Review – Ask a Policeman

Cover of Ask A Policeman by the Detective ClubAsk A Policeman, John Rhode, Helen Simpson, Gladys Mitchell, Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers, Milward Kennedy

I think the books and stories the Detection Club did together must have been a lot of fun to do and to share around with other writers, but they come off less well for someone outside that context, and particularly given that many of the authors and detectives are no longer well-known. Sayers/Lord Peter were the only ones I knew from this bunch, so the parody and playing in other people’s sandboxes doesn’t really interest me.

Going through the same murder in however many different ways just… didn’t interest me enough. The parody of Sayers was quite fun, since I know what Wimsey is like, but other than that, I found this fairly boring. Alas.

Rating: 2/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “beach books”. Which is not something I really do, so instead I shall pick the kinds of books I like to relax with. Whether that looks like your beach reads or not, I don’t know!

  1. Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal. Or anything in that series, but the first one is the lightest and closest to Austen and the like.
  2. This Rough Magic, Mary Stewart. Or any of her mysteries — they have an amazing sense of place, it’s like going on holiday without leaving home.
  3. The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley. Another one with a great sense of place, this one in Cornwell. It’s not all happy, but the romance is sweet and it has a happy ending.
  4. The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer. I have a huge soft spot for these romances. I loved Sophy in particular, though I’m also a fan of…
  5. The Talisman Ring, Georgette Heyer. Which is more of a mystery/adventure than some of the primarily society type ones.
  6. Magic Bites, Ilona Andrews. Light and compulsively readable.
  7. Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers. Okay, I think you need the background of previous books, but I love the first line and the rest doesn’t disappoint: “The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth.”
  8. Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers. For Harriet Vane in the prime spot, with her final answer to Lord Peter’s proposals at the end of the book… Plus, tons of smart women in academia.
  9. Jhereg, Steven Brust. It’s a fun first book of the series, it raced past me, and it’s really easy to read.
  10. Soulless, Gail Carriger. Fluffy fun with werewolves.

I don’t think that’d be a bad selection for the beach, right?

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I’m going to borrow an idea that came to me via Guy Gavriel Kay:

“My youngest brother had a wonderful schtick from some time in high school, through to graduating medicine. He had a card in his wallet that read, ‘If I am found with amnesia, please give me the following books to read …’ And it listed half a dozen books where he longed to recapture that first glorious sense of needing to find out ‘what happens next’ … the feeling that keeps you up half the night. The feeling that comes before the plot’s been learned.”

So here’s my ten… Consider this an order if I am ever found with amnesia!

  1. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. Well duh.
  2. The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin. I’m curious as to how I’d feel about The Furthest Shore and Tehanu, reading them for the first time as an adult — originally I read them when I was quite young.
  3. The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay. I was torn between this and Tigana, but this was my first experience of Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, and I’d love to come to it fresh. Especially because it’s so influenced by prior fantasy.
  4. Whose Body, Dorothy L. Sayers. Well, all of the Peter Wimsey books really.
  5. Anything non-Arthurian by Mary Stewart. I’m not such a fan of her Arthurian books, but her other books are pure comfort to me. I might need that, if I’ve lost my memory!
  6. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. And Lord of the Rings, obviously.
  7. Among Others, Jo Walton. My first book by Walton was actually Farthing, but that’s less personal. It’d be interesting how much Among Others would resonate with me if I didn’t have the memories I do. (Mind you, neuroscience probably supports the idea that I’d still feel a sense of recognition, even without conscious memory.)
  8. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. An absolute must — I can’t go without knowing the opening and closing lines.
  9. Something by Patricia McKillip. Just don’t start me on Winter Rose unless you’re willing to take notes about my experience, compare them to my old reviews, and publish a study on unconscious memories of reading in amnesiacs.
  10. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Obviously a whole course of Arthurian literature would be essential — you could start by giving me my own essays on Guinevere and Gawain — including Steinbeck’s unfinished work. But this would make a good starting point, and you could check if I retained my knowledge of Middle English too.

Now I almost want that to happen, so I can study the neuroscience of reading and memory from within! It’d also be interesting to see how I reacted to the Harry Potter books if I couldn’t remember a) reading them as a child and b) the hype surrounding them. And —

Yeah, I’ll stop. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people have gone with this week!

