What to Read While Waiting for Strike5: John Fairfax’ Benson and DeVere Novels

I have been reading Agatha Christie novels of late in search of Rowling notes (I found an Arabella yesterday who is a cat owned by a woman with fourteen cats — and a secret…). That is a lot of fun, frankly, perhaps because it is not especially challenging reading if you’re not — and I definitely am not — trying to figure out the inevitable grand twist at the finale before getting there. Christie’s messages and meaning are not very subtle or covert and the prose is workmanlike; her artistry is in the plotting and her power the stunning defamiliarization consequent to her big reveal of what really happened.

I have also been reading the Father Anselm novels of William Brodrick, an Augustinian monk become barrister become novelist. If P. D. James wrote Brother Cadfael mysteries as historical thrillers, you’d have the sort of book Brodrick writes. The language and questions explored are relatively magisterial compared to Christie and Rowling — and the plotting and slow release are comparable to those two, which is to say, “very, very good.” I have read four of the six Anselm novels and am looking forward to reading the fifth, The Discourtesy of Death.

I discovered this morning that Brodrick has written two more novels, Summary Justice and Blind Defense, which I have ordered. I have done so because it occurs to me that these novels have a lot in common with the Cormoran Strike mysteries, enough in common that reading and discussing them here at HogwartsProfessor might be a healthy exercise while we wait for Strike5, a novel I fear may be several years away (Rowling’s retreat from the public sphere since January may be a sign of her getting down to work on her screenplay and novel commitments, or, just as likely, it may mean she is taking time off to work on personal issues rather than writing).

The five points of correspondence?

  • Brodrick had written six novels with a character, Father Anselm, and in a genre-melange largely of his invention. These novels had won him an international audience and all the awards the industry bestows. He adopts a transparent pseudonym, ‘John Fairfax,’ to take up a new character, William Benson, in a different if related genre.
  • Each of the Benson novels are satisfying stand-alone court room dramas told against the back-drop of the lead character’s mysterious personal history, to which story the attentive reader is given clues in each book.
  • While Benson is the star of the show and his mystery is the over-arching mystery, he has an assistant, Tess de Vere, who is a more than capable barrister herself, has her own personal enigmas the reader has to work out, and their relationship is strictly professional with hints that it will become ‘more than that.’
  • Benson is damaged goods, though. He is a lawyer licensed to plea in the Old Bailey, yes, but he is also a convicted murderer who pleaded guilty, did hard time, and is still very much in recovery from that experience. De Vere and Benson, according to the author, are on parallel and separate journeys of redemption that may intersect at times.
  • The man’s name is ‘Benson,’ right? Can you hear Shanker’s nickname for Strike there? ‘Bunsen’?

I’ll allow that the last point is a little weak.

The good news is that, unlike Rowling/Galbraith and Strike5, Brodrick/Fairfax has already announced the third Benson and De Vere novel title and publication date: Forced Confessions will be available on 5 March 2020.

No, this reading and speculation will not be as much fun as ‘talking Strike.’ I’m confident even before reading the first Benson and de Vere novel that it and the next book won’t include a hidden commentary on or a truckload of correspondences with the Father Anselm historical thrillers. I’d bet, too, that Brodrick is not a ring writer, either, whose series take a definite structural and symbolic turn a la Rowling. We won’t be able to make intelligent guesses, consequently, about what Benson’s next case may involve as we can with Strike via Potter and the previous Strike mysteries.

But there is that embedded romance along with the twined redemption stories of two intelligent professionals who may or may not fall in love… in books written by a master story teller. That’s pretty doggone inviting.

So, here’s my challenge. I am going to start discussing the first Benson and De Vere novel, Summary Justice, on 1 October. You have all of September to buy and read the book. I will restrict conversation here to the first book for two weeks; after 14 October I will begin posting on Blind Defence with speculation about Forced Confessions. I hope, of course, that you will join me on this adventure so I am not talking to myself. And you can be sure HogwartsProfessor will continue to be the home of the best discussion of all things Rowling and Galbraith, especially with respect to Strike5.

