Lost City of Z – 3/5 stars
This promised a lot more than it delivered I felt like. This happened for a few different reasons. One, I think it’s a nearly impossible task to write a satisfyingly concluding recounting of a set of explorations that disappeared unless you 100% figure out what happened and find direct evidence, and despite whatever kind of overly positive spin at the end, I just don’t think it was able to do so. Two, not only was most of this book already covered in Candace Millard’s River of Doubt, she did it better. She had more direct resources, had done more research, produced a more satisfying day by day accounting of a more crazy story, and then did most of the background information and research already. Three, I haven’t seen the movie yet but I am looking forward to the movie and have heard good things. So then to have the book be so scattered, so speculative, and so underwhelming is frustrating. David Grann is a perfectly good writer, but maybe this book and the his shorter pieces illustrate that he shouldn’t have written this as a full book. It just doesn’t come together in a super satisfying why or explain the unsatisfying elements in a way that helps us understand what was always going to be impossible about the task in the way that say a Janet Malcolm does. And if you’re going to write a retread of a better book like Millard’s…don’t reference it too much because then I am only going to be thinking about back about what was better with that book.
The Singing Sands – 3/5 Stars
This book is absolutely not a retread at all. It’s not a rehashing either of a book it reminded me of. In fact, that book seems to borrow heavily from this book. But it does do a kind of rehashing I will explain later. Alan Grant is an injured/sick police inspector on holiday in Scotland. On the train north, he comes across a dead body and a set of clues. When he is in Scotland in the small town that was to also be the destination of the dead body, he can’t help himself from solving the case, which involves a set of lyrics that point to a kind of location or perhaps a metaphor at the center of a mystery.
So if you haven’t read The Daughter of Time, you should absolutely go out and do so right now. It’s a really fun mystery novel in which Alan Grant (not the famed dinosaur expert) has broken his leg solving a previous crime and is bored out of his mind in the hospital so he asks a nurse and his assistant to bring him whatever books they can. Stumbling across a biography of Richard III, Grant reopens the historical case and “solves” the classic historical mystery of whether or not Richard III was actually guilty of the crimes he’s infamous for.
In this novel, you notice a similar trope….he’s on vacation, considering retirement, but murders just find him. I think, this novel being written in the late 1940s, that Tey might be more or less inventing or at least perfecting this trope, which is quite familiar in general–the obsessive detective who can’t escape his very nature. What struck me was how similar the circumstances here are to the novel I just read When Will there be Good News by Kate Atkison where Jackson Brodie travelling north to Scotland for a kind of vacation is involved in a tranwreck where he is confused for another man on the train…and the retired police inspector is pulled into the case unwittingly.
Anyway, I like Tey, but I didn’t like this one as much as I did Daughter of Time, which is just about perfect.