Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mysteries in April

In April, I read both fictional and non-fictional mysteries.



THE SHUDDERS by ANTHONY ABBOT

We all know those books that begin with a bang but end with a whimper. Thus it was with Anthony Abbot's The Shudders, a book that I could not put down initially and then could not believe that in the end it amounted to so little.



 On a cold, melancholic night, the Police Commissioner of NY, Thatcher Colt, receives a call from Warden Massal to inform him that a convict on the death row, Jeremy Taylor (whom Colt had captured), wanted to meet him before he is electrocuted. Colt and his Watson, Anthony Abbot, travel to the jail where Taylor informs them that he does not mind dying but that he does mind that his girlfriend Marcella instead of supporting him has in fact deserted him and shacked-up with a certain Dr. Baldwin: a man who is evil incarnate and has devised a new method of killing people. After Taylor's death, the police search for Dr. Baldwin but are unable to find him. Marcella too gives them the slip.

Three years later, Warden Massal barges into Colt's office and tells him that he has located Dr. Baldwin. Before he can divulge anything else, he drops down dead. Colt sends two policemen to the address of Baldwin, one of whom expires while bringing Baldwin to the police headquarters. Colt starts his investigations and realises that the two doctors who were present at the time of Taylor's execution too have died under mysterious circumstances. Colt and Abbot travel to the house of Myron Forbes, the executioner. However before their horrified eyes, Forbes jumps into some electrical cables and is singed to death. Now Colt and Abbot are the only ones left who were present in the room on the fateful day when Taylor was put to death. How long before they too die inexplicably? And what role does Dr. Baldwin play in all this?

First Line: It was nearing ten o' clock, now, and we had been fighting the budget since dinner.
Alternate Title: Deadly Secret
Pub: London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1943
Pages: 192
Source: Borrowed
Other books read of the same author: None

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OFFICIALLY DEAD by QUENTIN REYNOLDS



Commander C[olumbus] D[arwin] Smith was the commanding officer of the USS Wake, one of the two war-ships left at Shanghai, China, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. As Smith had no information about the attack, he was captured by the Japanese while his ship was renamed HIJMS Tatara and taken over by the Japanese navy. (The other war-ship, for those interested, was the Royal Navy's HMS Peterel which was sunk by the Japanese)

Smith, however, wasn't content to remain in Japanese captivity and was soon planning his escape. And escape he did but was soon recaptured by the Japanese forces. Undaunted, he continued to plan and in September 1944 made another bid for freedom. In the company of two other officers, Commander John B. Woolley of the Royal Navy and US Marine Jerold B. Storey, Smith scaled the walls of Ward Road Jail and made his was across miles and miles of Japanese occupied territory.

The story of this daring escape, from Shanghai to Calcutta, is told in thrilling detail (and in the first-person) by the author Quentin Reynolds, a journalist and war-correspondent. When Smith finally reaches Calcutta, he is told by the authorities that the Japanese have declared him dead and he remains dead in the official records of the US in order to hoodwink the Japanese.

More on Commander Smith can be accessed over here:

http://soapysmiths.blogspot.in/2011/08/columbus-darwin-smith-prisoner-of-war.html



Incidentally, I have read quite a few books about daring escapes by Allied soldiers from the prisons of the Axis powers but haven't read any account of an Axis soldier escaping from an Allied prison. Can anyone recommend such  a book?


First Line: December 7th is a date that means a great deal to a great many people.
Alternate Title: He Came Back


Pub. Details: London: Panther Books, 1945
First Published: 1945
Pages: 190
Source: Borrowed from Library
Other books read of the same author: None
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THE SETTING SUN: A MEMOIR OF EMPIRE AND FAMILY SECRETS by BART MOORE-GILBERT



Professor Bart Moore-Gilbert is a renowned scholar of post-colonial studies. One day about to go to the pub, he opens his mail-box and finds by an email by an Indian Professor who is researching nationalist movements in India asking whether he has any family papers on his father who was a policeman especially deployed to squash one such movement in Sindh. For Moore-Gilbert, who lost his father at a tender age and who has mourned him ever since, this is news. His memories of his father, Bill, are those of Africa where the latter had settled after India became independent.

Determined to know more about this phase of his father's life, Moore-Gilbert travels to India at a time when the country is still in a shock over the Mumbail terror attack. What follows is a thrilling narrative about archival research, about searching for documents misplaced or destroyed either accidentally or deliberately, about the contested versions of the past, about the unreliability of memory which ultimately (as Salman Rushdie puts it) creates its own reality, about references to other authors: Kipling, Paul Scott, George Orwell, Amitav Ghosh, about finding that there are many aspects of your parents that you had no idea about, about an India caught between the wretchedness of poverty and the generosity of spirit....

I enjoyed this part-travelogue, part-detective fiction but what I found spine-tingling was this passage from T.B. Macaulay's address to the British Parliament in 1835:

I have travelled the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage. I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.

Oh! The rapaciousness of Colonialism!!

There are two points that remain a mystery to me after reading this book. When Professor Moore-Gilbert arrives in Mumbai, he finds himself totally lost and disheartened. Why? Did he have no contact in the Mumbai University? Being a well-known critic in this part of the world, how is it that he had no acquaintance with any of the professors at Mumbai?

And secondly, why-oh-why is the name of firebrand nationalist leader, Netaji S.C. Bose misspelt as S.C. Bhose whenever it occurs in the text? Coming from an erudite scholar, this is inexcusable.

First Line: 'Get up, Nigger, quick,' Wilson whisper raps, 'don't wake the others.'

Publication Details: London: Verso, 2014
First Published: 2014
Pages: 306
Source: CL [954.035909 M781S]


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









8 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you and may God bless you too.

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  2. A greta mixture - the Abbott in particular is one that I will want to sample but have read nothing by Reynolds - thanks Neeru.

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    1. Thanks Sergio. The Abbott is unputdownable but when you reach the end, It is: WHAT?!! Is this the explanation?

      Reynolds I quite liked and would like to read more of him.

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  3. Excellent roundup here, Neeru! And I agree; that passage you shared is absolutely chilling... Sorry to hear that the Abbot disappointed you at the end, as that premise is just so fascinating!

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    1. Thanks Margot. I myself could not believe the India that was described in that passage. Unbelievable how this country has lowered herself.

      The premise of Abbot is one of the best that I've come across but the end...ah well.

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  4. The Shutters sounds like my kind of book! Great reviews!!!!

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    1. Thanks Freda. I hope you get a chance to read The Shudders. I'd love to know what you thought of it.

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