Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Killing Gift

Title: The Killing Gift

Author: Bari Wood

Year of publication: 1975, Heinemann edition 1976

Inner cover blurb: 'This is more than a novel about a lonely woman with a deadly power who becomes the quarry of an obsessed detective.  It is more than a gripping psychic suspense story that holds the reader right down to the last sentence.  THE KILLING GIFT reaches into one of the most telling areas of the subconscious: the core of violence and aggression in all of us.  It explores the question that sooner or later most civilized people ask themselves: What would I do if I had the power to kill just by thinking about it?
   A man dies violently.  Stavitsky, the police chief in charge of the investigation, finds himself face to face with a real mystery - an 'impossible' killing.  All the evidence points to the quietly withdrawn research physician Dr Jennifer List Gilbert, yet how could this fragile woman kill a heavily armed man without leaving a mark on his body?
   Stavitsky pursues Jennifer, his initial curiosity turning into an obsession.  Nothing can stop him from finding out everything he can about her.  And everything he uncovers deepens his confusion.  Jennifer has almost no friends.  Although she is married her husband seems remote, and despite her vast wealth, she lives modestly - somehow unreached and unreachable.  But Stavitsky begins to sense her aloneness, and he finds himself beginning to love this strange woman almost as much as he fears her.  Ultimately Stavitsky's compulsion to unravel her dangerous secret leads to a final confrontation in which hunter and hunted meet as lover-antagonists in a harrowing struggle for survival.  THE KILLING GIFT is a bizarre love story with a unique psychic twist.

Quick flick reveals: An efficient-looking supernatural thriller from the editor of Drug Therapy Magazine.  Answers the questions most civilized people ask themselves about killing someone just by thinking about it.

Random paragraph: 'Kate jumped out of bed and almost ran to Jennifer's room.  She was still asleep, not heavily, but peacefully, her breathing light and easy.  But today in the morning light her face looked ghastly.'


Saturday, 20 October 2012

Lost Book Library Reading Round-Up no. 5

Another update on my attempts to actually read these damn things.  Not a bumper crop this time round, unfortunately.

The Fate of Mary Rose by Caroline Blackwood

Status: Completed

Another book that I read before I started the library.  How this book initially pleased, but ultimately failed me has already been documented.

The Girls by John Bowen

Status: Completed

This tale of a lesbian couple who engage in a spot of murder has a number of things in common with The Fate of Mary Rose.  They both are set in a genteel English village.  They both are initially driven by a quiet control that draws the reader in and directs them towards their inexorable conclusion.  And they both dodge their inexorable conclusions at the last minute, and instead deliver piss-poor endings that seem like the author has just given up.  This is a shame, because The Girls was full of nice touches, such as a conversation between the main characters where they debate whether they have been visited by the Greek god Pan or just a bloke on a horse, and a flash-forward where a supporting figure's life after the story's end is documented.  Come on, authors of short, quiet, novels set in genteel English villages written in the mid-eighties with pastel-shaded Modigliani-influenced covers, buck your ideas up!

Prehistoric Germ Warfare by Robin Collyns

Status: Abandoned, p. 40

Author Collyns is convinced that humanity originated in outer space, and absolutely anything appears to him to be proof of this.  What a human hair looks like under a microscope, alleged Bigfoot prints, satsumas, anything.  It all points to his central thesis that we were part of some extraterrestrial genetically-manipulated breeding programme.  I think I read enough to get the gist, and while I could have gone all the way through looking for LULZ, the ultimate point of this blog is not to make fun of bad books (that's what Robin Ince is for), but to dig up good books that have been forgotten.  So I moved on to...

The Searing by John Coyne

Status: Abandoned, p. 59

I was hoping this would turn out to be an enjoyable slice of second division horror, but it wasn't quite good enough to be good, or trashy enough to be trash.  There was a clue that Coyne wasn't exactly pushing the imaginative boat out in the first few pages when an old Indian burial ground makes a menacing appearance.  That and the fact he uses my least favourite phrase in the English language, 'fetal position', over and over again (what's wrong with saying someone's legs are tucked up under their chin?) turned me off.  The story seemed to be firing into all sorts of different directions involving mysterious orgasms and baby killing, none of which interested me greatly, so I bailed.

The Injured Party by Elaine Dundy

Status: Abandoned, p. 122

Dundy hit big with her first novel The Dud Avocado, but this final one is obscure, and in all honesty it's not hard to see why.  It starts off well enough with a screwball comedy feel as two magazine employees attempt to uncover a conspiracy in their own office, but then gets derailed by a bad marriage storyline that feels suspiciously like the author unloading baggage.  By the time I gave up the protagonist was a faux-naive caricature of the person we started off with and it felt like pretty much anything could happen.  Which means, of course, that it didn't matter what did happen.  A case of a good author losing control of their story.

Disappointing, but I have a feeling the next batch will contain some gems, so stay tuned!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker

Title: The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker

Author: Charles Webb

Year of publication: 1970, Penguin edition 1972

Back cover blurb: 'The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker is much like other young American marriages.  After eighteen months of it, Lisa leaves Bill during their summer holiday by the sea.  Not that both parties wouldn't like to make their marriage work according to the ideal American formula.  But what is that formula?  If they could only discover why they got together in the first place, they might make a start, though Lisa's sister, Nan, would be determined to foil them...'

Quick flick reveals: I'm not a fan of Webb's The Graduate.  To me it reads like the treatment for a film, which is perhaps why the film based on it is so good.  Having said that, I am more than happy to give this a go because it has Richard Benjamin's face on the cover, and I like looking at Richard Benjamin's face.  Depressingly, in the author biog, written five years after The Graduate movie was a hit, can be found the line 'he is employed as a stockroom help at a department store in California.'  What has a writer got to do to actually make some money round here?

Random paragraphs: '"Would you say I'm not fun to be with?  Would that express it?"
   Lisa nodded.  "That's as close as I could come to expressing it."  She walked past him and into the kitchen.'


Sunday, 7 October 2012

Seventeen Part One

Title: Seventeen Part One

Author: Soya

Year of publication: 1953, Sphere edition 1969

Back cover blurb: 'Jacob wanted to learn about sex.
   He knew the theory all right but he wanted some practical experience.  Fortunately his attractive cousin, Vibeke, was only too willing to help him end his virginity.
   And once initiated in the mysteries  of sex, Jacob couldn't practice enough.  But Hansigne, the buxom maid, and Miss Rosegod, the housekeeper, were both eager to further the young man's education.
   With a Rabelaisian sense of humour and a wealth of erotic detail, SEVENTEEN describes the sexual awakening of a teenage boy, and his encounters with the women who teach him the delights of love.
   Anneliese Meineche's film SEVENTEEN is one of the most sensational box-office successes ever.  Granted an 'X' certificate by the Greater London Council, the film has been playing in London continuously for over 50 weeks.'

Quick flick reveals: Yet another perfectly sensible novel packaged as borderline porn, as was the fashion at the time.  Soya was an acclaimed Danish writer of the post-war period, although the film version kick-started the Danish sex comedy genre.  Originally published in three parts, part one is is a slim volume.  Why they couldn't have just put all of it in one volume for the English edition, I'm not sure.  I expect the spine would have just about taken it.

Random paragraph: ' Should you tickle the girl under the chin?  Should you put your hands on her cheeks and give her a kiss?  Or should you slide a hand under her dress and try to get it up between her legs?  What would Maupassant have done?'