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.

*

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.





Friday, March 28, 2014

Forgotten Books: Up at the Villa by Somerset Maugham.

It's strange that soon after going through Margot's post on novels with a compressed time span, I should find myself reading a book which spans just two days with the main action taking place one night when things simply spiral out of control, changing lives forever.



William Somerset Maugham's Up at the Villa begins with a description of almost unbearable loveliness: The villa stood on the top of a hill. From the terrace in front of it you had a magnificent view of Florence; behind was an old garden, with few flowers, but with fine trees, hedges of cut box, grass walks and an artificial grotto in which water cascaded with a cool, silvery sound from a cornucopia.


Who wouldn't want to stay in such a place, especially if you could lounge about the garden and read books? Mary Panton, a young widow, is staying in the villa, recuperating from the physical and emotional trauma endured during years of marriage to an alcoholic, wastrel, wife-beater, womaniser of a husband whom she could not leave because of his emotional dependence on her. His death in an accident frees them both and her lawyer sagely advises her to marry next time for position and companionship. At that time Mary had found the advice absurd having no desire to get married again but now having received a proposal from Sir Edgar Swift, she wonders whether she should say yes to a life that would offer her security and comfort. Edgar - years older than her and actually a contemporary of her father in the Indian Civil Services - has cared for her right from the time she was in her teens. And now he has been offered the governorship of Bengal and he wants to get married to her before taking up his new position in India. Touched by his long devotion to her and thrilled about being the wife of a man in such an important position, Mary is yet in something of a fix and asks for a couple of days to think it over. That night, even as Edgar leaves town for an important meeting, Mary goes to a party where there a few other English expatriates. Amongst them is Rowley Flint, known as something of a scoundrel with a bad record of loving girls and ditching them. He had been paying a great deal of attention to Mary but even she is shocked when he proposes marriage to her. Two proposals in one day! Mary who thinks Flint is simply being odious, sobs out the story of her wretched married life and makes up her mind to marry Edgar.

On her way back, she runs into a young man who had been playing violin at the restaurant they had dined in. He is a wretched player yet Mary had given him a hundred lire note in a burst of generosity. Now seeing him standing forlorn, hungry, and tired, and being in an overwrought condition herself, she takes him to the villa and quite before knowing it she finds herself cooking for him, waltzing with him, and finding herself in bed with him. Karl (that's the name of the violinist) tells her that he is the son of an Austrian policeman who shot himself when the Nazis marched into Austria. He himself rebelled against their rule and was put into a concentration camp from where he escaped later and made his way to Italy where he barely manages to scrap along. Sometimes, he says, he wants to end it all the way his father did. Full of pity for the young man and yet desirous of seeing him leave before dawn breaks, Mary offers him money.


It is absolutely the worst thing she could have done and soon enough there is blood spilled and the villa changes from a place of sanctuary to a haunted place of dark deeds.



Up at the Villa raises a lot of uncomfortable questions. How far should one play with the emotions of another human in order to exalt your sense of the self? The English expatriates, living in a blissful paradise, seem unconcerned about the happenings of the world as it slowly falls to pieces. (The book was first published in 1941 and depicts the period just before the second world war). The dismissal of Karl by the characters and the narrative seems ominously like what happens to little people in all grand narratives. More than the Empire-builder Edgar Swift, the stiff-upper lip Mary, and the lovable scoundrel (as only the British can be) Rowley Flint, it was the marginalised figure of the Austrian refugee who really made an impression on me.

This book had long been on my wishlist and I found it unputdownable, finishing it virtually in one sitting.


*

First Line: The villa stood on the top of a hill.

Title: Up at the Villa
Author: W. Somerset Maugham
Publication Details: Middlesex: Penguin, 1967
First Published: 1941
Pages: 95
Trivia: The book was filmed in 2000 by Philip Haas.



Other books read of the same author: Cakes and Ale, The Magician, The Painted Veil, The Razor's Edge, and Numerous short stories.

