Classics Club Round-Up 2 – Crime

When I joined the Classics Club back in June 2016, I created a list of 90 books which I planned to read and review during the next five years. I divided the original list into five sections: American, English, Scottish, Crime and Science Fiction. So rather than trying to summarise the whole thing in one post, I’ve decided to give each section a post to itself as I complete it. Here’s the second…

THE CRIME SECTION

Despite my fairly eclectic reading tastes and my disgruntlement about the state of contemporary crime fiction, crime is still where my heart lies and is the genre I know best. So most of my choices were either books I’d long wanted to read, books from authors I’d enjoyed previously, books of films I love, or occasionally re-reads. The result? I thoroughly enjoyed most of the books in this section! They provided welcome breaks between the more heavyweight novels on my list.

Starting with the bad and working up towards the good then:

REPLACED

Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Trevor

No abandonments at all in this section, and this replacement wasn’t because I had gone off the idea of this book but because I received a review copy of another one that seemed too perfect for the challenge to overlook – The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher. I still intend to read Anatomy of a Murder at some point.

THE BAD ONES

Bad is, of course, a subjective term. The quotes are from my reviews.

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler – “The biggest problem, though, is that the book is bloated to a degree where the actual story gets almost completely overwhelmed by the rather pointless padding, repetitive dialogue and occasional mini-essays on what Chandler feels is wrong with the world.”

THE MIDDLING ONES

The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr – “I certainly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys the impossible crime style of mystery, but less so to people who prefer the traditional whodunit.”

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan – “…there’s an awful lot of coincidence and near-miraculous luck, and it’s one of those ones where the hero just always happens to have the knowledge he needs: how to break codes, for example, or how to use explosives. But when it reaches its climax . . . I found myself nicely caught up in it.”

Hitchcock’s version of The 39 Steps, complete with added blonde! The film is better than the book…

The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett – “Oddly, despite the fact that the plot is nonsensical, episodic, and barely hangs together, I still found the book entertaining. This is largely due to the snappy, hardboiled style of the writing and the relentless pace, which doesn’t give the reader much time to ponder the basic absurdity of the storyline.”

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain – “Reading it is a little like being held up on the motorway because there’s been a crash just ahead – you know you shouldn’t stare but you can’t help yourself. As a study of two amoral, self-obsessed monsters drawn to each other through lust, it’s brilliantly done. But, like Damien Hirst’s dead cow, can it really be considered art?”

I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane – “Sexism, racism, sexism, homophobia, sexism, misogyny and did I mention sexism? Then there’s the violence, the sex, and the guns – good grief, so many guns! The odd thing is: I quite enjoyed it!”

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith – “Guy’s inability to deal with the moral dilemma and subsequent descent into a state of extreme anxiety is done brilliantly, and the psychology underpinning Bruno’s craziness is well and credibly developed. However, the unlikeability of both characters made it hard for me to get up any kind of emotional investment in the outcome.”

Hitchcock again, and the film is brilliant! Definitely better than the book! Sadly I never got around to reviewing the film.

THE GOOD ONES

The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers – “. . . Germany was growing and becoming more powerful at this time, and while Carruthers and Davies feel goodwill towards it and admire all the Kaiser is doing to advance his country, they also see it as a potential opponent in the future. There’s an odd sporting edge to this – they rather look forward to meeting Germany in war one day, as if it were some form of jousting contest fought for honour and glory. (One can’t help but hope neither of them were in Passchendaele or the Somme twelve or thirteen years later.)”

The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White – “This is the book that has been made into more than one version of a film under the title of The Lady Vanishes. The basic plot is very similar – Iris is struggling to get anyone to believe her story, partly because she has made herself unpopular with her fellow travellers, and partly because each of those travellers have their own reasons for not wanting to get involved in anything that might delay the journey.”

Yep, more Hitchcock! And again, the film has the edge over the book. Have you guessed yet that I love Hitchcock?

The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham – “. . . we mostly follow Geoff as he gets himself into deep peril, and Inspector Luke as he and his men try to catch up with Havoc. The tension wafts from the page in these scenes, and they are undoubtedly as thrilling as anything I’ve come across in crime fiction, old or new.”

She Who Was No More by Boileau-Narcejac – “They are the authors who wrote Vertigo on which the Hitchcock film is based, and there are some similarities between the books. Both blur the line between villain and victim, concentrating on the effects on the central character’s mind as he is drawn into a plot that spirals out of his control, and both veer close to mild horror novel territory as he gradually loses his grip on reality. And both are dark, indeed.”

The brilliant film version of She Who Was No More which sadly I never got around to reviewing.

