Friday, 9 October 2015

The Best Of Bendigo...

Thanks to my day job, yesterday I was lucky enough to get a spare couple of hours in Bendigo, one of Victoria's most beautiful cities. 

For a lover of history Bendigo is a 'must see' destination, heartland of the Australian gold rush in the 19th century and the traditional land of the Dja Dja Wurrung people. It is wonderfully multi-cultural (in spite of planned events for this coming weekend indicating otherwise) and has one of Australia's most vibrant Chinese cultural centres, impressively documented at the Golden Dragon Museum.

Of course, as you might have guessed, it also has a couple of excellent second hand bookstores which I managed to spend a couple of hours, and a few dollars in....

As you arrive into town from the south, if you're travelling up from Melbourne, look out for Bendigo Book Mark Two at 24 High Street. It's right on your left, as you hit the CBD, on the corner, so keep your eyes peeled! It looks great from the outside...

But looks even better from the inside!!

From which I was able to find over a dozen additions to my growing collection of Penguin paperbacks! Prices are very reasonable and the range of material available is excellent! The owners are also very friendly, They even asked me to mind the shop while a delivery came to the back door!

Next I zipped through town (about three minutes...) to a bookstore I'd visited before, a few years back and that had stuck in my mind because it simply looked great. 'Book Now' at 1 Farmers Lane is owned and run by Jill and Garry Murray, lovely and friendly, as seems to be the norm with bookstore proprietors... they are situated in a former 19th century wine and spirits merchants that oozes charm....

Which also has the ever-sexy-in-a-bookshop benefit of a mezzanine floor!!!

With around 50'000 titles on offer, including a decent sized selection of Chinese titles, you're bound to find something there to take home as a souvenir of your visit to Bendigo. I picked up four additions for the BLM private library at very reasonable prices!

So if you find yourself in the heart of country Victoria, please don't judge Bendigo on what you might see on the local news over the next couple of days. Places are defined by those who choose to stay in them and become a part of the community, not those who choose to vent their anger on the streets as a vocal hate driven minority.

Go to Bendigo!

Stevie at BLM

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Looking For Clues... 6 Of The Best Fictional Detectives...

Much as I might try to drag myself away, in recent years I'm attracted to detective fiction like a super villain is to a long drawn out and impossibly contrived plan for the demise of his or her detective opponent from which they will obviously escape! Yes, I am addicted to detective novels!

No matter how smart your bad guy, no matter how much the author might make them out to be a genius, unsurpassed in their evil plans for world domination or just plain old top-hole murdering skills... The detective always wins through in the end!

And, that is part of why we love them.  But who, in the wide spectrum of sleuths do we really connect with? There are literally hundreds to choose from these days, many classic 'Golden Age' detectives have made it to TV status, opening up a whole new fan base, whilst some seem to have lost their earlier popularity. Some from novels written in the fifties, sixties and seventies only achieved wider TV audiences, and as a result, new readers, a decade or two later. There's no denying a good TV adaptation does no harm to a literary detective's flagging career, but there are plenty out there who have not yet hit the small or big screen, but still hit the spot with millions of readers.

So here is a selection of some of my personal favourites, Super-Sleuths all!

Sherlock Holmes
Obvious, I know, but you'd be hard pushed to find a better known literary detective figure in the world. Whether he's coming straight from the pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's four novels and fifty six short stories or the plethora of film and TV incarnations, he is a phenomenon.  

Holmes first appeared in 1887,  initiating for many readers what was to become known as the 'Golden Age Of Detective Fiction'. Doyle's serialisation of stories became popular in The Strand Magazine, and ran on until 1927. Holmes is, according to The Guinness World Records, the 'Most Portrayed Movie Character' having been played by 70 actors in over 200 films!! Now, 130 years on from his first appearance, Holmes is still engaging with audiences. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller having both recently appeared as new TV incarnations of the character for the 21st century. 130 years and going strong, Holmes will be thrilling readers and audiences for some time to come I think!

Hercule Poirot
Another obvious inclusion to this list has to be Belgium's greatest export, Hercule Poirot! More famous than Stella Artois, more stimulating to the senses than a box full of Guylian seashells, Hercule Poirot combines a mix of genius, arrogance, unintended comic appearance and a dose of obsessive compulsive disorder to create the greatest detective to have ever lived, at least as far as he, himself, is concerned. He's not far off in his estimations too, it has to be said. By his own admission, he has been wrong TWICE in his career. So nobody is perfect.

A refugee following WWI, from his home country, where he worked for the police, once in England the role of private detective becomes his world, much to the annoyance of a string of British Police Officers, it has to be said. 

