Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Not a book this time.
'Paperback' from the Demeter Fragrance Library.
Apparently based on the smell of 
a "dusty old copy of a Barbara Pym novel".

Monday, August 29, 2011

{review} no orchids for miss blandish

James Hadley Chase No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939)

No Orchids for Miss Blandish   No Orchids for Miss Blandish

The blonde leaning over the counter smiled at him. She had big white teeth that reminded Bailey of piano keys. She was too fat to interest him. He didn't return her smile.
“Hello, mister,” she said brightly. “Phew! Isn't it hot? I didn't sleep a wink last night.”
“Scotch,” Bailey said curtly. He pushed his hat to the back of his head and mopped his face with a filthy handkerchief.
She put a bottle of whiskey and a glass on the counter.
“You should have beer,” she said, shaking her blonde curls at him. “Whiskey's no good to anyone in this heat.”
“Give your mouth a rest,” Bailey said.
He carried the bottle and the glass to a table in a corner and sat down.
The blonde grimaced, then she picked up a paperback and with an indifferent shrug, she began to read.
Bailey gave himself a long drink, then he leaned back in his chair. He was worried about money. If Riley couldn't dream up something fast, he thought, we'll have to bust a bank. He scowled uneasily. He didn't want to do that. There were too many Feds around for safety.
Apparently James Hadley Chase, a Brit., knocked out No Orchids for Miss Blandish in a couple of weeks without ever having visited the U.S. He based all his gangster knowledge on the cinema (source).

It was a sensation in its time. George Orwell, in his essay on the decline in moral sensibility in the crime novel between the gentlemanly Raffles (c. 1900) and the "cruelty and sexual perversion" of Miss Blandish (1939), thought reading the latter was akin to taking "a header into the cesspool".

Certainly Miss Blandish retains the power to shock in its story of the kidnapping of the wealthy and beautiful Miss Blandish by a small-time gang who are almost immediately bumped off by a larger and more brutal mob of gangsters. Is that the collective noun for gangsters? There is a lot of casual death-dealing: one scene that sticks in my mind was when the psychotic son of Ma Grissom (the female gang-leader) pretty much has an orgasm while knifing the opposition. The killing has a casualness coupled with a sadistic bent that makes this a brutal book to read.

The book maintains an impressive level of outright open brutality and horror, with torture, knifings, shootings, bombings, etc. The viciousness is racked up even more by the sexual sadism presented in the narrative. Miss Blandish's fate at the hands of the brutal Slim Grissom sticks in the mind for a very, very long time. The bad guys (and gals) even look bad:
Ma Grisson was big, grossly fat and lumpy. Flesh hung in two loose sacks either side of her chin. Her crinkly hair was dyed a hard, dull black. Her little eyes were glittering and as impersonal as glass. Her big floppy chest sparkled with cheap jewelry. She wore a dirty cream colored lace dress. Her huge arms, mottled with veins, bulged through the lace network like dough compressed in a sieve. Physically she was as powerful as a man. She was a hideous old woman, and every member of the gang, including Slim, was afraid of her.
A couple of things stood out for me about Miss Blandish. One was that it devoted the majority of the narrative to the gangsters' side of the story, rather than to that of the good guys. The reader is immersed in amorality from the opening lines and there seems little chance of any redemption as the narrative continues. Another interesting factor was 'Miss Blandish' herself: she is never described by any other moniker, which adds to the frightening depersonalisation of her experience at the hands of her captors (an experience in sexual objectification further exacerbated by drugs).

Despite its subject matter - and the treatment of women in this book is sickening, so you've been warned - this book was a real page-turner (or, rather, page-clicker). The writing - especially the idiom - was excellent, and the story gripped from start to climactic conclusion. I would definitely chase (ha ha) down some more Chase.
"Women! Women! Women!" Ma snarled, pounding on the desk. "Always the same! Barker... Karpis... Dillinger... they all went the same way... because of women! Everything I've planned could be shot... just because a goddamn chippy opens her goddamn mouth!"
Rating: 9/10.  I got my free e-copy from (not too many typos).

