The Glitter Dome isn’t gold

The title of The Glitter Dome is set in glittering type
The title is covered in glitter.

The Glitter Dome is another of ex-cop Joseph Wambaugh’s police anti-procedurals.

Like The Choirboys, Dome is about cops doing things cops are supposed to keep from happening.

The main story is about partners Al Mackey and Martin Welborn, career cops old enough to be eyeing retirement hopefully. They have just been assigned to clear the murder of Nigel St. Clair.

Al and Marty have cleared other murders by arranging proof that the victim killed himself.

This time, however, they can’t find any way pass the shooting off as murder.

Marty gets interested in trying to solve the crime.

Meanwhile Gibson Hand and Buckmore Phipps are walking their beat when ball of clay thrown in an artists’ studio knocks Phipps’s hat off.

In the studio, a Marine modeling for the artists has a note in his pocket that says Nigel St. Clair and a phone number.

Overlapping coincidences lead to the cops solving the murder.

Wambaugh milks his story for laughs, but cop humor is pretty much that of sixth grade boys: Funny if you’re a sixth grader.

The characters are drawn in broad strokes: Only Marty emerges as a person.

The rest of the cops are people you don’t want to know.

The Glitter Dome by Joseph Wambaugh
William Morrow. ©1981. 299 p.
1981 bestseller #9. My grade: B

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Looking for Mr. Goodbar: A powerful depressant

The woman’s position is decidedly uncomfortable.

Theresa Dunn is nobody you’d particularly notice. She’s an average looking girl with average intelligence who teaches first grade in a New York City school.

One of five children, Terry like millions of others attended parochial schools and like thousands of others was paralyzed by polio in the decade after World War II.

Polio made Theresa different.

That and the accidental death of her beloved elder brother who was more like a father to her than her father.

Hospitalization warped Terry.

Afterward she yearns for love and fears its impermanence.

In the sixties, she slips into the drug culture, looking to booze, marijuana, and sex to fill the hollow left from childhood.

Novelist Judith Rossner’s rendition of the vibe of Terry’s childhood trauma felt right to me: I survived a far less serious case of polio.

Whether Terry’s childhood trauma predestined her to adult misery and led to her murder is open to debate — and in today’s opioid epidemic is worth debating.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar is a slender novel on a serious topic, quickly read but not easily forgotten.

It is, however, a profoundly depressing novel.

Ready your preferred drug—good chocolate, hot tea, or a copy of Pollyanna—for a chaser.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar by Judith Rossner
Simon and Schuster ©1975 284 p.
1975 bestseller #4. My grade: A

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Curtain: Poirot’s last case

In Curtain, the last Hercule Poirot mystery, novelist Agatha Christie takes Poirot back to the setting of the 1920 novel that began the series: Styles Court.

That’s a mustache under  the Curtain.

As then, Poirot is joined by Captain Hastings. Unlike then, Poirot is now old, deformed by arthritis, using a wheelchair.

Styles Court is now a guest house. Poirot has persuaded Hasting’s daughter, Judith, and the Franklins, who are her boss and his wife, to come to Styles Court.

There are other people staying at the house, Poirot and Hastings have never met.

Poirot has asked Hastings to come to help him investigate the guests and prevent a murder which he is sure is going to be committed.

Poirot has already identified five seemingly unrelated murder cases in which no one doubted who the murderer was. Yet Poirot believes the person responsible for all five of the murders was someone else—a person who is at Styles Court.

With Poirot confined to a wheelchair, it’s up to Hastings to do the legwork.

Poirot fans will appreciate this unexpected end to the 55-year series.

For those who don’t know him, Curtain is not a good introduction to the little Belgian with the mustache.

Curtain by Agatha Christie
Dodd, Mead [1975] 1st ed. 238 p.
1975 bestseller #3. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The Secret Woman: Implausible diversion

Victoria Holt’s The Secret Woman is an old-fashioned mystery story arising from the Victorian aristocrats’ need for a male heir carry on the line.

Dust jacket of The Secret Woman
Book Club Edition dust jacket

The leading lady is Anna Brett, a orphan in the care of an eccentric maiden aunt who buys but rarely sells antique furniture in an English seaport dominated by the Crediton shipping firm.

When her aunt dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving an-all-but bankrupt business, Anna gets a job as governess Castle Crediton. She owes her job to Chantel Loman who had come to nurse Aunt Charlotte and became Anna’s confidant.

It’s Chantel who sees Anna has fallen hard for the Crediton’s bastard son, Captain Redvers Stretton, about whom dark things are hinted.

Chantel, who had become nurse to Captain Stretton’s disturbed wife, seems more interested in Rex Crediton, the acknowledged son and heir to the family’s fortune.

Lady Crediton plans for Rex to marry the daughter of a competing firm, effectively merging the two.

The Secret Woman contains only nice, appropriately Victorian upper-class murders: no blood in sight, no police on the premises.

Holt keeps the story moving so readers don’t think too hard about the multiple implausibilities in the story until after they’ve finished the tale.

The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt
Doubleday, ©1970, Book Club Edition, 374 p.
1970 bestseller #8. My grade: B

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Seven Minutes: A case against censorship

The Seven Minutes is a novel about a novel.

Barely visible nude woman on her back
The sexual element is central to, but not the focus of,  Irving Wallace’s bestseller The Seven Minutes.

An Oakland, CA, bookstore owner sells a pre-release copy of The Seven Minutes to undercover cops who arrest him for selling pornography.

Shortly thereafter, a college boy from a good family confesses to rape and murder. He claims reading the French-printed copy of the novel, which was banned worldwide as pornographic and blasphemous, was behind his assault.

Fearing he’ll be left with thousands of unsaleable books, the publisher hires his friend Michael Barrett to defend the bookstore owner.

The District Attorney realizes that by prosecuting the case he can muster support for his planned run for Congress.

Despite its sexy topic (the banned novel relates a woman’s thoughts during seven minutes of sexual intercourse) I suspect many readers found The Seven Minutes over-hyped.

Although there is graphic sex in the novel—and some scuzzy lowlife characters—it’s a small portion of the page count.

The meat of the story is the exhausting legwork the defense slogs through to build its case.

Irving Wallace gives Barrett long passages to recite from cases and legal scholars. Unless Barrett has a photographic memory, the quotations not only  interrupt the story flow, but are implausible.

If you’re interested in the censorship issues, I suggest you read The Seven Minutes once for the story, then go back to examine the legal arguments.

The Seven Minutes by Irving Wallace
Pocket Books, 1969. [paper] 630 p. 1969 bestseller #6. My grade: B.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Eighth Day: A simple story made complicated

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

The Lone Star Ranger is too good for its ending

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

Ordinary people, tempting plot tangles in The Devil’s Garden

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

 

A Gentleman of Courage Has Few Other Good Points

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

The Postman Still Delivers the Goods

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