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Books crime fiction

The Galton Case

Top of the heap # 3

For a novel that is hardly 250 pages, I did take a lot of time in finishing Ross Macdonald’s eight novel featuring his private detective Lew Archer.

Anyone who has read Raymond Chandler would recognize the name Ross Macdonald from his quote that appears frequently on the Philip Marlowe books; ” Chandler wrote like a slumming angel” it would say.

I was no stranger to Ross Macdonald, having read the first two novels and seen one of the Paul Newman films; but the novelist’s apparent claim to Chandler’s lineage did not sit well with me.

Until today.

Like most great novels, this appears to be about something and then ultimately about something else, something deeper and filled with true emotion; here the something is a 20 year old missing son case that Archer takes up with little hope.

Social commentary should be your protagonist’s second language if you do wish to find a place in Chandler’s family tree; but Lew Archer is not the detective who has a witticism ready for any occasion- he doesn’t want to prove his worth in words or in wisdom.

The quality of being there and yet not being there is Ross Macdonald’s greatest achievement in creating this protagonist; he balances the novel with the right amount of depth and cool, without ever having to show off. This quality, by no ways a reflection of poor prose but restraint and ultimately treating his characters as though they were real and he caring about them, and yet not trying to get a tear out of us by pumping in pity.

Lew Archer, named one half for the writer of Ben-hur and the other half as a hat-tip (pen-tip?) to another crime writing great, prods along never resorting to unnecessary judgement but carrying on with the case, the Galton case. (I mean)

I often feel that a success of the crime novel lies in the moments that when I stop being the reader and become the detective; the Galton Case is filled with many such excellent moments but there also moments where other characters too become identifiable.

One of the all time greats; it’s the novel where I could relish a distinguished voice of Ross Macdonald and one which I hope to return for years and years.

As fate would have it- in a novel about finding one’s true identity.

Over to the next one.

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Books

Top Of The Heap: Blue Light Yokohoma

It’s always a good feeling to keep notes and forget about them for a while.

Only after reading Nicolas Obregon’s Blue Light Yokohama, which I thought I had discovered after weeks of lurking on crime fiction blogs, only to be amazed to find an earlier to-read list with the same title.
In that way, what I am seeking is something I already have?
Tokyo is a million cities. You ever wonder if some of those cities are good and some are bad?”
I love cities, it is something we need to be proud of; somewhere that encourages and allows everyone to be together yet different.
Blue Light Yokohama is a moody Tokyo city novel central to which is a provincial-obsessive detective Iwata.

Kosuke Iwata is fighting against second hand treatment, treacherous team mates,corruption, insane cultists, the Yakuza and more importantly himself to stop the ‘black sun’ serial killer.

I know there are a lot of self-absorbed detectives in crime fiction; maybe this is a recency effect but I have not read anyone as angry as Kosuke Iwata and the pages bleed with his pain and to know that the second Iwata novel has already released puts an expectant smile on my face.
The praiseworthy prose demands multiple note taking. Sample : ” He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home”
Detectives are seekers and a detective novel has more scope to explore philosophy through ruminations that pop-up in the detective’s head and Obregon does this at points that elevate the novel much above a ‘follow-the-threads’ serial killer story, which begins with an unspeakable killing of an entire family.
Dreams & reality intercut in ways that made me feel Iwata’s fever.

Yes, this is that kind of a novel where slipping into the detective is the best option.

Along the way, Iwata is given advice, thrown out of service, double crossed and of course bashed to near death; as I said best way to get this heightened experience is to be Iwata for the length of the novel.

The fact that this is Nicolas Obregon’s first novel itself gives me sleepless nights. A twisted-cracker of a novel, the one that ended a short phase of my reading drought and possibly one of the best I’ve read this year.
Oh yes and people speak to Iwata like ‘ I think you are the type of person who will disappoint yourself before you let life disappoint you’
Very relateable.
Over to the next one.
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Books

Top Of The Heap: The Man Who Went Up In Smoke

Some critic has quipped on one of the Beck novels as follows  “pick up the books, block out a week, lie to your boss, stay in bed and finish the series”.

Normally critic-quips are for the show, but this time I tend to agree.

The Martin Beck novels are the written record of “this is what police work looks like” or as we say in this part of the world “Idhu Dan Da Police”.

A far- cry from the constructed problems that has come to dominate the crime novels or the detective story. Inspector Beck from Stokholm Homicide is no Hercule Poirot, but very much a working man(a character in the novel calls police-work a curse); who is met with walls of problems with every turn.

Sample this from the words of the inspector himself about this case:” Unpleasant. Very unpleasant. Singularly unpleasant. Damned unpleasant. Blasted unpleasant. Almost painfully so.” The disappearance of a person is not a problem for a gentleman detective to solve but a genuine human tragedy.

