"Hah! An unlucky number of quickies involving all of Auntie's favorite sleuths. None of these are really great short stories, some are barely entertaining. If you have read other of her short story collections, you will find that many are repeated in this compilation."
"Beggar On Horseback
This is one of their early collaborations. An almost down-and-out composer is pushed into proposing to a rich girl. Of course, he is in love with the girl across the hall, but, after some early chuckles, he proposes anyway. Much of this first part (they did not designate acts) is taken up with a sort of group stream of consciousness during which everyone talks over everyone else. Now comes an extended (over half of the play) dream sequence--more like a nightmare--in which he finds himself married to rich girl's family, murders them, and is put on trial. This is like trying to listen to the radio version of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." He finally awakens and the whole mess is rectified. He gets the girl from across the hall. Finis. This had to be a producer's nightmare in 1924: 29 character roles, an uncountable number of walk-on parts with multiple costume changes, multiple scenery changes, and music; not to mention the difficulties of controlling the many simultaneous orations by several actors in several settings.
All My Sons
Although written in 1947 in the aftermath of World War II, the basic theme of corporate greed and malfeasance is still appropriate: to wit the multiple scandals emanating from contracting for the Iraqi wars. Unfortunately, the play is protracted through endless useless dialog (although some of the early scenes do contain a tad of wit). There are a few letdowns to justice; Miller builds our hopes only to thrash them in the end. Nevertheless, read this for its basic theme of greed.
The Adding Machine
Don't bother! I find it difficult to accept that even an academic could like, let along read, this tripe. But, I suppose the symbolism of naming the characters Mr. and Mrs. Zero through Six gives rise to the title, or vice versa. And, of course, the adding machine, that futuristic automation that displaces workers, is symbolic, as is Vonnegut's "Player Piano." Anyway, death to the capitalist!"
"Mrs. McGillicuddy witnesses a murder in a passing train. No one believes her; so naturally she must tell her friend, Miss Marple. When no body can be found, Dear old Jane takes charge to discover the body. This is one of Auntie's best novels, that is until I discover that dear old Jane has theories that she won't divulge until two more people are murdered. Auntie likes neat little threes. So finally dear old Jane pulls a Perry Mason to get the culprit to self-expose. Auntie did keep me guessing until the end though. Too bad that all these Miss Marple stories end so abruptly and in the same fashion."
"These, by the team who redefined the musical, are their earliest works: 1942-1953. Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, and The King and I, enough said. The other two are somewhat obscure. Allegro I am wondering why they bothered. No real story, no identifiable songs. The last, Me and Juliet, has one redeeming feature: the song No Other Love. Set to the sweeping tango of Richard Rodgers' music from Victory At Sea (then titled Under the Southern Cross), it gained great popularity in the mid-1950s."
"Try this cute little play about couples checking out a rent-controlled apartment in New York. The moral could be "never check out an apartment without your spouse." The principal players all have some common ties but fall in love anyway. Humorous, but partly absurd that could only happen in a Broadway play. It certainly had the right star for its day: Jerry Orbach."
"A novella panning religious and political hypocrisy. The naughty Abbey of Crewe is up to their neck in Watergate activities that ultimately evolve into scandal. It's all here: eavesdropping, electronic surveillance, election rigging, breaking and entering, blackmail, a tad of gluttony, and (lest I forget) a wee element of ecclesiastical fornication. Or, as we hear in the musical "Chicago," everything that makes life worth living."
"Teddy and Sasha are "malcontents" from opposite sides of "the wall:" friends to the end--literally. Spies: double agents if you will. Here you shall find all of the grueling detail of their tempestuous relationship, from the early "cold war" years, through the downfall of "the wall," to the anti-terror campaigns of Iraq Part II. Here also is all of the snide wit in the author's repertoire as he chronicles his protagonists' histories to what he calls "the second siege of Heidelberg:" a denouement that will make you shriek with rage. While he does pound his points across with unrelenting reiteration (à la Zola), stick with him; the end is worth the means."
