One day, when browsing in a book shop, I discovered the British Library Crime Classics series. Yes, the British Library has reissued a collection of crime stories from bygone days. I read a lot of Agatha Christie when I was younger so I decided to give this collection a go. I have bought a few from the series and, apart from the Christmas short story collection – Silent Nights- this is the first one I’ve read.
Briefly, the story is set around the opening night of a new musical “Blue Music”. On stage in front of the entire audience on opening night, an actor, instead of just pretending to get shot, is actually shot- dead.
I’m not sure how I feel about Quick Curtain to be honest. It was light-hearted, (you know, for a story that contains a murder), and there is some nice quirky banter. However, you do wonder how the detective ever solves any crimes. He and his amateur assistant, in this case his journalist son, seem a bit absent-minded and slightly incompetent; but this is meant as a humorous novel so that’s alright as far as it goes. I found it amusing in places with some interesting character observations.
For me, what let it down was the ending. It didn’t feel satisfying. It didn’t feel true or convincing, which you expect, even in a book with an element of tongue in cheek spoof about it. I don’t want to give anything away so I wont comment on why it felt unconvincing. I can see what the writer might have been trying to accomplish and it’s an interesting take but for me it doesn’t quite work as it is.
All in all, I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. It’s a bit of a light-hearted adventure. It’s a nice casual read but ultimately a little let down by an ending that could have been managed better.
A while back I was browsing through the list of Penguin’s little black classics when I came across Lot No.249 by Arthur Conan Doyle. It wasn’t one I was familiar with. It was described as the first story to feature a supernatural mummy. Not being overly familiar with mummy literature, excepting the ring of Thoth, also by Conan Doyle and of a different variety, the mummy not being the supernatural element, when I was obliged to buy some books for my next course I decided to treat myself to this one at the same time; well it would be rude not to. For £1 it seemed worth a try.
The story centres around three students who occupy rooms in a secluded part of their college. Life is quiet until a series of strange occurrences begin to take place on campus.
The story is dramatic with moments of tense and atmospheric action. There is also the traditional element of an unbeliever finding the truth thrust upon him.
Yes, to the modern reader the plot may feel familiar and obvious but for the first mummy story of its kind I can imagine this was something of a spine chiller back in the day.
It is as well written as we have come to expect from a Conan Doyle story and I found it to be a fun, quick read. Being a Little Black Classic this was short but sweet and well worth the investment of £1 to discover a new (to me) Conan Doyle horror and one of the best of his that I’ve read in this genre so far.
When I bought Marina I also bought The Watcher In The Shadows by the same author. In some respects this book is similar to Marina, in that it is a young adult book dealing with the loss of childhood innocence and the move towards adulthood. In fact the theme of loss is present throughout this book in one form or another.
In summer 1937, following the death of her father, young Irene and her family move to the coastal village of Blue Bay, where her mother goes to work as housekeeper for retired toy maker Lazarus Jann.
Jann is a recluse who lives locked away in his mansion surrounded by bizarre mechanical toys. When Irene meets Ismael together they begin to uncover the mystery behind the abandoned lighthouse that overlooks Blue Bay and Lazarus Jann’s secret past.
The Watcher in The Shadows creates the feel of an idyllic, beautiful, long summer. But as this is a gothic horror things soon take a darker turn. You feel the shattering of the characters’ dreams. This book is both beautiful and sad. It takes the idea of the shadows of your past controlling your life and weaves it throughout the book, creating a kind of gothic tapestry of loss and survival. There is also a strong sense of foreboding that is ever present.
I got the sense from The Watcher in The Shadows of the characters learning that it’s those sometimes brief and fleeting moments of happiness that they carry with them that get them through all the darkness. There is a definite air of hope at the end.
Like Marina, The Watcher in The Shadows is aimed at young adults, but as an adult I found plenty to enjoy in this book. I can only hope that young adults are reading books like this. A nice introduction to the genre.
Marina is a gothic story aimed at young adults. I didn’t know it was young adult when I bought it but that never worried me. I’m OK with a teenage protagonist if the story is good.
The story centres around young Oscar Drai who meets a mysterious girl called Marina. One day Marina takes Oscar to a graveyard where they witness a woman dressed in black lay a single red rose on a grave whose headstone bears no name, only the emblem of a black butterfly. They decide to follow her. From there onwards they are dragged into a dark vein of the cities forgotten past.
I enjoyed Marina. It’s a quick read and doesn’t hold back on the emotion just because it’s a young adult book. There are two stories at play in the book; there is the main gothic adventure and the story of Oscar and Marina’s growing relationship. You get the feeling of a character waking out of childhood into an adult world where he’s having to face up to the frailty of life, human weaknesses and fear and how those things can easily lead you into darkness. You know at the end of the book that he can never go back to being the boy he was at the beginning.
