The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

tiger smokeThe Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

Originally published 1952

This edition: Reader’s Digest, 2005

Campion book 14

I read this book as part of the #1952book challenge hosted by Rich at Past Offences. It’s nice to do a quickie reading challenge, and it’s nice to broaden my reading horizons beyond books published in the last ten years.

I’m new to Margery Allingham and knew nothing about The Tiger in the Smoke before I read it. I knew it appears on best-read lists, and my edition in fact is for the Readers Digest Series “The Greatest Mysteries of All Time.” Happily, I agree that it’s a fabulous book.

First, a note about the title. The Tiger refers to the very interesting villain in this novel, Jack Havoc, and the smoke refers to the unusually thick and long-lasting fog enveloping London during the relatively short time this novel covers. The story involves multiple murders but begins with the mysterious reappearance of the presumed-deceased first husband of Meg, Campion’s niece, on the eve of her wedding to another man, Geoffrey Levett. The plot is intricate but not overwhelmingly complex, and the violence was a bit more than I expected. But besides the plot, the characters and the setting are what stood out for me.

The novel is partly a police procedural (Inspector Luke is the main police character, and he’s quite well-drawn), but not entirely so. Allingham spends plenty of time with Meg and her relations (including Campion) as well as the criminals in the story.

Jack Havoc is the character who stands out to me because not often if ever is a villain so real and not a cartoon. I was a little less happy with the scenes with two groups: those living with Canon Avril, who is Meg’s father, and the gang of criminals posing as band. There voices were distinct, but it was difficult to remember everyone’s back story when they were introduced in such a short time frame. This may be my problem with settling into a novel by a writer who’s new to me or reading something from 1952, which I don’t often do: I had to get used to Allingham’s style, and the first half of the novel is heavy on descriptions of people and their clothing as well as setting the foggy scene.

It’s a great read in terms of characters, thoughtfulness about evil and the lingering effects of World War II, and the plot. It feels more substantial and more memorable than many books I’ve read this year, and I’m glad I read it.

 

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

life in middlemarchMy Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

Crown, 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via Blogging for Books.

Before I started reading lots of crime fiction I was an English major who read a bit of everything. I read Middlemarch just a few months before I graduated and was very impressed: it was a soapy, serialized drama, it was serious, and Eliot was so generous to her characters. I picked out My Life in Middlemarch not only because of my fondness of the book but because of my fondness of Mead’s writing in the New Yorker (lots of profiles as well as other pieces, and her book about the wedding industrial complex is entertaining and fascinating too). If you don’t love Middlemarch, I’d avoid this book.

This is a biblio-memoir, which means it’s part a close reading of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, part memoir of Rebecca Mead as she’s reread the book since she was a teenager, part biographical sketch of Eliot and those close to her, and part a travelogue as Mead tries to understand the world Eliot wrote in and lived in.  It’s a book that I dipped in and out of because the structure, which follows the structure of each installment of the novel, didn’t have the forward momentum I usually look for in my reading. That’s not to say the book was uninteresting: I just felt the need to take breaks occasionally.

 

 

Rough Trade by Dominique Manotti

rough tradeRough Trade by Dominique Manotti

Translated by Margaret Crosland and Elfreda Powell

Arcadia Books, 2001

Originally published as Sombre Sentier, 1995

I borrowed my copy from the library.

I was eager to read Dominique Manotti’s first novel after loving The Lorraine Connection earlier this year, and my verdict is that The Lorraine Connection is a tauter, more interesting novel than this, her first. Rough Trade begins with a very violent murder of a young Thai prostitute, and the investigation is led by Theo Dauquin of the Paris Drugs Squad. It’s an investigation that begins with a couple characters “on the fringe of a very complicated case,” (p. 88) that quickly becomes very far-reaching, and it frankly was a bit too complicated for me to enjoy. The novel is quite violent, the plot is very involved, and the crime syndicate Daquin investigates is involved in about every kind of unsavory criminal activity I could think of. It’s not my favorite Manotti because it feels more sprawling than The Lorraine Connection. That’s not to say that the pacing was slow or that the writing wasn’t good: it’s just a very relentless crime story.

The setting for the novel is the Sentier neighborhood, center of the garment industry in Paris, in 1980. The political backdrop is the push by Turkish immigrants to get legal working papers, and one of their leaders is also a police informant having a personal relationship with his handler, Daquin. Manotti’s background as a trade unionist came into play in this story. The tone of the story is very dry and reads a bit like a reporter’s diary of the case and the environs where the story takes place: there are lots of stories inside the general assembly of the undocumented workers as well as in several workshops manned by undocumented workers.