Let me know in the comment boxes below if you’re ready to sign up for this side trip into Benson and De Vere!

Top Ten Lists: HogwartsProfessor Posts

After the jump are some ‘ratings’ of sorts for posts at HogwartsProfessor.com, ratings created by the interior number crunching program in the WordPress platform on which the site runs. It generates ‘Top Ten’ lists of the most visited posts for the week, month, and lifetime of this weblog.

Would you have guessed that only two of the seven new posts that went up last week would be in the top ten of posts viewed that week? That a post I wrote before Deathly Hallows was published in 2007 would be the most visited piece in the last seven days?

Me, neither. But there’s a pretty simple explanation. Today’s post is a break from Agatha Christie’s influence on Rowling and Galbraith for some ‘inside baseball’ reflection that only the true HogPro All-Pro will enjoy; join me after the jump if that’s of any interest to you!

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Patty O’Furniture: The Vacant Casualty

One of my PhD thesis advisers was in the UK earlier this year and picked up a copy of Patty O’Furniture’s The Vacant Casualty: A Parody (2012) for my amusement. It is a bawdy and funny take, of course, on Rowling’s Casual Vacancy and, while I cannot recommend it for any but the most dedicated Rowling collectors (it is ‘for adults’ at times as in ‘adult films’), the book does have its better moments.

The author captures and teases the genre melange, for example, that is characteristic of everything Rowling has written; perhaps the funniest part of the book was its lapse into heroic science fiction (Aliens in a Space Ship!) to make that point.

And the cleverest bit was the insertion of a School for Witchcraft and Wizardry in the sleepy village of Mumford. It is just out of sight but the running joke and clever pointers to the Hogwarts Saga and film adaptations is deftly done so as never to be tiresome and always to come as something of a reward to the reader who wants more Harry and less Mumford (wasn’t that all of us in 2012?).

The author behind the pseudonym is Bruno Vincent, which I have to suspect is still another pseudonym. He has written five adult parodies of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five novels, which if the books are half as funny as and suggestive as the titles must be wonderfully comic at least for those adults in the UK who grew up with the books: Five on Brexit Island, Five Go On A Strategy Away Day, Five Go Parenting, Five Give Up the Booze, and Five Go Gluten Free.

Back to Agatha Christie tomorrow with two of her books chosen at random — rather than because of a Presence recommendation or obvious pointer — to see if Rowling has mined the whole Christie collection for names and plot points!

 

Name that Not Quite Legible Book Title! The Mysteries on Rowling’s Book Shelf

The picture used for the back cover of the adult edition of Bloomsbury’s Goblet of Fire in 2000 features a picture of J. K. Rowling leaning against a bookshelf. The titles of the books on the shelf are just almost legible; with a little luck and maybe a reference list, you can read the letters on the spine if you magnify significantly and have any clue to guide you.

The two Ian Rankin paperbacks to the left of her right shoulder I’m afraid are indecipherable. Too many of the Rankin paperbacks are in just this format and the specific coloring of the books in question cannot be made out and the letters, beyond the oversized ‘Rankin’ are illegible.

Not so with the three Agatha Christie titles to the right of Rowling’s left shoulder. As Dolores Gordon-Smith first pointed out, these book titles can be read:

JG: Do you think [Rowling has] read any of the Christie Poirot or Miss Marple novels?

DGS: I’m absolutely certain she has. On the back cover of the adult UK edition of Goblet of Fire, because the books were published with two covers, one with the children’s covers and one with the adult covers, on the back cover of that, there’s a wonderful bookcase shot and, obviously, because I love looking at people’s bookcases, I looked at this in fairly close detail and I was delighted to see there were three Agatha Christie paperbacks. I recognized them immediately because I’ve got the same books.

