Thursday, February 06, 2020

On Regency Romance, Georgett Heyer, and Venetia


VenetiaOn reading Regency Romance, and Georgette Heyer in particular, and thoughts on 'Venetia'
 
After a binge of "cozy" murder mysteries since November, in the last couple of weeks I have been indulging in what is termed as regency romance. I revisited Victoria Holt, whose books I just loved in my late teens (the only books in the romance genre that I liked), but was disappointed in the two books I read in last few years. The current encounter was more satisfying - I liked 5 of the 6 I read, some of them quite a lot. And then I introduced myself to Georgette Heyer. I heard of her soon after college, but I had developed an impression that her books were similar to MBs (which I went into and grew out of during college). However, in last couple of years I saw numerous recommendations for her on my online reading group, and was convinced that I should give her a try.

The first Georgette Heyer I read was 'The Grand Sophy' - it was a laugh riot, and the wit and repartee was really entertaining. Then I read 'Fredrica' and loved it, and concluded that my earlier impression was quite misplaced. Her heroines were not simpering damsels in distress, but frank, cheerful, intelligent and independent - something of an anomaly in the times they were placed. I was encouraged to read more of her, and followed it up with 'Venetia'; this however I did not enjoy much.

I ended rating it 2 stars, though I might have given it 3 stars, had I not already read Fredrica, and read it just before Venetia. The plot of the two have too many similarities, far beyond the usual tropes of the books of this genre. Just like Fredrica, Venetia has lost her parents; the oldest brother who is supposed to be the guardian of his siblings is very selfish and absorbed in pursuits of his own pleasures, leaving the oldest sister to shoulder his responsibilities and thus get past the marriageable age and resign herself to spinsterhood. They are both cheerful, frank and very independent, and fulfill their obligations without reservations and with love and care. In comes the self-serving hero, who has earned himself a bad reputation regarding women. He is not just kind to our heroine, but belying all expectations, also takes care of her younger brother when he has been gravely injured. In the end, for me the only thing going here was the witty exchange of conversation between many characters, particularly Venetia.

In these times, it is difficult to reconcile oneself to the restrictive (for women, that is) social norms of 18th and 19th century, but there are things that strike a discordant note even in this context. In this book though, these notes assumed a much greater magnitude to become downright disturbing.

In their first encounter, Venetia is forcibly kissed by Damerel, and told that he thought she was a village maiden. For all inferences, she may have undergone a far worse fate had she really been a simple girl rather than a member of the nobility. Yet, she is only momentarily angered, and subsequently accepts it as a matter of fact - a natural tendency of men, considering it either a privilege or a weakness of their gender.

Damerel committed an unforgivable sin in his youth - eloping with a married woman - for which he was labelled as an immoral rake by the society, and shunned by his own family, which led him further down on the path of destruction. It was indeed unfortunate that he did not have appropriate guidance when he needed it, but I found it inexcusable on Venetia's part to assign the blame to the woman, his parents, his family (basically everyone except himself) for his continued reprehensible behavior.

*** SPOILER ***

We are told that his reputation is so far beyond redemption that marriage to him would destroy her own (how, and why does it matter?), so he chooses to ignore the deepest desire shared by them, and spurns her. So what does our calm and practical heroine do - instead of reasoning with him, she decides to ruin her reputation. And how does she do it? She finds that her mother is actually alive, was divorced by her father for having an affair (too much of coincidence here?), and is therefore a 'persona non grata' - never mind that she is married to that man for 15 years, and he is in the highest echelons of aristocracy. So, Venetia walks down a busy and fashionable street with her stepfather - and that is enough to send her into disrepute!! This all is so irrational, beyond my comprehension at least. 

*** END SPOILER ***

Last but not the least, the book emphasizes the view that as long as a man treats his wife with consideration, she must ignore his philandering ways and even occasional violence. Surely a great foundation for a marriage!!

