I’m not feeling very well at the moment (there are several colds going around school), so I’m just going to do a brief round up of what I’ve been reading lately.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I just listened to two Margery Allingham novels; The Crime at Black Dudley and Mystery Mile. I also went ahead and picked up the third book in the Campion series, Look to the Lady.
Campion must help protect a medieval chalice from art thieves, although the chalice is reputed to have supernatural guards as well. Campion must face off against a brutal gang and a centuries old curse in order to protect the chalice and the family that guards it.
I also picked up the first two books in Marion Chesney’s A House for the Season series. (Marion Chesney is, by the by, also M.C. Beaton.) These are regency romances in the style of Georgette Heyer. Things my heave and flutter, but always within the confines of one’s own clothes. They get, at most, a PG-13 rating, so they’re appropriate for those who like their romance without all the frickle and frackle.
Book 1 is The Miser of Mayfair - a dissipated old man inherits his rich brother’s beautiful ward, but no money with which to care for her. He decides that the only recourse is to go to London and try to get her married off to a wealthy man. The two hit on the plan of pretending that he is a rich miser to explain their lack of funds, fine clothes, or expensive dinners.
Book 2 is Plain Jane. Jane is the younger, plainer daughter of a moderately wealthy family. Her mother dotes on the stunningly beautiful Euphemia and seems to hold Jane in contempt. When they move into 67 Clarges Street for the Season, Jane becomes embroiled in a mystery. The second tenants at #67 had a beautiful daughter who died under mysterious circumstances. Jane is determined to find out what happened.
All of the books in this series take place at #67 Clarges Street. The staff there are actually the pillars of the series, although the individual tenants have the primary romantic arcs. The staff has formed an odd little family and I look forward to finding out how Lizzie’s crush on the handsome footman is going, or how the new cat is settling in almost as much as I anticipate the main story.
That’s what’s been keeping me occupied lately. What have you been reading?
Let us turn our attention to Crime Queens, those early 20th century ladies with murder on the mind. Agatha Christie is the most famous of these authors, but Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, and Margery Allingham all have their proponents. I found almost all of these ladies through television adaptations of their characters. The exceptions being Marsh and Tey. My mother introduced me to both of them and it has been a congenial acquaintance.
Agatha Christie and I first crossed paths through the agency of that most unlikely of detectives, Miss Marple. Specifically, the Joan Hickson renditions as seen on Mystery on PBS. I’ve seen all the Miss Marples, 98% of the Poirots, the Tommy and Tuppances, and even the stand alone adaptations such as “The Pale Horse.”
Once I had seen my first Miss Marple I was hooked. I started to buy her books with my allowance. I checked out Miss Marple stories from the library. I sought them out in used bookshops. I graduated to other Agatha Christie novels, but the Miss Marple stories remained my true detectival passion. I was a Christie purist until high school.
I was about thirteen, languishing in my room during the summers away from school, reading everything that crossed my path when my mother handed me The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. I was interested in English history and Mom gave me this book. I didn’t even know that there was a whole series of Alan Grant books for at least a year. I just kept re-reading The Daughter of Time. (This was also the very first book we read in my book club.) I enjoy the series as a whole and have gone back and re-read all of the Alan Grant books. I’ve never much cared for her non-mystery fiction though. Perhaps I should give them another try? Tey is also the only one of these authors who has not had a film adaptation of any of her books as far as I know.
I picked up the third of my Crime Queens in high school as well. Ngaio (pronounced nie-oh ) Marsh was from New Zealand, but her detective, Roderick Alleyn, is English through and through. Alleyn comes from a very posh background, which tends to give him a little more clout than your average Scotland Yard man in the homes of the wealthy. He heads up 32 novels in all. The other interesting thing about Alleyn is that he gets married, has children and the children grow up. So many of the detectives seem to be caught in amber. Miss Marple is as old and woolly in her first adventure as in her last. There is a t.v. series called, conveniently, the Inspector Alleyn Mysteries. I didn’t find these until I was out of grad school and had read all of the books. The Ngaio Marsh books are the only ones I have a complete set of, interestingly enough.