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Entry for FFB @ Pattinase.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

23 March: A Remembrance in Books

Today is 23 March. A day when we remember the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Sukhdev, three young men who laid down their lives for the freedom of India. I thought this would be an appropriate occasion to talk about books related to them that I read recently.



Professor S. Irfan Habib's To Make the Deaf Hear discusses the ideological development of the revolutionaries of the HSRA, a secret revolutionary organisation that was formed in the 1920s. As compared to the earlier revolutionaries, Bhagat Singh and his comrades had progressed much beyond the usual 'we want to free India from the clutches of the British' refrain. These young revolutionaries understood that simply a change in political leadership was not going to usher in a new dawn for India. If social oppression and denial of rights continued in an India ruled by Indians than it was no freedom but just a different type of slavery:

We want a socialist revolution, the indispensable preliminary to which is the political revolution. That is what we want. The political revolution does not mean the transfer of state (or more crudely, the power) from the hands of the British to the Indian, but to those Indians who are at one with us as to the final goal, or to be more precise, the power to be transferred to the revolutionary party through popular support. After that, to proceed in right earnest is to organise the reconstruction of the whole society on a socialist basis. If you do not mean this revolution then please have mercy. Stop shouting "Long Live Revolution." The term revolution is too scared, at least to us, to be so lightly used or misused. (185)

 More than 200 pages long, one-third of the book is devoted to the writing and speeches of these young revolutionaries explicating their thoughts on various ills that plagued Indian society. Even if you have little idea about Indian history this book will hold your attention as it brings alive a time of great debates as India recovered her voice. Much recommended.



"How does one study the literary life of intensities?" is the question that Prof. Udaya Kumar asks in his Forward to Nikhil Govind's recently published Between Love and Freedom which analyses the image/ construction of the revolutionary in the novels of three Hindi writers: Jainendra Kumar, Agyeya, and Yashpal. The second chapter of the book 'Bhagat Singh and Gandhi: Competing moralities regarding the question of revolutionary sacrifice' discusses "certain similarities and divergences of their notions of the political practice of freedom" (76). 

I must admit I was very surprised while reading this book. Firstly, I never expected Govind to have anything to do with Hindi literature, but this book ( a published version of his doctorate thesis) demonstrates a love for the language that is refreshing. Secondly, I expected a book full of jargon and thus difficult to understand but this book is entirely accessible so much so that even though I have read but a few of the novels discussed, I enjoyed it thoroughly.



The third book is a play Kranti ki Laptain (Flames of Revolution) by Dr. Chandramani Brahmdutt. The author dramatises certain key points in Bhagat Singh's life, especially his trial at both Delhi and Lahore. The revolutionaries had themselves used the courts as public platform to air their views and indeed these scenes are the best in the play which otherwise does not impress much.

*

First Line: The rising of 1857 marked the beginning of India's struggle for independence.

Title: To Make the Deaf Hear: Ideology and Programme of Bhagat Singh and His Comrades
Author: S. Irfan Habib
Publishing Details: Gurgaon: Three Essays Collective, 2007
First Published: September, 2007
Pages: 231
Other books read of the same author: None

*

First Line: The figure of the youthful revolutionary, on the run from the police, torn from family and love, isolated even amongst his peers, uncertain of whether he wold be able to live to see and share the future he was resolved to deliver, is an enduring image in the mid-century Hindi novel.

Title: Between Love and Freedom: The Revolutionary in the Hindi Novel
Author: Nikhil Govind
Publication Details: ND: Routledge, 2014
First Published: 2014
Pages: 180
Other books read of the same author: None

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First Line: Ek hall mein halki si roshni ho rahi hai, ek taraf Lenin ka chitra tanga hai, kuchh kitaben ast-vyast si dikahi pad rahi hain.

