MWAH HA HA HA HAAAA! Vell-come to October’s Crimes of the Century, vhich this month saw the gang reviewing books from 1969. So put down your pumpkins and read all about the crime fiction that rounded out the 60s.
Santosh read Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party, suitably seasonal but unfortunately the Queen of Crime was past her peak:
The plot is weak and the characterisation unsatisfactory. Even the quality of writing is not up to the mark. The story starts off well in an interesting and intriguing manner, but soon becomes utterly dull with a lot of padding, needless repetitions and meanderings into irrelevant topics like children becoming too independent, poor upbringing of children, genetics, laxity of courts in giving adequate punishments etc. which have nothing to do with the mystery. Towards the end, the novel regains its pace and becomes interesting but the solution is a big let-down.
And excitingly I spotted a #1969book in the wild. Gaslight Crime also reviewed Hallowe’en Party:
There are other modern touches which seem jarring in a Christie novel. Teenagers ‘necking’, youths with long hair and side-burns, mauve trousers, rose velvet coat and ‘a kind of frilled shirting.’ (Takes me back to my brother when he used to blow his wages in Carnaby Street). There’s mention of purple hemp and L.S.D. ‘which sounds like money but isn’t.’ Mrs Oliver accuses Poirot of sounding like a computer programming himself.
On to the spookiest title and cover of the month. Bev at My Reader’s Block picked up Alfred Hitchcock’s Happiness is a Warm Corpse.
As a collection, it is–as most collections are–a mixed bag. There are several excellent stories…from “Once Upon a Bank Floor,” the tale of a foiled bank robbery that yielded loot for one of the criminals much later, to “The Egg Head” in which a young scientist wins the respect of his police chief father-in-law by helping to solve an unsolved murder to “IQ-184” which produces a most surprising murderer, indeed. And “Kill If You Want Me” is a very chilling story of cold-blooded murder.
From spooky covers to a deeply sinister set-up. Bernadette at Fair Dinkum Crime read us Patricia Carlon’s The Whispering Wall:
Sarah Oatland is 61 and has had a stroke. She cannot walk, talk or move. She can see, hear and think but no one knows these things about her, at least at first. She is being cared for at home thanks to her wealth. During the day her bed is wheeled to the window of her large room where, due to an acoustic eccentricity of the house, she is able to hear everything said in one of the downstairs rooms […] her parsimonious niece fills the house with paying lodgers and Sarah listens to Valma and Murray Phipps plot the death of Valma’s stepfather so they can inherit his money. Sarah’s growing terror at being able to do nothing, literally, in the face of the seemingly inevitable murder is palpable.
We don’t get too much Scandi-crimes of the century, but this month crossexaminingcrime brought us The Fire Engine That Disappeared by two of the grandmasters of the genre:
It is evident that the novel is well-written and it is an easy read, but for me I just can’t get into Martin Beck’s world, which presents not particularly likeable characters, in rather primitive and raw ways at times. Furthermore I did feel women were objectified in comparison to the male characters, as when even minor characters such as policemen’s wives were being physically described, for no obvious value or reason, the focus seemed to be on how sexually attractive they were or were not. The same oddly enough does not happen to the male characters and I felt this presentation of women unnecessary as it didn’t add to the novel.
Keishon at Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog also read Fire Engine and was also disappointed.
While the writing is solid, there are moments in the story that felt… tedious and repetitive. I skipped paragraphs that seemed rather extraneous. The main plot about thieves being killed by a professional assassin wasn’t riveting.
Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise revisited Victoria Holt, the author who led her into reading crime fiction, with The Shivering Sands:
Perhaps unsurprisingly I found the plot developed much more slowly than it would in a more recently written novel. There are very heavy Gothic overtones right from the beginning: the black sheep of the family who accidentally murdered his elder, popular, handsome elder brother, banished to Australia but now summoned to return by his dying father to marry his father’s ward; the mysterious disappearance of Caroline’s sister from an archaeological dig; a building destroyed by fire where lights now show at night.
Moira at Clothes in Books read one of the heavyweight titles of the year, Mario Puzo’s The Godfather,
a perfect example of a great trashy novel. It is not well-written, but it is straightforward, tells a fascinating story, and keeps you reading right till the end. Now, it is hard to separate it from the great Francis Ford Coppola film (and Godfather 2), and from all the Mafia books and films and TV shows that have followed. It was really the first of the genre: when it was published, it was breaking new ground, and its huge popularity was a surprise to everyone.
A world away from mafia novels, a bit of a theme emerged this month – English country houses open to the public.
Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery and I both read Peter Dickinson’s The Old English Peep Show, also known as A Pride of Heroes, in which Inspector Pibble is dismissed to a stately home to cover up a suicide and ends up – literally – in a lions’ den. Tracy says:
Pibble is an unusual protagonist, a middle-aged man with a wife who bullies him “into reading the Elsa books.” (They figure into the story, of course.) … Dickinson calls his book “a baroque spoof.” The San Francisco Chronicle said it was “a bit crazy, harrowingly suspenseful, surprising.” And it is all of that. The thing that surprised me was that with all the elements of humor and caricature, the later part of the book still has definite thriller elements.
Moira entered another stately home open to the public in Catherine Aird’s The Complete Steel,
As a 1969 book: although some of the comedy is broad, the theme of the working classes paying their half-crowns to visit a stately home is very much of its time – the practice had started some time before, but expanded hugely during the 1960s. Splendidly, the Lady Eleanor tries to get entrance money out of the policemen coming to investigate the crime. (She doesn’t succeed: Inspector Sloan is worried about his expenses.)
Then at crossexaminingcrime we saw yet another home open to the public, in Pip Youngman Carter’s Mr Campion’s Farthing. Sadly, it didn’t live up to Margery Allingham’s original stories.
As thriller it fails to make the grade. Pockets of tension quickly sink under the weight of the heavy and slow paragraphs of description which depict everything and anything in a lot of detail, telling the reader the back story of every spoon and room. Even events which should be tense and dramatic such as a car chase and a final confrontation are incredibly undramatic, making the back of a tin of beans seem like a surprising read.
Let’s finish up with a bit of sunshine. Bev, a 1969 model herself (I never asked, she volunteered), reviewed Josephine Bell’s The Wilberforce Legacy, in which a retired officer in a run-down Caribbean hotel is bothered by two versions of his nephew George:
This is a slow-moving, leisurely read (not unlike life as a retired military man on a Caribbean island) with just a dash of action towards the end. Bell (aka Doris Bell Collier Ball) sets her stage well–good island atmosphere and detail with decently outlined characters, though some of the island inhabitants may run a bit to stereotype.
* STOP PRESS *
At the newly-renamed A Crime is Afoot, Jose Ignacio loved Elmore Leonard’s first contemporary crime novel (after several westerns), The Big Bounce:
It has a magnificent prose, very well drawn characters and splendid dialogues. It is also a book difficult to classify, for me is an excellent example of noir fiction. Certainly, I fail to understand some of the poor reviews it has received, maybe because it has an ending that has not been of the taste of many readers. I really believe this is a very literary book filled with real characters, that only lacks some sense of humour to be considered a masterpiece.
Thanks to everyone who played this month, and sorry if I missed you (I’m writing this in advance so may not pick up on a late entrant). But hang on, before you go trick and treating, I need someone to pick next month’s year (just don’t pick a year we’ve already had).