Mini-reviews: Sleep, Magpie, Bookshop

Big SleepRaymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

I haven’t read widely in the hardboiled mystery genre, but I don’t tend to love dark books, so I was a bit apprehensive about trying this one. But I actually really enjoyed the voice of this book — it’s funny and descriptive and uses startlingly apt metaphors. The plot is exciting and twisty, highlighting the governmental and societal corruption of 1930s Los Angeles in a grim yet matter-of-fact way. Philip Marlowe is a flawed protagonist, to say the least, and the book’s portrayal of women is ugly, albeit true to its time. But all in all, I’m interested to read more of Raymond Chandler in the future.

Magpie MurdersAnthony Horowitz, Magpie Murders

This book has gotten a lot of good buzz, including a lot of comparisons to Agatha Christie, so I was excited to read it. Ultimately, though, I have mixed feelings about it. There are two mysteries for the price of one. First, an editor is reading the manuscript of famous mystery writer Alan Conway’s latest novel, but the last chapters are missing. What happened to them, and where is Conway now? Second, of course, there’s the mystery within Conway’s novel, which involves two deaths that may or may not be related. I was much more interested in the second mystery than the first; I found the editor tiresome, Conway odious, and none of the other characters in that story memorable. But I did think the solution to the second mystery (within Conway’s novel) was pretty ingenious. Basically, I enjoyed the puzzle but could have done without all the meta stuff.

Bookshop on the CornerJenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the Corner

I’m now officially a fan of Jenny Colgan. This book is pure wish-fulfillment fantasy, but it’s also well-written and charming — the perfect read if you’re looking for something light and uplifting. When main character Nina gets laid off from her job, she decides to follow her dream of opening a mobile bookstore. I think a lot of us bookish folks can relate! Nina also, naturally, finds herself torn between two suitors…I wanted to roll my eyes at the saccharine predictability of it all, but the romance actually did work for me, so I won’t complain too much! A lovely comfort read, and I’ll continue to seek out more books by Jenny Colgan.

Review: The Hunter

Hunter, TheRichard Stark, The Hunter

This book introduces Parker, a criminal whose combination of street smarts and brute force has enabled him to live comfortably on the proceeds from his thefts. But his life is fundamentally disrupted when a job goes awry and one of his partners double-crosses him. Now Parker is consumed with thoughts of revenge, and he’ll do anything to catch up with Mal Resnick, the man who stole both his money and his wife. Parker uses a variety of tactics, including intimidation and murder, to track Mal down; meanwhile, Mal learns that Parker is on his trail and tries desperately to escape his clutches. Parker’s task is made more complicated by the fact that Mal is a memeber of an extremely influential crime syndicate called the Outfit, and the Outfit isn’t inclined to let Parker have his way. In order to exact his revenge, Parker must eventually go up against the whole organization; but will killing Mal sign his own death warrant?

While I enjoy the occasional film noir or con movie, I don’t tend to like the noir genre in book form. I tend to prefer my mysteries a little less violent, with a more clearly defined moral code (i.e., the killer is the bad guy). This book has a very cynical tone and a protagonist with few, if any, redeeming qualities. Frankly, I found Parker horrifying, especially in his violent treatment of women and his casual approach to killing anyone who gets in his way. Yet I actually ended up enjoying this book! I liked the writing style, which doesn’t waste any words and gets straight to the point. I also really enjoyed watching the story unfold: the book alternates from Parker’s story in the present to the story of the job that went wrong. Additionally, it was fascinating to see how Parker’s situation changes throughout the novel, as his quest for vengeance against one man turns into a war against the entire Outfit. If I’m ever in the mood for a darker mystery, I may even continue with this series!

There are also two film adaptations of the book, “Point Blank” (1967, starring Lee Marvin) and “Payback” (1999, starring Mel Gibson). I haven’t seen either of them, but I think this story would translate really well to film! Has anyone seen either of these movies, and if so, would you recommend them?

Review: The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell HammettDashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

Sam Spade is a private investigator operating in the seedy underbelly of early 20th-century San Francisco. His clients are usually shady types who don’t want to get mixed up with the police, so he knows right away that the beautiful Miss Wonderly, who comes into his office with a sob story about a missing sister, is trouble. Spade agrees to take the case, and his partner Archer shadows the girl in hopes of discovering more about her. When Archer ends up dead shortly thereafter, Spade must investigate Miss Wonderly (whose real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy) and the various shady characters with whom she is involved. But the case becomes even more dangerous than he imagined when he discovers a group of criminals on the trail of a priceless historical artifact known as the Maltese falcon.

I hate to say this about such a well-loved classic mystery, but I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. The writing style didn’t do anything for me, and the plot was only so-so. Now, I’m sure it was wildly creative at the time, as I believe Hammett was one of the pioneers of the noir genre. But in this day and age, the twists are all too familiar. I am glad I read the book, since it’s an influential part of pop culture, but it’s not something that I’d read again just for fun. I am curious to see the movie, though; I predict that this is one of those rare cases where the movie is better than the book! All in all, while I quite liked The Thin Man, this book was just not for me.