the r. i. p. challenge

R. I. P. VI Challenge – Completion

Ever since I was a child I have been reading books from the supernatural, crime and mystery genres. TV shows featuring similar themes have also been a favourite of mine. So, when I found out that Carl V is hosting the R. I. P. (R. eaders I. mbibing P. eril VI) Challenge at Stainless Steel Droppings, I just had to participate.

The R.I.P. Challenge has taken place every year from September 1st through October 31st for the last 5 years.

There are several challenge levels at which participants can join in. I had chosen,

Peril the First:

Read four books, any length, that you feel fit the very broad definitions of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ian Fleming or Edgar Allan Poe…or anyone in between.

I have taken my time with this challenge, savouring the two mysteries and two horror genre books that I had chosen. Reading (and in the last book’s case, re-reading) for this challenge was a great pleasure.

I have received some very nice feedbacks from fellow challenge participants for my reviews.  Thank you guys!

Overall, I have enjoyed The R.I.P. Challenge very much. So, thanks to Carl V for the challenge and here’s to hoping that I’ll be seeing you again next year.

Books Completed:

1. By The Pricking of My Thumbs. Agatha Christie.

2. Clouds of Witness. Dorothy L. Sayers.

3. The Shadow of the Wind. Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

4. Dracula. Bram Stoker.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Published in 1897, Dracula by Bram Stoker single-handedly brought the genre of Vampire literature to the forefront. A classic of the Gothic and horror genre, its impact has been enormous to say the least.

Dracula tells the story of Count Dracula, an un-dead being and a master manipulator. The narrative follows the efforts of a group of men and woman as they try to foil the Count’s evil designs. The story of is told through series of diary entries, letters, newspaper clippings; etc.

How can a book that I have read and re-read so many times still fill me with so much fear and dread? I know the book almost by heart now. But Jonathan Harker’s experiences in the Castle Dracula, the count’s arrival in England, his encounter with Lucy and her mother, the Count’s evil presence at the asylum, it all still manages to scare me and I’m not a person who’s easily scared.

Dracula was a part of the trend of  Invasion literature popular during the 1880s and 1890s. Many famous authors of the time including Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and H. G. Wells, wrote stories where fantastic creatures threatened England. But Dracula has outlived its contemporaries and has taken on a life of its own.

The way evil is presented in the book is very refreshing. The evil brings darkness with it but there are glimpses of a past, in a past where things may have been different.  Stoker shows that even for someone who is an outright villainous character there still lays the possibility of redemption.

Stoker had a real flair for creating just the right ambiance. I could feel the dust, the hopelessness and the suffocation of the isolated Castle Dracula. The account of the voyage of  The Demeter  is another remarkable example of Stoker’s vivid imagination.

The iconic character of Count Dracula is the life line of this book. He has got to be the singular most evil and creepy villain I’ve ever read about. Apparently the inspiration behind his mannerisms and physical appearance came from actor-manager Henry Irving who was a friend of Bram Stoker’s. The Count’s suave manner, his noble birth and education all mask a sinister personality. His malevolent attitude towards everyone, particularly towards the Harkers, is disturbing to say the least.

The character of Jonathan Harker felt bland. Mina Harker’s character is a bit one dimensional but so are the characters of all the other good people in the book.

The character Dr. Van Helsing is good but his exaggerated foreignness is a bit too much at times. Dr. Seward was an interesting character. His character has a certain depth to it.

Lucy Westenra’s character is not properly fleshed out. I don’t get why everyone is in love with her other than the fact that she is pretty. Arthur Holmwood comes across as kind of dull while Quincey Morris is wooden.

The problem with an epistolary novel is that the point of view keeps constantly changing. As a result the narrative becomes a bit irregular. The climax, for instance, could have been more effective had we been able to view it from the viewpoint of either Harker or Dr. Seward. Instead we view it from Mina’s perspective. Perched at a mountain crevice along with her, the reader feels more like a spectator than an actual participant. After a narrative that is so full of thrills the climax loses its edge a bit.

