*Death of a Charming Man by M.C. Beaton. First published in 1994, this is Beaton’s 10th Hamish Macbeth mystery. The story centers around the effect of English newcomer, Peter Hynd on the small village of Drim in northern Scotland. Peter has a malicious streak and it becomes his downfall. Lochdubh police sergeant Macbeth warns Hynd to tread easily around the local Highlanders, but of course, he’s heedless.
The Hamish Macbeth series are cozy mysteries, though not quite as cozy as Agatha Christie’s books. Whose are? Grotesque descriptions are rare, along with bad language and sexual content. That being said, there was one section with a very un-cozy word.
Possibly it’s my imagination, but it seems that Beaton gets a little bored with the romantic relationship between Hamish and Priscilla Halburton-Smythe. Priscilla is not a sympathetic character; actually she’s fairly off-putting. Am I supposed to like her?
Hamish on the other hand, is someone I’d love to have as my local constable, despite his failings (mooching, laziness and all too often, a lack of loyalty).
Are there really policemen like him somewhere?
*Death in the Downs by Simon Brett
What’s the deal with so many current books? No happy marriages, affairs galore, no traditional religion, endorsements of New Age silliness.
Technically, this one is well written. The story moves along, clues are injected along with red herrings, it’s interesting and it ties up most of the loose ends.
On the other hand, it’s full of excessive drinking, mysticism and bad men. There is only one good/sympathetic man in the whole book.
I suppose Simon Brett really is a man, but he writes like a world-weary, jilted feminist who never met an alternative religion that he/she didn’t like.
It’s been a few years since I last read a Simon Brett mystery. The cynicism surprised me.
There are virtually no happy marriages in this book. Carole’s husband left her, one woman with an overbearing husband uses tranquilizers, another wife drinks, one couple is uncommunicative and then they part, and the “doctor” is a serial philanderer. Jude is not married but has an unpleasant relationship with her paramour, which we are thankfully spared the details. Parent/child relationships don’t fare much better.
And speaking of drinking … that’s practically all these characters do, besides intimidate, murder and commit mayhem and masochism. They are constantly drinking, not just at the pub but opening the second bottle of wine, etc.
New Age therapies are repeatedly defended- no matter how bizarre. At the end, we are treated to a discourse on the emptiness of traditional religion by the killer.
The writing is adept, the content leaves something to be desired. Come to think of it, Simon Brett seems more jaded than cynical. Perhaps he thinks he’s post-modern. Maybe he writes because his New Age healer prescribes it.
*Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie. Years ago, Joe and I saw the movie with Marlene Dietrich and Tyrone Power, an excellent production. Since I’m always on the lookout for copies of Agatha Christie books, I bought a paperback copy and read it last week.
The first chapter told the whole story of the movie, so I thought there had been some Hollywood interference with the original and that there must be a lot more that had been pared down. The second chapter had a whole new cast of characters, but many books do that – using the first several chapters to introduce new settings, etc… By the beginning of the 3rd chapter, I realized that it was a book of short stories! I looked at the front and back covers and the flyleaf and nowhere did it say it was a book of short stories, so I felt a little less foolish.
The second odd thing about the book, was that the day I finished it, I watched a movie on Hulu titled “Love From a Stranger”. As it went on, I thought that it seemed very familiar. When the wife read the notation in her husband’s diary “9:00 p.m.”, I knew! It was the same story as “Philomel Cottage”, chapter 8 in Witness for the Prosecution. I checked the imdb page for the movie to see if they acknowledged Christie’s original story and indeed they did.
Now, it may seem that I was pretty stupid not to connect it before but lots of details had been changed. Christie wrote the book in 1924 and I think the tales are contemporary to that time; the movie is set in 1901. In the book the husband claims to be a photographer; in the movie he’s a scientist. Her sudden influx of money is explained by an inheritance in the book, and the film has her winning the pools (lottery). And there are many other things expanding the original story – so it wasn’t a clearcut case of simply not paying attention on my part.
I thought all that it was kind of a quirky co-incidence and it has absolutely no significance. Just an interesting interlude.
*Possessed: the Life of Joan Crawford, by Donald Spoto I can’t look or think of Joan Crawford without thinking Mommy Dearest, so when I saw this on the New Books shelf at the library I hesitated. But I was willing to consider that maybe that was a distorted view of her when I saw that Spoto claimed that she was misunderstood and had new archival information. Perhaps Christina was merely bitter after having been left out of the will.
But I will never know because I can’t get past the alternative lifestyle agenda of the author. He takes every opportunity to campaign for it and it’s tiring.
Hollywood history has long fascinated me, but I’ll have to satisfy my curiosity elsewhere.