Cop Hater by Ed McBain – “When he writes about the city – the soaring skylines, the dazzling lights, the display of wealth and glamour barely hiding the crime, corruption and violence down on the streets – it reads like pure noir; and in this one there’s a femme fatale who equals any of the greats, oozing sexuality and confidence in her power over men.”

4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie – “. . . one of the major joys of Christie’s books is that they manage the difficult feat of being full of corpses and yet free of angst – a trick the Golden Age authors excelled in and modern authors seem to have forgotten. She ensures that the soon-to-be victims deserve all they get, being either wicked, nasty or occasionally just tiresome.”

The wonderful Margaret Rutherford plays an unusual version of Miss Marple in Murder, She Said – loosely(!) based on 4.50 from Paddington

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John Le Carré – “There’s an almost noir feeling to it, certainly dark grey anyway, and a kind of despairing cynicism of tone, but there are also small shafts of light and the occasional unexpected humanity that remind us that these people do what they do so that we can live as we choose to live. But at what cost to themselves and, ultimately, to us?”

THE BEST ONE

The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher – “Amid the mystery and the lighthearted elements of comedy, a surprisingly clear picture emerges of this black culture within a culture, where poverty and racism are so normal they are barely remarked upon, and where old superstitious practices sit comfortably alongside traditional religion. Life is hard in Harlem, for sure, but there’s an exuberance about the characters – a kind of live for the moment feeling – that makes them a joy to spend time with.”

….In the narrow strip of interspace, a tall brown girl was doing a song and dance to the absorbed delight of the patrons seated nearest her. Her flame chiffon dress, normally long and flowing, had been caught up bit by bit in her palms, which rested nonchalantly on her hips, until now it was not so much a dress as a sash, gathered about her waist. The long shapely smooth brown limbs below were bare from trim slippers to sash, and only a bit of silken underthing stood between her modesty and surrounding admiration.
….With extraordinary ease and grace, this young lady was proving beyond question the error of reserving legs for mere locomotion, and no one who believed that the chief function of the hips was to support the torso could long have maintained so ridiculous a notion against the argument of her eloquent gestures.
….Bubber caught sight of this vision and halted in his tracks. His abetting of justice, his stern immediate duty as a deputy of the law, faded.
….“Boy!” he said softly. “What a pair of eyes!”

* * * * *

A great section – not only did I enjoy so many of these books but they led me to spiral off into other books and authors, and over the course of the six years of the challenge classic and vintage crime has become my safe space to escape from the horrors of real life! Plus I loved watching lots of the films that have been made of some of these books. [Note to self: really must get back to doing “film of the book” comparisons.] Thanks for your company on my journey!

38 thoughts on “Classics Club Round-Up 2 – Crime

  1. I’m glad you found so many good ‘uns, FictionFan. I thought The Wheel Spins was excellent, too, and I absolutely must read The Conjure-Man Dies. I remember thinking that when I read your post about it, and I’m glad for the reminder. Funny about your reaction to the Chandler. Sometimes his writing style does get a bit much, and I can see how you thought it was bloated. And, yet, he’s told some classic stories, too. Well, at any rate, you’ve have some good reading experiences, and that’s what matters.

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    • I was really expecting to like the Chandler so it was a surprise to me when I didn’t – I very much enjoyed The Big Sleep, pre-blog. But I seem to remember it as tighter and much shorter, whereas this one seemed very bloated. Lots of goodies here though, and The Conjure-Man Dies is great – it’s the Harlem setting that makes it special. I hope you do get a chance to read it sometime – I think you’ll appreciate it! 😀

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  2. I’ve seen a number of the film adaptations of these books. Alfred Hitchcock certainly seemed to have been inspired by them.
    I read The Dain Curse many years ago after reading The Thin Man.

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    • Ha, I think when I made up my list I deliberately picked lots of books Hitchcock had turned into films to give me an excuse to watch the films again! 😀
      I’ve never read The Thin Man, but I loved the ancient movies of them with William Powell and Myrna Loy.

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  3. I’ll be looking for you to return to your Film vs. Book posts, FF — I do enjoy those. Obviously, the film has an advantage in being produced after the book though (so they can modify things and spice things up and slide over the boring parts!) I’ve got to get my hands on some of these selections — it’s fascinating to compare “old-time” writing to contemporary styles!

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    • Thanks, Debbie! I don’t know why I got out of the habit of doing them – I used to enjoy it. Must have a look and see what’s on my TBR that’s been filmed! Yes, Hitchcock especially had no hesitation about changing the books – new characters, new endings, turning drama into comedy… haha, you wonder why he bothered with the books at all! 😉

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  4. All brilliant of course (!) but especially The Postman Always Rings Twice, hilarious! And isn’t that a wonderful photo of Margaret Rutherford and James Robertson Justice? priceless!

