Thursday, August 30, 2012

FFB: The End of Her Honeymoon by Marie Belloc Lowndes

And then Dampier turned and caught her, this time unresisting, yielding joyfully, to his breast. "Nancy?" he murmured thickly. "Nancy? I'm afraid!"

"Afraid?" she repeated wonderingly.

"Yes, horribly afraid! Pray, my pure angel, pray that the gods may indulge their cruel sport elsewhere. I haven't always been happy, Nancy."

And she clung to him, full of vague, unsubstantial fears. "Don't talk like that," she murmured. "It--it isn't right to make fun of such things."

"Make fun? Good God!" was all he said.

Nancy Dampier is in a happy frame of mind when she enters Paris on the last night of her honeymoon. The next day, she and her husband, the artist Jack Dampier, will move into Jack's house and begin a new chapter in their lives. Jack, an Englishman, long settled in Paris, had crossed the channel to paint a portrait. A chance meeting with Nancy led to a whirlwind romance and marriage. Both Nancy and Jack being orphans, there was no one to oppose the match; in fact, Nancy's friends were more than happy for her to have finally found herself a lover.

Man and wife, but in some ways strangers to each other still, the happy couple walks into the Hotel Saint Ange, a hotel made famous because Edgar Allan Poe stayed there during his sojourn in Paris. Unfortunately, for them, it being an exhibition year, the rooms are all full and the best that the Poulains, the owners of the hotel, can do is to give them separate rooms.

After promising his wife that he'll rise early in the morning and go and set his studio for her welcome, Jack retires to his room. The next day, Nancy wakes up with a disagreeable feeling. There is no one to attend to her and when she rings the bell to summon somebody that too is ignored. Irritable and hungry, she ventures out of the room and is startled when Mrs. Poulain, the proprietress, addresses her as mademoiselle rather than madame. When Nancy asks her (in her halting French) about her husband, the woman shocks her by saying that she knows not of any such man and that the previous night Nancy had arrived alone to the hotel.

Feeling that there has been some miscommunication (after all her knowledge of French is zilch), Nancy enlists the help of Senator Burton, an American staying at the hotel along with his son and daughter. The Senator, questions the Poulains but they are adamant that Nancy had arrived alone at the hotel without any escort. The Senator is perplexed as he has known them for a considerable time and they have always been honest and truthful  He has his misgivings about Nancy's version of the event but despite this he helps her in every way as his children are convinced that Nancy is telling the truth.

From then on it is running to and fro in search for the missing man: Jack's studio, the Police stations, the British embassy, even the morgue...but everywhere they run up against a wall... and days turn into weeks, months...

Conspiracy theories mount: Jack must have been a scoundrel to leave his wife thus; Nancy is suffering from some memory-loss; Jack must have met with an accident... So what really happened? Who is telling the truth and who is not and if so to what purpose?

This book had been on my wishlist since last year and I'd have enjoyed it more had I not read Ethel Lina White's The Wheel Spins (The Lady Vanishes) in the meantime. Through that book I became acquainted with the urban legend of the man who disappeared during the World Fair in Paris and thus this book lost some of its element of suspense. However, it is to the credit of the author Belloc Lowndes (and what a find she has been!) that despite reading about Nancy and Jack checking in, I really did wonder at times.

Somehow the character of Nancy too got on my nerves. My sympathies, in fact, were with Senator Burton who often feels that this problem had become a load round his neck especially since his children seemed to be so enamoured of Nancy.


First Line: "Cocher? l'Hôtel Saint Ange, Rue Saint Ange!"

