#413: The Wants – Five Books on My TBR I Know Nothing About

Books Question Mark

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

25653545I 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

White CockatooFull 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

Murder on SafariThe 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

gbk_0830I 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

41a42bf6bngl-_sx303_bo1204203200_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.

40 thoughts on “#413: The Wants – Five Books on My TBR I Know Nothing About

    • Hooray! I’m delighted! Have you read much Huxley, and if I love it is there somewhere else I should head next (or even avoid)? This GAD affliction has me living as if I am possessed of infinite funds to pursue my curiosity, and my bank manager will have to do much more than write stern letters if he wants me to stop any time soon… 🙂

  1. I want to second the recommendation for Murder on Safari! It’s not only a wonderfully written detective story with a splendid backdrop, but plays scrupulously fair with the reader and there’s even an end paper, or clue-finder, referring back to the pages where the clues were hidden. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with me. So, you being you, you’ll probably give it no more than a paltry, three-star rating.

    Murder in Stained Glass and The Voice of the Corpse are great reads too. I reviewed both of them on my blog, if you’re interested.

    • Murder on Safari — duly noted, I shall bump it up the pile. I shall trust you on both that and Voice of the Corpse — I’m tending to avoid reviews of stuff I’ve not read and am interested in these days, just as an experiment — and we’ll see if our hit rate lines up a bit more.

      On that note, I read a very enjoyable self-published impossible crime story yesterday that I’ll be reviewing on her this weekend. I’d be especially keen to know what you make of it…

  2. Hmm well looking back at my own review of the Armstrong novel, I seem to have been pretty positive, noting it is good for clues. Curtis has reviewed your second choice and I think it is one of Eberhart’s stronger efforts. I read the Huxley pre-blog and from my dim memories I seem to remember enjoying it. Max Murray is an author which has been on my radar but which I’ve never tried, so I’ll be as interested as you to read if it is a worth while read.

    “Until I track down some Arthur Upfield, this was going to be my attempt at a fully-fledged Aussie GAD mystery.”

    But surely you’ve read stuff by Max Afford, June Wright and Constance and Gwenyth Little?

    • You make an excellent point about Afford, Wright, and the Littles. Weirdly I have an impression of the Littles stuff being set in the US — is that right? Now that I write that down, it doesn’t feel right all of a sudden. But, yeah, I have no excuse on the other two. Man, this is embarrassing. Sorry, Max, you won’t be the first of anything.

      Since you and TomCat both reviewed the Armstrong, I’m guessing it would be one of those reviews which put me onto it in the first place. Dude, I really wanted someone — well, several someones — to go “OMG! Title X is awful and you must never ever read it!1!!one!” because, in all honesty, there are a lot of books I could have put in this post and my TBR is freaking me out a bit.

      Or, perhaps I should just be happy that I have such a finely-tuned intuition in picking up such good books at random, hey? 🙂

      • In fairness to you about the Littles most of their stuff I have read is set in the USA confusingly enough, but one of them I read earlier this year, The Black Express (Great Black Kanba) (1945), is set in Australia on a long train ride.
        How big is your TBR pile these days? I’m sure if I lived in a capital city full of second hand book shops and fairs I too would have a more unwieldy TBR pile. Anyways if you keep doing posts like these I am sure me, Brad, Tom and the others can whittle your pile down a little for you lol

        • Whittle? All anyone’s done is go “Oh, yeah, red that one” to various degrees of enthusiasm. Now I’ll be wandering around bookshops going “Well, no-one said they hated Murder on Safari, so I really should buy these fifteen other Huxley’s since we’re all here”. 🙂

          My TBR hovers somwehere between 200 and 18,000. If I ever get it down to single figures, I’ll pay for flights for Brad, Noah, Ben, and anyone else who fanices it to come over to the UK for a big, nerdy book party.

          I would not suggest the holding of any breath.

            • No, in that case the money would be spent on making a bot read all the Joseph French, Gideon Fell, Inspector Cockrill, Jane Marple, and Edward Beale novels, and then implanting what it learned into a sentient AI so that the thief could be tracked down asap!

              Of course, it would be relying entirely on Golden Age methods, and might come unstuck if it requires any modern knowledge, but I still reckon it’d be money well spent. In fact, this is such a good idea, I may just do it anyway…

  3. I also have Murder in Stained Glass as an ebook, which I imagine was probably a freebie as well. The thing is a I rarely read ebooks, only as a last resort really, and I have a hunch it may remain unread for some time.
    I have an Eberhart book somewhere too, but I have no idea offhand which one. I have the impression her work is kind of Gothic, and I can go for that from time to time.
    As for the Huxley, I’ve been wondering about that for while now too.