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is “Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters Who _____”. So, because I’m predictable like that, let’s have my top ten characters who love books!

  1. Matilda, from Roald Dahl’s MatildaI don’t know about anyone else, but I used to sit and stare at things and wish I could have powers like Matilda. But even better would’ve been to read as fast as her.
  2. Mori, from Jo Walton’s Among OthersI think this one is extra-specially predictable. Shush.
  3. Hermione Granger, from J.K. Rowling’s Harry PotterI’m in the middle of my rereads of these books and remembering just how much I loved Hermione — I was that know-it-all who sucked up to the teachers, though I didn’t have such good and loyal friends as Harry and Ron surrounding me. And unfortunately, I still didn’t have powers.
  4. Cath, from Rainbow Rowell’s FangirlWhy is this list so populated with people like me…?
  5. Harriet Vane, from Dorothy L. Sayers’ Wimsey mysteries. Well, she’s more of a writer and we don’t see her reading much, but we do see her engaging with literature, and practically sparring with Peter via quotations from books.
  6. Beauty, in Robin McKinley’s BeautyGimme the Beast’s library, please.
  7. Alec, from Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint. I suddenly remembered a scene with Richard bringing Alec a book and the hunger Alec seemed to feel about it…
  8. Jean, from Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora. Jean!
  9. Memer, from Ursula Le Guin’s VoicesI need to reread this one now I’ve remembered about it!
  10. Jo March, from Louisa May Alcott’s Little WomenI think I actually came across Jo and Matilda not that far apart in time. Both of them lived in a world of books that only encouraged me to read more!

That was actually harder than I anticipated. Huh. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people are going with!

Review – Clouds of Witness

Cover of Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. SayersClouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Peter Jones as Bunter, and Gabriel Woolf as Inspector Parker

This is the second of the Lord Peter radioplays, at least going chronologically by the order of the books. It’s longer than Whose Body? and a bit more personal: Lord Peter has to defend his own brother, the Duke of Denver, against a charge of murder. As usual with the Wimsey radioplays, the cast is excellent, and the parts chosen directly from the novels for dramatisation are great. I think only Ian Carmichael could get exactly the right tone for me in the part where Wimsey climbs on Parker’s back, looks over the wall, and then announces that it’s a marvellous ditch which he is going to proceed to fall into.

And of course, the ending with everyone drunk is pretty funny…

The main thing that doesn’t really work for me is, unfortunately, the sound effects. The gun sounds are more like party poppers — hardly the dramatic scenes needed. And I could maybe wish that Ian Carmichael wouldn’t sing — it’s in character, but something about it grates.

Rating: 5/5

Review – Whose Body?

Cover of Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers, audio editionWhose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Peter Jones as Bunter, and Gabriel Woolf as Inspector Parker

I think the casting for the BBC radioplay adaptations of Dorothy L. Sayers was nigh on perfect. Ian Carmichael might’ve been too old to play Peter, but it doesn’t show in his voice, and he perfectly conveys the warmth and humour, the silliness, and the underlying strength. I can never get used to the new voice actor for Parker in the later episodes, either: Gabriel Woolf sounds just perfect as Inspector Parker.

It might not be a high octane crime novel (rather more toward the cosy side), but I still found the adaptation to be a good one, bringing across moments of confusion, embarrassment, discovery and conflict. It does a pretty good job with narration (weaving some of it into Peter’s character) and in choosing which scenes to represent, and how. One thing I do miss is the Dowager Duchess’ rambles. There’s more sense in them than you’d think at first blush, but of course it would cause anyone to tune right out in audio form.

These are all now available on Audible, which is certainly more convenient than having all the CDs, and definitely worth trading a credit a month for. Needless to say, given my affection for both Sayers and these radioplays, I’ve sped that process up rather and have (I think) all of them.

