I’m making it a rule now always to have something French on my ereader. Earlier in the year it was Simenon’s Maigret’s Little Joke, which I blogged about in June, and I have just finished Maigret in Vichy. I loved them both. Simonen wrote over eighty Maigret stories – that is quite some going for a serial detective and I think it must be pretty much a record. Though come to think of it, John Creasey wrote some 560 crime novels (as well as founding the Crime Writers Association). I don’t know how many featured the same detective, but I expect he clocked up a fair few featuring Gideon of the Yard or Inspector West, English equivalents of Maigret. I remember finding them still readable some years ago, but he was nowhere near as good a writer as Simenon. I particularly admire the way that Simenon managed to keep the series fresh. Maigret’s Little Joke and Maigret in Vichy both see Maigret helping to solve a crime which he is not officially investigating, one in Paris and one in Vichy where he has gone with Madame Maigret for the sake of his health. The atmosphere and the routines of the Spa town are wonderfully evoked: the ritual of taking the waters, the little band stand in the park, the avenues of trees. I always enjoy the novels that feature Madame Maigret – for me one of the most interesting marriages in fiction – and as they stroll around, seeing the same people again and again, they make up stories about them. Then one of these people, ‘the woman in lilac,’ is murdered, and it turns out that the Inspector in charge of the case is Lecoeur, who used to work under Maigret in Paris, and is only too glad of the opportunity to consult him . . . Great stuff, and I think I enjoy them even more in French than I do in English. Next up is Maigret and the Ghost.
In my previous blog I wondered if ebooks would herald a resurgence in the publication of short stories and novellas. What I hadn’t fully realised was the extent to which it is already far easier to get hold of collections of short stories that in the past have been very hard to find or prohibitively expensive. A case in point is Michael Gilbert’s Game Without Rules, a collection of stories featuring two ruthless MI5 agents, Mr Calder and Mr Behrens. The last time I looked online this was expensive: if you want a print copy it is £24.45 plus postage. However I have just bought it as an ebook from House of Stratus for £6.17. Another collection of Gilbert’s short stories, Stay of Execution, is a swingeing £212.68 plus postage from the US and that also is available as an ebook from House of Stratus for £6.17. I prefer a hard copy if I think I’ll want to read something more than once, but not at those prices. So when I found that a second-hand paperback copy of Gilbert’s Petrella at Q, is available for £2.75 plus postage, that’s what I went for. Gilbert’s Anything for a Quiet Life was available fron House of Stratus also for £6.17 as an ebook or in this case £8.03 as a new paperback. I went for the paperback. By now I was on something of a roll. There was an article in the most recent edition of CADS (Crime and Detective Stories) about Roy Vickers, writer of the Department of Dead Ends stories, some of which I’ve got in a dear old battered green Penguin. I wondered if more were available. Yes, in an ebook entitled Murder Will Out, available from Bellos at £3.17. That’s now on my ereader. I do buy recent novels too from real bookshops. Last week-end I bought Michael Connolly’s The Black Box and Keith B. Miller’s Norwegian by Night from Waterstone’s. How typical my buying habits are, I don’t know. But I do know that my youthful self who thrilled to the chase, tracking down copies of long out-of-print books in dusty second-hand bookshops, would be amaazed that they can be downloaded in seconds at the click of a mouse. Yes, a lot has been gained, but maybe something has been lost, too.
I’d almost finished browsing in the charity shop last Saturday, when my eye was caught by a title on display on the top shelf, THE MAN WHO HATED BANKS AND OTHER MYSTERIES. I reached up for it and was delighted to see that it was a collection of stories by a favourite writer, Michael Gilbert. The price was £7.99, a bit steep for a charity shop paperback, so I guessed that it was a pretty rare book – and when I looked it up on Abebooks, I found I was right. But I didn’t buy it as a collector’s item, I bought it for the pleasure of reading a whole bunch of Michael Gilbert’s short stories that I hadn’t read before. And it was a very timely acquisition as the illness of a close friend has meant that I’ve been making a number of long train journeys recently, and this was exactly the sort of reading that I needed. I didn’t want something demanding or something that I wasn’t a hundred per cent sure that I would enjoy. I wanted encounters with old friends and that is exactly what I got. Gilbert’s first novel came out in 1947 and this collection, published by the estimable Crippen and Landru, was published in 1997 in honour of his fifty years as a writer. These are all stories featuring policemen or lawyers who appeared in his novels, Petrella, Hazlerigg, Bohun, and Mercer, written throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Gilbert caught the tail-end of the golden age of the short story and what is remarkable is the enviable number of different publications that these stories appeared in: JOHN BULL, ARGOSY, THE EVENING STANDARD, REVEILLE, and others. All gone now, except THE EVENING STANDARD – and how long is it since that published short stories? – and that wonderful survivor, ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE. But now that short stories are available online I am wondering if the possibilities of the e-reader could herald a resurgence in short fiction and novellas, which print publishers have been loath to take on in the past.I hope so.
I was somewhat late coming to the party with this acclaimed crime novel by Gillian Flynn. You know how it is. Sometimes all the hype puts you off, especially if, like me, you are a bit of a contrarian. However I finally succumbed and I am glad I did. It’s a really gripping read, particularly the first half as we move backwards and forwards between Nick Dunne’s account of his wife’s disappearance and her diary entries from the years leading up to that day. It’s clear pretty soon that Nick is a unreliable narrator, all that’s in question is just how reliable. Has he murdered Amy or not? For my money the second half was not quite as good as the first half, but I won’t say more in case you haven’t read it. I was still carried along by the sheer brio of the narration until the (to me not entirely satisfactory) end. Mrs Peabody on her fine blog, Mrs Peabody Investigates, gives GONE GIRL (great title) 4.5 out of 5 and I think that is about right. It’s good, very good,and works as a corruscating account of a failed marriage as well as a suspenseful crime novel. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, these are pretty unpleasant people, but Gillian Flynn is a fresh and original voice and I’ll be keeping an eye on her.