The narrative of course has traces of Victorian melodrama in it. The good are incredibly good, the women are incredibly sweet and patient, everyone starts weeping at the drop of a hat; etc, etc. But these flaws can be overlooked as the story has so much more to offer.

Dracula. The very name that conjures up countless images in our minds. A pop culture staple for many years, our vision of the blood sucking, eternally damned gentleman has become tainted with its various incarnations. But for me nothing beats the book that started it all. The book certainly lives up to its name and fame and remains one of my all-time favourites. Highly recommended.

© 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 Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Shadow of the Wind (La sombra del viento in Spanish) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón was originally published in 2001. The 2004 translation by Lucia Graves catapulted the book to worldwide fame.

The story is very dark in tone. This is a true example of Gothic literature. People who are dead, who are forgotten, people who are as good as dead or are better off dead, occupy most of the story. When I was reading the book, I felt like I was viewing the past through a dark glass. The past always seemed like a late afternoon with dark clouds gliding across the sky.

The landscape of the city matches the mood of the story. A dark, dreary Barcelona is presented, a far cry from my sunny idea of Spain. You can actually feel the chill to your bones at certain times especially when the narrative moves around the mysterious Aldaya mansion.

I really enjoyed the touch of supernatural to the story. The history of the Aldaya mansion and Jacinta’s mysterious premonitions gave me quite the thrill.

I liked Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s writing. He knows how to control the pace of the story. He does enough to keep the reader’s attention focused on the central mystery of Julián Carax.

The true connection between Julián Carax and the Aldaya’s didn’t really surprise me. Having read enough Gothic literature, especially the short story The Dead Smile by F. Marion Crawford, I had a vague idea that something like this may be the reason behind Penelope’s disappearance. Only The Dead Smile was even more grotesque.

Julián Carax comes across as a self-centred man. He is always thinking about himself, what he wants and what he didn’t get. What about all the other people in his life? They sacrificed so much and suffered terribly for him but he seemed rather oblivious to all that.

The characters from the past are so strong that the characters from the present time pale in comparison. Daniel Sempere and his lover Beatriz ‘Bea’ Aguilar are examples of this. I found their love story to be bland and kind of awkward. I didn’t care much about their fate. The only character from the present that I found in interesting was the funny yet strangely tragic character of Fermín. I liked the motherly figures of Jacinta and Bernarda.

I felt really bad for Miquel Moliner. He sacrificed so much for the sake of his friendship and his love but got very little in return. I especially disliked the part where Nuria Monfort decides to forget all about him (though later she shows a glimmer of guilt) just after that terrible scene at the café. Later on he is rarely mentioned.

Fumero’s story was interesting. His abusive childhood, his twisted nature, his adult life and his single minded obsession with Carax, made him one of the more intriguing characters of the book. He makes quite a formidable villain.

I didn’t understand the motivation behind the actions of Officer Palacios. I thought there must be an explanation of Palacios’s actions near the end of the story but that was not the case.

The reason Laín Coubert hates Julián Carax’s works so much and intends to burn them all seems a little thin. Sure, I understand terrible mental anguish and larger than life ideas of romance but the revelation of his identity and motive still didn’t match the intensity of the story in general.

I am not generally a fan of romance. And here the idea that you can be sure about who you want to spend the rest of your life with when you are only 17-19 years old, is something that I don’t agree with. The intoxication of first love can be very exciting. You may think that it’s going to last forever, you may go against everyone’s wish, and you may cry and be very bitter about being disappointed but in eight times out of ten this is just infatuation. Most people grow out of this kind of ‘teen passions’.

The story by the end had begun to bore me a little. Once the truth behind Laín Coubert and the disappearance of Penelope has been revealed, the story kind of peters out. Once again, I realized I didn’t care much for Daniel and Bea’s fate.

Overall, I liked The Shadow of the Wind. It’s a very engrossing read. Any fan of Gothic literature would definitely enjoy reading this modern addition to a centuries old genre.

© 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.

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers was published in 1926. It is the second book after Whose Body? in the series of books featuring Sayers’ detective Lord Peter Wimsey.

