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  •  Bookpost 6: Margery Allingham and "Rick Castle" (7+ / 0-)

    Heavyweight Campion: More Work for the Undertaker, by Margery Allingham
    "Edward died worth 75 pounds in cash and one hundred thousand pounds in various shares."
    "Nominal value?"
    "Where are they?"
    "Oh, he left them to various people. None of them are saleable at the moment, I am afraid."
    The lean man in horn rims sat looking at her for a moment or so.
    "Well, it was a performance," he said at last. "Did he keep faith in these ventures? Did he hope they'd recover?"
    "I don't know," she said softly. "I used to wonder if he knew they were valueless, or if he still thought of them as money. He was used to being rich, you see. There's a great deal in being used to a thing. I'm afraid he died just in time." There was a moment's silence before she said suddenly, "To the uninformed Edward's will might look as if he died wealthy. All our wills suggest that we have money. That is why I wanted you to come here and learn the facts."
    "I see," he said. "You've all made little presents of a thousand or so Gold Gold Gold Uniteds to kind old friends everywhere, have you?"
    "We've shown that we would have looked after our people if we had been able," she said stiffly.
    "Dear me. And is there any hope at all of any of these securities gaining value?"
    Miss Jessica looked a little hurt. "Not all the companies are in liquidation yet," she said. "Mr. Drudge watches them for us, but he says Edward was very thorough. That's a joke, of course."
    Campion thought it wisest not to comment. Mr. Edward Palinode appeared to have had a genius for finance in reverse.

    In the classic English cozy mystery genre, Margery Allingham was Euripides to Dorothy Sayers' Aeschylus and Agatha Christie's Sophocles, going for quirky psychological variations over perfect plots and writing a few masterpieces that change tones from delightful to deeply disturbing in the space of a single sentence.  More Work for the Undertaker is extremely stylized. The culture shock of the setting is so pronounced that for the first few chapters, I felt like it was a bad book, that the characters were poorly drawn for the sake of interjecting the author's witty comments, and without motivation other than "because they're crazy" or “because they’re eccentric geniuses”.  Then the mood washed over me, and I was suddenly enchanted.  You just have to get used to the environment.

    The location is Apron Street, a once fashionable nook of London where the Palinode family and the various local shops they used to almost single-handedly keep in business before the World Wars have decayed in the interval.  The three surviving Palinodes have lost their ancestral home but still rent space in it, have genius IQs but are too quirky and set in their ways to be functional in society, and may or may not have murdered one or more recently deceased Palinodes. So might the local banker, the local chemist, the local barmaid, the local doctor, the local undertaker and his boy, and a handful of unorthodox street characters ranging the gamut from “lovable cockney” to “easily shocked colonel”.

    Is the undertaker smuggling some kind of contraband in the coffins?  What’s a notorious con artist doing hanging around town?  Who is writing all the poison pen letters? Could any of the worthless stock securities be valuable after all?  Why does the niece feel the need to disrobe before creeping in the upstairs window? Why are small time crooks, delirious in jail, overheard saying “Please don’t send me up Apron Street?”  Can anyone get the Palinodes to say something that makes any sense? And has anyone actually been murdered, or not?

    These are among the interlocking puzzles confronting Mr. Campion. The language of the characters and the narrative both take some getting used to, but once you’re in the Apron Street Zone, the little descriptive statements like He was not a man who believed in the smile as a social lubricant positively make you tingle with appreciation. Highly recommended.

    Displaying his Best Profile: Heat Rises, by "Richard Castle"
    When they entered the third floor walk-up office of the Step This Way Talent Agency, Phil Podemski was eating take-out oatmeal at his desk. As he swept old trade magazines and newspapers from his couch onto the floor so they could sit, the agent eyeballed Nikki and said he could really do something for her, considering her figure and looks. “You have to strip, of course. Not for me, I don’t go for any funny business, I mean in the act.”
    “Much as I appreciate the offer,” she said, “that’s not why we’re here.”
    “Oh...” Podemski sized up Rook and tugged at his orange Yosemite Sam mustache. “Sure, guess I could give you a bullwhip and a fedora. We’d market you as Indiana Bones. Or maybe go sci-fi. You sorta look like that guy who roamed outer space everybody’s so crazy about.”
    “Malcolm Reynolds?” asked Rook.
    “Who?...No, I’m thinking we give you a space helmet and some assless chaps and call you...Butt Rogers.”

    This is the third novel based on the Castle TV series about a writer who solves crimes with his tough cop pal Beckett, and writes books featuring "Detective Nikki Heat" as a stand-in for Beckett.  The books are presented as Nikki Heat novels written by the character Castle.

    The first two in the series read pretty much like Book length Castle episodes with different character names. Heat Rises finally gets it right.  It's more like what you would expect Rick Castle to write while fantasizing about Beckett. He makes himself into a suave world adventurer and a genius in the kitchen, Nikki Heat into a supercop who all but wears tight-fitting ninja suits while kicking ass, and the two of them into a perfect team that has endless steamy sex and 40s-era movie banter.  There's a dedication that's significant to the TV show's arc and an amusing acknowledgments page that, for the first time, reads like it was actually written by Castle instead of a ghostwriter thanking people involved with the show.

    The mystery plot part of it would be one of the better Castle episodes. It's fairly convoluted but satisfying, and I probably wouldn’t have solved it but for the use of a word that means more to me than to most other readers.  A plot device that would not cause much suspense in the TV show works in the book. The character and atmosphere, for viewers of the show, is delightful.  And the scene by Belvedere Castle made me miss NYC.

    If you think you have issues with ObamaCare, wait till the GOP tries to force PerryCare on you!

    by AdmiralNaismith on Wed Nov 02, 2011 at 06:19:12 PM PDT

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