Thursday, October 29, 2015

Forgotten Book: The Face in the Night by Edgar Wallace (1924)

I had heard of Edgar Wallace even before I started blogging but have been able to read him only this month. Steve @ Stuck in a Book launched the 1924 Club and keen to read a mystery published in that year, I found to my delight that there was a Wallace written in that year. Considering, his output though, this is nothing to be amazed of. He seems to have been a most prolific writer. In fact, in 1924 itself he published more than one book. I picked this up because it was a crime club publication.

The novel opens on a foggy, winter night when a man from South Africa, named Laker, makes his way towards the home of his boss, a certain Mr. Malpas. Laker is in a belligerent mood, he thinks that while agents like him rough it out, Malpas sits in luxury. Desirous of a showdown, he enters House No. 551 and is immediately confounded by the house with doors that open on their own, lights that go off and on, and walls that suddenly turn into doors and vice-versa. His threats result in his being found floating down the river a couple of days later.

Meanwhile, a party is progressing at the American Embassy where the Queen of Finland is present with her fabulous jewels. Colonel Bothwell enters the embassy, only to be accosted by Captain Dick Shannon of the Scotland Yard and told in no uncertain terms that his cover was blown and that he (Bothwell, that is) was none other than Slick Smith, a smooth operator from the US. Shannon decides to see him off. But Smith is not the only person interested in the jewels, there is soon the entry of Dora Elton latched on to the arms of Lacy (Do big-boned men have such names?!) Marshalt, an MP from South Africa and incidentally the neighbour of that old man Malpas whom we met earlier on. Laker had expressed his surprise at Malpas taking a house next to Marshalt since the former was actually robbing the latter. But these are things that minions do not understand.

Anyway,Marshalt's companion that night, Dora Elton and her husband Martin Elton too are interested in the jewels. And it only surprises our hero Shannon that before the night is quite over, the queen's jewels are taken away from her at gun -point.

Meanwhile a girl wraps up her life at a chicken farm in a village and sets out for London, desirous of meeting her sister, Dora. What Audrey Bedford doesn't know is that this decision of hers would not only change her life but the lives of many others as secret from the past tumble out.

So, what did I think of my first Wallace? It was good in parts but there being so many things interwined together both in the past and the present that it needed a more detailed exposition in the end rather than a hurried closure which it unfortunately has. However, one twist had me completely bowled over and for that I am keen to read more of Wallace.


First Line: The fog, which was later to descend upon London, blotting out every landmark, was as yet a grey, misty threat.

Publication Details: E. Book
First Published: 1924
Pages: n.pag
Source: Project Gutenberg Australia
Other books read of the same author: None


Entry for FFB @ Pattinase

Selected Reading for the 1924 Club @ Stuck in a Book

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lest We Forget: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Though it is one of the defining moments of the twentieth century, I have little idea about the war in Vietnam. What I know are the broadest of details: Vietnam (then called IndoChina) was a French colony. Sometime in the mid-twentieth century, the Vietnamese people under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh rose against their colonial masters. As is wont, the imperial masters never leave without a bitter parting kick and thus Vietnam was divided into North and South Vietnam with an agreement that the partition would terminate soon. However, the elections were never held and instead the North and South went to war. The US entered the war, helping the government of the South against that of the North, which it suspected of being helped by the Communist regimes of the world. The ensuing conflict was brutal and bloody. It is a depressing summary and too reminiscent of the way history has played itself out in many post-colonial countries.

I know there are many facets to the war. And if I want, I can just press a button and google will take me to many informative sites detailing the nuances of the war but I resist doing that, more interested in reading how the war plays itself out in the imaginative consciousness of the people. Whether it be as beautiful as Graham Greene's The Quiet American or as banal as the Star Trek episode A Private Little War.

Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried belongs to the first category. Beautiful, evocative, poetic, gut-wrenching, part memoir, part fiction, part fact, part imagination, it is difficult to pigeonhole the book in one genre.

The narrator, now a middle-aged veteran of the war, looks back at his younger confused self who did not want to be part of the war. He was young and the world was promising. But then came the draft notice and though he tried to run away from it - both literally and figuratively - in the end he found himself enlisting in the army because he could not go against the public opinion which saw it as its patriotic duty to stop the communists. Part of the Alpha Company where the average age was nineteen, he grew close to his comrades-in-arms Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Kiowa, Azar, Henry Sanders. The book belongs as much to him as to them: those who died, those who lived, and those who only partly-lived...

At one point, the narrator states that a true war story is one that is gut-wrenching and gives an example of one in which a soldier takes out his anger at the killing of a friend at a baby buffalo. The painful death meted out to the baby (not calf, mind you) is truly gut wrenching and you do not know whom to blame for this terrible state of affairs.

But my favourite was 'Speaking of Courage' about Norman Bowker who returns from the battle-fields but cannot forgive himself for not being able to save a friend. Round and round, the town he goes but cannot connect with anything. It is as though he was the one who died in that stinking mud.

In the end, here are some beautiful passages from the book:

Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased when there is nothing to remember except the story. 36

He was a witness, like God, or like the gods, who look on in absolute silence a we live our lives, as we make our choices or fail to make them. 57

What happened to her, Rat said, was what happened to all of them. You come over clean and you get dirty and then afterward it's never the same. A question of degree. Some make it intact, some don't make it at all. 109

That high elegant voice. Someday, when the war was over, I'd go to London and ask Mary Hopkin to marry me. That's another hing Nam does to you. It turns you sentimental; it makes you want to hook up with girls like Mary Hopkin. You learn, finally. that you'll die, and so you  try to hang on to your life, that gentle, naive kid you used to be, but then after a while the sentiment takes over, because you know for a fact that you can't ever bring any of it back again. You just can't. Those were the days, she sang.


Go, get yourself a copy now.Very highly recommended.


First Line: First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in Nw Jersey.

Publication Details: NY: Houghton Muffin, 2010.
First Published: 1990
Pages: 233
Source: CRL [0111,3N46,TT NO]
Other books read of the same author: None
Trivia: A New York Times Book of the Century
Winner of the Prix Du Meilleur Livre Etranger (France)
Winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize

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