Lord Peter Wimsey’s sister Lady Mary is engaged to Denis Cathcart. When Denis is found murdered suspicion falls on Lady Mary’s elder brother Gerald, the Duke of Denver. Lord Peter tries to sort things out but a haze of falsehood and silence makes getting at the truth difficult.

All of the plot points and the characters felt vaguely familiar. Headstrong and impulsive women, unworthy suitors, feudal Lords behaving immorally, an alluring seductress, ruination of a foolish young man, it all felt familiar.

Lord Peter is an okay detective. I just wish the way he speaks didn’t remind me so much of P.G. Wodehouse’s creation Bertie Wooster. It is hard to be serious about murder when snippets of Bertie’s misadventures are floating around inside my head! However they are from the same time period so it’s not that surprising.

Mrs. Grimethorpe is a very beautiful woman. I get it. But lines like these got on my nerves. 

…a broad white forehead under massed, dusky hair black eyes glowing under straight brows, a wide, passionate mouth–a shape so wonderful that even in that strenuous moment sixteen generations of feudal privilege stirred in Lord Peter’s blood…

feudal privilege stirred’? Ick! 

One of the major plot points I realized almost at the beginning of the book. The whole thing was staring at everyone’s face right from the start and yet they fail to see the (extremely) obvious fact. Lord Peter even admits so himself nearing the end of the book

…”I am, without exception, the biggest ass in Christendom. When a thing is close under my nose I can’t see it….

But if everyone solved everything in the very first pages we wouldn’t have a mystery novel now, would we?

The last scene where Inspector Sugg finds Lord Peter, Inspector Parker and Freddy out on the streets was funny.

Overall, Clouds of Witness was an all right mystery. I can’t say I love my first Dorothy L. Sayers mystery but I am willing to read more of her books. I shall reserve my judgement till then.

© 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.

By The Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie

By The Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie was published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in 1968 and by Dodd, Mead and Company in the US later the same year.

The title of the book comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth,

By the pricking of my thumbs,

Something wicked this way comes.

These lines are among my favourite lines from the play.

A visit to Tommy’s aunt Ada’s nursing home can always be a challenge. This time is no different as Tuppence has to sit it out at the visitor’s lounge after another one of Aunt Ada’s outbursts. Her only companion, a seemingly mild elderly resident of the home, suddenly asks her if it is her child that is buried behind the fireplace. Before she can make any sense of it Tuppence has to go way. As the elderly lady suddenly vanishes without a trace, Tuppence decides to investigate the matter and solve this intriguing puzzle.

The part about an elderly lady startling a stranger with a tale about a child being buried behind a fireplace recurs in at least three of Agatha Christie’s books, Sleeping Murder, The Pale Horse and this one. And surprisingly the story never fails to send a chill down my spine.

Tommy and Tuppence are a bit different from the other Christie creations Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. They age in real time unlike Poirot and Marple who remained the same age throughout their long literary journey. Strangely I find it kind of comforting that Poirot and Miss Marple remain the same in all of their books. They are solid, comfortable, more forces of nature than vulnerable human beings. Tommy and Tuppence are more real, I guess. But I prefer the solidity of Miss Marple and Poirot’s agelessness.

Tuppence is full of energy and hardly seems like a lady in her 60’s. Her character’s attitude and actions feel younger. Tommy is hardly visible here. It is Tuppence’s show all the way.

I had no trouble finishing the book. It is mostly fast paced and quite enjoyable.

Like all the late Christies By The Pricking of My Thumbs too has some problems. It is a thriller and a pretty good one most of the time but Christie introduces threads that go nowhere. The whole criminal mastermind thing was quite unnecessary in my opinion.

The narrative thankfully is better than most late Christie mysteries. It is not overlong and doesn’t meander along without any rhyme or reason (I am looking at you The Clocks and Elephants Can Remember!). It is sharp and taut most of the time.

The ending was really surprising. It was unexpected and quite chilling. The identity of the original perpetrator and how he/she ties up with everyone and everything surprised me.

Overall, By The Pricking of My Thumbs is one of the better late Christie mysteries. I just wonder how great it would have been had she written this book in her prime.

© 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.