Sunday, 31 March 2013

The Problem of the Green Capsule by John Dickson Carr

What would you do to prove your pet theory? Would you be willing to die to prove it? When Marcus Chesney planned an elaborate set up to prove his pet theory, that eyewitnesses are not reliable, he did not plan to get himself killed, but his murderer used this ingenious plan to kill him. Marcus not only had three eyewitnesses for his murder, he also had it filmed. So catching his murderer would be no difficulty, or would it be? If the murderer is dressed as an 'invisible man', and none of the eye witnesses agree on as simple thing as the time that is clearly visible on the clock in the stage or the height of the killer, can the police catch the culprit. Police? Maybe not. Scotland Yard? Maybe. Dr. Gideon Fell? Definitely.

"No hermetically sealed rooms. No supernatural elements." Will Dr. Fell be interested in this case? When Scotland Yard detective Elliot is infatuated with one of the main suspects, he approaches Dr. Fell and he decides to help put away the poisoner.

In Sodbury Cross, a market-town near Bath, "is a criminal lunatic who enjoys poisoning people wholesale." Somebody introduced poisoned chocolates in Mrs.Terry's tobacco-and-sweet shop, poisoning three children and an eighteen year old, one of the children died and Marcus Chesney's niece Marjorie is suspected of the poisoning. Marcus wants to prove his pet theory that "All men are unobservant". And "Whenever he had a theory, he had to test it. And this is the result." He also wants to prove how the poisoned chocolates found its way into Mrs Terry's without anybody noticing it. He sets up a short play with a list of questions to be answered afterwards, only thing he hadn't planned, is that he wouldn't be there to enjoy his victory. Who killed Marcus and why? Are the cases relates? Is a maniac running loose? Gideon Fell solves this ingenious case.

I didn't guess the killer, though I should have. There were clues. And at one point I was foolishly thinking why in detective stories 'somebody' is not the killer. Foolish because 'somebody' is often the killer in Agatha Christie's books and I told myself this immediately after the thought occurred. Foolish again because while I linked the thought to Christie's books, how have I failed to link it to this story. And even when Elliot echoed my thoughts, I should have linked it, I failed it. No matter. It is the ingenuity of the plot, John Dickson Carr lead me where he wanted to lead me and very early on I had marked someone as the murderer and I wouldn't budge. Classic detective story, some great work for the grey cells.

This book was originally published in 1939 and also published under the alternative title The Black Spectacles.

Thanks to Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out for gifting me this book, I won a prize among those successfully completing Eclectic Reading Challenge 2012. This book is a treasure.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The Black Box by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch is working in the Open Unsolved Unit trying to solve the case of a Danish Journalist shot dead during the L.A riots in 1992. Finding evidence or eyewitness for riot cases are hard enough, but as years pass by wouldn't it be impossible to solve. Bosch is not one to take no for an answer. With advancement in technology on his side, Bosch finds a lead, matching the bullet casings to another case. With this little bit of evidence, Harry works doggedly despite pressure from his bosses to stop the case or pursue it after sometime. Harry's bosses do not want him to solve the murder of the only White dead woman in the riots when hundreds of Blacks were killed during the riots. But our Hieronymus Bosch is not one to be stopped by politics. He is passionate about cases he is working, and he wants justice done.

This is a police procedural, where Bosch works persistently and thoroughly looking into various angles, looking for any leads that would help him solve the case. He looks into small leads, that at the outset look unimportant, like a call made at the tenth anniversary of the riots to find out if the case is still open. With almost practically nothing in the beginning to hunting the perps in the dramatic end, it is interesting.

In the home front, Bosch teenager daughter wants to become a detective and Bosch takes her to play a Simulation game for police detectives testing their decision making skills. The simulation game sounds really really interesting, wish I could play it too. Every case has a Black box, if you find it the case is solved. But you need somebody like Bosch who works doggedly to find the Black Box.

Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin

When you keep mishearing the words of a song, what do you do? Make it the title of your book. Our Inspector Rebus mishears the words of the song Standing in Another Man's Rain as Standing in Another Man's Grave and we have our nice not so little tittle. Inspector Rebus is now retired Inspector Rebus and is working in the cold cases unit.

