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Archive for January, 2012

This is a very good collection of short stories by some well-known authors, including Graham Green & Robert Barr. I feel short crime stories are a difficult genre. In this collection, we have such gems as The Case For the Defence by Graham Greene, which is a powerfully written tale that ends with what seems to be a case of divine justice being enacted but still leaving a loose end open. A Retrieved Reformation by O Henry is a popular heartwarming crime story – the day I read it in this collection, I also happened to spot it in my nephew’s school text book. There’s The Lost Special by Arthur Conan Doyle which refers in a roundabout way to his famous creation Mr Holmes without directly naming him, but which in itself is a very good tale of a locomotive that mysteriously vanishes. Finally, I liked An Alpine Divorce by Robert Barr where a wife pays the ultimate price to get one-up over the husband she hates. There are other stories too and by not naming them I don’t imply they are any less effective in presenting the thrill of the chase.

 

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This novel introduces P D James’ other detective creation – the young Cordelia Gray, who becomes the sole owner of the Pryde Detective Agency after the suicide at the start of her partner. Even as she is just getting to grips with the changed scenario, she has a case thrust on her which takes her away to Cambridge to find out why young Mark Callender committed suicide. Armed with her wits and an unlicensed gun left to her by her late partner and aided by his plentiful advice, she sets about getting to the bottom of the mystery. As she starts unravelling the threads, she finds out the hard way that it will take all her wits & ingenuity to solve the puzzle.

This is a light easy detective story. It has none of the heavy atmosphere that P D James creates very effectively in her Adam Dalgliesh mysteries. Incidentally Mr Dalgliesh makes an appearance in this book too, at the end for a couple of pages. The action is much faster and the mystery quotient a little less. Cordelia Gray comes across as an intelligent & likeable person, closer to normal than the very perceptive Adam Dalgliesh. However, its hard to reconcile with her quickly-developed affection for the subject of her investigation.

Overall this book is a passable read. The detection levels are sub-par for P D James and all the threads tie up too nicely at the end. For Adam Dalgliesh fans, this book is best avoided or to be read at a reduced expectation level.

 

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Evan Hunter who wrote this collection is perhaps better known by his pseudonym Ed McBain. I have enjoyed many of the books from the 87th Precinct series, so I am guilty of over-expectations from this collection of short stories. The first thing I realised was that hardly any of these stories have anything to do with crime, indeed in this collection of 12 stories, only one – or two – has – or have – a (tenuous) link with crime. This is a collection of, to put it simply, stories. Don’t expect a twist at the end or a problem to be solved or even a clean ending. Instead what we have here is a set of tales – simple and complex – written by a master of the art. Some are moving, some simply make you smile. Most of them touch a nerve somewhere. My personal favourites were Million Dollar Maybe, The Fallen Angel, The Innocent One, Alive Again and Pretty Eyes. Maybe that just betrays my prejudice towards clean endings or a closure of some sort in any tale. What is however evident in every one of these stories is the clarity of thought and the ability of a writer to convey the essence of any situation through mere words. Enjoy this book just for that experience.

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This is a delightful comedy crime-caper from one of the masters of humourous crime. Fred Fitch is a mark, someone who believes he has been at the receiving end of every one of the seventeen thousand con men operating in New York at any time. But then comes the turnaround. Fred is suddenly left a huge legacy by an uncle he didn’t even know existed and suddenly Fred is the most popular man around, as he is chased, hounded, shot at and led on a merry run around New York in this wild caper that will have the reader laughing at every page. It takes all of Fred’s ingenuity, unwilling bravado and con experience to piece the jigsaw together, and as with all good, nay, neat endings, he gets the money and the girl.

God Save The Mark won Donald Westlake the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1968.

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This is a collection of winners and runner-ups in the Best Short Story category of the Edgar awards, awarded annually by the Mystery Writers of America. The editor’s note at the start says that it is often the mere whim of a few individuals that separates an award winner from the runner-up and while everyone remembers the winner, the runner-up is quietly forgotten. This collection brings selections from both categories. It has such gems as Forsyth’s There Are No Snakes in Ireland (winner, 1983), Donald Westlake’s hilarious 1990 winner Too Many Crooks and Wendy Hornsby’s 1992 soulful winner Nine Sons. But the book also brings together some forgotten nominees such as P D James’ Moment of Power, Evan Hunter’s The Last Spin and Clark Howard’s Challenge The Widow-Maker. Many of the stories make an enjoyable read though there are a few tiresome ones too – I’ll let you decide for yourself which are the ones that stretch both the definition of an award nominee and your patience. Still, let the presence of a few bad eggs not deter lovers of the short mystery story genre, for this is one book that will be hard to put down.

🙂

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