Kerry Greenwood’s latest Phryne Fisher offering, a compendium of short stories together with great illustrations of Phryne’s clothes, shoes, the contents of her handbag etc. There is also a smattering of recipes, including a deadly champagne punch almost guaranteed to leave anyone legless.
Probably better as an introduction to the delightful Phryne rather than offering anything of lasting interest to hard-core Phryne addicts (with the exception of the divine drawings and the aforementioned killer booze recipe).
This is one that I’ve been meaning to read for ages, finally stumbling across it in a second-hand bookshop recently, although I’m pleased to note that our library service also has both the book and the audio book. It is the original blockbuster Antipodean crime fiction, set in Melbourne, and is still in print more than 120 years later.
Ironically, author Fergus Hume (1859-1932) had been unable to find a publisher to start with, as in his own words, “everyone to whom I offered it refused to look at the manuscript on the ground that no Colonial could write anything worth reading”. He ended up having to self-publish, and to his astonishment The Mystery of a Hansom Cab sold 5000 copies within its first three weeks, with a total of 20,000 copies in print by the end of the first year of publication (1886). The book also had massive sales in Britain, but Hume had unwisely already sold his copyright for the meager sum of £50. Hume only stayed in Australia for three short years, returning to England in 1888 and going on to a highly successful writing career.
I read the whole book in one sitting, very much enjoying Hume’s writing style and the dialogue of some of his racier characters. The story is liberally sprinkled with red herrings and is a real page-turner, and its evocation of social life in the colony in the late 1800s is quite fascinating.
While we’re on the subject of the CIA and the dark arts, I may as well review this one. It was released in cinemas mid last year and is now out on DVD. The Bourne Ultimatum is the third in the series of movies, based on the Jason Bourne novels by Robert Ludlum.
This is the action movie to end all action movies, filmed at a simply frenetic pace, and with over 170 stunt performers listed in the credits. Despite the Hollywood blockbuster mega-budget and cast of thousands, the production team has done a brilliant job in choosing locations and shooting in a way that manages to preserve the raw, chaotic tone of the earlier Bourne movies.
The Bourne Ultimatum has more of everything – more pace, more action, more agents and assassins, more high-tech surveillance techniques, more spectacular car pile-ups, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, an even more gritty performance by Matt Damon as renegade CIA operative Jason Bourne.
Damon’s Bourne is the quintessential action hero, but with far more complexity to his character than the usual cardboard-cutout action men. He is just as smart, driven, resourceful, ruthless and more importantly, bulletproof as in the earlier movies, but this time with extra edge. Damon as Bourne moves through the movie like a human steamroller, fitting in perfectly with John Powell’s dramatic musical score and the fast-paced camera action.
There are excellent performances by the other actors, with Julia Stiles in a much more prominent role as agent Nicky Parsons, and Joan Allen, who is again brilliant as Pamela Landy. Paddy Considine convincingly plays Guardian journalist David Ross, David Strathairn is perfect as ruthless CIA Deputy Director Noah Vosen, Edgar Ramirez and Joey Ansah are completely believable as killing machines Paz and Desh, and veteran British actor Albert Finney does a star turn as the sinister Albert Hirsch.
The Bourne Ultimatum is filmed on the streets of Berlin, New York, London, Madrid, Paris and Tangiers, and consciously plays homage to old thrillers such as All the President’s Men and The French Connection. British director Paul Greengrass is once again at the helm, and his intelligent and considered director’s commentary should not be missed.
Techno artist Moby’s brilliant Bourne theme song Extreme Ways has been specially remixed, and is once again a fitting finale to an extremely satisfying action movie, one that will set the standard for many years to come.
Urban Babies Wear Black is a cute little book by Michelle Sinclair Colman, and my favourite so far from her series of board books, ostensibly for babies, but probably really for the adults who read them aloud. The other titles in the series are:
Our library also has the last two titles in this list. “Eco Babies” is due to be published in early 2008.
It stars Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty) as the maverick Highland police constable who steadfastly resists any promotion that would take him away from his beloved Highland village of Lochdubh. There is derring-do and crime aplenty in Lochdubh, much of the crime minor, and Macbeth adroitly manages to keep the perpetrators out of jail, unless things get really ugly or they kill themselves in the meantime, both of which happen relatively frequently.
