Saturday, 31 December 2011

Read in 2011 - 30: Die Ruine am See

Just this morning, I finished my last book for 2011, and I can't believe there weren't more than 30 - there used to be a time when I did a lot more reading, but back then, I was less involved in other activities, and my day, just like yours, still has only 24 hours, some of which (and those are not wasted) I spend asleep.

"Belle Ruin" (the original title) by Martha Grimes is the 3rd in a series of - so far - four books featuring Emma Graham, who is introduced on the author's website with this brief summary of the first book, "Hotel Paradise":

A once-fashionable now fading resort hotel. A spinster aunt living in the attic. Dirt roads that lead to dead ends. A house full of secrets and old, dusty furnishings, uninhabited for almost half a century. A twelve-year-old girl with a passion for double-chocolate ice-cream sodas, and decaying lake-fronts, and an obsession with the death by drowning of another young girl, forty years before.

Hotel Paradise is a delicate yet excruciating view of the pettiness and cruelty of small town America. It is a look at the difficult decisions a young girl must make on her way to becoming an adult and the choices she must make between right and wrong, between love and truth, between life and death.

The first book was published in 1996, and I read it some time later. The second one came out in 2000, and I am pretty sure I've read that one, too. And now the third one, published in 2005. Although publication of the first three parts of this series spans almost an entire decade, time does not move ahead that much for Emma Graham. She is still 12 years old in the third book, as she was in the first. She still does not seem to have to go to school (school is mentioned, as far as I remember, only once in a half-sentence), and she still makes the salads and serves tables at the hotel where her mother is cook.

Emma is, in many ways, a convincing character as a 12-year-old. There are people she likes, and people she fantasizes about being blown to bits. She never really describes herself, and while we hear a lot about other people's clothes, we do not know what Emma looks like, except for her hair being held back from her face by four small barrettes. She is still very much a kid in that she does not think she should use make-up or dress to impress, and although she knows an attractive man when she sees one, she is not interested in boys yet; in fact, she muses about turning thirteen and what it will mean to grow up, and rather dreads the thought. There are things in her life she simply accepts with the readiness of a child not questioning what has always been like that, for instance the alcoholism of Mrs. Davidow, who co-owns (? I am not entirely sure about that) the hotel.

Although Emma has solved two crimes in the past (one of which nearly resulted in her own murder), there is still more, there are still many unanswered questions, and the girl is determined to find those answers. She knows she can not rely on anyone else but herself, because her current "case", the kidnapping of a baby more than 20 years ago, has long been closed and nobody really understands her obsession with it, or with the ruin of the once glamorous hotel where it all happened.

Expectations for the reader do build up, but I'm afraid to say we are nowhere nearer the solution at the end of the book than we are on the first page.
The fourth in the series came out last February, and I've read a brief summary which leads me to believe that it still does not contain the answer(s).

Nonetheless, I like Martha Grimes' writing, and although I do not always see eye-to-eye with her characters (which is clearly not intended to happen anyway), I enjoyed this book. If I had the opportunity to talk to the author, I'd have many questions. None of them would be about the actual plot, but more of a general nature, such as, why does Emma not go to school? What are the Heather Gay Struther dresses mentioned so often in the book? (I googled Heather Gay Struther and came up with nothing except for someone else here on blogger who posted a review of one of the Emma Graham books.) What year is the series actually set in? Sometimes there is, at least to me, a definite 1960s-feel to the whole atmosphere, but we are never really told.

Something I very much like about this book is the role food plays in it. Emma's mother is, as I said, cook at the hotel where the family live and work. What she does in the kitchen features a lot, and Emma herself loves food and the excellent cooking of her mother's. She also pays many a visit to the Rainbow Café and some other places where she eats donuts and chocolate sodas, or chilli, talking to her adult friends - there is nobody her age she really spends any significant time with.

Here is an example of one such delightful descriptions of the food served at the hotel, in this case, for a cocktail party:
slices of ham, spread with a mixture of mango, pecan and cream cheese and rolled up, as well as little sausages, served with a rum-orange-dip.
Sometimes while I was reading about all that food, I had to interrupt and go to the kitchen and get myself something to eat.

