Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books, Sept 11, 2009

A bit about Natalie from Book, Line, and Sinker: An avid reader, I’ve been blogging for two years and enjoy discussing books, authors, and topics related to reading or novels

THE COLLECTOR by John Fowles

A forerunner of the psychological thriller/horror genre that made its debut in 1963, John Fowles’s The Collector tells the story of Frederick Clegg, a socially inept man with an obsession for collecting objects of beauty. Initially, Clegg’s collection is limited to butterfly specimens, but after a windfall from the British pools relieves him from financial worry, his collecting takes a diabolical turn.

Miranda Grey is an art student from an upper class family who unwittingly becomes the object of Clegg’s obsession. He longs to add her to his cache, purchasing an isolated house and filling it with treasures he imagines she’ll love.

Clegg kidnaps Miranda, spiriting her away to the cottage. She fears the worst and is confused by Clegg’s extravagant gifts and promises. Miranda grows to pity Clegg and attempts to manipulate him on every level, but he proves to be a shrewd captor. She struggles to understand his motivation as her spirit withers.

Clegg is a sociopath, his perception of reality fractured, making him an unreliable narrator and character. Fowles utilizes dual narrative in the novel, Clegg telling Part I and Miranda narrating Part II, creating an connection between narrator and reader. While reading Clegg’s narrative, I felt pity for him despite his behavior. The sorrow I felt for Miranda was compounded with each failed attempt at escape.

Miranda’s desperation to leave the confines of the basement is matched only by Frederick’s obsession to keep her locked away. Will Miranda find the strength to outwit Clegg and escape, or will she remain like his treasured butterflies, pinned under glass for his viewing pleasure?

This novel was assigned as a Summer Reading book for my Senior English class back in 1991. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The dark themes and sinister storyline made it a riveting read—and how often do students say that about novels read for school? I often returned to The Collector over the years and it remains one of my favorites.

Fowles is more well-known for writing The French Lieutenant’s Woman--The Collector was his first novel. The Collector doesn’t seem to garner the attention I think it deserves and am delighted to showcase it here on Forgotten Fridays.

Ed Gorman writes crime fiction, westerns and edits anthologies. You can find him at

The Dame by Richard Stark

Don Westlake used to say that he didn't like to outline, that he preferred letting the story take him where it chose to go. I suppose this was another way of saying what Theodore Sturgeon said a long time ago, that if the writer is surprised the reader will be surprised.

Well, Westlake was probably not only surprised by the various twists and turns The Dame takes, he must have been downright shocked in places.

Our old friend Alan Grofield, flush with money from a bank robbery, is intrigued by a message from a Latin American dictator whose friend needs help. Turns out the friend, the forty-something dragon lady Belle Danamato, lives in Puerto Rico and is seeking a divorce from her mobster husband. She is under the impression that he will do her violence rather than actually go through with the settlement their lawyers have come up with. She already has a bodyguard but he's too ugly to be seen with in public. Grofield hates her and her thugs and quickly departs. Only to return a bit later under duress.

All too soon--or not soon enough from Grofield's point of view--Belle Danamato is murdered. B.G. Danamato, mob boss and now widower, appears and decides that Grofield murdered her. He will be quickly tortured and then executed. But lest we forget, Grofield is a professional actor and he puts on enough of a show to plant doubt in Danamato's mind about the identity of the true killer.

For the next several chapters we have a whodunit. B.G. and Grofield interview each of the six guests, trying to see if one of them cracks or inadvertently reveals something he or she shouldn't. It's quite a crew, the most interesting being the brother and sister team Roy and Patricia Chelm. The lad is a gigolo of some kind and the sister an iron virgin of twenty-three.

But don't be misled. Sure we have a one act version of a whodunit but then we go back to some of the finest chase scenes I've read in a long time. Westlake makes the jungles menacing, fetid in heat and humidity and the decay of dead things.

As I read The Dame I thought of all the different genres of popular fiction Westlake touches on in this novel. A partial list would include screwball comedies, chase and adventure, mobsters, country manor whodunits and Agatha Christie clue planting.

One piece of business is, to me at least, unique. Grofield announces about fifteen thousand words before the end that he knows who the killer is but he won't share his surmise with anybody. Westlake uses it as a very nifty tease.

Couple things: I wouldn't say this is major Westlake but it is an example what the pro of pros could do to exalt a story even he wasn't taking too seriously. The writing is astonishingly crisp and vivid. Once a page he jars you with something, some little turn or piece of psychology that only Westlake could have come up with.

The other thing is Grofield himself. I've noticed over the years that every once in awhile Grofield comes off as a jerk. That's my reaction and maybe my reaction alone. He gets a little too full of himself and a little too coy and glib. Then he settles back down and he's an intriguing protagonist again.

I read The Dame in two sittings and enjoyed the super-charged plot and watching Westlake throw one fast ball after another straight across the plate.

Rick Robinson has written reviews and columns forThe Crime Record, Mystery News, Deadly Pleasures and other periodicals, and publishes his own commentary & review newsletter, Lethal Interjection. YOu can find him here.

NIGHT FERRY TO DEATH, Patricia Moyes, 1985

I’m a Patricia Moyes fan. I’ve read them all, and for this Friday Forgotten Book it was difficult for me to choose just one of her mysteries featuring Inspector Henry Tibbett, frequently with his wife Emmy. It should make the level of my admiration clear when I tell you I once had two cats named Tibbs and Emmy. I enjoy these characters enough, and the recurring minor characters, such as Tibbett’s assistant, Inspector Derek Reynolds, reading and re-reading them is always an enjoyment.

This novel centers around a theft of diamonds from the Dutch jeweler Van Eck, which occurs while Henry and his wife Emmy are on holiday in Amsterdam. The thief takes the stones aboard the overnight ferry from The Hook to England, and is murdered on board, in the sleep- seat section. No diamonds are not found on the body. Henry and Emmy were in the sleep-seat section as well, and so at the scene of the murder. Later break-ins at their apartment convince Henry there is a connection, and when Scotland yard is called into the murder/robbery case, Henry takes it. As usual, interesting characters and the likable Tibbetts make for an enjoyable read. This is the 18th in the 20 book series, but you can’t go wrong with any of Moyes’ mysteries, which are out of print though used copies can be cheaply and easily obtained from the usual sources.


Anonymous said...

thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of friday's forgotten books! it was such a pleasure to write this post; the only problem i had was picking the book--there were so many i wanted to mention!


Charles Gramlich said...

I've never read the collector and I feel like I should. Maybe 2010 will be the year.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It's a beauty and so was the movie. Have you read THE MAGUS, you might like that even more.

Paul D Brazill said...

I do love the film of the collector and like charles feel as if i should. So ...

Richard Robinson said...

Doing double duty here and on my blog is cool, but the difference between the two books may raise eyebrows. What can I say, my mystery reading is all over the place, just like my science fiction and fantasy reading.

Great selection of books here, Patti. Once again, thanks for doing FFB, great concept well executed.

Juri said...

Patti, I did an entry - it's still Friday in Finland.

VW: stsupid.

Juri said...

Patti - you give me a wrong link!