Have re-discovered "quality time." Evenings listening to good books have replaced mindless tv watching. What a difference!
I'm trying not to be greedy here, but I love the Chet and Bernie stories, and the last couple have only been short stories (the Chet "prequel" and now this darling little Iggy tale). I'm happy for every word, line and paragraph that Spencer Quinn writes. He captures a way of"Dog-Think" that is at times very funny, and at other times really quite poignant, even philosophical, imagining the world from a dog's perspective. But I sure miss the longer books.
This one involves the neighbors. The wife is hospitalized, and somehow Iggy gets loose on the floors of the hospital and can't be found. Which is the setup for Chet and Bernie to solve a little mystery on the side, as they search for Iggy.
If you have never listened to any from this series, this would be okay. But if you are a long time fan of The World According To Chet, as I have been for quite some time, I think this works better to be heard after already knowing the characters. As always, Jim Frangione narrates very well. I have never read a Chet and Bernie book in paper form, so Mr. Frangione IS Chet to me. It is an adorable series. Chet is both smart and at times, hilarious. For something light, this whole series is really fun.
But, please, Mr. Quinn, how about another full-length book?
This book was written in about 1842 (possibly based on a true story that took place half a century earlier) depicting the basest instincts and behaviors of which people are capable. Annette von Droste-Hülshoff has chosen a plot that focuses on a small group of people living in a deeply wooded and secluded part of Germany, who seem cut off from outsiders by distance. They are thus tightly woven into a community that is close, and reliant on each other for safety.
The main character is Friedrich Mergel. He is the son of an alcoholic, wife-abusing man. who marries a second wife that complements his ungodly ways by her strict religious, virtuous manner. We are invited to view Friedrich as somehow the offspring of good and evil, hinting at the undertones of the plot to come in the story. Early on, the father dies on his way home during a ferocious snow storm, and people quickly designate the part of the woods where he died as frightening, harboring his ghost. There is also an anonymous group of poachers who rob the forest of wood and remain unidentified, which keeps the villagers wary and suspicious. Margreth, the mother, has a brother who appears to be steering young Friedrich toward bad deeds, but we also see what looks like great denial on the part of the mother--if not tacit support for what happens.
This is the background, well designed to set the atmosphere for murders to occur, and they do. The writer has done an excellent job of characterizing aspects of the main characters so as to leave the listener wondering who may have committed the the crimes, and also feeling the eeriness of the woods, the poverty lifestyle of the people, the jealousy and despair that may have supported such events. There is a curious character, John Nobody, whose name invites us to speculate on who he is, what his role in the story will be. One of the murdered men, Aaron the jew, dies beneath a tree that later has a mysterious message carved into it--which will be the central clue to the whole story.
This is a well-written, excellently narrated example of the then novice idea of mystery writing. Although not long, it is deeply engaging, the characters are well-described and the atmosphere itself carries the sense of a foreboding space from which nothing good can come. I did not know the work of this author, but found it to be very compelling. And the narration was, quite simply, excellent.
St. Louis, Missouri
The thing about reading—or listening to—Wodehouse is that his characters live such long, complex lives. Bertie Wooster, for example, made his first appearance in 1919 and his last adventure was published in 1974, the year before Wodehouse’s death. Consequently, the happily married man in the novel you just finished reading may have a backstory you know nothing about. Beyond, of course, the arch allusions to his checkered career made by his wife, his relations or the narrator in the novel you just finished reading.
It all adds to the odd realism of Wodehouse. Keen observers like Evelyn Waugh asserted that the England Wodehouse writes about never really existed. Yet the appearance and reappearance of places and characters, the ability to see the same character from several other characters’ viewpoints, the interweaving of characters— for example, Bertie Wooster and Tipton Plimsol both belong to the Drones and therefor must have at least a nodding acquaintance—all contribute to this queer substantiality, making the England of P. G. Wodehouse, Utopian as it is, as solid as Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.
All of this is by way of explaining why Blandings Castle is such an enjoyable listen. You get the back story of how Freddie Threepwood met and married Niagara “Aggie” Donaldson. You finally understand what a character in one of the later Blandings Castle novels was talking about when he describes Lord Emsworth as being worried about his pumpkin (your natural reaction is to assume it’s a typo; he must have meant “pig”). You discover the surprising family connection between Lord Emsworth and his head gardener. And you get the full story, only alluded to in later books, of the chap from Nebraska.
Beyond these revelations that do so much to illuminate the rest of the Blandings Castle saga, you get “Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend”, probably one of the sweetest stories Wodehouse ever wrote; not saccharine sweet but rather revealing an unsuspected tenderness and solicitude on the part of the ninth earl.
So much for the first six stories in this collection. The other six are a delightful grab bag: one featuring Bobby Whickam, the rest the various nephews and connections of Mr. Mulliner who work in Hollywood. Bobby’s tale is pure Wodehouse lunacy and the last story, “The Castaways” is a writer’s-eye view of Hollywood that should not be missed—especially if you’re a writer.
James Saxon’s performance makes me wish he’d record more Wodehouse. His characters all live as individuals in your ear buds and his vocal range covers every Wodehousian nuance, from the sprightly and brainless to the dark and dubious.