Bubble Tea, A Mystery Swap, and Cindy or Sandy?

My cousin and I are sitting on the porch on a windy day slurping bubble tea.  We’re wearing old paisley bandannas (circa 1970s) to keep the hair out of our eyes while we pore over books for our annual mystery swap. My pile has surplus copies of Dorothy Sayers’s Have His Carcase and Busman’s Holiday, while hers tends toward  Laura Lippman and Patricia Cornwell.  We’re opposites, but we both do love mysteries.

We agree to swap Simenons:  The Two-Penny Bar, a moderately enjoyable book in which Maigret learns from a condemned man about a murder committed six years ago, for Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses, which my cousin (a librarian) stole from a discard pile at the library. Though I never understand the Maigret mystique–all Simenons are alike–at least they’re fast reads.

With some reluctance, I agree to part with one of my favorite Patricia Moyes books.  (“That isn’t in my pile; you’re cheating.”)  If you haven’t read Patricia Moyes, who wrote 19 books in the Inspector Henry Tibbets series from 1959 to 1993, I can affirm that they are utterly delightful.  In the third book, Death on the Agenda, Henry goes to Geneva to a police conference on devising ways to stop narcotics smuggling. Emmy, his wife, goes along to see friends and shop.  And Moyes, who once worked as an assistant editor at Vogue, describes fashions in detail:  I yearn for the peignoir Emmy buys, a “white chiffon peignoir scattered with embroidered roses and edged with lace.” But the day after a posh party,  Henry is accused of killing an American cop who’s suspected of leaking information to the drug dealers.  Emmy helps Henry investigate, and what a web of lies, sex, money, and crime they untangle!

And so it’s philanthropy to part with a Moyes.  This is such a fun book!  But then we reach a crisis: should I trade my Janet Evanovich pile for her Laura Lippmans?  I love Evanovich’s heroine, Stephanie Plum, a doughnut-eating New Jersey bounty hunter, but the titles, which all have numbers (One for the Money, Four to Score), are interchangeable.  Which have I read?

“It doesn’t matter, because she eats doughnuts in every single book,” says my cousin practically.

We make the trade.

And then it happens.

A woman approaches.  With a clipboard.  That can’t be good.  And before we go inside, she is upon us.  She is campaigning for a candidate for the Democratic primary, and have I heard of Cindy?

“Which Cindy?” my cousin says.

The campaigner is startled.  “There’s only one.”

“I’m sure there are two.  Or is that Sandy?”

“I’m here for Cindy ___.  She’s concerned about Planned Parenthood, the environment, and mental health.”

I’m concerned about mental health,” my bipolar cousin says. “Does she know that a corporate psych hospital chain has been barred from moving in here, though the state has shut down five hospitals?  And that mental hospitals no longer allow the mentally ill to smoke, or take supervised breaks outdoors?”

Now the woman is rattled.  “Cindy wants to increase funds for mental health care facilities.”

Sandy wants to increase funds for research for psychotropic medications that will improve the lives of millions of people.”

“I do agree with Cindy on the environment,” I say, just to cut this short.  “I will vote for Cindy.”

The poor woman ticks off a bunch of boxes on her clipboard and thanks us.

“Now that,” I tell my cousin, “was outrageous.”

“I’m voting for Sandy.”

“Except there is no Sandy.”

What Could Be More Predictable Than Too Frothy Summer Reading? The Virgin & the Gipsy, A Too-Cozy Cozy Mystery, and a Very Simenon-y Simenon

The virgin and the gipsy lawrence pulp 586-1

I’ve already done my summer reading:  three silly books that would have been better saved for that horsefly-haunted fishing lodge I will find myself in soon.

But they are no less frothy than most of what will be promoted this summer!


D. H. Lawrence is one of my favorite English writers. I love his poetry, novels, and travel writing.  His style can be intense,  but I appreciate intensity. Why, why, why did I not get on a train to Nottingham, his birthplace, when I was in England?  Well,  he didn’t like Nottingham much. And he wasn’t that keen on England.