Title: The End of Her Honeymoon

Author: Marie Belloc Lowndes

First Published: 1913

Other Books read of the Same Author: The Story of Ivy


The book is in the public domain and can be downloaded for free. I downloaded it from

The rest of the post contains SPOLIERS so please don't read any further unless you've read the book. But please do scroll down and leave a comment.:)

To me this book was the tragedy of Jack Dampier. How many dreams that young man had of setting up a home with Nancy. How keen he was that Nancy enjoy Paris in its beauty. How considerate he was that Nancy not be disturbed. And how lonesome his last hours must have been when he'd have felt himself abandoned by everyone in that hospital. And even if he had survived and come back he'd have found his wife in love with another man and no longer desiring him... I simply can't get him out of my head.


Submitted for the following challenges: British Books, Death by Gaslight, E Book, Mystery and Suspense, Vintage Mystery, and Wishlist.


Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books

Monday, August 27, 2012

O is for Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie

Jacko Argyle is convicted of having killed his foster-mother. Two years later, he dies in prison while serving his sentence. After his death, a stranger, Arthur Calagry, turns up at the Argyle household claiming that Jacko was innocent and that on the fateful night of the murder, he had taken lift from Arthur. He hopes that the others would be happy to hear his testimony, what he doesn't realise is that now that the old wound is re-opened, it would bleed the rest of the family, as secrets come out in the open and every member is suspicious of the other.

This is one Agatha Christie that I didn't particularly enjoy. Don't know what put me off since the plot is gripping but somehow or the other, it failed to impress.


Entry for letter O in the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Books since Blogging

With time at a premium nowadays, I hardly get time to participate in memes. But when I saw that the current Top Ten Tuesday post required one to list one's favourites since one started blogging, I couldn't resist it.

So, here goes in alphabetical order:

The Clock in the Hat-Box by Anthony Gilbert

The jury is convinced that Viola Ross murdered her husband, Teddy. All except one member, the writer, Richard Arnold, who sets about proving her innocence. But has he taken up more than he can chew?

A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler

The writer, Charles Latimer, taking a break in Turkey, is told that the body fished out of the Bosphorus is that of the notorious criminal Dimitrios. Latimer, decides to reconstruct Dimitrios' life and travels all over Europe. But was there a Dimitrios in the first place?

Death in Kashmir by M. M. Kaye

A skiing expedition goes sour when two unfortunate deaths occur. Sarah Parrish, one of the members, realises that these deaths were not accidental but rather the two women were murdered and that she herself might be the next victim! A spine-tingling tale set in the twilight of the British Raj in India.

Eight of Swords by John Dickson Carr

A mad-cap of a mystery featuring bishops who slide down banisters, murderers who eat dinner of the victims, and vicars who are victimised by poltergeists.

In the Fog by Richard Harding Davis

Four men seated round a table in a club discuss a murder even as the snow falls outside and the fire cackles, but are they all telling the truth?

Inqilab by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas

A magnificent historical novel that chronicles India's struggle for independence. Best read of 2012 so far.

The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller

A young woman narrates the chilling reality of life under Nicole Ceausescu.

The Story of Ivy by Marie Belloc Lowndes

Ivy can get the man of her dreams (along with all his wealth). The only hitch is she is married to someone else.

The Whispering House by Margaret Erskine

Inspector Finch loses his way and lands up at a house driven apart by misgivings and murders.

The Tightrope Men by Desmond Bagley

Giles Denison awakes one morning and finds to his horror that he is wearing a different face. Is he really awake or is this a nightmare? Desmond Bagley is in superb form in this thriller.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

FFB: N is for No Comebacks by Fredrick Forsyth

Frederick Forsyth is one of my father's favourite author and when my sisters and I were young, Papa would often narrate to us certain incidents/ episodes from his novels: The Day of the Jackal., The Odessa File, The Dogs of War etc. Though, these novels, esp Jackal, have long been on my wishlist, somehow I have never got round to reading them. But around a decade and a half back, I did pick up a collection of Forsyth's stories No Comebacks.