    • This is a mild diversion, but the idea of only reading ebooks as a last resort got me thinking: I have a Kindle, and I’m tremendously grateful for the fact that it has enabled me to read certain books I otherwise would not have had the chance to (OOP in physical editions, or too damn expensive secondhand).BBut there is still something about reading on Kindle that, if I’m not enjoying a book, makes me quite rather than skim through as I would with a tree book. Hell, a Kindle should make this easier since (if there’s a ToC) you can just select chatper x+1 annd jump straight in, but I definitely read more of the axctual book if I’m reading a paperback than otherwise.

      Make of that what you will.

      • I think I can understand that. I was reading The Saint in New York last week and despite it being fairly pacy, it did feel repetitious and episodic enough to make it a bit of a chore as it went on. Anyway, I ended up skipping quite rapidly through the last 60% or so. Had it been an e-book, I know very well I’d just have given up completely. For whatever reason, I find I get little joy from e-books. I can accept their usefulness under certain circumstances, but I really don’t like them and avoid whenever and wherever possible.

  4. The Voice of the Corpse is a classic English village mystery, with poison pen letters and a church and a churchyard. (I did a blogpost here: http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.com/2014/08/dress-down-sunday-voice-of-corpse-by.html) – he may have been Australian, I don’t know, but the book couldn’t be less so…

    Murder on Safari is OK – a perfectly reasonable crime setting making the most of its exotic setting.

    When I’m picking up a book from my TBR shelf I often spend several minutes trying to think what it is, why I bought it, what might be appealing about it, often to no effect. So I know whereof you speak!

    • Oh, Moira, that’s gone and thrown the Hercule Poirot among the murder at a girls’ school: everyone’s lining up to say how brilliant Murder on Safari is and you come in with a lukewarm shrug — dammit, now I don’t know what to think!

      I am, however, delighted to think that others have weird “What shall I read now?” rituals. I have to weigh up expected style, period, and manner of sleuth considerations, then not have read anything in too similar a setting of late, then consider an appropriate balance of books I’ve owned for more than a year vs. ones I’ve purchased in the last 12 months, then ensure I get a good mix of new and familiar and very familiar authors, and then consider the author gender balance of my reading.

      Then it’s the small matter of the use of primary colours in the cover art, whether it was published in a year which had a Republican US president, whether any of the words on the first page are anagrams of synonyms of adjectives of more than three syllables, and finally whether the title has been reused for another book in the last 54% of the author’s lifespan. If it passes all these tests, the book then gets sorted into Pile 2.

      To select from Pile 2…

  5. You and I bought the Armstrong book at the exact same time because Kindle was giving I away. I think Kate reviewed it: Armstrong had worked with stained glass, and Kate found the artisan aspect of the story fascinating. (I don’t think I’m making this up.) I can’t say I find the making of stained glass fascinating, but the book was free, man, free! In fact, I believe I bought two or three of Armstrong’s books for that reason. And yet, just like you, I have let it sit on my Kindle – along with Annie Haynes, Ianthe Jerrold, and MANY others – for over two years. Let me know when you want to try it – we can hold hands and take the plunge together.

    I have actually read one of these though, and that’s that Jacquemard-Senecal. (My copy has “Indian” in the title.) it’s not a pastiche or a sequel. It’s actually a pretty clever homage to Christie, set in a theatre where they’re performing Christie’s play. I don’t remember a lot of it, but it helps to be familiar with Christie’s work. And although the French are not wild about fair play mysteries, I seem to recall some clever stuff here.

    • So long as we’re not in “someone’s dead and there are remains in the glass-blowing kiln and — oh, my — it turns out that’s not the remains of the person we definitely believed was dead and missing th whole time” territory with the Armstrong, I’ll give it consideration (the violence of this reaction will make sense in a couple of days…). If we are, to hell with that. Although how I’ll know without reading it is beyond me. Dammit!

      Thanks for weighing in on TELN/I. I confess I nearly didn’t put it on the list because my fondness for Paul Halter and Noel Vindry is sufficient to give anything French a pass…but then I realised I was guilty of assuming and I was genuinely curious about it. I imagine I’ll get to this first — hell, I might just do all five of them for the next five weeks, since no-one has outright slammed any single title. It’s fine, I have a six week break coming up; need to do something in this hot weather.

