TBR Thursday 212…

Episode 212

Phew! Last week the TBR had fallen dangerously low and I know a lot of you have had sleepless nights worrying on my behalf. Well, sleep sound tonight! Thanks to the unanticipated arrival of a box of books, the bookocalypse has been delayed – up 1 to 223…

Here are a few I plan to read before the end comes…

Historical Fiction

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

OK, this doesn’t sound my kind of thing at all, especially since lots of Goodreads readers have tagged it as romance, fantasy and magical realism – ugh, ugh, and oxymoronic! But Omaha is a compulsory spot on my Around the World challenge and you have no idea how hard it’s been to find a book set there! So buckle up – it’s going to be a bumpy ride…

The Blurb says: On the eve of the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair, Ferret Skerritt – ventriloquist by trade, conman by birth – isn’t quite sure how it will change him or his city. Omaha still has the marks of a filthy Wild West town, even as it attempts to achieve the grandeur and respectability of nearby Chicago. But when he crosses paths with the beautiful and enigmatic Cecily, his whole purpose shifts and the fair becomes the backdrop to their love affair.

One of a travelling troupe of actors that has descended on the city, Cecily works in the Midway’s Chamber of Horrors, where she loses her head hourly on a guillotine playing Marie Antoinette. And after closing, she rushes off, clinging protectively to a mysterious carpet bag, never giving Ferret a second glance. But a moonlit ride on the swan gondola, a boat on the lagoon of the New White City, changes everything, and the fair’s magic begins to take its effect.

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Biography

Enoch Powell by Paul Corthorn

Courtesy of Oxford University Press. Enoch Powell was the bogeyman for the left back in the ’70s when I became politically aware, hated and reviled as the arch-racist over his infamous 1968 Rivers of Blood speech, when he warned Britain of the dangers of uncontrolled immigration in extraordinarily incendiary terms. But he had had a long and important career before that, almost completely forgotten now because of that moment. I’ve often wondered whether he was really as vilely racist as that speech made him appear and have wanted to know more about what brought him to self-destruct in such a spectacular fashion. Hopefully this book might answer some of my questions…

The Blurb says: Best known for his notorious ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968 and his outspoken opposition to immigration, Enoch Powell was one of the most controversial figures in British political life in the second half of the twentieth century and a formative influence on what came to be known as Thatcherism.

Telling the story of Powell’s political life from the 1950s onwards, Paul Corthorn’s intellectual biography goes beyond a fixation on the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech to bring us a man who thought deeply about – and often took highly unusual (and sometimes apparently contradictory) positions on – the central political debates of the post-1945 era: denying the existence of the Cold War (at one stage going so far as to advocate the idea of an alliance with the Soviet Union); advocating free-market economics long before it was fashionable, while remaining a staunch defender of the idea of a National Health Service; vehemently opposing British membership of the European Economic Community; arguing for the closer integration of Northern Ireland with the rest of the UK; and in the 1980s supporting the campaign for unilateral nuclear disarmament.

In the process, Powell emerges as more than just a deeply divisive figure but as a seminal political intellectual of his time. Paying particular attention to the revealing inconsistencies in Powell’s thought and the significant ways in which his thinking changed over time, Corthorn argues that Powell’s diverse campaigns can nonetheless still be understood as a coherent whole, if viewed as part of a long-running, and wide-ranging, debate set against the backdrop of the long-term decline in Britain’s international, military, and economic position in the decades after 1945.

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Crime

The Long Call by Ann Cleeves

Courtesy of Pan MacMillan via NetGalley. I’ve been talking about catching up with Ann Cleeves’ two existing series for years, but never actually get around to them. So I’m jumping aboard on book 1 of her new series – at least I’ll be up-to-date with it!

The Blurb says: In North Devon, where the rivers Taw and Torridge converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his father’s funeral takes place. The day Matthew turned his back on the strict evangelical community in which he grew up, he lost his family too.

Now he’s back, not just to mourn his father at a distance, but to take charge of his first major case in the Two Rivers region; a complex place not quite as idyllic as tourists suppose.

A body has been found on the beach near to Matthew’s new home: a man with the tattoo of an albatross on his neck, stabbed to death.

Finding the killer is Venn’s only focus, and his team’s investigation will take him straight back into the community he left behind, and the deadly secrets that lurk there.