Right from the eponymous first story, I was hooked. It had a killer punch line that had me reeling. Over the years, I have forgotten many of them  but three remain fresh in my memory. The first one is about a British Billionaire, Mark Sanderson, who always gets what he wants, and that includes women. After a number of affairs, he meets the married Angela Summers and for the first time in his life falls in love enough to propose marriage. Angela too reciprocates his feelings but still is loyal to her husband who she thinks needs her more than Mark does. Before parting she does confess to Mark though that had she not been married she would have married him.

An embittered Mark decides to remove the obstacle in his path and hires an assassin to kill Angela's husband. Does the assassin do away with Angela's husband? Does Mark get the woman whom he wants? The last couple of lines have such a twist that they resonate with me till date.

The second story in the collection There are no Snakes in Ireland has an Indian Punjabi student Harkishan Ramlal as one of its protagonists. A medical student, Harkishan is in the final year of his medical course in Ireland. As money is short, he decides to take up a part-time job at a construction site. However, the overseer Big Billie Cameron is a bully of a man who especially enjoys belittling Harkishan by giving him jobs that he is not quite fit to do. Constant insults and humiliation make Harkishan seek revenge and he comes up with an ingenious plot to finish-off Cameron.

Both my sister (who read the collection alongside) and I wondered why Forsyth had chosen an Indian. The only explanation we could come up with was that India in the Western view was merely a land of snake and snake charmers. Whatever the reason, this is again a good story with a twist in the end.

Duty, unlike the other stories in the collection, is based on a real-life incident. Told in the first-person, it is about a couple who are travelling through the French country-side when their car breaks down. They find refuge in the house of Mr. Preece who turns out to be an English man married to a French lady. A reticent man, Preece, opens up a little later and tells the couple about his young days when he was in the British armed forces. One of his assignments included going to Ireland to quell the unrest over there.

This is a moving story about a man just doing his duty.

Writing this piece has made me want to pick up this book and re-read it.


Entry for letter N in the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme.


Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Austen in August: Her Wit and Wisdom

I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress.

I read an abridged version of Pride and Prejudice in school and fell in love with it. Darcy was the handsome, misunderstood hero, Elizabeth, the confident heroine; Jane and Bingley were a gentle romantic couple; Mrs. Bennet was vulgar while Mr. Bennet was a quiet, scholarly man. The book had beautiful illustration and the characters in their regency costumes looked charming.

Skip a few years and to the reading of the unabridged version of the book and my reactions surprised me too. Darcy was a snob, Elizabeth was trying too hard to be the cool, witty, self-assured heroine, Bingley was a wimp, and Mr. Bennet had turned into a shirker of responsibilities. Mrs. Bennet for all her idiotic manners was a woman too common in India: the one who wants good (read financially secure) match for her daughters.

Reading of Persuaion did not help matters. I found it so boring that I have absolutely forgotten its plot-line. Edward Said's article on Mansfield Park that critiqued its sub-text of colonial exploitation  further dented my opinion of Austen. However, my sister presented me with a book: The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen, and this month finally, I got it off my shelf.

Besides a brief biographical sketch, the book is a compilation of her most sparkling quotes from her books and letters on various issues. Here are some of her witticisms.

I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal. [From a letter that she wrote to her sister Cassandra].

It was a very proper wedding. The bride was elegantly dressed - the two bridesmaids were duly inferior - her father gave her away - her mother stood with salts in her hands, expecting to be agitated - her aunt tried to cry - an the service was impressively read... [Mansfield Park].

A lady without a family, was the best preserver of furniture in the world [Persuasion].

She looks remarkably well (legacies are very wholesome diet)... [Letter to her sister Cassandra]

I was pleasantly surprised to read this extract from her mock-heroic novel Jack and Alice:

Miss Dickins was an excellent Governess. She instructed me in the Paths of Virtue; under her tuition I daily became more amiable, and might perhaps by this time have nearly attained perfection, had not my worthy Preceptoress been torn from my arms, e'er I had attained my seventeenth year. I shall never forget her last words. "My dear Kitty," she said, "good night t'ye." I never saw her afterwards,' continued Lady Williams wiping her eyes. 'She eloped with the Butler the same night.'

