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Book Review: The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler

September 26, 2011 8 comments

Book cover featuring a tumbler of whiskey.Summary:
Everyone’s favorite hard-boiled private eye Marlowe is back, and this time he’s been hired to track down a respectable entrepreneur’s wild wife.  She sent a telegram weeks ago stating she was going to marry her boy toy, Lavery, but Lavery was spotted in Hollywood and claims to have no idea where Mrs. Kingsley is.  The last place she was known to be was at the Kingsleys’ lake-side country cottage, so that small town is where Marlowe starts his investigation.

Review:
I first encountered Chandler in a film noir class I took in undergrad at Brandeis.  Ok, so that class was my first encounter with noir too, but it introduced a whole new genre to me to fall in love with.  The cores of the genre just scream my name from the hard-boiled, alcoholic detective with a “work bottle” of whiskey in his office drawer to the ever-present femme fatale.  *sighs*  Can I live in that world?  Can I?  Anyway, so whenever I stumble upon a Chandler book in a used bookstore, I absolutely must buy it.  There’s simply no question.  This will probably continue until I have collected them all.

The entries are always narrated by Marlowe, and The Lady in the Lake does not fail to smoothly represent everything there is to love about him.  He’s darkly cynical yet possesses a striking wit even in the face of getting a beat-down from the cops (which happens in pretty much every book.  Lots of dirty cops in Marlowe’s world).  Without Marlowe’s voice and ever-present intelligence, the books would not be what they are.  Thankfully, his presence is just as perfect here as in the other Chandler books.

So what about the story?  Well, this time the story is not set entirely in LA.  A solid half of it is in the countryside.  While I enjoyed those scenes, I must admit I did miss the LA grittiness a bit.  Although the scene where the grieving husband drags his wife’s corpse out of the lake on his back was every bit as gritty as any city scene.

The mystery made so much sense in the end that I was kicking myself for not figuring it out.  I still can’t believe I didn’t figure it out!  How Chandler came up with these twists and turns and managed to write them without giving it away is beyond me.  I doubt anyone will be disappointed with the mystery.  I literally had no idea what was going on into Marlowe explained everything in the classic film noir wrap-up scene.

The femme fatale was a weak point in this entry, however.  I think this is why I really liked it but didn’t love it.  She just didn’t seem sexy enough.  Violent, yes.  Brutal, yes.  But sexy? Ehhhh.  Personally I always perceive the femme fatale as a gorgeous black widow spider, and well this one just failed a bit on the gorgeous glamor aspect.  She was still a femme fatale, but perhaps a bit disappointing.

Overall, I truly enjoyed my time in Marlowe’s world with this entry.  Marlowe is someone whose presence it is always worth being in, regardless of whether his surroundings are perfect or not.  I recommend this to noir fans, highly.  Those new to the genre, I recommend start with The Big Sleep.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Harvard Books used book cellar

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Book Review: The Devil You Know (Felix Castor) by Mike Carey

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Man with a long shadow that looks like a cross.Summary:
In the near future London, supernatural creatures, particularly ghosts, zombies, and demons, have suddenly shown themselves.  Naturally the religious find this to be a sign of the coming apocalypse, but most people take it all in good stride.  Some even discover that they have exorcism abilities.  Felix Castor is one of these people.  A staunch atheist, he works for hire, rather like a private detective in a Raymond Chandler novel.  He takes a case of a haunting in an archive, but gets more than what he bargained for in the form of an overly-interested pimp, a succubus, and a competing exorcist who oddly bound the ghost so she can’t speak in lieu of sending her off to the after-life.  Although his employers just want him to exorcise the ghost and be done with it, Castor refuses to do so until he discovers just what exactly is going on…., and he just might become a ghost himself in the process.

Review:
This book held a lot of promise to me.  I’m a big fan of both the old-school private detective novels and the more modern paranormal books, so I thought this would be right up my alley.  It fell flat for me, though, although I think that has more to do with me than the book.

First, it contains a very British sense of humor instead of the American kind found in Chandler books.  I know some people find British humor absolutely hilarious, but it always completely fails to strike my funny bone.  I’d read sentences in Carey’s book and know they were supposed to be funny, but they just aren’t to me.  That becomes frustrating the more times it happens in a book, and it happened a lot.

I also, frankly, didn’t like the whole archives setting.  Maybe it’s that I’m in library science and know archivists personally, but it just wasn’t escapist enough for me.  The extensive descriptions of the archives, reading room, and storage, and the librarians’ spaces were dull to me.  I wonder if this is the case for anybody reading a book that takes place largely in a location similar to where they work?  It could also just be that I find archives dull.  I am a reference librarian, after all.

The mystery itself was good and kept me guessing, although I slightly suspect that part of that was due to the fact that the rules of the supernatural are unclear and so Carey has some leeway in taking unexpected turns.  It was the mystery that kept me reading, though, so it was well-written.

Overall, although this book wasn’t for me, it was well-written, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys British humor, detective novels, archive settings, and the paranormal.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Reading Challenge: R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril

September 2, 2010 16 comments

Woman in green hue.I love horror.  Love love love it.  I know a lot of readers don’t.  They say it scares them too much or keeps them awake at night.  The thing is, I used to be one of those readers!  I used to avoid horror because when I was younger horror would absolutely petrify me for weeks on end.  I’d think every squeak my old house would make was the boogey-man coming to get me.  But then I decided, “Enough of this shit!  I’m letting my fears get in the way of an entire genre.”  So I dabbled my toes, then I jumped in, and now it’s one of my favorite genres.  Horror lets me get lost in a world where it’s ok to be scared and supernatural things occur and I basically get to watch car crashes repeatedly.  It’s awesome.  The whole genre.  I can’t believe how much I’d be missing if I’d continued to avoid it!  For instance: Zombies. Tree porn. Everything Stephen King ever wrote.  You get my point.

Anyway, so when I saw via Chris at Book-a-rama that Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a mystery/suspense/thriller/dark fantasy/gothic/horror/supernatural reading challenge for the spooky fall months of September and October entitled R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, I knew I wanted to sign up.  Not that I won’t be reading horror for these two months anyway, but I thought if I signed  up, it’d alert you guys to the challenge.  Maybe one of my lovely readers is tentative about one of those genres?  Well this is the perfect opportunity to stretch your boundaries!  Plus you’ll be in the company of a lovely bunch of people for a couple months to do it.

Of course, that’s my other reason for participating.  I want to virtually meet other book lovers who are reading horror!

Originally, in light of the fact that I try to keep my reading unstructured and fun, I was going to sign up for one of the lower levels of the challenge….then I saw how much of my TBR pile fits! Lol, so I’m signing up for the Peril the First level: read four books that fit into any of the genres I mentioned above.

My potential reads for the challenge (direct from my TBR pile) include:

I hope you’ll sign up and do the challenge with me!  Especially if you’re afraid of horror.  You can sign up for one of the lower levels and just dip your toe in. 🙂

Any votes for which four out of my list I should read?