Shorts & Abandonments July 2022…

A Bunch of Minis…

Since I still seem to have a backlog of books to review, here’s another little batch of minis to help me catch up – two winners and two abandonments…

Rumpole’s Return by John Mortimer

😀 😀 😀 😀

Following a string of lost cases tried in front of Judge Bullingham, Rumpole has taken this as a sign and retired with She Who Must Be Obeyed to live out his twilight years in Florida, at the home of his son and his son’s American wife. However a very little of the Florida lifestyle is sufficient for Rumpole, so when he gets a letter from the lovely Phyllida née Trant (Rumpole prefers to forget her married name) asking his advice about a matter of blood, he sneaks off, flies home, and resumes his career, much to the annoyance of the young man who has moved into his room in chambers in the interim.

The Rumpole books are always entertaining, and this is no exception. All the regular characters appear, and all the running jokes are reprised. While any of the books can be read on its own, they do sometimes rely a little on the reader having some familiarity with the characters and how they’re connected to each other, either from previous books or from the excellent TV series which actually came before the books. I was sorry to find that the wonderful TV Rumpole, the late Leo McKern, had never done narrations for the books, but Robert Hardy made an excellent substitute. The books are matched so closely to the TV series that I could see all the characters in my head, and somehow that really enhanced the audiobook experience. Thoroughly good fun!

Book 7 of 20

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A couple I abandoned…

…and my short and to the point comments on Goodreads, made in the full throes of abandonment grumpiness…

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

“Is this really an American classic? I made it through forty minutes of the audiobook. If I ever feel like simulating brain-death I may listen to the other two hours.”

Privilege by Guinevere Glasfurd

“Story didn’t grab me and I was already thinking of abandoning it when the author decided I would like to read about the hero masturbating. She was mistaken. I wouldn’t.”

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The Mating Season by PG Wodehouse

Bertie is due to make a reluctant visit to friends of his Aunt Agatha at Deverill Hall, but there’s one bright gleam on the horizon. His old friend Catsmeat Potter Pirbright (possibly my favourite fictional name in the universe) is putting on a cross-talk act for the local village entertainment and Bertie relishes the chance to don a green beard and hit his fellow performer with an umbrella! But the dark clouds are gathering. Gussie Fink-Nottle is also due at Deverill Hall, at the behest of his fiancée, Madeline Bassett, she who thinks that the stars are God’s daisy chain, but due to an unfortunate incident involving a fountain and a policeman, Gussie has been unavoidably detained at His Majesty’s Pleasure. Should Madeline discover this, the engagement will be off, and Madeline may well decide to marry Bertie instead! So to avoid this dreadful fate, Bertie decides to impersonate Gussie, but when Gussie then escapes his durance vile and turns up, there’s only one solution – Gussie must impersonate Bertie…

Yet another wonderful treat from the master, this one involves most of the characters being disguised as each other, adding to the general mayhem and allowing them all tae see theirsels as ithers see them, as the Bard once said. Bertie is not at all happy at people thinking that he’s the teetotal newt-fancier Gussie, but is amazed to learn that Gussie is equally horrified to be mistaken for the natty boulevardier Bertie considers himself to be. Add in five aunts – five! – and it’s easy to see why Deverill Hall could easily be mistaken for a House of Horror…

On the cue ‘five aunts’ I had given at the knees a trifle, for the thought of being confronted with such a solid gaggle of aunts, even if those of another, was an unnerving one. Reminding myself that in this life it is not aunts that matter, but the courage that one brings to them, I pulled myself together.

Great stuff, and as always the narration by Jonathan Cecil is perfection!

Book 8 of 20

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Win some, lose some! 😉

TBR Thursday 335…

Episode 335

Another major drop in the TBR this time – down 3 to 174! I suspect this might be the last drop for a while – concentrating on audiobooks for #20BooksOfSummer means I’m falling way behind with my usual reading. And since I’ve never admitted to my audiobook stash in my TBR, they don’t count as drops when I read them! What a tangled web we weave…

TRIGGER WARNING!
MAJOR ARACHNOPHOBIA ALERT!

