The African Queen by CS Forester

Love among the leeches…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

It is 1914. When the Germans round up all the native inhabitants of the Reverend Samuel Sayer’s mission in Central Africa to take them off to fight in the war, the Reverend quickly succumbs to fever and dies, leaving his faithful sister all alone. Until along comes Charles Allnut, a Cockney mechanic who had been out on the river collecting supplies when the Germans came, and returned to find all the people at the mine where he worked gone too. He realises he can’t leave Rose here, so takes her with him aboard the little steam boat, the African Queen, planning to find somewhere safe to hole up till the war is over, at least in this part of the world. Rose, however, has a different idea. She wants revenge on the Germans for destroying her brother’s life work, and quickly convinces herself that they should take the African Queen down river to Lake Wittelsbach, there to destroy the German gunboat that patrols the lake. It takes her a little longer to convince Allnut…

This, of course, is the book on which the Hepburn/Bogart film was based, and since that’s always been a favourite I knew the story well, and was interested to see how closely the movie had stuck to the original. The answer is that it does to a very large degree with one or two minor changes in characterisation, and then a huge divergence in plot at the end that makes the film into an adventure classic and leaves the book floundering as a rather anti-climactic disappointment.

Book 65 of 90

In the book, Allnut is a Cockney Londoner rather than an American. While I feel it would have been highly entertaining to see Bogie attempting to do a Cockney accent, I can understand why the star factor led to the movie character being portrayed as American. It doesn’t make much difference, except of course to change the patriotism emphasis from one of Brits fighting the Germans to the usual Hollywood hoopla of Americans saving the world. Rose is very much as Hepburn played her except that the woman in the book is a decade or so younger. So although she is still the “spinster sister” of the missionary, she is young enough to make her transformation into an active adventurer and passionate lover slightly more believable. She is, of course, actually English too, unlike Ms Hepburn!

The main strength of the book is in the descriptions of the African riverscape. Forester gives a real feeling for the abominable heat and how badly this affects the pale-skinned Brits, however used to it they may be. The sudden rains, the insects, the leeches lurking in the water, the reeds that choke some parts of the river and the rapids that make other parts a terrifying thrill ride – all of these are done brilliantly and feel completely authentic (at least, to this reader who has never been even close to Africa).

The characterisation is considerably weaker, unfortunately, although they are both likeable enough to keep the book entertaining. Allnut is a weak, rather cowardly man but with lots of practical skills and knowledge, while Rose has courage enough for two and the ability to learn quickly, so they complement each other well. Do people change as rapidly as these two do, even in extreme circumstances? Hmm, perhaps, but I wasn’t entirely convinced. Under the leadership of a strong woman, Allnut suddenly discovers a courage even he didn’t think he possessed, whereas Rose quickly throws off a lifetime of repression and strict religious beliefs to become the lover of this rather underwhelming man. I didn’t altogether believe it, but I still enjoyed the journey in their company.

CS Forester

At least, I enjoyed it up until the last ten per cent or so, when suddenly all the tension is destroyed by an ending that leaves our two main characters on the sidelines while the regular armed forces of Britain and German take over. No wonder the plot was changed for the film! I can’t imagine what Forester was thinking, really. Perhaps he thought that the idea of two people tackling a German gunboat on their own was just too unbelievable and in real life that might be true. But this isn’t real life – it’s an adventure novel and needs a dramatic end led by our two unlikely heroes! Let them succeed thrillingly or fail tragically, but don’t just stick them to one side and let other people take over! Pah! I was left infuriated and let down by the way it all fizzled out.

So overall, good fun for most of the journey but with a sadly disappointing ending. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure that I’d really recommend it except to diehard fans of colonial adventure novels (which, by the way, reminds me that I haven’t mentioned that some of the language about the “natives” is toe-curlingly dated). One of those cases where I feel the film is better…

Book 3 of 20

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 243…

Episode 243

The TBR has remained steady over the last couple of weeks with a few drifting out and a few drifting in – still 208. The reading slump continues, the reviewing slump continues – fortunately, there hasn’t been either a chocolate slump or a cake slump, or life would be truly intolerable!

