Last Update 6/27/22

13 by F. Britten Austin, Doubleday, 1925

I read a good short story by this mostly forgotten author, so I picked up a collection of his stories. They are stylistically a bit slow moving at times, but they're not without merit. They vary considerable - crime stories, psychological studies, mild humor, suspense, slice of life. My favorite was "The Infernal Machine," in which a saboteur arranges for explosives to be concealed within the fuel of an ocean liner. He is subsequently arrested on an unrelated matter in the US and is sent back to England on the supposedly doomed ship, locked belowdecks. He experiences rising panic and when there is in fact an incident on board - not very serious and unrelated to the sabotage - the shock of it causes him to have a fatal stroke. A bit archaic but still worthwhile. 6/27/22

Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock, NYRB, 2005 (originally published in 1911)

I read a lot of Leacock in junior high but I'm not sure if this was one of the books I read. It is a collection of parodies of novel types which were popular at the time. There are lampoons of detective stories, ghost stories, tales of knights and damsels, and other more earnest subgenres. The only one that remains relatively well known is "The Man in Asbestos," which is a spoof of what passed for science fiction in those days. Still occasionally amusing, but times have changed so much that modern readers will likely not get many of the jokes.6/20/22

The House on Stilts by R.H. Hazard, Armchair, 2021 (originally published in 1910)

A detective and a reporter pursue a bank robber to a fictional Caribbean island ruled by a Spanish governor. Their efforts to arrest the villain and his henchmen are hindered by the presence of a voodoo queen and the fact that the thief has somehow gotten himself appointed as governor of the island. This is awful from beginning to end. The writing is juvenile, the dialogue silly, the plot makes no sense, the characters are barely humanized, and the descriptions of the island or anything on it are inadequate. On top of all that, there is serious misogyny all through the story, incidents where it is clear the author was making up things when he didn’t understand how international law or other institutions work, and it is possibly the most blatant and virulently racist book I have ever read. And despite its packaging as a lost race SF novel, it is really neither. 5/15/22

A Hero of Our Time by Mihail Lermontov, 1840 

This very early Russian novel is episodic in nature and chronicles the life of Grigory Pechorin, a young man who is a kind of blend of hero and anti-hero. Romantic quests are his prime motivator, but he is not always successful, and when he succeeds, he doesn’t always like the results. The first half of the novel is better than the second. Pechorin eventually becomes habitually depressed and comes to a predictable and premature end. Much shorter than most Russian novels, and with a fairly simple plot structure. I went through a Russian literature spell in high school but this was not among the books I read at the time. 4/10/22

Reginald by Saki, 1904

This was the author’s first book, a collection of fictional sketches about Reginald, a young man who has little respect for the foibles of society. Each of the sketches – they are all a thousand words or less – describes his reaction to and generally snubbing off one convention or another. They are humorous with a frequent bitter twist that would be more obvious in his later work. The author, actually H.H. Munro, would later write much better stuff, until his career was ended by his death during World War I. There is a sequel. 1/26/22

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