Since finishing Angela Carter's collection of short works, I'm not quite sure which direction my short story reading is going to take. I have lots of collections and anthologies to choose from but I can't decide which to pick up, not sure what I'm 'hungry' for. More stories by one author? A themed anthology? A collection of interlinked stories? So another weekend of randomness, while I contemplate books. Actually I do have a particular fancy in mind and a topic that is popular right now (and has been for quite some time). Country house stories? Yes, there are lots of books about that. Stories, novels and mysteries with the setting and loads of books about just about every aspect of life in a country house. And as luck would have it I even have a book of stories that fits the theme nicely.
I'm sure I have mentioned English Country House Murders: Classic Crime Fiction of Britain's Upper Crust, edited by Thomas Godfrey, before. As a matter of fact I read The Unlocked Window by Ethel Lina White a few years back, which is a story in the collection. I was set to pick up a Miss Marple mystery (perfect rainy weekend weather reading--cozy and lots of country house locales in her stories) but then remembered this collection. As luck would have it the collection includes a story by Agatha Christie.
"The Shadow on the Glass" was published in 1930 under the title The Mysterious Mr. Quin. He's a little like Miss Marple as a matter of fact. He's not a detective, but he's someone who gets called in when all seems lost and sorts the mystery out by looking for the finer details in the bigger picture. This is a classic Agatha Christie puzzle where you think the solution is straightforward and then she throws you for a loop, and when you discover the true nature of the crime you realize all the clues were there all along had you just paid closer attention.
This story involves a ghost, or rather a ghost story. There is nothing like the promise of ghostly encounters to play on a characters' uncertainties and fears. And it might prove, too, to be a red herring for the reader to try and sort out, too. A weekend country house party will end in two dead and a much gossiped about woman holding the gun and getting the blame. Literally. What fun would a country house party be without a little jealousy and the possibility of scandal anyway?
Of those invited, two of the guests are newlyweds, one is a soldier, two couples, a General and the hosts themselves. Is it poor planning that of the couples two of the individuals happened to be romantically involved before? And the lady in question has a jealous streak. She's a "dangerous woman". She's known for causing problems, and it is in her hand that the gun will rest later in the story.
The ghost may actually take a back seat in this story, but he's pivotal to the plotting. He remains forever in one of the bedrooms looking out the window. Legend has it he was the cuckolded husband whose wife's lover murdered. No matter how many times that pane of glass has been broken and replaced it shows a discoloration where he watches the pair of lovers run away after their crime. It is this room where the newlyweds have been placed. Bad luck perhaps? Even with the window boarded up? It would seem that history has a way of repeating itself in a variety of sordid ways.
Perhaps I will continue on with this collection? There are lots of big names included of the Golden Age of crime stories--G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Michael Innes as well as more contemporary notables like P.D. James and Ruth Rendell (and I might have read her story before, too . . .). Well, check back next weekend, if you're curious.
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This week's New Yorker story, "Box Sets", is by Roddy Doyle (whew--finally an author whose work I have read and am already familiar with). Box sets refers to the TV shows that everyone seems to be addicted to, and the argument over which is best erupts in a pub one night. "Mad Men" or "Breaking Bad"? Or maybe better than all is "House of Cards"? Since Sam has lost his job even when Ireland's economy is on the road to recovery he has all the time in the world to catch up on watching "The Killing" (Danish version, brilliant by the way). I'm not quite sure but the story seems a pronouncement on the way we live our lives now, or the way we're forced to live them--"thirty years of box sets"--what he has to look forward to? Unless he finds another job or finds something to better to pass his time with. You can read this week's Q&A with the author here.