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[719] A Great Deliverance – Elizabeth George

1great

” She gave curious attention to the open pages of the album. It was a pictorial family record, the kind that documents weddings and births, Christmas, Easter, and birthdays. But every picture that had more than one child in it had been cut up in some way, oddly defaced, so that pictures had central slices missing or wedges cut into them, and the size of the family was systematically reduced in every one. The effect was chilling. ” (Ch.6, p.141)

The debut novel introduces Scotland Yard’s inspector Thomas Lynley and his assistant, Barbara Havers, as they investigate a daughter’s brutal murder, a decapitation, of her deeply religious father. The odd pair, suave Lynley with a mix of bravado and sensitivity, and the utterly charmless Havers, is sent to the wilds of Yorkshire, where an obese girl has been found sitting by the headless corpse of her father, covered in his blood and proclaiming her guilt. She admitted to the crime and said nothing else.

The girl is sent to mental asylum. Lynley and Havers weigh in the general conviction in the village that Roberta Teys could not possibly have wielded the bloody axe against mounting evidence that damns the now catatonic girl. What confronts the Lynley and Havers is the question of mental competence arising out of her admission to the crime and her unwillingness to speak.

Tessa’s not dead, Inspector. She deserted William a short time after Roberta was born. He’d hired a detective to find her so that he could have their marriage annulled by the Church. (Ch.7, p.174)

The novel is undercut with many sub-stories that are interwoven into the main murder. These backstories provide a multi-layered insight into the dysfunctional family of William teys, whose wife ran away after being fed up in an unhappy and loveless marriage. She was barred from raising her children. The older daughter, Gillian Teys, also ran away to London she sought refuge in a church that accommodated runaway children. She is the important key to liberate Roberta’s silence.

The plot is slightly overloaded with clues, as the small Yorkshire village seemingly teems in bastard offspring, secret affairs, tangled relationships decoupled and recoupled, and, slowly to be revealed, as the Scotland pair sifts through the ashes of the past, for the two daughters of the murdered man, a long and brutal history of abuse. There is a psychological depth about the book that takes reader into a dark labyrinth of secret scandals. There’s also a rebuttal to religious stupidity that puts holy oath above the safety of children. It’s an impressive debut if not too overwrought.

413 pp. Bantam Books. pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow] Read in Pattaya, Thailand

[709] The A.B.C. Murders – Agatha Christie

abc

” It is not the facts I reflect upon—but the mind of the murderer. . . I begin to see—not what you would like to see—the outlines of a face and form but the outlines of a mind. A mind that moves and works in a certain definite directions. “(Ch.17, p.117)

The A.B.C. Murders is considered one of Christie’s finest works, not so much a mystery than a detective fiction. Think of it as a brilliant perception of the murderer’s mind on the part of Hercule Poirot. The book features Captain Arthur Hastings as the narrator who goes into details the personal relationships that arise as a consequence of the strange series of crimes.

The chase begins when Poirot receives a typewritten letter, on fine stationery he emphasizes, from a Mr. ABC informing him about the murder he is going to commit—given the exact date and place of the crime. While Poirot’s sixth sense (and experience) tells him to take this man seriously, the police dismisses the matter as a hoax. But, Poirot is proved right when an old lady shopkepper named Alice Ascher is found murdered in Andover. Mr. ABC proceeds, unlike a serial killer who randomly removes anyone in his way, in a neat alphabetical order as if he wants to assert his personality. The second letter is followed by the murder of a young waitress named Elizabeth Bernard in Bexhill-on-Sea—the B murder as promised on the agenda.

ABC is no fool, even if he is a madman. (Ch.21, p.153)

Now that a serial killer is on the loose, working his way through the alphabet, the whole country is in panic. The third letter however goes astray and reaches Poirot only on the morning of the day of the murder. Poirot and the police reach the house of Sir Carmichael Clarke in Churston only to find him murdered in the woods. All three victims are distinctly different. The ABC has left only one apparent clue with the dead body of every victim—-ABC railway timetable guides.

In my opinion the strength of his obsession is such that he must attempt to carry out his promise! Not to do so would be admit failure, and that his insane egoism would never allow. (Ch.23, p.168)

While Poirot interviews the families of victims, he observes that, in every case, there is at least one person who has motve to be the murderer. Parallel to this investigation is a Mr. Alexander Bonaparte Cust, an old, dim-witted, ordinary salesman of stockings. Cust is a war veteran who has sustained head injury and epilepsy. He is deemed the lunatic killer when it’s been revealed that he was present in all the towns where the crimes took place. But he didn’t remember any details.

The A.B.C. Murders showcases Hercule Poirot’s finesse in detective skills. Instead of taking the face value of superficial facts, Poirot digs deeper into the murderer’s mind, knowing the series of crimes and the psychology do not match up. Christie obviously is not afraid of adopting avant-garde approaches to the detective genre. She constantly befuddles reader and even Poirot himself. Instead of the usual “whodunit” approach, the psychology of the crime has been given more prominence. The whole novel has me thinking whether the crimes are indeed the doing of a mad man, or the other way? What is so particularly brilliant about this book is that while red herrings abound, the reader is left wondering at the end how one can have missed the obvious solution.

