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18 April 2012 @ 02:41 pm
February books  
An organised person would have posted these before now. She might also have tidied the house and caught up on the washing. Wish she lived here ...

February Books
[13 The Water Room by Christopher Fowler]
13 The Water Room by Christopher Fowler
Another Bryant and May book, with the canniest ancient policemen in London. This time the story takes place amid the houses of the mobile middle classes, with a lost artwork at the centre of the story. I've said before that this series of novels is an obvious influence on Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London set (which I think Aaranovitch has said explicitly -- if not, he's certainly implied it), though darker in tone and with a looser narrative structure. This story also focussed on the city's lost rivers and the way our old geography still shapes us even though we pretend to be divorced from it. Genuinely creepy throughout, this was a book I read with the lights on and, although I guessed the killer, I was still rivitted.

[Three Aurelio Zen books!]
14 Ratking by Michael Dibdin
I confess, I came to the Aurelio Zen books thanks to the Rufus Sewell TV series. Yes, yes I am very shallow. Dibdin was a British writer who lived in Italy for four years and set his most successful novels there. Zen is a Venetian-born detective who begins the series in disgrace having suffered from being on the wrong end of a series of political decisions in the past. In this book he travels to Perugia to investigate the kidnapping of a major industrialist and finds himself caught up in a rats' nest of family and Commune politics. With practically everyone a suspect, it's a satisfyingly twisty and turny novel, though terribly dark -- themes include the Red Brigade kidnappings, the Second World War, incest and Italian and Papal corruption throughout the 70s and 80s. Zen is a peculiar narrator, he is detached from everything -- his workmates, his mother, his girlfriend, the crime … For a while it looks as though he is one of the few uncorrupt parts of the Italian state, but by the end, he seems to be only not a part of any clique. Despite this, I found the evocation of Italy to be authentic and involving, and the intellectual puzzle was enjoyable to solve. And it didn't have the terrifyingly claustrophobic sequence that the TV version has. STILL QUIVERING!!

15 Vendetta by Michael Dibdin
Despite not being sure if I liked Aurelio Zen much as a character, I liked Dibdin enough as an author to come back. This time Zen is dispatched to Sardinia, where another super-wealthy industrialist has been murdered, this time in his intruder-proof fortress (complete with lion). Again, the 'local colour' is fabulously drawn (if rather reliant on All Sardinians Will Steal Your Grandmother tropes, but the geography is palpable) and fleshed-out side characters make the story-telling intriguing. This is the novel in which Zen's romance with his young, hot female workmate kicks off, and she is interestingly written as being more complex than Zen realises, even though we see her almost entirely through his eyes. There's another abused young woman in this book, which seems to have become the theme for my February reading, as you'll see. This book is grittier than the first, with Zen in more danger -- there's a subplot breathing down his neck, too -- which makes the whole thing a more thrilling prospect.

16 Cabal by Michael Dibdin
The Pope! The Vatican! Dead Bodies! The Fashion Industry! Sex! Brooding dark men! I undid an entire week's gym with chocolates reading through this one! Dibdin hits his stride here, without the need to give the reader an introduction to Zen and his life, and instead focusses on both the crimes and the world around them in visceral detail.

[Eight Phryne Fisher Mysteries]
17 Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood
In real life, I'm acquainted with the wizard Kerry Greenwood lives with, though his wizardlyness is all Anglo-Saxon to me … Which makes it shameful that it's taken me this long to read this series. I made up for it by whipping through the whole lot in about five weeks. Phryne Fisher is the daughter of an Earl (later a Baronet, briefly a Duke, I think, accurate editing is not this series' strong point) who grew up poor in Melbourne before enough male relatives met their end during World War I to see her father proclaimed heir and her family raised from obscurity to obscene wealth. She does Not Do Well as an Honourable Miss, and leaps at the opportunity to return to Australia in 1928. Before embarking on the sea voyage she is asked to look into the health of a young Melburnian woman with whom she is vaguely connected. On arrival in Australia she finds herself investigating a series of crimes including a rapacious abortionist, a cocaine ring, and the possible poisoning of her old friend. Greenwood quickly assembles an ensemble cast including a pioneering woman doctor, two Diggers turned cabbies (Bert and Cec, who are great value), an intelligent and enterprising policemen in Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, who comes complete with charming sidekick Hugh Collins, and the lovely Dot Williams, who Phryne meets when Dot is planning to murder her ex-employer's son after the lad has spread rumours regarding Dot's alleged lack of virtue.