A couple of review-along announcements to start with:

  1. A Month in the Country review-along. This is one of my 20 Books of Summer and Sandra suggested we should read and review it at the same time. Sounds like a great idea to me, so we’ve set 31st August as the date for our synchronised reviews. Alyson and Christine (both non-bloggers at the moment, though I’m working on it 😉 ) have already joined in and anyone else is welcome to jump aboard! The rules are simple – either review it on your blog on 31st August or if you prefer leave your views in the comments section on my review and/or the reviews of anyone else who reviews it. I’ll put links to any other reviews on my own.
  2. Tender is the Night review-along. This didn’t win last week’s People’s Choice but Alyson suggested it would be fun to read it at the same time and discuss. Another great idea! Since then Sandra and Eva have said they might join in too, and again, anyone else is welcome! Same rules – we haven’t set a firm date for reviews yet, but I’m proposing 26th October. Anyone who’s thinking of joining in, especially you, Alyson, of course, please let me know in the comments if that date does or doesn’t suit you.

Doesn’t that all sound like fun? 😀

Here are a few more I might or might not miss dinner for…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

Excellent choice, People, especially since it will fit in well with my plan to read some lighter stuff for a while till my slump lifts! Tender is the Night stayed in the race but was always a furlong or two behind, and I fear the other two collapsed on the verge just a few yards from the starting line. This will be my introduction to Zouroudi and her detective, more or less, except for one short story I read and enjoyed in an anthology several years ago. It’s been on my TBR since 2014. I plan to read and review it by the end of August.

The Blurb says: Idyllic but remote, the Greek island of Thiminos seems untouched and untroubled by the modern world. So when the battered body of a young woman is discovered at the foot of a cliff, the local police – governed more by archaic rules of honor than by the law – are quick to close the case, dismissing her death as an accident.

Then a stranger arrives, uninvited, from Athens, announcing his intention to investigate further into the crime he believes has been committed. Refusing to accept the woman’s death as an accident or suicide, Hermes Diaktoros sets out to uncover the truths that skulk beneath this small community’s exterior.

Hermes’s methods of investigation are unorthodox, and his message to the islanders is plain – tell the truth or face the consequences. Before long, he’s uncovering a tale of passion, corruption and murder that entangles many of the island’s residents. But Hermes brings his own mystery into the web of dark secrets and lies – and as he travels the rugged island landscape to investigate, questions and suspicions arise amongst the locals. Who has sent him to Thiminos, and on whose authority is he acting? And how does he know of dramas played out decades ago?

Rich in images of Greece’s beautiful islands and evoking a life unknown to most outsiders, this wonderful novel leads the reader into a world where the myths of the past are not forgotten and forbidden passion still has dangerous consequences.

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English Classic

The African Queen by CS Forester

One from my Classics Club list. I’ve seen a couple of reviews that suggest this is one case where the film perhaps is better than the book, but since the film is brilliant that’s hardly surprising! And happily, I have the DVD lined up for a re-watch after I’ve read it…

The Blurb says: As World War I reaches the heart of the African jungle, Charlie Allnutt and Rose Sayer, a dishevelled trader and an English spinster missionary, find themselves thrown together by circumstance. Fighting time, heat, malaria, and bullets, they make their escape on the rickety steamboat The African Queen…and hatch their own outrageous military plan. Originally published in 1935, The African Queen is a tale replete with vintage Forester drama – unrelenting suspense, reckless heroism, impromptu military manoeuvres, near-death experiences – and a good old-fashioned love story to boot.

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Fiction

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

And finally! What other choice could I possibly make for the final book in my mammoth Around the World in 80 Books challenge? This will be a re-read from a long time ago, and Oxford World’s Classics have kindly provided me with a copy, so the intro and notes will make it even more fun to read…

The Blurb says: One night in the reform club, Phileas Fogg bets his companions that he can travel across the globe in just eighty days. Breaking the well-established routine of his daily life, he immediately sets off for Dover with his astonished valet Passepartout. Passing through exotic lands and dangerous locations, they seize whatever transportation is at hand—whether train or elephant—overcoming set-backs and always racing against the clock.

Around the World in Eighty Days has been a bestseller for over a century, but it has never before appeared in a critical edition. While most translations misread or even abridge the original, this stylish version is completely true to Verne’s classic, moving as fast and as brilliantly as Phineas Fogg’s own race against time. Around the World in Eighty Days offers a strong dose of post-romantic reality but not a shred of science fiction: its modernism lies instead in the experimental technique and Verne’s unique twisting of space and time.

