27 August, 2011

True-crime: I'll read anything!

Couples who Kill; Profiles of Deviant Duos

Carol Anne Davis

One of those true crime books, though different from the ones i read at Bob & Fran’s because they (by Ann Rule, maybe?) are written more in a novelistic style and this is tending towards the factual, documentary style, though still intended to be entertaining. Also, of course, this is the stories of about a score or so pairs of people who have committed murder, once or more times, either together or, in a few cases, with some doubt about the involvement of one of the partners; the couples are not necessarily (though frequently they are) married, nor even lovers, though that is the first impression given by the title (“couple” is not a restrictive descriptor, but we do tend to use it that way: More often than not “a couple” in common parlance are sexually involved, if not more), which is perhaps a little misleading.

The book as a whole was quite interesting; Davis does not write badly, although she isn’t, perhaps, a natural writer ~ by which i mean that i can feel her struggling sometimes, trying to make the thing flow ~ but she is certainly interesting, and knows her facts thoroughly. The main issue i have with the book is the organisation; it appears that she has given some thought to how to arrange her couples, putting some of them into categories, and telling the stories of others in far greater detail in chapters by themselves. The problem is, however, that the categories don’t seem fully natural, and within the chapters that make up the categories, the flow ought to be broken a bit more clearly between couples, perhaps with a slightly bolder sub-heading, or a new page, or some other typographical device making it clear to the reader that the subject has changed. These are minor points, however, and i would not wish to belabour them. Another minor quibble i had was with Davis’ occasional habit of referring to her other books in the same series, i imagine, Women who Kill and Children who Kill; it has always seemed a bit like blatant advertising for authors to make such references (other than novelists, whose characters think about previous events, sometimes to be found in other books, but that doesn’t usually include the title of the relevant novel), and i half expect the author to continue, “Available for 3/6 from all good booksellers” which tips the thing over into comedy, if not farce, not at all the effect one wants in a work such as the current one. Overall, though, i did enjoy the thing, and might well flip through another with her name on the spine.

20 August, 2011

Who is that woman?

The Masked Woman

Johnston McCulley

By the same author as the original Zorro book, and i bought it for the same purpose, to read to JAG, but we never got around to it, unfortunately. He would have enjoyed it, i think, with the same enthusiasm he gave Zorro, though the plot here is, perhaps, a little weaker, and the characters are definitely not as interesting.

The rĂ´le of protagonist seems to be split between the eponymous masked woman and the professor she ends up with in a love match. Unfortunately, neither of them are particularly interesting, nor at all convincing: The professor, for example, at the very beginning of the book, decides with no visible thought to become a criminal simply because an unsuccessful burglar claims to have an annual income twice that of his; at the end of the book he, again with absolutely no reflection, gives up the life of crime to go back to academe. The masked woman, whose motivation is revenge largely against certain criminals, builds a gang around her with no effort at all, the criminals in question being, apparently, the most trusting of men. In addition it turns out, with no prior preparation for a revelation of the fact to the reader, that she is actually a twin; this rather smacks of concealment by the author, rather than the distraction or misdirection which is the stock in trade of the mystery writer, or deus ex machina to get himself out of a position he’d written himself into.

As far as the plot itself goes, it moves quickly, so much so that the one interesting, maybe even original, twist is given no time at all to develop, and the reader is left with the image of a man convinced he has been imprisoned for murder, when in fact no murder took place; that ought to have been developed. All in all, i’m glad i’ve read the book, because it’s been sitting on my shelves for several years now, but i’m less likely to seek another of McCulley’s works than i would be if this were up to the standard of Zorro.

13 August, 2011

Looking through a Glass Onion

The Walrus was Ringo; 101 Beatles Myths Debunked

Alan Clayson and Spencer Leigh

I was delighted to find this in the library the other day; i’ve never heard of it before, that i remember, but the title alone grabbed me, and the subtitle made it clear that this was going to be a book i read soon and quickly. And so it proved. It does, for the most part, live up to its billing, though there are a few nits to be picked.

