Sunday, October 27, 2013
The Marx Sisters by Barry Maitland (1994) and some thoughts on the BorrowBox app
My library, which I love, adore and think is completely fabulous, recently started using the BorrowBox system. With this system, library members download the BorrowBox app and use it to borrow eBooks and audiobooks. I'm always happy to give anything that increases my access to books a go (especially if I can access the books for free without leaving the house!) so I was pretty keen to try it out. There aren't many ebooks available so my choice was pretty limited. The first book I downloaded was Jennifer Love Hewitt's The Day I Shot Cupid but it was so terrible that even with my deep and abiding love of celebrity memoirs and/or lifestyle guides I could not get past the first chapter. I cannot emphasise how really really terrible that book is (Wikipedia tells me it inspired the popularisaiton of the term "vajazzling": decorating woman's pubic area with crystals. Shoot me now). Urgh.
However, I had more luck with my second title, The Marx Sisters. Mystery novels are one of my favourite genres. I love a world-weary detective, impelled to investigate a world of crime and corruption that confirms his or her dark view of humanity. I love the ability of good mystery writers to use murder as a way to capture entire characters in a few pages while setting these characters, who only briefly feature in the story as part of a murder investigation, against the backdrop of the personal life of the detective, which develops across a series. Some of my favourite series are the Kinsey Milhone Alphabet stories (I have W for Wasted sitting on my bedside table waiting for a day where I have nothing planned so I can spend the whole day lying in bed, drinking hot chocolate and devour it all in one go!) and the first 12 Inspector Lynley novels (seriously, stop at A Place of Hiding. I have read all of them and Elizabeth George spends all of her time in the later novels doing horrible things to the characters we have grown to love. I briefly reviewed the most recent one, Believing the Lie, on Goodreads [review here] and if my review can prevent one person from reading it, then I have done good). I also adore Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther books and very much enjoyed the first twelve or so Stephanie Plum novels. Because I have strong series loyalty, I'm always on the lookout for new authors and detectives so, when I saw this book was the first in a series that has been rated consistently highly on Goodreads, I was sold.
The book features two detectives, homicide detective Kathy Kolla and Scotland Yard Chief Inspector David Brock. They are set the task of investigating the death of Meredith Winters, an old woman who lives in an odd enclave in London called Jerusalem Lane. In Jerusalem Lane, tensions left over from World War II still simmer within a diverse group of people including British nationals and German immigrants. It's an unusual part of London that seems to these detectives like a remnant from another time; a forgotten moment of London's history caught in a particular space. However, the property is in the middle of London and desired by developers with an eye for profit. Meredith held papers that may or may not have belonged to the great Karl Marx that were desperately wanted by an American academic whose career had stalled and Meredith's son was pressuring her to sell so he could liquidate her assets for his hair salon chain. It soon becomes clear that solving this murder is not going to be an simple matter.
The book was released in 1994 and it was really odd reading a police procedural without the technology that is so ubiquitous in crime stories today. There were fingerprint checks and a bit of mention of DNA testing but the characters communicated via fax rather than email and establishing the provenance of an academic at an American university involved writing letters rather than just visiting the university's website. In 1994 I was at high school and I remember having to find books in the library using a card catalogue so it's not like this past is completely foreign to me, but it is amazing reflecting on how far we have come in technologically in just under 20 years. However, despite this slightly jarring historical issue, I enjoyed reading this book. It is the first in the series so it does serve the function of establishing characters, meaning there's a bit more exposition than there usually is in later books but, importantly, it is interesting enough to make me want to read the later books. I give this novel three stars and, as soon as I can figure out how to return it electronically via the BorrowBox app, I will download the next one.
Concerning the BorrowBox app - it does seem to be really focused at audiobook listeners rather than ebook readers, because the range of audiobooks is much larger and has more recent and popular titles than the ebook range. I couldn't find any functionally to change the size of the text like you can with the Kindle app - it looked like the pages were fully typeset and fixed. This meant that the type was a little bit small on my iPhone but would be perfect for an iPad or other tablet. I will keep borrowing books from it because it is so convenient; but, based on its current catalogue, I might run out of books that I want to read sooner rather than later.