Julian Symons: The Belting Inheritance

41750950Title: The Belting Inheritance
Author: Julian Symons

Lady Wainwright presides over the gothic gloom at Belting, in mourning for her two sons lost in the Second World War. Long afterwards a stranger arrives at Belting, claiming to be the missing David Wainwright – who was not killed after all but held captive for years in a Russian prison camp. With Lady Wainwright’s health fading, her inheritance is at stake, and the family is torn apart by doubts over its mysterious long-lost son. Belting is shadowed by suspicion and intrigue – and then the first body is found. 

Rating: Disinherited

The story’s set up is not that unusual for a classic mystery: A man appears on Lady Wainwright’s doorstep, claiming he is her oldest son David who was declared dead in the second World War after his plane was shot down. Lady Wainwright, whose health is fading, needs not much convincing and happily accepts the man as her son. Miles and Stephen – her two other sons – are less certain that the man is really their oldest brother. Not long after he appears, a murder happens.

The only slightly unusual thing about it so far is the narrator: Christopher. He’s a distant relative who was taken in by the Wainwright’s after his parents’ death in a plane crash. So, he’s neither a policeman nor one of those amateur sleuths who keep tripping over bodies. He’s a family member but removed enough to be more level-headed about the whole affair. He has neither Lady Wainwright’s deep desire to see her favourite son alive nor the other sons’ worry about having to share their inheritance. That means he has neither reason to believe David nor to disbelieve him. 

But the thing about Christopher is, that he is also an extremely annoying narrator. He’s an incredibly patronising 18 at the time of the events in the book but tells the story decades later – as an incredibly condescending old man. Inbetween him recollecting the events he deigns to grace the reader with his opinion on various literary works (like Treasure Island and The Moonstone – both are stupid because they have narrators who would never actually sit down and write down a story), tells us all about the interior decoration in his Thomas Lovell (his bedroom…don’t ask) and generally gives his opinion on everything. And, of course, since he is telling the story as a much older man, he can also give his opinion on his younger self, giving his opinion…

And then there’s the final third of the book: In it, Christopher finds something that suggests a quite definite answer to the question “Is this man really David?” But he doesn’t show it to anybody in the family. He leaves a note saying “I know what’s going on! Now I’m off to Paris” And then he is off to Paris where a string of miraculous coincidences happen and he has a revelation that solves everything while he is drunk on pastis and watching an Ibsen play. It all reads like the author had a maximum page-count and had a hard time resolving the multitude of threads so he just went “Oh who cares? He knows this because…because you are more intelligent when you are drunk! GENIUS! GIVE ME AN AWARD!” That’s a shame because once I had made my peace with Christopher’s annoyingness, I enjoyed the story and all the twists and turns it took. And I think the solution is very clever – but the way we got there isn’t. 

 

ARC provided by NetGalley

Leonard R. Gribble: The Arsenal Stadium Mystery

40861729Title: The Arsenal Stadium Mystery
Author: Leonard R. Gribble

Murder mystery enters the world of English football in this 1939 classic.

In a high stakes final between a team of amateurs and the Arsenal side of 1939, a player drops dead on the pitch shortly after halftime. It’s up to Detective Inspector Slade to unravel the multiplicity of motives and suspects behind this case of the foulest play possible.

Rating: A rather dull 0:0 draw

When Jack Doyce collapses during a football match and dies not much later it doesn’t take long to discover that he was murdered. And a suspect appears just as quickly: Phillip Morring was Doyce’s business partner. His death means Morring receives a large sum of money from the life insurance. They were on the football team together, so Morring had the opportunity to poison him and when Slade discovers that Morring’s fiancée was having an affair with Doyce it seems that everything fits together perfectly.  But Slade isn’t fully convinced, especially after he finds out that Doyce was implicated in a tragedy that happened a few years back. Is someone taking revenge? But the evidence against Morring is piling up as well, so is perhaps the most obvious solution the right one after all?