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Classics Club

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr

This sounds utterly dire – I can’t imagine what I was thinking when I put it on my Classics Club list! What would make anyone in their right mind want to read a book like this? Is the world not depressing enough without us choosing to pollute and poison our minds voluntarily? Not that I’m pre-judging it, of course… 😉

The Blurb says: Few novels have caused as much debate as Hubert Selby Jr.’s notorious masterpiece, Last Exit to Brooklyn, and this Penguin Modern Classics edition includes an introduction by Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting [FF says: that alone should have warned me not to touch it with a ten-foot barge pole].

Described by various reviewers as hellish and obscene, Last Exit to Brooklyn tells the stories of New Yorkers who at every turn confront the worst excesses in human nature. Yet there are moments of exquisite tenderness in these troubled lives. Georgette, the transvestite who falls in love with a callous hoodlum; Tralala, the conniving prostitute who plumbs the depths of sexual degradation; and Harry, the strike leader who hides his true desires behind a boorish masculinity, are unforgettable creations. Last Exit to Brooklyn was banned by British courts in 1967, a decision that was reversed the following year with the help of a number of writers and critics including Anthony Burgess and Frank Kermode. [FF says: Yes, this one’s already halfway to the abandoned heap… ]

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?
(I’m not sure I am… 😉 )

20 Books of Summer – Wrap!

A first time for everything…

Hurrah! I did it! I did it!! I DID IT!!! All twenty books read and reviewed within the time limit!

Oh, I’m so sorry – I shall try to calm down now. But in my defence, it’s the first time I’ve ever beaten this fun but surprisingly difficult challenge, hosted by the lovely Cathy at 746 Books.

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So here’s a little summary of how it went…

Of the original 20 books, I read 18, abandoned 1 partway through, and replaced one.

I stayed in Britain for part of the time, but I also managed to visit America, Mexico, France, East Germany, Turkey, India, Zululand, Australia and Papua New Guinea! Plus I sailed through every ocean in the world. Imagine how much post-vacation laundry has piled up! I travelled with murderers, detectives, prostitutes, spies, French Resistance fighters, John F Kennedy, Zulu warriors, and even witnessed the end of the world! No wonder I’m exhausted…

The combined star total of the 20 that make up my final list is a whopping 82! Or an average of 4.1 per book. Pretty stonking, huh?


⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Lowlights

Turns out I hated the Kate Atkinson Jackson Brodie books which I had been expecting to be the highlight of the summer. Oh, well! Case Histories got 2 stars, One Good Turn got a generous 1 star even though I abandoned it at 11%, and When Will There Be Good News? was deleted from my Kindle unopened. I replaced it with Murder in the Mill-Race by ECR Lorac.

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones was astonishingly bad considering it was a Booker Prize nominee (though the fact that that still has the power to surprise me surprises me) – 2 stars

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The Middlelights

These one rated as 3½ stars, meaning slightly better than OK – worth reading if the blurb takes your fancy.

Three Bullets by RJ Ellory
The Case of Miss Elliot by Baroness Orczy
The Pearl by John Steinbeck

And these ones rated as 4 stars, meaning good solid reads that I’d recommend.

Death Has Deep Roots by Michael Gilbert
Murder in the Mill-Race ECR Lorac

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The Uplights

These ones nearly made it. All 4½ stars, meaning excellent but just didn’t quite earn the full galaxy. Highly recommended, nevertheless.

Conviction by Denise Mina
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold by John le Carré
The Middle Temple Murder by JS Fletcher

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The Highlights

An astonishing 9 books achieved Five Glorious Glowing Golden Stars! I loved the look of my list when I started out three months ago and am pleased that it lived well up to my expectations. All of these are highly recommended and several of them will be in the running for my Book of the Year Awards. Here they are, in no particular order:

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak
In the Heat of the Night by John Ball
Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas by Jules Verne
Nada the Lily by H. Rider Haggard
The Observations by Jane Harris
On the Beach by Nevil Shute
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

So, a great summer’s reading! Hope you’ve enjoyed some of the reviews and that I’ve maybe even tempted you to add one or two to your own overloaded TBRs. Gotta go – got to start planning next year’s list…

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Oh, nearly forgot! And…

The Book of the Summer

is

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

TBR Thursday 211…

Episode 211

The amazing downward trend continues! The TBR has fallen by a massive 1 this week – down to 222! At this rate I’ll run out of books completely soon!

It will soon be time to wake the fretful porpentine from his summer hibernation and resume my quest to make his quills stand on end. He’s not easily scared, though.

