May. 18th, 2017

questioncurl: hollow sculpture of words (sculpture)
What I read

I finished the long fanfic—it's a Howl's Moving Castle (the movie) and Stargate crossover, and technically, I don't know either of the source canons. I've read the DWJ book, which is a favourite, and watched a Stargate movie (?) at some point in my teenagehood, so have a vague idea of the premise, but for the rest I just relied on general fannish osmosis. It was mostly good; better at the start than at the end, I thought, as the need to get the characters together slightly derailed the rather interesting premise of the plot. If I were to read with my editor's hat on, I'd suggest a second draft, to strengthen the plot and scatter the relationship arc a little more throughout the book, rather than essentially having a sandwich structure of 90% plot-100% slash-80% plot wrapping up because the main point of the story is already over. Having said that, with fanfic the point IS often getting the characters together, so this isn't exactly a complaint. And the writing was quite good and the world building was lovely and I absolutely adored the Calcifer analogue. 

On the go 

Another Golden Age mystery (as an aside, I am finding US mysteries of the same era mildly irritating. There's nothing *wrong* per se, but something just seems slightly off. Maybe it's the improbability [to me] of having country house settings and gilded rich characters.  Maybe it's the sense that US police wouldn't have the same hangups about offending the wealthy/influential characters in the same way. I think the problem I have is that  class markers in them seem to be more or less the same as the UK ones in ways that don't quite ring true to me. I don't have an issue with the presence of rich Americans; they're practically a stereotype; but when your American rich gentleman sleuth seems to be a Wimsey clone, down to rare-object collection and fine wines, I'm dubious. Or when your policeman is dithering about whether to question a wealthy businessman and he isn't thinking of the suspect's political influence with the senator, but of his family background, I again have to stop and think about which country the book is set in. And when everyone is playing golf and dining in clubs and going for country house holidays, I just want to put the book down and find a Wodehouse or Christie.)

...none of that had anything to do with the book I'm actually reading. I just chose it because the title made it absolutely clear that if wasn't set in the US. It's The Hampstead Mystery by Arthur J. Rees and John Rea Watson. It turns out the first was Australian and I can't find anything about the second.  But the book is enjoyable enough. An anonymous letter to Scotland Yard leads to the discovery that a judge has been murdered in his house while everyone thought he was on holiday in Scotland. There is a shady ex-con butler, various enigmatic femmes fatales (the judge is a bit of a player) and rival investigations by Scotland Yard and a private detective called in by the dubiously bereaved relatives.

In terms of characterization, well, the only fully realized character is the junior police detective, who is constantly worried about the senior detective stealing the limelight. The senior detective is vain and predictably does everything he can to aggrandize himself. The private detective has no personality, and the other characters are all one-note variations: flirtatious Frenchwoman, shifty butler, seedy fence, angry daughter, etc.       

I'm  enjoying it because, while it has some of the longwindedness, repetition and seemingly endless twists and turns that bored me in the other books I've been reading from that time, the structure makes it far from tedious. Essentially, we follow the investigations turn by twist in real time. Each twist exposes a little more of the truth, but the skill of the writing lies in telling more  to the reader than any of the characters actually know—when Scotland Yard discovers something, we are told their deductions; in the next chapter, when the private detective Crewe deduces something else, we follow along; but we know that the Scotland Yard's inference will be important later and neither will be able to discover the truth alone. This pleasant consciousness of being half a step ahead of either detective but still baffled is what prevents it from being tedious, and pulls the reader into the story.

Up next

More by the same author(s). A quick search led to me this very thorough account of the traces left of the author's life, which mentions:
  • Dorothy L. Sayers in the introduction to Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror (1928) mentions "Mr. A. J. Rees's sound and well-planned stories".
    Also: "Messrs Rees and Watson write of police affairs with the accuracy born of inside knowledge, but commendably avoid the dullness which is apt to result from a too-faithful description of correct official procedure."
  • • The Lone Hand claims that The Merry Marauders was favourably reviewed by London papers.
  • The TimesAthenaeumPall Mall Gazette, and other journals praise the humor of the book and the easy style of the author.'
Recommendations enough for me!

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