Saturday, 21 June 2014

Book review: Hallowe'en Party

DSC_5824-d-pumpkin-faded Hallowe'en Party is a crime story by Agatha Cristie featuring "Hercule Poirot, the renowned Belgian detective". I picked it up because a friend of my daughter was reading it, and finished it that day.

Pros: well, there's a mystery to solve. And there's some (rather heavy handed) social commentary. And there's a wonderful girl called Miranda in it, just as there is in reality.

Cons: its all rather formulaic. Though to be fair, calling an Agatha Christie formulaic is like calling peas green.

I won't describe the story; wiki has done that. Its a variant on the mansion-house-murder theme, where there are a carefully limited supply of suspects. There is one nice twist (see footnote 1) but otherwise the identity of the murderer (see footnote 2) isn't too hard to see.

Things that are objectionable:

1. Superintendent Spence, a retired police officer, just happens to have settled nearby. Blimey, that's a bit of a co-incidence, no? And an essential one: not only does he short-circuit the evidence gathering, he also provides an entree for Poirot to people who would otherwise not have talked to him.

2. Although the investigating detective is nominally Poirot, nothing in the book depends on this, or reflects on it in any way. In particular, the thoughts and reactions of the detective to the social situations he comes upon are completely un-Belgian; they are in fact the thoughts of a well-brought-up-Englishwoman, viz Agatha Christie. Or, put another way, the book would have been better as a Miss Marple story. This includes the way he looks at houses, gardens, interiors, people. I object to this because its part of the "formulaic"ness of the book; its really a storyline / plot, with generic characters inserted to fill it out. The detective might just as well have been called X and the characters A, B, C and so on (indeed the children sort-of are; there was an Ann, a Beatrice, and I forget the others but I think a C too).

3. There's some social commentary; after all a child has been murdered, and although she is careful to point out that no sexual assault took place, the crime places that and similar ideas in our minds. Many of the characters rabbit on, in a not entirely convincing way, about how the world has been getting worse recently. And there's stuff about how nutters who should have been locked up are at large; possibly this was a political issue in 1969 when the book was written. And then, it turns out that two slightly dodgy teenage boys are the saviours of Miranda, even though they wear red velvet jackets. Or something; I forget the details. Anyway, my point is that's all a bit heavy handed.

So, there you have it. Perhaps I ought to try reading an early Poirot, and see if its any better. By contrast, I recall reading a Maigret ("Maigret au Picratt's", and yes I was pleased with myself for reading it in the original French) which was full of character.

Footnotes

1. The one nice twist is that Joyce really is a liar. We're all set up to believe that this one time she actually told the truth - about witnessing the murder - but it turns out she was lying about that too.

2. Murderers, of course, but I didn't want to say that in the main text.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Book review: Daughter of smoke and bone

Yet another of the books I've read on Saturday mornings in Waterstones. And for that purpose, its fine: undemanding, fun. Read all about it: Daughter of smoke and bone.

But - and its the usual but - it is ultimately forgettable, derivative, formulaic. Perhaps its the book someone who would have liked to be a 17 year old art student in Prague would have written. The initial ideas and environment sits well, the odd situation is nicely set up, but as so often it falls down in trying to make sense of the initial setup (if three's a war over there, and one side has doors into here, then why mess around with teeth? Buy guns! And so on).

And yet, if part two appears and is any good, I'll likely read that too.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Now we are fifty

And so, I am fifty. No particularly momentous thought occurs to me, and nothing seems suddenly changed, which is unsurprising.

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Perhaps a picture will replace a thousand words? Here I am in the course of a walk with Rob near Milton-under-Wychwood.

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Saturday, 22 March 2014

Book review: On the steel breeze

TL;DR: No.

On the steel breeze is one I regret: I really should have known - indeed, I really did know - better than to start reading it. I'm moderately pleased I had the sense to stop reading before the end; about 3/4 of the way through. But I regret not stopping earlier. Its another interminable part of his series about not-very-interesting-people that began with Blue Remembered Earth (see my review of that). Its all a bit "oh, I've got a storyline, I'll spin it out into another book, because I'm pretty well out of ideas".

Other people liked it more, so you could read them if you want a different opinion. But even there you can see some of the doubt I have.

[Note: I wrote this on 2014/06/20, but I've arbitrarily pushed it back a few months to about when I read it.]

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Chatsworth, old man

2014-03-16 13.31.37 A sequel to Stanage, Youth.

Howard had the 16th or March available. The forecast was acceptable. Unfortunately Daniel was homebound, finishing his electronic project. But Steve McCann and Chris X turned up later.

We initially went to Stanage but it was overcast - although the sky had been clear in Cambridge, and for the drive up - and really rather windy, not unlike Aviemore carpark. For the sake of form we walked up to the crag but it wasn't one of those days when the wind blows from off the moors and the face itself is sheltered.

So we went to Chatsworth. Which I've only been to once before, also with Howard I think. You park in the Robin Hood Inn park (bring your National Trust card) 2-3 miles East of Baslow, then cross the road and follow a just-about-signed concessionary footpath for a little while. Then all of a sudden buttresses loom above you like giants, in particular Sentinel Buttress where we stopped initially. And its a good place to start climbing, and a good reference point.