If you liked this... I was reminded a bit of Dorothy B. Hughes In a Lonely Place {REVIEW}. I really want to read some James M. Cain now too (I loved the film Double Indemnity - the book has been reviewed at ready when you are, c.b.).

Double Indemnity  In a Lonely Place (Femmes Fatales: Women Write Pulp)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

{weekend words}

‘I wasn’t furious,’ said Godfrey, and smiled. Then he turned me round and kissed me. Well, I had asked for it, and now I was getting it. I shut my eyes. If I pretended it was Max … no, that wasn’t possible. Well, then, someone who didn’t matter – for instance that rather nice boy I’d once had an abortive affair with but hadn’t cared about when it came to the push … But that wouldn’t work either. Whatever Godfrey was or wasn’t, he didn’t kiss like a rather nice boy … I opened my eyes and watched, over his shoulder, the lovely, heavy lamp swinging about a foot away from his head. If I could manoeuvre him into its orbit … I supposed there were circumstances in which it was correct, even praiseworthy, for a girl to bash a man’s head in with a lamp while he was kissing her…

Mary Stewart (1964)

This Rough Magic. Mary Stewart

Thursday, August 25, 2011

{not so much review as quick thought-gathering}

What have I been reading lately? 

Well... I've completely fallen behind with all my (on the whole, pretty tenuous and crazily laid-back) reading 'plans' and have about 30 things on my 'active' list that I am either reading or about to read or started to read so long ago that I really should just start them again as Heaven knows what they were about. There is no question that I am prey to complete book sluttiness and a lack of impulse control. I also seem to have been neglecting non-fiction of late and I think this is because I am meant (er... overdue) to be reviewing some classical studies books for a journal and the non-fiction bit of my mind is occupied there. 

How to be a Woman

That said... Danielle (whose enticing blog A Work in Progress offers me far too many distractions!) asked what non-fiction books we've been enjoying and I have to say that Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman is my Personal Non-Fiction Book of The Year. Brilliantly funny. I don't often laugh aloud when reading (except when reading E. F. Benson), but she is hysterical. And there are important and very sensible messages for women who are feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to embrace, e.g., Brazilian waxes and dodgy undies. Loved this book.

Dead Until Dark Southern Vampire Mysteries, No. 1 Living Dead in Dallas (Sookie Stackhouse) By Charlaine Harris

Because I find it difficult to begin a series and just read one book, I derailed my reading plans on Charlaine Harris' 'Sookie Stackhouse' series. The first couple were good fun {REVIEW}, then there was a slumpy decline in the middle (one book in particular not only omitted a big chunk of background which was essential for the book - it had appeared somewhere in a short story, apparently - but suffered from dodgy editing which had failed to correct continuity problems) but the last couple sort of picked up the pace again, though I had lost my enthusiasm by then. I don't think I really like the supernatural that much, but Southern food sounds great. I've got one more to go; not sure I'll bother. 

I was reading Kerrie's post at Mysteries in Paradise (a local, Adelaide blog which I really enjoy) on whether one can view series vs. stand-alone-book in terms of a dichotomy between character development (series) and plot (stand-alone). Certainly in the Sookie Stackhouse series it is clear that the reader can have both but as the series progresses there is the problem of bringing the reader up to speed on the characters. This is tricky: how much background is sufficient?

Beekeeping for Beginners (Short Story) The Beekeeper's Apprentice: A Novel (Mary Russell Novels)

And then there's the interesting case of an author who has gone backwards in a much-loved series and provided her readers with another take on an earlier book. This would count as a fleshing-out of the characters, as the plot has already appeared. Laurie R. King's Beekeeping for Beginners is a short story (available only, I think, as an e-book) which  takes the reader back to the meeting between Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes in The Beekeeper's Apprentice. This time around, the meeting and subsequent events are presented from Holmes' perspective. I thought this was an interesting idea and one which had a lot to offer fans of the series. It made me - as I presume was intended - want to go back and read all of the Mary Russell series again (I am only up to The Language of Bees, so I should still be going forward, not backwards).   

