As you know from our last #CriminologyBookClub entry a small group of us decided the best way to thrive in lockdown was to seek solace in reading and talking about books. This blog entry is very different from any other we’ve published before, in that it has seven bloggers contributing! There is a very good reason why and that is because @manosdaskalou managed to choose a book that delighted all of us, and believe me, that is a challenge for a group of bibliophiles. Without more ado, let’s see what everyone thought:
“The second book of book club was a huge success- excellent choice @manosdaskalou! The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan was delightful! Whilst fulfilling all the ‘usual stuff’ associated with a crime novel, it also adds a layer of fantasy and wonder which is usually alien to crime fiction. As I raced through the novel, falling in love with characters- Poppy is kick ass, the complete opposite of drippy Carol (The Yellow Room) and safe to say I now want a baby Elephant; I was transformed into another world, something which crime fiction has never done for me before. It brought back feelings of nostalgia and memories of reading David Eddings and Derek Landy in the summer after GCSEs, when life was simpler and full of joy! A wonderful, intriguing and mysterious crime novel with a hint of fantasy, pulling you away to a different place. An enchanting and wonderful read which blends serious social injustices and issues with mystery, suspense and humour- I cannot wait to see what Inspector Chopra and Ganesha get up to next!”@jesjames50
“The problem with writing a mere paragraph for a blog about a book that I really did enjoy is that I fear I won’t be able to do it justice. The story, well I’m sure others might tell you what the book is about but, if you want to know, really want to know, read it. Rarely can I say that I couldn’t wait to finish the book and yet didn’t want it to finish. The characters come to life, especially the elephant, in a way that makes it seem almost real, but not quite. The story moves on at a fast pace and yet has a steadiness to it. There are surprises along the way and, yet they are almost expected, it was always going to be that way. Within the narrative there is a demonstration of what we know to be good in humans and, yet it encompasses so much of what we know to be bad. How then can I have left the final page, sad that the book was finished, but uplifted by the narrative and almost salivating at the anticipation of reading the next in the series? The plaudits on the cover don’t do it justice, to answer my question, all I can reiterate is that you have to read it to understand.”@5teveh
“When I first received this book, I was a bit sceptical, as I did not know how an elephant was going to be incorporated into a detective crime novel. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The first book in the series was a delight and a much-needed escape in these uncertain times. This book captured my attention very quickly and whisked me off on a colourful, picturesque adventure to Mumbai, with the amazing inspector Chopra and of course the star of the story, Ganesh the mysterious baby elephant. The book introduces you to an interesting plot. At first you are made to think that the focus of the book will be on Inspector Chopra investigating the murder of a young man. However, you are quickly introduced to the wider issues that sit at the heart of social and economic challenges present in India. Without leaving you glum, the book has a nice balance of crime and mystery, coupled with humour, great food, wonderful scenery and lovable characters. I liked this book as it was unique to any other books that I have read. I am looking forward to continuing the Baby Ganesh Detective Agency series.”@svr2727
“Vaseem’s novel had me from to get-go. Set in bustling Mumbai this novel has more depth than the usual “whodunit” scenario. This book is a criminologist’s dream, as yes, we all find out who did it in the end, and yes the case is also solved but there are also issues of poverty and corruption to contend with. The story would not be complete without Ganesha the elephant who makes solving the case possible (and survivable). Ganesha goes through a lot in the story. From being depressed and chained up outside an apartment complex, to being mistakenly left to drown during heavy rain and fed chocolate. Despite all of this, Ganesha is often the hero of the hour, so for me the book symbolises the true greatness of animals: We do not deserve them.”@haleysread
“I really enjoyed this book. It was great to lose myself in a different country and culture and to meet so many relatable characters there – even (especially?) the chocolate loving elephant! I can’t wait to find out what happens next…”@saffrongarside
As well as having the joy of reading The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, we also had the very unexpected pleasure of welcoming the author Vaseem Khan to our book club meeting today. To be able to hear about Vaseem’s motivations for creating the colourful world in which Inspector Chopra and Ganesha work and play was fascinating. The opportunity to ask questions was fantastic and we’d like to say a big thank you to Vaseem for allowing us a peak inside his world of writing. It is now easy to see where Inspector Chopra gets his generosity of spirit from. And now we’ll leave the final word to @manosdaskalou….after all he did choose the book 😉
“What does a gang of criminologists do at lockdown? We read crime books and talk about them. On this occasion The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra was a welcomed distraction from reality. The book introduces the retired inspector with a very unusual sidekick! The retired inspector is a very honourable, incorruptible professional whose investigation will bring him in conflict with the criminal underbelly of Mumbai. The retired inspector is not fazed, and he is determined to carry on regardless. The investigation takes inspector Chopra around the city; which gives the reader a unique opportunity to get to know a metropolitan megapolis.”@manosdaskalou
In times of crisis it is beneficial to occupy yourself with things to do. This helps us to cope with boredom, and to distract us from the bleakness of reality. What better way to help with this than to start a book club? That’s right, whilst some of us were sitting at home twiddling our thumbs, @paulaabowles had sent us all a book that we were to read and discuss in virtual book club meetings. Little did we know that this book club was to be our very own ray of sunshine during such an unprecedented time.