Finally I want to mention that the translation felt a bit stiff to me. The translators kept referring to the “rag trade,” instead of the garment industry, and at one point mentioned “a man of straw,” instead of a straw man, and those phrases felt like clunkers to me.

Other reviews appear in Euro Crime, and I enjoyed this lengthy interview with Manotti and her translator Amanda Hopkinson.

An Event in Autumn by Henning Mankell

event in autumnAn Event in Autumn by Henning Mankell

Translated by Laurie Thompson

Originally published as Handen, 2004

Vintage, August 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

So An Event in Autumn  is the last Wallander story to be published. Chronologically, it fits in right before The Troubled Man. It’s been adapted for television, and it was written as a free story to be given to book purchasers for a month in the Netherlands some years ago.

It’s difficult to review short pieces, but suffice it to say that this feels like a Wallander novel that’s been condensed. It’s a story about an old murder that gets Wallander thinking about his mortality and how the police force has changed, and it also involves Sweden during World War II and how it treated refugees. This isn’t a story I’d recommend as an entry into the Wallander series: the prequel stories in The Pyramid work much better for that, but it’s a satisfying read for people who love the series.

The Second Deadly Sin by by Åsa Larsson

second deadly sin

The Second Deadly Sin by by Åsa Larsson
Translated by Laurie Thompson
MacLehose Press, August, 2014
Rebecka Martinsson book 5

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

I’m a big Åsa Larsson fan: the first two books in the series are some of my favorites. Rebecka is not a typical heroine, her cases are tough on her, and the setting in extreme northern Sweden is different and vivid.

This particular outing in the series is not as great as the others. I’ve read. Martinsson takes a back seat in the investigation of the murder of a middle-aged waitress who was brutally murdered. There is also a parallel story to the murdered woman’s grandmother, Elina who moves to Kiruna to take a position as a school teacher in the booming mine town at the start of the First World War.

Rebecka’s sexist boss is not my favorite type of character (and he feels a bit undeveloped to me), and the actual mystery wasn’t as strong as I’d like, but the contemporary storyline of Rebecka as well as the details about life in a company town before World War I were the strongest parts of the novel.

Other reviews appear in Crimepieces, Reactions to Reading, Avid Mystery Reader, and Crimescraps.

 

 

 

The Blackhouse by Peter May

blackhouseThe Blackhouse by Peter May
This edition: Quercus, August 2014
Originally published October 2012
Book 1 of the Lewis Trilogy

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

I remember reading about the Lewis Trilogy several times in the past couple years, and I was intrigued by the setting and by the positive reviews. It was a very, very good read even though it felt a little bit light on the crime novel elements I was expecting.

The main character is Fin Macleod, a detective in Edinburgh who grew up on the Isle of Lewis who returns there when a murder much like one he investigated in Edinburgh takes place. A bully from his youth is found disemboweled in an abandoned building. While this is in a sense a police procedural, the book feels more like stories about growing up on the Isle of Lewis, including a vivid chunk of the book that takes place in the annual hunt of guga (young gannets) that goes back for generations.

There are some holes in the book that I assume are addressed in the other two books in the trilogy, specifically about different chunks of the characters’ backstories, but the focus on Fin’s childhood and the ritual of the guga hunt made up for those gaps. Fin is also a sympathetic character at the beginning of the story and because of his childhood, which makes all the focus on the past so good.

Other glowing reviews appear in Euro Crime, crimepieces, Reactions to Reading, and The Game’s Afoot.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

rebeccaRebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The Modern Library, 1938

I borrowed my copy from the library.

I’m trying to read older books on occasion, and I picked Rebecca because of the title and because I mistakenly thought it was published in 1939, which was last month’s pick for a classic crime meme hosted by Rich at Past Offences. While I’ve read/watched Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, somehow I’ve missed both the book and the movie of du Maurier’s well-known work. I was vaguely aware of a couple plot points before I started reading, and my copy’s cover is a bit too obvious about the plot, but that didn’t detract from the reading experience.

What struck me most about the reading experience was how incredibly slow the first 200 pages– roughly 2/3 of the book– went. The story in the first two thirds of the book is the story of Maxim de Winter meeting his second wife in Monte Carlo where she is a poor, young companion to a society maven. Another large chunk of the story is devoted to Manderley and de Winter’s first wife, who mysteriously drowned a year before the events of the book. It’s a story about idle rich people keeping up appearances for most of the story, and I found myself wondering when anything would happen in the book. I think the sense of claustrophobia is intentional: the new Mrs. de Winter is trapped at Manderley, married to someone she doesn’t know well, without a lot of options.

I’m not the biggest fan of gothic novels, but this one kept my interest. Jane Eyre did as well, but I didn’t love either of them. I think the writing is quite good, but I prefer stories with a bit of humor, and Rebecca seemed awfully serious to me.