A woman approaches Rebus asking him to look into the disappearance of her daughter more than a decade ago pointing out similar missing girls along the A9 route over the last 12 years. She postulates the theory of A9 serial killer, and linking the latest disappearance of a girl to these cases. Rebus starts looking into these cases and finds that he is no longer looking into cold cases but is actively involved in a live case. What happened to these girls? Is there really a serial killer at work? Or is this theory the overactive imagination of a distraught mother?

With the latest development in technologies where with social networking public gets actively involved in finding the missing girl, has Rebus become redundant? Rebus travels the A9 route up and down, down and up, all the time keeps apologising to his car for overworking it. But he is not one to stop, is he? Whatever be the latest technological developments, there is the need for somebody to do the old-fashioned boring legwork and our Rebus is an expert in it. Will all this hard work produce results? Will he able to find clues to cases long closed? Will he be able to link these cases? Are these cases even related? Will he find the missing girl or at least what happened to her?

I liked the way Rankin justifies the title how somebody could be standing in another man's grave. There are twists and turns but they are more or less expected. I liked the trick Rebus plays in the end. Overall, an interesting police procedural. I am glad Rebus is back, hope he makes it to current cases instead of cold cases.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

The Sense of an Ending was library group read choice, I read the book, though I couldn't go for the Group. Here are my thoughts:

Anthony Webster narrates this tale of friendship, love, memories and history. Adrian Finn joins their school and is admitted to Anthony's group of friends. All the friends vie to be Adrain's special friend. Adrain Finn is a boy philosopher, who answers the history teacher with

“History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

They grow up and go to college. Anthony meets Veronica and falls in love and what happens after that is the story.

It is just 150 pages full of quotable quotes, lyrical, philosophical, about tricks memory plays, conveniently forgetting unpleasant things about ourselves. About the similarities between history and our own personal history bringing up things from childhood and tying up with things that happened later. We do get Anthony's story, I would have liked to know what Finn thought, or what he did, and maybe Veronica's story too.

The refrain 'You don't get it, do you?' keeps playing in my head. Well, I did get it. I am not really as dumb as Anthony, I guessed what happened. But there are lots of things I didn't get it. There is no sense of ending here, I am left dangling. That's why I prefer my detective stories, with a proper sense of ending. I will buy into a story of irrationality if it is explained rationally, a la mode Ruth Rendell's standalone stories. So why did Adrian commit suicide? I still don't know. But then there are no rational answers to our actions in real life, are they? You just snap, do what you do, no reason or rhyme. Others try to piece our actions look for a rationale, he did this because etc, we also try to provide reasons, I had to do this because, not that we had thought about that so rationally then. We just did it. There are lots of quotes but this one really caught my eye.

That the key to a happy family was for there not to be a family-or at least, not one living together.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Trust your Eyes by Linwood Barclay

Is it possible to travel nook and corner of every single street in all the cities of the world? Why not? He is on such a mission not just for fun but to save the world. As we are relying more and more on GPS and online maps, paper maps are slowly disappearing. In the event of a major internet crash, and if there is an attack on major cities, who would tell the directions. Who has a photographic memory for this Herculean task? Who will save the day if there was an alien attack? Right, right! This is not a science fiction story. If you have read Linwood Barclay's book before, you would know what kind of book this is. If you haven't, this is the kind of story where an ordinary man gets involved in well um thrilling events.

Ray Kilbride, a cartoonist, is back home for his father's funeral. His father died in an accident involving the lawn mower in the garden. Ray is trying to settle his father's estate and decide on his younger brother Thomas, who lives confined in his rooms brooding over the Whril360 program (virtual map) virtually traveling the nook and corner of major cities in the world, trying to save the world in case of a major attack. Thomas is schizophrenic and completely dependent on his father and is obsessed with maps and believes that he is working for CIA. Traveling the roads of the New York, Thomas spots something that looks like the image of somebody being murdered. Thomas makes Ray look into the matter, travel to New York and see if somebody is murdered in that place. Ray visits New York on work but also to assure his brother that the image he saw was not a murder but something else, visits the place setting into motion things to come. There are two mysteries in this novel. One about the image Thomas views in his virtual journey and other is a nagging feeling that there is something wrong with Ray's father's death. Was he killed and why?