I know some people dislike the way Ruiz has a habit of writing big sections of back-story being relayed by one character to another but personally I feel he does this pretty well. I didn’t feel like there was too much putting the story on pause to fill in the back-story. I don’t recall it happening at moments of immediate action. It felt quite natural, and one character sitting down to tell another character their back-story isn’t exactly a new contrivance.
Without giving too much away, the end of this story is heart-breaking. I say this even though I could see it coming. I don’t know whether it was expected that younger readers wouldn’t pick up on it so soon (which I doubt), or whether we are supposed to see it coming and therefore have more sympathy for Oscar who clearly doesn’t. Either way, it was very emotional.
The reason I gave this 4 stars rather than 5 on Goodreads is because I felt there were some elements of the story that were not brilliantly explained, and not in a mysterious ambiguous sense; it just felt a bit unclear. Also I didn’t like the decision two characters made on the train platform at the end of the book. I can understand why they would make that decision but to me it would have felt more natural for them to decide the other way. But it’s the kind of situation everyone deals with differently. I don’t want to spoil anything so that’s all I’m saying!
All in all, a nice piece of accessible gothic horror that can introduce young adults to the genre and also engaging enough to appeal to adults. And if it is a consideration for you, it had a gorgeous cover.
One side note, there are parts of this book that remind me very much of one of the classic books of the gothic genre; I wont say which, but there is a character whose name greatly resembles that of its author. I wonder if this was an intentional nod. I do hope so.
When I heard that the BBC was going to be airing a Victorian Supernatural drama I was thrilled. The Victorian era is one in which the ghost story has a firm footing. As you know Victorian era supernatural is a interest of mine. It was an era of great change and that is something that the living and the dead explores in the stories it tells.
Set in Somerset in 1894 it follows the lives of psychologist Nathan Appleby (Colin Morgan) and his photographer Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer). When the death of Nathan’s mother brings them back to his family home, Shepzoy farm, they’re soon faced with running a struggling farm while contending with an ever increasing supernatural presence which seems to be connected with Nathan’s own past.
I admit when it came to the twist at the end of the first episode , which I wont reveal for those who haven’t caught the show yet, I was slightly (only slightly) disappointed that this wasn’t going to be a straight up ghost story. However, as the series went on the twist that was introduced in the first episode was bubbling under the surface nicely and created an intriguing element. It also contributed to Nathan’s gradual slide to the brink of madness. The last episode did a nice job of bringing the strands of the narrative together.
Although I was uncertain at first about the twist element I found it opened up a lot of other intriguing questions. Part of the fun of the supernatural genre is, perhaps, the way it can pose more questions than it answers.This is an era when science and the traditional beliefs were caught in conflict. The Living and The Dead makes you wonder where the line between them falls. How much of what is happening is supernatural and how much is down to psychological factors, and then makes you wonder how much of the supernatural events actually have scientific explanations that we just can’t understand yet?
In fact the whole of The Living and The Dead is perched between two worlds and the conflicts of this changing world are exemplified in the characters. Making Nathan a physiologist was a clever idea. Who better to be conflicted by the overpowering evidence of the supernatural than someone who has spent their life telling people that such things are the figments of their own imaginations.
Charlotte Appleby is in some ways a woman ahead of her time. While they were living in London she had her own career as a photographer and she’s not prepared to be a meek, little woman when she arrives in Shepzoy. This is a woman who rides into rural, Victorian England and gets involved with all aspects of running the farm and making changes in the name of progress. Understandably this isn’t something that goes down too well with some.
Although not all the questions posed by the show were answered it doesn’t feel like an issue; an element of ambiguity is often a plus in this genre. Enough questions were answered for it not to feel unresolved. I’d say the balance was right here.
Of course, those who have seen the last episode will know there is another twist right at the end. If it is given a second series this will be an intriguing cliff hanger; if not, it will be a frustrating question mark left hanging in space. I have seen mixed reviews of this show but personally I enjoyed it and would recommend it. There are some great performances and there is a great atmospheric quality to the scenes.
In a new move for the BBC they made the entire show available for binge watching before it even hit TV screens. The show could also be watched in weekly instalments on TV for those who prefer to gather round the TV as a family in a weekly ritual (the method we opted for). Unusually too the show aired on a Tuesday, which was nice to see. It seems common these days for this type of drama to automatically head for the weekend slots so it was treat to have a quality weekday offering.