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Posts Tagged ‘murder’

The Eighth Day begins with murder of Breckenridge Lansing in his yard as he and his friend John Ashley are engaged in their customary Sunday afternoon rifle practice.

Tried and convicted for the murder, Ashley was rescued from execution by six silent, disguised men and never heard from again.


The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder
Harper & Row, 1967. 435 p. 1967 bestseller #6. My grade: B+.

Having hooked his readers, Thornton Wilder plays them for another 400 pages, now letting them drift backward on the story line, them abruptly jerking them forward into the Great War era.

Set out in linear fashion, the plot would be fairly simple. Wilder’s literary style makes it complicated—which appears to be his point: The world’s bid and wide and our perspective is narrow.

Wilder dips deep into the histories of the Lansings and Ashleys, seeking family traits that the 1902 characters might have inherited that could explain their behaviors.

The time shifts nearly hide the absurdities in the plot.

Wilder’s characters are clearly drawn, entirely believable bundles of heroism and absurdities.

Despite that, whatever is distinctive about the characters is crushed beneath Wilder’s self-conscious style.

quote : compares way some people naturally idealize to silk moth's secretion

He produces bon mots as continuously as a Bombyx mori secretes silk.

quote: idealism of youth compared to silk moth's silk secretion

Two comparisons to a Bombyx mori secreting silk within 16 pages is one mot too many.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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In his father’s day, a gun-fighter worried only about better gunfighters. Since then the Rangers have been organized to bring law and order to Texas.

Buck Duane will be the last of his gun-fighting family.


The Lone Star Ranger by Zane Gray

Project Gutenberg eBook #1027. 1915 bestseller #9. My grade: B-.


After killing a man in a gunfight, Buck flees in the Rio Grande country. He lives among a gang of outlaws long enough to make enemies, then wanders alone for some two years.

Captain MacNelly of the Texas Rangers hears enough good of Buck to offer him a pardon if he’ll work undercover for him.

Buck accepts.

His task is to find and destroy the gang whose mastermind, Cheseldine, no one appears to have ever seen.

In Fairdale, in the heart of cattle rustling country, Buck is captivated by the mayor’s lovely daughter.

Most readers will guess how the plot resolves itself.

Why Buck feels drawn to kill is the story’s real interest. Zane Grey makes Buck’s first gunfight into what we’d call a virtual reality experience today—and we’d seek a label warning it isn’t suitable for all audiences.

Grey suggests some possible answers, but doesn’t come to any conclusion. Instead, he ruins the story by promising Buck will stop killing because of “the faith and love and beauty of [a] noble woman.”

The Lone Star Ranger isn’t a great novel, but it deserves a better ending than that.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Postoffice add general store in Boxhill, Surrey, England

Will Dale’s post office probably looked much like this one in Boxhill, Surrey, England in 2003.

The Devil’s Garden opens with postmaster Will Dale receiving notice that he’s been suspended for a trivial incident that the local MP used as an example of the officiousness of civil servants.

Will’s wife, Mavis, and Will’s temporary replacement, Mr. Ridgett, suspect Will won’t present himself well at his suspension hearing.

Will thinks Mavis frets unnecessarily, and he suspects Ridgett of interest in Mavis.

Mavis, however, is right to fret.

Will is officious.blue book cover, with "The Devils' Garden By W. B. Maxwell" in gold letters

If it were not for the intercession of Mr. Barradine, an ex-Cabinet Minister in whose house Mavis worked when Will met her, Will would have lost his job.

Before Will can resume his duties, Mr. Barradine is dead and the Dales are occupying separate bedrooms.

The narrative pushes forward relentlessly. Readers can guess at what happened, but have to wait for Will to tell how it happened and why he did what he did.

W. B. Maxwell’s characters are finely delineated and realistically colored. Will and Mavis feel like people you’ve met at one time or another.

Will is a loving husband, helpful neighbor, hard-working employee. His joining the chapel contains a believable mix of business acumen, faith, and doubt that makes the typical religious novel feel hokey.

The Devil playeth in a man’s mind like a
wanton child in a garden, bringing his filth
to choke each open path, uprooting the
tender plants, and trampling the buds that
should have blown for the Master.

The Devil’s Garden
by W[illiam]  B[abington] Maxwell
Project Gutenberg ebook #14605
1914 bestseller #9
My grade: B+

Photo credit: Postoffice By PeterD

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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James Oliver Curwood’s A Gentleman of Courage is the love story of two youngsters who are informally adopted by the residents of a community on an inlet off Lake Superior.
Peter and Mona
The boy, Peter MacRae, is the son of a man wanted for murder. He sends Peter to a friend who owns the lumber mill at Five Fingers before disappearing.