OOPS! SORRY! TOO LATE…

Here are a few more that should be scuttling my way soon…

Fiction

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason

I loved Daniel Mason’s collection of short stories, A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth, so added this to my TBR. It sounds very different but just as interesting, and it might even tick one of the elusive final boxes for my Wanderlust challenge

The Blurb says: One misty London afternoon in 1886, piano tuner Edgar Drake receives an unusual request from the War Office: he must leave his quiet life and travel to the jungles of Burma to repair a rare grand piano owned by an enigmatic army surgeon. So begins an extraordinary journey across Europe, the Red Sea, India and onwards, accompanied by an enchanting yet elusive woman. Edgar is at first captivated, then unnerved, as he begins to question the true motive behind his summons and whether he will return home unchanged to the wife who awaits him. . .

An instant bestseller, Daniel Mason’s The Piano Tuner has been published in 27 countries. Exquisitely told, this classic is a richly sensuous story of adventure, discovery, and how we confront our most deeply held fears and desires.

Thriller

Confidence by Denise Mina

Courtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. I enjoyed the first book in this series, Conviction, although at the time I had no idea it was going to be the first book in a series! It was lighter than the other Denise Minas I’ve read, so I’m hoping this one too will be a fast-paced entertaining thriller…

The Blurb says: When Lisa Lee, a vulnerable young woman, vanishes from a pretty Scottish seaside town Anna and Fin find themselves at the centre of an internet frenzy to find her.

But Lisa may not be the hapless victim her father thinks. She had an unsuccessful YouTube channel and her last film showed her breaking into an abandoned French Chateau with other UrbExers and stumbling across a priceless Roman silver casket. One day after Lisa vanishes that casket gets listed for auction in Paris, reserve price fifty million euro and a catalogue entry that could challenge the fundamental principles of a major world religion.

On a thrilling chase across Europe, Anna and Fin are caught up in a world of international art smuggling, billionaire con artists and religious zealotry.

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Capote on Audio

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote read by Michael C. Hall

A little splurge of shorter audiobooks to keep me going with the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge, starting with this classic which I’ve not only never read, but have also never seen the movie! 

The Blurb says: Golden Globe-winning actor Michael C. Hall (Six Feet Under) performs Truman Capote’s provocative, naturalistic masterstroke about a young writer’s charmed fascination with his unorthodox neighbor, the “American geisha” Holly Golightly. Holly – a World War II-era society girl in her late teens – survives via socialization, attending parties and restaurants with men from the wealthy upper class who also provide her with money and expensive gifts. Over the course of the novella, the seemingly shallow Holly slowly opens up to the curious protagonist, who eventually gets tossed away as her deepening character emerges. 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote’s most beloved work of fiction, introduced an independent and complex character who challenged audiences, revived Audrey Hepburn’s flagging career in the 1961 film version, and whose name and style has remained in the national idiom since publication. Hall uses his diligent attention to character to bring our unnamed narrator’s emotional vulnerability to the forefront of this American classic.

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Greene on Audio

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene read by Andrew Sachs

This was the first Greene I read, back when we were given it as a set text in school when I was around 14 or 15, I think. While being forced to analyse books to death was often enough to put me off an author for life, in this case it was the beginning of a life-long love affair…

The Blurb says: In a poor Mexican state in the 1930s, the Red Shirts have viciously persecuted the clergy and murdered many priests. Yet one remains – the ‘whisky priest’ who believes he’s lost his soul. On the run and with the police closing in, his routes of escape are being shut off, his chances getting fewer. But compassion and humanity force him along the road to his destiny…

Andrew Sachs reads Graham Greene’s powerful novel about a worldly Roman Catholic priest and his quest for penitence and dignity.

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Austen on Audio

Mansfield Park (Full Cast Dramatization) adapted from Jane Austen starring Billie Piper

I’ve had this kicking around for ages, but wanted to re-read the book before I listened to it – which I have recently done. Sounds like fun – I’ve enjoyed a few of these full cast dramatizations from Audible… 

The Blurb says: Adopted into the household of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram, Fanny Price grows up a meek outsider among her cousins in the unaccustomed elegance of Mansfield Park. Soon after Sir Thomas absents himself on business, Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive at Mansfield, bringing with them London glamour and the seductive taste for flirtation and theatre that precipitates a crisis.