So I’ve acquired a nice little selection of horror collections and anthologies which I’ll be dipping into over the next few months…

Horror

The Face in the Glass by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Courtesy of the British Library. I don’t think I’ve read anything by Mary Elizabeth Braddon before, though her name is familiar as a Victorian sensation novelist. So she ought to be good at creating chills…

The Blurb says: A young girl whose love for her fiance continues even after her death; a sinister old lady with claw-like hands who cares little for the qualities of her companions provided they are young and full of life; and a haunted mirror that foretells of approaching death for those who gaze into its depths. These are just some of the haunting tales gathered together in this macabre collection of short stories. Reissued in the Tales of the Weird series and introduced by British Library curator Greg Buzwell, The Face in the Glass is the first selection of Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s supernatural short stories to be widely available in more than 100 years. By turns curious, sinister, haunting and terrifying, each tale explores the dark shadows beyond the rational world.

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Horror

The Invisible Eye by Erckmann-Chatrian

Courtesy of Collins Chillers. I actually received this one last year, read and enjoyed a couple of the stories, but ended up so inundated with horror anthologies that the porpy and I ran out of steam before we finished this one…

The Blurb says: Emile Erckmann and Louis Alexandre Chatrian began their writing partnership in the 1840s and continued working together until the year before Chatrian’s death in 1890. At the height of their powers they were known as ‘the twins’, and their works proved popular translated into English. After their deaths, however, they slipped into obscurity; and apart from the odd tale reprinted in anthologies, their work has remained difficult to find and to appreciate.

In The Invisible Eye, veteran horror anthologist Hugh Lamb has collected together the finest weird tales by Erckmann–Chatrian. The world of which they wrote has long since vanished: a world of noblemen and peasants, enchanted castles and mysterious woods, haunted by witches, monsters, curses and spells. It is a world brought to life by the vivid imagination of these authors and praised by successors including M.R. James and H. P. Lovecraft. With an introduction by Hugh Lamb, and in paperback for the first time, this collection will transport the reader to the darkest depths of the nineteenth century: a time when anything could happen – and occasionally did.

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Horror

Late Victorian Gothic Tales edited by Roger Luckhurst

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. Roger Luckhurst has become one of my go-to people when it comes to horror anthologies – not only does he include some great tales, his introductions are always informative and highly readable…

The Blurb says: The Victorian fin de siecle has many associations: the era of Decadence, The Yellow Book, the New Woman, the scandalous Oscar Wilde, the Empire on which the sun never set. This heady brew was caught nowhere better than in the revival of the Gothic tale in the late Victorian age, where the undead walked and evil curses, foul murder, doomed inheritance and sexual menace played on the stretched nerves of the new mass readerships. This anthology collects together some of the most famous examples of the Gothic tale in the 1890s, with stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, Vernon Lee, Henry James and Arthur Machen, as well as some lesser known yet superbly chilling tales from the era. The introduction explores the many reasons for the Gothic revival, and how it spoke to the anxieties of the moment.

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Horror

The Weird Tales of William Hope Hodgson edited by Xavier Aldana Reyes

Courtesy of the British Library. I came across a story by William Hope Hodgson in another anthology and loved it, so this collection of his weird tales was irresistible. Xavier Aldana Reyes is the chap who edited one of last year’s favourite anthologies – The Gothic Tales of HP Lovecraft.

The Blurb says: The splash from something enormous resounds through the sea-fog. In the stillness of a dark room, some unspeakable evil is making its approach. . . Abandon the safety of the familiar with 10 nerve-wracking episodes of horror penned by master of atmosphere and suspense, William Hope Hodgson. From encounters with abominations at sea to fireside tales of otherworldly forces recounted by occult detective Carnacki, this new selection offers the most unsettling of Hodgson’s weird stories, guaranteed to terrorize the steeliest of constitutions.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Are you ready to be terrified?

The Case of Miss Elliott by Baroness Orczy

Déjà vu all over again…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

An old man sits in the corner of a teahouse, endlessly twisting pieces of string into elaborate knots and mulling over the great unsolved mysteries of the day. Opposite him is our narrator, an unnamed female journalist who, despite finding the old man intensely irritating, nevertheless can’t help being impressed by the ingenious solutions he comes up with.

This is a collection of twelve short stories featuring the amateur ‘tec who was always known as The Old Man in the Corner until a radio adaptation decided, for reasons unknown to me, to change his title to The Teahouse Detective, the name also used by this new edition from Pushkin Vertigo. The stories were originally published in various magazines and later collected into three volumes. Chronologically this is the second batch of stories, although it was the first collection to be published, in 1905.