Overall, what I really felt that at the time of writing this book, Heyer had run out of ideas.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Reading Journey 2019


Looking at my reading history for last two years, at the beginning of this year, I set myself a Goodreads challenge of reading 50 books. The start was rather slow, and had some lean periods in between when I was busy with other things. By October end, it didn't seem likely that I'll complete the challenge, but I ended up well overreaching it (at least in terms of quantity, if not quality) - owing to binge reading small, fast murder mysteries in the last two months. I have always loved Perry Mason series, and dived into the ones I hadn't read before. I read a couple of Hercule Poirot novels, and explored a few books by some new authors - Dick Francis, John Le Carre, David Rosenfelt (Andy Carpenter series), Jessica Fletcher (Murder She Wrote), Sue Grafton (Alphabet series).

I read quite a few highly recommended books, some worked for me, others did not.

Best reads of the Year:
Winternight Trilogy - It was the absolute high of the year, what's not to love about Russian fairy tales and a totally kickass heroine!
The Strawberry Thief [Chocolat #4] - I love the Choclat series, and totally admire Joanne Harris's storytelling. Had been looking forward for this for almost a year.
Bartimaeus Trilogy - Started just about okay as I didn't find the first book good but not great. I am glad that I continued with the series.
History of Love - Hadn't heard of this one until a friend from my online reading group posted a beautiful review of this one. It was delightful.
Angela's Ashes - Of this one, I had heard a lot. I put off reading it for quite a while as I was afraid it was going to be very taxing. It was a great read. Although it is terribly sad, it doesn't drown you in misery (like Khaled Hosseni or Premchand's stories), as the heartbreaking tale of poverty and loss is related through a child's matter-of-fact voice, sometimes even with a little humor.

Big disappointments: There was so much hype around them that I had a big expectation with each of them. They weren't bad at all, but they left me underwhelmed.
Dead Poets Society - Plot was simple and predictable, and storytelling wasn't great to save it. The romantic subplot felt unnecessary and glorified stalking.
The Forty Rules of Love - Liked both the story-lines, but for me, they didn't gel together. The rules themselves felt forced into it.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - Even though the simple story was unrealistic in extreme, the end was heartbreaking. I think it works neither for children who may be unaware of the horrors of Nazi regime since everything is left unsaid, nor for adults for whom it doesn't add much insight.
The Book of Lost Things - The takes on popular fairy tales were enjoyable. But it has too much of violence and abuse for kids, and a very simple plot for adults. If it could be 'sanitized', it would be a wonderful adventure story for kids.
Little Women - I am perhaps in absolutely minority here, but I didn't even remotely love it; in fact, I considered quitting it halfway. There was only one character I liked, who was messed up with to 'nicely wrap up' the story.

Worst reads:
In the Convent of Little Flowers - I loved whatever works of Indu Sunderasan I have read, and thought that the short stories would be even better. It gave me a reader's block - the tone of stories is melancholy and depressing, and there was nothing new about them.
The Sunday Philosophy Club - Didn't connect to any of the characters, in fact, found the protagonist too juvenile. And was thoroughly bored by the philosophical musings after a short while.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Murder, She Wrote

Rum & Razors (Murder, She Wrote, #3)Rum & Razors
  - Jessica Fletcher
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The rating is for this particular book, though the review is for the books 1-3 (I rated the other two at 3 stars, but I was kind of frustrated by the time I reached this one).

I like reading murder mysteries and action thrillers, but the old school types (like Holmes and Christie, Perry Mason and Alistair Mclean) that do not feature psychopaths and sexual abuse. In my online reading group, I had seen recommendations of this series as cozy murder mysteries, and heard of the TV series also. Though I had assumed that TV series was based on books, but learnt that it was the other way around.

I read the first three books in the series over the weekend. The mystery part was okay, but I found the protagonist, Jessica Fletcher, increasingly annoying, so that I was ready to abandon the third book midway (but I find it very difficult to leave a book midway, not because of a compulsive behavior, but because I am too curious to know what happens in a story 😄).
Does anyone else who has read it (I haven't watched the series so can't comment on that) find it exasperating that she leads a fairy tale life (which is not so troublesome in itself), and appears to think that her fame and charm gives her the right to invade other people's privacy and professional confidence? That other people owe her answers to satisfy her curiosity? That she lacks the common sense to keep her mouth shut when occasion demands it?
She finds some crucial information about a murder and blabs it to everyone (in real world, and even in good murder mysteries, it leads to a person getting killed 😄) She meets a senator and tells him that she is visiting senate house to see him because she heard of the corruption charges against him (even if he is friend of a friend, and she is terribly famous, no sane or courteous person would speak this, specially in a first meeting 🙄) She asks a police officer to get a false charge against a person published in newspaper and he even does so (in real world it would result in a big lawsuit!)