Title: Kranti ki Laptain
Author: Dr. Chandramani Brahmdutt
Publication Details: ND: Kalawati Prakashan, 2009
First Published: 2009
Pages: 119
Other books read of the same author: None





Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday's Forgotten Books: Ed McBain's Downtown

It is Ed McBain's day at Friday's Forgotten Books @ Pattinase. Well, I haven't read much of McBain. In fact, have read only one book of his so far: Fuzz. That was truly enjoyable and yet I haven't really read more of him. Now that I think of it,this is definitely strange because there was a time when if I liked an author/ character, I'd go searching for his/ her books and would not rest till I had kind of read them all: Enid Blyton, Three Investigators, Agatha Christie, Perry Mason, P.G. Wodehouse, James Hadley Chase, Paul Scott, Michael Innes, Raymond Chandler. So what has happened now? Do I fear that I might start finding them repetitive and thus boring? Or is it that there are just too many to read? Or is it that I do not want to run through authors and so be through with them? Or is it that now my reading is conditioned by reading challenges? Or is it that I have become more discerning and nobody enthuses me the way it was earlier?


I really can't say but since this is about Ed McBain, here's something from a book of his that I bought from the World Book Fair held last month. Michael Barnes is in New York from Florida attending to some business of his. Having a few hours to kill, he wanders into a bar and strikes up an acquaintance with a good-looking smartly dressed woman who he guesses works on Wall Street. She tells him her name is Helen and they are getting comfortable with each other when quite out of the blue she accuses him of having stolen her ring. Enter a policeman who rough-rides over Michael's protestations of innocence, takes him out, searches him, and recovers the ring. Helen refuses to press charges however and both she and the police detective move away. A bewildered Michael returns to the bar, only to realise that his credit cards and dollar notes are missing from his wallet....

This is the opening of Ed McBain's 1989 novel Downtown and it does seem pretty promising. Perhaps soon I'll read the rest too.


Friday, March 7, 2014

A List of Forgotten Books

Last week, I read and reviewed Leslie Ford's The Town Cried Murder. At the end of the book - a Collins reprint - there was not only an ad of Lifebuoy soap, there was also a list of other Collins Reprints. I thought it'd be fun to share it to see how many of these books/ authors one has read.


COLLINS LIMP REPRINTS


Immortal Sergeant - John Brophy
Attack Alarm- Hammond Innes
Another Little Drink -Peter Cheyney


Brown Paper Twice - Colin Davy
Shabby Tiger - Howard Spring
St.George on the Dragon - Lord Elton


I Ordered a table for Six- Noel Streatfeild
Over my Dead Body - Rex Stout
Rachel Rosing - Howard Spring
The Smiler with the Knife - Nicholas Blake
Death at the Helm - John Rhode


Mrs. Tim Carries on - D.E. Stevenson
Tadpole Hall-Helen Ashton
Swamp Water - Vereen Bell
Your Deal My Lovely - Peter Cheyney
Hercule Poirot's Christmas -Agatha Christie


She had to have Gas - Rupert Penny
Conquest Marches on - Berkeley Grey
She Faded into Air - Ethel Lina White
The Young Doctor - Elizabeth Seifert
Death and the Dancing Footman - Ngaio Marsh
It Couldn't Matter Less - Peter Cheyney


Leave it to the Conquest - Berkeley Grey
Hudson Rejoins the Herd - Claude Houghton
The Black Gloves - Conyth Little
Double Blackmail - G.D.H and M. Cole
Murder at the Buzzards Bay - Anthony Gilbert
The Clock in the Hat Box - Anthony Gilbert
The Town Cried Murder - Leslie Ford
English Story, First Series - Woodrow and Susan Wyatt
Spear Head - John Brophy


Who Killed the Husband? - Hulbert Footner
Mr. Westerby Missing - Miles Burton
Darkness Falls from the Air - Nigel Balchin



*

My score is pretty pathetic as I have read merely four of these books: Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie, The Clock in the Hat Box by Anthony Gilbert, She Faded into Air by Ethel Lina White,and of course, The Town Cried Murder by Leslie Ford.

Amongst the authors, I have read other books of Rex Stout, Nicholas Blake, John Rhode, Ngaio Marsh, and G.D.H and M. Cole. Have heard of Hammond Innes, Peter Cheyney, and Conyth Little, the rest are all unfamiliar names.

What about you? How does your scorecard read?

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Submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books at Pattinase. Please head over there for the other entries.