Directed by Tamsin Collison. With Matt Addis, Lucy Briers, James Corrigan, Scarlett Courtney, Rosalind Eleazar, Jennifer English, Emma Fielding, Ash Hunter, Joel MacCormack, Harry Myers, Esme Scarborough, Lucy Scott, Bert Seymour and Natalie Simpson.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

Truth v emotional truth…

😀 😀 😀 😀

This is a short collection of six stories, some of them autobiographical, others fictional. A couple of them are set at Christmas, while Thanksgiving and birthdays make appearances in others. For me, the collection was divided strictly down the middle. The three autobiographical ones were overly sentimental, veering perilously close to mawkishness, and full of preachy moral lessons the young Capote learned from his wise but childlike elderly cousin. The three fictional ones, however, were excellent – emotional, certainly, but with an underlying feeling of truthfulness that I found sadly lacking in the autobiographical ones. Since it’s a short collection, here’s a brief idea of each story:

A Christmas Memory – here we meet young Buddy, as the child Capote was known, as he and his cousin prepare for Christmas. There is much baking of cakes and collecting of boughs to decorate the house, and so on. The impression is of a rather lonely child, living with elderly relatives because of some family problem. The elderly cousin, here unnamed, is dismissed by her siblings as somewhat simple, but to Buddy she has retained her childlike innocence and sense of joy in life. It’s beautifully written, but too sentimentalised to ring wholly true.

A Thanksgiving Visitor – now we learn that the elderly cousin is called Miss Sook, and that the family problem is the separation and divorce of young Buddy’s parents, each of whom has gone off to live his or her own life leaving Buddy in the care of relatives. In this one, Buddy is being bullied by a boy at school, and Miss Sook sets out to deal with the issue by inviting the boy to Thanksgiving dinner, much to Buddy’s horror. Buddy behaves badly, and is taught a moral lesson that will stand him in good stead for life. My contemporaneous note about this one contained the words “self-pitying” and “trite”.

One Christmas – in this last of the autobiographical stories, Buddy’s father decides the boy should spend Christmas with him in New Orleans. Buddy barely knows his father, and has to travel hundreds of miles all alone to stay with this stranger. We learn more about his parents in this one, and if true (and I have no reason to doubt it) they were a pretty appalling pair. Buddy behaves rather badly, and when he gets home Miss Sook teaches him a moral lesson, blah, blah, blah. This one tipped right over into mawkishness, leaving me feeling as if I’d seriously over-indulged in Christmas cake. I was glad to move on to the fictional stories!

Master Misery – this is a strange, sad and rather haunting story of a young woman who leaves her small town to come to New York, full of dreams of how wonderful life will be there. But of course it isn’t, and she finds herself in a dreary job with no spare money for fun. So when she hears of a man who will pay to have other people’s dreams related to him, she goes to see him. There’s a mystical edge to this, although it never quite tips over into the supernatural. It’s a kind of allegory on the difficulty of keeping dreams alive when faced with the harshness of reality. Beautifully written, emotional in a good way, and thought-provoking.

Children on Their Birthdays – the story of Miss Bobbit, a little girl who comes to stay in town. She dresses oddly and behaves like an imperious grown-up lady, and two of the boys in the neighbourhood are so smitten with her that their lifelong friendship is broken by their mutual jealousy. That’s where the story starts, not where it ends. The ending, in fact, is told to us at the beginning – Miss Bobbit dies, run over by a bus. However, the real emotion of the story is in the boys’ friendship rather than their feelings for the girl. It’s a wonderful depiction of the hormonal angst of teenage boys discovering girls for the first time.

Jug of Silver – this is probably the least overtly emotional story in the collection and a rather more cheerful one to end on. As a publicity stunt, the owner of the local drug store fills a jug with coins and promises to give it on Christmas Eve to the customer who guesses nearest to the total in the jug. A poor little boy called Appleseed is determined to win, but first he has to find the money to buy something in the store to qualify for a guess. He comes every day to stare at the jug, and says he’s counting the coins. The story itself is enjoyable, but the real interest is in the depiction of small town life, with some lovely descriptions of the preparations for Christmas.

Truman Capote

The whole thing reminded me rather of the Avonlea-based short stories of LM Montgomery: warm, full of moral lessons and with a love of small town life, and walking that dangerous tightrope between emotionalism and mawkishness. For me, Montgomery manages the balance better, and her insertion of humour lifts the overall tone. There’s not a lot of humour in this collection and a good deal too much self-pity. I feel harsh saying that, because if “Buddy’s” depiction of his parents is authentic, then he had some reason to feel sorry for his younger self, though it would seem he lived a pretty pampered life in material terms in comparison to the poverty of many of those around him. But he milks it too much for my taste, I fear. Overall, I gave each of the three fictional stories five stars, but the autobiographical ones only managed to scrape a generous three apiece.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Penguin Classics via NetGalley.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link – sorry, can’t find this edition on Amazon US

TBR Thursday 264…

Episode 264

Three out, three in this week, so the TBR remains beautifully balanced on193…

Oh, by the way, in case you haven’t noticed it’s nearly Christmas…

Dickens at Christmas

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

As always, I’ll be spending the festive season in the company of my old friend, Charles Dickens. I was going to re-read The Mystery of Edwin Drood this year, but then Rose’s review of this one reminded me that it’s the only one of the novels I’ve never read. An unread Dickens! What a treat!

