What a difference a narrator makes

Unnatural I’m listening to another audio book version of P.D. James’ Unnatural Causes as part of my revisit of the Adam Dalgliesh series. This one is narrated by Michael Jayston and it’s nearly a completely different book compared to the version narrated by Penelope Dellaporta.  Jayston’s version captures the contradictions that make Adam Dalgliesh a fascinating character. It seems possible that Dalgliesh really is a policeman and a poet – always the toughest part of the character to make believable. He handles Dalgliesh’s frustration at being hounded by murder even on holiday without it coming across as selfish whining. Dellaporta, a skilled reader, makes the same material too prim. Her Dalgliesh isn’t exactly whiney but he is fretful. Too often is sounds like she’s offering knitting advice. Dellaporta strikes me as being perfect for coziness of a Miss Marple story. For P.D. James’ cool yet remorseless assessments of murder and human nature Michael Jayston is THE quintessential reader.

Recent Acquisitions

Party Animals Party Animals by Robert Hofler


A biography of agent/producer/party maven Allan Carr. Trashy, flashy fun. I can’t believe that I didn’t know about this book sooner. Amazon should have called my house as soon as this was published. My only regret is that because this is a Kindle book the publishers have probably held back on the photos. And I need to see some of what is described here.


easyriders Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind

I got tired of waiting for a Kindle edition of this. I read a few pages in Barnes & Noble a few months ago. The combination of bad behavior and intelligent discussion of movies was too tempting for me to resist for long. Mark Harris’s Pictures at a Revolution reignited my love of film analysis mixed with behind the scenes details.




Mellon: An American Life by David Cannadine

Another book I’ve been waiting to see in Kindle version. After the Lords of Finance and Last Call I’ve had enough glimpses of Andrew W. Mellon. I need the full picture now.

Where there’s a serial killer, there’s a way

executiveprivi This is a transportation book, the kind you read on a long airplane trip or your daily commute to work. A successful transportation book must take into account that the reader will rarely give the text undivided attention and that it will be read in pieces. To compensate the author has to make the chapters and paragraphs short, key facts must be repeated, the characters’ names must be repeated, first and last names, at the beginning of every chapter and the characters themselves must be, well, broadly sketched. Most importantly the plot must speed along so that the reader doesn’t have time to notice any of the previous issues nor time to notice the general silliness of the proceedings. Phillip Margolin’s Executive Privilege manages all of the above.

I’m not a major consumer of transportation books but I have read enough to recognize the requirements and to know that some are pretty awful. Executive Privilege is not awful. It chugs along the rails of the genre’s convention making the necessary stops. Because it’s a legal thriller we get snatches of legal jargon and technicalities. We also have the usual allotment of serial killers and evil politicians. I got the impression that Margolin’s heart wasn’t into it when it came to the serial killers – that was in his favor in my opinion. He kept the victimization of women to a minimum except when it came to the background of one of the leads, another mark in his favor. The plot itself – is the President of the United States a serial killer? – won’t keep you up nights but it’s not intended to. The big twist isn’t all that surprising (I clocked it by chapter 5) and the ending is textbook pat. (All the major players declare their love to the person they’ve been keeping at a distance.)

Margolin does slip in a few unexpected touches. The conservative politician isn’t the villain for a change. The male lead, a young lawyer, is a complete doofus instead of a heroic genius with abs of steel. He was whiney and lovesick; it made for a nice change. It also made it a tad easier to put up with the antics of female lead Dana Cutler who is such a talent PI that she never once enters a room normally. She sneaks up on EVERYONE. I kept hoping we’d see her sneaking into a McDonald’s to get a Big Mac in the epilogue just to show us she hadn’t lost her street skills or whatever.

Take it for what it is and this book is enjoyable enough. It’s not a beach read – taken in large doses you’d probably want to bury it under a sand castle. Read it for 20 minutes at a time on the train and you be at risk for missing your stop by the miles will speed by.

Jamesian Inquiry Part 1: A Mind to Murder

A Mind to Murder You have to admire someone who creates a workable formula and then sticks to it. P. D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh books are set in a cloistered (in one case truly!) often claustrophobic community. Work is usually the source of the community as well as the source of the tensions and rivalries. Office politics create the initial tensions: who wants whose job, who’s obsession with the rules is making everyone’s life miserable, who is a nasty git, who is a mess, etc.The rules of the profession are up for examination with the definition of success, and what it takes to be successful, playing a major part.

Psychiatry is the profession under examination in A Mind to Murder (AMTM), P. D. James’ second Adam Dalgliesh book published in 1963. The treatments are were up-to-the-minute back in ‘63 but dated today – LSD, deep analysis and out-patient ECT – still it is interesting to see how these treatments are discussed. Compared to her later books, the Steen Clinic is a back drop rather than a vortex. Aside from the hints of  “psychiatrist shrink your own head” James doesn’t say all that much about the profession itself. She does use the conceits of the profession, however, with the doctors feeling themselves perfectly qualified to state a theory of the crime along with conclusions about the identity of the killer.