This Rough Magic. Mary Stewart  My Brother Michael. Mary Stewart (Mary Stewart Modern Classic)  The Moonspinners. Mary Stewart
Another Mary: one wonderful discovery for me - courtesy of mentions on so many other blogs - is Mary Stewart. I cannot imagine why I haven't read these before as they magically combine a fistful of ingredients that I find terribly appealing in a book (crime, mystery, romance, plucky heroines, nice frocks, wonderful scenery, travel, etc.). I have now read three set in Greece (I thought I'd start with familiar territory) - This Rough Magic [Corfu], My Brother Michael [Delphi], and The Moonspinners [Crete]. Wonderful. I can see that reading the rest of her enormous oeuvre is going to stuff up all my plans for the next few months, esp. given their reissue (ghastly covers, as above). This is a thought which fills me with complete contentment.

One last thought: every book above was read on my Kindle. It has taken over my life. It has solved my book storage problems. I can eat with two hands now when I read at dinner. I am an addict.

Monday, August 22, 2011

{review} the case of william smith

Patricia Wentworth The Case of William Smith (1950)

Case of William Smith (A Miss Silver Mystery)

This is by far my favourite book in the 'Miss Silver' series. It made it worth it to throw all my reading plans into disarray when I decided to binge on as many of Patricia Wentworth's 'Miss Silver' series that I could get on the Kindle (a lot). And I had to read them in order... Some I had read before; some I think I had read before: but their gentle plots about unrequited love with headstrong yet helpless heroines and tall, strong heroes - interspersed with clever murders - blended together into a sort of comforting mash of golden age English crime. No surprises, very little gore and lots of gloves and hats. 

In The Case of William Smith we have a hero with an inconvenient loss of memory, and a heroine (a proper neat and dainty young lady) done out of her rightful inheritance. There are scheming relatives and bitchy office managers, country-houses with mysterious carvings, and plenty of dismal misty weather, making it easy to push the wrong people under buses and thus make the murderer think up more and more elaborate schemes.

A perfect cosy read. Lie back and think of England.

Rating: 5/5. 

If you liked this... the earlier Miss Silver books are cosier than the later (and the last one in the series The Girl in the Cellar should be avoided at all costs).

Miss Silver Comes to Stay: A Miss Silver Mystery (Book Sixteen) The Clock Strikes Twelve: A Miss Silver Mystery (Book Seven) Lonesome Road: A Miss Silver Mystery (Book Three)
Eternity Ring: A Miss Silver Mystery (Book Fourteen) Dark Threat: A Miss Silver Mystery (Book Ten) The Key: A Miss Silver Mystery (Book Eight)
I see that they are being reissued with less girly covers 
(but not for Australian Kindle owners).

Saturday, August 20, 2011

{weekend words}

Women of all ages liked Winthrop Biddle - 'He's a great dear' was the expression they generally used - and he was devoted to the whole sex in the cosy way of an uncle who enjoys the confidence of a vast number of totally unrelated nieces. His feminine friends knew that he could be relied up to provide a lunch, a bed, sound advice, or a cast-iron alibi as required, and not to go in for jolly avuncular pouncings in taxis.

'Lunch with Mr. Biddle', 1940, in
(Persephone Classics 2008)

I loved this book - review here.

 Good Evening Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes (Persephone Classics)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

{review} my mother's wedding dress

My Mother's Wedding Dress  My Mother's Wedding Dress: The Life and Afterlife of Clothes

Confession 1: I nearly didn't review this. I probably shouldn't have.
Confession 2: I am an avid Vogue reader. I should have liked this book. (That sounds syllogistic, but it ain't necessarily so). 

Why didn't I like it? I suspect that I was after a more theoretical take on the topic, albeit presented in a beguilingly accessible form (a form which this book indeed presents). Maybe something a little more like Linda Grant's The Thoughtful Dresser

I knew we weren't going to be buddies when I read this: "I keep starting and stopping, and deleting and rewriting; uncomfortably aware that the semiotics of the little black dress can seem grotesque in its irrelevance." My take is that the semiotics of clothing are in no way in need of apology nor should be considered too frivolous for serious analysis.