And to think Austen was all of 12 when she wrote it!! I have half-a-mind to pick up an Austen again.


First Line: Few great writers can have cut so unglamorous a figure in the world as Jane Austen did.

Title: The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen

Editor: Michael Kerrigan

Publication Details: London: Fourth Estate, 1996

First Published: 1996

Pages: 122


The book might be available in libraries. I was gifted a copy of it by my sister, Nitu di.


Submitted for the following challenges: British Books, Free Reads, Mount TBR, TBR Pile, and Unread Book.


Read as part of the Austen in August Event

Friday, August 17, 2012

M is for Miss Timmins' School for Girls

1974 was a forked tongue of a year, it spoke to me of murder and madness, and love and laughter in equal measure.

It was Enid Blyton's St. Clare's series that made me fall in love with stories set in boarding schools. My sister, who was a Malory Towers fan, found St. Clare to be second-rate but I was absolutely thrilled by the various adventures of the girls in that hostel. Thus it was that when I heard of Nayana Currimbhoy's Miss Timmins' School for Girls, a murder mystery set in a boarding school nestled in the hills, it immediately went on my wishlist.

The book begins well. Charulata, the daughter of a disgraced Naval Officer and a silently-suffering mother finds job as a teacher in a school at Panchagani. The eponymous school, a residue of the British Empire, caters to girls from rich business families and is staffed primarily by British Missionaries and Anglo-Indians. Charu, with her middle-class upbringing, finds herself a misfit right from the beginning. However, things begin to change when she springs a friendship with  Moira Prince, a British teacher who is something of a rebel and Moira's pot-smoking friends including the intense Merch. Charu's friendship with Moira soon becomes physical and though at first she revels in it, soon she starts to find it a little too demanding. One day they have a lovers' tiff and the next day Moira's dead body is found on the rocks. Did she jump or did somebody push her from the cliffs above? It was a night when many people were out on those cliffs and they give their own versions of that fateful night. As events unfold, many lives are torn apart.

All this could have made for a gripping novel but unfortunately that doesn't happen. Mid-way through the novel, I was simply waiting for it to come to an end, so that I could be done with it.


First Line: TODAY CHARU CAME back to me, suddenly.

Title: Miss Timmins' School for Girls

Author: Nayana Currimbhoy

Publication Details: ND: Harper Collins, 2011

First Published: 2011

Pages: 491

Other Books read of the same author: None


Having a publication date of 2011, the book is pretty easily available. I borrowed it from the College Library. [823.09 C 936 M]


Submitted for the following challenges: Chunkster, Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, South Asian, and Wishlist.


Entry for letter M in the Crime Fiction Alphabet meme.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Pages from the Past: Inqilab by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas

They led him away but from the corridor outside came his mighty roar still shaking the walls of the chamber: IINQILAB ZINDABAD!

And in that moment Anwar knew that the still and slimy waters had at last been shaken to their depths. The deaf had, indeed, been made to hear. The Revolution had arrived. India would never be the same again - the impact of that one single bomb would shake and change the life of every Indian.

This week, as India celebrated her 66th independence day on August 15th, I decided to pick up a book that had been long on my wishlist but which I had so far desisted from reading since I wanted to savour the anticipation of reading it all the more.

Inqilab by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas is a lost classic. Written during the forties, it chronicles the nationalist struggle for freedom in India. Told through the p-o-v of a young boy, Anwar, it narrates not only his growing-up but also a country's march towards self-determination.

Young Anwar who lost his mother early on and has been brought up by his father - the strict, austere Akbar Ali and his doting aunt, Phuphi Amma, receives his political baptism one fine day in Amritsar. On13th April 1919, when Punjab is celebrating the festival of Baisakhi  and ushering in a new year, army men under the command of General Reginald Dyer open fire on an unarmed crowd which is protesting peacefully against the detainment of a few political leaders. As Anwar watches the ground turning bloody round him, he starts questioning the rule of the British. A few days later, he is made to crawl in the streets when he goes visiting the home of a friend who lost his father in the Jallian Wallah Bagh massacre and this humiliation further reinforces his views about the colonial regime.

