Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Pile(s), Part Deux

Do not let my radio silence of recent weeks fool you.  In fact, I've been chipping away at the piles (and adding to them too, but that's another story).  And given that I'm up with a sick kid, I have the perfect opportunity to report in.  In the past month I've finished:

Kurt Vonnegut's famed oddity of a novel/memoir about the bombing of Dresden, Slaughterhouse Five or The Children's Crusade (1969).  I've already returned it to the library, so can't recall the edition I read.  This is not a mystery of course, although parts of it are indeed mysterious, I still don't quite get the whole Trafalmadore bit.  Apparently this story was criticized when it first came out for, I don't even know how to say this,  not blaming the Germans enough?  Somehow trivializing the Holocaust in comparison to this event?  I guess that anyone who is involved in those brutal last months of fighting across Europe, and lives through a firestorm and has to collect the bodies afterward can write about that experience any damn way he wants.

Speaking of Nazis, I also finished a slim little book called Saving Mozart (Europa Editions, 2013) by Raphaël Jerusalmy.  This takes the form of a diary kept by an aging music critic, as he withers away in a sanatorium outside of Vienna in the early years of World War 2.  He is upset at the Nazi's appropriation of Austrian culture and music and worst of all Mozart for their own hamfisted ends.  We can't really say brutal yet - sure there are arrests, and Jews disappear, and Our Hero's Jewishness - or not - is treated obliquely.  This is a surprisingly sweet story, for all the growing squalor of the narrator's condition, but also feels a bit naive.  Still, I suppose that one's personal acts of resistance, however small and ineffective, are what give dignity to the end of existence in this world.

Michael Dobbs' House of Cards (1989, this edition Sourcebooks 2014) is most certainly not a mystery, especially if you've seen the splendid BBC production (which I have) or the Netflix version (which I have not but understand was also splendid).  You pretty much know from the first time Our "Hero" Francis Urquart (a great name to say) is crossed, how that's going to play out.  It's not even a spectacularly well-written book.  But it's a great bit of insight into British parliamentary politics, and the press that covers that it, written with the authority that only a former insider of that world could deploy.  If you want to learn how the sausage is made in England, read House of Cards.  There are sequels, apparently, but I can't quite bring myself to read them just yet.  Need to wash off the ick of this one first.

Finally, and now for a real mystery, I'm still slogging through Ruth Rendell's surprisingly dull Not in the Flesh.  I'm clearly missing something, because Ruth Rendell is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest living mystery writers.  I just find the plot dull and the characters, with a few exceptions, not particularly interesting.  Is this one of those where you need to start at the beginning of the series?  I'm almost finished, but have been sidetracked by the delightful Big Book of Christmas Mysteries.

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The collection has been put together by Otto Penzler who is apparently a very famous editor of crime fiction.  You can read about him, and wonder if he is hiring, here.  So far, all of the stories have been British and delightfully Christmas-y, although I skipped for the moment Peter Lovesey's about a wife and child abuser who may meet a bad end.  Maybe they'll get weirder and darker, and that is OK, because you need a bit of darkness in the Season of Light.  But who can resist a bit of Hercule Poirot, this time of year, twirling his moustache and querying the cook about the pudding while the snow falls outside?  Not I!

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