Monday, 18 February 2019

Books: The Literary Reflection, XV

It has been a while, hasn't it? Have we finally accumulated enough fragments to make a 'Literary Reflection'? Yes! Huzzah!

'Star Trek: Dreadnought!' (1986) by Diane Carey
Is it good, or is it just because it's 'Star Trek' and I read it when I was growing up? I'm not sure I could ever really answer that question. It's right there in the box called labelled 'confusion', along with 'The Belgariad' and a few other things. However, for all that confusion, it's still an enjoyable romp with what might be called a 'Star Trek Junior' crew. Diane Carey is right up there on my list of important 'Star Trek' authors, and that means something. She seems to have a link into the maritime side of the show that serves her very well. On this occasion, captaincy candidate Lieutenant Piper is re-assigned to the legendary starship Enterprise, under her hero Captain Kirk, and quickly lands herself in hot water and a potential galactic crisis. Will she and her ragtag mini-crew manage to save the situation before Kirk does? Well, it's a close call...

'The Crime At Black Dudley' (Campion) (1929) by Margery Allingham
Having watched all of the television 'Campion' in a month very recently, it seemed a natural choice to take a look at the books. As can be found via a little research, the first 'Campion' novel is very atypical of the series that follows, in that he is a side character and possibly a stooge for a Moriarty-style villain somewhere in the outer world of the story. Possibly. Also, this isn't a mystery story at all, but a thriller, in which a weekending party group is held hostage in a mansion by some hoodlums, who are intent on finding a mysterious item stolen by one of their number. It does turn unexpectedly into a mystery near the end, but in reality it's a thriller, and there are secret passages and romances in play. There's nothing truly remarkable, except perhaps that it's remarkably fluent for a mystery/thriller written in the 1920s, and seems somehow atypical for its time. Half-recommended.

'The Girl On The Boat' (1922) by PG Wodehouse
Venturing away from the 'Blandings' and 'Jeeves And Wooster' stories seems a bit risky when it comes to Wodehouse. In this case, 'The Girl On The Boat' is a relative dud, and rehash (or prehash) of many other Wodehouse novels but with less success. It has good moments, of course, but the underhanded tactics of the protagonist make it a harder experience than would it have been best with someone who had our sympathy. The novel does have the comparative merit of not being the incredibly awkward and mis-cast movie adaptation, though, and we do get another of the Wodehousian butlers, without whom the world would be the poorer.

'A Meditation On Murder' (Death In Paradise) (2015) by Robert Thorogood

Interesting. This is interesting. Not having seen the television series (shock horror!), this mystery was approached more or less purely on its own merits. In some ways, it fits in perfectly with what I call the 'Christopher Nolan Principle': 'In a world of hacks, a competent workman might be viewed as a genius.', which is not intended to put anyone down but instead put things in their perspective. This is a good attempt at a contemporary locked room murder, and is written well, one or two steps above standard 'bestseller drab'. In what I assume is homage/devotion/slavery/servitude to the original television medium, Inspector Richard Poole does spend a lot of time staring at the very novel locked room and wondering what he's missing, and we have a scene at the end where the detective brings the small band of suspects together for the Big Reveal. Oh, and there is a stubborn reluctance to ever consider anyone outside the small bunch of Most Obvious Suspects. Despite all those quibbles, it's a nice read, and probably even moreso for fans of the series. The second book is bound to be better. I feel it in the bones...


Friday, 15 February 2019

Novel: 'Ivanhoe' (1819) by Sir Walter Scott

What a long journey for this novel. I first borrowed it from the school library many eons ago, forget to return it, and then it ended up unread on a shelf somewhere. Then, a small number of years ago, the conscience was finally pricked, and I ordered another copy, and started to read it. 'Ivanhoe' was a bit of a revelation. For some reason, I had the idea that it was going to be a very dry classic, but it ended up being a classic adventure yarn, somewhere on the epic side of things, and thoroughly inoffensive to all. It's strange to read all the historical emnity towards the Jewish people at that time, but it's important to remind people how things were, and learn from it.

It's hard to believe that 'Ivanhoe' was written two hundred years ago. Two hundred years. Two centuries. The language is quite dense, but otherwise it is very readable. My putting it down for an extended period and then having to restart is not a criticism of the book, but an indication of unstable times in the past year or two. Also, the classical mistake of reading the introduction was made, and in this case compounded by mis-reading the introduction. I was sure I read that one of the main characters would die, and that proved a deterrent, but in actuality no-one died. Well, people died, but none of the people we were following. It's actually strange, in that sense, to have zero relevant fatalities.

The fascinating part of 'Ivanhoe', apart from it being a swashbuckler that I never read, is the neat concision with which it incorporates what we now think of as 'The Robin Hood Story'. The tournement is in there, as are all his notable Merry Men except Maid Marian, and his encounter with King Richard. Prince John is in there, fomenting rebellion and trying to usurp the throne, and Friar Tuck proves a wonderful side character. It's not really clear why Wilfred of Ivanhoe gets to be the titular character though, as he's injured or sidelined for the vast majority of the story, and a bit wet the rest of the time.

There's a risk associated with long classical novels, that they might not support their own length, and just meander around for a few hundred pages in the mid-section, but 'Ivanhoe' seemed to maintain momentum. It helps that one of the major setpieces occurred in the middle, the besieging of a castle and the capture and kidnapping of the real central character, Rebecca the Jewess, the object of desire for the main antagonist, the very unsettled Knight Templar Brian de Bois-Gilbert.

Yes, this one is solidly recommended, but you may need reading stamina to successfully take it on. It's not for the sprinter.