Not only Anwar, the entire country is aghast at the brutality of their colonial masters whom they had served  loyally during the World War. Dying or being crippled in the trenches, they had never thought that the British would go back on their promise and instead of Dominian Status would impose on them draconian laws and rules. The reply to this betrayal seems to come from Gandhi who returns from South Africa and instantly captures the imagination of the Indians. The Non-Co-operation movement launched by him is a stupendous success which almost brings the colonial regime on to its knees. Not only that, there is remarkable unity shown by members of all communities. But just when freedom seems round the corner, Gandhi withdraws the movement under the pretext of a violent incident in the small town of Chauri-Chaura. This disillusions many people - including Anwar's father Akabr Ali (who had courted imprisonment during the agitation) and Ratan, Anwar's friend, who sees it as a betrayal. Their disillusionment makes them seek other routes to freedom: one turns to religion, the other to violence. As the personal becomes political, new lines of allegiance and discord appear very often within the same family.

These conflicting voices are what lend such a charm to the book. Revolutionaries and Reactionaries, Gandhiites and Gaddharites, Communists and Collbrators, Socialists and Sychophants, Princes and Pretenders... all are present in this glittering picture-gallery. On one page one hears Bhagat Singh and watches Sukhdev, on another Sohan Singh Josh. One travels on the train with Jawahar Lal Nehru and interviews Subhas Chandra Bose. One encounters the formidable Ali brothers and then gets to meet the Gentle Pathan: Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. Mainstream leaders or those marginalised with the passage of time, it gives a thrill to read about these people as both the novel and the nation progress.

Told in a simple manner with no experimental flourishes, the novel is able to capture well the heady atmosphere of those days when India dreamt of a glorious future and men and women were ready to court death for their dreams of a free India.. The evocative prose gives one an adrenalin rush as well as makes one wonder as to how many of those dreams have been realised.


First Line: The Maulavi Sahib's venerable beard was a source of never-ending wonder to Anwar.

Title: Inqilab

Author: K(hwaja) A(hmed) Abbas

Publication Details: Jaico Books

First Published: 1958

Pages: 355

Other Books read of the Same Author: Mera Naam Joker


The book might be available in libraries, I picked it up from a second-hand books shop.


Submitted for the Back to the Classics Challenge

Also submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles), A Classic Challenge, Mount TBR, South Asian, TBR Pile, Unread Book.


Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

15th August: Daag Daag Ujala

15th August always brings with it conflicting emotions. While on the one hand, there is a celebration of Independence, on the other, the shadow of Partition always accompanies it.

Perhaps the words of Faiz describe it best:

Ye daag daag ujaalaa, ye shab-gaziida sahar,

Vo intizaar thaa jis-kaa, ye vo sahar to nahiin,

Ye vo sahar to nahiin jis-kii aarzu lekar

Chale the yaar ke mil-ja`egi kahiin na kahin

Falak ke dasht mein taron kii aakhiri manzil....

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Nightmare or Real? Emma Donoghue's Room

"Just because you've never met them doesn't mean they're not real. There's more things on earth than you ever dreamed about."

Though I had heard a lot about Emma Donoghue's Room, I was wary of picking it up since I thought that the writer was simply cashing in on certain screaming headlines that hit the world's conscience in the year 2008.

However, while searching for an Orange nominated book, this July, I chanced upon it and decided to give it a try. Divided into 4 parts, the book narrates the life of a young boy Jack and his mother. Having been born and brought up in a small 11-by-11 room, Jack has no idea that there is a world outside the room. When the novel opens, Jack has just turned five. The two people he is in contact with are his mother with whom he shares a special bond and a man he calls Old Nick who comes in the night when Jack is packed off to the wardrobe. Presumably Old Nick disappears into TV in the morning. Then one fine day, his mother, who is at the end of her tether, tells him about the reality of the world and how she has been a captive all these years. Mother and son devise a plan to escape but adjustment in the world outside is so complicated that at times Jack wishes to be back again in the room.