    • Kate found the artisan aspect of the story fascinating.’
      I’ve checked my review from 2016 and yeah it’s definitely not there…
      Is it defamation of character to suggest someone likes stained glass as a subject when they don’t?

    • I read this title when it came out..the one with Indian in its title. I purchased it for the library I worked for It seemed to stand or fall on its own as was said earlier. At the time I remember it being a very good read. Definitely a homage which I was impressed with, not Ackroyd, not the same style, as the writing is a bit complex to read.
      As for Armstrong, I cannot recall reading this title, but I recently found a copy of the Lemon Basket and it is in my pile of upcoming reads.
      Upfield is an author that is borrowed from time to time from the library I work for. They are large print copies and I have read one years ago, but could not impress you with any encouragement, except to say foreign writers and plots can be an acquired taste, aka Maigret books, which I have had no luck with. A good source for this author, if you haven’t read is http://gadetection.pbworks.com/w/page/7932397/Upfield%2C%20Arthur.

      • Thanks, John — I’ll keep doubts regarding Upfield in mind, and shall look forward to the Jacquemard-Senecal title. Librarians always know the good stuff…!

  6. Murder in Stained Glass is good. Had-I-But-Known-ish, though with a reasonable mystery. Like Moira, I found Murder on Safari to be just okay, but it does deliver on the African setting.

    Anyway, ebooks don’t fully count as TBR because they can’t stare back at you dolefully from the bookshelf…and the nightstand…and the floor. The TBR pile relies on physicality for its true power.

    • I like to think of my ebook TBR as a sort of readers’ Catholic guilt: you can’t see it, but it’s always there, always judging, and ready to make you feel terrible about your choices as soon as you feel ready to confront it.

      • . . . it’s always there, always judging, and ready to make you feel terrible about your choices as soon as you feel ready to confront it.

        Catholic, shmatholic! You just described a Jewish mother!

  7. Not sure what you mean by “track down” some Arthur Upfield. Several were re-printed in the 80s / 90s and are readily available at good prices on the web. And there are e-book versions of practically his whole catalog.
    But here’s the thing, you may not want to bother. I’ve read a stack of his books and wouldn’t call them GAD “puzzle mysteries” at all.
    They’re closer to thrillers, IMO. The outback frontier setting and the interactions between the natives and the settlers are as much the subject of these books as whodunnit and how.
    (OK, Bony has a Poirot-sized ego, that’s for sure.)

    • Huh, there you go — I was unaware that Upfield was available on Kindle. Many thanks for bringing this to my attention!

      I understand there’s one of his with a borderline (or possibly outright, but it pays not to get one’s hopes up) impossible situation — Wings Above the Diamantina, IIRC. Good to know that I shouldnt expect much in the way of detection, thanks. I wonder how much of a heritage of that kind of thing there is in Australian GAD-era writing. June Wright’s Duck Season Death is sort of (sort of, mind) a clewed mystery, but the other one of hers I read was much more in the domestic suspense idiom.

      Mind you, most Australian writers were probably on the beach, not worried about detection in the least. It was countries with horrible weather and terrible beaches where people felt inclined to sit inside and dream up ingenious means of murdering someone.

  8. Thanks for the preview of books you don’t really know much about. 😜 I have Armstrong awaiting reading on my metaphorical TBR pile; the one I’ve read is Huxley’s “Murder on Safari”. 🦍🐊🐅🐆🦓🐍🦒🐃🐂🦌

    I’m afraid my evaluation of the novel comes slightly closer to Moira’s and DeadYesterday’s. From my recollection it did play fair, but perhaps not in a way that hit the ball out of the park. I still think it’s a good book, though.

  9. The only one in the list that I have read is Murder on Safari, which I will definitely recommend as a fair play mystery, though I do not recall any clue-finder in the end as mentioned by Tomcat.

    Incidentally, in Christie’s The Pale Horse, Mrs. Oliver publishes a novel having exactly the same title as the Eberhart above.

    • Okay, someone needs to keep a list of ‘Fictional Novels Published by GAD Author Characters’ — surely it would make for a fascinating study…

  10. After reading this I went and downloaded ‘Murder in Stained Glass’. Really worth reading. Reminded me of a 1930s Bmovie whodunnit. No frills, just the plot, a first person heroine who is a reasonably attractive character, two nice pieces of misdirection, the obligatory Carresque young couple and, joy of joys after reading some modern stuff lately, when the story is finished, the book finishes!

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