Is he still in fashion? I have no idea.  My obsession began when I saw the movie Women in Love, starring Glenda Jackson, who won the Oscar for Best Actress, Oliver Reed, Alan Bates, and Jennie Linden. And then I was enraptured by the novel Women in Love, though I tried to be cool about it, because my best friend thought it was very funny.  It is one of the strangest, loveliest, most seductive books I’ve ever read.  The Rainbow, its prequel, is even more stunning.  I also like  Sons and Lovers, his beautiful coming-of-age novel.

438 D H Lawrence The Virgin and the Gypsy Berkley 1And then there’s The Virgin and the Gipsy.

Mind you, I enjoyed The Virgin and the Gipsy, but Lawrence’s sexual philosophy can seem ridiculous when concentrated in a novella.  He needs a short story or a novel.

It is actually a typical Lawrence story  of forbidden sexual attraction between a middle-class woman and a lower-class man.  Think Lady Chatterley’s Lover, only sillier. It begins almost like a fairy tale.  The rebellious Yvette and her older sister, Lucille, are trapped in the rigid life of a rectory dominated by a grim granny referred to as the Mater.   We learn that their mother, Cynthia, left the rector for a penniless man when the girls were children.  And their Aunt Cissie sizzles furiously about the house hating both girls, but especially Yvette.

So, naturally, the girls like to get out.  One day the wild Yvette is out in a car with Lucille and  some other young people, and they almost run down a gipsy cart.  The cart finally gets over to the side of the road, but the driver is furious.

Yvette’s heart gave a jump. The man on the cart was a gipsy, one of the black, loose-bodied, handsome sort.

He asks if they would like their fortunes told.

She met his dark eyes for a second, their level search, their insolence, their complete indifference to people like Bob and Leo, and something took fire in her breast.  She thought:  “he is stronger than I am!  He doesn’t care!”

Yvette experiences pure sexual attraction.  This is a little overwritten, though.

Yvette has clandestine meetings with the gipsy.  Sometimes he drives his cart past their house and she runs out, other times Yvette resists.  She is also scandalizes her granny by befriending a couple who are living in sin while they wait for the woman’s divorce.

It’s a little silly.   Still, it seemed pure sex when I was an adolescent.

So maybe it’s a Y.A. book?


Moyes down among the dead men 41Im6NYYYiL._SX297_BO1,204,203,200_I picked up a couple of mysteries by Patricia Moyes, because they were  very nice paperback editions with crisp pages. I THINK I read about them at a blog.

Well, damn, Down Among the Dead Men is just not that  good.

Chief Inspector Henry Tibbetts and his wife Emmy go on vacation with friends, Rosemary and Alastair, who have a sailboat.  And then they (and we) have to learn everything about sailing.

Alastair looked at him pityingly.  “If the jib didn’t have a port and a starboard sheet, how could you come about?”  Henry said he had no idea, and watched humbly as Alastair picked up another rope from the deck.

If the jib didn’t…?  It’s a lot like Nancy Drew. Everything has to be explained, and over-explained, until you’re ready actually to put your backs into it and heave ho!

Anyhow, they sail with a bunch of friends, including a saucy sexpot of a woman, Ann, whom the other women hate (including me).

And Henry figures out that a friend of theirs who died tragically was actually murdered.

And Ann puts her hands all over him and makes him promise to stop saying he was murdered.


Okay, but not good enough.  Maybe this isn’t Moyes’ best?


simenon grand banks cafe 41s2qOWJFAL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Of course Simenon is excellent, if you like that kind of thing.  The Grand Banks Cafe is a police procedural, straight investigation with no real rounded characters, and lots of re-creation of the crime going on in Maigret’s mind.

Maigret, a French detective, and his wife go on vacation in a fishing port so he can help clear the name of a teacher friend’s student, Pierre, who was the wireless operator of a ship whose voyage was apparently doomed.  (Lots of accidents.)  Pierre is  accused of murdering the captain after they came ashore.  The investigation gets stranger and more bizarre as Maigret discovers that a femme fatale was involved with three of the men on the ship.

Very tight, short, and fast.  One of the better Simenons.

And if you want it, it’s yours.  I’m giving away the Simenon.  Leave a comment if you’d like the book.