Rating: 5/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s topic from The Broke and the Bookish is a great one: top ten heroines. Let’s see…

  1. Yeine, from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Seriously, seriously kickass lady who navigates politics, would prefer a fair fight, and becomes a goddess. Why not?
  2. Tenar, from The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin. That was always my favourite book of the bunch. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Tenar is strong in a way that has nothing to do with physical strength.
  3. Mori, from Among Others by Jo Walton. Because she’s quite a lot like me, only she really can see fairies and she has a streak of pragmatism I could really use.
  4. Harriet Vane, from the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers. Bit of a change of pace from the first three, being a different genre. But she’s a woman in a man’s world, pursuing both writing and academia, a strong woman who knows her own mind and sticks to her principles. But at the same time, she’s not perfect: she snarls at Peter, she’s unfair, etc, etc.
  5. Phèdre nó Delaunay de Montrève, from Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. If there’s anything that can hold her back, I don’t know what it is. She’s gorgeous, she’s a spy, she manipulates politics and gets involved in all kinds of stuff on behalf of her country.
  6. Katherine Talbert, from The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner. Even if she doesn’t want to learn to fight at first.
  7. Ki, from Harpy’s Flight by Megan Lindholm. Practical, determined, fierce, and good to her animals, to her friends.
  8. Caitrin, from Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier. She doesn’t seem like she’s going to be a strong person at first, yet she learns to face her fears — without it ever seeming too easy.
  9. Mirasol, from Chalice by Robin McKinley. She’s thrown in at the deep end, with very little gratefulness or support from those around her, and she pushes through it to do whatever she has to do.
  10. Csethiro Celedin, from The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. She basically says that if anyone hurts Maia she’ll duel them and gut them. Like!

I’m gonna have to look at loads of posts on this one, because stories with good heroines are definitely of interest to me!

Review – The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

Cover of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. SayersThe Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers

It’s fortunate for me that these books are so familiar to me by now, because I got distracted by other books in the middle of this. It’s not my favourite of the bunch, which helps to explain why; I do like the conflicts between Parker and Peter that’re brought out by the nature of the story, the awkwardness between them as Peter has to suspect one of his own friends. That’s perhaps the best part of this: the characterisations of those two as they try to balance friendship and duty; Peter’s struggle with himself and his own honesty.

The ending is one of those awfully convenient, gentlemanly ones where Peter could bring the person to trial, etc, etc, and then warns them and offers them suicide instead. I can never quite decide what I think about those endings: they give Peter a kind of out, so that he doesn’t have to do the ungentlemanly thing. Which is a bit unfair, really.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Unnatural Death

Cover of Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. SayersUnnatural Death, Dorothy L. Sayers

Starting the New Year with a Sayers review? Yes, please.

So Unnatural Death is maybe not the best in terms of the convoluted plot, the number of characters, etc, because it’s not one of the most personal stories for Lord Peter. On the other hand, you do get to see Peter again treating it a little like a hobby, a curiosity, and then having to face the consequences of his ego. And there’s a lot of Miss Climpson, too; not as much as one of the later books, but enough to show that she’s a really great character — her letters with their underlinings and italicising are hilarious.

The murder method is pretty good for this one, though, really: I wouldn’t guess it if I wasn’t familiar with an NCIS episode where there are a couple of killings done the same way, and yet it’s simple and obvious once you know what it is.

So not my favourite, but it does work and come together beautifully.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Clouds of Witness

Cover of Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. SayersClouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers

As usual, Sayers manages a convoluted plot, the characters we love, and some bits of pure fun. Peter’s mother is catching my interest this time — if you focus on it, you can follow through exactly why each of her remarks leads on to the next. Of course, if you’re missing a reference in the chain, you’re doomed, but I’m having fun trying to follow it all through. Sometimes it helps to google things and find people wondering about the same bits, too…

Considering how close to Peter the story is — given his own brother is accused of the murder of his sister’s fiancé, with his sister as a witness — it doesn’t seem as close to the character as we were during the last chapters of Whose Body?, where Peter is having his PTSD episode/recovering from it. Still, there’s plenty of interaction with Parker and Bunter, and plenty of Peter poking his nose in where it’s not wanted (and sometimes where it is wanted, in that timely manner he has). And I have to confess that I really like the way Parker’s affection for Mary is shown, and his interactions with Peter about it.

Of course, as I write this review I’m already through Unnatural Death and nearly at the end of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, so you can imagine the fun I’m having…

Rating: 4/5