The crime, the murder of the Miss Bolam, strikes most characters as an annoyance rather than a tragedy. That in itself sets this book apart. While several of the characters harbor a dislike for Miss Bolam none demonstrates a true hatred of her. Sustaining a mystery when the crime itself is so cold blooded isn’t easy, you can’t have a whodunit if it’s a case of who cares. James handles this by making it less about “who would kill Miss Bolam?” and more “who among this bunch could so totally lose their cool?” The who isn’t all that difficult to figure out. James drops several Christie-style hints along the way. There is one deductive leap that Dalgliesh makes that was a bit too wide for my taste. How he went from one phone call to blackmail could have been fleshed out a bit more.

Compared to her later books, AMTM is a lesser effort. The characters are less well-drawn and less compelling but it’s only to be expected that a good writer would strive to get better. There are a few interesting hints of what is to come. A minor scene draws in religion, a subject which features prominently in later books. Two scenes set up Dalgliesh’s relationship with Deborah Riscoe and its eventual demise.

One of the pleasures of a James’ mystery is the attention she pays to the impact of the murder on the other characters. How perfectly reasonable that proximity to a murder and the subsequent investigation would cause an examination of one’s own life. AMTM features an epilogue of sorts with the office busybody filling Adam in all the changes that have taken place since the case wrapped up. It’s a nice touch and although it’s a bit obvious, it reminds me how other Dalgliesh books have left me wondering what became of the characters once the police left.

Snap Judgments

Of the many great things about the Kindle, the access to free sample chapters is in the top five. On the whole this feature encourages me to try new authors; if I’m not sure if I’ll like a book, I try a sample chapter. Occasionally the sample chapters demonstrates that the book being sampled is not for me. It’s not judging a book by it’s cover, it’s judging it by the first chapter.

Run at Destruction by Lynda Drews is an example of a book that sample chapters proved was not for me. A few pages of this book proved this book isn’t for anyone without access to serious drugs. The story is about a love triangle that ends in murder as told by the “best friend” of the murder victim. I’ve read hundreds of true crime books and many of them have been bad. This one is so bad I actually made friends read parts of it. Why? Because I thought I must be hallucinating, that’s how bad it was.

I lack the skills to fully convey the sheer awfulness of the writing. Most of the time its merely groan-worthy (“I sipped my addiction”) and sometimes it is gut-bustingly, unintentionally hilarious. “We wickedly admitted to groin sensations when we’d watch them run.” Desire or the need to urinate? Who knows?

For some reason Amazon feels the need to keep “suggesting” this book to me. Now that I’ve tried reading it I think I should feel insulted.

Seriously Bad Judgment

Body of Death When reading an Elizabeth George novel one expects a bit of gore. George is one of those mystery novelists who is especially keen to prove she is not in the least cozy. The gore suits George better than it does Martha Grimes, the mystery writer who seems to inhabit much of the territory as she. (I would disagree with that assessment.) I’ve always seen Elizabeth George as striving to have more in common with P. D. James and often succeeding. I give George credit for stopping the endless merry-go-round of romance of the four leads and for taking a major risk is killing off one of the four. Full marks for effort. But George’s previous two books showed a few disturbing fixations (namely, children who kill and deeply unappealing female characters) that come to fruition in This Body of Death and the results left me actually writing the word “ew” in my notes.

(Anyone happening upon this who hasn’t read This Body of Death should stop now because spoilers will abound.)

I thought it would be tough to top Daidre Trahair as least appealing non-murderer in any Elizabeth George book and then along came Isabelle Ardery. So the latest candidate for superintendent is an ambitious woman. A little Prime Suspect but I’ll play along. Isabelle has a drinking problem? More Prime Suspect. Inspector Thomas Lynley coming back to the force to help said alcoholic win the coveted job? Okay. Isabelle turns out to be in over her head and Lynley helps her? A little less ok. Lynley finding Isabelle dead drunk after she effs up the case, tossing her into the shower and then having sex with her? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? WTH? Or as I wrote in my Kindle notes: EWWWWWWW.

I don’t care how much the shower sobered her up, who the hell wants to read about the hero of a series having sex with a woman who’s capacity to consent is even slightly questionable? And why would he be so desperate that he’d have sex with someone he just revived from an alcoholic stupor? She didn’t even brush her teeth. Not to mention, she’s his boss. Are we to believe Lynley’s grief, all of five months old, is so severe he’s forgotten it’s never a good idea to fish off the company pier?

It only got worse when Lynley then covers up for Isabelle so she can keep trying to be superintendent. Because people who drink at work never make bad decisions. Maybe George is trying to go somewhere with this but I have zero interest in signing up for the next installment if she’s going to try to sell a “romance” between this two. Ew.

I’ll write a proper review later. After I’ve had a chance to get over the squick factor.