The Moonstone

I think The Moonstone may win as the longest book I’ve ever reread, as 482 pages (I’ll have to compare it to Goblet of Fire). As with most of the books I’m revisiting, I first read it in high school about ten years ago. I wanted a long, engaging book to keep with me during the long Saturday sessions of the club I volunteer with, and though I initially reached for The Woman in White, I decided this small pocket-sized book was a better choice. As it turns out, the only elements of the plot I remembered were the Indians and the quicksand, and of course the diamond.

the moonstoneThe Moonstone is the story of a large Yellow Diamond, first taken from a temple in India by a greedy British officer, and generations later stolen the very night it is removed from safekeeping and presented to Rachel Verinder on her birthday. It has everything you could want in a Victorian novel: a strong-willed heroine, a love triangle, large inheritances, good characters down on their luck, crime, intrigue, a quiet but persistent detective, ridiculous characters, suicide, disguises, marriage plans with secret motives, and hypnosis. I forgot how much I love this book!

In some ways, having now read Bleak House, I can see how Collins and Dickens may have influenced each other’s work. Two characters in particular reminded me of Dicken’s deft caricatures. The steward Gabriel Betteredge treats Robinson Crusoe with a reverence usually reserved for the Bible, reading passages from it daily to glean what prophecies they may hold. Miss Clack is perfect as a sacrificially self-righteous gentlewoman, who sees it as her duty in life to push moral pamphlets and propaganda on others with missionary zeal. She takes herself so seriously that you can’t help but laugh at her. Inspector Bucket may or may not have been modeled after the good Sergeant Cuff, a patient, sympathetic, and intelligent investigator, depending on who first appeared in print.

One of the other main characters, Franklin Blake, is a distant cousin of Rachel’s and also a potential suitor. He is described as having a mixed heritage and upbringing, so that at different times his thought process will switch between “French” and “German” characteristics. It’s funny, in a way. Having studied literature and music a bit in college, I can identify distinguishing traits between different movements, little pockets of style and philosophy in past works, but it never seems to be something talked about in a modern perspective. We don’t compare current English literature to Italian output. Perhaps it’s because our society today is more global, or because we need a lens of history in order to properly analyze.

The book is structured as a series of first-person narratives passing from person to person as they are charged with chronicling the events surrounding the theft and recovery of the diamond. This makes the story simultaneously crisp and immediate in the action presented, and broad in time and scope.

I’m sure that I will read this a third time and some point in my life. With a book this long, it was wonderful to have forgotten many of the details and discover them again this time around. I have a nice hardcover copy, but I much prefer my beat-up library discard for carrying around with me. It looks like a book that is loved.

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Published in: on February 21, 2012 at 4:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Nancy Drew Graphic Novels

Since I shared my thoughts here on the Nancy Drew Girl Detective series, I thought I would mention some additional series news.

Papercutz is now beginning a graphic novel series in the Nancy Drew Clue Crew universe, which are aimed at younger readers. I’ve read many of the print series, and enjoy them, and I think the target group does as well. In fact, I would say that Clue Crew is preferable to and more consistent that the Girl Detective series.

I’m taking this as good news, because it makes me think the Clue Crew series will continue despite the switch to the Nancy Drew Diaries. I’m also glad that Papercutz remains committed to Nancy Drew. Even though they have many successes since, Nancy was one of their earliest projects.

On the other hand, I love the main graphic novels and hope that this is not a replacement. Even though I didn’t understand the revamp and am disappointed it seems to have petered out after a trilogy, I was overall impressed by the quality and consistency of the books. Is there a chance that Papercutz is just holding out to see what Simon and Schuster does?

I’ve grown up with both traditional American comic strips and manga-style artwork, and like both. Sho Murase’s art was never a problem for me, though there were some volumes I liked more than others and Nancy sometimes had a very angular figure. One of the selling points of this new Clue Crew series is that is illustrated in the American style by Stan Goldberg, who worked on Archie comics. I’m not as much a fan of this particular artwork from the few pages I’ve seen, but I’ll hold off on judgement until my preordered book arrives.

Published in: on February 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Why Shoot a Butler?

“If you think I’m a thief–oh, and a murderess too!–why don’t you give me up to the police?” she said bitterly.
“Well,” said Mr. Amberly, “having given way to a somewhat foolish impulse and refrained from mentioning your presence on the scene of the murder to the police, I can’t very well come out with it now. And who am I to question your interest in antiques?”
“She put up her hand and ripped her mask off; her face was flushed, her eyes stormy. “I hate you!” she shot out. “You didn’t shield me out of–out of–consideration! It was because you want to solve what you choose to think is a mystery by yourself!”

[I just spent an hour writing this post and lost it all, so I’m going to do my best to try to remember what I said!]