Our first book is The Yellow Room by Mary Robert Rinehart (dubbed the American Agatha Christie by the blurb, which is generous). Set in Maine (USA) during WWII, this is a classic whodunit crime novel. With the wealthy Spencer family finding themselves tangled in a web of evidence that instigates their involvement with a dead woman that is found in the closet of their holiday home. The book is filled with intrigue and the plot thickens with each chapter, with more and more clues being thrown into the mix. Until too much is thrown in, and what is left of the book is quite simply… a mess.
The book consists of 30 chapters, and we think the club is in agreeance that the first 20-24 chapters are pretty great. Rinehart throws a number of spanners in the works, with near misses, burning hillsides, death by frights, illegitimate children and secret marriages. We all had our theories, some boarding on plagiarism (they know who they are!). However as it turns out a few of us were half right, and then so were some of the others. We will not give away any spoilers, but the ending, the answer we were all waiting for was disappointing and quite frankly we are still not 100% sure who did it, and what was actually done. The leading lady of the book Carol Spencer, dubbed drippy Carol by the club, because she is, well… DRIPPY, does nothing but smoke and drink coffee, whilst surrounded by crime and uncertainty. But, alas, when all is righted, she finds herself in the arms of an arrogant moody man, all happily engaged! Possibly a romance (although a bad one) or possible a classic whodunit (a half decent one), who can tell?
Overall the book was a success: it inspired intrigue and discussion! The virtual book club even more so! A bunch of misfits, gathered together (20minutes after the allotted time because one member of the group is late- @manosdaskalou), discussing the book, thinking about the social context, the characters, and how it is received today. It is a fantastic virtual club consisting of familiar suspects: the princess, the athlete, the criminal, the brain, the basket case, the parent and the “carol” (representations may not be literal or accurate). What will the misfits think of the next book? Will they all agree? Will one read ahead and sit silently and sheepishly, without the others knowing? Stay tuned…
On the basis of a reliable academic study, research by The University’s top senior lecturers on Criminology, I am by their words and definition “the Youth of Today.” However, my younger brother (age 12) is The Youth of Tomorrow. In our group chat, this ongoing conversation (now months old) also includes (not Harvard) references to The Youth of Yesterday (age 30+) or Yesteryear (if you’re ancient, ahem). It’s really quite amusing. Am I The Youth of Today? I hadn’t listened to any Stormzy until he did Glastonbury and our conversations around “Vossi Bop” really are worthy of critical acclaim. Is one’s youth status pigeon-holed to their date of birth?
By the time I was 17, I had watched most of Hitchcock’s catalogue and I think Woody Allen is one of the funniest writers alive (despite his controversy). Is this the point in the blog where I need to mention someone other than a White man? Again, another point of discussion in our chats. Diversity. So, true to form, I have seen the entire filmography of Vivien Leigh. I think Diane Keaton is understated in The Godfather films and Claudine with Diahann Carroll is underrated, and should be on seminal film lists when we talk about working-class life in America. It’s a lesson to us now in Britain, haunted by depressions of austerity and universal credit.
