Friday, April 25, 2014

Forgotten Book: I'll Say She Does! by Peter Cheyney

I had heard of Peter Cheyney but hadn't read him. Then a couple of weeks ago, I posted a list of forgotten books which had a book by Cheyney. I so fell in love with its cover that I decided to read Cheyney. (Both the list and the cover can be seen over here).



Born in 1896, Peter Cheyney was a British writer who wrote what is called "hard-boiled" fiction. Two of his most famous creations are F.B.I agent Lemmy Caution and British Private Eye Slim Callaghan. Cheyney was a struggling crime reporter till he remarked that anybody could write fiction in the American idiom. Challenged to do so, he wrote his first Lemmy Caution novel, This Man is Dangerous (1936). The novel's success saw him embark on a dazzling career as a novelist with his novels selling in millions. It seems incredible that he is hardly known today.

Lemmy Caution
source


The book that I got from the library, I'll Say She Does! (1945) is (as I subsequently discovered) the last in the Lemmy Caution series. Talk of making a beginning!



F.B.I agent Lemmy Caution, currently in Paris after the withdrawal of the Germans, finds himself in a spot of trouble. He is supposed to have leaked secrets to a woman called Marceline, whom the F.B.I had been shadowing for long as she was supposed to be selling secrets to the Japanese and Germans along with her partner, the mysterious Varley. The man who could have proved that Caution is innocent of any indiscreet talk, another F.B.I. agent, George Ribban is murdered and soon the body of Marceline turns up too. Compounding the problem is the fact that certain state documents have been stolen and are supposed to be with Varley who seems to have escaped the F.B.I surveillence. Now Caution needs to find the documents as well as Varley to prove himself innocent. The only lead that he has is a woman supposed to be the sister of Varley , a woman so goddam bad that she'd make Satan look like the president of a Bible corporation. As he tries to entrap Varley, the story moves from Paris to England involving beautiful but dangerous women and efficient but double-dealing men. Whom can one believe in this mix?




The back story of the book is very interesting. In 1944, certain Australian POW were being transported home on the ship Drottningholm. Cheney's wife was one of the welfare officers aboard the ship. When the soldiers got to know about it, they asked her to carry a letter from them to Cheney stating that during their years of captivity the Caution books had brought them entertainment and laughter and narrated humorous anecdotes regarding the books especially of a padre walking about the camp in Stalags with "his nose in a large book of Devotions, was discovered, eventually to have Dames Don't Care inside the covers".



They further asked him to continue writing the adventures of Caution. This book is the result of that request and is dedicated to the two officers: Lt. Commander Al Palmer, DSC, RANR (Skipper) and Major Brooke Moore, Australian Infantry (Brookie).



The American idiom which provided Cheyney his breakthrough is in full flow in the novel:

When I get to this dump I see an iron bell-pull hangin' down one side of the door. I give it a jerk an' stand there waitin' a cigarette hangin' outa the corner of my mouth, wonderin' about that dame..A minute or two goes by an' the door opens. There is a little light in the hallway an' standin' lookin' at me is a tall thin bronzed guy. He has got a humorous sorta face an' nice grey eyes. I like this boyo.

He says: "Would you be Lemmy Caution?"
I say: "Yeah, that's what my mother said."

It was extremely jarring to read this initially but then one gotta hang of it an' sorta started enjoyin' it an' wanna to continue. I am gonna readin' more of this boyo.


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First Line: LIFE can be goddam wonderful.

Title: I'll Say She Does!
Author: Peter Cheyney
Publication Details: Bombay: W.A.R Collins, 1946
First Published: 1945
Pages: 172
Source: H.M. Library [F.C.A 35 E]
Other books read of the same author: None

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Entry for FFB @ Pattinase.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Of Ink and Inkpots

A few days ago, while teaching my little one the English alphabet, I told him - I for Ink Pot - and then it struck me that he would see an ink pot only in illustration...and for us it used to be such an essential part of life.





I remember that at the beginning of each new academic session, Papa would buy a large bottle of ink. We would fill a small bottle from it. The large bottle would be placed in a cupboard while the smaller one would be kept securely on the study table. The manufacturers might ask us to break the bottles after use, but we never did so. After every few days, the bottle would be filled again. (Ball point pens were a big No-No in the school and we all had to use fountain pens).




When I was in school, there were two brands that were most famous: Camel and Chelpark.




