Archive for November, 2014

Warren Clarke

Posted: November 12, 2014 in Book Awards, Dalziel and Pascoe, England

51a6twGKBUL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_I had read several of Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe books before the TV series began in 1996, and when Warren Clarke appeared for the firstDALZIEL AND PASCOE-DIALOGUES OF THE DEAD time on the screen he was exactly how I had envisioned the character of Andy Dalziel from the books.

It is with great sadness that I learned today that Warren Clarke had died at the age of 67. He was a fine actor and played many parts during his long career but he will always be remembered for his portrayal of the gruff Yorkshire detective.

My condolences to his family, he will be greatly missed.

Whenever I read a smart punchline in the Reginald Hill books I always imagined them coming from Warren Clarke.

       I’ll have beef as well, luv, said Dalziel. ‘But I’ll have mine roast with Yorkshire pud and lots of spuds.’  

death in the stocksThe front cover of Georgette Heyer’s A Blunt Instrument, a mystery novel published three years after Death in the Stocks, trumpets this recommendation from the San Francisco Chronicle :

“Ranks alongside such whodunnit authors as Christie, Marsh, Tey and Allingham”.

Reading this high praise, and also because Death in the Stocks was on a list of ten of the best Golden Age Crime novels at Crime Fiction Lover was more than enough reason to read this novel. 

My recent reading has raised certain questions in my mind.

Was the Golden Age a high point in crime fiction writing? Were most of the novels merely pure escapism from the harsh realities of the depression, and the difficult political situation during the interwar years, or did they have merit as social commentary about those times? And was Dame Agatha Christie by far the best author from that period, maybe not in literary style, but in the creation of clever plots and memorable characters? 

Georgette Heyer is more famous as a writer of historical romance novels set in Regency England, but between 1932 and 1953 she also wrote twelve detective books.

 P1010773Death in the Stocks published in 1935 has many of the classic features of Golden Age detective fiction, a wealthy hated murder victim, a lengthy cast of suspects, a dysfunctional family, a country cottage, faithful servants, and an affable detective. 

Arnold Vereker [the back cover and Crime Fiction Lover refer to Andrew Vereker but this is an error] a very rich man whose hobbies are social climbing and young women is found by Police Constable Dickenson stabbed to death, and put in the stocks at Ashleigh Green. 

‘Don’t seem to know his face.’

‘Well, I daresay you might not, sir. It’s Mr Vereker, of Riverside Cottage.’

‘Oh!’ said the Inspector with a little sniff. ‘One of those week-end people.’

So even back in 1935 wealthy townies bought property in villages, which then remained vacant throughout the week destroying the community, and also increasing house prices beyond the means of the locals. Clearly Ms Heyer foresaw the future of English village life.

When Riverside Cottage is searched Arnold’s half sister Antonia, known as Tony, is found to have spent the night there. She had quarrelled with Arnold, her P1030714guardian, over her engagement to company accountant Rudolph Mesurier. Arnold naturally objected to Rudolph borrowing company money, or as it is known among those without cut glass accents, embezzlement. She had come down to Ashleigh Green to have it out with Arnold. Antonia’s brother the supercilious Kenneth, an artist, is engaged to the beautiful Violet Williams, but also has the ordinary looking Leslie Rivers pursuing him. The faithful female servant is called Murgatroyd [first names for the lower classes were only discovered in England around 1963, along with The Beatles, Christine Keeler, Mandy Rice -Davies and Sex] while a cousin Giles Carrington is conveniently a lawyer and executor of Arnold’s will. 

Tony [Antonia] and her brother Kenneth talk to the detectives Superintendent Hannasyde and his assistant Sergeant Hemingway as if they are under footmen, but from my experience that is how the upper and upper middle classes reacted to workers in the 1950s so I am sure it was considerably worse in 1935. I read somewhere that Ms Heyer is able to reproduce accurately the “brittle and ironic conversation of the upper middle class Englishwoman”.

‘You do understand, don’t you darling?’

‘Yes, absolutely,’ replied Antonia. ‘You cooked the accounts and Arnold found out. I’ve often wondered how that’s done, by the way.

How do you do it, Rudolph?’ 