Unfinished and NOT RECOMMENDED
The Blue Sapphire by D.E. Stevenson This was a re-read for me. Back in the mid-197s, Wal-Mart carried a lot of D.E. Stevenson reprints with new artwork on the covers and I bought several of them. The Blue Sapphire was originally published in 1963 but the cover on my book is straight out of the 1970s: her ruffled, loose dress, wedge sandals and long, flowing curls; his open necked shirt with the big collar and styled hair. When I read a book, I really like to picture the time setting in my mind – and the early 60s were not like the 70s, in any fashion.
Therefore, I see this as an opportunity to do an altered bookjacket.
The Blue Sapphire is a cozy romance and a quick read. It’s pleasant with likable characters, although I must say that I found Julie ( the female protagonist) a bit stuffy at times. Perhaps that makes it more believable.
(Dorothy Emily Peploe’s father was Robert Louis Stevenson’s cousin; she used her maiden name when she wrote, but the copyright is in her married name.)
*Tides by V.M. Caldwell (Juvenile Fiction) The sequel to The Ocean Within targets 5th – 9th grade readers. It’s the continuing story of 12 year old Elizabeth who was adopted into the Sheridan family one year previously. All the Sheridan grandchildren spend each summer at their grandmother’s house on the ocean. Which ocean? We don’t know, but the clues are: the kids spot Vermont license tags on the journey there; it’s not Maine and there are pine trees right up to the beach. That’s a minor issue. However, the author doesn’t tell us why Elizabeth is afraid of the water, which is the main issue in the book. At the end, we are left to kind of …well… guess.
The writing is well crafted and held my interest. The subject matter is enjoyable – a house full of cousins, summertime, the beach, a town with a movie theater that shows W.C. Fields films. This is fun stuff to me. But the dark cloud is the intrusion of social issues – Elizabeth aids an environmentalist who’s trying to catch polluters.
Tides is a publication of Milkweed Editions, which is a non-profit publisher who “publishes with the intention of making a humane impact on society, in the belief that literature is a transformative art uniquely able to convey the essential experiences of the human heart and spirit”, according their note at the back of the book. At least they are upfront and bold in stating their goal.
My beef is that 10 year olds don’t need the weight of the world on their shoulders and how dare authors and publishers try to rob them of their childhood.
What they didn’t mind was inserting some gaia earth worship and a brief little ceremony for “mother ocean”. Perhaps they think they’re being ecumenical because they also devote very short passages to Judaism, Catholicism, as well as mentioning Hinduism, Buddhism and agnosticism. Talk about all-inclusive.
One very surprising element was the subject of spanking. Grandmother spanks. Everyone agrees that she’s fair about it, and there’s the agnostic mother’s disapproval of it, but I thought it was unusual aspect of a modern novel.
NOT RECOMMENDED for children.
The beach/family vacation storyline was much better done in The Secret of Cross Bone Hill by Wilson Gage.
*Theater Shoes by Noel Streatfield (Juvenile Fiction) It was in the movie “You’ve Got Mail” that I first heard of the Shoe books. I didn’t know if they were real books, or just something fictionalized for that story. When I did an internet search (remember this was about 1998) the cupboard was bare.
Then when I looking over the Books for a Donation area at the library – there it was – Theater Shoes! I added it to my stack of purchases, brought it home and read it right away.
It’s a delightful episode in the continuing story of a Dancing/Theater school in London. This go-round was written in 1945 and concerns 3 children whose guardian grandfather dies. Since their mother is deceased and their father is missing in action with the British army, they have nowhere else to go but to a grandmother they’ve never met. Unbeknownst to them, their maternal relatives are all theater people and they are enrolled in Madame Fidolia’s Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, which to them is like falling down the rabbit hole.
This passage from`Chapter 14 describes how the war had changed the appearance of a first night theater audience: “The audience was exactly as Miriam had said it would be, and not a bit as Alice had described it. The women were in uniform or dark overcoats, and most of them had big boots with fur linings. The men were in uniform or exactly as they had come on from work. Nobody was dressed up. Aunt Lindsey was looking very nice in a black frock and fur coat, but only nice in the way that anybody might look in the afternoon.”
Even though it’s written for older children, Theater Shoes is a charming book which held my interest.
*Night by Elie Wiesel This is a tough book to read, which I knew going in. It is the story of Wiesel and his Jewish family in the early days of World War II, their deportation to Auschwitz, then Buchenwald. At first there is his father, mother and sister. The mother and sister are separated from them, then his father is gone.
It’s the story of the price of survival.
It is a horrible and cruel book. One that we need to read every time we’re told that Israel is expendable.
The Gentile world turned it’s collective back on the Jews. They have no other place to go but Israel.
God bless his chosen people and the land He gave them.
RECOMMENDED for the strong