252 pp. William Morrow. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

[699] The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R. King

bee

” Sherlock Holmes had invented his profession, and it fit him like a glove. We watched in admiration that verged on awe as his love of challenge, his flair for the dramatic, his precise attention to detail, and his vulpine intelligence were called into play and transformed his thin face by putty and paint into that of his brother. (Ch.10, p.225)

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is a rich Sherlockian pastiche, in which the great detective, now 54, is brought of his retirement among the bees of Sussex by a new amanuensis, the budding Mary Russell. The orphaned 15-year-old Russell, under the care of her greedy aunt who is eying the money left behind by Russell’s parents, runs into the bee-observing detective at the hillside in a rather clumsy meeting. She proves herself to be keen, clear-minded, and observant to details; but not Holmes’s intellectual equal. Nor is she the feminist that she claims to be—at least not at age 15.

The truth of the matter was that Holmes had enemies, many of them. He had explained this to me a number of times, drilled me on the precautions I had to take, forced me to acknowledge that I too could become a target for vengeance-seeking acquaintances. (Ch.8, p.181)

Relationship between Russell and Holmes takes center stage here. Russell is the narrator, giving reader an understanding of things from her perspective, and showing Holmes as he is. There’s lots of background as per how they meet and how she comes to Sussex, and a prerequisite case in which mysterious bouts of illness that befall their victims only in clear weather. After investigating a robbery and a kidnapping with Holmes, Mary Russell goes to Oxford, and just when one is resigned to more unrelated adventures, the pair is confronted by a series of bombings that put them in danger. But this story proper does not even get started until halfway through the book, and the pace is nothing like what a Sherlock Holmes case that I’m used to. The mystery plot, one in which the perpetrator, highly educated and with sense of humor) tries to kill Holmes and Russell and everyone who matters to Holmes, feels very much like an afterthought.

The writing is very descriptive and episodic. Russell is as curious as Holmes is eccentric. The best part of the book is the course of their relationship: how Holmes shapes and molds her into his assistant, how they respect each other, but do not shy away from saying what needs to be said. Holmes herself is a master of disguises, and it’s fun to watch his many disguises to evade the perpetrator. This book, however, is not a Holmes story in the Sir Conan Doyle tradition. Nor is it as brilliant as its characters purportedly are.

405 pp. Bantam Books. Pocket Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

[212] The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

Moonstone“Here was her sensitive horror of the bare contact with anything mean, building her to every consideration of what she owed to herself, hurrying her into a false position which might compromise her in the estimation of all her friends.” [282]

T.S. Eliot pronounced The Moonstone to be “the first and greatest of English detective novel.” Unlike most contemporary whodunnit fiction, Wilkie Collins embellishes his narratives with a literary touch that might render the pace a bit slower, but without compromising the page-turning readability. Literary as it is, Collins’ works are usually not accorded the same “literary” stature as are real novelists because mysteries are more often read for pleasure rather than for academic scrutiny.

The novel concerns a precious gem that grows and lessens with the waxing and waning of the moon. Colonel Herncastle brings the moonstone back with him from India where he acquired it by theft and murder. Angry at his family, who shun him, he leaves it in his will as a birthday gift to his niece Rachel Verinder, thus exposing her to attack by the stone’s hereditary guardians. The diamond was lost—taken from Rachel’s room—two hours after her birthday party.

As no evidence indicates that the Indian guardians are at the bottom of the burglary, Sergeant Cuff, who establishes the qualifications and quirky protocol to be followed by fictional detectives nowadays, concludes that no thieves have broken in and that some person in the house must have committed the crime.

All the signs visible—signs which told that the paint had been smeared by some loose article of somebody’s dress touching it in going by. [110]

The loss of the cursed diamond thus casts a blight and suspicion on the entire company at the birthday party. Rosanna Spearman, a housemaid, is immediately suspected for her mysterious nocturnal employment. Out of an ulterior motive, love that is, she keeps the stained gown that belongs to the person on whom she has a crush. Taking advantage of the quarrel between Rachel Verinder and Franklin Blake is the needy and unscrupulous Godfrey Ablewhite, who justifies the very worst that Gabriel Betteredge, the steward, has thought of him by revealing the mercenary object of his marriage proposal to Rachel. He quickly retreats from it upon knowledge of the prohibitive terms of Lady Verinder’s will.

You are the victim, and I am the victim, of some monstrous delusion which has worn the mask of truth. [354]

The sense of delusion that the recountings of several narrators create is conducive to the shocking resolution. Wilkie Collins does well fixing the terms on which one feels justified in revealing details pertaining to the case. Beyond the mystery of the moonstone is depiction of life’s most cruel social afflictions and of hopeless, unrequited, obsessive love. Collins deliberately emphasizes on the unprivileged who have toiled hard after happiness and have gathered nothing but disappointment and sorrow.

428 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]