Book review : The Appearance of Murder

downloadAuthor : John Nightingale

Publication Date : October 2015

Publisher : Spider Monkey Books

Plot summary :

David Knight has decided to stay at home and finish his long overdue latest book featuring his regular sleuth Tom Travis while his wife and two sons went on a week long vacation to the country . On the first day of this much – awaited week , with his wife and sons absent , David is sitting at his desk with a glass of wine , determined to keep his word to his family and definitely his agent . The doorbell rings and David opens the door to this caller , with no idea of what he is inviting in . . .

The young woman , Perdita shows a photograph and claims that one of the five men in the photograph is her father . And David is in the photograph . With rumors that one of them might have also murdered their musician friend from some twenty – five years back , the week is off to a great start . Since neither option is going to make explanations to his wife easier , he can only hope to get the questions about the young woman ‘ s parentage and  the identity of the murderer in a possible sleeping murder  answered , before his wife returns from her vacation . The trouble is that David has a gaping black hole in his memory concerning that time period . . . The more he comes to know about that time period , the more incriminating the facts seem to be for him . . .

My thoughts about the book :

John Nightingale ‘ s addition of David Knight & Jerry Davis to detective fiction is a timely one I think . We couldn’t dream of another detective – sidekick duo who could take it up from Sherlock Holmes & Watson – that ‘s why Gatiss and Moffat had to transport Holmes to the 21st century and get him solve crimes which were again spin-offs from the crimes he had already solved . Of course , now he is more tech-savvy as the times and the crimes demand .  The Sherlockian fandom is too particular  that getting the Sherlockian vibes right is too great a burden for several of the crime fiction writers out  there I guess  . When you can get an idea about some of the struggles of a crime fiction writer  in David ‘ s portrayal , the last thing any writer would need is a character who has too much of a life of it ‘ s own . And Sherlock , needless to say is guilty of that ‘ presence ‘ .  I think that is why Sophie Hannah was ready to try her hands at a Poirot mystery  but Gatiss & Moffat were happy to keep several elements of the cases intact even in the spin-offs . I guess that should be a discussion for another post . . .

It is a smart move to make David Knight a crime fiction writer and not yet another consulting detective . Because any detective who is to come will always be in the long shadow of The Great Sherlock Holmes . When his creator could not write him off , how can one expect him to be shadowed by the newest arrival in the scene ? David is a decent writer who can put together a good mystery for his regular Tom Travis . But when there are elements of a mystery in his own life , he does not slip into the role of a detective with ease as one might imagine it of him , considering that he has built his career by throwing Tom Travis into several such situations and working out his splendid denouement in the last pages that has gained Travis a loyal following . Instead , when he tries to jump into the shoes of his own creation and think like him , he is slowly getting to understand that detection was never easy as Tom Travis seemed to make it . . .

Thankfully , for once the side-kick thinks –  maybe that’s because I have not ventured beyond Poirot & Holmes when it comes to detective duos . . .  Jerry is the man of action here .  You can dress him up in Holmes ‘ deerstalker hat and give him his pipe and the words  ” Come David , the game is afoot !! ”  would not sound out of character with him .  Those words would not go well with David who looks somewhat dazed every time  there is another plot twist  –  he has more of Dr Watson than Holmes in him .  Of course , David is the protagonist here – so we will  have David eventually rising up to his potential that gained Tom Travis his loyal following .

And all is well that ends well –  David has identified Perdita ‘ s father among his friends and the question of the murder is also finally settled . The pieces of the puzzle find their right places and the ending is immensely satisfying . David might not be a detective in every sense of the word who  can offer solid proofs for his deductions like Tom Travis  or Holmes does , still David ‘ s epiphany if not his detective skills can be relied upon  –  otherwise he would not have qualified to become the protagonist in the first place .  A man should have something that can be relied upon – even if it is only gut instinct or epiphany . . .

The tone is light-hearted  and there is  lot of wry humor and  interesting plot twists to keep  the reader guessing till the very last chapter .  As no lives hang in the balance and there is no race against time ,  readers can  read this book without  reactions like nail-biting , reading the last few pages because you would die without knowing who X is , breathlessness or stopping dead in the tracks due to some spine chilling plot twists . It is interesting to see that even genre fiction specimens like this one can offer interesting  variations with the plotting styles . . .

This is the first in a series of books featuring David Knight , the crime writer . For me , outings with David Knight & hopefully Jerry Davis will be an interesting deviation from all the tension packed crime fiction out there .  I would recommend it for holiday reading  for suspense fans when they need a respite from all the nail-biting and the tension of the regular fare and need to pick up something lighter . . .

P . S : This is just my little idea – David Knight may  have too many autobiographical elements of John Nightingale . The fact that the author chose to name his  protagonist Knight ( short form of Nightingale ) itself makes this suspicion stronger . When he describes the struggles of a crime fiction writer ,  we can say easily where it comes from . So , it might not be  a far fetched idea to say that Knight is a fictionalized portrait of the author himself  .  I was not sure if I should add my assumptions which might or might not be true . . .  But as an afterthought I decided to put it in the post . . .