In their second outing, authors Sjowall and Wahloo send Martin Beck to Budapest to trace a Swedish journalist Alf Matsson who has literally disappeared into thin air. It is said that this writing couple alternate chapters and sometime even paragraphs between themselves, but I was unable to tell the difference.

Shady characters populate Budapest as Beck tries to make sense of what is happening to this case, while he should be vacationing with family on an isolated island and he knows only one thing, that this case cannot be solved alone. Yes, this is a summer holiday book and somehow I took it up at the right moment.

Even at 200 odd pages, the authors are able to convey a world of detail and observation only proves that words, like bullets, only work when used judiciously.

Oh, just realized that the title of this book is a wicked pun. So good these Swedes!

Do check out their Edgar Award winning novel “The Laughing Policeman”

 Top of the heap is an occasional column on books

 

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Books

Without A Clue: Five Little Pigs

The title here slyly refers to the fact that this writer has little or no clue about writing about books, the title also miraculously achieves in telling something about Christie’s enduring detective Poirot: who literally solves the case without a clue.

Readers who sink into the detective novel expecting it to be a puzzle that needs solving would find all the elements that Christie usually puts in, few over enthusiastic readers might even guess before the ending.

But I think Five Little Pigs is much more than the classic crime novel, yes it does involve a murder and a list of suspects, each of whom with many an intention to commit and of course a meticulous detective looking for clues. Only there isn’t one because the murder happened decades ago.

This conceit is hardly new and adds to the ‘puzzle’ nature of the novel; but I see it as a statement that a crime novel by itself is not about the crime but about people.

Let’s also get it out of the way that Christie wrote this during the height of human emotions: the second world war and makes not even a passing reference to it, the murder happens of course in the method of her choice: poisoning.

Playing ‘what’s your poison?’ with Christie would have been difficult, she had so many favorites, in Five Little Pigs it is coniine.

Maybe the oppression of the time is manifested in the deeply oppressed relationships that the characters share among themselves.

Returning to the ‘puzzle’ nature of the mystery novel which treats characters as clues or just things with name and a coat (Christie herself has been accused of not treating her characters with character), in contrast she creates the strongest set of female characters in FLP.

Women who are not afraid to speak out, women who realize that they are being played and willing to play, willing to kill for another and ultimately prove that they are the better race on earth by taking the fall in sacrifice.

Yes this is Hercule Poirot novel only, and he is tasked with piecing together the narratives, something like a Virumandi or Rashomon; a unique feature of the novel for which it is also remembered.

Christie also usually makes up for the lack of emotions in her character with the persona of Poirot, something again that doesn’t happen in this novel.

Here is more of an observer, not a resolver. Hence a novel, not a puzzle.

Fin.

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Books

ONE BOOK A WEEK OR OTHERWISE KNOWN AS MANIC MADNESS

The startling story of one boy and a mammoth task along with 52 books

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” – George RR Martin

<This project was originally called Man vs Wilde, but apart from my own stupid giggles, it wouldn’t have made much sense>

There is a scene, in fact the very opening scene of the Tamil movie Iru Kodugal (Two Lines) which effectively tries to explain the context of the title. When you have a line, how do you shorten it without touching it?

<Think one minute>

Draw another line adjacent to it, but longer than the existing one.

Simple, not CAT level and all.

Ok, why did I make a reference now, because the whole point of enrolling in a book challenge is to make an existing problem of mine look smaller than the challenge I am about to attempt.

The existing problem of course is the MBA, which will work itself out. <Hopes>

Now let’s get back to the book challenge.

In the beginning of every year, people try and take these book challenges, I have been taking them too, only never even coming close to achieving even half of what I thought I would read the entire year.

Why?

Because 1) I don’t believe in numbers

2) I am quite lazy

3) There are a million other distractions

4) All of the above

All of the above is clearly the answer. Yes, I still think the number of books one reads over a year do not really matter unless of course you are reading something, the act is essential and not the returns.

But wait, I am 25 and the fact that I am inadequately educated and non-conforming to current systems have driven me to a position that my only source for goodness and redemption is through books and all through never having taken up a challenge in life is another driving factor.

You can consider this weekly blog to be something of a self-public shaming, I will of course put up the books I am reading and extent to which I have read them. Truthfully, I promise.

Readings_fun

It will be battle-like, every week I will have to fight against boredom, distractions and procrastination to set some time for reading.

I hope you will join me on this quest (ah! A quest!), along with me is my trusted companion and friend, the Kindle.

I am not afraid to fail publicly, but then I will try not to.

<Inappropriate joke alert>

Sherlock Holmes: “A task is at hand, Watson!!!”

Watson: Which hand?

<Inappropriate joke ends>

That reminds me, one week is already gone this year.

You can tell me what you are reading too, or you can make fun of my choice of books, you can do whatever. Thanks

Update:

Masters of the Word: How Media Shaped History

2% complete

The house of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes novel

8% complete

See you next Thursday, 51 weeks to go.

Also, this is what one guy said it is possible go about this maddening task.

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