Each story takes the same format: the journalist, puzzled over a case in the newspapers, visits the teahouse where the old man sits eating cheesecake and playing with his string. He reveals that he knows all about the case in question, and then relates all the known details before adding his own solution at the end. He is dismissive of the police and is not a pursuer of justice – he never passes his solution to the authorities. For him, it’s the intellectual satisfaction of solving the mystery which is important. For a reader used to following a detective around watching him gather evidence and interview suspects, I found this a rather odd format – it’s like getting the beginning and the end of a mystery but missing out all the fun bit in the middle. It works, and she writes well so that the stories are entertaining enough, but I didn’t find them nearly as satisfying as traditionally formatted mysteries.

Challenge details:
Book: 3
Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 1905

After the first few stories, I also began to have feelings of déjà vu. I wondered if perhaps I’d read the collection before – I know I’ve read at least some of the Old Man stories in my teens. But then I realised it’s not the stories that are familiar – it’s the plot points and clues, and even character names in some of them. Regular visitors to my blog will know of my life-long devotion to Sherlock Holmes, and I suspect I shared that love with Baroness Orczy. We have a dog which doesn’t bark in the night; Mr Hosmer Angel appears with a different name and persona, but a similar plan; the King of Bohemia puts in an appearance. Occasionally it almost feels a little like homage – it surely can’t be coincidence that one of her villains is called Stapylton. The stories are different enough for me not to be hurling accusations of plagiarism, but I must say I found several of the problems remarkably easy to solve because they feature plot points from the Holmes stories too obviously.

Baroness Orczy

Having forced me to make comparisons, of course this doesn’t work to Orczy’s advantage. Sherlock Holmes is a far superior creation in every way, as is Conan Doyle’s effortless writing style. These have none of the warmth and friendship of the Holmes/Watson relationship, and nowhere does Orczy achieve the layers of drama, tension, humour and even horror of the master. These are more like puzzles – like elaborate crossword clues where the only purpose is to find the solution. As I finished each story, the characters slipped smoothly from my mind, since I had never been made to care about any of them. The Old Man and the journalist too never come to life, since they don’t ever do anything – they are a framing device for telling a story, that’s all.

So overall I found this quite an enjoyable way to while away a few hours, but no more than that. I wonder if they’d be remembered at all were it not for Orczy’s much more famous creation, The Scarlet Pimpernel, keeping her name in the public eye. However, Martin Edwards tells us in his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books that the collection enjoyed considerable popularity when it came out, and they’re certainly entertaining enough to make them worth reading. Mostly, though, they made me want to re-read some Holmes stories…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Pushkin Vertigo.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Book 17 of 20

TBR Thursday 210…

Episode 210

And… down again! After going up by 2 last week, the TBR has fallen by 2 this week – down to 223 again. It’s enough to make a girl seasick…

Here are a few more that will be cruising my way soon…

Fiction

Mother of Pearl by Angela Savage

Angela is a blogging friend of mine who has previously written three crime novels starring her Thailand-based Australian detective, Jayne Keeney. She’s been working on this latest novel for the last couple of years and it’s something of a departure for her, taking her into the field of mainstream, rather than genre, fiction. It has just been published in Australia but doesn’t yet have a date for a UK release, so Angela has very kindly sent me a copy, which I’m delighted about, being far too impatient to read it to want to wait!

The Blurb says: A luminous and courageous story about the hopes and dreams we all have for our lives and relationships, and the often fraught and unexpected ways they may be realised.

Angela Savage draws us masterfully into the lives of Anna, an aid worker trying to settle back into life in Australia after more than a decade in Southeast Asia; Meg, Anna’s sister, who holds out hope for a child despite seven fruitless years of IVF; Meg’s husband Nate, and Mukda, a single mother in provincial Thailand who wants to do the right thing by her son and parents.

The women and their families’ lives become intimately intertwined in the unsettling and extraordinary process of trying to bring a child into the world across borders of class, culture and nationality. Rich in characterisation and feeling, Mother of Pearl, and the timely issues it raises, will generate discussion amongst readers everywhere.

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Thriller

The Noble Path by Peter May

Courtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. Another reissue of one of May’s very early novels from back before he became a star and I became a fan. I thoroughly enjoyed the last one they put out, The Man with No Face, so am intrigued to read this one, although I must admit the subject matter isn’t something that would normally appeal to me. However, May is one of the best thriller writers out there, so if anyone can win me over, he can…

The Blurb says: THE EVIL WRATH

Cambodia, 1978: Amid the Khmer Rouge’s crazed genocide, soldier-of-fortune Jack Elliott is given the impossible task of rescuing a family from the regime.

THE PAINFUL TRUTH

Eighteen-year-old orphan and budding journalist Lisa Robinson has received the impossible news that her father is, in fact, alive. His name is Jack Elliott.