If you have already read the book , you can say in the comments section if you agree with my idea . . . Until the next review then . . .

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The Unexpected Guest by Agatha Christie ( novelized by Charles Osborne )

downloadThis is a novelization by Charles Osborne of a play by Agatha Christie of the same name . This is my first audio book by the  ” inimitable ” Hugh Fraser as a lady had described the narrator in her comment . This was my introduction to Hugh Fraser and I am not aware of his reputation .

( Just now googled to the person who has been praised to the skies  for the narration of an audio book – if there are any Hugh Fraser fans , please put down my ignorance to having very little zero idea about actors from other countries  who had started their careers  before 1990 s  . . . Can ‘ t say I know several from Bollywood also . . )

* Review starts here *

Plot summary :

Michael Starkwedder has run his car into a ditch on a foggy night . He visits a nearby house in the isolated spot where he finds the dead body of an invalid man and a woman who holds a gun and confesses to the murder . He gets to know that the couple are the Warwicks – Richard Warwick , an ex big – game hunter and his wife ,  Laura Warwick . On getting to know more about Richard Warwick , Starkwedder decides that a beautiful woman like Laura should not languish in prison even if she had committed the crime .

So , he masterminds a drama , for the benefit of the police and the other inmates of the house . Laura goes with his plan and they lay the blame upon a man named MacGreggor from Richard ‘ s past , whose son had been run over by Richard .

So , what happens next when the police come into the picture ? Do they discover the drama being staged by the duo and unmask the real killer ? Or do Laura Warwick and Michael Starkwedder dupe the police also successfully ,  as they did the other inmates of the house ?

My thoughts on the book : 

Halfway through the book , having read several Christie creations over the years , I had actually predicted who the murderer was correctly except that I fell for the red – herrings quite badly when they came . However , with the big reveal scene , Christie again managed to surprise me with the string of events  . Charles Osborne has nailed the Christie tone – the narrative could have been from Christie ‘ s pen for a reader who is not aware of the fact that is a novelization of Christie ‘ s play by another  writer [ Osborne has however retained the dialogues from Christie ‘ s script for the play ] . With multiple suspects for whom Christie has supplied with enough motives to kill the victim ,  the reader is once again treated to a solidly plotted closed – circle mystery from Christie .

Yes , the narration was really good by Hugh Fraser . . . With just an audio recording time of 3:31:26 , it can be easily completed with a single sitting . The voices of the different characters were distinct that the reader would have had  no difficulty in identifying which character was speaking , even if the man had read the script of the play . . . On the whole , it was a very satisfying first – time audio – book experience  .

However there are a few observations I would like to record :

  • Only Christie ‘ s characters are daredevils who are game enough for an entanglement with the police to the extent that he is ready to manufacture evidences and fabricate stories because he wants to get a suspect off the police radar and SUCCEEDS in doing so easily  .  Is this the author taking a sly dig at the competency of the police force ?
  • A random stranger becomes  almost a part of the murder victim ‘ s family during the investigation  , because he had witnessed a man running from the house in the dark leaving behind the murder weapon  . . . ( I mean , why would the police detain a man for more than a day if he had not seen the face of the murderer except for procuring the murder weapon dropped by the murderer ? Why doesn ‘ t he get into the car once his questioning is over and leave the place ?  )  . I could not come to terms that a man easily becomes a guest in a house  and the police not getting suspicious about it . . . Again , it boils down to the same question : Is this the author taking a sly dig at the competency of the police force ?

Scenes like these are somewhat fantastic and would have been trashed if it had been written by another writer who does not have Christie ‘ s reputation . He or she would be told off as a writer who manufactures fantastic scenarios to drive the plot . But for Christie , the readers are happy not to question any of the events and allow her to tell the story her way . This is not an isolated instance of some fantastic – plot – elements inclusion , but still , Christie ‘ s unequaled storytelling  and the way she keeps the readers  guessing till the last  15 minutes never let her down .

Rating : 3. 5 / 5

If you have already read the book , tell me your thoughts about the book in the comments section below . . . Is there something in the post you disagree with ? Feel free to write about it as well in the comments section . . .

For those who want to check out the audio-book , here is the link

Until the next review then . . .

 

 

Book review : 10 Minutes 38 seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak

download (3)I had guessed it right that this book would make it to the Booker Prize shortlist . The premise of  a life – story told through the final string of memories that the clinically dead person has , before the brain shuts down , was fascinating . During the final moments , when the brain tries think in its oxygen – deprived state , obviously it is going to throw up the memories / impressions which it had formed strongly . . .

The book is divided into three sections – Mind , Body and Soul .

Mind

As it can be easily guessed , the Mind section tells the story of Tequila Leila , through her swansong – memories . Somehow , the mind seems to ” remember ” every object of her memory by its smell and taste  – curious , isn ‘ t it ? With every ticking minute , Leila ‘ s brain throws up another deep – seated memory – the taste of spiced goat stew , the goat sacrificed by her father to celebrate the birth of her brother ; the taste of the home – made lemon & sugar waxing mixture used by the women in the neighborhood to wax their legs ; the taste of cardamom tea shared with a handsome University student whom she fell in love  with , when he takes shelter in the brothel where she works ; the smell and taste of watermelon and the memories of a summer vacation with family . . .