"Ayckbourn is billed as Britain's answer to Neil Simon. Actually, this play is funnier than anything Simon ever dreamed of. (Pardon my faulty grammar!) Three couples host party every Christmas and every Christmas everything goes awry. This is a behind the scene look from the kitchen of the hosting couple. So here we have a sampler of Christmas over and done with, Christmas now and yet unfinished, and Christmas yet to come: each zanier than the last, although my vote is for the second act."
"Typical Bellow novel in the vein of modern Jewish writers. Splattered with multiple divorces, and sexual innuendo, but tastefully done. The plot is about relatively nothing: the narrator and his long-time heartthrob take on (separately) Chicago billionaires as clients, meet, dig up and rebury her last spouse, and...well, you have to fill in the ending. With a little tweaking, this could make a great "Seinfeld" episode. There is enough latitude in the character development to twist the serious into comic. I felt that the author has his narrator wander back and forth in time too frequently, often in short bursts. At times I had difficulty discerning who was narrating at any point. He also repeats facts about the characters, often several times. In a 103 page novelette, do I need a constant refresher?"
"Crichton--the commensurate butler to Lord Loam is abashed by said lord's mandate that his household, once a month, treat all servants as equals. Of course, this also implies that within their own hierarchy they are also equals--a duty that does not set too well amongst their own caste system. Ditto for the gentry of my lord's household. Thus, we begin with tea time in merry England as every player makes it subtly known how they feel. And, who can blame them in one of the world's most everlasting monarchys where even military officers have purchased their commissions, or have obtained them through political influence, and are thus entitled to servants commensurate with their rank. So, it is a battle of the servant castes against the aristocracy of the peerage. The family is shipwrecked on a deserted island. Crichton to the rescue! He is a veritable Robinson Crusoe, although the family is anything but the Swiss Family Robinson. Eventually roles are reversed though; Crichton is in charge. Now a rescue and all ends well and back to normal in merry old England."
"The jacket praises this as being a "tale of a German Candide," although it was written some 90 years earlier (1669) than Voltaire's classic (1760). Nonetheless, there are similarities. It is also somewhat akin to the misadventures of "Don Quixote" (1605, or thereabouts), and "Gil Blas" (1715-1735). The first part of Defoe's "Memoirs of a Cavalier" (1720) covers similar ground during the 30-year war between Sweden and Germany. As some parts are also quite fantastic, it might also be a predecessor to Raspe's "Baron Munchausen" and Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864)," although this printing omits Simplicius' visit to inner Earth. And, at this point, I might also throw in Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Pelucidar" (1914 and later) and "Caspak" (1918) novels. So, here's a reading list for you to peruse and compare. In spite of the obscurity of this novel, it is worth pursuing--if you can find it."
"This is a series of his philosophical essays loosely connected by a storyline relating to the search for an elixir of life. In the end, we find, as did Tennyson's "Tithonus," that eternal life must be accompanied by eternal youth as well. He begins with a parody into the lifestyles of the rich and famous of Hollywood. Early in the novel (published in 1939) he dwells upon the plight of migrant laborers: the dust bowl émigrés that Steinbeck documented in "The Harvest Gypsies" (1936) and fictionalized in "In Dubious Battle" (1936) and "The Grapes of Wrath" (1939). There is also an interesting bit about the use of solar energy. The author (primarily through the alter-ego character of Professor Propter) then wanders glibly among a kaleidoscope of philosophies among which are, art for the sake of art, 18th century French pornography, Darwinism, and deep-seated, fatalism. Most of these are rather long-winded--rivaling Faulkner in length."
"The book contains only a few rather tame tales of revenant encounters, but not without prodding some worthwhile fun, for which the author is noted. These are so brief that the book was printed double-spaced, full page drawings are blank on the obverse and both pages are numbered. Easily read in an hour or two."