One of the best and most hilarious episodes of the third series is “The Lochdubh Assassin”, which has four spivved-up Glasgwegian hard men tracking down a young man on the run to his bolthole in Lochdubh. The locals outwit them at every turn until they are literally begging to be sent off to the jail in Inverness.
The cast of characters in Hamish Macbeth is fantastic, not the least of whom is Hamish’s adorable sidekick, Wee Jock the Highland Terrier, and from someone who does not love dogs at all, that is saying something. Several of the actors will also be recognised in that other extremely popular Highland TV series, Monarch of the Glen, which I also greatly enjoyed.
Hamish Macbeth is loosely based on the characters from the “Death of a …” crime novels by M.C. Beaton, featuring the detective of the same name. Incidentally, all of the title covers for this series that are stocked in our library seem to feature chintzy English houses with thatched roofs and cottage gardens, bearing very little resemblance to the houses of the Highlands. Oh well, never mind.
M.C. Beaton is also the author of the Agatha Raisin mysteries.
Winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize, Enright’s novel received glowing reviews from literary heavyweights such as The Guardian and the Times Literary Supplement. A review in The Scotsman, quoted on the cover blurb, states, accurately, that Enright’s protaganist, Veronica Hegarty, is “so fully realized that the words simply melt into pictures and moods”.
However, I find it a difficult book to review, as it is at once both bleak and intensely lyrical. The death of a sibling unleashes a stream of memories, some real and some imagined, of Veronica’s early years in a large Irish family. Enright documents her underworld journey into a form of temporary madness engendered by grief, with the hope of redemption and the form it might take still dangling at the work’s end. While she is a consummate writer and the novel is engrossing, it is not one I wish to read again in a hurry.
However I am probably being unfair, as for me any Booker Prize winner has to measure up to Kerry Hulme’s The Bone People (1985) – described at the time as “frankly unreadable” by a critic whose name I can no longer remember, and more accurately, as “beautiful and terrible… tender and cruel… dream and reality… poetry and crudity… infinitely simple and infinitely complex” by The New Zealand Herald. A very big ask, as a novel of the stature of The Bone People occurs only once in a generation, and everything else tends to pale in comparison.
The Gathering is published by Jonathan Cape (UK) & Black Cat (USA), 2007
Corinna the sleuth is a radical departure from the Phryne Fisher mould, possessing few of the qualities that made Phryne so enticing, although she is an equally likeable heroine.
Corinna is a large lady, completely clueless about fashion and makeup, who has to rely on her friend Meroe the white witch if ever she needs a spot of fashion advice. There are no strings of young men at Corinna’s beck and call, nor is she independently wealthy. In between solving crimes, Corinna works for her living – she is an accountant who chucked it all in to open the Earthly Delights bakery.
Corinna also inhabits the 21st Century, as exemplified by her talented assistant baker Jason (ex-junkie and maker of heavenly muffins) and her ditsy anorexic shop assistants, Kylie and Gossamer (of the ever-changing hair colour and bejewelled navel piercings).
The main backdrop to this series is the stunning rococo city building where Corinna and an ever expanding cast of other unusual characters live and work. These include the aforementioned Meroe, who runs a tiny witchcraft shop selling herbs and potions, Trudi the gardening expert, Jon and his highly decorative boyfriend Kepler, Pat (aka Mistress Dread the bondage mistress), computer nerds Taz, Rat and Gully (aka the Lone Gunmen), the erudite Professor Monk and the numerous and generous Pandamus family. There is also Corinna’s love interest, the gorgeous and mysterious Daniel Cohen, who works on the midnight Soup Run ministering to Melbourne’s junkies and homeless.
An assortment of wonderful cats also features, including scruffy Rodent Control Officers Heckle and Jekyll who earn their keep amongst the flour sacks; patrician Horatio lounging on the bakery counter all day; Belladonna, Meroe’s jet-black familiar, and one of the more recent additions – an extremely naughty and quite delightful kitten by the name of Lucifer.
Trick or Treat