Friday, October 9, 2015

Forgotten Book: An English Murder by Cyril Hare

Cyril Hare is the pseudonym of  Alfred Alexander Gordon Clark, an English judge and writer of mysteries. I had heard of Hare but had not read him before reading his most popular book: An English Murder. First published in 1951, this is a Country House mystery in which the merry season of Christmas turns into one of ill-will and murder.

The War is over. England may have won the war but she has lost her empire and in the new Welfare State, the old grand houses are dying, the lower classes are upwardly mobile, and even fascism is not quite dead.

Lord Warbeck invites a few family members and friends to his home, Warbeck Hall, realising that this might be his last Christmas. Among the invitees are his son, Robert who heads a fledgling fascist party called the League of Liberty and Justice; Lady Camilla Prendergast, a distant relative, another woman, Mrs. Carstairs wife of an upcoming politician Alan Carstairs; Sir Julius Warbeck, an MP and cousin of Lord Warbeck; and Dr. Bottwink, a professor from Prague who has suffered the concentration camps of the Third Reich.

It is an odd assorted group and there is trouble right from the beginning. Robert hates the professor and Julius, because one is a Jew and the other is somebody whom he holds responsible for bringing in all the legislative laws that are ending the privileges of the aristocrats. He is further troubled by his own personal commitments. The Professor and the MP, in their turn, dislike Robert intensely. Julius, further, doesn't have much regard for Mrs. Carstairs who he thinks is a little too ambitious as regards her husband. Camilla has her own personal problems, all of which revolve around Robert and Mrs. Carstairs has only praise for her husband, Alan, while belittling everybody else. The servants, too are put off since Sir Julius arrived with a detective and they are not prepared to serve him as a guest. Meanwhile the butler, Briggs has his own troubles while and his ambitious daughter, Susan, harbours a secret.

With so much of animosity, it is no wonder that soon cruel words are being exchanged and then the murderer strikes. One death follows another and another. Now it is for the remaining guests and servants, to survive the snow storm and each other,

I enjoyed the mystery because of its depiction of Post-War England, because of the explanation provided to Bottwink regarding English customs, and for the fact that despite there being only a handful of suspects, the author kept me guessing. Much recommended.

First Line: Warbeck Hall is reputed to be the oldest inhabited house in Markshire.
Publishing Details: London: Faber & Faber, 1951
First Published: 1951
Pages: 235
Source: Downloaded from here
Other books read of the same author: None


Submitted for FFB, today @ Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom

Challenging Myself: An Update and a Change

On 15th September, I challenged myself to read three books that had long been on my wishlist: Victor Hugo's Les Miserable, and Ninety Three, and Upton Sinclair's The Cry for Justice. Now while I have finished the first one (review coming soon) and am reading the third one, I find myself at a loss regarding Ninety Three. Of late, things being pretty hectic, I have been unable to go to the library to borrow it. So I am changing it with another book that again has been on my wishlist for long: Fredric Jameson's Marxism and Form. Hopefully, I'd have read and reviewed all three by 15th October.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The October 8th Challenge

Last year, Mystery aficionado, Noah Stewart @ Noah's Archives, launched the October 8th challenge, a bingo-style challenge that challenged one not merely to read but to reflect and write upon mysteries written during the golden period of detection. I had a look at it but wasn't too sure whether I was up to it. But this year, determined to write more, I asked Noah whether he had plans to host the challenge for another year and he kindly consented to extend it for a year.

So, if you want to sign-up for the challenge too, you can do it this year.

Here's the colourful Bingo card:

And here is where you can get all the details.

Mount TBR: Check-In

It is time for the third check-in of the year at the Mount TBR challenge hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block.

Well, my progress has been painfully slow this year. I have reviewed only four books from my shelves till date which means I have climbed just one more mile since my last check-in.

Here are the books read:

Ajey Krantikari Rajguru
Amar Shahid Chandrashekhar Azad
Bhagat Singh: Liberation's Blazing Star

Bev has also asked us a few questions:

Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?

Deshdrohi (The Traitor) by Yashpal had been on my TBR mountain the longest - since 1998. the best part of the novel was its locales: From The North-West Frontier in British India, to Afghanistan, to Soviet Russia, to Bombay, to Delhi... it was interesting to read about these places and the changes in society during the war years of the forties. So, all in all, I am glad to have read the book.

Friday, October 2, 2015


On the night of 29 December, 1972, Eastern flight No. 401, took off from the JFK airport at New York to fly towards Miami. It carried 163 passengers and 13 crew members. Its pilot was the 55 year Robert Loft who had a vast experience of flying before him. The flight went-off smoothly but just as they were preparing for landing at Miami, the cockpit crew discovered that the landing gear indicator did not glow green. That meant that the nose gear wasn't properly locked in the down-position. The problem was conveyed to the tower at Miami and then putting the plane on auto-pilot, the cock-pit crew - Pilot Loft, Co-Pilot Albert Stockstill, Flight-Engineer Don Repo, and technical officer, Angelo Donadeo got busy ascertaining whether the landing gear was down. Meanwhile, the auto-pilot got disconnected and the plane started losing altitude The controller at Miami tower too did not have the plane in view and in those split-seconds in which the pilots discovered the descent, the plane crashed into the swamps of Florida Everglades. Stockstill died instantly, Loft soon after, Repo survived two days in the hospital before succumbing to his injuries. All in all 102 (97 passengers and 5 crew members) people died in the crash - one of the deadliest in the history of aviation.

