‘A Serial Poisoner Stalks Broken Hill’ (2015)

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The nooze is getting me down, I can hardly bear to cover it.

And so, for the time being, turn we unto murder mysteries–stories about crimes that get solved instead of just sucking whole countries into their depths.

The Bachelors of Broken Hill, an Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte mystery by Arthur Upfield–this is one of the best detective novels you’ll ever read.

A Serial Poisoner Stalks Broken Hill

No matter how fiendishly clever the crime, “Bony” will always solve it. No matter how big the crime, the perps won’t get away with it.

I know, I know–now it sounds like fantasy. Well, so what? Go ahead–just try to convince me that multitudes of anti-heroes in “I give up, everything’s so awful!” stories have done anybody any good–let alone the country. Prayer and faith are what it takes to help us back to a belief in ordinary goodness, decency, and sanity. But a little dab of fantasy doesn’t hurt.


This Book’s a Winner

Murder Must Advertise (The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries Book 10) by [Dorothy L. Sayers]

One of the things keeping me out of the booby hatch lately is a crackerjack mystery novel, Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy L. Sayers. I’m re-reading it and I don’t want it to end.

Lord Peter Wimsey gets called in to solve a murder at an advertising agency, where he goes undercover as a copy-writer. Dorothy Sayers worked for several years as an advertising copy-writer, and she knows all the ins and outs of the business. In fact, her depiction of the agency is so fascinating, you almost don’t care about the murder.

Just to show you what the author knows, Ms. Sayers considered this one of her least best books, didn’t like it much. She never realized what a terrific book it was!

I’d like to say more, but again the computer’s giving me fits and I don’t know whether I’ll be able to post this or not. Suffice it to say that this is one of my all-time favorite mysteries–and it does a superb job of taking your mind off whatever’s bugging you.

Inspector Ghote Solves Another Mystery

H.R.F. Keating published his first Inspector Ghote mystery, The Perfect Murder, in 1964, and went on writing them practically right up to his death in 2011. The one I’ve been reading just now, Breaking and Entering–it was a Christmas present to my wife–came out in 2000. And it’s wonderful.

These books were good from the get-go, and they just kept on getting better. Keating never lost his touch. If you like tricky mysteries featuring believable characters in exotic settings, this long series is for you.

Breaking and Entering concerns a series of jewel thefts that have so far baffled the Bombay Police Crime Branch. When most of the detectives have to be re-assigned to a high-profile murder case, the humble and unappreciated Inspector Ganesh Ghote is saddled with the jewel thefts. Worse, and unexpectedly, he also gets saddled with his old acquaintance Axel Svensson, a big Swede working for UNESCO and quite out of place in India. They last collaborated on The Perfect Murder. Now Svensson’s wife has died, he’s depressed, and he’s come back to India for a change of scene.

Ghote catches the wall-climbing cat burglar. His solution to the crimes is fixed in logic and evidence, yet totally takes you by surprise. But in solving the jewel thefts, Ghote finds himself suddenly in position to solve the high-profile murder, too–with the help of the most unlikely allies you can imagine.

Inspector Ghote has been likened to Columbo, and they do have a lot in common. But Ghote works in India, against a background of Indian culture and procedures, and it makes for fascinating reading. I mean, these books are just so cool! They’re full of incidents, scenes, characters, and exchanges that you’ll remember for many years to come. And they’re all terrific.

‘A Demon in My View’ by Ruth Rendell (Was She Drawing a Map of Hell?)

Ruth Rendell, one of the most prolific, successful, and critically acclaimed mystery writers ever, died in May of this year. She worked to the end, publishing her last novels in 2014 and 2015.

A Demon in My View came out in 1976 and promptly won a Gold Dagger Award. It was made into a movie in 1992, starring Anthony Hopkins, and I have just re-read the novel after a lapse of several decades. You know you’re getting old when you toss the word “decades” around like that.

I have read some of Ruth Rendell’s most recent works. When I do, I always wind up asking myself, “Why in the world am I reading this? It’s just a story of horrible people doing horrible things, no glimmer of redemption anywhere, just life that is nasty, brutish, and terribly stupid…”

In A Demon in My View, Rendell explored the mind of a psychopathic killer hiding in plain sight among “normal” people. The killer has found a safe way to satisfy his urge to kill women without actually killing or even hurting anybody. But the whole system is innocently and unknowingly upset by a new neighbor, and a catastrophe becomes inevitable.

Ruth Rendell was a great mystery writer with a true gift for piling up suspense. What interested her was not so much the mystery, but the psychology of the characters involved in it. Occasionally she wrote a mystery in which we know from the start “whodunit,” and the story goes on to explore how and why the murder was done.

Throughout her career she wrote about persons who do evil things. But they did them in a certain social context. Much of her focus was on the British working class and under-class, but she sometimes visited the upper crust.

What I get in A Demon in My View, and in the works of Ruth Rendell in general (most of which I have read), is something which my wife calls a kind of photograph of British society and culture, but which I am coming to think of as a map of the British portion of Hell–which is probably not too different from any other nation’s neighborhood.

In some 40 years’ worth of fiction, I find depicted a society in which Christian faith is almost totally extinct; there is no sense of sin, no shame, hardly any awareness that the word “sin” means anything; and there is a code of conduct which boils down to a mere two questions–“Will it make me feel good?” and “Will I get away with it?”

Well, okay, if you’re going to write about murderers, you’ve got to give them a few psychological quirks because there must be something in them that makes them murderers. But in Rendell’s fiction, I find it hard to understand why everybody is not a murderer. There is almost no morality to restrain anyone from doing anything. And nobody feels guilty about lying, cheating, stealing, or committing adultery because they have no sense that any of these behaviors is wrong, and worthy of condemnation. (In the later novels, characters do feel guilty when they let slip a remark that is not Politically Correct. I pray that is not the beginning and end of the role of the personal conscience in the UK today.)

Not that I feel there is any danger of Ruth Rendell leading me into a moral No Man’s Land. I think it fair to say that she is not advocating, but trying to reproduce what she sees. Throughout her career she has been very, very careful not to say anything by way of judgment. If she judged what she saw, she kept it to herself. I am told that she finally revealed something of her true feelings in a 2014 novel which I haven’t read yet. But in everything else I’ve read, Rendell got out of the way and simply let you see the picture.

It’s not a pretty picture.

I don’t think it hurts Christians to know what we’re up against, culturally.

It should inspire us to earnest prayer.