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 . . .

Who is the Blind Assassin in Atwood ‘ s 2000 Booker winner ?

downloadWith the Booker nomination for Testaments , I picked up The Blind Assassin as my first read for my Booker project . Dystopia is not my genre and so I didn’t pick up The Handmaid ‘ s Tale . Now , I guess I have to give a shot at dystopia too with The Testaments ‘  split – win . . .

Plot summary :

Iris Griffen – Chase , the narrator is reminiscing about her life until the suicide of her younger sister Laura at the age of 25 . Iris published Laura ‘ s The Blind Assassin posthumously which had its own repercussions for Iris .  Interspersed in Iris ‘s narrative are the chapters from Laura ‘ s scandalous debut`, where two illicit lovers amuse themselves during their secret trysts  by telling a story about the eponymous Blind Assassin . Through Iris ‘ s narrative and the narrative in TBA , we come to know about the Chase family and the secrets it holds today . . .

My thoughts on the book :

The title of the book intrigued me from the start . Why would Atwood name a book after a roman a clef in the  book was my question .  On the surface , there is no significance to the title beyond it being the title of Laura ‘ s book .  But as I read the book , a thought occurred whether the title might be a reference to one of the characters in the book . I wanted to identify the character for whom the possible – sobriquet title is the best fit . ( Am I getting the word correctly ? Or is it something else ? )

I did not have to look too far or read too much between the lines to identify  who The Blind Assassin  might be . My idea is that Iris Chase – Griffen , the octogenarian narrator is the best fit for the term The Blind Assassin , whose actions  inadvertently led to the demise of her sister Laura . While she herself recounts being blamed for her husband ‘ s death by her sister – in -law , she does not seem to recognize her role in her sister ‘ s death or if she does , she does not say anything to that effect . Perhaps she did not want to incriminate herself when there are several other external factors which also had a role in Laura ‘ s death . The latter scenario  is the most probable one .

But I would say ,  while there were other factors too ,  they would not have pushed Laura over the edge if only she had had a sympathetic elder sister to turn to in times of distress – at the very least , for moral support if not for anything else .

But Iris is not the typical ” the – second – mother ” elder sister that literature is often fond of portraying elder sisters as  –  she is somewhat of an antithesis to the above said elder sister .  And that is where the problem lies . Let me point out the instances when Iris could have redeemed the situation with some fundamental concern which  one stranger might show to another when he / she discerns some cause for it with the other ‘ s situation .

Any reader knowing Iris around page 100 or so , would know better than to expect more of her .

Iris has always known that Laura was not happy with her marriage to Griffen . Iris is always somewhat careful not to prod too deep into Laura ‘ s emotions afraid of what she might have to deal with , understandably given Laura ‘ s ” sensitive ” nature . But , one would expect her to lend atleast a sympathetic ear  when Laura turns to her for some comfort in times of distress  . While Iris seemingly does the above all , we get to read  about her true feelings underneath all those mandatory gestures  and it ‘ s somewhat sickening . Surely , can ‘ t a younger sister count upon a shoulder to lean on from the elder one ?

She cried then , and I put my arms around her , the time – worn gesture from when she was little  . Just stop howling . If I ‘d had a lump of brown sugar I would have given it to her , but we were past the brown – sugar stage by then . Sugar  was not going to help .

Some readers might say that Iris was not in a position to acknowledge the truth  in Laura ‘ s  words about their new life in the Griffen home and to act decisively about it  ( of which Iris says she did not realize the true colors of  Richard and Winifred  !!! ) .  While that argument can be accepted  to a certain extent , one cannot accept Iris ‘ callousness towards Laura ‘ s feelings and fears . We don ‘ t see several  such exchanges  ( forget confidences . . . ) between the sisters which is also indicative of  how close the sisters are. Perhaps , during the early days , following her father ‘ s death and subsequent removal to the Griffen house only Laura reached out to her more . But Iris ‘ response effectively stopped Laura from confiding in her . . .

What makes Iris ‘ negligence appalling is that she expects Laura to also be satisfied the same way she is satisfied with the new life – the riches , the balls , the high – society which their father ‘ s precarious finances and old – fashioned ways had not introduced them to . Now that she has got the money also to spend , along with the prominent family name , Iris ,is too busy enjoying her life . She never gives a thought to Laura ‘ s increasingly erratic behavior . It looked like she was satisfied handing over the responsibility of the guardianship of a younger sibling to anyone who would be willing to take it off her hands –  think about the meeting with the head mistress for instance . . .  We know how this arrangement played out in the Griffen household : with an unconcerned / pushover elder sister who is keen only in looking out for herself  ,  the Griffen siblings had the opportunity to dictate the aspects of Laura ‘ s life too much which they did . Remember the time , when Winifred decided that Laura can volunteer for the  organization which did hospital visits ? And the plans for the debut ?

But the scene which took this indifference a notch higher is the one Iris unquestioningly  accepts Richard ‘ s & Winifred ‘ s  words about what happened with Laura . Iris ‘ tears  when she gets the news of Laura ‘ s confinement seem to be like the tears of an actress playing a part of a damsel in distress  :  a few tears in the white handkerchief  , some sniffs and then nothing . If one remembers Iris ‘ s  mourning for her father , the tears for Laura can be seen as a huge improvement . [ If I remember correctly there were some questions about why Richard had concealed her father’s death from her and  there were no more once Richard gave his sugar-coated dismissive answers . ]

One would expect Iris to be more careful about what she tells Laura especially after her ordeal at the asylum . Iris ‘ s words indicate that even she saw the need but still she goes ahead and says the last thing that Laura would want to hear –  that her sacrifice was in vain . Those words sapped out any hope of a life she looked forward to ” after the war ”  and later , the same day , she drove the car off the bridge .

I have picked out only certain instances to illustrate my reasons for picking out Iris among all the characters for the dubious distinction of being the blind assassin .  If you pick up the book you are sure to pick out other scenes which drive home the point .

You would not need one more new reader of Atwood to come up with the same boring words – beautiful , intelligent to describe her writing .  Atwood ‘ s writing impressed me with the innovative narrative techniques like the newspaper articles , the graffiti , the roman a clef and a lot more .

And here are some of my favorite passages –

. . . Beginnings  are sudden , but also  insidious . They creep up on you sideways , they keep to the shadows , they lurk unrecognized . Then ,  later ,  they  spring .

. . . A lot of clothes  ,  the styles and colors outmoded now , shed butterflies ‘  wings . A lot of dinners , not always  very good ones . Breakfast , picnics ,  ocean voyages , costume balls ,  newspapers , boating on the river . Such items do not assort very well with tragedy . But in life , a tragedy is not one long scream . It includes  everything that led up to it . Hour after trivial hour , day after day , year after year , and then  the sudden moment : the knife stab , the shell-burst , the plummet of the car from the bridge . .  .

Drowned now –  the tree as well , the sky , the wind , the clouds . All  she has left is the picture . Also the story of it .  The  picture is of happiness , the story not . Happiness is a garden walled with glass : no  way in or out . In Paradise there are no stories , because there are no journeys . It ‘ s loss and regret and misery and yearning that drive the story forward , along its twisted road . 

If you have any thoughts on the above post , please do share them in the comments section below .

If you have not picked up the book , I would  urge you to pick up this book definitely . I hope the plot summary intrigued you sufficiently enough . . . If you had already read the book ,  what do you think of picking out Iris Chase – Griffen as the Blind Assassin ? Or do you have another character in the book who would be better suited for the sobriquet ?

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 . . .