THE NOBLE PATH

As Jack tracks the hostages and Lisa traces her heritage, each intent on reuniting a family. Yet to succeed, they each must run a dangerous gauntlet of bullets and betrayal.

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Political Memoir on Audio

Kind of Blue by Kenneth Clarke narrated by himself

To say Ken Clarke is on the opposite side of the political divide to me would be an exaggeration. He is the most centrist of right-wingers while I am more centrist than left-wing these days, so there’s a small rivulet between us rather than a wide gulf. Plus he’s amusing, intelligent and has a lovely, soothing, smoky voice that conjures up visions of comfortable armchairs, panelled walls, wood fires and an excellent vintage…

The Blurb says: Ken Clarke needs no introduction. One of the genuine ‘Big Beasts’ of the political scene, during his 46 years as the Member of Parliament for Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire he has been at the very heart of government under three prime ministers. He is a political obsessive with a personal hinterland, as well known as a Tory Wet with Europhile views as for his love of cricket, Nottingham Forest Football Club and jazz.

In Kind of Blue, Clarke charts his remarkable progress from working-class scholarship boy in Nottinghamshire to high political office and the upper echelons of both his party and of government. But Clarke is not a straightforward Conservative politician. His position on the left of the party, often led Margaret Thatcher to question his true blue credentials and his passionate commitment to the European project, has led many fellow Conservatives to regard him with suspicion – and cost him the leadership on no less than three occasions.

Clarke has had a ringside seat in British politics for four decades, and his trenchant observations and candid account of life both in and out of government will enthral listeners of all political persuasions. Vivid, witty and forthright, and taking its title not only from his politics but from his beloved Miles Davis, Kind of Blue is political memoir at its very best.

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Queen of Crime

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

Courtesy of HarperCollins. This new edition popped through my letterbox unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago and, as regulars know, I don’t ever need much of an excuse to revisit Ms Christie! This was always one of my (many) favourites so I know the story very well, but oddly it never matters to me in Christie novels if I already know whodunit. I can read them again and again anyway. Isn’t the cover great? The colours are even more vibrant in real life.

The Blurb says: A sun-drenched story of desire and murder with a conclusion you’ll never see coming…

‘The best Agatha Christie since And Then There Were None’―Observer

The moment Arlena Stuart steps through the door, every eye in the resort is on her.

She is beautiful. She is famous. And in less than 72 hours she will be dead.

On this luxury retreat, cut off from the outside world, everyone is a suspect. The wandering husband. The jealous wife. The bitter step-daughter.

They all had a reason to kill Arlena Stuart. But who hated her enough to do it?

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

The Literary Fiction Book Tag

Spot the connection…

I enjoyed reading Karissa’s interesting take on this tag that’s doing the rounds, so when she said “consider yourself tagged”, I considered! My answers to questions 2-7 share a common link. No prizes for guessing it, but if you do you have my permission to wear a smug expression for the rest of the day…

1. How do you define literary fiction?

I struggle with this all the time when deciding on what tags to use on reviews. I think I’d define it as indefinable! Generally, though, we all know it when we read it, I suspect. But I’m looking for great writing – and by that I don’t mean creative writing, I mean writing that uses a vocabulary that stimulates the brain without baffling (No to Nabokov!), that reads effortlessly (Fie to Faulkner!) and that creates wonderful images of places or people, or both, with beautiful descriptive prose (Kiss me, Hardy!). I want emotional truth – the characters might be realistic (as in McIlvanney) or exaggerated and even caricatured (as in Dickens) but they must fundamentally act in ways people would act. If it’s historical fiction, it must be true to the time in which it’s set. If it’s genre fiction, it must transcend the genre but must never forget its roots in its desire to be literary. If it’s contemporary fiction, it must say something intelligent and preferably profound about society, culture and/or the “human condition”. Please don’t ask me to define the human condition…

Publishers rejoice! Books survive into the 24th century!

2. Name a literary fiction novel with a brilliant character study.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. From the review:

Although the story may be slight, the characterisation of Miss Brodie is anything but – she is wonderfully realised as an unconventional woman battling against the rigid restrictions of prim and proper Edinburgh society, yearning for art and beauty in her life, longing for love, desperately needing the adulation both of men and of her girls. Her beauty and exotic behaviour bring her admiration from more than one man and lead her into the realms of scandal, endangering her necessary respectability and her career. But perhaps Miss Brodie’s real misfortune is that in the end she isn’t quite unconventional enough.