One of the things I like most about Agatha Christie is that you can knock over a book in a lazy afternoon if you're prepared to let the phone ring out. The Phryne Fisher books all share this virtue. They are not as clever as Christie, but they aren't dumb, either. Instead, they're a witty play of flapper frippery wrapped around quirky crimes. The period is sketched in selective detail: Poiret coats, Vionnet frocks, Salade Russe and olive oil from the chemist. These touches, along with Phryne's makeshift 'family' are what hooked me into this series, as you'll see from the rest of the month's reading list. This first, though rough, was jolly good fun for a rainy afternoon.

18 Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood
A child is kidnapped and a man is murdered, and Phryne is off on the chase again! This time there are (unsurprisingly) planes involved --  Of Course Phryne can both fly and wing walk. And again, there's a paedophile in the mix, who is thwarted excellently by his would-be victim. The ensemble cast is all back, and added to, in a smoother novel than the first.

19 Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood
Paedophiles again! And lost girls for Phryne to rescue, plus a murdered old lady who no one is really sorry to lose, but still, she deserved better than what she got … Phryne picks up a pleasant young lover in this book who hovers around for a while. I approve of scandalous behaviour with consenting young men of a suitable age! This one is not actually a bad set of mysteries and I had to read carefully to spot whodunnit in one of the crimes, while nervously waiting to see if they could Get the Goods on the other blaggard.

20 Death at Victoria Docks by Kerry Greenwood
More abused girls! Hot Communists! Estonians! Guns! Dot being awfully brave! Pass the ginger beer and smelling salts!

21 The Green Mill Murder by Kerry Greenwood
This book contains no abused girls! HURRAH! Phryne is dancing with a young rake at the Green Mill dance hall when a man is murdered almost in front of her, which leads her on a trip through Melbourne's jazz underground and back into her plane and out into the wilds of Victoria. This was the book that convinced me that Greenwood's editors are all working in a rush over cups of gin-laced tea at the end of the day, as it is later completely forgotten that she was shocked to hear of Bert and Cec's experiences in the trenches when she is reinvented as an ambulance driver during the last years of WWI, and after this book I don't think we ever see her go near a plane again. Having said that, this book also has the most interesting and complex crimes of the whole series, and the loveliest writing when Phryne finds herself on her journey into the wilderness. Plus, nice little touches of homosexual life in the early 20th century that were done neatly in character.

22 Blood and Circuses by Kerry Greenwood
Clearly, Greenwood wanted to take a breather from massive amounts of research in this one and sets the whole thing in a circus, where Phryne goes undercover as a novice trick rider. Although the crime plot is thin, this was the most emotionally intriguing and convincing of all the Phryne books for me, and there were moments of real affecting sadness throughout this one.

23 Ruddy Gore by Kerry Greenwood
Death at the operetta! Hot Chinese men! Flying axes! Grateful grandmothers! This book introduces Lin Chung, Phryne's fabulous non-monogamous ongoing lover. The plot is fabulously silly and enormous fun, this one really does call out for some chocolate while reading.

24 Urn Burial by Kerry Greenwood
I could attempt to outline the plot of this one, but life is too short. Basically, Phryne goes on holidays and everything goes wrong. Some lovely touches to the writing in this book, especially the combination of awe-inspiring beauty and hideous weight provoked by the cave visit.

[25 The Chalk Girl by Carol O'Connell ]
25 The Chalk Girl by Carol O'Connell
I shouldn't like this series, because the heroine is a Flawed SuperWoman and her main colleagues are all men, but … there's just something about the Kathy Mallory books that means I forgive myself for reading them every time. Here the main plot swirls around a young girl and the paedophile who tries to abduct her and who is connected with a series of murders stretching back decades. Broken people litter the stage and there is an awful lot of nastiness about, even for the nicest characters who find themselves acting against type to protect others. But there is some fine observation that lifts the novel out of Gritty Crime, and Mallory's revenge on the police psychologist who has worked against her is a delight.