 For some reason, though we always bought Camel products: Pencils, Crayons, Geometry Set, Paints, for ink Camel was never considered good enough. We always bought Chelpark.  [Some of our classmates were loyal fans of Camel]. Blue-Black was the preferred colour. At times, this bugged us no end. The Royal Blue colour that some of our classmates used had a sparkle to it which made their notebooks look bright while our notebooks filled with Blue-Black colour seemed dull. I remember Papa explaining it to us why Blue-Black was better. Perhaps it didn't spread that much, perhaps it blotted easily, perhaps it had a certain gravitas, perhaps it was permanent and not washable...I do not know but perhaps if I were to buy ink today, it'd be...

source


Blue-Black colour.:)



I remember when Reynolds came to India, it brought with it a revolution in writing. Though the purists cried foul, the messy, leaky fountain pens were soon on their way out. So were broken nibs, ink-stained fingers, the imprints of these fingers on the uniforms...and ink pots.

Yet when I look back, getting ready for the school. There we are arranging our pencil boxes : sharpening the pencils, filling the pens with ink, using a small rag to wipe them clean later. Organised people would use a dropper to fill the pen but people like me, who were always running late, would pour it hurriedly from the bottle which often resulted in an overflow and a messy table... but that's another story.

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Entry for Throwback Thursday @ Peggy Ann's Post in which we share 'old' stuff.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Book for Easter: Resurrection by Lev Tolstoy

How does one react when one comes face to face with one's crime? Does one fake ignorance and turn away or does one accept one's wrong-doing and try to atone for it? This is the theme of Lev Tolstoy's last novel Resurrection, first published serially in 1899.

"All this happened,...because all these people... consider that there are circumstances in this world when man owes no humanity to man." 





Prince Dmitri Ivanovich Nekhlyudov, a wealthy, aristocrat about to make a fortunate alliance with the Princess Missy Korchagina is summoned to the court for jury duty. Three people - a man and two women - are being tried for the murder of a businessman. Dmitri is shocked to see that the younger woman amongst the accused is somebody whom he had known in his youth.  Katyusha Maslova was a ward of his aunts with whom he had once fallen in love but then had shamefully seduced and abandoned her. Now she stands before him as a prostitute accused of murder.



Dmitri's first instinct is to hide lest she recognise and accuse him and thus destroy his reputation. But as the Public Prosecutor flays Maslova, Dmitry feels that it is he whose crimes are being brought into the light. Already troubled by the aimlessness and cynicism that has become the defining feature of his life, Dmitry decides to help Maslova and through it regain his youthful idealism. He can go to any lengths to achieve it, even sacrifice himself by marrying this 'depraved creature'. The very thought makes him feel good about his exalted self. How noble he has become! But Maslova would have nothing to do with it: "You had your pleasure from me in this world, and now you want to get your salvation through me in the world to come!"

This rejection is the awakening for Dmitry and this gives Tolstoy the perfect opportunity to depict what Scottish poet Robert Burns called 'Man's inhumanity to Man'. Law, institutionalized religion, the prison system, the unequal distribution of wealth, the hypocrisy of the advantaged, the humiliation of the dispossessed, the efforts of the idealistic... the novel becomes one big comment on the human condition.

I wouldn't say I enjoyed the novel too much. [In fact, I had forgotten about having read it before and it was only mid-way that it started coming back to me]. It read too much like the portrayal of all the sufferings in the world with characters being introduced ceaselessly to depict one misery or depravity after another but there are certain scenes that stood out. One of them, the innocent, pregnant woman running after her seducer has almost become an archetype with the girl abandoned on a rain-drenched platform while her seducer speeds away in a train which disappears in the dark:

"Gone!" She screamed.

"He is sitting in a velvet arm-chair and joking and drinking in a brightly-lit carriage and I, out here in the mud, in the darkness, in the wind and the rain, am standing and weeping...."



*

First Line: Though hundreds of thousands had done their very best to disfigure the small piece of land on which they were crowded together, paving the ground with stones, scraping away every sprouting blade of grass, lopping off the branches of trees, driving away birds and beasts, filling the air with the smoke of coal and oil - still spring was spring, even in the town.

Title: Resurrection
Original Title: Voskreseniye
Original Language: Russian
Author: Lev Tolstoy
Translator: Louise Maude
Publication Details: Moscow: Progress Publishers: 1977
First Published: 1899
Pages: 585
Source: College Library (891.733 T588R)
Other books read of the same author: A few short stories.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Remembering Marquez and His Chronicle


Throwback Thursday is a new meme @ Peggy Ann's Post  in which one shares 'old stuff': books, pictures, movies, T.V. shows. Lovely concept, isn't it?