Yet, this blog isn’t about group chats, but generalisations. Are today’s youth beyond the grasp of Old Hollywood or even films made before the 2000s that aren’t franchise, or nostalgia pictures like Jumanji? I aim this question at The Youth of Tomorrow too (born post-7/7). Is it true? Maybe, maybe not. The idea remains that many people despite age are still dismissive of Old Hollywood in general, and the classic films made before the 1990s.
Criminology senior lecturer @paulaabowles has an affinity for Agatha Christie but seldom do I hear young people talk about Agatha when thinking crime stories, be it literature or not. I hear much love for Idris Elba as DI John Luther. Yet, it is arguable to say there would be no modern whodunnit without the massive contributions of crime writer Agatha Christie, who a century ago was defining the things we now we would call clichés. These people are seriously missing out by dismissing “The Old”. All it takes is the right story to alter perceptions, changing minds forever.
I do love to read, but film / the moving-image is more my thing. One of my favourite films is Mr Smith Goes to Washington. I’m of that generation that some of the boomer generation are talking about when they say “kids today” in relation to not enjoying the films that were around in their youth. I watched this film when I was 19 and I still am surprised by how complex yet simple it is. Audiences who have watched things like Veep, Netflix’s House of Cards or Thick of It will get on with James Stewart as Mr Smith.
Its searing portrayal of how systems of power crush good people just wanting to do the right thing can still be seen in society today; from politics to policing, exploring corruption and greed in the deeply flawed human imagination whilst simultaneously acting as a commentary for humanity’s blitz spirit in a film, which I would not be surprised influenced Stan Lee in creating the character of Captain America in 1941. No matter how hard you try, what keeps human beings going is their determination to fight on.
I could be offended at people that say my generation “wouldn’t know a good film if it was staring at them in the face” because “Hollywood only now makes films for sixteen year-olds and China” (both real quotes) but I’m not, because in my experience outside of online film groups on Facebook, and Film Twitter, I have seen this to be true. I will never forget the time when a former-colleague refused to watch Ridley Scott’s Alien because it was old.
When people ask me for recommendations, I need to get a notion of that person’s likes first in case I get a repeat Alien situation (I am still salty about this) Nonetheless, I think everyone should watch classic cinema, including black and white films, as they are some of the best films ever made.
In a time now where sex sells, another in for classic cinema would be to introduce them to Old Hollywood through pictures like Some Like It Hot. Most people have heard of Marilyn Monroe, and the Youth of Today or Yesterday may in fact be seduced by the “crude” title and its star, only then to get mesmerised by a God-ordained masterpiece of American cinema, mixing film noir with banter and action, a film that is certainly not boring.
Though, very much a product of the late 1960s, To Sir with Love hasn’t aged a day. Growing up in a household where education and learning were core values, watching this film at 20 was a homecoming for me. Only to then screen it at the Students’ Union as part of Black History Month 2019. It reminds me of today in how we are in a sector where many students don’t want to learn and many teachers don’t want to teach, before we even get to issues of disparities of outcomes between different student groups.
Mark Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) is the teacher we all wish we had, and certainly an entrance into Old Hollywood for The Youth of Tomorrow, let alone the wonderful song by Lu Lu. To Sir, with Love is optimistic while still commenting on social issues, including race and class. It’s pure of heart in its ideas about British education but also access to education for poor working-class communities in the East End of London. Moreover, how teaching back then was a noble profession and a pillar of the community.
If “kids today” are to have access to these films, it will often be how I had access to them. Through a clunky VHS system at school watching things for English class like Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire. I will never forget the time my brother asked me what a VHS was. And I then thought I had failed my duties. Or am I just passed it? Does he think I’m ancient? I think we’re at DVD now, or even BluRay? Who decides what a classic is? That’s another question and that debate will have to wait for another time.
Do kids today know who Steven Spielberg is? He has had a defining film for every decade of his career. Surely, they know who he is? They must have watched Jaws? Sometimes, I want to despair but I was in their position once, possibly when I was in nappies. I think I might have had grey hair then too. As we all sit in lockdown, there is no better time to watch the epics. Whilst many of us will be bingeing the likes of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, what about the epics of the silver screens of Old Hollywood?
