Monday, November 05, 2012

No Can Do, Babe! In Which I Read Mysteries by John Dickson Carr and Louise Penny

Years ago a talented mystery writer begged me to stuff a ballot box with multiple votes for her for some fan award or other. 

"No can do."

We were living in the Wilds, but she was doing great anyway. She was a published writer. 

"I need this so much."

Writers are crazy, okay?  I hope she isn't in charge of tomorrow's election, but it is possible

Mystery writers write about crime.  They are fascinated by crime.  They forget their readers aren't criminals.

"I don't cheat," I said.

She flew into a rage.

Not long afterward, she disappeared.   

It is usually possible to track down anyone on the internet.  Type in the name and you'll find out their address, phone number, age, and probably their hobbies.


She fell off the face of the earth.  

I am reminded of a story I recently read by Sherman Alexie, "The Search Engine," in which a student tracks down a Spokane Indian poet who wrote one book of poetry 30 years ago and then disappeared.

I won't be tracking the Disappeared.

I am not a big fan of mysteries, but I must say that I have enjoyed the novels of P. D. James and Elizabeth George over the years.  The urgings of a brilliant friend are responsible for my reading a couple of mysteries a year.

I decided to spend the weekend on a mystery blow-out and stocked up on John Dickson Carr and Louise Penny.

It took me no time to get through Carr's And So to Murder, a very fast, funny Golden Age Detective Novel, published in 1940, with no corpses. Set in a movie studio at the beginning of World War II, it describes the foibles of movie directors, writers, and actors as well as struggles to close blackout curtains and
the fear of Nazi spies.

One of the main characters, Monica Hackett,  a clergyman's daughter, has escaped the vicarage by writing a romantic blockbuster novel. She is thrilled to have been offered a writing job at an English movie studio, and is talking to the producer when William Cartwright, a detective novel writer, bursts into the office and says Monica's book is the worst he's ever read.  He does not know that Monica is the woman in the office.

In the typical film world confusion, he is supposed to write the screenplay of her book, and she to adapt his detective story, instead of vice versa.  After their disastrous first meeting, they are attracted, but prickly.   Even after he saves Monica from being killed by acid poured down a speaking tube, she doesn't relent and is extremely chilly to him.  The English detectives don't come in until the very end, but that just makes this mystery more intriguing.

There is no danger in this novel, and I enjoyed it very much.

Louise Penny's A Trick of the Light is a police procedural, I thought, but reviewers say it is a "cozy."  By my standards, there is a lot of police work here, which just shows I'm mostly off in the Golden Age world of John Dickson Carr.

Penny, an award-winning Canadian novelist, has written a series set in Quebec about Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.  This novel is about art crime, and that's why I chose it.  

One of the main characters, Clara Morrow, a painter, has finally been discovered in middle age.  After a show in Montreal, she and her husband have a party at her house in a village.  

Then Lillian, a former friend and art critic, is found dead in  the garden.  Who would kill Lillian?  It seems that almost anybody would.  Everybody hated her.    

This book is a pageturner.  I have seldom read a novel so fast.  I appreciated the intelligent deliberations of Chief Inspector Gamache, and was sorry for his asssistant, Bouvier, temporarily addicted to pain killers. 

Alcoholic Anonymous plays a big part in this novel.  An AA coin is found on the ground near Lillian's corpse. 

But I have very little to say about this novel, because, though it is entertaining, it is not very well-written
.  I wanted it to be as good as P. D. James or Elizabeth George, but it isn't.

Definitely not something you'd want to reread, but mystery readers seem to have different assumptions about books.  

Back to the Golden Age for me!


Belle said...

Hi Frisbee,
I am a huge mystery reader, but have not read a thing by John Dickinson Carr. I must put that to rights. I have read a couple of Louise Penny's Gamache books, though.

After a bit of an absence from her, I have just begun P.D. James's 'The Private Patient' starring Adam Dalgleish and recently finished 'The Murder Room'.

I don't read mysteries that are too gory or graphic, but they must be well written or they get returned to the library in short order.

Give Donald Westlake a try. He is funny and puts out a grand puzzle. His Dortmunder books are delightful.

Frisbee said...

I'll add Westlake to my list!

I know I read The Murder Room, but I can't remember if I read The Private Patient. The problem is that I have to look at the mysteries to remember if I've read them.

I kept finding references in a couple of articles last week to John Dickson Carr, so I decided to try him. Really enjoyable!