Thursday, February 23, 2012

Notting Hill Mystery

The British Library has just republished a claimant for the title of world's first detective novel.  Certainly The Notting Hill Mystery, published as an eight-part serial 1862-63 in the magazine Once A Week, predates the first appearance in book form of rivals like The Moonstone.  But that doesn't necessarily prove it was the first.  What are we counting - instalments in magazines or books?  (The book version of Notting Hill was 1865.) And what sort of length makes a novel?  The Notting Hill Mystery runs over 300 pages, so that is for sure a novel - but were there very long short stories published in magazines which might today constitute either a novella or a novel.

Anyhow, this is a very welcome reissue and certainly worth acquiring, particularly as the book is illustrated by Du Maurier, who later created Svengali.  There is apparently an evil mesmerist in The Notting Hill Mystery.  Coincidence?

The credited author was 'Charles Felix' but was apparently Charles Warren Adams (1833-1903), a journalist, traveller, and secretary of the Anit-Vivisection Society.  Other suggestions for the real name are John Retcliffe and a Prussian spy, Hermann Goedesche, but - so far, at least - the literary detective work by Paul Collins, published last month in the New York Times Sunday Book Review seems to me conclusive.  Apparently Adams was a bit of a lad; he caused a scandal by shacking up with the daughter of Baron Coleridge, Lord Chief Justice no less (see John Duke Coleridge in Dictionary of National Biography).  As Felix, Adams appears to have written at least two other novels, Velvet Lawn and the intriguingly-titled Ram Dass, as well as an illustrated children's story, Barefooted Birdie.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Guilty pleasure or criminally rubbish?

There is something of a debate raging in the 'quality' press over whether ITV 1's Whitechapel is compulsive viewing or badly-written tosh.  Personally I have two basic rules of thumb where TV cop shows are concerned.  Firstly, do I make sure I watch every episode?  Secondly, if I record an episode and watch it later, do I lean on the fast-forward button other than during the ads?  In both instances, and regarding all three series of Whitechapel, the honest answer in No. 

That's not to say I am uncritical.  The reborn Ripper of series 1 was clever if somewhat generalised whereas the premise of series 2 (Kray sperm) was downright silly.  The Ratcliffe Highway murders re-enacted, the first story of series 3, missed the horror of the original, but I have to say that - despite yawning plotting faults - story two, which concluded last night, I found absolutely rivetting.  I wonder if this was perhaps because the writers couldn't really think of another serial killer to pin the plot to and just cooked up some especially gruesome hokum instead.  Whatever, I felt there was greater freedom to the writing and this enabled some significant character development.

All crime mysteries are fundamentally ludicrous - but at least the creatives behind Whitechapel revel in the silliness.

No doubt taking itself much more seriously is ITV's first paddle into the murky waters of Nordic Noir, the Danish import Those Who Kill, which launches on ITV 3 on Thursday night.

Based on an idea by best-selling novelist Elsebeth Egholm (whose books don't yet seem to be available in English) it sounds like a sort of Criminal Minds without the Hollywood gloss.  Interestingly, rather than the multi-part serial we have become used to importing from Denmark, Those Who Kill is six stand-alone TV films.  One key pleasure remains for us Borgen fans - spotting the familiar faces from The Killing.

Lookit - it's Troels Hartmann!

Monday, February 06, 2012

Orchid Blue - book review

Recently finished Eoin McNamee's latest, Orchid Blue.  As the title suggests, it's another meditation on real life murder, like the magnificent The Blue Tango.  In fact it is in some ways a direct follow-up in that Judge Curran, whose daughter was the victim in Tango, insists on presiding over the trial of the only suspect in Orchid nine years later.

The title echoes The Black Dahlia, which is unfair in that there was nothing wanton or louche about the victim here.  Pearl Gamble (above) was an ordinary Newry girl who worked on the cosmetics counter.  McNamee is brilliant at evoking that ordinariness and playing it off against her gruesome death which still seems to resonate in the area today.

McNamee is rapidly becoming my favourite in the fictionalised real-life crime genre.  I adored Ellroy at one time, especially his 1987 take on the Dahlia, and devoured but never loved David Peace's Yorkshire Ripper tetralogy, but I couldn't be bothered to read Ellroy's latest (Blood's A Rover) which I borrowed from the library recently and, having forgiven Peace for the appalling GB84 I will never forgive Tokyo Year Zero.  Peace and Ellroy both mythologise murder; for them, to be murdered is the wages of sin.  For me, McNamee has it spot on.  Murder victims are almost exclusively known for their mundanity.  That's what makes their fate so tragically compelling.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Dorothea Tanning 1910-2012

Sad to read this morning of the death of Dorothea Tanning at the mighty age of 101.  Surely the last link with the original Surrealists, Tanning's own highly original work was slightly overshadowed by the fact that in 1946 she married Max Ernst.  It was said to be the self-portrait above that attracted Ernst.  No surprises there.

For me, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (below) is one of the greatest of all Surrealist images.  Perhaps we can hope for a posthumous exhibition, a fitting tribute to this great lady of 20th century art.

Friday, February 03, 2012

BBC Audio Drama Awards

With very little fanfare from the Corp, the first-ever BBC Audio Drama Awards were presented earlier this week.  The long-standing awards from the two writers' organisations, the Tinniswood and Imison, have been subsumed into the big night.

The winners were these, all of them highly listenable.

Best Audio Drama: Lost Property - The Year My Mother Went Missing, by Katie Hims, produced by Jessica Dromgoole.  Rosie Cavaliero was named Best Actress for her role in another of the series, A Telegram from the Queen, whilst David Tennant was Best Actor fo Kafka: The Musical by Murray Gold, produced by Jeremy Mortimer.  Best Supporting Actor or Actress was Andrew Scott in Nick Perry's Referee, produced by Sasha Yevtushenko.

Best Scripted Comedy Drama was Hugh Hughes' Floating, in which Angelsey floats away from the mainland and which was produced by James Robinson.  Best Adaptation, rightly and inevitably, was Brian Sibley's monumental Titus Groan.

The Best Online-Only Drama was Tim Fountain's Rock for The Independent Online.  Best Use of Sound was Bad Memories by Julian Simpson, produced by Karen Rose.  The Innovation Award went to Graham White's adaptation of The Unfortunates for Radio 3, produced by Mary Peate.

The Tinniswood Award (Best Radio Drama Script broadcast in 2010) went to Stephen Wyatt's Gerontius, the Imison (Best Radio Drama Script broadcast in 2010 by a writer new to radio) to Michelle Lipton's Amazing Grace.