The wonderful Maggie Smith in her prime…

3. Name a literary fiction novel that has experimental or unique writing.

Docherty by William McIlvanney. Written partly in standard English, but partly in a beautifully sustained and authentic Scots dialect, this tells the story of Tam Docherty, a miner in the west of Scotland in the early 20th century who vows that his youngest son, Con, will work with his brains, rise out of the poverty of his heritage. The book covers the next twenty years or so, telling the story of Conn and his family, and most of all of Tam himself, a man who may be “only five foot fower. But when yer hert goes fae yer heid tae yer taes, that’s a lot o’ hert.”

“Son, it’s easy tae be guid oan a fu’ belly. It’s when a man’s goat two bites an’ wan o’ them he’ll share, ye ken whit he’s made o’. Listen. In ony country in the world, who are the only folk that ken whit it’s like tae leeve in that country? The folk at the boattom. The rest can a’ kid themselves oan. They can afford to hiv fancy ideas. We canny, son. We loass the wan idea o’ who we are, we’re deid. We’re wan anither. Tae survive, we’ll respect wan anither. When the time comes, we’ll a’ move forward thegither, or nut at all.”

High Street, Kilmarnock – the town on which fictional Graithnock is based in William McIlvanney’s Docherty
“High Street, both as a terrain and a population was special. Everyone whom circumstances had herded into its hundred-or-so-yards had failed in the same way. It was a penal colony for those who had committed poverty, a vice which was usually hereditary.”

4. Name a literary fiction novel with an interesting structure.

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. One day in 1869, young Roderick Macrae walked along the tiny street of his village and brutally murdered three of his neighbours. He is now in custody awaiting trial, and his defence lawyer is trying to get at the root causes that led him to commit these horrific crimes. From the review:

The novel is presented as if it were a true crime book with witness statements, medical examiner reports and so on. The first half is taken up with Roderick’s own account of events leading up to the crime, an account he is writing while in jail, at the urging of Mr Sinclair, his defence attorney. There’s then a shorter section told from the viewpoint of J. Bruce Thomson, an authority in the new discipline of criminal anthropology. He has been brought in by Mr Sinclair to determine whether Roderick could be considered insane under the legal definition of that word then in force. J. Bruce Thomson was a real person, as the notes at the end of the book tell us, and Burnet has apparently used his actual writings on the subject to inform this section of the book. Finally, there’s an account of the trial, presented as a kind of compilation of various newspaper reports.

5. Name a literary fiction novel that explores social themes.

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. This first volume of Gibbon’s trilogy, A Scots Quair, focuses on the life of Chris Guthrie, daughter of a tenant farmer in the fictional estate of Kinraddie in the north-east of Scotland, before and during the First World War. From the review:

The book is essentially a lament for the passing of a way of life. Gibbon shows how the war hurried the process along, but he also indicates how change was happening anyway, with increasing mechanisation of farms, the landowners gradually driving the tenant farmers off as they found more profitable uses for the land, the English-ing of education leading to the loss of the old language and with it, old traditions. Although the cruelties and hardships of the old ways are shown to the full, he also portrays the sense of community, of neighbour supporting neighbour when the need arises. And he gives a great feeling of the relative isolation of these communities, far distant from the seat of power and with little interest in anything beyond their own lives. But here too he suggests things are changing, with some of the characters flirting with the new socialist politics of the fledgling Labour Party.

Agyness Deyn as Chris Guthrie in the dreadful film of the book.

6. Name a literary fiction novel that explores the human condition.

The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison. This is the tale of three sisters, daughters of the minister in a parish in the Highlands of Scotland. From the review:

…the characterisation of these young girls is beautifully done. None of them is perfect – each has her flaws and idiosyncrasies. The two eldest, Julia and Emmy, are a little like Elinor and Marianne from Sense and Sensibility – Julia’s strong feelings masked by her outward calm, and with the intellect and strength of character to overcome the slings and arrows of her fortune; Emmy driven by emotion, unwilling, perhaps unable, to accept society’s restrictions. Lisbet is clear-sighted about her sisters, and about herself. Although she is young during the events of the book, it is written as if by her older self looking back, giving her narration a feeling of more maturity and insight than her younger self may have had at the time. 

And a quote:

The carriage moved forward. We turned the bend in the road where we used to stand to see if any one were coming. I heard the immeasurable murmur of the loch, like a far-away wave that never breaks upon the shore, and the cry of a curlew. All the world’s sorrow, all the world’s pain, and none of its regret, lay throbbing in that cry.

