If you’re anything like me, well, how do you manage? But also you probably have a book-buying compulsion which so-called “specialists” refuse to diagnose as a medical condition despite the prospect of going two weeks without adding to your TBR being sufficient to make you rush out and do something regrettable like snatching up a Gladys Mitchell omnibus.
Sometimes I’ll find myself buying a book by someone I’ve read and but didn’t especially enjoy purely to quieten this urge, though that can at least be justified in my refusal to write anyone off after a single novel. Sometimes I’ve bought a green Penguin in very good condition because it’s a green Penguin in very good condition (a possible contribution to the retirement fund, see). And sometimes I look at my TBR and think “Yeah, I’m not entirely sure why I bought that, have no idea what it’s about, and cannot think if I’ll ever summon the desire to read it”.
To that end, here are five books on my TBR which provoke that precise response, and have been doing so for some time now. How does this fit into my The Wants theme for this month? Well because I’d hugely appreciate any guidance as to how worth my time these may be. Heaven knows what I’m going to write about them, since I tend to avoid blurbs and so there’s no mileage regaling you with the plot, but let’s see what happens…
1. Murder in Stained Glass (1939) by Margaret Armstrong
I have this on Kindle and I presume I therefore downloaded it for free, since I don’t buy anything on Kindle without having at least a vague idea what I’m getting (there’s always the chance you’re getting something self-published and so — while I’m certainly no enemy of self-publishing — it always pays to be a little careful). Erm, beyond that I don’t know what to tell you: no idea who brought this to my attention, or if I was just tempted to pick it up because it was free, and no memory of what in the synopsis made me take the plunge. Wow, writing about books you have no idea on is hard, man. I do not recommend this approach to anyone out there thinking “Hey, this seems like a neat idea…”.
2. The White Cockatoo (1934) by M.G. Eberhart
Full disclosure: I thought Mignon G. Eberhart was a man — I’d heard the name, but knew nothing of her work, and I was surprised to discover that I was wrong when I found this going cheap. The rear cover of my green Penguin edition of this informs us that “the sight of blood gives her a nervous spasm; she puts it in her books only with the greatest reluctance and then calls it by another name — a dark stain”. Roll your eyes if you like, but that information combined with the publication date of this was enough to make me pick it up. An author who’s nauseated by blood but choses to write (one presumes) murder stories is almost a GAD character in their own right…
3. Murder on Safari (1938) by Elspeth Huxley
The notion of “the detective abroad” is what appeals to me with this one. I know this takes place on a safari, because I read the blurb just to check that it actually was a safari and not some cunning Allingham-esque allusion. The results could go either way — one presumes it’s a bunch of well-to-do middle class white folk and someone is found shot with a big game rifle, so it’s a matter of whether Huxley exploits the setting as well as Christie did in Murder in Mesopotamia (1936), allowing it to inform without overwhelming the detection element. The risk of ignorance in representing the locals is always there, of course, but I’m not in this genre for the sensitive social commentary.
4. The Eleventh Little Nigger (1977) by Jacquemard-Senecal
I appreciate that this is an update of the original title of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (1939), but I’ve no idea if the book is in any way related or attempts the same sort of one-by-one-we-die plot (and would, were it reissued today, need to go under a title like And Then There Was Minus One). Technically I wasn’t completely unaware of this when I bought it, but I couldn’t tell you anything that happens and mainly got it because it was a very good price for an edition in pretty good nick. I presume there’s a certain amount of self-awareness and satire in this, which wouldn’t put me off per se, and the cover implies a theatrical setting, but beyond that I’m clueless.
5. The Voice of the Corpse (1948) by Max Murray
I have, for some reason, a vague notion that Max Murray is Australian, and I bought this book on that basis because I’m interested in GAD works from the non-standard sources (which is not say not the UK or the USA). Until I track down some Arthur Upfield, this was going to be my attempt at a fully-fledged Aussie GAD mystery. Er, I don’t know what else to say, really. I’ve met a lot of Australians and they’ve all been lovely (one ferry ticket-seller in Sydney aside), and it’s be nice to find an Australian author who could join the GAD firmament as a writer of great puzzle mysteries. I feel like the owe the country that much for giving the world Guy Pearce and the lamington. So if he’s not an Aussie I’m going to feel especially stupid.
And so, GAD readers of the interwebs, I throw this open to you: what’s good, what’s not, what can I trim, and what must I definitely not miss? It must be said that I’m generally in this genre for the plot and the puzzle, but so long as I know something is plot-light and worth the effort before going in I’ll fare just fine. Your help is, as always, greatly appreciated.