But the story does not end over here. Eastern used the reusable parts of the plane in its fleet. And then the visitations began. Captain Loft, Don Repo, Pat Ghyssels and Stephanie Stanich, the twoflight attendants who too had perished in the crash, started making appearances in other flights, warning the crew of any difficulty or danger ahead. Eastern, of course, denied all such reports but there are unconfirmed reports that it not only removed the parts of the ill-fated flight from its other planes but also got them exorcised.

I had no clue about all this before I read John G Fuller's book on the subject. It is a well-researched book, with the author meeting the survivors; the bereaved family members; those who saw the ghosts appearing; those who would not open their mouth because of the pressure by the company bosses but nevertheless helped the author; the records that Eastern destroyed...all of them tell the story. A ghost story, that according to the author did not happen in a castle or an abandoned house but in the most modern of settings: a jumbo jet-liner.

And what about the indicator that would not glow and thus was the cause of the tragedy Later investigations found out that it was because of a fused bulb. The landing gear was in its place but the bulb was fused. A fused bulb!


First Line: I have been conditioned all my life to think that there are no such things as ghosts.
Publishing Details: NY: Berkley Medallion, 1978
First Published: 1976
Pages: 272
Source: H.M.L [F.F. 93]
Other books read of the same author: None


Submitted for FFB @ Pattinase

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Literature of India: The House of Blue Mangoes by David Davidar

More than any other kind of novel, I expect the Historical novel to have memorable characters. The past already provides events of great interest which the writer weaves into the plot but it is really the characters that make us care about their life and times.

And this is where David Davidar's debut novel The House of Blue Mangoes fails.

The story which begins in the last year of the nineteenth century and ends almost fifty years later in 1947, with an India free but brutally cleaved, and which chronicles the rise-and-fall of three generations of the Dorai family, does not provide a single character whose fate interested me or with whom I could find any connect.

The novel has its moments as when an aimless and bitter Aaron Dorai joins a fledgling revolutionary group and then realises that he will have to shoot a man:

How do you kill a man? In cold blood? If you're a man like any other, a thinking, feeling, insecure man trying to lead a reasonable life, a man who is not in the grip of a great rage, a normal man, how do you kill a man who has done you no harm? Do you think of him as a disgusting envelope of shit and piss and dirty thoughts, whom it'd be a blessing to erase from the pitiful piece of earth he occupies? Or do you paint him as a monster that you can eliminate him with ease? The realization dawned on them that no amount of prevarication could conceal the awful truth - that their target was a man not very different from themselves, who lived and breathed, who could be so wearied by living that on occasion he could think how blissful it would be to live no more, but yet went on, day after day, getting on with the business of living, trying to keep his wife and children fed. Was it possible, through some extraordinary sleight of mind, to see this poor ineffectual functionary of the state as the ENEMY? Could they? Could they?

...Madhavan's voice came to him. 'The stomach. Fill your mind with your frustrated contempt for me, you spineless fool, fill it with your desperate desire to make some sense of your wasted life and put a bullet in this good man's stomach.'

The passages describing the horrendous treatment merited out to the revolutionaries in prisons by the British superintendent are gut-wrenching and some passages at the end are evocative as the last thoughts of a dying man:

...Mostly, I regretted the things I hadn't done, I thought about quarrels that hadn't been resolved, I thought about matters left incomplete. It's one of the paradoxes of life, and is something that each one of you will discover, that your achievements, your successes, your crowning glories do not matter to you at the end of your life. No, no, no, if I leave you with nothing else, I leave you with this piece of wisdom - it's your regrets that stay with you till you die.

And this brilliant piece about the passage of time:

A statue fleshed in stone would rise in Meenakshikoil; three streets would be named after him. Doraipuram would remember Daniel for at least a generation. And those who knew him would remember him too for a while. Barely two decades later, sun, sand and water would begin eroding the statue. His name would survive a couple of decades longer and then he would become just a landmark with no resonance - turn right at the Dorai statue roundabout and go straight to get to the Madras Ulundu Vadai Cafe.

At times, tilted towards a Western readership, the book is okay for a one-time read.


First Line: SPRING 1899
Publication Details: ND: Viking, 2002
First Published: 2002
Pages: 421
Source: CL [823 D28H]
Other books read of the same author: None

Monday, September 28, 2015

Remembering Bhagat Singh

Today is the birth anniversary of an illustrious son of India, the revolutionary Bhagat Singh. I thought, this year, I will remember him by reminding myself of some of the books related to him that I have had on my wishlist for long: