I have often enjoyed A.S. Byatt's work. Some of it is absolutely breathtaking. Sadly, this book is so bad that had it been the first thing I'd read from Byatt, I would never have read anything else she wrote.
The plot introduction seemed promising, as if there would be an intriguing story question to be worked out. Sadly, the book moves along as slowly as one of Simon's snakes in cool weather. I tried but regrettably failed to care what happened to these characters.
There is a rather unseemly sense of washing the dirty laundry of the family in a public forum. Her sister, novelist Margaret Drabble, called it "a mean-spirited book about sibling rivalry," and it has been blamed for setting the seal on their estrangement.
Whether or not that is the case, my advice would be to enjoy the work of Byatt's maturity and leave this self-indulgent mess alone.
John Graham brings vitality to these charming stories with a great range of voices and styles. I'd love to listen to something else from him!
The stories are as follows, not as listed:
THE SCANDAL OF FATHER BROWN is set in a disreputable Mexican roadhouse, and involves society beauty Hypatia Potter, banned poet Romanez, and a gentleman of the press.
A QUICK ONE is a murder mystery which takes place in the bar of the Maypole and Garden Hotel, and features cherry brandy, theological quibbling, bad tempers, and a flash bit of jewelry.
THE BLAST OF THE BOOK is a comedy featuring one Prof. Openshaw, professional unmasker of psychic fraud. When missionary Luke Pringle presents himself with a supposedly cursed book that causes anyone who opens it to vanish out of human form, the professor assumes it's another hoax. But when both Pringle and Openshaw's secretary disappear, the shaken skeptic consults Father Brown about THE BLAST OF THE BOOK.
When Admiral Sir Michael Craven is found drowned, his private secretary, Mr Harker, makes a nuisance of himself to the police. Does the strange sight of his employer in full court dress and a slashed sea holly figure in the case? Time to ask Father Brown about THE GREEN MAN.
In THE PURSUIT OF MR BLUE, Mr. Muggleton, a depressed private detective, is wandering at the seaside, mulling over a distressing case in which he failed to prevent the murder of a wealthy man. He tells Father Brown about the strange manner in which the murderer disappeared, and why he must find him.
THE POINT OF A PIN concerns Mr. Mastic, "a bird of ill omen;" Lord Staines, "the most evasive person Father Brown had ever met;" a builder named Sand, a a labor strike. Mr. Sand appears to have disappeared after leaving a suicidal message on a garden wall. But Father Brown believes it was murder.
In the village of Potter's Pond, Mr Maltravers' body is found in the rockery of a terraced garden. He appears to have been bludgeoned to death, and the inquest rules "murder by person or persons unknown." In THE VAMPIRE OF THE VILLAGE, the murdered man's wife is under suspicion when a doctor affectionately known as "Mulberry" brings Father Brown into the case.
I return to Father Brown again and again, probably because he reminds me of a priest I knew in Louvain. I always feel better after spending a bit of time with him, just as I did after a chat with Father Laurence. I hope you enjoy the stories just as much!
Mr. Peach arrives at the Chelsea studio of Charles Honeybath and offers the painter 2K guineas if he will paint of portrait of "Mr. X." The sitter is said to be mad, though not dangerously so. Furthermore, he must go to Mr. X's residence, paint the portrait on site, and do so within a fortnight. By the way, he must be taken to said residence under cover of night. Against his better judgment, Honeybath agrees.
When he arrives, he finds the "mad Mr. X" suffering under the somewhat common delusion that he is Napoleon Bonaparte. Honeybath, therefore, is mistaken for Jacques-Louis David, which is rather fun.
This starts out looking like a clever, witty crime caper with a touch of farce. But when the complications are neatly explained and difficulties fall away with ease, the story becomes quite boring. It was as if Innes lost heart somewhere in the middle of things, or he didn't want to put Honeybath through his paces and make him suffer.
That's another thing: Honeybath. I love my fellow artists, even most fictional ones, but Honeybath needs a foil. He's a bit dull and uppity on his own, not to mention an insufferable snob. (At least he is here).
Also, where was Appleby? Was I out of the room at the time? Keybird and Co, yes, but Appleby?
This isn't the worst you can do, but I don't really recommend the book either. I felt the plot started strong and finished on a whimper.
On June 27, 1930 Maigret is called to inform Aurore Gallet that her husband, Emile, a commercial traveler, has been found murdered. The lady is grand, puts on airs, and doesn't make things any easier for Maigret, who is in no mood for what he suspects is another tedious case. But the mystery takes on darker possibilities when it becomes known that Emile Gallet has been living a second, secret life.
That story is nothing new and could be quite predictable. But in the hands of Simenon, it becomes a creative, vital story that kept me interested right to the end. I am continually stunned at the way he can conjure up an entire character or atmosphere with the perfect, brief description. His style is deft, his storytelling original, and his characters utterly realistic. This is fiction worth reading if you enjoy crime and detection, old school style.
Anthea Bell's translation is outstanding, as is Gareth Armstrong's narration.
"Once upon a time, when time ran by clockwork, a strange event took place in a little German town. Actually, it was a series of events, all fitting together like the parts of a clock, and although each person saw a part, no one saw the whole of it."
So begins Pullman's enchanting story. It's a sweet winter's parable that combines a touch of Grimm with a touch of Goethe, with all the elements given life and great charm by the character actor Anton Lesser.
We listened to this last year as our "ghost story for Christmas," and it's back by popular demand this year! It's just the right length for such a story, and perfect for snowy weather.
Wishing you all that is merry and bright...
Henry Window, Lord Mullion, drops into the studio of his old chum Charles Honeybath to commission a portrait of his wife. With a momentary regret that he did not become a landscape painter, Honeybath sets off for Mullion Castle, now shown to the public Wednesdays and Saturdays. (Needs must when the Inland Revenue casts its eye upon one).
Upon arrival, Honeybath becomes better acquainted with the family, including one whimsical aunt, three children, his prospective sitter, as well as a voluble vicar of antiquarian pursuits, a dishy gardener, and other characters.
At first, I thought this might be a diverting, satirical story in the grand British tradition. But there is neither the wit of Wodehouse or Benson, nor the sting of Saki. It isn't awful, but I wouldn't recommend it either. The secret, such as it is, is hardly worth knowing and is telegraphed miles beforehand. Perhaps my expectations were too high.
Really loved Laurie here. In fact, without him, I would have been likely to return the book. He kept things lively when they otherwise might have lagged.
Hardly horror stories by today's standards, this is a uneven collection. Some stories are great, others forgettable or downright awful.The narrations are excellent, as usual with THE STORY CIRCLE.
Here's what's in store for you in this listen:
Marshall King visits his wealthy Uncle Everard with designs on improving his expectations. All seems to be going well until he comes face to face with THE BRAZILIAN CAT.
As Andre de Brissac lies dying, fatally wounded by his cousin Hector, he vows to haunt his killer and in so doing to take from him his greatest happiness. Hector believes himself safe for a time until he learns of his wife's visits with a mysterious stranger and comes to know more about EVELINE'S VISITANT.
A small, sad-eyed soul makes his living by exhibiting acts of daring with various wild cats. Why is he so forlorn, despite his success and acclaim? That is at the heart of THE LEOPARD MAN'S STORY.
THE EYES OF THE PANTHER is part romance, part supernatural mystery. Its ambiguity and twisted imagery could only have come from Bierce's genius.
THE VOICE IN THE NIGHT centers on a group of sailors hearing a tale about a repulsive fungus from an unseen man.
OSHIDORI is a three-minute parable of a falconer who goes hunting and kills one of a pair of Mandarin ducks, only to find out he isn't the poultry fancier he thought himself.
MARKHEIM is the famous RLS story of a man who visits a pawnbroker on Christmas day. He murders the man and sets out to ransack the shop when the devil appears in this classic morality tale.
THE LONG BLACK VEIL also takes place at Christmas. This time an underemployed doctor is summoned by a woman seeking his help for another.
THE LAME PRIEST is an American rural tale of Native Americans, frontiersmen, and a few creatures not of this world.
Years ago an Australian settlement was ravaged by ill-luck, disease, and misery until it was no more. Now British visitors discover there is more to the story of THE STRANGE GOLD FIELD.
THE TELL-TALE HEART, Poe's story of a madman who killed another for his "vulture eye," needs no introduction.
BONE TO HIS BONE is another ghost story for Christmas which takes place in 1907. Vicars, scholars, insomniacs, gardens, and libraries....so very British.
A GHOST STORY is JKJ's yarn that Roger Corman might have tarted up into one of his overwrought films. Melodramatic, but finishes with his usual light touch.
Barrett proves himself to be a world-class narrator of le Fanu stories in SIR DOMINICK'S BARGAIN. On a visit to the south of Ireland, a gentleman rambles through an abandoned estate. Later a wizened hunchback tells him the story of the house's former master, Dominick Sarsfield, and how he became the devil's own.
In 1867, a Lancer regiment is moved from Galicia to the German-speaking Silberstadt. The regiment is quartered in a former convent where events transpire that form the basis of MY NIGHTMARE.
Mr. Bermoutier holds forth with evidence and theory regarding the St. Cloud murder mystery in THE HAND.
AN ARREST is a breaktakingly brief Bierce fragment, and far from his best.
THE CORPSE LIGHT is told by a doctor who took to practice in the village of Brinton-on-Sea. He tells the story of a haunted mill, a doomed romance, and a disappearance.
The final, mercifully short story, MUJIRA, is a rather silly tale set in Tokyo.
The performances make these old tales worth hearing again. Paul Panting, Garrick Hagon, Hayward Morse, and Sean Barrett are always first-rate narrators. (Barrett in particular is the best-ever narrator of Irish fiction, especially le Fanu ghost stories).
See if these sound like you'd enjoy reading them, too:
THE JUDGE'S HOUSE is about a maths student seeking solitude in an old house, where he hopes to study for his exams. Sadly, the place isn't exactly conducive to his plans.
A JUG OF SIROP is Bierce's tale of a man who really loves his work, even beyond death.
A RECONCILIATION is set in Japan. A man regrets leaving what we'd now call a "starter wife," the woman he traded in for higher status and success. He sets out to find her again, but things do not go as he imagines.
In the autumn of 1900, an amateur antiquarian stays in a forested country area where he discovers an old sexton inclined to chat about the old days. When the sexton talks about "an old and ghastly woman that walks the house at midnight," the visitor laughs about THE WOMAN WITH THE CANDLE.
Paranormal romance is nothing new, kids. THE EBONY FRAME is an old school example. A young man who fancies himself finds his great expectations met admirably when he inherits a property from his aunt. He regrets pledging himself to his fiancee, his "good little woman," and considers he might do better. While going through the stock of antiques and bric-a-brac in the attic, he finds evidence that there is a far more bewitching prospect at hand. Paranormal romance, drama, and a touch of reincarnation with a dash of bargaining with the devil.
ON THE NORTHERN ICE is an all-too-innocent tale of love, friendship, and loyalty. When a young many sets out to travel to Echo Bay on ice skates, he has an unusual experience...
THE HAUNTED DOLL'S HOUSE is a small James masterwork about an antique collector who gets more than he bargained for when he takes home a Strawberry Hill Gothick doll's house, "the very quintessence of Horace Walpole."
Following a fight with his father, a young man is filled with self-pity and anger as he wanders about in the rain. When he runs into an old family retainer, he goes with him and spends the night alone in THE OLD HOUSE IN VAUXHALL WALK.
THE UNDERGROUND GHOST appears in a Cheshire salt mine. When a young "rising junior at the bar" visits his uncle's mine which he might inherit someday, he becomes lost and encounters a helpful young lady.
A statesman on the way to convention is hindered by bad weather and forced to take lodging in a rather downmarket place. When he settles into his room, a ghost appears who demands vengeance. But can the ghost actually get a politician to do something in HAUNTED?
THE LAST OF SQUIRE ENNISMORE is a masterful performance for Barrett. The old squire was so evil he could scarcely have become worse when he returns to the house near the sea. Following a shipwreck, he takes to drinking with a stranger he believes was left behind...but with whom has he really been spending his evenings?
A spiky Mr. Giltstrap wants an estate agent to sell an unwanted property, THE GREEN HOUSE AT WALLINGFORD. The agent buys the property at a loss, paying no attention to the strange gossip which attends the house. He takes his secretary, with her mum as chaperone, and finds out more than he ever wanted to know about the place.
THE VACANT LOT is a rather dull story about a family's move to a haunted area.
THE REAL AND THE COUNTERFEIT is a story by now so familiar through its continual reappearance in telly since the 1950's that it's hard to consider it might have been original once. In it, Will Musgrave and his pals take a practical joke involving a ghost just a bit too far.
Jerome tells about a miserly miller who supposedly left a fortune in gold in THE HAUNTED MILL. Of course, this being JKJ, absurd comedy ensues.
THE CHIPPENDALE MIRROR is classic Benson at his best. When a newly well-to-do young man brings an antique mirror into his new Adam-style residence, he doesn't realize it will plunge him into the heart of an unsolved murder case.
I got the whole season. In a state of overwork and fraught nerves, I wanted nothing more than to escape into some light hilarity. This series, for the most part, provided that admirably, although it gets a bit stale as it moves toward Season 7.
The British take the mickey out of the usual suspects. Satan says, "Screaming always sounds better in German, don't you think?" (Something to do with waiting for the verb). The French, oh, the French! And of course, the Americans don't escape unscathed. Then it's time to turn on one's own with lots of topical UK snark on pop culture, politics, and sport.
You'll meet the all-too-good professor. And Thomas, the most evil thing ever to emerge from Godalming. (Well, as yet). But the devil is the star-turn, of course, and he is quite a bit more lovable that you might have imagined.
I feel better now. Maybe you will too after you spend a season in hell with the deranged Andy Hamilton and his impish minions.
This was my first Michael Innes book and I enjoyed it. I was hoping there would be more about painting in it, as Honeybath is a Royal Academician and portrait painter. (I am a figure painter myself). However, he never did get around to beginning his portrait, which is ostensibly why he finds himself in the setting which contains this clever mystery.
Actor-musician Jeremy Clyde provides his usual good timing and beautiful tone for the narration. (He comes by that posh voice honestly, you know). The only thing I'd change would be just a touch more differentiation between the characters.
Order a Bucks Fizz and listen for yourself. It's worth a credit, and I for one will be back for more.
Robert Harris is a wonderful writer, but this book is not his best by any means. Unfortunately I was stuck in airplane mode with this the last book in my downloads. Otherwise, I don't think I would have finished it. It felt like being stuck at a very long cocktail party with a quant. I kept looking at my watch wondering when it would be over, which is not something that happens to me when I listen to a Harris book! I was really surprised at how little I cared about the characters and how unbelievable the plot became. This is really a sci-fi book.
Rodska's narration was uneven. He's great at portraying a pompous corporate character, but falls short with the foreign accents. He seems to believe a Dutchman sounds like either a concussed Swede or someone who has a broken jaw. Very annoying.
So if you want my opinion, give this a miss unless you're obsessed with numbers, trading, and computers. Choose another of Harris' excellent books.
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