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What We've Been Reading

Peter May - The Lewis Man

A Few Signed Copies Still Available

Fran Recommends:

Peter May is the first author I’d ever met who came to a signing in a kilt. He’s a tall Scotsman, but his first series was set in China and his second was set in France. I nagged him (as did other folks) to write about Scotland, and he has. When he drops by I’ll be able to thank him.

The first in the “Lewis” trilogy is The Blackhouse, where we meet Fin Macleod, a detective inspector sent to his home island of Lewis in the outer Hebrides to investigate a murder that seems suspiciously like one that has happened in Edinburgh, where he’s living now. Still reeling from the death of his son, Fin isn’t sure he’s up to the task, especially since his memories of his time in Crobost. But it gets him out of the house and away from his wife, so he goes. The man who has been murdered was a bully back when Fin was in school, and he’s not entirely surprised Angel’s come to a bad end, but the more he investigates, the stranger things appear.

The second in the trilogy is The Lewis Man. Fin is now living on the island, rebuilding his parents’ home, when a body is discovered in the peat. At first it’s believed to be an ancient mummy, but closer examination reveals a tattoo of Elvis on the arm, so obviously the body’s been in there a much shorter time than originally believed. Fin becomes drawn into the investigation when it turns out that the dead body is related to his old flame’s father.

The third one in the series, The Chess Men, won’t be out until at least next year and I am wildly curious to see what happens there. This is a beautifully dark series, and the people are shaped by their culture and the unrelenting weather. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the wind itself is a character in the books, and Peter May’s writing makes me want to visit these harsh and unforgiving islands in the worst way. Despite the bleakness of the countryside and the resigned acceptance of so many people making what they can of their lives, there’s a fierce independence and resolute strength that just shines through, and I fiind that I truly care what happens to Fin and Marsaili and George and young Fionnlagh.

It’s interesting to note that, in The Blackhouse, the book is written in third person for modern events, but when seeing what happened in the past, we’re viewing it through young Fin’s eyes in the first person. In The Lewis Man, the same is true except our portal into the past is from Marsaili’s father’s point of view. It shouldn’t work, it should be choppy and disruptive, but Peter May is such a skilled storyteller that it flows beautifully and smoothly. And even when things are darkest – and they are, frequently – there’s that thread of strength and hope and determination, regardless of the time frame, that makes these books incredibly powerful.

I can’t wait to read The Chess Men. And I can’t help wondering if Peter will show up in a kilt. Probably not, because it is only a stock signing (so you will reserve your books, right?), but hey, I gotta have dreams, right?

Agatha Christie - Appointment With Death

Amber’s project for 2014: My 52 Weeks of Agatha Christie. Here’s her explanation.

Series: Poirot

Summary: Once again Poirot is trying to take a vacation, this time to Jordan, when a body crops up. In this case the murder victim, Mrs. Boynton, was a villain in her own right, but Poirot never backs away from the truth and sets out to find the solution. The tiny wrinkle here? He has twenty-four hours to get his man before the suspects scatter in the wind.

Review: Pot roast, definitely pot roast level for this installment. Very good but not my favorite, I had a problem with a singular detail in the big reveal (No, I can’t tell you. Spoilers. But if you send me a message, I will tell you). As I read the forums and such, I seem to be alone in my issue but that’s okay; no book is ever read and interpreted the same way twice. In any case, this was a nice solid outing which showed Poirot’s resolve to find justice  for every victim (even for those who many feel don’t deserve it), “The victim may be one of the good God’s saints - or, on the contrary - a monster of infamy. It moves me not. The fact is the same. A life-taken!” (pg. 125). 

From the first page, the location of the murder - Petra, Jordan - completely distracted me! Well, at least until I focused on the mystery.... Why you ask? Having grown up during the 80’s, I watched Harrison Ford play Indiana Jones in a bunch of movies. Now if you possess certain deductive powers, read this blog regularly and have knowledge of movie trivia then you might guess why Petra would be distracting! 

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade was one of the first movies I went and saw by myself that wasn’t G rated (Hey no laughing, the bump to PG-13 was exciting! I got carded! A lot! Now I enjoy being carded for a much different reason...). A portion of The Last Crusade was filmed on location at The Rose City, aka Petra. From those few first glimpses the city caught my imagination (my day dreams were really good that year, foreign lands and being an archeologist was my goal until age 14 when I wanted to be a writer) and I still think it is one of the most beautiful man-made creations I have ever seen - and I have only seen pictures! Can you imagine it’s beauty in real life?