The Blurb says: One of Dickens’s most haunting and bizarre novels, The Old Curiosity Shop is the story of “Little Nell” and her persecution by the grotesque and lecherous Quilp. It is a shifting kaleidoscope of events and characters as the story reaches its tragic climax, an ending that famously devastated the novel’s earliest readers. Dickens blends naturalistic and allegorical styles to encompass both the actual blight of Victorian industrialization and textual echoes of Bunyan, the Romantic poets, Shakespeare, pantomine, and Jacobean tragedy. This edition uses the Clarendon text, the definitive edition of the novels of Charles Dickens, and includes the original illustrations.

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Christmas Fiction

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

Courtesy of Penguin Classics via NetGalley. I’ve only read Capote’s In Cold Blood before, and this couldn’t really sound any more different…

The Blurb says: Tender and bittersweet, these stories by Truman Capote, the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, are a captivating tribute to the Christmas season.

Selected from across Capote’s writing life, they range from nostalgic portraits of childhood to more unsettling works that reveal the darkness beneath the festive glitter. In the Deep South of Capote’s youth, a young boy, Buddy, and his beloved maiden ‘aunt’ Sook forage for pecans and whiskey to bake into fruitcakes, make kites – too broke to buy gifts – and rise before dawn to prepare feasts for a ragged assembly of guests; it is Sook who teaches Buddy the true meaning of good will. In other stories, an unlikely festive miracle, of sorts, occurs at a local drugstore; a lonely woman has a troubling encounter in wintry New York. Brimming with feeling, these sparkling tales convey both the wonder and the chill of Christmas time.

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Christmas Horror Stories

Spirits of the Season edited by Tanya Kirk

This is from the BL’s excellent Tales of the Weird series, one that I missed when it came out a couple of years ago. Should complement my Dickens reading nicely, and keep the porpy occupied while I eat turkey sandwiches…

The Blurb says: Festive cheer turns to maddening fear in this new collection of seasonal hauntings, presenting the best Christmas ghost stories from the 1860s to the 1940s.

The traditional trappings of the holiday are turned upside down as restless spirits disrupt the merry games of the living, Christmas trees teem with spiteful pagan presences, and the Devil himself treads the boards at the village pantomime.

As the cold night of winter closes in and the glow of the hearth begins to flicker and fade, the uninvited visitors gather in the dark in this distinctive assortment of Yuletide chillers.

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Shardlake on Audio

Sovereign by CJ Sansom read by Steven Crossley

It would have been nice if I could have rounded the post off with another Christmassy one, but I’ve already started this one and they’re always so long I might well still be listening to it at Christmas! I’m still thoroughly enjoying Steven Crossley’s readings of this great series…

The Blurb says: Autumn, 1541. King Henry VIII has set out on a spectacular Progress to the North to attend an extravagant submission by his rebellious subjects in York.

Already in the city are lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his assistant Jack Barak. As well as legal work processing petitions to the King, Shardlake has reluctantly undertaken a secret mission for Archbishop Cranmer – to ensure the welfare of an important but dangerous conspirator who is to be returned to London for interrogation.

But the murder of a York glazier involves Shardlake in deeper mysteries, connected not only to the prisoner in York Castle but to the royal family itself. And when Shardlake and Barak stumble upon a cache of secret documents which could threaten the Tudor throne, a chain of events unfolds that will lead to Shardlake facing the most terrifying fate of the age . . .

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Furious Hours by Casey Cep

Harper Lee, Truman Capote and the Reverend Willie Maxwell…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

In June, 1977, a man walked into a funeral home in Alabama during a service, accused one of the mourners, Reverend Willie Maxwell, of murder and shot him dead. When the shooter, Robert Burns, was subsequently tried for the murder of Maxwell, everyone wanted a seat in court. Harper Lee got one. Years after helping Truman Capote with the research that lay behind his best-selling In Cold Blood, Lee had decided to write her own true-crime book, and the Maxwell case promised to provide plenty of material. In this book, Cep tells both stories: of Maxwell, the crimes of which he was suspected, his own murder and the trial of his killer; and of Harper Lee and her failed attempt to turn the Maxwell story into a book.