Every memory gives us a glimpse into a key event in Leila ‘ s life and the friend she made because of that incident . . .

Leila & her friends – their story 

Leyla Afife ( full of virtue )  Kamile ( high in merit ) , the daughter of a tailor in the city of Van , rechristened herself as Tequila Leila ,  following her elopement from her home and subsequent entanglement with prostitution in Istanbul . Yes , her middle and last names seem to make a mockery of her . . .

She has five close friends in the city of Istanbul – Nostalgia Nalan , Sabotage Sinan ( the only man in this girl gang ) , Jameelah , Hollywood Humeyra and Zaynab122 . Each has his / her own story on how they ended up where they are today and how he / she became friends with Leila . Their stories are as fascinating as Leila ‘ s . Like her , they are from the fringes of the society and Istanbul ,  the  bustling Turkish capital would not miss them if one of them turns up dead one day . . . Like Leila , they too , might become news on national television if they were also murdered gruesomely ; the newspapers might carry reports about their deaths , but they will first seek to reassure the ” normal female citizens ” that there is no threat for them . They had known all of this but until Leila ‘ s death they had not been slapped on the face with it . . .

The author uses several significant events of Leila ‘ s short life as pointers to the patriarchal society ‘ s aspects  . Some of them below :

  • how her mother ‘ s frequent miscarriages ( a few even nearly fatal ) except for Leila ‘ s birth  did not deter her father to keep trying for a son . . .  And how her mother relies on the birth of the child ( preferably a boy ) to cement her place in the family  , her being the second wife of  Leila ‘ s father  .
  • how right – wing ideologies slowly infiltrate ordinary families when the men of the family , like Leila ‘ s father ,  are brainwashed by right-wing ” spiritual leaders ” into restricting the women folk  and the children of the house  in order to  ” put an end to this man – made regime and bring back God – made sharia ” .  So , meetings with any of the progressive neighbors , ” alla franga “ magazines ,  newspapers , TV – watching  – almost every single aspect that had provided the ladies some news about the world outside their doorstep had to  be banned . . .
  • how the ” reputation ” of the girl was more important than addressing the abuse the girl had suffered . . . Everything else should be swept under the carpet . . .
  • how her being a prostitute , seemed to imply that there is no need for sympathy in the way she met her end ;  how , even the youngsters , had been taught to view her as a ” fallen ” woman who had no  claim to their  pity / sympathy but only deserved all the  scorn and revulsion one could muster .
  • how Leila had to deal with every random ” righteous ” man ‘ s ire as she is seen as a blot on the society . . . Finally , she had to die in the hands of one such man who had taken it upon himself ” to turn whores into angels ” .

There is  no forced inclusion of plot elements to illustrate these themes  – the story rolls seamlessly .  The author has tried out some new analogies which are interesting .

What is the story of Tequila Leila , the prostitute whose body was found in a dustbin in Istanbul ? What are the friends ‘ stories and the stories behind some of the nicknames ? 

Body 

Now , having been forced to face the society ‘ s apathy and worse still ,  the judgmental opinions , they decide to give their friend a decent funeral . Normally , people like Leila ‘ s and her friends will be put up in the Cemetery of the Companionless when they died . The fact that Leila had friends who were ready to give her a proper funeral did not matter to the state – when a body is unclaimed or refused by the family , the person is buried in the ” Cemetery of the Companionless ” in Kilyos , no more questions asked . . .

So , the five friends make a rash decision to dig out Leila from her grave in the cemetery at night . . . They go about muddling in the Scooby – Doo gang style . . . [ perhaps this parallel is due to Scooby Doo  being in the news very often , these last few days . . . ]

What happened to their mission ? Was it successful or not ? 

Soul

Finally , Leila ‘ s soul gets free and makes an acquaintance she had long wanted to . . . Who is it ??

Summing it all up –

To sum it up , the writing & the story has the reader turning the pages fast . . . With the life story of a prostitute , the writer has had the space to pack several segments which mirror the society ‘ s attitude to the people on the fringes and it ‘ s misogynistic tendencies and she has done a commendable job . . .

In the backdrop of the characters ‘ lives , history is always in the making – the construction of the Bosphorous bridge , the massacre in Istanbul on International Workers ‘ Day ( 1997 ) . . . Sometimes , characters are present in the moment when events , which had made to the history books since then , were being enacted – often without them realizing it . Of course , we all are or will be . . .

Perhaps , the midnight grave digging and all that drama , brought this book down  to sit with all other populist contemporary fiction in the bookshelves . . . With only the first section , it would have been in a league of its own . . .

Still , I hope the questions might have sufficiently intrigued you  to add this book to your TBR . . .Yes , I would recommend this book . . . I only wish that Elif had known when to stop writing . . .

If you have already read the book , tell me your thoughts about the book in the comments section below . . . Is there something in the post you disagree with ? Feel free to write about it as well in the comments section . . .

Until the next review then . . .