Respected barrister Frank Amberly is off to pay a visit to his uncle and aunt Lord and lady Matthews and their daughter Felicity. On the way he spots a car pulled over on the side of a dark road and a female bending over it. Though annoyed at already being late and in no mood for pleasantries or changing flats, he stops to see what the trouble is. That’s when he notices the bullet hole in the windshield. The girl is both afraid and defiant at the intrusion. He pushes her away from the dead body in the driver’s seat, shot through the heart and with rifled pockets. Surprisingly, Amberly leaves the girl at the scene of the crime, and omits any mention of her when reporting the body. He doesn’t believe that she was the murderer, and if she actually was caught red-handed, she is fool enough for the police to do so again.

The dead man turns out to have been the butler of the Fountains, neighbors of the Matthews. Jasper Fountain passed away two years ago, leaving the entire estate to his nephew Basil. Basil now lives there full time with his step-sister Joan, a friend of Felicity’s who is engaged to marry Anthony Corkran. The butler had very little money, so there seems to be no motive for killing or even robbing him on the deserted road.

Amberly also is introduced to the girl from the car, though reluctantly on her part. Shirley Brown has just recently rented the furnished Ivy Cottage with her alcoholic younger brother. Amberly has the strong sense that Shirley has something to hide, and the even stronger suspicion she will in no way share it with him. When the police ask him to assist in the investigation, he almost feels an obligation to both them and Shirley. Not, of course, that he has any qualms about having obstructed justice.

The third person perspective does occasionally shift away from Amberly, so that the reader has somewhat of a sense of what is going on. That’s more than can be said for the rest of the characters, though Amberly himself is always one step ahead of the game. The events aren’t necessarily easy to understand, either. We have what is clearly a murder, but the most obvious suspect is too obvious. A second death occurring later on is ruled accidental, but a strong suspect from the first murder is found trying to revive the body. At the same time, however, murder comes across as neither the most interesting or important element of the plot, just a backdrop for Georgette Heyer’s particular brand of light social comedy.

Her trademark conversational wit is also present, often through the police. The local constabulary are all eager for promotion, but the sole smart move they make is to enlist Amberly’s aid. The sergeant is the only one with even half a brain.

In many ways Amberly reminds me of Perry Mason. His legal background gives him a strong sense of intuition, a good understanding of the intricacies and implications of the investigation, and an unerring instinct for what the next step should be. He runs circles around the police, and is not afraid to employ questionable methods to achieve his end. Above all, he is devastatingly confident in his own abilities, and acts superior to everyone else. Though I love Perry, Amberly’s particular brand of brusqueness just didn’t cut it for me.

“I don’t like you at all. You’re obstinate and self-willed and abominably secretive. Your manners are atrocious, and you’re a damned little nuisance. And I rather think I worship you.”

If Amberly’s politeness leaves something to be desired, Shirley’s personality is certainly lacking sugar as well. She is frequently impudent and ungracious, and has absolutely no desire for Amberly’s help. Yet it is this very “surliness” that attracts him when they first meet, even before he sees her in a good light. My favorite character, on the other hand, is the wonderful Lady Matthews. She is equal parts matriarchal, ridiculous, and lovable, displaying an intuition and prescience her nephew often calls witchcraft and a talent for spinning a conversation out of nonsense. She’s also the only one whom Frank will ever actually listen to.

This will never be my favorite mystery, mostly because I didn’t like the leads. I guess it makes sense that two rude people would attract each other, but they never seemed like people I would want to hang out with. The plot, at least, was good. Envious Casca still holds the title of my favorite Georgette Heyer mystery.

Also, a random note: my copy is an old Berkley paperback, and has one of the most bizarre features I’ve ever seen. The outside is normal, but the inside covers are really sleek and glossy, almost like photo paper. Has anyone else ever seen that in a book before?

 

Published in: on February 3, 2012 at 12:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Girl Who Wasn’t There

The Girl Who Wasn’t There is the first graphic novel set outside of River Heights, and out of all the series it’s Nancy’s first trip to India. When Nancy has trouble with her computer (with George out of town), she calls tech support and is routed to India. The girl who helps her, Kalpana, has actually read about some of her cases online, and they end up becoming long-distance friends. One night, however, Nancy gets a call from Kalpana saying strange men are in her house and she thinks she’s about to be kidnapped. The line suddenly goes dead.

Carson has a client in India, so Nancy convinces him that she, Bess, and George should go along to New Delhi. The trouble is, how do you find a missing girl you’ve never met in a strange city? Kalpana’s father is a detective currently undercover and can’t be contacted. The call center where she worked claims to have had no employee by that name. According to Kalpana, even some of the police can’t be trusted. Everything seems to lead back to a crime lord named Sahadev. Nancy is told repeatedly that if she’s knows what’s good for her, she’ll stay away and stop asking questions, but that’s not the way to solve a case…

I really liked the premise for this book; I haven’t read many of the graphic novels yet, but this was my favorite so far and much better than several Girl Detective books I can think of. Petrucha and Murase set the scene in New Delhi well, weaving in aspects of culture just like the travelogues. They managed to write a plot that is relevant to modern times yet still retains aspects of classic Nancy Drew stories. There is plenty of suspense, and humor as well.

The end of the first boxed set is a good place to take a little break from the graphic novels, but I’m looking forward to coming back to them soon.

Published in: on February 2, 2012 at 10:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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