Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge 2012

At the Villa Rose by A.E.W. Mason

At the Villa Rose by A.E.W. Mason was published in 1910. It features Mason’s creation Inspector Gabriel Hanaud.

A wealthy widow lies gruesomely murdered at her home with all her jewels gone. Her young companion has gone missing and is under suspicion. Inspector Gabriel Hanaud reluctantly agrees to investigate at the request of a friend.

Hanaud reminded me of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. I feel Christie must have been influenced by Hanaud while creating Poirot.

At the Villa Rose is quite polished when compared to other early detective fiction works. There are, of course, plot holes. Like an important document arriving just at the nick of time that clinches the case for the detectives. Why would the person in question even send this document to the detectives in advance, I wondered.

What I really didn’t like about the book was the concluding chapters. The story effectively ends at Chapter XIV. I feel one or two more chapters would have been sufficient to conclude the story but the ‘extremely’ detailed explanation takes up not one or two but seven full chapters. Some of the details where even a bit masochistic in tone, in my opinion.

The book is pretty exciting overall. The first few chapters are interesting in particular because not everyone’s motivations are clear. By the mid point when most of it becomes clear the excitement is still there. But after the Chapter XIV, I found excitement in only a few places like the final séance scene, which was eerie and kind of scary.

Celia Harland is the typical blonde, ‘damsel in distress’ type heroine. I have no patience with this type of characters. I especially got irritated by the way Mason kept describing her ‘prettiness’. This tendency increases as the book progresses. Her white shoulders and arms, her golden hair, her ‘daintiness’ is mentioned so many times that it gets ridiculous after a while. The way every man and woman kept discussing her beauty (her ‘white shoulders’ and arms get mentioned about a hundred times!) was just stupid!

Harry Wethermill was interesting. Julius Ricardo starts off as a suave gentleman but soon transforms into a stupid side kick with nothing much to do. I found this transformation jarring.

At the Villa Rose is a good read marred by a bad story structure. It would have worked better without the last few chapters.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

(The review may contain some mild *spoilers*)

When I was 13-14 years old, I received Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories (Volumes 1 & 2) as a gift. I started reading Volume 1 and before long I was hopelessly hooked. Thus, began my lifelong love for the genre of Mystery.

Re-reading The Hound of the Baskervilles has reinforced one of my old convictions; I love the Sherlock Holmes stories but the novels? They leave me feeling quite underwhelmed.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was published in 1902. It was serialised in The Strand Magazine in 1901-1902.

Set in the year 1889, The Hound of the Baskervilles tells the story of a family haunted by the legend of a supernatural hound. The previous owner of Baskerville Hall is found dead under suspicious circumstances. His heir and the last of the Baskervilles, Henry Baskerville, is coming home after spending many years abroad.  Apprehensive for his safety, family friend Dr. Mortimer calls upon Sherlock Holmes and urges him to take the case. Will Sherlock Holmes be able to keep Henry Baskerville safe? Or will the legendary hound claim another victim?

The setting of the novel,Dartmoor, is like another character of the book. The bleak but beautiful moor is both dangerous and inviting. The entire novel is centred around the mysterious moor. The chilling climax of the story would be nothing without its setting. The way Conan Doyle describes the surroundings is also brilliant. I could feel the atmosphere of the moor; the dampness, the rising mist and the falling rain.

The climax is very good. The description of the approaching fog really helps enhance the sense of suspense.

Holmes and Watson are their usual effervescent selves. I never feel dull when these two appear together in any of the pages. For much of the novel Sherlock Holmes remains behind the scene while Dr. Watson takes centre stage. Without the presence of Holmes we, the readers, are even more in the dark.

Henry Baskerville is a bland character. It was hard for me to feel any sympathy for him. In fact, that is the problem with The Hound of the Baskervilles. Most of the characters are like nondescript entities. I just didn’t care about them. As I read the book I found my mind wandering away from their predicaments.

The bland characters and motivations that are shaky at their best (vague promises of marriage, roundabout ways of getting an inheritance; etc) is what makes me merely like but not love the book.