The greatest strength of the book is the narrative voice. The five-year old's voice sounds authentic as he describes his life in the cocoon, which to him is cosy and comfortable, as well as outside with its bewildering array of things and modes he knows nothing about and where language too can prove to be as much a barrier as anything, giving rise to gentle humour. Here Jack's step-grandfather tells him about his brother who had burnt his arm when young:

"Can I see the skin instead?"

"What skin?" asks Grandma.

"The brother's."

"Oh, he lives in Mexico. He's your, I guess, your great-uncle."

Steppa throws all the water into the sink so it makes a big cloud of wet air.

"Why is he great?" 

The book is good but thankfully not haunting otherwise one will have nightmares for days altogether.


First Line: Today I am five.

Title: Room

Author: Emma Donoghue

Publication Details: London: Picador, 2010

First Published: 2010

Pages: 321

Other Books read of the Same Author: None


The book is easily available. I borrowed it from the college library ( 823.09 D 716 R)


Read as part of the Orange July Event

Orange Connection: Longlisted in 2011.


Submitted for the following challenges: A-Z (Titles),  European Reading, Find the Cover, New Authors. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

FFB: The Whispering House by Margaret Erskine

Finch felt the hair stirring at the back of his neck. There had been something so unnatural, so - abominable was the word that leapt to his mind - in that tall elegant figure that he stood frozen. The dark silent house, the beleaguering trees, the sense of utter solitude, the corpse-white face at the window held him for a moment in the bemusement of a nightmare.

This seems to be the season of discovering exciting authors. In a couple of weeks, I have read John Rhode, Freeman Wills Crofts, Anthony Gilbert (and what a find that was!), and now Margaret Erskine.

On his way, to meet his aunt, Inspector Septimus Finch of the Scotland Yard, loses his way across the moor and lands up at Lome Abbey, the house of the Melafaunts. As he is about to tug at the bell, a corpse-like face beckons him from an upper-story window. Before Finch can respond, the face disappears. Though Finch is welcomed warmly, he cannot get that face out of his mind. The house too seems eerie and on the edge. Predictably enough, there is soon a knock on the door and the local police enters. Apparently, Inspector Fulton had received a call by one of the Melafaunts, Peveril, who told the Inspector that he had discovered 'something stupendous', and asked him to come over. Fulton is certain that the information that Peveril wants to impart has something to do with the recent bequeathing of the house - in suspicious circumstances - to Giles Melafaunt, a distant cousin, rather than Peveril's own sister Clare.

A search ensues for the missing Peveril and when his broken body is discovered a little later, it seems that the Melafaunts' bloody history of slaughtering abbots and killing wives suspected of being witches is about to repeat itself...

More than the mystery - which was pretty good - I enjoyed the humour in this atmospheric tale. There is Chief Constable, Major Grey, who honks into his handkerchief whenever something distresses him. There is the friendly banter between Finch and Freddie Dawes, who is in the local police and who, poor fellow, always has something happen to him when in the presence of Finch.

There are also the views of Inspector Fulton whose middle-class thoughts on the ways of the upper-classes are worth sampling. Here is one such:

Fulton's non-conformist mind was shocked. So that's what goes on among the upper classes, he thought, not without enjoyment. Young ladies practically naked, and licentiousness. Pride, lust - as a good chapel man the seven deadly sins were familiar to him. They ran now through his mind like scarlet beads enlivening the drab room.

Looking for references to the history of the period, I found that Giles' father was in the British Army in India so the son had little contact with the father. Also William Melafaunt, the black-sheep of the family, ambled off to Australia after bringing disgrace to the family. The colonies, it seems, were a convenient way to dispose off undesirable family members (or superfluous characters)  in the period.