Splice the location together with the snake on the cover of the edition I was reading and for the first few chapters all I could think about was The Last Crusade. Rather distracting, but that really isn’t Christie’s fault. I had hoped a snake would be featured in the narrative, but alas I was doomed to disappointment. Digitalis, not snake venom, was used to do in our victim. Curiously enough, snake venom is used only once in the Christie cannon, in Death In The Air where Boomslang venom was administered to an unsuspecting victim. So I couldn’t use the quote, “Snakes, why’d it have to be snakes?” in my blog this week but there’s still hope I suppose (hehehe!). 

Western archeologists, real and fictional, have flocked to Petra over the last two hundred years, including Christie’s husband Max Mallowan. Christie herself accompanied her husband on his digs throughout this region, thus setting a mystery in Petra was rather natural (Christie is said to have stayed in the caves she described in the mystery - if you travel there now you must stay in a hotel loosely adjacent to the site, *sigh*). Interestingly enough, Petra was built around the 6th century BC, but remained virtually unknown to the west until 1812. Since then, the Rose City provides scientists and historians with excellent examples of ancient water engineering and management, mines, tombs (ordinary and royal), churches, temples, and the sheer artistic beauty of the rock-cut city. By a crazy random happenstance the legendary Dr. Jones (father and son) travelled to Petra in 1938 in search of the Holy Grail, the very same year Appointment was first published as a full length novel! (but I suppose crazy links can be found almost anywhere and that’s the reason why we have the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, btw I am at 3)

So whether you are a fictional archeologist, mystery novelist or a tourist it seems Petra holds a bit of something for everyone!

Favorite Quote: 

“...Americans are disposed to be a friendly race. They have not the uneasy suspicion of the traveling Briton.” (pg. 29)

“That old woman ought to be murdered! Arsenic in her early morning tea would be my prescription.” (pg. 43)

Interesting Facts: Sadism and Agatha Christie, not two things you would normally put together, but in Appointment With Death that changes. Our murder victim, Mrs. Boynton, enjoyed inflicting pain on those around her and the investigators labeled her as a sadist. Mrs. Boynton controlled her family through subtle threats, emotional manipulation, and money. (I am not giving anything away here, you read this and figure out she isn’t very nice pretty early on). She was a former prison warden, a position she relished and never really gave up, even when it meant treating her family like prisoners. She seems to have a bit of the "Mommy Dearest" quality to her....

Haven’t heard of Mommy Dearest? Well depending on who we believe - Joan Crawford (a legend of the silver screens during Hollywood’s golden age) bears a striking resemblance to Mrs. Boynton. Joan Crawford’s need for control and her alcoholism fueled her explosive sadistic behavior which focused on her two eldest children. After Joan’s death, Christina exposed the horrors of her childhood in the book Mommie Dearest, where Christina alleges Joan tried to kill her, beat her and had one very odd encounter with a wire hanger. While her younger brother supports the claims made by Christina in her book, her two youngest siblings categorically deny the events in the book took place (it seems family tensions were strained even before Joan’s death as she cut Christina and her brother out of her Will). Famous friends and former employees fall on both sides of the fence in this particular controversy. The book has gone in and out of print over the years and was turned into a so-bad-its-good movie starring Faye Dunaway; seriously, it is awful.

The legacy of Mommie Dearest the first celebrity-child-tell-all, was that there were several similar books published harpooning the memory of a celebrity/parent. Children of Bette Davis and Bing Crosby penned similar tales to Mommie Dearest alleging abuse at the hand of their famous parent. Bing Crosby’s eldest son’s book seems to have created the most ripples, accusing Bing of being physically and mentally abusive. Two of Bing’s sons quietly supported his claims while the youngest vehemently denied the claims. 

Christie is fortunately clear of basing her character Mrs. Boynton on either star as the tell-alls were written years after this installment (unlike using an event in Gene Tierney’s life as a basis for The Mirror Crack’d). She does a great job of showing the insidiousness of the sadistic behavior of Mrs. Boynton while not being gratuitous about it. While Mommie Dearest was well after this installment Christie’s writing is comprehensive enough we can recognize the sadistic qualities in a completely unrelated novel - and that is nothing to sneeze at!

And for those of you who were worried I couldn't work a Star Trek reference into this week's post - did you know Denise Crosby who played "Tasha Yar" on Star Trek: The Next Generation is the grand-daughter of Bing Crosby? Tasha Yar was chief of security, friends with Data and died in the line of duty - and she is said to have provided bedrock for the character of Kara Thrace or Starbuck on the new version of Battlestar Galactica.

Cheating: Did you know Appointment was first published in a serialized format in 1937? The same year The Hobbit was published by Tolkien! So with this knowledge, here is my answer on if I cheated this week or not, the translation into the script created by Tolkien is provided by Online Tengwar Transcriber.

Elvish

AmberMiner©2014