Why Simenon Is Slightly Out of My Comfort Zone

I am not a big mystery fan. I read two or three mysteries a year.

The French writer Simenon has never been one of my favorites.

Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey and Glyn Houston as Bunter

Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey and Glyn Houston as Bunter

Ten years ago I went through a phase of reading British Golden Age Detective Novels, the “cozy” puzzle mysteries of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s.  Dorothy Sayers, Edmund Crispin, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and Agatha Christie are among the most famous Golden Age writers. Their upper-class detective heroes are witty and charming, they pursue baffling clues, they’re either in love with women who don’t love them back or are comfortably married, and their valets are former “batmen” from the War.

The women writers are my favorites, and perhaps it’s because they introduce a tad of romance in their novels.  Dorothy Sayers’ witty hero Lord Peter Wimsey relentlessly, through three novels, pursues the chilly (and possibly gay?) Harriet Vane, a mystery writer once accused of murder who seems positively to dislike him until she sees his effect on women academics at her former college at Oxford (Gaudy Night).  Allingham’s Albert Campion, if I recall correctly, had a great love and was rejected. Of the Golden Age heroes, Marsh’s dashing Roderick Alleyn is certainly my favorite.  Roderick smoulders for his sexy girlfriend (then wife), Agatha Troy, a painter.  As for Christie, my least favorite of the Golden Age Crime Queens, her characters are stick figures.  Christie is all about the puzzle.

Anyway, I love a good “cozy” i.e., non-violent mystery, about English detectives.

Carter of La Providence SimenonBut I have recently ventured out of my comfort zone to read Georges Simenon, the great French mystery writer.  Penguin is reissuing all of his Maigret titles, one a month.

Simenon’s books are, by my standards, police procedurals rather than cozies.  Nor have I ever been able to cozy up to Simenon’s detective, Maigret.  Simenon chooses to provide minimal background on him.

Anyway, I was delighted today to find myself completely absorbed in Simenon’s The Carter of La Providence, one of the earliest books in the series; I read it in one sitting.  But the character, Maigret, is hardly developed at all; in fact, we learn about him mainly from his reactions to the crime.

The novel begins with a description of a canal and the locks. I prefer train schedules to lockkeeping, but  gradually became interested in the characters on the barges and yachts, the carters and their horses, and Maigret.

The writing is very simple and fast, and the third-person narrative keeps us slightly distanced from Maigret.

Maigret was in a tetchy mood.  He entered the stable and from there went to the cafe or the shop any number of times.

He was seen walking as far as the stone bridge looking as though he was counting the steps or looking for something in the mud.  Grimly, dripping with water, he watched as ten vessels were raised or lowered.

People wondered what he had in mind.  The answer was: nothing.  He didn’t even try to find what might be called clues, but rather to absorb the atmosphere, to capture the essence of canal life, which was so different from the world he knew.

A woman has been strangled, and her body found in the stable of an inn by the canal.  All the clues come from Maigret’s investigation, in which he learns about the community on the canal.

The woman turns out to have been the wife of Sir Walter, a colonel and the owner of a yacht whose party consists of some glamorous, decadent people with a reputation for wife-swapping and drinking.

Did the colonel do it?  Did his friend, Marco?  Or did someone on the barge, the Providence?

There will be more corpses before the end.

It is fascinating that we know almost nothing about Maigret.  He is completely intent on the mystery, but who is he? I know from reading a few of the later books that eventually he gets married–one of the novels is about his wife–but there is nothing about that here.

Should I have started with the first book?  I never read mysteries in order.  I read what I have, or what I found at Barnes and Noble.

Julian Barnes in this week’s TLS writes that Simenon’s mysteries are literary classics, and who am I to disagree with him?

I enjoyed David Coward’s translation very much but, alas, there is a relative pronoun error on the first page.   “He had gone back into his house but had not been there long when the man driving the horse-drawn boat, who he knew, walked in.”

That should be “whom he knew,” because the relative pronoun is the direct object of “knew.”

Yes, it’s petty of me, isn’t it?  But, honestly, shouldn’t the editor know the difference between who and whom?

Get it right next time, Penguin editors, please.  I’m going to read more of these.