It is difficult to really recommend this book. Someone who has not read the first two will hardly know what Emma is talking about for at least half of the time. Someone who expects a solution to the unsolved crime(s) will be disappointed. Someone who likes reading from a different perspective, and, like myself, has a penchant for neglected and run-down places, might like it.


  1. A happy new year to you and thanks for all your interesting posts this year! I always enjoy reading your blog.

  2. One of the many 'good things' in 2011 was finding your blog.
    Happy New Year my German friend!

  3. Yes. I, too, am happy to have become acquainted in 2011. Before you were a name posting comments on CJ's blog.

    I hope that 2012 is a happy and fulfilling year in your life.

    I'm not sure that I would have come across Martha Grimes anyway but after reading your review I think I would probably not have it on my priority list.

    I hope that you and your dress were much admired by the way.

  4. Bagman says Happy New Year to the foxiest librarian he has ever met -- and swears that he is not flirting.

  5. Jenny, thank you! I am glad you enjoy my blog. I've had comments from family, saying "who wants to know these things?" when I wrote about something they consider either too banal or too personal.

    Jill, thank you, and the same to you! Will 2012 be the year that sees you starting your own blog? :-)

    Thank you, GB! 2011 was very good, and I intend 2012 to be no less - maybe a bit better on the health front. And yes, the dress was much admired indeed :-)

    He he Mark, tell Bagman I don't think I have ever been called foxy before, but I like it!

  6. Happy new year Librarian! IBeing selfish, 'm looking forward to another year of updates from yourself!
    All best for 2012

  7. I enjoy reading your reviews even though I know that I will not read a book of fiction! (And your review here of this book shows part of the reason that I won't!)
    So happy that I found your blog this year. You know that I am grateful to you for your help and encouragement, dont you? Hope so!

  8. I just wanted to stop by and wish you a very Happy New Year!! All the best for 2012! :) Silke

  9. Same to you, Macy - and I am equally looking forward to reading more from you, provided this buggy blogger won't keep throwing you off my reading list...

    Yes, Kay, I am glad you listened to me when I was trying to talk you into starting your own blog! Happy New Year to you, Richard and your son, too!

    Silke, dankeschön! Das Gleiche für Dich und Deine Familie :-)

  10. Ciao Librarian, ti faccio i miei piu' sentiti auguri per un meraviglioso 2011....anche io adoro leggere, mi rilassa e mi svaga tanto!!!Non conosco questa scrittrice, la terro ' presente per la scelta del prossimo libro da leggere...ti abbraccio!!

  11. Grazie, Cri - e sono convinto che intendevi augurarmi un meraviglioso 2012, non 2011 :-)
    Se hai la scelta, forse è meglio iniziare con i libri su l'ispettore Jury, dalla stessa Martha Grimes.

  12. Thanks for visiting my blog and I shall be looking to you for my book reviews this year. I joined a reading group to be introduced to books I would not normally choose, and it's been great to do that. I keep a notebook with all my comments - or I know I would just forget! Do you write as well? Sorry if I should know that.

  13. Hello Maggie, I am glad to have added your blog to my reading list on here now.
    At the moment, all I do write is on here; if you go back to the very beginning of my blog, you will find several short stories.
    Other than that, where I do touch writing is mostly in the form of me doing some proof-reading, translating or editing for others, sometimes for money, but most of the time for friends, without being paid for it.

  14. Wow! Thanks for introducing me to this series! Food, madwomen in the attic, mystery... sounds delicious!

  15. Sonia, there's more, I just didn't mention everything in my review: Emma makes a different cocktail every day and takes it up into the attic to the "madwoman". She describes how she makes those drinks and is very creative at both mixing and naming them. One, for instance, is made of rum and banana and she calls it Rumba :-)

  16. scusami..che figura!!!!!Eh si, buon 2012!!!!Perdonami e baci!

  17. Non ti preoccupare, Cri, mi hai fatto ridere (nel senso positivo, non ridicolo!) e questo è sempre benvenuto :-)

  18. Wenn man die Serien, Filme und Schauspieler zugrunde legt, meine ich, es ist ca. 1973. Früher nicht, denn es wird von Sommerfrischlern erzählt, die vor vor 20 Jahren mit dem Zug kamen. Damit war in den 1970ern definitiv Schluss.Und in den Büchern ist es August, Emma hat Ferien.