Like Holmes, Poirot has been portrayed copiously on radio and both small and big screen, by such luminaries as Albert Finney, Peter Ustinov, Orson Welles, and most famously and successfully, David Suchet. from 1989 to 2013 ITV's Agatha Christie's Poirot worked through the entire canon of Poirot stories as produced by Christie. You'd think that would be it for the little Belgian, but I can't help thinking such a successful character is bound to re-appear in a new guise at some point in the next ten years or so. 

Jules Maigret
Simply 'Maigret' to most, including his own wife, this iconic figure of the detective world was created by Georges Simenon and went on to appear in a massive 75 novels and 28 short stories between 1931 and 1972! 

Simenon was arguably one of the most successful fiction writes ever, and another Belgian, but his character Maigret was a Parisian, and his adventures take part in that iconic city. Maigret has been portrayed by French, British, Austrian, German, Italian, Dutch, Japanese and Russian actors in his time. Originally written in French, English translations have also been an enormous part of the Maigret canon, having been a long-standing staple of the Penguin Green paperback series. With a regular focus on Maigret's desire to see into the character of those he comes across during his investigations rather than the crimes themselves, he is, for me a more human detective than many of the genre. Born in the countryside, near Moulins, Maiget originally studied for the medical profession, but the sudden death of his father and the influence of a police office in Paris, and his personal desire to study the dark mysteries of the human character, led him to a profession in which he could become a "doctor of destinies". So was born the legend.

Piet Van Der Valk
Less well know worldwide than his detective compatriots above, Van Der Valk was was the creation of British author Nicolas Freeling in the 1960s. Freeling lived much of his life in the Netherlands and consequently produced a rarity in developing a character that was truly continental European from a British born author. Van Der Valk novels have a realism that is often neglected by others in the genre, Freeling being a self-confessed follower of the Simenon style. Set in and around Amsterdam, Van Der Valk's habit of picking apart the finer details of any crime that comes across his desk, often over a good meal, gives him a distinctive style that delivers results. 

Made famous by the British TV series of the 1970s, which used the character, (but little of the plot details) Van Der Valk was portrayed by Barry Foster to great public and critical acclaim. Another series popularised by the Penguin Green publications, they are well worth a read for fans of the detective genre.

Josephine Tey
Readers of this page will know of my recent discovery of Josephine Tey, both as real-life author and as a character in the novels of Nicola Upson. I love Upson's choice to develop a real person into the main protagonist of a detective fiction series. A choice that grew out of an earlier project by Upson to write a biography of the crime writer from the middle of the 20th century. The fictional Tey is not a detective per-se, but closely resembles the real Tey as a writer of both plays and novels, who is embroiled in a series of murderous incidents during which her own skills at human interaction play an important part. Working alongside her friend, and 'actual' detective, Archie Penrose, Tey brings something to crime fiction I've not found elsewhere. 

In the nature of the genre, Tey would, perhaps, be considered a 'side-kick', but the realism with which Upson portrays the relationships between Tey and Penrose, as well as Tey's ability to interact with other characters on a realistic level, puts her centre stage in the story. This focus on human relationships does not, however leave plot and drama to play second fiddle, as Upson demonstrates all the skills of the past mistresses and masters of crime fiction to keep the reader hooked on the mystery at hand.

Bryant & May
Okay, this is a bit of a cheat, because it's two detective in one, John May and Arthur Bryant, as created by author Christopher Fowler. The difference here is that, whilst Holmes has his Watson, Poirot has his Hastings and Tey has her Penrose, these two are genuine equal partners in crime fighting. 

Artist Keith Page

I've metioned a number of times on this blog my love of the Bryant & May stories and have interviewed author Christopher Fowler in an earlier post, because, put simply, I think this is some of the best crime fiction around at the moment. This pair of octogenarian detectives, jointly leading the Peculiar Crimes Unit spend their days simultaneously uncovering the deep, dark and quite interesting past of London, whilst (eventually) outwitting a series of murderers and ne'r do wells. Author Fowler's extensive knowledge of London makes for a wonderful backdrop to the stories that is wonderfully familiar to those of us lucky enough to have spent much time there. 

The often strained but consistently entertaining relationship between the two main protagonists is one of the strongest elements of the stories, which, Fowler does an excellent job of convincing the reader, has lasted over four decades. Standing up proudly with classic crime detectives from the golden age, these two 'Golden Boys' of detection will, (old-age-onset-illness hopefully being kept at bay...) be around for us to enjoy for a while yet I fancy!

So there they are, half a dozen of the best fictional detectives the cost of a paperback can buy. Other detectives are, of course, available.... But they didn't make the cut. Enjoy.

Stevie at BLM.