Category: 42 Word Retrospectives

Sinister Stones

Sinister Stones (reissued as Cake in the Hat Box)

by Arthur W. Upfield (Doubleday, 1954)

audiobook read by Peter Hosking (Bolinda, 2018)

Book cover: “Sinister Stones” by Arthur W. Upfield (Doubleday, 1954); reissued as “Cake in the Hat Box”; audiobook read by Peter Hosking (Bolinda, 2018)

Though the murder investigation is somewhat nebulous, the story remains notable for the extreme remoteness of its Western Australian setting, and for its historical depiction of cattle station life—and particularly the relationships between Aboriginal and white folk—in the mid-20th Century.

Beware of the Brain Sharpeners

Beware of the Brain Sharpeners

by Philip Curtis; ill. Tony Ross (Anderson Press, 1983)

Book cover: “Beware of the Brain Sharpeners” by Philip Curtis; ill. Tony Ross (Anderson Press, 1983)

An underwhelming instalment. The Brain Sharpeners, rather than posing some insidious threat, now play the role of conscientious anti-nuclear interventionists. Their plan is gratuitous and the abducted students have no agency whatsoever. Curtis employs a jocular prose style devoid of actual humour.

Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar

The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar

by Maurice Leblanc; trans. Alexander Teixeira de Mattos (Je sais tout, 1905-1906)

audiobook read by B.J. Harrison (B.J. Harrison, 2015)

Book cover: “The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Burglar” by Maurice Leblanc; trans. Alexander Teixeira de Mattos (Je sais tout, 1905-1906); audiobook read by B.J. Harrison (B.J. Harrison, 2015)

A collection of the first nine stories featuring Arsène Lupin, the French answer to Sherlock Holmes. Lupin is a loveable, rather-too-full-of-himself antihero whose criminal exploits are related with a bonhomous, artful vivacity. Leblanc pulls much wool over the eyes of all concerned.

The Ghost Grabbers

The Ghost Grabbers

by Terrance Dicks (Blackie, 1980)

Book cover: “The Ghost Grabbers” by Terrance Dicks (Blackie, 1980)

After much build-up as to how realistic the so-called hauntings are, the ease of their fabrication is then glossed over. The multifaceted misdirection is clever enough so far as MG goes, but the scheme is at once painfully transparent and laughably overcomplicated.

The Valley of Adventure

The Valley of Adventure

by Enid Blyton (Macmillan, 1947)

audiobook read by Thomas Judd (Hodder, 2018)

Book cover: “The Valley of Adventure” by Enid Blyton (Macmillan, 1947); audiobook read by Thomas Judd (Hodder, 2018)

The Valley of Adventure proves memorable for its setting, its intrigue, and of course for Kiki the parrot. Judd’s audiobook reading continues to make the girls sound like wet dishrags, though in fact they show a bit more gumption this time around.

Murder in the Basement

Murder in the Basement

by Anthony Berkeley (Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1932)

audiobook read by Seán Barrett (Soundings, 2021)

Book cover: “Murder in the Basement” by Anthony Berkeley (Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1932); audiobook read by Seán Barrett (Soundings, 2021)

An experiment in form, which sees what appears at first a straightforward murder investigation proceed by way of a fictional manuscript within-story. Unfortunately, this manuscript’s narrative is one that Sheringham himself admits to having grown bored with and abandoned—for good reason!

The Cartoonist

The Cartoonist

by Betsy Byars (The Bodley Head, 1978)

Book cover: “The Cartoonist” by Betsy Byars (The Bodley Head, 1978)

A downbeat exploration of emotional neglect and escapism. Byars is deft as a cartoonist herself in capturing Alfie’s circumstances: his drifting isolation from family and peers; his retreat into drawing and his nihilistic attic ascent. Not exactly a fun read, but affecting.

The Tit and the Moon

The Tit and the Moon

dir. Bigas Luna (1994) [subtitled, from ‘La Teta y la luna’]

Arthouse comedy romance, supposedly about envy and obsession but really more an exploration of fetishes (plus not-too-subtle sexploitation scripted around Mathilda May). Watchable enough—even entertaining in its quirkier moments—but also odd without real purpose, and at times decidedly uncomfortable viewing.

The Sussex Downs Murder

The Sussex Downs Murder

by John Bude (Skeffington & Sons, 1936)

audiobook read by Gordon Griffin (Soundings, 2015)

Book cover: “The Sussex Downs Murder” by John Bude (Skeffington & Sons, 1936); audiobook read by Gordon Griffin (Soundings, 2015)

Middling at best. While the murder turns out to be cleverly conceived (as Bude has his characters point out, no doubt feeling very pleased with himself), its unravelling is as cack-handed as the prose is uninspired. Superintendent Meredith is rather like dishwater.