It has been said that the problem with Dorothy Sayers is that she was in love with her protagonist. However, since I’m also in love with Lord Peter, I don’t have a problem with that. Lord Peter Whimsy is an aristocrat, a fop, a collector of rare manuscripts, and a genius. I honestly don’t remember if I found the books or the BBC adaptations first. There are two Lord Peters available on the television. There are the Ian Carmichael episodes, which were filmed in the 1970’s. His Lord Peter is older, slightly more dissipated, but hell on wheels when he’s roused. Then there are the Edward Petherbridge episodes, which were filmed in the 1980’s. Petherbridge is thinner and much more the stereotypical horsey British aristocrat. The Petherbridge series focuses on the stories that involve Harriet Vane, Lord Peter’s love interest.
At this point in my life I probably go back to Dorothy Sayers more than any of the others. Possibly because I have read Christie so many times that I have them almost memorized. And Marsh, though I love her, is very formulaic. You can tell which of the young persons will end up together by chapter 5. Tey is marvelous, but there isn’t really very much of her, so again, I’ve read them all over and over. Plus, there’s just something about Lord Peter. I find myself most envious of Harriet and of Sayers herself for all the time they get to spend with him.
Last, we come to Margery Allingham. She is the most recent addition to my Crime Queens. I found her through Netflix. I had re-watched all the Lord Peter that was available and the Netflix algorithm suggested the Campion series. Our Albert, as he refers to himself, is played by the Fifth Doctor Who, Peter Davison. He plays a fool, but a fool who is hired by governments and kings. He is also the disinherited son of an unnamed, but extremely prominent noble house. He has a butler who is an ex-convict and a number of very dubious acquaintances.
This is one series that I thought for a long time made much better tv episodes than they did books. Some of the books are a bit uneven and some of them border on dull. But, I recently had occasion to listen to the first two books in the series, The Crime at Black Dudley and Mystery Mile. I found myself quite diverted. The one thing that was interesting is that Allingham does not actually have Campion as the protagonist. In The Crime at Black Dudley the protagonist is the slightly prim Dr George Abbershaw, a noted pathologist, but not a detective in his own right. Mystery Mile is more impartial. We follow several characters, including Campion himself, but we’re never tightly focused on him. The over-the-shoulder camera view is a much more modern literary trick than you might think. It’s a bit disconcerting to go back to older books and realize that you don’t get that very much.
I’m slowly working my way through the Campion books, but I don’t yearn for the next one when I’ve finished.
Much like all the early 20th century literature, there are attitudes and descriptions in all of these books that would range from out of touch to downright racist today. So far, I haven’t encountered anything that seems to come from a place of hatred, but there is language and just general description that wouldn’t fly today. For example, there is a Turkish character in Mystery Mile. He is repeatedly referred to as “the Oriental.” Every time I heard that I twitched a little, but it’s never said in a sneering way, just a very matter of fact way. So, be forewarned, these are very much products of their time and some of the content may make you uncomfortable.
And, just for fun, here is the intro to PBS’s “Mystery”
I thought today I would do a quick reaction to Kate Nepveu’s post on Chapters 5-10 over on Tor.com.
I agree with her that Mr Drawlight is fairly amusing. We both exceprted his comment about French windows, for example. But I think I still find him more objectionable than she seems to. He also compares unfavorably to other members of his archetype, namely the divine Oscar himself and Gail Carriger’s Lord Akeldama.
The notation about money is very valuable. Mr Norrell could give away £800 very casually. Ms. Nepveu has converted that to 2013 value and it comes out to roughly $116,400. That is a tremendous amount of money to send off just to avoid the hassle of receiving a letter.
