Monday, August 29, 2011

Great Black Kanba, by Constance and Gwenyth Little


Great Black Kanba
By Constance and Gwenyth Little
1944


You don't run across books by the Little sisters every day (or at least I don't) and so I was looking forward to reading this one. Then I started it. And set it aside about halfway through. And then came back to it several weeks later determined to give it another chance. And plowed through the rest of it with no small amount of effort solely for the reason of seeing how they were going to wind things up. And cut loose with a great big sigh when I'd finally wrapped it up.

The Little sisters were Australian-born New Jerseyites who wrote a total of 21 novels between the years 1938-1953. For whatever reason they chose to use the word "black" in the titles of all but the first book. I read The Black Paw a while back and recall that I was not disappointed by it at all. The sisters have been described as writers of "screwball cozies" and while that tendency was apparent in The Black Paw it wasn't here.

Great Black Kanba is the nickname of a train that's making its way across Australia. Along for the ride are one Cleo Ballister, who is suffering temporary amnesia and may not actually be Cleo Ballister at all. At some point she meets a group of people who may or may not be distant relatives that she's never seen before. They all climb aboard, a few murders take place, Cleo's memory starts to come back in bits and pieces and 240 plodding pages later it's all sorted out.

Brevity is the soul of wit, as the saying goes, and I'd propose that it is also the soul of the detective story. My thoughts on this one are the Littles should have done as Elmore Leonard famously said and leave out the parts that no one reads.

More on the Little sisters here.

3 comments:

  1. I haven't read any of the Littles' stuff, but it sounds fun enough. Your negative review does somewhat surprise me, but ah well...

    Personally, I always try to plough through to the end of a book once I start reading. If I dislike it, I use the thought of reaching another book soon as motivation. The only exception thus far has been Chandler's "The Long Goodbye", which I stopped reading because it wasn't going anywhere and it was hopelessly long...

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  2. I was surprised too, especially given their reputation and the other title I read. As for forging bravely on to the end I generally try to do the same, but I have one right now that I'm on the fence about.

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  3. Too bad you didn't enjoy it. This is one of my top 100 mysteries of all time.

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