    1. Bisher habe ich (glaube ich) noch keine Serie und keinen Film gesehen, der/dem die Martha-Grimes-Bücher zugrunde liegen. Das interessiert mich aber sehr, und ich denke, ich werde mich danach umschauen.
      Die Geschehnisse der drei Emma-Bücher umspennen meinem Empfinden nach deutlich mehr Zeit als nur die paar Wochen Sommerferien, aber vielleicht ist das ja Absicht - schließlich hat man als Kind ja wirklich ein anderes Zeitempfinden als später, wenn man erwachsen ist, arbeiten geht und so weiter.

    2. Es sind vier Bücher. In Das verschwundene Mädchen wird das Rätsel aufgedeckt. Und ich meine keine Verfilmung der Reihe um Emma, sondern ihre Beschreibung der Filme, Schauspieler und besonders der Serie Perry Mason. Die ist sehr präsent. Sie sagt auch deutlich, dass wir uns in einem Zeitraum von höchstens sechs Wochen bewegen. In den USA dauern die Sommerferien meines Wissens von Juni bis September. Sie erwähnt auch, dass sie mit ihren Freundinnen auf dem Schulhof plaudert.

    3. Vielen Dank! Da sind mir wohl einige Details entgangen. Sicher hängt es auch damit zusammen, dass ich die (bis jetzt) 3 Bücher, die ich kenne, in großem zeitlichen Abstand voneinander gelesen habe.

  19. In meinem Beruf muss ich einiges an Recherchearbeit leisten, deshalb frage ich gerne Wikipedia. ;-)) Und hier ist was: Die Rolle des Perry Mason wurde in 271 Folgen einer Fernsehserie des amerikanischen Senders CBS von dem kanadischen Schauspieler Raymond Burr dargestellt. Die Serie lief von 1957 bis 1966. Ein Versuch, die Serie unter dem Titel The New Perry Mason mit Monte Markham in der Hauptrolle neu aufzulegen, scheiterte 1973. Die Serie wurde nach nur einer Staffel eingestellt.

    Aber wir beide wissen, wie sehr die beliebten Serien immer und immer wieder ausgestrahlt wurden. Und ich meine, in den 1950ern sind die Leute noch oft mit dem Zug angereist, was sich ab Mitte/Ende der 1960er in den USA aufgehört haben dürfte. Und somit ist Perry Mason noch recht präsent und die Leute fahren lieber mit dem Auto in den Urlaub und wollen was erleben.

    Veronica Lake starb 1973. Sie war in den 1940ern sehr populär, drehte in den 1950ern ein paar Mal fürs Fernsehen und 1966 und 1967 zwei unbedeutende Filme.

    Aber: Wer sich noch an Falsches Spiel mit Roger Rabbit erinnert, der in den 1980ern in die Kinos kam und ein riesen Blockbuster war: Jessica Rabbit basiert auf Veronica Lake.

    Das sind Dauerbrenner und machen die zeitliche Einordnung doch noch um einiges schwieriger.

    Man müsste Martha Grimes einfach mal fragen.

    Viele Grüße

    Das vierte Buch Das verschwundene Mädchen/Fadeaway Girl gibt's zum Spottpreis gebraucht bei Amazon Marketplace.

    Und sagte Emma nicht zu Beginn des zweiten Buchs: "SIE waren lange weg, nicht ich?"

    1. Liebe/lieber unbekannte/r D.,
      wow - ich bin beeindruckt! Wenn Du jetzt noch etwas über die mehrmals erwähnten Heather Gay Struther Kleider zutage förderst, hast Du einen Goldstern verdient! Ich selbst habe da nur sehr oberflächlich recherchiert, als ich diese Rezension geschrieben habe. Und da es schon einige Jahre her ist, dass ich die ersten beiden Bücher gelesen habe, ist mir der Satz von Emma zu Beginn des zweiten Buchs nicht mehr im Gedächtnis.
      Bestimmt kann ich "Das verschwundene Mädchen" oder "Fadeaway Girl" in der Bibliothek ausleihen. Romane kaufe ich mir nur ganz, ganz selten - Platzmangel ist ein Faktor (aber nicht der einzige).
      Viele Grüße