When talking to young people, we do often look at how accessible a film is, and whether it’s in high definition? Those are two selling points. Gone with the Wind, Giant, Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, Doctor Zhivago, Spartacus, Ben-Hur – these are some of my favourite epics. Cleopatra sits at a wholesome 5hrs 20mins. These were event films in the same way we court Lord of the Rings today. We don’t get many event films anymore but you can’t blame the youth for not knowing what they do not know.
And with a massive diversity of content across streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime as well, do the Youth of Today (and Tomorrow) need older films, or am I locked in the time trap of nostalgia and golden age thinking?
For most of my life, I have been an avid reader of all types of books. As my family will confirm, from childhood, I was never without a book. As an adult, I have regularly selected coats with large pockets and bags purely on the basis that they can hold a book. As many students will attest, my answer to most academic questions is “read, read and read some more”. Despite the growth of the internet and other media, which as @drkukustr8talk has noted recently, diverts and subverts our attention and concentration, reading remains my first and truest love.
This, my third ‘Love Letter’, focuses on my favourite author, above all others, Agatha Christie. I have previously dedicated ‘Love Letters’ to poetry, and art. Both of these forms took a long time for me to develop my understanding of and my love for. This ‘Love Letter’ is slightly different.
I first discovered Christie’s novels when I was about 12, since then they have formed a regular backdrop to my life. They act as a comfort blanket when I am tired, stressed, sad or away from home. I have read and reread everything she wrote and know the stories inside and out. Despite my decades of adoration, it remains challenging to know exactly what it is that appeals to me so much about Christie’s novels.
Perhaps it is the symmetry, the fact that for Christie every crime has a solution. Conceivably, given my pacifist tendencies, it could be the absence of explicit violence within her books. Maybe it’s Christie use of stereotypical characters, who turn out to be anything but. You don’t have to look very far to find the oh-so suspicious foreigner, who turns out to be a caring father (Dr Jacob Tanois) or the shell-shocked former military man trained in violence, who metamorphosises into a rather lonely man, who suffers from epilepsy (Alexander Cust). In all these cases, and many others, Christie plays with the reader’s prejudices, whatever they might be, and with deft sleight of hand, reveals that bias as unfounded.
To be honest, until relatively recently, I did not think much about the above, reading Christie was so much part of my life, that I took it very much for granted. All that changed in 2017, when I spotted a ‘Call for Chapters’
It seemed too good an opportunity to miss, after all I had spent a lifetime reading Christie, not to mention more than a decade studying war and crime. After all, what did I have to lose? I submitted an abstract, with no real expectation that someone who had never studied fiction academically, would be accepted for the volume. After all, who would expect a criminologist to be interested in the fictional writing of a woman who had died over 40 years ago? What could criminology learn from the “golden age” of “whodunnit” fiction?
Much to my surprise the abstract was accepted and I was invited to contribute a chapter. The writing came surprisingly easy, one of very few pieces of writing that I have ever done without angst. Once I got over the hurdle of forcing myself to send my writing to strangers (thank you @manosdaskalou for the positive reassurance and gentle coercion!) , what followed was a thoroughly pleasant experience. From the guidance of the volume’s editors , Drs J. C. Bernthal and Rebecca Mills, to the support from many colleagues, not mention the patience of Michelle (Academic Librarian) who restrained from strangling me whilst trying to teach me the complexities of MLA. Each of these people gave me confidence that I had something different to say, that my thinking and writing was good enough.
Last week, my copy of the book arrived. It was very strange to see my chapter in print, complete with my name and a brief biography. Even more surreal was to read the editors’ introduction and to see my work described therein, with its contribution to the volume identified. I doubt many people will ever read my chapter, it is published in a very expensive academic book destined for academics and libraries. Nevertheless, I have left the tiniest of marks in academic literature and perhaps more importantly, publicly acknowledged my love for the writing of Agatha Christie.
The finished article:
Bowles, Paula, (2020), ‘Christie’s Wartime Hero: Peacetime Killer’ in Rebecca Mills and J. C. Bernthal, Agatha Christie Goes to War, (Abingdon: Routledge): 28-45