She also notes the foreshadowing about the resurrection which can be found in the footnotes. I didn’t notice that particularly, but I already knew that a young woman was brought back from the dead. Possibly from a Goodreads review? I’m not sure.
Oh… So, “a good chunk of the book will take place in Venice.” Well, I guess that explains the paintings then. Hmm, I’m not sure if I’m glad I know this or not.
Refusing to see things, and people, as they really are. Mrs Wintertowne’s perception of her daughter as perfect and perfectly healthy may have directly contributed to her death.
Mr Drawlight is seen as the unlikely hero. His actions in persuading Mr Norrell to resurrect Miss Wintertowne set up (apparently) the rest of the book.
She seems much more drawn to the man with the thistle-down hair than I was. I accepted him as a character, but was not particularly entranced with him. Although, now that the comparison between Mr Norrell’s head and a stew pot has been pointed out to me I rather like it too.
Mr Norrell’s perception of Miss Wintertowne as not quite a person, as something that can be bartered or given is rather upsetting. Althought, since her mother is, as far as we know, giving her away to Sir Walter, it is perhaps not surprising that Mr Norrell who has barely met her would feel entitled to do the same.
The fact that the fairy knows about Jonathan Strange already is puzzling. Also, that he is supposed to become Mr Norrell’s “greatest friend.” I don’t get the impression that Mr Norrell has any friends.
Ms. Nepveu manages to bring Charlaine Harris into the conversation! Bonus points for that.
She also picked out my issue with Sir Walter and his ideas about his relationship with his future wife. He’s a nice man, but…
Miss Wintertowne’s remarkable health and vitality is remarked upon. She circled the square an absurd number of times and feels better than ever before. Better than a normal young woman should.
The view widens, but there isn’t much else to say. The concept of magically drafting the men of Lincolnshire is more disturbing on further reflection. That’s just creepy.
Barring unforeseen events, I should continue with chapters 11-17 on Friday.
I know I’m running late. A dear friend came into town, so I went off gallivanting with her instead of doing my blog post. But, here is the second set of chapters for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. If you haven’t read it yet, here is the link to the Tor.com reread written by Kate Nepveu. It is much more in-depth than I will be going. She has a summary of events, followed by commentary, and then a miscellany, including historical notes.
My sympathies, for the present, are firmly with Mr. Segundus, so I look on the fact that Chapter 5 focuses on Mr Norrell with sadness.
Chapter 5: Drawlight
Does Childermass remind anyone else of Severus Snape, or is that just me? Also, I’m assuming that he’s more than human, but time will tell.
“Besides, if such a magician had existed you would have long since found him out, would not you? – and discovered the means to part him from his books and put an end to his scholarship? You have done it before, you know.”
This quote from Childermass puts an even worse complexion on Mr. Norrell’s dealings with the York society.
The moral, as Mr Drawlight explained it, was that if Mr Norrell hoped to win friends for the cause of modern magic, he must insert a great many more French windows into his home.
Mr Drawlight seems to be quite the sponger. I don’t have a tremendous amount to say about this chapter, except that it contains two impressive footnotes and I don’t much like anyone in it.
Chapter 6: “Magic is not respectable, sir.”
The notion of country gentlemen muttering darkly about clever government officials feels very familiar. I’m picturing a sort of English Joe-the-plumber.
We get a great deal of background on Sir Walter Pole, but I find myself frustrated when we switch back to Mr Norrell. Is Sir Walter actually a good man? I know he is a collection of ugly features that somehow all come together into a pleasing whole. I know he is in deep debt. But I know nothing of his personal character despite several pages with him.
The descriptions of the Venetian paintings in Sir Walter’s rooms were beautiful, but the bizarre situation with Miss Wintertowne was very strange. I assume the girl has consumption, but a) no one in the room was acknowledging her coughing and b) why is her mother so interested in getting her married?
