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  • Writer's pictureEmily

Alphabet reading challenge: Q and R

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

Quentin, Patrick- A Puzzle for Fools

Rao, Mahesh- Polite Society

A Puzzle for Fools: This is a release from the American Mystery Classics, a series of re-issued mysteries by various authors. I don't have an exact date for when this book was first released, but I believe it was in the early '30s. A movie was made of a later book in the series in 1948.

The hook is that the main character, Peter Duluth, hears his own voice warning of an upcoming murder. It's a good hook; I had to know how it works out. I was a little worried when I began it, because the main character is an alcoholic who is drying out in a sanitarium, which he refers to as the bughouse; I was prepared for a good deal of unenlightened talk about mental health problems, but it wasn't bad. I don't know how accurate the psychologic theorizing was, but I always doubt psych theories in fiction.

There are a few things that seem improbable, like the main character is a patient who is given the task of solving a mystery because he seems so rational. I mean, compared to the ones hearing voices, I guess?

The main female character isn't great, but she's in the sanitarium getting over something, and she starts to wake up towards the end. It's likely that she's a more interesting character in later books; there were several in the series. I doubt that I'll look up any of the others, but this was a pretty fun read.

Polite Society: I'm not sure what to think of this book. I liked some aspects of it. It's an updated version of Jane Austen's Emma. Emma in this version is Ania, Harriet is Dimple, and Mr. Knightly is Dev. Those relationships and characters worked very well. There are many things in Austen's books that just don't work in a modernized telling, and the author did a good job of making changes and omissions to make it work.

I thought often of Austen's belief that no one besides herself would like Emma; it was hard sometimes to like Ania, a spoiled, coddled young woman. Ania is less confined to home than Emma, so she is out and about, interacting with the wider world. She's half-heartedly attempting to write a book, but she doesn't need to work because she's set for life. Like the original Emma, she has a very high opinion of herself and aims to set everyone around her right.

I did sometimes lose track of side characters (who is Anita?), and there were some storylines, like one about Emma's late mother, that didn't seem to go anywhere. There's too much about her dad, which was my complaint about Alexander McCall Smith's Emma. I really wanted to like it more than I did. But it's worth a read.

I used to avoid Austen updates or re-tellings, but now I'm making a habit of reading them. I'd love to hear what anyone who loves the original thought of this.


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