Cep starts by describing the still racially divided area of Alabama in which Maxwell operated, a place of black poverty and strong religion. The son of a black sharecropper, Maxwell received only a basic education. He served in WW2, then when he came home he married and worked in various jobs but found it hard to keep them. He took to preaching and gained a following, but he was hardly a good man even then – he used his preaching as a way to find vulnerable women he could seduce. After twenty years of marriage, his wife, Mary Lou, was brutally murdered. The evidence pointed to Maxwell and he was duly indicted. Between the indictment and the trial, with the breathtaking hubris that he would show time and again, Maxwell claimed on the insurance policy he’d bought not long before Mary Lou’s death. Despite this, he was found not guilty. Over the next few years, several of his relatives would die suspicious deaths, and Maxwell would make many insurance claims, but somehow he continued to evade the law, until Robert Burns, a relative of the girl assumed to be his latest victim, took justice into his own hands.

Rev Willie Maxwell

As with all great true crime, Cep uses this basic story as a jumping-off point to look at various aspects of the society of the time. First she looks at the birth and growth of the insurance industry and how it became open to abuse by both buyers and sellers. Amazingly, it was perfectly legal for someone to take out a policy on the life of another person without that person’s agreement, or even knowledge. It gave me a real insight into why so many American crime novels and movies of the mid-twentieth century feature insurance as a motive, especially in noir.

One of the reasons Maxwell continued to evade justice was that often it wasn’t possible to determine the cause of the deaths associated with him. Everyone suspected him, everyone feared him, but no one could prove his guilt. This led to rumours that he was practising voodoo, and Cep uses this aspect to look at the history of voodoo in the South, referencing Zora Neale Hurston’s anthropological efforts to record rituals and practices.

Zora Neal Hurston beating a hountar, or mama, drum in Haiti 1937.

For years, Maxwell was represented by Tom Radney, a lawyer who not only defended him at trial but who assisted him with his insurance claims. Radney was a well known Democrat, and Cep goes into his biography in some depth too, expanding out to discuss the Wallace era in Alabama – segregation, white supremacy, etc. I found this very interesting, though I found it hard to reconcile the decent young liberal Tom Radney with the one who would assist Maxwell so enthusiastically a decade later. In an even more interesting twist, Radney would later defend Maxwell’s killer and become a friend of Harper Lee as she researched the case. A man of contradictions, and I’m not sure Cep managed to fully explain him.

In the second section of the book, Cep concentrates on Lee’s story, starting with a look at her childhood and student years, and her friendship with Capote. To be truthful, Lee came across to me as eminently unlikeable at this stage, rather arrogant and thinking she was above the common herd (which, of course, she was). Cep then goes into detail on the writing of To Kill a Mockingbird, including a discussion of how the book evolved from what we now know as Go Set a Watchman under the advice and guidance of her agent and publishers. Once the book was finished, there was a long wait until publication and it was during this period that Lee worked with Capote on the research for In Cold Blood. Cep gives her a lot of the credit for it, suggesting that it was she rather than Capote who was able to persuade the townspeople to open up to her.

Truman Capote signing copies of In Cold Blood with Harper Lee in 1966.
Photograph: Steve Schapiro/Corbis

Cep next talks about Lee’s life after Mockingbird. Burdened by success, grieving for her father and always complaining about punitive taxes, her friends and family worried about her mental state, and this would continue for most of her life. She wrote constantly but, never satisfied with her work, then destroyed the manuscripts. She drank to excess, often turning up drunk unexpectedly at friends’ houses. Then, after meeting Capote again and becoming acquainted with Tom Radney, she decided to try her hand at her own true-crime book.

Cep gives a brief but interesting account of the rise of true crime reportage in the US, from early pamphlets to the modern day. She discusses In Cold Blood and its impact in creating the “non-fiction novel”. She highlights the factual inaccuracies in In Cold Blood and reports some of the adverse reaction to it. She suggests that Lee was unpleasantly surprised by Capote’s fictionalising of the story, and that this fed into their growing coolness and separation. So when Lee decided to write her own book, she intended it to be true and based strictly on the facts.

