hardy stories were the novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler there is no mistaking that Hardy and his environment are entirely Australian. He lives in an inner-city Sydney that, at least in 1980, was still pretty close to its working class roots, and as the novel unfolds offers an intimate look at the entire city and its myriad social and geographic boundaries. The cynicism has an Australian flavour, as does the way Hardy views different kinds of crime and the criminals who perpetrate them, operating on the basis that the worst crimes are those that generally go unpunished if not entirely unreported because they are committed by people with the money and power to make unpleasantness disappear.
John at Pretty Sinister Books rounded out the month with Anne Perry’s Victorian history-mystery Callandar Square, and was impressed:
What this novel lacks in the way of fair play clueing related to Pitt’s unravelling of the mystery of the babies’ parentage and why they buried it more than makes up for in a total immersion in Victorian mores, speech, fashion and history. While the ending is rushed and sloppy with a motive pulled out of thin air and an overly melodramatic confession from the villain the trip getting there is engrossing, diverting and at times unexpectedly philosophical.
Thanks to everyone who played!