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Hogwarts Collection [Pottermore Presents]


The Hogwarts Collection (Pottermore Presents, #1-3)The Hogwarts Collection
  - J.K. Rowling

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


While I am not a diehard Potterhead, I greatly loved the Harry Potter books as well as the movies. Rowling spun real magic with this world she created, and like millions of other fans, left me craving for more. Therefore, when she announced ‘The Cursed Child’, I waited with a huge anticipation. Notwithstanding the huge disappointment it eventually left me with, I still hoped she will give us something with a more substantial storyline (not continuation of Harry Potter though, it is well finished and shouldn’t be tampered with anymore, IMHO). That is why I found the “Pottermore Presents” collection, I had been keen to read these (I don’t follow Pottermore site, so had not read these earlier, and it appears that they had been posted there).

There are three short books in the series, which I finally read over last two days:
#1 Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies
#2 Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists
#3 Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide

It was interesting to read a bit of back history of some key characters such as Minerva McGonagall, Remus Lupin, Sybill Trelawney, Dolores Umbridge, and Horace Slughorn, and some of the story of Hogwarts and Azkaban. Of all of these, I found the story of Azkaban most interesting, since not much is revealed about it earlier, except that it is patrolled by dementors, while the (very) brief history of all the Ministers of Magic rather boring. I liked the one about Remus Lupin, since I was curious how he had come to be infected by the werewolf, and how he had managed prior to coming to Hogwarts. McGongall's story felt a bit of out of character.

BUT, I didn’t see what the hype was about; these are, after all, short stories extrapolating things that have been related in the original series. Moreover, publishing them as kindle books, when they had already been made available on Pottermore site free of cost earlier, just seems to be yet another instance of milking in on the hugely successful franchise. I just wish Rowling would write some new books or series set in the magical world, rather than extrapolating and exploiting the one masterpiece of hers.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas (Andy Carpenter, #15)The Twelve Dogs of Christmas  
(Andy Carpenter, #15)
  - David Rosenfelt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Given that this series has over 20 books, I think it must be popular, even though I see less than 5k ratings on Goodreads for any of the books.

I chanced upon this one (which, by the way, is the fifteenth book in the series, but it didn't matter since it is quite standalone), because of an excerpt published in the RD a couple of years ago. I must say I liked it a lot. 

Though it is set around Christmas time, it is not a typical Christmas-sy story. The plot is interesting (though not unique), and the writing is pretty good, with a sprinkling of humor throughout. I could see some of the twists coming up, but in retrospect, that was mostly because the author chose to relate two apparently unrelated incidents early on (and we as seasoned readers know that such incidents are anything but unrelated, on the contrary, they are absolutely vital points), but the final reveal came as a total surprise. All in all, an entertaining whodunit, and I think I will try some more of the series and the author.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Mini Reviews - VII

Bookasura
-          Arundhati Venkatesh

I bought the book for my son, after seeing recommendation in a list of contemporary children's books by Indian authors. I think it started off reasonably well, but meandered soon, and the end didn't make sense at all. I wouldn't have enjoyed it as a child, and my son didn't either. The print quality was not up to the mark either.

Tales
-          Alexander Pushkin

The tales themselves are quite familiar, owing to the number of Russian fairy tales I read when growing up. Moreover, one of these is a retelling of Snow-white.
I purchased this from a seller of old and specially Russian books, at quite an expense. I didn't know that this was in verse, or I would not have bought it. Because verse doesn't translate well, particularly as verse. On the up-side, the book is in as good a condition as can be after 35 years, and it is wonderful to own these now rare books. The best thing about it, though, are the illustrations, which are a real joy.


The Little Shop of Happy Ever After
-          Jenny Colgan

After reading a few highly recommended books in the genre that has come to be known as 'chicklit', I have come to a conclusion that it just isn't meant for me. This includes books by much acclaimed authors like Sophie Kinsella, Anuja Chauhan, Preethi Shenoy. Jenny Colgan was highly recommended to me by a cousin, so I ended up reading 'Little Beach Street Bakery', which is perhaps the only book in this genre that I liked.