Harper Lee

Cep also highlights Lee’s continuing desire to write a book showing that white segregationists could still be good people but, as now, that view didn’t fit the liberal consensus and would have been unpublishable at the time. (This made me think for the first time that perhaps she actually was happy to see Watchman finally published, and changed my reluctance to read it into eagerness.) Cep then tells of Lee’s research into the Maxwell case and her long and ultimately failed attempt to bring it together into a coherent book.

Casey Cep

The section on the Maxwell case is very good true-crime writing in its own right, but what makes this one stand out from the crowd is the association with Harper Lee. The whole section of analysis of Mockingbird and In Cold Blood is excellent, succinct and insightful. It’s not so much a literary analysis as an examination of the two authors’ creative processes, casting a lot of light on their personalities; all of which would be sure to make this book appeal to admirers of either of those works as well as anyone interested in true crime for its own sake. An excellent book – highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Cornerstone.

(If you want to go for total immersion, my suggested reading order would be: first Mockingbird, then In Cold Blood, then this, then Watchman.)

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Truth is in the eye of the beholder…

😀 😀 😀 😀

In November 1959, two men drove into the small Kansas farming community of Holcomb, broke into the Clutter family’s home and brutally murdered the four occupants, Herb and Bonnie Clutter and their two teenage children, Nancy and Kenyon. Before the murderers were caught, Truman Capote decided to write about the crime, so went to Holcomb to interview friends and neighbours of the victims, residents of the town, and the men investigating the case. It wasn’t long before the perpetrators were identified and captured, so Capote continued his project by writing about the trial and its aftermath – the imprisonment and execution of the murderers, Perry Smith and Richard “Dick” Hickock. This book, first published in 1966, is the result.

Capote approaches the subject from three angles, the victims, the townspeople and the murderers, with the narrative rotating among them. The Clutters, as portrayed here, were fine people, upstanding members of their community and their church, good neighbours and well respected. The children, especially Nancy, seem almost too good to be true, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much the old adage of never speaking ill of the dead had influenced the picture Capote paints. So even at this early stage of the book, I had begun to wonder how much reliance could be placed on Capote’s account of the people involved.

This feeling grew as the book progressed and Capote recounted as if they were facts things that he could only have learned from his interviews. While this may be fair enough with regards to the innocent people involved (though even then, oral testimony, especially when given not under oath, is notoriously unreliable), taking the words of Hickock and Smith at their own evaluation and drawing inferences as to their characters from this shaky evidence left me in a kind of limbo as to whether the book should be considered “true crime” or a fictionalised novel. I believe it gets categorised as a “non-fiction novel” – a description that seems deeply contradictory and problematic to me, designed to allow inaccuracies to pass unchallenged.

Book 37 of 90

To be clear, I found it extremely readable and, viewing it as fiction, the characterisation of the murderers is wholly credible. Capote seeks to understand them by going back through their early experiences for clues as to why they turned out as they did. Smith in particular had a terrible childhood, with an alcoholic mother who pretty much abandoned him and a father who was at best an intermittent presence and a disruptive one at that. Hickock is more difficult to pigeon-hole – his family seemed both respectable and caring. Capote ventures into psychiatry for answers, using the reports that were drawn up for the men by their defence team. He gives a relatively nuanced picture, neither seeking to whitewash them nor to wholly condemn.

His portrayal of the impact of this horrific crime on the small community is equally convincing. In a place where people didn’t feel the need to lock their doors at night, the intrusion of this horror seemed incredible, and Capote shows how for the first time neighbour began to suspect and fear neighbour. The arrest and conviction of the murderers couldn’t wholly put the genie back in the bottle, as Capote describes it – the townspeople’s feelings of security would never be the same.

An interesting omission is the perspective of the Clutters’ two older daughters, neither of whom lived at home. While Capote gives us some facts about them, we don’t get to know them at all nor to learn how they fared in the future. I could only assume that they refused to be interviewed for the book.

Some of the later scenes felt too contrived to be true, and I later learned on looking at wikipedia that some of the people involved had indeed denied their truth. For example, the scene where the wife of Perry’s jailer holds his hand while he sobs after being sentenced to death felt like something written for a Cagney film (or perhaps copied from one). And the super convenient final scene, played out between the chief investigator and one of the friends of young Nancy, now all grown up, provides a heartwarming conclusion of the restoration of order and the rebirth of all that is good and hopeful in life, and I didn’t believe a single word of it. According to wikipedia, the investigator later denied that it ever happened.