The first thing I did while reading the book is google whirl360. Go on google it. It leads to the author's website. There is some excitement about visiting virtually the places you have lived, your old school, or the places you might be visiting or hoping to live, isn't it? Linwood Barclay toys with this idea and creates a thriller. I quite liked the idea of viewing a murder on a virtual map site and I liked the execution of it too. Is it plausible? Why not? So what do you do, if you spot something like that. Would anybody believe you, especially if the world knows that you are schizophrenic? Even if you are not, if the image is blurry, who is going to believe you and there is the question of when the murder took place. The murder may have taken place anytime, it just took place when the vehicle with the camera passed that particular road, which could be as far back as two or three years or as late as yesterday. We get two narrations, one of Ray's, the other about the murder that took place about an athletic assassin. I liked the twists and turns and surprises. Trust your Eyes you are on a thrilling ride.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Double, Double by Ellery Queen

Double, Double by Ellery Queen, the pseudonym of novelists duo Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee, published in 1950 featuring novelist and detective Ellery Queen, was also published with the alternative title The Case of the Seven Murders.

Ellery Queen receives an anonymous letter with two newspaper clippings. The first one nearly two months old reports the death of Luke MacCaby, the Town Hermit, of heart failure. The next clipping reports that John Spencer Hart, President of Wrightsville Dye Works, committed suicide unable to face bankruptcy and prison. One is a heart failure, the other is suicide, neither seemed to be linked nor criminal. But somebody has linked it. These two clippings have been sent to Ellery Queen. How are these deaths related? Three days later Ellery Queen receives another envelope reporting the disappearance of Tom Anderson, the Town Drunk. How are these three incidents related? Rima Anderson, Tom Anderson's daughter approaches Ellery to find out about the disappearance of her father. What will Ellery uncover? When more deaths follow, and Ellery realises that somebody is killing off people in tune with a famous children's rhyme. There are various versions of the rhyme available, what version is the killer using? Will Ellery stop further deaths? Everything is not as appears, the town hermit whom everybody thought was penniless was a rich man, the President of Dye Works whom everybody thought was a rich man was in fact poor, who else is leading a double life?

I spotted the killer quite early, just a little thing threw me off, just as Ellery Queen novelists duo expected. But I was back again on the same track because there is really no where else to go. I like the chapter in the end where Ellery explains everything. I wish all crime novels had this kind of explanation. I know, in real life it is not possible to provide explanations for everything. That's why, I read fiction, I can work out most of the things, but give me the final chapter with all the explanations some I have worked out, making me feel clever and some I hadn't worked out, making me feel the writer is more clever, after all the book is world they created. Oh yes! This book made me feel clever, being able to see beyond the double smokescreen, but I hadn't worked out everything, making me respect and look for other work by Ellery Queen.

I borrowed an ebook from Openlibrary

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

What's in a Name 6 Challenge Complete

I signed up for the What's in a Name 6 challenge to read books in the following categories:

A book with up or down (or equivalent) in the title: Below Suspicion by John Dickson Carr (13/1/13)
A book with something you'd find in your kitchen in the title: Evil Water by Inger Wolf (2/1/2013)
A book with a party or celebration in the title: Shakespeare's Christmas by Charlaine Harris (25/1/13)
A book with fire (or equivalent) in the title: The Fire Engine that Disappeared by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (29/1/13)
A book with an emotion in the title: I and My True Love by Helen MacInnes (28/2/13)
A book with lost or found (or equivalent) in the title: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (4/1/2013)

Shakespeare's Christmas by Charlaine Harris

Lily Bard is a professional cleaner and an amateur detective in a town called Shakespeare. It is Christmas time and Lily's sister is getting married to her long time fiancé in her hometown. Lily had faced violence and brutal rape in her past that had scarred her mentally and physically. Lily has put must of it behind and is now seeing Jack Leeds. Even after many years she is still apprehensive about facing those who had seen her scarred. But sister's wedding is not a thing that could be avoided. Lily heads home and the town's doctor and nurse are murdered. Who killed them and why? Jack Leeds follows her home and she learns that he is investigating the disappearance of a baby nearly eight years ago. There are three suitable candidates for the missing child, including her sister's fiancé's daughter. Will Lily and Jack find out who the missing child is before the wedding?

