Archive for the ‘Crime/Detective’ Category

Book #115: The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, somehow, is my first encounter with the Sherlock Holmes books. Obviously I’ve watched Sherlock and some of the Holmes movies, but I’d never gotten around to reading any of the Holmes books.

The Hound of the Baskervilles was surprisingly fun to read. I don’t always enjoy the turn-of-the century writing style, but I liked Watson’s voice and the story was compelling without the writing getting in the way, as sometimes happens to me.

I didn’t have that strong a reaction to this book, however. I really enjoyed it and I want to read more Sherlock Holmes books, but I find that I don’t have that much to say about it.

Read it, if you haven’t somehow. It’s a well-constructed mystery and a great story. It’s a really quick read and moves along at a good pace. It has the right amount of tension and suspense, without feeling drawn-out or over-written. It also doesn’t feel gimmicky or cliche at all – though I suppose that could be because this is one of the originators of all the detective story cliches that have followed.

Rating: *****
Up Next: The Cancer Ward

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Book #105: The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul

One of my favorite things about reading Douglas Adams is trying to explain it to other people. One night my dad and I were both reading and, probably inspired by my giggling over The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul from the love seat, he asked what my book was about.

“Thor is taking this girl to Valhalla to challenge Odin to a fight, because Odin made him count all the rocks in Scotland.”

“…that’s probably a metaphor for some deep thought, though, right?” he asked.

“Nope,” I said gleefully, and returned to the book.

It’s hilarious to think about the different things you can try to explain to people. Throughout the evening I’d occasionally say stuff like, “Oh my god, the guy got turned into a Coke machine!” or, “He turned the fighter pilot into an eagle!” or “The sofa can’t exist in that space because of time travel!” It sounds insane, because it is.

Another thing I love about Adams is the way he plays with language and turns sentences on their head. Dirk views the world in such a unique way, and you can tell by the way he thinks of things and says things. Immediately upon hearing about an “act of god” that destroyed an airport, Dirk wonders which god is responsible for this “act of god.” Things like that make me giddy.

I also appreciated this quote, which is a good example of how Adams can play with language in such a fun way:

“Let us think the unthinkable. Let us do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable, and see if we might eff it after all!”

Hilarious.

As a whole I didn’t enjoy The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul quite as much as Dirk Gently, however. It’s still Douglas Adams, so it’s still a zany romp through time, space, and dimensions. The pacing was just a bit off in this one, however. The crazy plots built and built, and then they were resolved a bit too quickly, which left me a tad unsatisfied. I was left happy, but also wanting more.

Douglas Adams is still Douglas Adams, however, and I still adored this book.

Rating: *****
Up Next: The Girls of Slender Means

Book #81: The Purloined Letter

This was the second time that I read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Purloined Letter.

The Purloined Letter is the third story Poe wrote about the detective C. Auguste Dupin. In this Dupin adventure, the amateur detective is approached by the Parisian police with a sensitive problem. An important person is being blackmailed by a government minister, who stole a letter with incriminating contents. They would like Dupin’s help in getting the letter back.

Basically, if you’re a Sherlock fan (and, let’s be honest, if you aren’t yet, you should be, what’s wrong with you?), it’s pretty much the plot of A Scandal in Belgravia and, by extension, the plot of the Sherlock Holmes adventure A Scandal in Bohemia.

Dupin, being the logical, analytical, semi-professional detective that he is, is sent in to recover the letter and, he hopes, find a way to end the blackmailer’s political career.

I’m always interested in Poe’s prose because I mostly think of him as a poet (even though I’ve read more of his novellas than his poems). It’s interesting to see him write a detective, crime story instead of a creepy, gothic thing. It’s interesting to see the spin he puts on a pretty classic blackmail story.

Rating: ****
Up Next: To Kill A Mockingbird

Book #60: Billy Bathgate

E.L. Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate was a pretty fun read.

It’s a New York gangster story. Basically, this teenager gets wrapped up in the world of organized crime when a successful (but on his way down) gangster takes him under his wing and starts training him to become part of the underworld.

“Billy Bathgate,” as the boy calls himself, finds himself in over his head, but somehow managing to keep afloat when he joins the ranks of Dutch Schultz’s gang. All too soon, he finds himself rapidly coming of age in a dangerous but seductive society. He must quickly learn the ropes and figure out how to survive, before the gang goes down – and takes him with it.

