EPS Review #122 - Mysteries

I read four mystery stories over Christmas and New Years, largely because I was too ill to feel like reading anything more demanding.

Two of them were by Sujata Massey: The Pearl Diver (HarperCollins 2004, 335pp) and The Typhoon Lover (HarperCollins 2005, 306pp). I have read a bunch of her books, and feel slightly defensive about it, although my stepmother is supportive by liking them as well. The protagonist is Rei Shimura, half-Japanese and half-American, an antique dealer and outsider lover of Japan. So there's the hook for me. One tends to shop for mystery stories by their props, and if I can spend a few hours running around a virtual Tokyo then that suits me. Rei's willful personality also propels the story: though she has two fantasy boyfriends -- hunky redheaded Hugh the Glaswegian lawyer and hunky bonsai-hugging Takeo the inheritor of a big ikebana school -- she manages to routinely betray them both and get into trouble. The Pearl Diver takes place in Washington DC, because she got expelled from Japan in a volume that I missed. It was still readable, and there was a lot of foody and immigration content. The Typhoon Lover gets her back to Japan, sort of as a spook for the CIA on a fairly unbelievable mission to retrieve a work of art. Don't say that I recommended these for their writing or plots, but there is something I like.

It would be great if I found some good native Japanese mystery writers to read. In review #44 I remarked that I hated Shizuko Natsuki's stuff, but I did like Seicho Matsumoto. I should try some more of his.

I chose Green for Danger by Christianna Brand because it topped some some all-time best mystery lists. Maybe I was sicker than I thought, because I never really got everyone straight. The story is set in an English hospital during WWII, and there are seven suspects, variously referred to by their first or last names, so that is fourteen names to remember. I could not be bothered. The modus operandi was obvious to anyone who remembers Coma. What I did find interesting was the peculiarly British attitude toward love and sex of this genre and period: men proposing the minute they meet a woman, and surprising tolerance of passion-based infidelity. Maybe the movie is more gripping. Edmund Crispin remains my favorite British mystery writer, because he was funny (and a composer!).

Finally, I reread Rim of the Pit, by Hake Talbot (1944, reprinted 1985 IPL paperback, 170pp). I read this in the now-quite-valuable hardback when I was a kid, and remembered liking how what seemed supernatural was then believably explained rationally. There is a good setting in a cabin in the snow up north, and a special point of interest in that a Wendigo is mentioned. This time around I found the final solution a bit too contrived (although it had to be, in a sense). And again, the 1940s take on women -- chuck them under the chin! -- was amusing. Still I recommend it, and may read his other work, only in print by Ramble House (see earlier link) who are a sort of inkjet-publisher. Talbot (Henning Nelms) had an MFA from Yale and taught drama at Middlebury.

And for those of you who have not read Ogden Nash's Wendigo poem, here it is.

Joe wrote: The next time you want some quick low brow reading to pass time; don't forget Michael Dibdin. I recommended him to you previously. He is a former, or maybe present, British subject whose detective, Aurelio Zen, is Italian. His books are set in various Italian cities, and his plots are never farfetched. In fact, his protagonist is very, very fallible.

Susan wrote: Which is your favorite Crispin?

I replied: Hard to choose among the Crispins, not because they are uniformly good, but because I can't remember. I would say avoid the short stories. The Moving Toyshop is the most famous but not my favorite -- I like the funny bits. Hmm. I have a few here, mostly first editions, you could peruse some of them. The Amazon reviews seem to have doled out 5 stars consistently, but one seems to prefer Love Lies Bleeding. I remember really laughing at one that started in Harrods...

Laurie added: I liked the one I think is called the case of the gilded fly, also moving toyshop. Crispin is like so many other authors I like: you need a taste for what seems now both dated style and substance, and in this case just a bit of eccentricity.