A great and unusual profession for a detective, isn't it? As a cleaner Lily has access to people's home, she wants to investigate. She cleans up the houses of the potential suspects to look for clues. Unethical, yes! Lily has some qualms about it too, but she has to do it, it involves her sister. But how do you go to a wedding celebration and offer to clean up their homes? Lily will find a way to do it. The mystery is quite simple, it is one of three potential children and you can more or less guess who. But it is an interesting and easy read that can be finished in a couple of hours. This is the third book in the series, I haven't read the first two, and it works as a standalone. Am I going to read all the books in the series? Maybe not! But I wouldn't mind picking the occasional book when I am looking for an easy untaxing read.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Below Suspicion by John Dickson Carr

I read two books by John Dickson Carr last year, The Burning court and The Problem of the Wire Cage. I loved both of them. I borrowed Below Suspicion published in 1949 from the Openlibrary.

Patrick Butler, a barrister, is one hell of a defending lawyer nicknamed 'the Great Defender', he could always get his client free out of prison, even when he is sure that his client is guilty. Patrick is never wrong and he never loses his case. Joyce Ellis is accused of poisoning Mrs.Taylor. Joyce worked as a companion-nurse-secretary to Mrs.Taylor and pleads vehemently that she is innocent. Patrick feels otherwise.

When Mrs.Taylor's relative Richard Renshaw also dies by poisoning by the same substance, suspicion falls on his beautiful, blonde seductive wife Lucia. Should I say Patrick falls for Lucia and believes she is innocent? Can he prove that Lucia is innocent? Who killed Mrs.Taylor and why? Who killed Renshaw? Patrick Butler, brilliant though he is, now needs the help of Gideon Fell to solve this case.

Carr plays with our perception of innocence and guilt. Butler finds himself in a curious position after he falls for Lucia. He had saved the innocent looking according-to-him guilty Joyce and turned the suspicion on seductive Lucia, now his love. When Gideon Fell brings in the concept of serial poisoners and devil worship, I couldn't help wondering where it is going. Whatever the reason, there is a plausible explanation on who did it, how and why! I like the way the story moves from logical to fantastic and moves back again to logic.

If you wonder, what below suspicion is, Carr explains that in a murder investigation no one is above suspicion. But some are below suspicion, like the investigator, the butler, maid, and servants who have no motive. Did I figure who the murderer is? No! Carr has created a perfect smokescreen that it is not possible for me to see the truth until the revelation.

I couldn't just pass this snippet about the Labour Government and democracy without sharing it.

"The term she mentions, Doctor," he said richly, "were framed by our Labour Government to describe any man who works with his brain rather than his hands."

The star of the fanatic sprang into Miss. Cannon's eyes; as, on the other side of the fence, it was also in Butler's.

"The Government, young man," Miss. Cannon said pityingly, "do not exactly work with their hands."

"No, madam. Or with their brains. I should respect them more if they did either."
"You ought to be jailed for speaking against the Government!" cried Miss. Cannon. "We're living in a democracy!"

"Madam," said Bustle, closing his eyes, " your remark is such a perfect thing that its beauty must not be spoiled by comment. I accept the definition."

I and My True Love by Helen MacInnes

I picked this book for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge, as it involves espionage. Only after reading it, I know it is more of a romance than anything else.

Sylvia Peydell encounters her one time love, Jan Brovic after six years. Sylvia has been married to Payton, a Washington diplomat, and after her brief fling with Jan she had decided to stay faithful to Payton. Now the appearance of Jan after all these years creates conflict in her. But as she learns truth about her husband, will she stay with him? Jan is on a mission from Czechoslovakia. This story takes place in 1950s in the early years of the Cold War. He wants Sylvia to trust him. He is pretending to be a communist only to find passage to U.S. and hopes to find asylum in U.S and win back Sylvia's love. Is Jan telling the truth? Or is he a communist just playing with Sylvia to find information? Somebody had leaked information to the Czechoslovakia, who leaked it and why?