Truman Capote

So I have very mixed feelings about the book overall. It’s not got the essential truth to be true crime, and yet it’s presented too factually to really be considered a novel. And yet, it is beautifully written and intensely readable, and while it may not have factual truth, it feels as if, with regards to the personalities of the murderers, it may have achieved some kind of emotional truth – certainly emotional credibility, at any rate. I quite understand why it has a reputation as a classic of the genre – I’m just not sure what genre it’s a classic of. Perhaps it should be viewed as a one-off, uncategorisable. And as such, I’m happy to recommend it.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 179…

Episode 179…

Well, considering how many books have arrived in my house over the last week, I’m astonished to report that the TBR has only gone up by 2 – to 228! Clearly I must be getting through them as fast as a champion swimmer just about to take Olympic gold – what could possibly go wrong?

(This looks remarkably like my postman…)

Here’s a few more I should be getting my teeth into soon…

True Crime

The only non-fiction book on my Classics Club list, I can’t understand why I’ve never got around to reading this before – surely the most famous true crime book of them all. Time to correct this omission…

The Blurb says: The chilling true crime ‘non-fiction novel’ that made Truman Capote’s name, In Cold Blood is a seminal work of modern prose, a remarkable synthesis of journalistic skill and powerfully evocative narrative published in Penguin Modern Classics.

Controversial and compelling, In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and both their children. Truman Capote’s comprehensive study of the killings and subsequent investigation explores the circumstances surrounding this terrible crime and the effect it had on those involved. At the centre of his study are the amoral young killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickcock, who, vividly drawn by Capote, are shown to be reprehensible yet entirely and frighteningly human.

‘It is the American dream turning into the American nightmare … By juxtaposing and dovetailing the lives and values of the Clutters and those of the killers, Capote produces a stark image of the deep doubleness of American life … a remarkable book’ Spectator.

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Vintage Crime

Courtesy of the British Library. I have loved both the ECR Lorac books the BL has previously re-published, so am thrilled at the thought of this one. Great title, great cover… will the insides match up? My hopes are high…

The Blurb says: London. 1945. The capital is shrouded in the darkness of the blackout, and mystery abounds in the parks after dusk.

During a stroll through Regent’s Park, Bruce Mallaig witnesses two men acting suspiciously around a footbridge. In a matter of moments, one of them has been murdered; Mallaig’s view of the assailant but a brief glimpse of a ghastly face in the glow of a struck match.

The murderer’s noiseless approach and escape seems to defy all logic, and even the victim’s identity is quickly thrown into uncertainty. Lorac’s shrewd yet personable C.I.D. man MacDonald must set to work once again to unravel this near-impossible mystery.

* * * * *

Fiction

Courtesy of Penguin Viking via NetGalley. Although he can be variable, I love William Boyd and each new book is a special pleasure. This one is being very positively reviewed so far, and the setting – Edinburgh, Paris, pre-Revolutionary St Petersburg – almost makes it seem as if he’s written it specially for me. Hmm… my expectations are pretty stratospheric… can it possibly live up to them??

The Blurb says: This is William Boyd’s sweeping, heart-stopping new novel. Set at the end of the 19th century, it follows the fortunes of Brodie Moncur, a young Scottish musician, about to embark on the story of his life.

When Brodie is offered a job in Paris, he seizes the chance to flee Edinburgh and his tyrannical clergyman father, and begin a wildly different new chapter in his life. In Paris, a fateful encounter with a famous pianist irrevocably changes his future – and sparks an obsessive love affair with a beautiful Russian soprano, Lika Blum. Moving from Paris to St Petersburg to Edinburgh and back again, Brodie’s love for Lika and its dangerous consequences pursue him around Europe and beyond, during an era of overwhelming change as the nineteenth century becomes the twentieth.

Love is Blind is a tale of dizzying passion and brutal revenge; of artistic endeavour and the illusions it creates; of all the possibilities that life can offer, and how cruelly they can be snatched away. At once an intimate portrait of one man’s life and an expansive exploration of the beginning of the twentieth century, Love is Blind is a masterly new novel from one of Britain’s best loved storytellers.

* * * * *

Horror

Courtesy of Collins Chillers. This is the third and last of the selection of new horror collections HarperCollins kindly sent me. I’ve only “met” Robert W Chambers once before, in a short collection of his The King in Yellow stories, and to be honest I wasn’t thrilled by them. So it’ll be interesting to see if this collection can change my mind…

The Blurb says: Robert William Chambers’ The King in Yellow (1895) has long been recognised as a landmark work in the field of the macabre, and has been described as the most important work of American supernatural fiction between Poe and the moderns. Despite the book’s success, its author was to return only rarely to the genre during the remainder of a writing career which spanned four decades.