"Pseudo-memoir of author's marriage to Marilyn Monroe and his involvement with the House Unamerican Activities Committee in the 1960s. Told through the thoughts of the main character, Quentin, a lawyer who is to defend another lawyer who is to appear before the HUAC and who intends to name names: not unlike his own experience in the Hollywood realm. Quentin has been married and divorced, remarries to a Marilyn Monroe type character (who dies under similar circumstances), and has a third wife waiting in the wings. Rather controversial and recondite in spots with a dearth of scenery and props. While Quentin interacts with the characters in his mind, he addresses his thoughts predominately an invisible âListener.â Definitely not for the casual reader."
"Inheritance plays the major role in this when the patriarch dies suddenly. Poirot does it again in this tale in which everyone is suspect of a possible murder, a brutal murder, and a near murder. Auntie will keep you guessing until the final chapters, although the finale, as with most Poirot novels, may leave you less than satisfied"
"A murder is advertised in the personals column of the local blather giving the time and place. But, who is to be the victim; who the culprit? These are the questions for the police and for who else but Miss Marple. This two act play was adapted from Dame Agatha's novel by Leslie Darbon. Although the inimitable Miss Marple provides the explanation, we are left to understand that the police inspector has solved this one. I wonder what the book will tell me if I can find it? At any rate it is a play on identities. Is anyone whom they purport to be? Well, it is an entertaining play, but pay attention."
"If you missed "Cry, the Beloved Country" and "Too Late the Phalarope" read these first! "Ah, But Your Land Is Beautiful," which is betwixt a novel and non-fiction, documents the attempts of the Afrikaners to solidify apartheid during the period 1952-1958. It is written eloquently narrated in part by a subordinate government official who, through letters to his aunt, sets the flow of the story--both novel and documentary. Some elements mirror, or adapt, the style of Dos Passos in "Manhattan Transfer" and "The USA Trilogy." The title emanates from exclamations of casual travelers who observe merely the beauty of a locale without seeing the elemental discord within the environment. It reminds me of my own travels through the southern states in early 1962. My group marveled at the quiet splendor of one of our stopover points--Selma, AL. The author clearly brings out the conflicts of those years in South Africa; a period that was to become a change agent for equality."
"This contains three of his most noted works. Read them in order of publication: "Night Flight," "Wind, Sand and Stars," and "Flight To Arras."
This fictional account is based upon the author's memoirs of his service with the South American-European mail service in the later 1930s and augmented in his memoir "Wind, Sand and Stars" (Chapters IV and V). The quality of his prose is equal to his other works. Experience all the hopes and fears of the pilots who fly the mail by night to Buenos Aires from Patagonia and across the Andes from Chile and Paraguay. Then there is the frustration of those on the ground who control and await these flights. Extraordinarily, the fate of one pilot turns is almost a premonition of that of the author several years later.
Wind, Sand and Stars
Witness the danger, excitement, adventures of a pioneer aviator interspersed with his philosophy of life and he recounts his experiences with the French Air Post Service in the early years of the twentieth century. Here are all of the wonders and dangers of early flight across the Pyrenees, into North Africa, and in South America over the Andes. This is written well and might be classed as poetic prose: unexpected from someone whose vocation is far removed from literature.
Flight to Arras
This is his final memoir, written before the collapse of France in World War II. Here, amid his poetic philosophy, are all the idiocies and uncertainties of war, the valor of the aircrews, and their blind adherence to the mission--no matter how futile. The aircraft becomes an extension of the pilot's body--an external vital organ--neither exists without the other."
"Santiago, a young shepherd, finally activates his dream to travel, and to find the alchemist and hidden treasure. From his native Andalusia he travels to Tangier, is robbed of his savings, finds wealth again, and finally continues to pursue his dream. This takes him across the northern Sahara on the trade route to Egypt and the pyramids. Finally he will meet his alchemist only to return home where his dream is finally realized; back where he started. Along the way he learns to read omens, to listen to his heart, and to pursue his dream."