7. Name a brilliant literary-hybrid genre novel.

The Long Drop by Denise Mina, based on the true story of Peter Manuel, one of the last men to be hanged in Scotland, in the late 1950s. Part true crime, part crime fiction and wholly literary – a wonderful book. From the review:

The book has been longlisted for this year’s McIlvanney Prize [it won] and, though I’ve only read a few of the other contenders, I can’t imagine how any book could be a more suitable winner. Scottish to its bones, it nevertheless speaks to our universal humanity. Crime fiction where the quality of the writing and insight into a particular time and place would allow it to sit just as easily on the literary fiction shelf. Not only do I think this is one of the books of the year but I suspect and hope it will become a classic that continues to be read for many decades to come, like Capote’s In Cold Blood or McIlvanney’s own Laidlaw. I hope I’ve persuaded you to read it…

8. What genre do you wish was mixed with literary fiction more?

I love literary genre fiction so would be happy to see more of it in all the genres I enjoy, especially crime, science fiction and horror. Come on, authors – get multitasking!

* * * * *

Your turn – I tag you!

And if you don’t blog, then I tag you to reveal all in the comments below…

No, no, no! Not that kind of “all”! I mean, reveal your opinions!

The Middle Temple Murder by JS Fletcher

A mysterious victim…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

When young newspaper editor Frank Spargo happens upon a murder scene late one night, his journalistic instincts lead him to follow the story. Fortunately the police detective in charge of the case doesn’t seem to have a problem with sharing all the evidence with a journalist and soon Spargo is taking the lead in the investigation. The first thing is to identify the victim, but this turns out not to be as easy as might be expected. The man’s wallet and papers have been removed from his body, and even when they begin to trace him, he seems to have a mysterious past. Spargo will have to go back into that past to find out who the man is, what he was doing in Middle Temple late at night and who had the motive and opportunity to kill him.

All that is found on the victim’s body is a scrap of paper with the name and address of a young barrister, Ronald Breton. Breton has never met the man, but since he’s just starting his first case and is yet to make his name in legal circles, it seems unlikely the victim would have been looking for him in his professional capacity. When it turns out the man had met Stephen Aylmore the evening before – an MP and the father of Breton’s fiancée – it all begins to look like the motive is more likely to be personal, and Aylmore quickly becomes the chief suspect. Fortunately for Aylmore he has two daughters and Spargo finds himself falling for the other one, giving him an incentive to clear Aylmore’s name.

It took me a while to really get into this one but after a slowish start it begins to rattle along at a good pace, and the plot is that great combination of being twisty and complicated without ever becoming hard to follow. Spargo does his detection the old fashioned way – by talking to people, noticing discrepancies between the stories of various witnesses and using those to prise open the secrets that some of them are hiding. First published in 1919 in the age of the gifted amateur detective, the idea of a journalist being so closely involved in a police investigation doesn’t seem as unbelievable as it would today, and Spargo mostly shares all the information he finds, although eventually he and Rathbury, the police detective, find themselves on opposite sides – Rathbury trying to prove the guilt of Aylesbury and Spargo trying to prove his innocence.

Challenge details:
Book: 14
Subject Heading: The Birth of the Golden Age
Publication Year: 1919

Most of the action takes place in London, around Fleet Street and the Middle Temple, but the story takes Spargo out of the city too, first to a small market town where he uncovers some long past scandals that seem to have a bearing on the case, and then up to Yorkshire for a finale deep in the moors. Fletcher describes each setting well, giving a real feeling for the different ways of life in the various places. None of the characterisation is particularly in-depth, but it’s done well enough so that I soon found myself rooting for some of the characters to be cleared while others I was prepared to see go to the gallows. Fletcher, anticipating the Golden Age style, gave me a solution that meant I could feel justice had been done. I must say it’s a sudden solution, though! Boom – here’s the final piece that makes it all fall into place, and we’re done. My brain could have done with an extra three or four pages to give me time to process what just happened! But I didn’t think it was unfair or illogical – just abrupt.

JS Fletcher

All-in-all, I enjoyed this one a lot. It does feel rather dated in style (which I don’t mind, but some people might) and frankly could have done with a stiff edit to get rid of one or two little discrepancies, but they weren’t enough of a problem to bother me nor to affect the overall outcome. I was disappointed to read in Martin Edward’s entry in his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books that Fletcher never revisited the Spargo character in later books – I reckon he could have made a good series detective. However apparently Fletcher did create another series detective later, Ronald Camberwell, and I’d happily try one or two of those if I can get hold of them. Meantime, this one is recommended as well written, cleverly plotted and entertaining.

NB I downloaded this one from wikisource. The formatting is very good.

Book 14 of 20

TBR Thursday 209…

Episode 209

The TBR seesaw seed last week so it’s hardly going to come as a surprise that it sawed again this week! Up 2 to 225, but that’s because a lovely box arrived from the lovely people at lovely Oxford World’s Classics containing lots of lovely goodies I’m planning to read over the autumn and winter months. Lovely!