When Chambers did return to the supernatural, however, he displayed all the imagination and skill which distinguished The King in Yellow. He created the enigmatic and seemingly omniscient Westrel Keen, the ‘Tracer of Lost Persons’, and chronicled the strange adventures of an eminent naturalist who scours the earth for ‘extinct’ animals – and usually finds them. One of his greatest creations, perhaps, was 1920’s The Slayer of Souls, which features a monstrous conspiracy to take over the world: a conspiracy which can only be stopped by supernatural forces.

For the first time in a single volume, Hugh Lamb has selected the best of the author’s supernatural tales, together with an introduction which provides further information about the author who was, in his heyday, called ‘the most popular writer in America’.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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

TBR Thursday…

Resistance is Futile…

.

It’s got to stop, I tell you! It’s simply GOT TO STOP!!!

Oh, I do beg your pardon! It’s just that, as I wander virtually through the blogosphere, peeking at the pictures, getting outraged at the politics, laughing at the humour, I try – I really try very hard – not to read all the fabulous reviews of fabulous books that you people out there tempt me with every single day! But it’s no use – as my body double* Seven of Nine would doubtless say ‘Resistance is Futile’.

seven of nine

And the result is that this week my TBR pile finally topped the 100 mark, and that doesn’t include all those 99p Kindle buys that seemed like such a good idea at the time…

So, what’s to be done?

I gathered together a top-level think tank (me and the cats basically, who think I spend far too much time reading already when I could be worshipping them instead) and this is what we’ve come up with….

TBR Thursday…

Each week I will note all the recommendations that have piqued my interest and on Thursday, I will pick one – ONE – to add to the TBR pile…while all the rest will be returned to the Sea of Unread Books like little wee baby fishes. Who knows? These tiddlers may return one day to be caught again…

(*I may have used a little artistic licence here… 😉 )

Close but No Cigar Awards

With grateful thanks to the reviewers/recommenders, here are the runners-up in this week’s contest:

how i live nowA Young Adult book about children caught up in the occupation when England is invaded by an unnamed aggressor…

Rebecca Bradley says “I read this book in one day, I just couldn’t put it down. Rosoff captures the innocence of emotion and feelings, grabs hold of you and drags you right in. I loved this book and if you’re thinking of widening your reading experiences, I’d recommend Rosoff.”

See Rebecca’s full review

*******

Eva's eyeScandinavian crime with the first installment of the Inspector Sejer series.

Reading, Writing and Reisling says “A great read; a well structured plot, empathetic intelligent main characters, this is Fossum at her best. This is the first book in the Inspector Sejer series though it has been the last to be translated to English. The entire series is worthy of your consideration, you will not be disappointed.”

See the full review at Reading, Writing and Reisling

*******

bad blood sandfordA dark crime novel set in Minnesota, part of the Virgil Flowers series.

What Are You Reading For says “In contrast to its complex plot, Bad Blood is very economically written – it’s a very lean book, largely thanks to Sandford’s extensive journalist experience. He rarely repeats himself, and also keeps nothing deliberately hidden; everything that Flowers learns is laid open for the reader, so we see the investigation progress alongside him.”

See the full review at What Are You Reading For

*******

in true bloodProbably the most famous true crime book – and yet I’ve never read it!

50 Year Project says “But the murder and the days after were almost hypnotic. I can’t imagine the fear the family felt. And then the manhunt. Even though I knew the police actually apprehended the killers, I thought for sure they wouldn’t catch them when I was reading the book.”

See the full review at 50 Year Project

******

And the first TBR Thursday winner is…

 

headlong.

A novel about art, art history and academic skulduggery.

Alex says “From the moment the book begins, with Kate’s concern about her husband’s prevarication during his sabbatical, through his terror when he thinks that someone else might have spotted the object of his thesis, to the reformulation of ideas to fit new facts or worse the reinterpretation of facts to fit the thesis, Frayn is spot on.  Sometimes I laughed out loud.  Sometimes I winced with painful recollection.” (Actually Alex’s analysis of this book is so thorough, well written an insightful that, even if you don’t fancy the book, I highly recommend you read her post.)

See the full review at Thinking in Fragments

Now all I have to do is find time to read it…