I have just heard the news that Gabriel Garcia Marquez is no more and so I thought that it'd be fitting to look  back at the first book that I read of him.




My introduction to Marquez was rather late in the day. He was already a renowned, much-translated, Nobel-prize winning author when I first heard of him. Everybody, but everybody, swore by his One Hundred Years of Solitude. Interested, I picked it up... and gave it up. The multi-generational story about the Buendia family which effectively narrates the history of Columbia written in a magic-realist style was beyond my comprehension. So though my brother-in-law and some of my colleagues were his ardent fan, I wasn't enamoured. He was one of those authors whom one 'must read'... but hardly ever did.

All that was to change when I read Chronicle of a Death Foretold. A non-linear narrative, multiple-points-of-view, an anonymous narrator, suspect reliability, a murder and its re-construction had me spell bound.






 “There had never been a death more foretold,”


A small coastal-town in Columbia is abuzz because a bishop is to arrive that very day to bless the union of the local beauty Angela Vicario to the handsome, wealthy outsider Bayardo San Roman. The marriage however, ends the first night itself when Angela is sent back to her parental home by Bayardo. After being beaten by her enraged family, Angela reveals the name of her seducer:
She only took the time necessary to say the name. She looked for it in the shadows, she found it at first sight among the many, many easily confused names from this world and the other, and she nailed it to the wall with her well-aimed dart, like a butterfly with no will whose sentence has always been written. ‘Santiago Nasar,’ she said.

This puts her twin brothers Pedro and Pablo in a dilemma. Their code of Family honour demands that they kill Santiago. But he also happens to be their friend and, in fact, had been celebrating the wedding with them in a drunken revelry at the local whore-house. Keen that somebody should stop them from carrying out the murder, the twins go on broadcasting it to the whole town. A death this foretold surely would not occur, but it does...




Decades later, the narrator, a cousin of Angela, a callow youth at the time and now a journalist, tries to reconstruct the events of that particular day, interviewing the surviving members of the drama, trying to guess at their intentions, pointing out the unreliability of both memories and motives.... and comes to no concrete conclusion, only to the image of a town unwilling to face its own complicity in a murder which had made of the town an open wound.



Adieu Marquez. Thanks for the books. May you RIP.



*

First Line: "On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on".

Title: Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
Original Title: Crónica de una muerte anunciada




Original Language: Spanish
Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
First Published: 1981

Other Books read of the same author: One Hundred years of Solitude, Of Love and Other Demons.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Forgotten Book: One of Us Must Die by Anna Clarke

After a tiring day at the hospital, Dr. Dorothy Laver reaches home only to find a note from her husband stating that he is taking his own life. Does Dr. Laver react hysterically? No. She merely goes searching for him and after having found him up in the bathroom with a few superficial cuts on the wrist, stitches them up... and soon Gerald Laver is propped up on the bed with a glass of whisky in one hand, a newspaper in the other, and joking around. All in a day's work.




Anna Clarke's One of Us Must Die is a terrifying look at what it means to live with a psychotic. The Laver household is a living hell. Dorothy - more successful than her husband - has not only to bear his poisonous barbs regarding her professional success and 'lovers', she also has to patch him up after each carefully staged suicide attempts:

He tortured her conscience with these fake suicide bids as an experienced kidnapper or hijacker played on the conscience of a civilized society.

But what hold does Gerry have over her? Why can't Dorothy just walk out of her marriage? Does the answer to this lies in an incident fifteen years earlier when their infant daughter had died of an overdose? Is it a feeling of guilt that binds Dorothy to Gerry?

As things reach boiling point with Dorothy thinking how easy it'd be to be free of all the mental trauma and emotional anguish -You can have your freedom from him, (her thoughts) kept telling her. It is terribly easy. All you have to do is to let it happen next time. Not to come to the rescue. To arrive home too late - new factors intrude upon this hellish situation. Dorothy finds herself seeking the company of a young man Peter in order to unburden herself; a young girl, Nina, enters the household as a help; and Dorothy's ailing father comes to stay.... And a death takes place. But can death always resolve an issue or does it give rise to another set of complications?



