søndag den 18. oktober 2009

P.D. James Revisited II

As mentioned yesterday, Unnatural Causes takes place in Suffolk, in a small community where everybody knows everybody else.

All the residents and weekend guests of Monksmere Head are writers of some kind; romance, crime, non-fiction, literary critics, plus the orphaned and crippled little typist. And of course these greater or lesser artists have their little quirks, their allies and their enemies.

In many ways this novel can be compared to Dorothy Sayers´ The Five Red Herrings (1931) which takes place in a colony of temperamental Scottish painters. I remember that I found the story a bit confusing, but I fell for the expression ´a red herring´ which was new to me then. (Not 1931, but mid1980s, probably). And as usual, I was impressed by Sayers´ solution.

Another variation of the artistic circle is Caroline Graham´s Written in Blood, an Inspector Barnaby novel from 1994. A famous artist agrees to visit Midsomer Worthy´s Writer´s Circle, somewhat surprisingly, and a death takes place. Again, the key to the plot is the interrelationship among the writers.

Do you remember similar examples of murder among a small circle of artists? Do you like this kind of setting?

14 kommentarer:

Margot Kinberg sagde ...

Dorte - I've always thought that kind of setting - a small circle of artists - is fascinating! Thanks, too, for mentioning one of my favorite authors, Caroline Graham :). She also uses a small community of artists (this time, actors) as the setting in Death of a Hollow Man , which also features Inspector Tom Barnaby.

Philip sagde ...

Dorte, if that red herring gave you pleasure back then, you may since also have been pleased by Thoreau's observation that "Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout in the milk."

But re the question: I have a rather large compilation of examples demonstrating that fiction writers should steer clear of classical music unless they are very, very well-versed in it -- even Proust didn't really do it well, if the truth be known -- but there are some crime novelists who know, or knew, their stuff. Cyril Hare's When the Wind Blows, set in an orchestral rehearsal, is splendid, especially for readers who know their Mozart symphonies. Edmund Crispin was himself a composer, using his real name of Bruce Montgomery, and his farcical Swan Song is set in an opera company, as also is Robert Barnard's quite hilarious Death on the High C's and Death and the Chaste Apprentice. Away from the classical, Crispin/Montgomery composed for films on occasion, and his Frequent Hearses is set in a film studio. Margery Allingham's Dancers in Mourning takes place in the context of a company performing a musical in the West End.

Those leap to mind as cases in which musical performances provide the context and artists the personae. There are others where music plays a lesser part but still an interesting one, and that brings to mind a musical diversion so odd I have to mention it just for its own sake: Philip Marlowe and a police officer in Playback, Chandler's last novel, discussing, and very intelligently, the contrasting virtues of Artur Rubinstein and Artur Schnabel playing Mozart. It is no surprise that Chandler could write that, but it thoroughly confounds the notions of Marlowe and his mean streets established in the earlier novels.

Louise sagde ...

I am thinking about one of the earlier Elizabeth George Inspector Lynley novels. Wasn't there one taking place on a Scottish manor or something?

And the newest from Danish writer Anna Grue called Kunsten at dø (The Art of Dying) also has some of the same premises.

Maxine sagde ...

yes, Louise, I think I remember that Elizabeth George one, too- one of her early ones. I also think that one of Deborah Crombie's might have been set in a writer's colony but I am afraid I cannot remember which. Similarly (apologies for my awful memory) I think Ngiao Marsh wrote one. Was it in fact the book in which Inspector Alleyn meets Troy (i.e. she was in the artists' colony in which a murder takes place)?

Dorte H sagde ...

Margot, I keep reminding myself to try Caroline Graham in English. I have read the two that my library own, but the language seemed flat and uninteresting.

Dorte H sagde ...

Philip: yes, I have heard that one by Thoreau! Wonderful.

And you are right, if you as a reader know a lot about classical music, and the writer doesn´t, it must be a frustrating experience. I have read two Cyril Hare´s, and I think music played an important part in one of them. But perhaps it always does?

Dorte H sagde ...

Louise: great example! George, I mean, I have not read that one by Anna Grue yet. Payment in Blood was George´s second, about a group of actors in a Scottish castle, and from the time when I hadn´t grown tired of over-exposition to her noble nobleman ;)

Dorte H sagde ...

Maxine: that is one of the Ngaio Marsh stories I have not come across. I am not exactly a collector, but I think I´d like to read that one as I enjoyed reading about Agatha Troy. I´d better ask Craig; he must know what the title is.

Philip sagde ...

Dorte, the Marsh novel Maxine has in mind is Artists in Crime, which is set in Troy's studio. She and Alleyn meet on a ship at the start of it, I think. Marsh also, of course, used the theatre as a setting: Vintage Murder takes place in the midst of a theatrical troupe touring NZ; Light Thickens in the Dolphin Theatre during a production of Macbeth, and Final Curtain in a stately home occupied by a somewhat loopy theatrical family.

The Old Silly sagde ...

I do like that kind of setting, and it sounds like a good book. Thanks for the review!

Marvin D Wilson

Dorte H sagde ...

Thank you, Philip!
And I think I have read the one about the Dolphin Theatre. It is sometimes difficult to remember, because I read most of them several years ago, and in Danish.

Marvin: you are welcome!

Søren sagde ...

"Last Act in Palmyra" by Lindsey Davis takes the imperial agent Marcus Didius Falco on a travel to Syria in AD 72 together with a travelling theatre group. Falco solves murders and, since the playwrigther of the theatre group has been murdered, he also writes the plays.

Dorte H sagde ...

Søren: interesting twist! Actually, I have not read any of Lindsey Davis´ books. I like historical fiction but prefer the period from 1700 and forward. I think that is because it is easier for me to judge if the setting is realistic or not.

Søren sagde ...

Her books about Falco shouldn't be taken to seriously, they are ment to be funny and entertaining :-) Since I went to high school, I had a weak spot for the ancient world, so I like the setting of the stories.