Risking It All by Ann Granger

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This is Fran Varady’s fourth adventure and she finds herself homeless again. She does however seem to have found some long lost family. This was a really enjoyable read.

This book is full of the type of background detail that moves a character from being a description on a page to a fully fledged series character. Without giving the plot away the result of what happens in this book is that Fran is left in a situation which could put her investigatory talents on at least a semi professional basis which is a good thing for an ongoing series. There’re only so many dead bodies a character can come across before it gets better from the readers point of view that there is a good reason for it to happen. This feels like a turning point in the series for me, I can see Fran lasting a long time, I hope she does.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.
Purchased on 20th March 2002.

The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte

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I read this for a mailing list discussion so I’ll probably wait until the discussion begins in mid-April to comment on it other than to say that it’s pretty much assured a place on my top ten mysteries of the year list.

[The rest of my comments are taken from a mailing list discussion and as such contain spoilers!]

[on the setting]

OK, from a quick glance through all the answers over the weekend it looks like I’m going to be one of the few people here who really enjoyed this book so I’d better get on and even the balance out a little!

The translation was one thing that I really want to comment on. Often when reading translations I’m very aware of the middle man between me and the author and whenever a phrase seems a bit out of kilter to me I wonder if that’s what the author really meant to say or if the translator has added or subtracted something. This wasn’t the case with The Flanders Panel, I found the book very readable and didn’t find myself stopping to think about the turns of phrases.

As others have said the smoking in the presence of artworks that were supposed to be being cleaned got to me a bit. But it was mainly the smoking as much as any other of the little details that put this book in Southern Europe to me. I didn’t get a great feel for the location it could have been any major city in that region really, but the lack of specific Madridness didn’t casue me any problems.

[on this being a “beachbook for intellectuals”]

My problem with both “literary” and “intellectual” is that they are generally used as insults to other things rather than compliments to the things they are applied to, or even just as plain labels to distinguish one type of content from another. If it is claimed that this is a literary book it seems to imply that all other mysteries aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

I’ve been tying my brain in knots on the intellectual angle this morning. The dictionary definition of intellectual seems to come down to “appealing to logic rather than to emotions”. On the one hand I don’t see anything intrinsically wrong with that. On the other I’ve got this down to a reductio ad absurdum proof that shows that good books have to appeal on an emotional level as well as having a good reasoned plot and therefore no intellectual book could be any good and hopefully no one intellectual would like a bad book, therefore there are no intellectual books. But I rather started losing the plot myself at this point ;-)

Also the “beachbook” label always seems backwards to me, there’s often more time on holiday to get deeper into something involving more thinking than there is in general everyday life so the idea that beachbooks should be lighter than usual seems upside down.

Anyways, back to the book itself. I didn’t feel the book was snobby, I got caught up in the chess and the art despite knowing little about either so I didn’t feel the book was pitched at a level to exclude those without prior knowledge. Using the above definition I could see the book as a little intellectual in that I didn’t get as emotionally involved with the characters as I would like to have done. I really enjoyed the puzzle but at the end of the day there were so many levels to the plot that the modern day murder level was the level that worked least well for me.

On the whole though I liked the fact that this wasn’t a traditional mystery and I really enjoyed the different parts of the story. That Julia’s story was the thinnest part of the plot was disappointing but not an all encompassing type of disappointment.

[did you guess whodunnit?]

No, the “queen” references rather made me believe that Cesar was the intended victim of the plot rather than the perpetrator. I was happily led up the garden path but I’m not sure that I found my way out of the garden gate properly even when it was all explained to me.

I loved the chess game, that was the really good part of this book for me. I can play chess but very badly, I seem to think in the wrong way for it I loved having all the options explained so that I began to understand what was going on. Everytime I turned the page I was hoping to find another chess board waiting for me to learn more. I had no chance of sussing out the whodunnit in the chess game any more than in the “real” scenario but I enjoyed the chess game far more.

[on characters and motivation]

The motivation was thoroughly lousy and I don’t think I got the hang of who did what and why even after it was all laid out to me. However by that point I’d enjoyed the chess game so much that I didn’t really care that the rooks and knights were more realistic than the people they were representing.

I liked the guy they brought in to analyse the chess game the best though I’ve forgotten his name already. Julia I liked the least, probably just because she was the most prominent character with the most opportunity to get on my nerves, and I never understood the relationship between her and Cesar properly as it didn’t seem to be consistently portrayed.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.
Purchased on 8th February 2002.

strange taxes

a random observation from my supermarket receipt: why is orange juice zero rated for vat but i have to pay tax on grapefruit and apple & mango juice? oranges are somehow more essential foods once juiced than grapefruits, apples or mangoes? i don’t pay tax on unjuiced oranges, apples, grapefruits or mangoes. all three of the cartons are from the same range, from the same fridge in the same supermarket.

my jelly tots, definitely a non essential, are also zero rated. would customs and excise rather i lived on jelly tots than grapefruit juice?

ten gallon hats

word origins is one of many etymology sites on the web and since i’m fascinated by how language has evolved and continues to evolve the common errors in popular etymology page is especially interesting.