Clarke's book is terrifying look at mental and emotional abuse. The first half of the novel is brilliant in what it means to live with an emotionally unstable person who knows how to push your buttons but the later part seems to have been written in a hurry with the novel losing much of its steam. But all in all, here's an author I am glad to have discovered and whom I'd like to read more of.

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First Line: "Gerry! Where are you?"

Title: One of Us Must Die
Author: Anna Clarke
Publishing Details: London: Collins, 1978 (The Crime Club)
First Published: 1978
Pages: 193

Other books read of the same author: None

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A rather late entry for FFB @ Pattinase. Please head over there for the other entries.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Forgotten Book: Murder at the Pageant by Victor L. Whitechurch

Being a member of the clergy and a writer of mysteries might seem two very different callings but Victor Lorenzo Whitechurch (1868-1933) was both: attached to the Church of England as well as a prolific writer and member of the Detection Club. He is best known today for his stories featuring the Railway Detective Thorpe Hazell. (A review of it can be read @ Pretty Sinister Books). But he also wrote a number of other books including Murder at the Pageant.



Frimley Manor is in a state of excitement. It is an evening in the year 1929 and a pageant is being held in its grounds in order to collect funds for a hospital. In 1705, Queen Anne had visited the manor and had been carried over in a sedan chair. Now two hundred and twenty four years later, the same scene is being enacted with the highlight being the same sedan chair that had been used to carry Her Royal Highness:

It was a very handsome old chair, lacquered in black and dark red and overlaid with brass filigree-work. The poles, also, were similarly ornamented. One of the bearers lifted the roof, which was hinged, slightly, and tilted it back, while another opened the side door. Queen Anne rose from her seat, stepped out, and graciously accepted the hand of her host. They led the way, followed by their respective retainers, to the entrance of the house, into which they disappeared. 



The scene is well-received though there is a slight feeling that Mrs. Cresswell, who is playing the role of Queen Anne, should not be flaunting her pearls so:

 "Don't you think Mrs. Cresswell is a silly ass to sport those pearls of hers all over the place?"

"Why?"

"Well, they are frightfully valuable, you know. I think she's simply asking for trouble."

"Oh, you mean it's a temptation?"

"Well, you don't know who there might have been among the crowd we had in here today. I know one thing, and that is that her husband would be perfectly hectic about it if he knew she'd been wearing that necklace. He's most awfully particular about it—family heirloom, and all that sort of thing. They say he only lets her put the thing on when he's present, or at shows where detectives are engaged."

"Well, he isn't here today, anyway. And the thing's all over now. If any motor bandits were about they'd have had the bally pearls by this time."

However, before the night is over the pearls go missing, a murder occurs, and the chair assumes a sinister significance. Now, it is up to the police (who are thankfully, shown as pretty competent) and ex-secret service agent Roger Bistrow, who is one of the guests at the manor as well as Master of the Pageant, to solve this double mystery.

This is an easy read which well captures the English countryside.

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First Line: "The sedan-chair used in this scene is the chair in which Queen Anne was carried on the occasion of her visit to Frimley Manor in 1705."

Title: Murder at the Pageant
Author: Victor L. Whitechurch
Publication Details: London: Collins, 1930 (The Crime Club)
First Published: 1930
Pages: n.pag.
Other books read of the same author: None


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Entry for FFB @ Pattinase

Monday, March 31, 2014

Mount TBR: March Checkpoint

It's March and time for the first check-in as we climb the mountains of books that always seem to be spilling-off the shelves.



Well, I am not aiming too high. All I have to do is to read 12 books in order to scale my small Pike's Peak. And I seem to be making adequate progress, having already read 3:

From Sawdust to Stardust by Terry Lee Rioux
 Kartography by Kamila Shamsie
To Make the Deaf Hear by S. Irfan Habib



Of these my favourite cover has been this:




The two men are Indian revolutionaries Bhagat Singh and Batukeshwar Dutt. They got themselves clicked before they went and threw bombs in the legislative assembly. Though the bombs were manufactured in such a way as not to kill anyone, this dare-devilry was sure to get them either hanged or incarcerated. I have often wondered what must have been passing through their minds as they sat facing the camera.

The Urdu couplets on top are from the Jail Notebook of Bhagat Singh. The first one reads thus:

Give me a heart of such temperament, O Protector
That it may pass the hour of sorrow also as a happy hour.  

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If you want to go mountain climbing (and be rewarded for your efforts), click here.