I thought I would skip my lost in the stacks post today as it's been a hectic week and I didn't have a chance to do much browsing in the stacks. However yesterday I brought home a very interesting book that I had requested via interlibrary loan and was thinking it would be a perfect lost in the stacks book, pity it wasn't one my library owned. But I like to be flexible, so today I have a 'guest' lost in the stacks book, all the way from Colorado. Originally published in 1927, it's difficult to gage how often it has been circulating of late, but the due date slip inside the book (and you can't really go by those since they are often no longer used--my library doesn't use them anymore as a matter of fact) shows a last check out of March 27, 1961!
I'm sorry to say I can't lay claim on having "found" this book, as I came across it via Melville House Books, where I was browsing in their forthcoming titles section. I read the description and thought, perfect, I need to read this. Had I looked closer I would have found it is due to be published this month (according to the Melville site--Amazon lists it, perhaps erroneously, as being due out in July), but at first glance it looked months away from being available and you might already have noticed if you stop by regularly that I am not especially patient when it comes to books I want to read.
So, what was it about Maurice Dekobra's The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars (La Madone des Sleepings) that made me look twice, and then go directly to my library's ILL request form and ask for a copy? First it was this little eye catcher:
"One of the biggest bestsellers of all time, and one of the first and most influential spy novels of the twentieth century, is back in print for the first time since 1948."
Although I've not been spending as much time lately with my thrillers and spy novels (and I have a lovely pile of them), I love to read them, and 'biggest bestseller' and 'influential' are high words of praise indeed. A teaser from the description hooked me further.
"It’s the story of two tremendously charming characters who embark on a glamorous adventure on the Orient Express—and find themselves on a thrilling ride across Europe and into the just-barely unveiled territories of psychoanalysis and revolutionary socialism."
Alan Furst is an author I very, very much want to read particularly so now as Melville House notes that in his novels there is often a character traveling by train who happen to be reading just this book. I love books that talk about other books (and what was agent 007 reading in From Russia With Love? Am thinking it was a novel by Eric Ambler, but I could be remembering incorrectly). Anyway, I love the sound of this book, and it sounds like a classic of the genre that I hadn't come across.
By the way Dekobra is French, the book was translated by Neal Wainwright. I was hoping to find a review of it from when it was first published in the US, but so far I've not been able to find anything. Something of a curiosity--Dekobra's real name was Maurice Tessier. His pen name came (so the story goes on the wikipedia) that he saw a snake charmer in North Africa with two cobras and his name is a spin off from his experience--"deux cobras" became Dekobra. Makes for a good story in any case. I'd never heard of the term "dekobrisme", which is coined from his name, to describe his writing style which uses journalistic features.
He was apparently quite a popular author in France between the two world wars and his many books were published in quite a few other languages, but like so many authors he has been rather forgotten with the passage of time. Thanks to Melville House for bringing him to my attention and back into print. I think I must now take a closer look at their Neversink Library and perhaps discover some other forgotten gems!
Now I'll leave you with a description of one of those charming and glamorous characters. This is Lady Diana Wynham.
"Like lightning that blonde hair and that pure and classic face, only slightly ravaged by all-night revels at the Jardin de Ma Soeur or at the Ambassadors, appeared from behind the paper screen...But what is the use of describing Lady Diana's beauty? Anyone can look at her for the price of a copy of the Tatler or the Bystander. Weekly magazines all over the world never fail to include a picture of Lady Diana Wynham playing golf, cuddling a baby bull, driving a Rolls-Royce, shooting grouse on the Scotch moors of climbing the slopes above Monte Carlo in a white sweater."