In many ways, I couldn’t help but think of Billy Bathgate as a sort of “un-Godfather.” Like Puzo’s book, Bathgate is also set in New York City, has an enigmatic leader who pulls many strings but is starting to lose power, and sucks readers into the intriguing underworld.

Of course, I don’t think that anybody will ever write a better gangster book than The Godfather, so it was really unfair to E.L. Doctorow and Billy Bathgate for me to make that comparison. Especially because, aside from those surface things, the Bathgate is very different from The Godfather.

It isn’t just a crime story, it’s a coming-of-age story. And a freaking interesting one at that. Billy is put into situations far above his maturity level as he sees men die, is entrusted with protecting molls, is taught to shoot, and initiated into the gang. The narrator, an older, matured Billy, recalls his youth with hindsight and perspective. His mature, adult reflections on his sometimes-childish actions add an interesting layer to the narrative.

Perspective is always an interesting thing. Things that seemed terribly confusing, and choices that seemed impossible to make suddenly become clear when you look back at them from years later. In Billy Bathgate, when the character was often making life-and-death decisions, but reflecting on them as an adult, years later, it created a really unique text.

I highly recommend that people give Billy Bathgate a try. It’s a unique, interesting, intriguing book.

Rating: ****
Up Next: ?????

The Understated Falcon

I finished The Maltese Falcon already. Short books, crappy internet, and 3-hour car rides will do that for you.

The book wasn’t what I was expecting. I guess because I live in a sensationalized, Dan-Brown, action sort of world, I thought it would have a lot more action, intrigue and over-the-top conspiracies. Instead, it was understated. The Knights Templar/artifact with dubious history was really just a vehicle for advancing the plot. Hammett focused very little on the falcon itself and rather on Spade and the characters involved.

THAT, friends, is what a good mystery book should do. It’s nice to read a book that can mention the Knights Templar and conspiracy theories only fleetingly. I wasn’t aware that you could do that sort of thing. How refreshing.

Anyway, I could easily picture the fast-talking Sam Spade bantering with the cops and comforting hysterical women. I appreciated his humor and the witty writing style.

At times I felt a bit lost with all of the driving around. In parts, too, I felt like there were plot holes where the characters both knew something that I didn’t. To make matters worse, they wouldn’t tell me what they knew. I felt a little lost when that happened.

Anyway, overall I enjoyed my first real detective novel. I was a little underwelmed by the lack of conspiracy theory, but now that I think about it, I like that. They don’t write them like that anymore. (Except they probably do)

Rating: ****
Up Next: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“Hey, Dollface”: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet (#7)

The Maltese Falcon book cover

Oh look! It’s a detective book! This is really exciting. I haven’t read that many detective novels. I think the last one I read was Pulp by Charles Bukowski, but I don’t know if that counts as a classic “detective” novel. I enjoyed it, but it’s Bukowski. I have this weird lit-crush on him so I’m biased.

Actually, come to think of it, the last “detective” novel I read was Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. That DEFINITELY doesn’t count!

Anyway, I’m glad I finally get to read a Sam Spade novel. Goodness knows I’ve heard enough about him what with all the movies and books and everything. I’ve heard from several sources that this is where “it” all started. I don’t quite know what “it” is, but evidently all the awesome detective stuff from way back when movies were actually good is connected to this. Somehow. Or at least that’s what the lady I met in the stacks at the library told me.

I don’t know a whole lot about detective novels, to be honest.

Humphrey Bogart in fedoraFor awhile when I was in high school this boy called me “dollface.” It always made me feel like we should be in black and white and he should be sitting beside a desk with his feet up and a cigarette in the corner of his mouth. Then, he’d put on his fedora, tip it down over his eyes, and head out into the rain to solve a case. That is how I imagine 1930s detective stories should be. So if this isn’t, I’m going to be VERY disappointed.

I’m really looking forward to reading this book. I’ll probably read it all in one sitting because I have a 3 and a half hour car ride tomorrow and it’s probably going to be really exciting. I hope. Maybe if I’m lucky, someone will even say “dollface.”

Also, as a sidenote, don’t Google image search the word “dollface.” I mean, I found what you would probably expect to find, but don’t do it. I’m spending the night in my grandparents’ basement, and I’m pretty sure that I won’t be sleeping…

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