The dialogue in Death in the Stocks, so evocative of the time,  unfortunately to a modern ear makes the characters appear to be just spoilt brats so that one does not really care about them. When a supposedly dead relative arrives from South America to claim his inheritance the whole thing becomes a bit of a frivolous farce. When Death in the Stocks was produced as a play, concentrating on the comedic aspects of the book, in New York in 1937, it ran for 3 nights.

On the evidence of Death in the Stocks Georgette Heyer’s mystery novels are not in the same class as Christie, Marsh, Tey and Allingham, because the characters are stereotypes and the plot lacks complexity. But most of all because the detective Superintendent Hannasyde is not the dominant figure  that a Poirot would be.

‘I’m terribly sorry, Rudolph, but-but Giles wants me to marry him.

And he knows me awfully well, and we get on together, so-so I think I’d better, if you don’t mind very much.’     

HAVANA REQUIEM: PAUL GOLDSTEIN

Posted: November 6, 2014 in Book Awards, review, USA

havanarequiem4Paul Goldstein is a Stanford University law professor specialising in intellectual property law. Havana Requiem is his third book featuring Michael Seeley and it won the Harper Lee prize for legal fiction in 2013. Professor Goldstein is in good company as the award which began in 2011 has also been won by best selling authors John Grisham [winner in 2011 and 2014] and Michael Connelly [winner in 2012]. 

Recovering alcoholic Michael Seeley has been reinstated in his position as a partner in the New York law firm of Boone, Bancroft and Meserve after a series of mishaps related to his drinking in the previous book in the series. An elderly Cuban composer Hector Reynoso is sent to him by an old friend Hector Devlin aged 89. Hector represents a group of Cuban musicians and composers who wish to recover the copyright of their music which dates back to the 1940s and 1950s. The music has become popular due to the movie Buena Vista Social Club, and is played as jingles to advertise products such as frozen tacos and rum. Royalties from their music now brings in millions of dollars, but the composers receive nothing. Seeley and his Spanish speaking associate Elena Duarte divide up Seeley’s current workload, and Seeley is surprised when the music publishers agree to a waiver that allows him to represent the hlpcomposers.

Hobart ‘Hobie’ Harriman arranges for Seeley to meet with Evernham and Company bankers, who offer Seeley a mysterious and very wealthy client if he desists from pursuing the claim for the Cubans. The reader is told Evernham are the type of bank who have clients not customers. Reminding me of the reverse message, when a health minister told dentists working for the English NHS [public health dentistry] that we no longer had patients, but now had customers and consequently less status and remuneration.

Hector Reynoso then disappears, and Seeley travels to Cuba to obtain the signatures of the musicians/composers before an upcoming legal deadline. In Cuba the descriptive writing brings the reader close to the rhythms of Africa, Cuban culture, the heat, the crumbling colonial architecture and the big old American cars. 

The candles gave off a lavender scent and the flickering shadows lent an impermanence to the room.

The dark hair that Seeley had only seen pulled back into the dancer’s severe bun, was down now, falling in curls over Amaryll’s shoulders, amazing in its thick abundance.

Seeley falls in love with the beautiful Amaryll, who symbolically drives a rickety Lada left behind by the Russians, and he becomes mixed up not only with the security police but the US State Department. 

2014-Jan-Cuba-001-242-1024x678This is an excellent book, and the characters such as the slimy ‘Hobie’ Harriman are memorable mostly as a contrast to the honesty of Amaryll, and the struggling people of Cuba. The narrative is intense and emotional taking the reader from the smart law offices, and squash courts of New York to the dismal security police prison cells and rough justice of Havana. 

“Government ?” Amaryll laughed. ‘ That is an American fantasy! There is no government here.

Fidel is a ghost. Raul is the ghost’s brother. There are just the police, who make Linares Cordina’s life a misery, and the security police , who Onelio and the others worry about.

The rest is just stories about the revolution that old white men at the Plaza de la Revolucion tell to each other. That and their dreams. But no government.

 

Cuban society is portrayed, perhaps harshly I don’t know enough about it, as a country blighted by racism, poverty and corruption, and the lawyers, bankers and mysterious holding companies back in the US are no better.

Paul Goldstein has brought the dry subject of intellectual property law into the world of legal thrillers with a great deal of success, while giving the reader some moral questions to consider.

Hobie was the force that brought people together with the trappings of power and pleasure.

Seeley said, ‘Who’s going to represent this kind of client if we don’t?”

” They can go to Legal Aid.”