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    • Haha, thank you! Yes, The Postman was… an experience! 😂 Those two working together is so much fun – they were made for each other! I love those films, even if they don’t bear much resemblance to the “real” Miss Marple!

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  5. I love the snippets from your reviews and how they quickly give you a sense of the book. I snorted at your dead cow question. And agree with you about Patricia Highsmith’s book (and her work as a whole). I don’t think she cared whether people liked or identified with any of her characters as she seemed solely bent on exploring unsavory psyches. I admire her writing.

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    • Thank you – haha, it makes me realise I should probably be able to make my reviews much shorter! 😉 That’s the only Highsmith I’ve read so far. I did like her writing but my view of the book was coloured, I think, by my existing love for the film – if I’d read the book first, I’d probably have preferred it.

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  6. Happy to see 4.50 from Paddington on your best list and Riddle of the Sands which I really need to bump up on my list. Wish Strangers on a Train had fared better.

    Incidentally even having seen the Margaret Rutherford movie a couple of times at least, I didn’t remember Mr Crackenthorpe was James Roberson Justice/Sir Lancelot Spratt

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    • Strangers on a Train was at a disadvantage with me because the film has always been one of my favourites and the book is different, not just in events but in the characterisation. So the book didn’t fare well in the comparison. I suspect if I’d never seen the film, I’d have liked the book more. It’s always the way – I always tend to prefer whatever I read or saw first, book or film.

      Haha, I thought the two of them played off against each other brilliantly – they were made for each other! Now there’s a film and a book where I love both – probably because they’re so unlike each other it’s almost impossible to make comparisons! 😂

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        • Ha, yes, I love him being in it too, unlikely though it might be that Miss Marple has a devoted admirer! I always thought Agatha Christie was supposed to have hated these films, but I discovered recently that she actually dedicated one of her books to Margaret Rutherford, so she must have forgiven her… 😉

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  7. I don’t believe I’ve read any of these, though I have vague memories of seeing he film version of The Postman Always Rings Twice. I don’t remember much about it, so I’m not sure what that says about it. I clearly need to go back and watch more Hitchcock films. My favorite by far is Rear Window.

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    • It’s so long ago since I watched The Postman that I don’t remember much about it either. I had intended to rewatch it after I’d read the book, but the book put me off that idea! I love Rear Window too – especially that dress!! I just love Hitchcock in general – he really messes with the books he adapts but he actually improves them so I don’t mind! If I had to pick just one favourite, it would be Strangers on a Train – the way he ends it (which isn’t in the book, but is nicked from another book!) is brilliant…

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  8. Strangers on a Train is on my Classics Club list, so I’m sorry to see it’s only in your middling category. I hope I’ll like it anyway! I enjoyed The Wheel Spins, although not as much as The Lady Vanishes, and I still need to read 4.50 from Paddington.

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    • Strangers on a Train was at a disadvantage with me because the film has always been one of my favourites and the book is quite different in some important ways. So I was unintentionally making comparisons all the way through. I suspect if I didn’t know and love the film so well, I’d have enjoyed the book considerably more, so don’t let my lack of enthusiasm for it put you off! 4.50 from Paddington is a good one. I especially love the two young boys who are in the house when the murders are happening – they enjoy it all so much! 😂

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    • Thank you! It’s good to get the old list finished so I can start on the new one! 😉 Agatha Christie is always on my Good Ones list, of course! That was my first Le Carré and I thought it was great – I’ve been meaning to read more ever since, and really must do that….

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    • Ha, when I look back at my Film of the Book posts, most of them were crime and most of them were Hitchcock! 😉 Must see what’s on my TBR that has been filmed…

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    • Crime is my favourite genre even if I get irritated with some of the contemporary stuff. So it was great fun reading some of these classic older ones! Hope you enjoy any of them that you manage to fit in. 😀

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  9. I think I’m going to bookmark this post so I can return to it when I’m able to read a classic – vintage crime is my fav! You will notice that the only time I read ‘classics’, they are crime novels, so I trust your suggestions here….

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    • There’s so much great classic crime and yet because there are so many new releases each year it’s hard to find time to go back to the classics. Most of these are definitely well worth reading if you can ever fit them in! 😀

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    • Haha, yes, somehow reading about fictional murder and mayhem is a great way to take your mind off real-life murder and mayhem! 😉 I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my criminal journey – these books are certainly considered classics for a reason!

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