And after some work with a magnifying glass, I got the titles. They were Three Act Tragedy which is a Poirot book, Dead Man’s Folly which is another Poirot book, and is actually set in Agatha Christie’s old home of Greenway in Devon, and Appointment With Death

[From the MNet Academia show on ‘Harry Potter as Detective Fiction (26 June 2012)]

I’ve discussed the great finds to be had in Appointment with Death here and here at HogwartsProfessor and I have ordered copies of the other two titles to see if there are any hidden jewels for Potter-philes to be found in those pages. Stay tuned for that discussion.

But what of the other books on The Presence’s shelf in 2000? Can we see make out any other authors and titles? Given how rewarding Gordon-Smith’s Christie finds have been, the picture deserves a close look.

I think I want to see a Ngaio Marsh book on the bottom shelf to Rowling’s right. One shelf up I’m all but certain of Peter Cook: A Biography. To the right of Rowling’s head is an Adrian Mole anthology (?) by Sue Townsend, I’d guess The Cappuccino Years. There is a guide to an exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on that shelf, too, but which one? No idea. Does anyone know what book by Sigmund Freud or about Freud is on the same shelf as Rowling’s three Christies? The Jane Austen’s… title obscured by Rowling’s head?

Have a look and share your best guesses in the comment boxes below! And your thoughts, especially if you think this is a fool’s errand and not Rowling’s bookshelf.

Christie’s ‘Appointment With Death:’ Reading Beyond the Ginny-Ginevra Find

I’m on something of an Agatha Christie binge this week (see my posted thoughts on the Queen of Mystery’s The Pale Horse [1961] for the ‘why’) and took up Appointment with Death (1938) yesterday to see if there was more to it than the red-haired youngest daughter named Ginevra but called Ginny. I think there are a few reasons for a Rowling/Galbraith reader to pick it up beyond the fun of touching imaginatively the point of origin for Ginny Weasley.

First, there is Hercule Poirot, the detective on the spot in this novel. It is set-up largely as was Murder on the Orient Express (1934) to which several allusions are made; Poirot is on vacation, stumbles upon a murder, is asked by the presiding gendarmes to solve the crime, and is confronted with a host of suspects all of whom have ample motive to do the deed, even to work together to kill the much-despised victim. The twists on the Orient Express model are masterful and worth the price of admission — and suggest lines of reflection for the Cormoran Strike reader who is aware that Galbraith is largely echoing and writing commentary of sorts on Rowling’s Hogwarts Saga in ‘his’ parallel novel numbers.

Then there are the references to Shakespeare’s Hamlet throughout the novel. If you read Christie’s earlier mysteries — and I’ve just finished Murder at the Vicarage (1930), her eleventh novel and first Miss Marple story — you find that they don’t feature the intertextual depth or number of literary allusions that the  so-called ‘mature’ works written after the war do. There are biblical passages quoted at length in Appointment and Shakespeare references playful and subtle, but we’re seeing the transformation of Christie from one kind of writer to another. By no means is this yet a story-about-stories as we get them in Rowling-Galbraith, if the jokes made about detective fiction merit more than a knowing smile from the reader. 

And, last, beyond Ginny-Ginevra and the wicked Mrs Boynton’s resemblance to Dolores Umbridge, both excellent catches made by Dolores Gordon-Smith (she read Appointment because she saw it on Rowling’s bookshelf in a Goblet of Fire publicity shot!), there no great Potter or Strike echoes to be found in this novel. Unless you think the description of a character as having “basilisk’s eyes” in the key scene of confrontation with Mrs Boynton merits a mention; that is, after all, the fantastic beast Harry must defeat to rescue Ginny-not-yet-known-as-Ginevra in Chamber of Secrets

The Pale Horse and Appointment with Death are not great Agatha Christie pieces, alas. Both seem liked hurried pieces to meet publisher deadlines, albeit always with wry observations, a rewarding twist, and an implicit and challenging moral. I recommend them to the serious student of all things Rowling and Galbraith, however, because they are I think undeniably in the author’s famous “compost heap” of everything she has read from which her imaginative works have grown. Please do let me know what you think about Appointment with Death if you’ve read it or decide to read it!