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Historical Fiction on Audion

Dissolution by CJ Sansom

Sansom’s Shardlake books are my favourite historical fiction series of all time. I’ve been meaning to re-read them for ages but never seem able to fit them in. So I decided to try the first one on audio since on the whole I prefer listening to books I’ve already read. The narrator is Steven Crossley – I haven’t come across him before but the reviews of his narrations are very positive…

The Blurb says: The first book in the best-selling Shardlake series. It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066.

Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. And under the orders of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent throughout the country to investigate the monasteries.

There can only be one outcome: dissolution. But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes….

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Audible UK or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Payment Deferred by CS Forester

Fade to grey…

🙂 🙂 🙂

We first meet William Marble as he sits in his dining room one evening, totting up his debts. William is a bank clerk who deals in currency exchange, and his salary is of the respectable rather than the generous kind. Despite his humble house, he and his wife Annie always overspend their budget and for a long time William has been shuffling his debt around, borrowing from one person to pay off another. But now he’s reached the point where he has no-one left to tap and his creditors are looking to be paid. Then his young nephew arrives unexpectedly from Australia, with a wallet stuffed with wads of banknotes. And it just so happens William has a cupboard full of photography chemicals that can easily double as poison…

This is not a detective novel, so that little blurb isn’t nearly as spoilerish as it might seem. The murder happens right at the beginning, and the book is actually about the impact it has on William’s psychology. We watch as guilt and fear eat away at him, destroying his already weak character. It’s very well written and psychologically convincing but, oh my, it’s depressing! William is deeply unlikeable while Annie is portrayed as so stupid that it seems unlikely that William would ever have found her attractive. They have two teenage children. Winnie, William’s favourite, starts out OK, but becomes progressively harder to like as the book goes on, while John, the son, has all the makings of a fine young man till his father’s increasingly erratic behaviour begins to affect him. I had a lot of sympathy for John, a little for poor stupid Annie, and none at all for the other two.

William eventually solves his money problems by carrying out a shady transaction at his bank – what today we’d describe as insider trading. Clearly Forester understood what he was talking he about when he described the details of how this scheme worked, but I fear I didn’t and my eyes began to glaze over. However, the end result is that William suddenly becomes well off, and we see how this change in fortune too affects the members of the family, not for the better.

Challenge details:
Book: 74
Subject Heading: The Psychology of Crime
Publication Year: 1926

The element of suspense comes from wondering what the outcome will be. Will William give himself away? Will Annie begin to suspect him? But it’s very underplayed – for reasons made clear early on, there’s no active investigation going on into the young victim’s disappearance. While the vast majority of the book is very credible, the ending left me annoyed at the abrupt and contrived way Forester tied everything up.

As you can probably tell, this one is not a favourite of mine. I often struggle with books where the criminal is the main character unless there’s plenty of black humour to lift the tone. In this one there is no humour, leaving it a bleak story with a couple of episodes that I found distinctly unpleasant. Had it been set amidst the anxious speed of big city life I would call it noir, but the respectable dullness of the middle-class suburban setting left the tone feeling grey. I also felt it went on too long (though in actual pages it’s quite short) – the endless descriptions of William drinking whisky to drown his guilt, his heart constantly thudding, pounding, racing, poor Annie’s repeated descent into sobbing for one reason or another, all became so repetitive that they lost any impact after a while.

CS Forester

However, this is mostly a matter of personal taste – I do think it does what it sets out to do very well; that is, to show the disintegration of the man and the effect this has on his family. Call me shallow but, although I admired the skill and the writing, I simply didn’t find it entertaining or enjoyable. Nor was it quite tragic enough to be harrowing, somehow. I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, but the ratings on Goodreads suggest plenty of people have enjoyed it far more than I did, so if the idea of it appeals to you, don’t let my reaction put you off. Noir is not my favourite colour, even when it’s faded…

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link – sorry, can only find used copies on Amazon US.

TBR Thursday 182…

A fifth batch of murder, mystery and mayhem…

I’m going dramatically slowly on this challenge because of all the other vintage crime books that have come my way recently, but I haven’t forgotten about it completely!