Now, this book is about a book-loving shy librarian opening a mobile bookshop in a remote Scottish town, and I fully expected it to be sweet and enjoyable. It started well, but eventually turned out to be too long, too boring, so that I don't even want to write a full review. I just have to say it was too sweet, cloyingly so. And predictable in the stupidity of its protagonists. The romance angle just ruined what could have been an interesting book. Though it's not the first one to do it, and will not be the last.


Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
-          Agatha Christie
 
Probably the weakest Hercule Poirot mysteries I have read, with many unbelievable coincidences, plot holes, and obvious hints. Poirot's character itself is missing, he is just a name standing in for a person (detective) who could have been anyone.


The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
  - Agatha Christie

Amongst Christie's works, I like Hercule Poirot best (though as far as detectives go, Holmes is going to be my forever favorite). I love the Poirot short stories, though I didn't enjoy as much the few novels I have read. Have been hearing a lot of praises for this one, and glad that it did have that 'Poirot' flavor, and I really enjoyed it.
 
The plot was good, and typical of Christie's murder mysteries, where everyone is a possible suspect!
On the downside, I had a nagging doubt on the identity of the murder from quite the start, but I kept wavering throughout the story. However, towards the end, by the time Poirot begins his explanation, I was quite sure of who it was!

An irritant was Poirot's usage of terribly incorrect English, though he is depicted as retired, and by extension should have lived in England for a considerable time and therefore developed better language skills. However, seeing that this is the fourth Poirot novel, perhaps the author had not given this much consideration.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Longshot

LongshotLongshot
  - Dick Francis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My favorite genre, after I graduated from children's books to those for adults, used to be mystery/thriller. I loved Sherlock Holmes and Perry Mason series, and books by Alistair Maclean and Desmond Bagley. However, in last few years, I have been having trouble finding the kind of thrillers I like; most of contemporary works being psychological thrillers, frequently with gruesome details, psychopaths, and child abuse. That's when someone recommended me Dick Francis (though I no longer remember who or when), and I added Longshot and Danger to my reading list.

Over the Diwali weekend, I wanted to relax with something engaging but unstressful, so I picked up Longshot for a quick read. It turned out to be fairly entertaining but unremarkable book. The protagonist, John Kendall, a budding author of fiction, is an expert on surviving in extreme conditions. Brief descriptions of these skills are sprinkled throughout the book; they are interesting, and also come in handy in the course of the events in the novel. He accepts a commission from well known horse trainer Tremayne, and comes to stay at his family home. Over time, he comes to realize the warm and compassionate nature of his employer, beneath the autocratic and sometimes unreasonable exterior. It makes for nice reading, though it is a well used trope. Kendall's interaction with Tremayne's teenage son Gareth was the best part of the book, as Gareth comes to look up to him as a mentor/elder brother.

Since the employer and the second main character Tremayne is a trainer of racing horses, there is a lot of detail about horse racing in the book (and is a consistent theme in his works, as I come to know from other reviews). Initially I read about those, but after a while I lost interest and skipped the details that didn't have a bearing on the plot.

In these kind of novels, the protagonist usually has some extraordinary skills, which gradually emerge to save others from peril. I think this one went a bit too far on this aspect - Kendall's survival skills, and keen observation and reasoning were alright (and expected), but his learning to ride racehorses well enough to become an amateur jockey in less than two weeks was rather far fetched.
Coming to the question of the genre, which is the main point, I wouldn't call it a thriller. It is a murder mystery alright, but I don't think it is a great one. The murder comes into picture after quite a bit. The identity of the murderer involved an obvious red herring, and another usual device - it turns out to be a very unlikely character. In the good ones, the path to discovery is where the tension lies, but I didn't find it to be one of those biting-your-nails kind of journey.

My rating: 2.5 stars, rounded to 3.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Christmas Train

The Christmas TrainThe Christmas Train
  - David Baldacci

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up one of the RD condensed books at the a used-book sale last year. I didn't own any, they are beautiful books, and I think their editors manage to do a decent job. That was how I had first read 'Guernsey Literary Society', well before I joined an online reading group, and before it became such a rage there - I loved it well enough to buy the original book, and loved it too.