Entering Five Fingers, Peter sees orphan Mona Guyon being molested. Although Aleck Curry is older and stronger than he, Peter rushes to her assistance, winning her everlasting devotion.

Peter is required to prove his courage several more times before the novel ends.

Peter and Mona are planning their wedding when Donald MacRae returns, weak and ill but longing for sight of his son. The police, led by Aleck Curry, are on his trail.

Curwood has difficulty making the children’s behavior fit both their ages and the plot. Either they appear way too old or way too young.

He draws other characters with such broad strokes they appear as caricatures. Fortunately Curwood includes enough action that the underdeveloped characters are not obvious until the book’s end.

The novel is good enough to keep readers turning pages, but not good enough to make them remember what they read a week later.

Peter returns to Five Fingers

Five Fingers greets Peter on his return after the forest fire.

A Gentleman of Courage: A Novel of the Wilderness
By James Oliver Curwood
Illustrations from original paintings by Robert W. Stewart
Cosmopolitan Book Corp., 1924
1924 bestseller #5
My grade: B-
 

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Sign saying push me points to doorbell button

Push the button twice.

James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice is a sordid story of adultery and murder — and it is superb reading. Eighty years after publication, it is as fresh and contemporary as human nature itself.

Frank Chambers drifts into a California fuel-and-sandwich joint. Owner Nick Papdakis offers Frank a job pumping gas.

Work isn’t Frank’s line, but he takes the job after getting an eyeful of Nick’s sulky, raven-haired wife, Cora.

Before 24 hours pass, Frank has Cora in bed. Cora wants “to work and be something,” but she says she can’t do that without love. If Frank will love her, she’ll be a hellcat, just once.

Nick’s days are numbered.

Frank and Cora bump off the Greek on their second attempt, but their cover-up goes awry. Their lawyer gets them off, but also sets them up for blackmail.

The more they struggle to get free, the more they are entangled.

Eventually, fate steps with a last ironic twist to the plot.

Read The Postman Always Rings Twice instead of watching it on late night TV. You’ll be glad you did. None of the four film versions is nearly as good as the book.

The Postman Always Rings Twice
By James M. Cain
Grosset & Dunlap, 1934
188 pages
My grade B+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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A stodgy New England writer meets a sultry siren with a screw loose, setting the scene for murder and mayhem in Ben Ames Williams riveting novel Leave Her to Heaven.

Richard Harland meets Ellen Berent in New Mexico where she has come with her mother and sister to scatter her father’s ashes. Richard is fascinated by Ellen but something about her troubles him.

He decides he’ll remain a bachelor.

Ellen has other ideas.

Writing off her finance-lawyer, she maneuvers Richard into marriage, telling him, “I will never let you go.”

Ellen is jealous of Richard’s younger brother, Danny; of her sister, Ruth; of Richard’s friends; of his writing — of anything that takes Richard’s attention from her.

There’s a series of unfortunate accidents.

Danny drowns.

Ellen’s baby is stillborn.

Ellen herself dies of acute gastritis.

About two years later, Richard marries Ruth. They are just home from their honeymoon when Ruth is charged with Ellen’s murder.

To show Ruth’s innocence, her lawyer must show Ellen committed suicide. He puts Richard on the stand and probes the details of his deteriorating relationship with Ellen.

Leave Her to Heaven is well-plotted with keenly-drawn characters. Pristine New England forests provide stark contrast to Ellen’s poisonous malevolence, making this spine-chilling, can’t-put-down reading.

Leave Her to Heaven
By Ben Ames Williams
Houghton Mifflin, 1944
429 pages
1944 bestseller #7
My Grade: A-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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Dust Jacket shows theater party in The Royal BoxThe Royal Box is a murder mystery with an epilogue that seems added to let the story end on a upbeat note.

Frances Parkinson Keyes provides a cast of characters in order of appearance. The book jacket provides an account of the love affair in 1926 that led to the murder-by-cyanide in 1951. The fact that both those reader aids were thought necessary in a work of popular fiction shows how complicated the novel is.

The poisoned man is Baldwin Castle, newly appointed ambassador to an oil-rich Middle Eastern nation. Years before, after being jilted by an English aristocrat, he’d had an affair with actress Janice Lester.

He left her pregnant.

When Castle and his new, second wife pass through London, they are entertained with a theater party in the Royal Box at the theater where Janice Lester is starring.

The guests include the woman who Castle thought jilted him; the ambassador of the country to which Castle has been assigned; Janice, her husband, and their adopted son who is really Castle’s and Janice’s son.

A dry-as-dust policeman figures out who done it.

And Keyes makes sure everyone’s life ends more happily than Baldwin Castle’s did.

The Royal Box
By Frances Parkinson Keyes
New York: Julian Messner, 1954
303 pages
1954 bestseller #4
My grade: C

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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