it explains the fact that there are just about no words that were derived from acronyms before the twentieth century – the commonly cited posh and pommie are just about certainly false – and then gives a couple of examples that appear to break the rule: ichthys from the 2nd century and cabal from the 17th century, but these words existed earlier and the creation of acronyms for them merely popularised them.

mainly i’m glad that i’ve found out why texan’s wear ten gallon hats. the hats clearly can’t contain ten gallons.

the gallon in ten-gallon hat derives from the spanish galón, meaning braid. so a ten-gallon hat is a hat with braiding around the brim.

i’m very glad that one is cleared up! (though do they have ten braids around the brim? a ten threaded braid?)

redundant technology

i think this is a really sad story. india’s police pigeon service is being disbanded.

the government’s audit department now believes that the service – employing some 800 birds – has become redundant with the advent of e-mail and electronic communication.

i’m not entirely convinced by this as the report also mentions that the carrier pigeon’s finest hours have been in times of floods and cyclones when radio networks are disrupted. i can still see times when the pigeons will get through and the email won’t.

female slant

for the short while i’ve been following it news we can use has proved to be a site that does what it says:

focuses on news, issues, books and web sites of interest
to women, most of which aren’t heavily publicized in the mainstream media.

my one complaint would be that the date on the page is autogenerated and doesn’t reflect the date the page was last updated.

not just numbers

the secret lives of numbers lays out the relative popularity of every number from 0 to a million, on the internet and at different points in time. which sounds like it could be deadly boring but is utterly fascinating not least because it contains information that shows us why some numbers are more popular than other.

  • formula 1
  • world war 2
  • tomb raider 3
  • netscape 4
  • internet explorer 5
  • visual basic 6
  • final fantasy 7
  • super 8 motel
  • top 10
  • roaring 20s
  • club 18-30
  • over 40
  • 50 states
  • 100%
  • 1996 olympics
  • human rights act 1998
  • windows 2000

there’s a huge drop just before 2000 as hardly anyone seems to write the late 1990s years out in full, can we blame office 97 and windows 98? since the number statistics are sourced from the internet software plays a huge part in the number popularities, cars seem to do well too.

[found via aprendiz de todo, maestro de nada]

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith

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I wasn’t really quite sure what to expect of this book and I’m not sure what to say of it except that I enjoyed it a lot.

I know the story is very well known thanks to the Hitchcock film, but I’ve never seen it and I only knew of the premise that two strangers meet on, surprise, a train and agree to swap murders, each person killing the others enemy. In fact that isn’t quite the premise so I had all my preconceptions wrong right from the start.

The suspense is the excellent sort where most everyone behaves perfectly reasonably, thinks perfectly sensible thoughts and yet everything still gets tangled up badly and though you find yourself wanting to knock the characters heads together to sort everything out you know it can’t happen. Vary well done indeed. I’m not saying anything new here either as Highsmith is a well know master of the suspense genre.

I suppose what I’d conclude is that this is reknowned to be one of the best suspense books there is, and that the reknown is correctly placed as far as I’m concerned.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

to visit list

since we’re just past the vernal equinox and therefore it’s nearly summer i’ve been compiling a list of a few places i’d like to see on long summer days in between the inevitable rain showers.

  • the deep: discover the story of the world’s oceans on a dramatic journey back in tide and into the future! explore the great ocean floor and ride in the world’s only underwater lift.
  • yorkshire sculpture park: one of europe’s leading open-air art organisations. a changing and vibrant programme of exhibitions, displays and projects is held throughout 500 acres of eighteenth century landscaped grounds and in three indoor galleries.
  • segedunum: roman fort in wallsend, i can’t get the official site to resolve but there are others
  • royal armouries: as well as arms and armour there is…. a tiltyard, for demonstrations of jousting and other forms of mounted martial sport, as well as falconry and the use of hunting dogs, a menagerie for the horses, dogs and birds, and a craft court, in which visitors can watch gunsmiths, leather workers and other related traditional craftsmen at work.
  • tate modern: …collection of international modern art from 1900 to the present day, including major works by dalí, picasso, matisse, rothko and warhol as well as contemporary work by artists such as dorothy cross, gilbert & george and susan hiller.
  • ansel adams at 100: at the hayward gallery.
  • harewood house: …one of england’s outstanding historic houses… …magnificent gardens are situated in lancelot ‘capability’ brown’s beautiful 18th century landscape…
  • yorkshire dales: much of the landscape here is limestone country, lush green valleys (known locally as “dales”) crested with white limestone cliffs (“scars”) cutting through wilder uplands beneath towering peaks (“fells”) of dark millstone grit.

that should keep me busy for a while…

Death at the Dolphin by Ngaio Marsh

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The only other Ngaio Marsh book I’ve read was little like a crime novel for the first half and then launched into the investigation for the second half. So I wasn’t surprised at this pattern in this book though I’m told that all of her books don’t go like this.

I enjoyed the slow start wondering what would happen and who was going to die at the Dolphin Theatre. In fact I probably enjoyed the first half more than the second. Inspector Alleyn’s investigation got a bit tedious in parts as he conducted interview after interview without uncovering any clues that made much sense to me. I didn’t really think the resolution of the plot made much sense but I enjoyed the cast of characters and the theatrical setting.

Enjoyable, but at the end of the day, this book was nothing very special.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.
Purchased on 20th May 2001.