One of the novels in this edition was 'The Christmas Train' by David Baldacci. I have never read any of his works, though I wanted to, since he has been recommended to me as a new age thriller writer.
I understand that a condensed version cannot capture fully the essence of the original; even so, I didn't like this book too much. (That is the reason I mentioned earlier that I have thoroughly enjoyed some works in these editions). First of all, I expected it to be a thriller, perhaps something like 'The Oriental Express', but it turned out to be more of the cheesy romcoms HBO and other channels air around the year-end holidays. And of course, nearly all of the characters were terribly stereotyped. Bypassing that, one major flaw in the story line was that the character of Eleanor, the female protagonist, did not make any sense. The book ended with an entertaining twist, but that also left quite a few bewildered questions.


* SPOILERS *
The biggest issue I had with this book was with Eleanor. She was a war zone journalist, with the ability and passion for the work. While I can understand that the stress can reach a breaking point, it didn't sit well with the character that she just wanted to get married, live in a mansion complete with a picket fence, and have a husband with a 9-to-5 job! And she, who claimed to have taught Langdon all about skiing, cannot make it to the resort on her own - because I suppose the author had to have this damsel-in-distress-rescued-by-the-knight angle to make it a cheesy holiday fare. That is something I have come to detest - authors would start writing a spirited, inspiring female character, and then will develop cold feet and reduce her to a delicate creature that needs to be saved by the hero.

The other stereotypes (and the whole cast is full of them actually) notably include Tom Langdon (the broken hero, who is too dense to understand or respect the women in his life), Max (the rich producer with a heart of gold), Agnes (elderly black lady who is like a 24-carat diamond), and so on. Once you accept the book as the quintessential holiday romance, the cliches don't seem so bad, but I still had trouble believing that Lelia would give up on whatever love she had for Tom, only because Max asked her for a favor.

* END SPOILERS *

The Sunday Philosophy Club

The Sunday Philosophy ClubThe Sunday Philosophy Club
  - Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have read few books from Alexander McCall Smith's "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series. I loved the first two, but after that it was kind of roller coaster due to numerous repetitions and extremely simplistic mysteries, but astute observations and heart-warming outlook. I found about the Isabel Dalhousie series on goodreads, and happened to read the first chapter in one of the Ladies Detective Agency books, which seemed to be a good opening for a murder mystery. So I hoped that it will be engaging, or at least entertaining.

The book starts with the death of a young man after a fall from the upper sections of a theater, where Isabel was also present, watching the performance. Against the advice of her friends and family, who recommend her not to get involved, she is determined to get to the truth of the matter. The mystery part of it is much more interesting compared to the Detective Agency series - there is actually a decent mystery, complete with shady characters, even though I had suspected who the murderer may be quite early on (even if the characters in the book may not be sure, the readers know that it was indeed a murder - why else would the book exist :D). There were a couple of surprising turns in the story, which is the point of any interest it could generate.

Isabel is an editor of a philosophy magazine, and the member of a philosophy club of the title (though it never meets through out the book), so the book has quite a lot of philosophical thoughts attributed to Isabel, and excerpts of essays submitted for the journal. I found them interesting initially, but as they kept on getting lengthier and more abstract; it became boring and I kept skipping these more and more as the book progressed.

I couldn't connect to any of the characters, and if you can't like the protagonist in this kind of a book, there isn't much of a joy left in reading the book. If I look at the other series, Mma Ramotswe is a little flawed, but endearing lady with lots of wisdom and compassion, and a purpose in life. In contrast, Isabel comes across as a rich, somewhat shallow person just meandering through. She is considerably wealthy, and her job as an editor of an obscure journal is little more than a way of occupying her idle time. She is stated as being 42 years old, but I found her to be much more juvenile, in her responses and actions. Her niece Cat shows somewhat more initiative by using her money to follow her passion and open a bakery (which I presume isn't doing bad), but doesn't show much common sense. Jamie is a likeable friend, but unremarkable for his role in the story.


