Shorts November 2022…

A Bunch of Minis…

I’m still battling to catch up with reviews, so here’s another little batch of mini-reviews of books that were mostly middling…

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Max Carrados by Ernest Bramah

🙂 🙂 🙂

A collection of short stories about amateur detective Max Carrados, whose blindness has allowed him to develop all his other senses way beyond the norm, and also well beyond the limits of believability. The stories are well written and some of the plots are interesting, though others are pretty dull, but I tired very quickly of Carrados’ superhuman sensory abilities, such as being able to date an ancient coin by touch alone. There seemed to be something of a fad for detectives with disabilities round about that period – the book was published in 1914 – though sadly not in the sense of creating visibility or understanding for people with disabilities, but rather as a form of entertainment for able-bodied people to wonder over. However, it wasn’t the absence of political correctness that prevented me enjoying the book wholeheartedly – that is of its time and Bramah certainly doesn’t disparage his hero. It was simply that I felt Bramah took the concept too far, making it impossible for me to believe in Carrados’ abilities. The stories I enjoyed best were the ones that relied least on the fact of Carrados being blind. Worth a read, though – I certainly found them more enjoyable than some of the books from this very early period of mystery writing.

Challenge details:
Book: 11
Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 1914

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Israel Rank by Roy Horniman

😐 😐

This is the book on which the famous film Kind Hearts and Coronets was based so the story will be familiar to anyone who has seen it, although apparently the film had some significant differences to the book. Basically, the narrator in the book, Israel Rank, is the son of a Jewish father and a mother who is distantly related to Earl Gascoyne. Israel finds out that there are eight people in the line of succession between him and the Earldom, and sets out to bump them off one by one. It’s a long time since I watched the film but my recollection is it’s mainly played for laughs. The book attempts black humour too, but for me it didn’t really come off. As well as being a multiple murderer, Israel is a snob, completely convinced of his own superiority, and spends far too much time telling us his lustful thoughts about the various women with whom he gets involved. I found the murders too cruel to be humorous – there is real grief on the part of the victims’ relatives.

There is also an insistence on Jewish stereotyping, with Israel frequently referring to the ‘traits’ of ‘his people’ while trotting out some hackneyed anti-Semitic trope. Martin Edwards suggests, based on what is known of Horniman’s life, that the book is probably intended “as a condemnation of anti-Semitism, rather than some form of endorsement of it” but, while I’m happy to accept that he’s probably right, I’m afraid that’s not how it comes over. I found Israel too unpleasant to like, and certainly had no desire to see him succeed in his aims.

However, all of that I could probably have tolerated – again, it’s of its time – but I fear I also found it rather dull and massively overlong. I gave up about halfway through and jumped to the end to see if he succeeded. I won’t tell you if he did, but I found the ending unsatisfying enough that I was glad I hadn’t ploughed through the second half waiting for it.

Challenge details:
Book: 5
Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 1907

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Arms and the Women (Dalziel and Pascoe 18) by Reginald Hill

😀 😀 😀 🙂

After the events of the previous book, Ellie Pascoe is indulging in some self-prescribed therapy by writing a never-to-be-published story about the Greeks and Trojans, starring a version of Odysseus who bears a remarkable resemblance to Andy Dalziel. Then two strangers arrive at her door one afternoon and attempt to abduct her. While the police try to find out what’s going on, Ellie agrees to make herself scarce for a bit, and retreats to an isolated house by the sea, owned by her friend Daphne Alderman who accompanies her. DC Shirley Novello, “Ivor” as Dalziel calls her, is sent along as protection, and Ellie takes her young daughter, Rosie. This group is enlarged by the inclusion of a neighbour of Daphne’s – Feenie McCallum, an elderly lady with a mysterious past. Naturally the baddies will find them, and the women will have to protect themselves and each other while waiting for the cavalry, in the persons of Dalziel and Pascoe, to ride to the rescue.