The Sherlock Holmes mysteries have a special place in my heart. These are what got me curios about mysteries in the first place. I read them as an adolescent and they captured my imagination like nothing else. I do like The Hound of the Baskervilles but I still prefer the stories to the novels.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill

When Mrs. Drabdump fails to wake up her tenant Arthur Constant after hours of frantically trying, she seeks the help of her neighbour, retired detective George Grodman. Her worst fears come true when Arthur is found in his room with his throat slit open. But with the windows securely closed and the only door locked, how could Arthur have died? Is it a simple case of suicide? Or can there be a more sinister explanation?

As an avid mystery reader, I am interested in the origins of the genre. Locked room mysteries hold a certain fascination for me.

The Big Bow Mystery  (1892) by Israel Zangwill is often considered to be the first ‘true’ locked room mystery ever written.

 Israel Zangwill (1864 – 1926) was a political activist and humorist. Though not primarily a mystery author, his  The Big Bow Mystery continues to be an influential work in the genre of crime fiction.

Zangwill was a humorist. His wit shines brightly in some of the dialogues of the story.  For example, when Mrs. Drabdump philosophises about love and breakfast,

…she bore the tea-pot downstairs with a mournful, almost poetic, consciousness, that soft-boiled eggs (like love) must grow cold.

There is another hilarious passage about how people fight over the possibility that a monkey (à la The Murders in the Rue Morgue) could have committed the crime.

The detectives in the book are all too human and not the usual crime solving machines that generally populate stories like this. They seem more interested in stroking their egos than solving anything. Both George Grodman and Edward Wimp are not likeable. I found this approach to be interesting.

The characters of Denzil Cantercot and Peter Crowl irritated me. Their conversations often seemed pointless to me.

The narrative is wordy and full of digressions. It is full of dull speeches on politics, the class system, the working man’s problem; etc. If all of this had something to do with the story I wouldn’t mind but they don’t. Israel Zangwill was a very politically conscious person and he was not really a mystery writer anyway so I do understand the reason behind such deviations. But just because I understand it doesn’t mean I like it.

The solution is simply bizarre. It is unique but at the same time it left me feeling kind of annoyed and disappointed.

The solution left me feeling unsatisfied and the wordiness does not help the book either. But I am glad I read The Big Bow Mystery as it occupies an important place in the origin of crime fiction. Overall, a so-so experience.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge 2012

Book Chick City is hosting the Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge 2012 and as an avid reader of Mystery and Suspense books how could I resist signing up?

Challenge Details

• Timeline: 01 Jan 2012 – 31 Dec 2012

• Rules: There are TWO LEVELS you can choose from:

– Read TWELVE (12) mystery & suspense novels in 2012
– Read TWENTY FOUR (24) mystery & suspense novels in 2012

• You can join at anytime. All books read in 2012 count towards the challenge regardless of when you sign up.

• Audiobooks do not count, but all other formats are accepted.

• You can choose from the numerous sub-genres of mystery and suspense, from cosy mysteries such as Agatha Christie to the more hard-boiled kind like V I Warshawski by Sara Paretsky, or romantic suspense written by the likes of Linda Howard, forensic crime such as those written by Kathy Reichs and even paranormal/supernatural suspense such as Kelley Armstrong.

I have decided to try and read TWELVE (12) mystery & suspense novels in 2012.

I’m glad to have found this challenge! Hope to have fun with it!

Completed Books: 1. The Big Bow Mystery. Israel Zangwill.

2. The Hound of the Baskervilles. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

3. At the Villa Rose. A.E.W. Mason.

4. Behind That Curtain. Earl Derr Biggers.

5. The Thirteen Problems. Agatha Christie.

6. The Body in the Library. Agatha Christie.

7. 4.50 from Paddington. Agatha Christie.

8.  In the Fog. Richard Harding Davis.

9. The After House. Mary Roberts Rinehart.

10. The Lodger. Marie Adelaide Belloc.

11. A Pocket Full of Rye. Agatha Christie.

12. The Old Man in the Corner. Baroness Orczy.

Completion Post: Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge 2012 – Completion

Challenge Completed: 26th May, 2012.