#FridayReads 2020-09-18 – ‘The Beast Must Die’, ‘The Sparrow’ and ‘The Museum Of Extraordinary Things’.

This week, as part of the Halloween Bingo reading game I’m playing, I have a Golden Age Mystery about a man planning to murder someone once he finds out who he is and where he lives, an alien first-contact story with the Jesuits in the lead and a story set in a 1911 Coney Island Freak Show.

‘The Beast Must Die’ by Nicholas Blake (1938)

Nicholas Blake is the name under which the poet, Cecil Day-Lewis earned his living by writing detective novels, all but four of which featured amateur detective Nigel Strangeways.

I read his debut novel, ‘A Question Of Proof’ last year and was more impressed by the language, the quirkiness of the Nigel Strangeways’ character and the skilful rendition of the atmosphere of a minor Public School in the years after World War II than I was with the plot.

‘The Beast Must Die’, the fourth Nigel Strangeways novel, is a much more accomplished thing and explains how he was able to make his living from the books. I picked it up because it was recommended to me. I’m reading it because I fell in love with the opening.

‘I AM GOING to kill a man. I don’t know his name, I don’t know where he lives, I have no idea what he looks like. But I am going to find him and kill him …’

This is the third book I’ve selected for the Psyche square on Halloween Bingo. I abandoned the other two. I’m hoping this one will be a five-star read.

The Sparrowby Mary Doria Russell (1996)

Mary Doria Russell is an accomplished academic specialising in bone biology, craniofacial biomechanics, and paleoanthropology and a prize-winning novelist who has written in multiple genres.

‘The Sparrow’ was her debut novel and won the  Arthur C. ClarkeBSFA, and Tiptree annual science fiction book awards. I’m interested in it because it has Jesuits in space and because Wikipedia describes it as dealing with the:

‘religious and psychological implications of first contact with aliens.

and exploring

‘the problem of evil (theodicy) and how to reconcile a benevolent, omniscient, all-powerful deity with lives filled with undeserved suffering.’

How could an ex-Catholic SF devoteé like myself pass that by?

‘The Museum Of Extraordinary Things’
by Alice Hoffman (2014)

Alice Hoffman is an American novelist with thirty novels to her name. ‘Practical Magic’ probably her best-known novel, which was made into a movie with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as the witch sisters, has its twenty-fifth anniversary this year.

I’ve only recently started to read Alice Hoffman but I’m becoming a fan. I started with ‘The Rules Of Magic’ – a prequel to ‘Practical Magic’ was good but I think I lacked its context. Last year I read ‘The River King’ and knew that I’d found something extraordinary. This year, her short story, ‘Everything My Mother Taught Me’ was a favourite read of mine.

I’m hoping that ‘The Museum Of Extraordinary Things’ will be a good read and a perfect fit for the ‘Creepy Carnivals’ square in Halloween Bingo. I’m encouraged by the fact that that the book is in a Coney Island Freak Show in 1911. I’m less encouraged by the reviews that say it has strong Magic Realism elements. Magical Realism isn’t normally an oxymoron that works for me.

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