*BEGIN SPOILER*
The book had a few dead-ends, which if developed, could have introduced some tension to add an interest in the narrative. Eg, the inspector at the initial scene of death/murder, the nasty journalist, the rich and presumably unprincipled banker (Minty).
*END SPOILER*
 

I may not exactly be a fan of the Ladies Detective Agency, but I may still read some of that series here and there, because I find it enriching in some way - it is set in cultural environment I haven't read much about, and demonstrates the charming and selfless ways of common people. But I wouldn't read more of Isabel - the privileged lives of English elite is nothing new to read about, the characters were insipid, the philosophical ramblings were annoying and the mystery wasn't exceptional to make it worthwhile to bear the rest.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

The Black Opal

The Black OpalThe Black Opal
  - Victoria Holt

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

There are some childhood favorites that you can read over and over again, and then are some that are a big letdown when you revisit them as an adult. This second case has sadly been my experience with Victoria Holt. Though I wasn’t exactly a child when I got introduced to her - I was in the later years of school, and read a few of her books after a few years, while in college. I just loved her books then - they weren't typical romance, I found them more of historical fiction and thrilling mystery. I particularly remember 'The Shivering Sands', and 'The Night of the Seventh Moon', which sent a chill down my spine. Told in first person, creating an atmosphere of mystery and foreboding, and typically set in the houses of nobility, they were a combination of charm and thrill.

In last 3 years, I revisited the author and read two of her books. 'Seven for a secret' was such a disappointment, but after some discussion, I put it down to the book. I made another attempt with 'The Black Opal' this weekend. It was fairly enjoyable, and a good way to pass time on an idle weekend, but didn't revive my earlier experience with the author's works.

The premise of the story (without spoilers) is this - it tells us (in first person) the story of Carmel, who is found as a newborn in the garden of a relatively wealthy family. She is suspected of having gypsy parentage, but to the surprise and chagrin of the nanny, is taken in by the family, and put in the nursery with the children. Here, the nanny is mean to her, the lady of the house ignores her, the father doesn't take much notice though displays kindness. Nanny's assistant loves her, children are usually friendly, and later a new governess comes in, who is very kind and affectionate to the children. Then a tragedy befalls the family, and Carmel goes off to Australia for next few years. Upon her return, she learns of the facts behind the tragedy which had been hidden from her all these years. The truth, and closure, is what she seeks.

It works alright as a story, even though not quite believable, with several coincidences helping it along. Description of life in Australia was warm and interesting. What doesn't work is the mystery part of it. I could spot most of the twists well before the author pitched them in. I also didn't quite like the writing style - almost entire first half is narrated from the viewpoint of Carmel when she was a child. But it is the adult Carmel who is narrating it, and hence the juvenile voice it is told in, feels quite jarring. During the first half of the book, she mentions a sense of foreboding so many times (and with nothing significant happening after most of them), that they ceased to create any sort of tension after a while. Overall, things seemed to be very simple, almost superficial.

*** SPOILER ALERT
Some examples of the surprises which were quite evident before the author revealed them ...

The typical Victoria Holt hero is rich, titled and mysterious. Hence, when Lucian is introduced in the beginning, and shows considerable kindness towards Carmel, I knew that he is the one that Carmel is going to end up with, other suitors notwithstanding. As the Holt hero, he needs to be enveloped in an aura of mystery and false perception, in comes the completely unnecessary angle of his failed marriage, a dead wife and a young child who he doesn't care for. Also as the typical hero, he could have done no wrong, so it turns out that he is the one who has been wronged!

When Zingara made her first appearance and met Carmel, it was evident to the readers that she was her mother.

Also, when Toby mentioned that Dr Martine was not expected to live long, and avoided details, it became clear that he had received a death penalty for murdering his wife.

*** SPOILERS END

 
So here I am, wondering whether due to an unfortunate coincidence I got hold of her lesser works, or have I become a more mature and discerning reader. When I first read her books, other than children’s books, the only books for adults I had read were Sherlock Homes, H. G. Wells, and a little of Agatha Christie. Since I was young and had little exposure, I may not have seen through plot holes, and definitely wouldn’t have had the experience to contemplate the style. The next time I read her, I had gone through Gardner, MacLean, Bagley, Forsyth etc., but she still held an allure. For more than 15 years I had been trying to find her books, and now that I have done a couple, I am not sure I want to read her any more.