Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tales of Mystery and Suspense


    This month I read a bunch of mystery stories and I had initially intended to do individual posts about each of them. But then, time got away from me and I was quite surprised to realize today that the month is nearly over. I’d like to get my post in before the Short Story Initiative monthly roundup so I’ve decided to do one post with my pick of the best mystery shorts I read this month. Sadly, when I got down to it, only three of the six stories I read seemed good enough to write about.

The Mystery of the Essex Stairs by Sir Gilbert Campbell
    This one is an old fashioned mystery of the sort that would appear in periodicals. It’s not an Agatha Christie kind of mystery where you have all the facts of the case needed to figure it out yourself. This is one of those mysteries where the detective (in this case a lawyer) pulls the killer out of his hat and presents us with a neatly tied up case and even a rather ridiculous confession. But I found the story very quaint and fun to read. If you enjoy courtroom dramas give this one a go.

The Fenchurch Street Mystery by Baroness Orczy
    I’ve only ever thought of Baroness Orczy as the writer of the Scarlett Pimpernel books, but apparently she has quite a repertoire of mystery and crime stories as well. Judging by this story, she was very good at it too. I will definitely be looking up more of her mysteries. This one is about the murder of a blackmailer by his intended target. The whole case seems very straightforward at first but obviously, it all unravels very soon. The story is very taut and clear with no holes to be found in the plot. Easily my favorite of the lot.

The Dancing Partner by Jerome K Jerome
    This is the kind of dark story that you would expect from someone who regularly dabbles in the macabre like Edgar Allen Poe not from someone who has written a book as funny as Three men in a Boat and Three men on the Bummel. The protanganist of The Dancing Partner is Nicholaus Geibel, a talented toy maker who specialises in clever mechanical toys. One day, listening in to a conversation between his daughter and her friends, Geibel strikes on an idea for a very ambitious toy. Although not strictly a suspense, it is sinister and menacing.

All three stories (and many more besides) can be found online here. Read and enjoy.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Animal Farm by George Orwell

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than the others.
-          Animal Farm

   If you've ever heard or read anything by or about George Orwell, you know to expect a political subtext to his work. This book is probably one of his most incisive political works. What makes this remarkable is that all its principle characters are animals.

    Manor Farm belongs to the harsh and irresponsible Mr Jones who treats his farm animals very shoddily. The animals are used to bearing this with mute resignation until one night; Old Major the boar calls a meeting and shares his dream of a farm run by the animals themselves. He teaches the animals ‘Beasts of England’, a song which is to become the anthem of the revolution. When old Major dies, two pigs called Snowball and Napoleon take it upon themselves to lead the revolution. The revolt happens quite organically and much sooner than planned. The animals chase off Mr Jones, take control of the farm and rename it Animal Farm. Almost instantly their lives are much improved. Under the leadership of Snowball and Napoleon, the animals work hard and the farm prospers. However, power starts to corrupt the pigs. The tranquility and comradeship of the animals is threatened and things start to go rapidly downhill from there on. The ending was especially brilliant I thought. Chilling and poignant.

    Animal Farm is often, mistakenly touted as Orwell’s diatribe against socialism but Orwell is really making a comment on dictatorship and not on the people’s movement. Apparently Orwell intended this book to be a specific attack at Stalin but really, it is just as relevant to any dictatorship the world over. Orwell also takes pot-shots at organised religion and its sedating effect on the masses. Moses, a Raven and Mr Jones’ pet, tells the weary animals of a beautiful land called Sugarcandy Mountain where all animals go after they die but only if they work very hard when they are alive and never question their master.

    I’d urge you to give this book a try even if politics doesn't interest you. This isn't some dry political treatise. There is a story here that is engaging and thought-provoking irrespective of what your political ideology may be.