Obviously it is extremely churlish to criticize a writing exercise which has assisted the author to achieve a measure of peace following the death of her sister. And it certainly doesn't sound very empathetic/sympathetic of a reviewer to label this exercise 'self-indulgent'. Yet I found it difficult to relate to the intensely personal substance of the sharing and I didn't think that the chapters - many previously published elsewhere - hung together that well. Too much of the subjective "I" for me - "All I know, really, is that it belonged to a girl I never met, who died before I was born, whose picture I cannot find in Vogue" - when it should have been the subjects (and objects) who were allowed to speak. 

The most interesting pieces did indeed allow their subjects to speak, as in Picardie's interview with Karl Lagerfeld where he discusses his mother:
"No, no, she was perfect for me," he said, "and she was always right. It was a good thing for me to try to speak like a grown-up person. She would tell me, 'You are six, but I am not, so make an effort.'"
Rating: eek... 5/10.

If you liked this... I have Picardie's Daphne on my TBR, but I am a bit freaked out now.

Daphne  Daphne: A Novel

{READ IN 2018}

  • 30.
  • 29.
  • 28.
  • 27.
  • 26. The Grave's a Fine & Private Place - Alan Bradley
  • 25. This is What Happened - Mick Herron
  • 24. London Rules - Mick Herron
  • 23. The Third Eye - Ethel Lina White
  • 22. Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed - Alan Bradley
  • 21. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley
  • 20. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches - Alan Bradley
  • 19. Speaking from Among the Bones - Alan Bradley
  • 18. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
  • 17. Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
  • 16. The Long Arm of the Law - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 15. Nobody Walks - Mick Herron
  • 14. The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith
  • 13. Portrait of a Murderer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 12. Murder is a Waiting Game - Anthony Gilbert
  • 11. Tenant for the Tomb - Anthony Gilbert
  • 10. Death Wears a Mask - Anthony Gilbert
  • 9. Night Encounter - Anthony Gilbert
  • 8. The Visitor - Anthony Gilbert
  • 7. The Looking Glass Murder - Anthony Gilbert
  • 6. The Voice - Anthony Gilbert
  • 5. The Fingerprint - Anthony Gilbert
  • 4. Ring for a Noose - Anthony Gilbert
  • 3. No Dust in the Attic - Anthony Gilbert
  • 2. Uncertain Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 1. She Shall Died - Anthony Gilbert