While looking for Margaet Erskine on the Net, I came across a fascinating discussion at Mysteryfile. Curiously enough, an interesting nugget of information mentioned three of the authors whom I have discovered but recently. John Rhode, it seems, wanted Erskine to be admitted as a member of the famed Detection Club and one of the members to whom he sent her books was Anthony Gilbert who didn't find her meritorious enough, complaining that her sentences were choppy.

For more of this discussion, go here.


First Line: The dilapidated-looking racing car came to a standstill.

Title: The Whispering House

Author: Margaret Erskine (Margaret Wetherby Williams)

Publication Details: London: Sphere Books, 1967

First Published: 1942

Pages: 203

Alternate Title: The Voice of the House

Other Books read of the same author: None


The book might be available in libraries or second-hand book shops. I borrowed it from a library.


Submitted for the following challenges: AZRC, British Books, Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, Support Your Local Library, and Vintage Mystery.


Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

L is for Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

There is something sad and sorrowful about the sound of rain-water as it flows into the drains. After the heady feeling that a downpour ensues, there is a feeling of an ending as the rain-water gurgles in the gutters with a lingering sound.

Or perhaps these thoughts came to me only because I was reading the last pages of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye which I had picked up to pass the evening. There is something to be said, after all, about reading a thriller while munching on hot pakodas with the rain splattering all around. Pulp fiction with its tough-talking men and cold corpses in seedy hotels is always the best of the lot. The cover itself - a gun-totting Humphrey Bogart with a blonde latched on to him – promised me thrills.

And in that I was not disappointed. The tale of murder and deceit has all the requisites of its genre: brazen women with red lipsticks, blackmailers and double-crossers, cigar-chewing gangsters, corrupt cops, dead bodies, drugs and booze, hard cash, moneyed men in their lonely lives, and world- weary detectives.

However, there are books which rise above their own limitations and become a thing of exquisite beauty. The Long Goodbye is one such. By all purpose, hard-boiled fiction, it articulates the angst of a generation that lost itself in atom-bombs, the Blitz, and concentration camps.

“It did something to me,” says a character, summing up his war-time experience.

Not only to him, the war seems to have done something to everybody as war heroes turn into shady dealers and everybody waits for the Big Bang to end it all. “We’ll have another war and at the end of that...we’ll all be taxed to nothing”

The understated method, which Chandler uses to give expression to these men and women without shadows, is reminiscent of Hemingway. This is what a character has to say about his last moments:

“You read about these situations in books but you don’t read the truth. When it happens to you, when all you have left is the gun in your pocket, when you are cornered in a dirty little hotel in a strange country, and have only one way out …there is nothing elevating or dramatic about it.”

Beauty and bravery degenerate into brazenness and brawn and love becomes a one-night stand in cheap hotels. “The tragedy of life…” as one character puts it, “is not that the beautiful things die young, but that they grow old and mean.” 

Written at a time when Chandler’s wife Cissy was dying after a long illness, the melancholic title is apt for a novel that deals with the pain and pathos of loving and losing. The last lingering image is that of a man sitting with dust on his office desk, dirt on his Venetian blinds and the loneliness of a pretty empty kind of life, listening to footsteps retreating down the corridor; knowing that the steps will never retrace their way back to him and yet hoping…

Now is it only the rains or is it true that to say good-bye is to die a little?


I wrote this piece after reading The Long Goodbye on a rain-drenched evening, a couple of years ago. It was my second Chandler after The High Window, and it made such an impression on me that I went on a Chandler reading-spree, finishing all his novels and several of his short stories.

Perhaps the man on the cover is not Humphrey Bogart. If so, please let me know. My knowledge of Hollywood heroes is limited. Before reading this, I had watched a feature on Bogart, and so the picture did seem to be of him .


Entry for letter L in the Crime Fiction Alphabet Meme.