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.
*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
An intriguing notion; this is a collection of short stories each relating the macabre and sometimes gruesome origins of the members of a haunted circus.
On the whole this is an enjoyable read. The stories are short making it a good book to dip into when you’ve got a spare five minutes and the unified setting of the haunted circus generally works well. The stories are imaginative and well told; sometimes you find yourself wondering how Catris got so much into so few words!
If I was to be really picky the one slightly discordant note for me was the bearded ladies story which I felt didn’t quite resonate with the theme of the rest of the book. Other readers may, of course, disagree with me on that point and I did, however, enjoy it as a story in its own right.
The book is beautifully illustrated throughout. The only drawback in the book’s combined text and illustrations is that it isn’t a comfortable reading experience on the old Kindle touch; but even if, like me, you own a slightly older Kindle there’s always a kindle for pc app so it’s not a major problem; for the sake of the beautiful illustrations and graphics it’s worth it.
All in all I can definitely recommend this book. It’s a beautiful, well-crafted book and a welcome addition to the genre