And since I’ve now read and reviewed all of the books from the fourth batch of MMM books, here goes for the fifth batch…

Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles

Courtesy of Dover Publications via NetGalley. Martin Edwards lists this one under the sub-heading The Ironists. Hmm… ironically, I’m not always all that keen on irony, but we’ll see. The blurb sounds good…

The Blurb says: Dr. Edmund Bickleigh married above his station. Although popular and well respected in his little Devonshire community, he seethes with resentment at the superior social status of his domineering wife, Julia. Bickleigh soothes his inferiority complex by seducing as many of the local women as he possibly can — but with the collapse of his latest fling and a fresh dose of sneering contempt from Julia, the doctor resolves to silence his wife forever and begins plotting the perfect murder.

With Malice Aforethought, Francis Iles produced not just a darkly comic narrative of psychological suspense but also a landmark in crime fiction: for the first time, the murderer’s identity was revealed at the start of the tale. Hailed as a tour de force by the British press of its day, the book retains its shock value and stands at #16 in the Crime Writers’ Association ranking of the Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time. (Oh good grief, not another book list – save me!!)

Challenge details

Book No: 80

Subject Heading: The Ironists

Publication Year: 1931

Martin Edwards says: “…what set Malice Aforethought apart was the cool wit of the story-telling, which makes the book compulsive reading despite the shortage of characters with whom readers would wish to identify. It was entirely in keeping with the ironic tone of the book that it was dedicated to the author’s wife, from whom he became divorced less than a year later.”

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Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers

I am not one of Ms Sayers’ legion of fans, finding both her and her detective Lord Peter Wimsey snobby and irritatin’. However it’s a long time since I last read one, so maybe I’ve become more open-minded with age. Yeah, right… 😂

The Blurb says: The Duke of Denver, accused of murder, stands trial for his life in the House of Lords.Naturally, his brother Lord Peter Wimsey is investigating the crime – this is a family affair. The murder took place at the duke’s shooting lodge and Lord Peter’s sister was engaged to marry the dead man.But why does the duke refuse to co-operate with the investigation? Can he really be guilty, or is he covering up for someone?

Challenge details

Book No: 19

Subject Heading: The Great Detectives

Publication Year: 1926

Edwards says: “Lord Peter Wimsey was created as a conscious act of escapism by a young writer who was short of money, and experiencing one unsatisfactory love affair after another. Peter Death Bredon Wimsey, second son of the Duke of Denver, began his fictional life as a fantasy figure.”

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Death of an Airman by Christopher St John Sprigg

A detecting bishop! Take that, Father Brown! I’m expecting at least an archbishop next time… or maybe the Pope!

The Blurb says: Death of an Airman is an enjoyable and unorthodox whodunit from a writer whose short life was as remarkable as that of any of his fictional creations. When an aeroplane crashes, and its pilot is killed, Edwin Marriott, the Bishop of Cootamundra in Australia, is on hand. In England on leave, the Bishop has decided to learn how to fly, but he is not convinced that the pilot’s death was accidental. In due course, naturally, he is proved right. The Bishop and Inspector Bray of Scotland Yard make an appealing pair of detectives, and ultimately a cunning criminal scheme is uncovered.

Challenge details

Book No: 58

Subject Heading: Scientific Enquiries

Publication Year: 1934

Edwards says: “The story ‘bubbles over with zest and vitality’, as Dorothy L Sayers said in The Sunday Times; she applauded ‘a most ingenious and exciting plot, full of good puzzles and discoveries and worked out among a varied cast of entertaining characters.’

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Payment Deferred by CS Forester

I’ve never thought of CS Forester as a crime writer – Hornblower and The African Queen are what spring to my mind. Sounds good, though…

The Blurb says: Mr Marble is in serious debt, desperate for money to pay his family’s bills, until the combination of a wealthy relative, a bottle of Cyanide and a shovel offer him the perfect solution. In fact, his troubles are only just beginning. Slowly the Marble family becomes poisoned by guilt, and caught in an increasingly dangerous trap of secrets, fear and blackmail. Then, in a final twist of the knife, Mrs Marble ensures that retribution comes in the most unexpected of ways…

First published in 1926, C. S. Forester’s gritty psychological thriller took crime writing in a new direction, portraying ordinary, desperate people committing monstrous acts, and showing events spiralling terribly, chillingly, out of control.

Challenge details

Book No: 74

Subject Heading: The Psychology of Crime

Publication Year: 1926

Edwards says: “Marble is haunted by fear that his secret will be discovered, and Forester charts his disintegration in sharp, disdainful prose. Payment Deferred is a short but striking book; despite the young author’s inexperience, it remains a compelling read.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK. The quotes from Martin Edwards are from his book,
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?