The mystery itself is solid and keeps you guessing. It does require some suspension of disbelief (among other things, the plot only works because a girl told nobody whom she was getting engaged to, not even her own father) but not more than in the average golden age mystery.

In a solid mystery, I can usually excuse bland detectives and Slade is very bland. (How bland? you ask. Well, on Goodreads his name was mistakenly given as MacDonald and I had not noticed that and happily called him as MacDonald in this review until I looked up a quote in the book and saw that he was in fact called Slade). And with the exception of Pat Laruce – Morring’s fiancée – so are most side-characters. They are in fact, for a mystery novel, surprisingly sensible. Morring, for example, immediately tells the police about the fact that he gains a lot of money from Doyce’s death. He is slightly less forthcoming about his fiancée but once he realizes that the police know, he comes clean immediately – and so do most other characters in similar situations. Only Pat, the already mentioned exception, is as unhelpful as possible and has her own agenda. As such she’s more like a character one is used to from mysteries but next to all the others, she appears more like a comical caricature.

Then there’s the football connection which felt forced. The victim is a football player who died during a match. But he could just as easily have been killed during a weekend country house party.  Neither the football nor the cameos by Arsenal players and the manager added anything to the story. Perhaps you have to be a real football-fan for that and care a lot about Arsenal (and its 1939 team) to get anything out of that and with my casual ‘I pay some attention to the German league table and am happy when certain teams are in the upper half’ attitude it didn’t really work.

And then there’s…

“Well, Inspector?” asked the Arsenal manager. “I’m afraid Dr Meadows doesn’t think it was an accident,” said the Yard detective.

Epithets. So many of them. Any character who appears more than one will have an epithet that gets used frequently. I have spent too much of my teenage years reading bad Harry Potter fanfiction full of the dark-haired boy, the blonde man, the Gryffindor star-pupil and the boy who could talk to snakes* and now I am very allergic to epithets of all kinds.

All in all, I think this book might be interesting for people who are very interested in football history. The rest can easily miss it.

 

*I am not suggesting that only one fandom has this problem. Or even only fanfiction, as this book proves. But that’s where I got my overdose of this particular bad style-advice

 

ARC provided by NetGaööey

Mini Reviews: October 2018

36896898Naomi Novik: Spinning Silver
(Fantasy)

7/7 magical golden coins

This book was beautiful. I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings but the latter can come over a bit creepy when the author copies things from the original too closely (complete a quest, get the girl even though you never talked to each other before). But Spinning Silver isn’t just a Rumpelstilsken retelling. Of course, it takes a lot of inspiration from it – as well as from Cinderella and many other tales but it turns it into something completely new and different.

Gif: belle from Beauty and the Beast saying "I just finished the most wonderful story"


41724928Aliette de Bodard: In the Vanisher’s Palace
Sci-fi f/f romance

(Sadly) not my cup of world-ending tea

Talking about books inspired by fairy tales: In the Vanisher’s Palace is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast and that is certainly a story that can come over not too great if you don’t pay attention. But the author did pay attention and clearly put a lot of thought into the whole ‘You have to live in my palace now and if you don’t want to that’s your problem’-bit. And I really enjoyed the way it was treated in the book. I liked the characters. There were dragons. But I’m just not really into post-apocalyptic stories and this book is ‘hard’ post-apocalyptic. As in: you can’t just ignore it for most of the story. Which is great if you like it because authors just paying lip-service to a genre when the story could just as easily have taken place anywhere else is usually disappointing. But in my case, it just reminded me over and over again that I don’t care much for that genre.

Gif: Eyeore saying "It's OK, I'll learn to live without it"


42242896Anthology: Teacher’s Pet Volume 2
Romance-anthology

Not my cup of healthy green tea

In short: I started this with the exception there would be rather diverse settings in the stories (contemporary, fantasy, historical) but got three fantasy stories and the rest contemporaries, which isn’t my thing at all. And even the fantasy stories didn’t overwhelm me that much. A more comprehensive review is over at Love in Panels.

Gif: Damien Lewis on HIGNFY looking unimpressed