The situation did remind me of an epigram from Martial that I translated back in Latin class:
Gemelus doth his mistress pray
At once to fix the wedding day;
Sends gifts, and begs with all his might.
Is she so fair?– A perfect fright!
What is it then, that sets her off?
Why, Maronilla has — a cough.
(translation from Select Epigrams from Martial for English Readers)
Chapter 7: An opportunity unlikely to occur again
Miss Wintertowne has died, as was to be expected, but before the wedding, and thus has inconvenienced everyone.
Apparently, Mrs Wintertowne refused to acknowledge that her daughter was ill? At least, according to the slightly untrustworthy, but well-informed Mr Drawlight.
Mr Drawlight seems to pop out with small gems, much like Oscar Wilde, “Upon my word, there is nothing in the world so easy to explain as failure – it is, after all, what every body does all the time.”
The little play with Mrs Wintertowne entreating him and Sir Walter trying to ignore him is almost painful. And Mr Drawlight, though witty, comes across as more and more reprehensible.
Chapter 8: A gentleman with thistle-down hair
The negotiations with the fairy were very interesting; half Miss Wintertowne’s life in exchange for her resurrection. I do notice, however, that neither party specified which half the fairy got. Maybe I’ve read too much Seanan McGuire, but I can’t help but feel like it was a bad bargain. Will he take her, Persephone-like, half of each of the next seventy-five years? Or will he take her now and bring her back in 37 years once she is no longer young and beautiful? I have a twisty mind.
Drawlight and Lascelles continue to be moderately horrible. Lascelles is actually offended that the butler and menservants are speaking to him. Bleh.
Miss Wintertowne is surprisingly calm. I hope I see more of her in the future.
I have no idea why the fairy took her little finger. I wonder if that will come up again?
Also, somehow I had forgotten that there were illustrations in this book. I find it sort of strange. I suppose I’ve read editions of Jane Austen that had pictures. And I think some of my Dickens did, but I’m not accustomed to pictures in my historical fiction. I think A Natural History of Dragons and Johannes Cabal, Detective are the only things I can think of that I read recently that are illustrated.
Chapter 9: Lady Pole
The narrator is a lady! (Which, I knew because Kate Nepveu mentions it in her analysis of the first four chapters, but still! It’s unexpected and cool.)
Mrs Wintertowne’s indignation on the very personal and intrusive notes she is getting following her daughter’s resurrection just tickles me. I love the notion of an etiquette book for a magical world. How to properly retract condolences after a resurrection. Does one write a birthday or a deathday note to a ghost? How to leave a calling card for a werewolf on the morning after a full moon.
Sir Walter’s hopes for mutual understanding with his future wife are both sweet and slightly creepy. He’s forty-one and expecting this bright, beautiful nineteen year old to be enthralled by his opinions. It’s nice that he hopes they will actually suit and that he considers that she might even have opinions of her own, but the age gap, though period accurate, is creepy.
Chapter 10: The difficulty of finding employment for a magician
Of course the government spends days arguing about what to do with their new magician instead of just asking how he thinks he could be useful or even what he can actually do.
Here are Kate’s thoughts on these chapters. I haven’t had time to read them yet, so I’ll post any thoughts I have tomorrow. I’m not fully invested in the book yet, but I am interested. Are any of you reading along too?
Delilah Dirk & the Turkish Lieutenant is a graphic novel written and illustrated by Tony Cliff. Our protagonist is actually the aforementioned Turkish lieutenant, a young man named Selim. Selim is a hapless lieutenant in the Sultan’s guard in Constantinople. His passion is the brewing and blending of tea, but it isn’t something for which he gets much respect.
One day, an intruder is apprehended in the Sultan’s palace. She says her name is Delilah Dirk and she lists off numerous accomplishments:
a member of three royal courts
skilled acrobat, lockpick, and escape artists
owner of a flying ship
She has traveled and trained all over the world. And she is here to “repatriate” some of the Sultan’s antique scrolls.
