Monday, 15 October 2007

The Nine Tailors - Dorothy Sayers

I suspect one of the reasons Dorothy Sayers' books have not quite stood the test of time in the same way Agatha Christie's have is because the subject matter is sometimes totally archaic and obscure. The Nine Tailors in the title of this book is the name of a church bell, not a reference to clothes makers.

Lord Peter Wimsey has a car accident outside a village, arriving just in time to assist with a 9 hour church bell ringing marathon. He just happens to be an expert in ringing the specific bell whose normal ringer has been laid up with the flu. It's not long before an unknown body is found buried in one of the church graves (belonging to someone else). Identifying this unknown body and trying to work out how he died and who buried him is the challenge this time for Lord Peter.

There is a clever twist at the end but I spent most of the book bewildered by all the references to bell names and rings. Historically interesting and a clever puzzle but too obscure a setting for most 21st century readers.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

The Skull Beneath the Skin - P D James

Like all P D James novels this is well-written and a compelling read but I found it less-than plausible in many places. The follow-up novel to An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, features private investigator Cordelia Gray eking out a bare existence finding lost pets when she is hired to protect an actress who has been receiving poison-pen letters. The actress is brutally murdered while staying on an island where it appears nearly everyone has a motive for her death.

P D James has a wonderful way with plots and detection and there are many satisfying twists and turns. However, I found it impossible to warm to Cordelia Gray, a detective who surprisingly shades many of the suspects she barely knows when questioned by the investigating police.

Foundation - Isaac Asimov

The first book of Asimov's most famous series, focusing on the fall of the Galactic Empire 10,000 years in the future and the attempts by one man to safeguard the knowledge and resurrection of civilisation.

Asimov's talents are more in the realm of concepts and ideas, rather than dialogue and characterisation. The book, however, has stood the test of time and is required reading to appreciate the later novels.

Come, Tell Me How You Live - Agatha Christie Mallowan

This book reads like a letter written to a close friend - and I gather this is very close to the genesis of the manuscript.

Agatha Christie accompanied her archaeologist husband on digs in exotic corners of the Middle East in the 1930s. Many of her friends begged for details of their life and this book is the result.

Like all writing by Agatha Christie, this is entertaining and unputdownable. There are many fascinating details of everyday life but one wants more. In many ways it is quite superficial; one has the impression of reading only a tantalising tip of a very deep iceberg!

It's also very interesting from a historical perspective. It's rather disconcerting reading Christie's casual light-hearted descriptions of conflicts between Kurdish, Arabic and other groups of workers on their digs in Iraq and Afghanistan. In many ways it is quite haunting reading this book, knowing what is happening now, 70 years later, in these parts of the world.

The Friday Night Knitting Club - Kate Jacobs

I love knitting, I love novels and women's friendships, I would have loved to love this book but it really didn't do much for me. It's all a bit contrived. And the so-called knitting patterns (for a garter scarf!) suck.

Buffalo Gals - Ursula le Guin

Unfortunately my reading of this book was marred by a significant number of missing pages (this is the downside of borrowing from the library). While this isn't one of my favourite le Guin collections, there is no denying the talent of this author. There is an animal theme to all the short stories.

Galactic Pot Healer - Philip K Dick

Another twisted sci-fi mind-f*ck from the master of written surrealism.