{READ IN 2017}

  • 134. Third Crime Lucky - Anthony Gilbert
  • 133. Death Takes a Wife - Anthony Gilbert
  • 132. Death Against the Clock - Anthony Gilbert
  • 131. Give Death a Name - Anthony Gilbert
  • 130. Riddle of a Lady - Anthony Gilbert
  • 129. And Death Came Too - Anthony Gilbert
  • 128. Snake in the Grass - Anthony Gilbert
  • 127. Footsteps Behind Me - Anthony Gilbert
  • 126. Miss Pinnegar Disappears - Anthony Gilbert
  • 125. Lady-Killer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 124. A Nice Cup of Tea - Anthony Gilbert
  • 123. Die in the Dark - Anthony Gilbert
  • 122. Death in the Wrong Room - Anthony Gilbert
  • 121. The Spinster's Secret - Anthony Gilbert
  • 120. Lift up the Lid - Anthony Gilbert
  • 119. Don't Open the Door - Anthony Gilbert
  • 118. The Black Stage - Anthony Gilbert
  • 117. A Spy for Mr Crook - Anthony Gilbert
  • 116. The Scarlet Button - Anthony Gilbert
  • 115. He Came by Night - Anthony Gilbert
  • 114. Something Nasty in the Woodshed - Anthony Gilbert
  • 113. Death in the Blackout - Anthony Gilbert
  • 112. The Woman in Red - Anthony Gilbert
  • 111. The Vanishing Corpse - Anthony Gilbert
  • 110. London Crimes - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 109. The Midnight Line - Anthony Gilbert
  • 108. The Clock in the Hatbox - Anthony Gilbert
  • 107. Dear Dead Woman - Anthony Gilbert
  • 106. The Bell of Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 105. Treason in my Breast - Anthony Gilbert
  • 104. Murder has no Tongue - Anthony Gilbert
  • 103. The Man who Wasn't There - Anthony Gilbert
  • 102. Murder by Experts - Anthony Gilbert
  • 101. The Perfect Murder Case - Christopher Bush
  • 100. The Plumley Inheritance - Christopher Bush
  • 99. Spy - Bernard Newman
  • 98. Cargo of Eagles - Margery Allingham & Philip Youngman Carter
  • 97. The Mind Readers - Margery Allingham
  • 96. The China Governess - Margery Allingham
  • 95. Hide My Eyes - Margery Allingham
  • 94. The Beckoning Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 93. The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham
  • 92. More Work for the Undertaker - Margery Allingham
  • 91. Coroner's Pidgin - Margery Allingham
  • 90. Traitor's Purse - Margery Allingham
  • 89. The Fashion in Shrouds - Margery Allingham
  • 88. The Case of the Late Pig - Margery Allingham
  • 87. Dancers in Mourning - Margery Allingham
  • 86. Flowers for the Judge - Margery Allingham
  • 85. Death of a Ghost - Margery Allingham
  • 84. Sweet Danger - Margery Allingham
  • 83. Police at the Funeral - Margery Allingham
  • 82. Look to the Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 81. Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham
  • 80. The Crime at Black Dudley - Margery Allingham
  • 79. The White Cottage Mystery - Margery Allingham
  • 78. Murder Underground - Mavis Doriel Hay
  • 77. No Man's Land - David Baldacci
  • 76. The Escape - David Baldacci
  • 75. The Forgotten - David Baldacci
  • 74. Zero Day - David Baldacci
  • JULY
  • 73. Pilgrim's Rest - Patricia Wentworth
  • 72. The Case is Closed - Patricia Wentworth
  • 71. The Watersplash - Patricia Wentworth
  • 70. Lonesome Road - Patricia Wentworth
  • 69. The Listening Eye - Patricia Wentworth
  • 68. Through the Wall - Patricia Wentworth
  • 67. Out of the Past - Patricia Wentworth
  • 66. Mistress - Amanda Quick
  • 65. The Black Widow - Daniel Silva
  • 64. The Narrow - Michael Connelly
  • 63. The Poet - Michael Connelly
  • 62. The Visitor - Lee Child
  • 61. No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories - Lee Child
  • JUNE
  • 60. The Queen's Accomplice - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 59. Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 58. The PM's Secret Agent - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 57. His Majesty's Hope - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 56. Princess Elizabeth's Spy - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 55. Mr Churchill's Secretary - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 54. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear
  • 53. Hit & Run - Lawrence Block
  • 52. Hit Parade - Lawrence Block
  • 51. Hit List - Lawrence Block
  • 50. Six Were Present - E. R. Punshon
  • 49. Triple Quest - E. R. Punshon
  • MAY
  • 48. Dark is the Clue - E. R. Punshon
  • 47. Brought to Light - E. R. Punshon
  • 46. Strange Ending - E. R. Punshon
  • 45. The Attending Truth - E. R. Punshon
  • 44. The Golden Dagger - E. R. Punshon
  • 43. The Secret Search - E. R. Punshon
  • 42. Spook Street - Mick Herron
  • 41. Real Tigers - Mick Herron
  • 40. Dead Lions - Mick Herron
  • 39. Slow Horses - Mick Herron
  • 38. Everybody Always Tells - E. R. Punshon
  • 37. So Many Doors - E. R. Punshon
  • 36. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
  • 35. A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon
  • 34. A Murder is Arranged - Basil Thomson
  • 33. The Milliner's Hat Mystery - Basil Thomson
  • 32. Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? - Basil Thomson
  • 31. The Dartmoor Enigma - Basil Thomson
  • 30. The Case of the Dead Diplomat - Basil Thomson
  • 29. The Case of Naomi Clynes - Basil Thomson
  • 28. Richardson Scores Again - Basil Thomson
  • 27. A Deadly Thaw - Sarah Ward
  • 26. The Spy Paramount - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 25. The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 24. Ragdoll - Daniel Cole
  • 23. The Case of Sir Adam Braid - Molly Thynne
  • 22. The Ministry of Fear - Graham Greene
  • 21. The Draycott Murder Mystery - Molly Thynne
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore
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