When Delilah inevitably escapes, the Agha blames Selim and orders his execution. Delilah saves him, thus thrusting him into her own life of adventure and intrigue.
This was a delightful read. Delilah is, as far as she can be trusted, a runaway English noblewoman turned adventuress. She’s very much a Regency-era Lara Croft, as far as I can tell. She reminds me a bit of Gail Simone’s version of Red Sonja too. She’s tough, irreverent, thoughtless, but also kind. She had nothing to gain by saving Selim, but she did it anyway. On the other hand, she’ll burn down a town’s only bridge as part of a getaway plan. She’s maybe not a great role model, but she is a great deal of fun.
Selim, on the other hand, is gentle. He isn’t, on the surface, cut out for a life of adventure and intrigue. But he is, if nothing else, a loyal friend.
The art is good, but it didn’t stand out as unusual to me. In a way, I’m glad of that. If I’d spent more time looking at the craft of the art I wouldn’t have had as much focus for the story. If you like adventure books I highly recommend this one.
I’m participating in the Birmingham Art Crawl on November 6. They sent out a long questionere to all the artists and I thought it might be interesting to post my answers. So, here’s more than you ever wanted to know about me, as an artist.
- Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Sara and I make jewelry. Mostly I use fiber techniques like crochet or knitting with wire. I also work at a bookstore and an elementary school library.
- Why do you do what you do?
I love making jewelry. I love to blend colors and textures to make wearable art.
- How do you work?
I usually combine a mix of beads and gemstones into a bowl and look at it for a while. Then I start the actual crafting process.
- What’s your background?
I worked at a bead and jewelry store while I was in graduate school. I learned many of my techniques there and others I picked up here and there.
- What’s integral to the work of an artist?
Passion. Art is often a hard and lonely pursuit, so you have to love it for the process.
- What role does the artist have in society?
I think artists are our heart. Visual artists, wordsmiths, musicians, dancers… they all help to tap into our emotions and our inner selves.
- What’s your favorite art work?
I love paintings, especially of complex or ethereal subjects. Kinuko Craft and Yoshitaka Amano are two of my favorite artists. They are both known for very intricate art, although in very different styles. Craft paints primarily in oils, doing very western-style fairy tale paintings, while Amano uses watercolors and guache in a much more Japanese style.
- What’s your most embarrassing moment?
I met an author that I’m a big fan of a few years ago. It was an unexpected meeting, we were introduced by another author I already knew. All I could do was repeat, “Oh my god. You’re you. Oh my god.” It was terrible. (Yeah, that was Dan Wells)
- What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
I work at a bookstore and a library right now. I’ve also been a tour guide at Colonial Williamsburg.
- Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
I spend time with my friends and also in online communities like tumblr. There are a ton of artists there and it’s easy to become inspired or to commiserate if things aren’t going well.
- What do you dislike about your work?
It’s never exactly the way I envisioned it.
- What do you like about your work?
It makes people feel pretty or special.
- Should art be funded?
Absolutely! Art is essential. Without art to challenge us, to comfort us, to direct us toward things we would rather not see or might not notice we will become stagnant.
- What role does arts funding have?
Artists will create with very little, but freeing an artist from the concerns of finding the next meal or paying rent allows them to fully tap into their potential. And more art is always a benefit to society.
- What makes you angry?
Injustice and ignorance.
- What superpower would you have and why?
I want Storm’s powers from the X-men. She has control over weather. She can fly, she can zap things with lightning. She’s awesome. Mostly, I’d love to be able to fly, but the ability to manipulate the weather would also be awesome.
- Name something you love, and why.
Reading. It lets me dip into other lives, other times, other ideologies.
- What is your dream project?
To design a suite of jewelry based off my favorite books.
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
- Professionally, what’s your goal?
To be able to support myself with my art.
- What wouldn’t you do without?
The internet. I use it for research, for networking, for keeping up with my friends, and just for entertainment.