The story is mostly told from the point of view of Kate, a cousin of Sylvia who moves to Washington from a ranch in San Francisco. It is interesting how Kate's view of Payton changes. There is some suspense, some mystery, but that's just it. It is really very hard for me to buy into a cold war story. The real question is rather moot for me. Does it really matter if Jan is a Communist? What if he is? Communists are not exactly Nazi's, are they? Well, I never lived in a communist regime, so what do I know? And also the information leaked is not really a question of national security, it is about a trade treaty to be planned with Czechoslovakia, so what if they knew before time. The story is okay as a romance, but I didn't like the ending either.

This book was first published in 1952 and I borrowed an ebook from Openlibrary.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

If H.G Wells' future is a society so divided into haves and have-nots, that the human beings have developed into two separate species at war, Huxley's future is a much more elaborate stratified society based on the shameful Caste system. If two different groups cannot survive together and are at each other throats, how will an elaborate set up with five different human groups -Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon - survive without conflict? The answer is hypnosis. All the groups are created in a fertility centre and their growth strictly controlled and monitored. The group with the highest intelligence and best genetical material becomes Alpha and is used for intelligent work and the group with lowest intelligence and mass produced with 96 identical twins is Epsilon and used for least intelligent work. When intelligence is deterred and the need to climb up the social ladder is thwarted by repeated sleep hypnosis from embryo stage there is hardly any question of struggle or conflict. Everyone is happy in their own state. Happiness is also granted by Soma, a drug that keeps one contented and happy and there are other amusement like sex. Promiscuity is encouraged and everybody is encouraged to go out with everybody.

When I first heard of test-tube babies as a kid, I always imagined babies created and grown in a test-tube. Only much much later, did I know that even test-tube babies need a mother's womb to grow, I don't know why, but for whatever reason test-tube babies can be created in a test-tube but to grow to full term they need a mother's womb. In Huxley's Brave New World, in the year of Our Ford 632, this is no longer a need. When mother and child relationship is removed from the equation there is no question of any human relationships like family. Everyone belongs to everyone also means that no one belongs to you, so you don't feel the pain of death of a beloved person. Everyone is contented, and everyone is happy.

"Ford's in his flivver," murmured the D.H.C. "All's well with the world."

So what's wrong with this world? Bernard Max, an Alpha plus, does not have the stature of an Alpha, he is stunted like a Gamma, and is not happy in this world. When he visits the savage settlement and meets a savage whose mother is from civilised society, he brings him back to civilisation and all his problems are solved. Max is famous, and everybody wants to be his friend, nobody is bothered about his stunted growth. But for the savage, the civilised world he dreamed about, his mother constantly talked about is different from what he faces. We have only two choices, live in civilisation or live like a savage.

We are more or less living in the Brave New World, isn't it? Constantly in the lookout for pleasure, amusing ourselves to death. Already we are designing our babies. Not long before the government steps in does it for us, after all we can't have all Alphas, can we? A society to function smoothly, without killing each other, there is need for people of different capabilities, some for intellectual work, some for menial work, some Alphas, some more Betas, more Gammas, much more Deltas and lots of Epsilons. Wonder why Huxley does not provide the solution of using Robots for menial work, in the hope that Robots wouldn't start protesting! Mind control is essential too! If one is free to think, one would think just about anything causing trouble. Conditioning, conditioning, conditioning is the answer. Do we want to live in this Brave New World, where freedom is not a choice? What after all is freedom? Can we ever be free?

Even in the Brave New World women seem to be doing stereotypical work like child care, after all being hatched in a hatchery means no mother, motherhood, nine-months of pregnancy and nurturing the child life-long. But our Brave New World is not about equality, is it? It is about 'Community, Identity, Stability'

This is an interesting book and there are so many thoughts about it. These are only some that surfaced while typing. Oh! What did Henry Ford feel about Brave New World?