By this late stage in the series Hill is trying new things in each book, which sometimes work and sometimes don’t quite. Here he plays with Ellie’s re-writing of the story of Odysseus and there are large sections of her manuscript interspersed throughout the main story. While these are well written and quite fun, they simply get in the way of the plot, making the book overlong and slowing it down to a crawl. Also he decides to concentrate almost entirely on the women, as the title implies, meaning that Dalziel, Pascoe and Wield are relegated to the sidelines and barely appear. Since those are the three characters who hold the series together this was a brave choice, but from my perspective not a good one. The plot is desperately convoluted too, and goes so far over the credibility line it nearly disappears over the horizon. Lastly, as I’ve mentioned before, I find it irritating that Pascoe has to deal with a family-related trauma in nearly every book at this later stage in the series.

As always with Hill, the writing is a joy, and there’s plenty of humour along with some tense, exciting scenes, so it’s still very readable. But it’s one of my least favourites and I’d really only recommend it to Dalziel and Pascoe completists.

* * * * *

Onwards and upwards!

35 thoughts on “Shorts November 2022…

  1. I really enjoyed Kind Hearts and Coronets when I watched it last year, but I think I’ll skip the book! I remember reading that the reason they changed the central character to be half-Italian rather than Jewish in the film is that, by 1949, the source material appeared very anti-Semitic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so long since I saw the film I only have the vaguest memory of it now, but it seems to me they improved the story in lots of ways. The anti-Semitic stuff is pretty off-putting even for that time, and I found it hard to see it as satire. The same applied to the murders – they were too cruel to be entertaining.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s the thing, FictionFan, in my opinion at least: Hill at his weakest is still better than lots of people at their best. Even when things don’t work quite well, there’s always something in a Hill book to keep the reader’s interest and make it worth the reading. And thanks for reminding me of Kind Hearts and Coronets – it had been a while…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, indeed, it’s like Dickens or Christie – even when I’m critical of a Hill novel, it’s only in comparison to other Hill novels. Even the less good ones are good! It’s years since I saw Kind Hearts and Coronets and though I didn’t enjoy the book, it’s made me want to watch the film again…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought about reading Israel Rank a while ago but saw some other reviews that mentioned the anti-Semitism and unpleasant main character so I didn’t bother. It sounds as though that was the right decision!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely not one I’d recommend. While usually I can put up with outdated attitudes in older books, the anti-Semitism in this one is hard to overlook, and Israel is a really unpleasant character. I think I’ll re-watch the film instead!

      Like

  4. Good that you got these read and out of the way, even if they got a bit of a short shrift. I’m not tempted. I hope what you currently have going is much better!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sounds like Hill at least attempted to do some different things rather than rehashing the same story over and over again … but not a satisfying set of reads really! I just had to skim one as it repeated stuff I’ve already read three times in rather overlapping ways …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that was part of what made Hill so special, but it did also mean that a few of the books were less successful. I guess when you read as much as us books are bound to overlap form time to time, but it’s still annoying when it happens.

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    • Which one counts as #16 on the list you’re following. Audible considers it to be Asking for the Moon, which I don’t really consider to be a series book – it always felt to me more like a little present from Hill to his readers. Great fun, though! I decided I’d leave it to the end this time through, since it jumps about in time. #17 on my list is On Beulah Height, which is wonderful… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve never quite cottoned on to the Max Carrados stories with those superhuman qualities either. Hmm, that Hill isn’t one that sounds familiar, I did skip around in his later books though. I got a little tired of hearing about the Pascoe marriage after a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I never like the way people with disabilities used to be given special compensatory powers back in those days, partly because it seems so patronising but mostly because it’s just so incredible! Yes, unfortunately Hill clearly felt Pascoe was his central character, whereas I always preferred Fat Andy and Wieldy. I wish he’d included Wieldy’s partner in more of the later books – I loved them as an odd couple. Still, while the later books can be a bit too quirky for my taste, his writing and humour always carry me through.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Too bad those first too were a bit disappointing. I must say the superhuman abilities of that detective do sound too good to be true (dating an old coin by touch? My gosh people who can see perfectly fine still take weeks to do that!). I never saw (or heard) of that second book and it’s accompanying film, but turns out I’m not missing much 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the idea that he would have developed such amazing powers made it impossible for me to really buy into him as a character. Haha, the film, Kind Hearts and Coronets, is a classic and much better than the book, though I imagine it’s pretty dated now – it’s decades since I watched it!

      Liked by 1 person

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