As Chenowyth mentioned after looking at it for an hour or so on the beach the other day, some of the “myths” aren’t really ~ i.e., they’re not well known ideas, or no one really believes them ~ and some of the “debunks” are rather petty, quarrelling with semantics in order to make the number up to 101. Nevertheless, though, sufficient are well known and countered well enough to make the book as a whole worth the time. There are a couple of other points, however, which i must make.

First, it’s rather poor form for a book which complains at least twice in its bibliography about other books without indices not to have an index itself; i suppose i can see the argument, “It would just be a lot of entries about John, Paul, George, and Ringo, so we won’t” but it’s hardly a convincing one.

Second, there is an Afterword, “Just Like Starting Over”, which seems to have absolutely no contact with the rest of the book, as it is apparently an imagined newspaper story anticipating the return to playing music of John Lennon in 1980, after not having played since being kicked out of the Beatles in 1962; no explanation given, no reason for the presence of this afterword, and really no point to it in the context of the book. Certainly as a bit of counter-factual history, interestingly imagined, but entirely useless here. I really do wonder, sometimes, about what authors are thinking as they write, or editors as they publish: Do they imagine that everything has value and must be inserted somewhere, even if it doesn’t fit?

In the end, though, despite both these points, which really are problems with the editing, which certainly needed to be done better, the book is sufficiently strong and interesting to overcome these weaknesses; i’m glad.

07 August, 2011

Classical (self-)education continues

Cicero: Selected Works

Michael Grant, tr.

I have had this book since living in Rome thirty years ago; i’m pretty sure that i bought it at the second-hand shop just off Piazza di Spagna, the Paperback Exchange, i think it was called. And i remember having read portions (probably small portions, knowing my reading laziness when it comes to assigned reading!) of it at that time, while attending AUR, for a course on Latin Literature. And yet, here we are, nearly thirty years later, and i have just finished reading selections from one of the greatest of Roman orators and writers for the first time! My education really has been hopeless, all along! I don’t really have much of an excuse, either, because not only have i had the book ~ and had it with me for most of the time ~ but i’ve known i needed to read it, and now that i have, it has turned out not to be the chore i expected it to be. Certainly, parts of it were slower than i would have preferred; the correspondence in particular did not hold mine attention too easily; in the main, however, enjoyable, and i’m glad i have read it, added slightly to my continuing education, which is sorely lacking in classics.

03 August, 2011

Puzzling to Scary

The Mourning Vessels

Peter Luther

As with Luther’s other book, i found this a bit difficult to get going, the first fifty pages or so were hard, possibly because i found it awkward to work out who was who and what was happening. After i reached the conversion point, however, something changed for me and i raced through the rest of the book. As with his other book as well, the themes and plot here are such as to make me wonder just what Luther (especially with a name like that) believes about the world of spirit; he has no difficulty writing about Satan and, to a lesser degree, God with none of the embarrassment that frequently seems to be found in modern writing which mentions those two entities. I don’t know, he may just be good at concealing it, or maybe is willing to force himself past it in order to tell the story he’s made up; either way, the plots in both novels are true horror stories, with Satan as the motive behind the horrible actions in each case. The plot here is quite convoluted, with a couple of twists that are probably foreseeable, though i didn’t as i was struggling to keep up, and revolves around a temple, of sorts, based on an old phrenological society which has been perverted into a bereavement counselling charity which, in its turn, is a front for evil to be done to people after they die. In some way, and for a reason never, as far as i recall, explained, the souls of some believers are captured in items they loved and held in this temple, perhaps for all time; maybe that’s the reason, to keep them away from God? The book follows three of these victims and their mourners, and the attempts to prevent the evil charity from capturing and preserving the dead. Sounds really bizarre as i realise what i’m writing, but it sure made compelling writing as far as i was concerned.