My picture shows SB. Its big, it has a giant prow (which we went nowhere near) and it stands above the path like a... Sentinel.

Our tally for the day:

* Choked crack, Diff, HKR lead. This one just a warm up.
* Choked chimney, VD. Ditto, but for my lead. All the rest are mine too, except the last.
* Cave climb **, Diff. An HKR signature route. The crux is escaping the "cave" formed by the chockstone at the top. Its awkward, and for anyone except the very slim you need to remove everything from your breast pockets. Chris didn't escape, so had to lower off, walk round to the top, and belay Steve to get the gear out.
* Stranglers crack *, VD.
* Stranglers grove S. These two are a pair: SC is nominally the R of twin cracks, leading straight up to what looks like a very hard finish but isn't, due to a tiny edge just under a curving lip. SG is nominally the L crack, and goes slightly L to a prow, which would be easy were it not for the tree growing above it, so you get the choice of grovelling on your belly on the prow or boldly treating the tree as an overhang. Just to make things fun, I lead the L crack up the SC finish, then the R crack up the SG finish.
1956781_10152275196462350_823807951_o* Cave crack, S 4a. To the right of CC is this wide flared crack, which is very awkward and thrutchy to start. And I only get severe for that?
* Double cave, Diff. A bit like Cave climb, only the exit hole is somewhat bigger, but its a proper cave. Deep and mossy.
* Empress crack S 4b. Laybacking. Very good, and strenuous, at the start of the season.
* Emperor flake climb **, VD. Really quite airy at the top.
* Princes crack, HS 4b. This one is a right bastard to start - completely out of balance and reaching-around into blindness on smears. Steve had lead this, and there was a spare rope to second so I took it. Perhaps because I was seconding I didn't care quite so much, so didn't climb as well as I might - less care over the feet, too much "oh the rope will save me". Still hard work even done that way.

Nothing above HS you'll notice, but, well, its early days yet. And the conditions weren't perfect. And the grades there aren't easy, I'd say. And it was fun anyway.

My closing pic shows HKR peeking cheekily from Double cave climb.

And, in case its useful, here's a GPS trace of Sentinel buttress back to the Robin Hood Inn car park.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Book review: The Gift / The Riddle

These are two teenage fantasy novels, the start of a series of four. Wiki has an article if you want details. They are lightweight fun; Miranda was given them by Becky for Christmas, though I think she hasn't read them yet. They are lightweight in the way that, say, the Owl Service is not. I'm likely to finish off the series.

They most remind me of Dragonflight, but also a host of others (the Galadriel /Lothlorien bit is a touch blatant); the story is not strikingly original but its fairly well told. One thing that always slightly winds me up (because I've done a bit of travelling on cold weather, and I know how hard it can be, with modern kit etc) is how the protagonists always survive extensive journeys across frozen plains or lofty mountains despite minimal equipement. But that's just me picking flaws.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Book review: The Owl Service

Good? Yes. Read again? Probably not.

The Owl Service: a low fantasy novel for young adults by Alan Garner, published by Collins in 1967. Set in modern Wales, it is an adaptation of the story of the mythical Welsh woman Blodeuwedd, an "expression of the myth" in the author's words. Or so says wiki. The image I've inlined, for wiki, is the cover of the copy I have.

I enjoyed it. Bits of it are genuinely creepy / scarey and well done; I found myself slightly reading ahead to make sure it was "all right". There's a bit of social comment thrown in too; or perhaps that's the purpose.

This book feels like its part of my childhood - or at least the title is - but I'm sure I've never read it. Because my interpretation of the title, as a book about, errrm, something like a secret society, or a postal-service-via-owls, is completely wrong: the "service" refers to merely a dinner service (I give little away there, because that's revealed in the first few pages).

The book I have is "An Armada Lion" and I think that confirms the "young adult", i.e. (I presume) teenager bit. That may explain the curious-in-context total absence of sex, or sexual tension, that would naturally be present: the three key players in the story are two teenage boys and a teenage girl, and yet nothing happens or comes even close to happening along conventional teenage lines. That seemed rather odd to me; in a strange way it works, because it makes the story retain a supernatural flavour.

I found the ending confusing or unsatisfactory, and having re-read the last few pages still didn't fully understand it. Don't read this bit if you don't want spoilers. Perhaps the Author couldn't quite work it out either. The problem is: in this turn of the legend, its going to end happily: flowers, not owls. That leaves, in a sense, Alison choosing sides. The "natural" side for her to choose would be Gwyn, because he's the low-caste clever engaging character who deserves to succeed. But at the end she is unconcious; she doesn't choose; instead, Gwyn chooses by doing nothing / retaining his hate; and Roger chooses by not retaining hate. But apart from that, Roger is fairly unappealling, and his late sympathy for Gywn / Huw jars; Alison's rather forced choosing of her tennis club reads more like an author's convenience that in-character, as does Gwyn's retention of his hate.