[26 Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles. Warning: didn't like it]
26 Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles
I confess, I gave up on this book a bit after halfway through. I knew exactly what was going to happen before the writer put it on the page all the way through, and when he really did kill off one of the characters who I actually liked (not the narrator) in exactly the way he had foreshadowed, I just flicked to the end to confirm it was all going to end as I thought it was. If you're less annoyed by predictability than I am, Wiles's writing is nicely comic and dark and he has some great turns of phrase and nice insights on the confusion of modern life with modern objects, but I found it easy to step away from this book. I think that I should confess that one of the reasons for that ease was my consciousness that this book, which was critically well reviewed, would almost certainly have been dismissed as a 'smaller' book with insufficient satire to veneer its obvious plot if it had been written by a woman.

I was going to add March's to this list, but I need to get off for my ukulele lesson, so that can wait for the next rainy afternoon with a bit of time!
hometimehometime on April 18th, 2012 05:20 am (UTC)
Apparently Lin Chung is based on Brian de Caffa......
blamebramptonblamebrampton on April 18th, 2012 09:27 am (UTC)
BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I didn't know Brian all that well, but I don't recall him being as hot as Lin is in the books. I'd certainly have paid more attention! *Is very shallow*
hometimehometime on April 18th, 2012 10:18 am (UTC)
Well, pretty loosely based.... you can often pick out familiar characters in her other books. For example, in the broken wheel YA series, there are lots of SCAers. And in the Corinna Chapman books, there's a character named after me!
blamebramptonblamebrampton on April 18th, 2012 12:35 pm (UTC)
I shall have to read more so I can spot you and wave!
anna_wing on April 18th, 2012 08:33 am (UTC)
Greenwood's modern-day detective series starring the baker Corinna Chapman is also rather charming. She is excellent at creating ongoing ensemble casts, which create much the same effect of menacing cosiness as the village of St Mary Mead in Christie's Miss Marple books.

I agree that the editing Needs Work. I noticed not just the wandering titles of Phryne's father, but the huge error (shocking, in a series where clothes matter so much) in respect of Phryne's favourite couturiers. Dior was not prominent until after World War II and his career did not begin until the mid-1930s. So he could not be one of Phryne's favourites unless Chapman was looking back on her entire life and not only this moment in 1928-29 in which the books are set.

A book that was actually about the care of wooden floors would be quite useful...
blamebramptonblamebrampton on April 18th, 2012 12:35 pm (UTC)
Oh yes! There are some good blunders in there, though I do think that it's acceptable for an author to say, as Greenwood does, 'look, I've gone for a general feel and done some research to back it up, but it's not a thesis, so shush, you lot!' Having said that, I also think it's perfectly proper for readers to say 'Well, we won't email you, but we'll totally snicker among ourselves!'

I've had to go off and have a pore through my Poiret books while thinking about all this ;-)

And there is a book on the Care of Wooden floors within the book, but it's as much use as most meta in literary fiction, alas.
anna_wing on April 19th, 2012 02:33 am (UTC)
There was an exhibition on Poiret in New York some years ago, which produced a magnificent book. There is also somewhere on line a video on how to actually wear one of his more avant-garde evening coats (the one made of a single length of cloth). I like Vionnet and Jeanne Lanvin as well, but I am not sure how many of Erte's non-theatre clothes were ever actually made.
george pushdragonpushdragon on April 19th, 2012 10:46 am (UTC)
If you want shallow, take me: even pretty Rufus wasn't quite enough to make me want to pick up the book.

Hey, do you know who plays Lin Chung? Because WANT!!

Funny, the aviation scene in Green Mill was my favourite too. It's an odd passage with awesome evocative details (like I love how she has to get fuel trucked in to her refuel stops) that seems to stand apart from the rest of the book. Gutted that Bunny the aviatrix didn't make the TV version though - and the changes to the younger brother's role were surprising.

Also, after Lin Chung, the wombat from Green Mill is possibly my favourite character.
spirillen: Tim Minchinspirillen on April 19th, 2012 01:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you - I actually saw half of the televised version of "Cocaine Blues" and you have reminded me that I want to read the books (I am desperately trying to pull myself together to job search - I've even started a Spanish course to give me an excuse to be a lady of leisure for slightly longer - some entertaining reading to remind me of my travels sounds like another perfect excuse).

Do you have to read the books in order? For some obscure reason it's only the later books that are available on Kindle, most bizarre!

How's your mystery coming along? I'd love to

Hope you are well.