Here are a few more I’ll be butting heads with soonish

History

Peterloo by Robert Poole

Courtesy of Oxford University Press. As a child at school the story of the Peterloo massacre caught my imagination and inspired my forming political beliefs. Two hundred years on and with democracy feeling more fragile than ever in my lifetime, it’s time we all remembered the sacrifices earlier generations made to give us the rights we take so much for granted that many of us don’t even bother to vote…

The Blurb says: On 16 August, 1819, at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, armed cavalry attacked a peaceful rally of some 50,000 pro-democracy reformers. Under the eyes of the national press, 18 people were killed and some 700 injured, many of them by sabres, many of them women, some of them children.

The ‘Peterloo massacre’, the subject of a recent feature film and a major commemoration in 2019, is famous as the central episode in Edward Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class. It also marked the rise of a new English radical populism as the British state, recently victorious at Waterloo, was challenged by a pro-democracy movement centred on the industrial north.

Why did the cavalry attack? Who ordered them in? What was the radical strategy? Why were there women on the platform, and why were they so ferociously attacked? Using an immense range of sources, and many new maps and illustrations, Robert Poole tells for the first time the full extraordinary story of Peterloo: the English Uprising.

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Classic Fiction

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. Oh, how I loved DH Lawrence when I was a teenager! This was one of the first real adult heavyweight lit-fic books I read and it gave me a lifelong love for books with a strong political and social setting and characters full of emotional truth. I haven’t read DH Lawrence in decades because I have a fear that I won’t find him as impressive as my hormonally-manic teenage self did. So it’s with as much apprehension as anticipation that I’ll be setting out to re-read this one from my Classics Club list…

The Blurb says: Lawrence’s first major novel was also the first in the English language to explore ordinary working-class life from the inside. No writer before or since has written so well about the intimacies enforced by a tightly-knit mining community and by a family where feelings are never hidden for long. Paul Morel is caught between his need for family and community and his efforts to define himself sexually and emotionally. Lawrence’s powerful description of Paul’s relationships makes this a novel as much for the beginning of the twenty-first century as it was for the beginning of the twentieth.

* * * * *

Thriller

The Turn of the Key edited by Ruth Ware

Courtesy of Harvill Secker via NetGalley. I loved Ruth Ware’s last book, The Death of Mrs Westaway, so have high hopes of this one!

The Blurb says: When she stumbles across the advert, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten by the luxurious ‘smart’ home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and her in a cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she’s made mistakes. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Full of spellbinding menace, The Turn of the Key is a gripping modern-day haunted house thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

* * * * *

Fiction on Audio

Queen Lucia by EF Benson narrated by Nadia May

When I recently reviewed Benson’s excellent mystery novel, The Blotting Book, fellow blogger Calmgrove reminded me that he was also the writer of the Mapp and Lucia books. I did read one or two of these back in the day but can’t remember which, so it seems logical to go for the first in the series…

The Blurb says: The fascinating story of the village of Riseholme’s reigning queen of high society: the indomitable Lucia!

England between the wars was a paradise of utter calm and leisure for the very, very rich. But into this enclave is born Mrs. Emmeline Lucas – La Lucia, as she is known – a woman determined to lead a life quite different from the pomp and subdued nature of her class. With her cohort, Georgie Pillson, and her husband, Peppino, she upends the greats of high society, including the imperious Lady Ambermere and her equally imperious dog, Pug; the odious Piggy and Goosie Antrobus; the Christian Scientist Daisy Quantrock, with her penchant for the foreign; and everyone else in the small English town that the wealthy Britons call their country home. Beset on all sides by pretenders to her social throne, Lucia brings culture, the fine arts, and a great deal of excitement and intrigue into this cloistered realm.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Breton went steadily forward along the road. That was easy work, but when he turned off and began to thread his way up the fell-side by what was obviously no more than a sheep-track, Spargo’s troubles began. It seemed to him that he was walking as in a nightmare; all that he saw was magnified and heightened; the darkening sky above; the faint outlines of the towering hills; the gaunt spectres of fir and pine; the figure of Breton forging stolidly and surely ahead. Now the ground was soft and spongy under his feet; now it was stony and rugged; more than once he caught an ankle in the wire-like heather and tripped, bruising his knees. And in the end he resigned himself to keeping his eye on Breton, outlined against the sky, and following doggedly in his footsteps.

* * * * *

….Next, there is the image of a garden: not the Bibighar garden but the garden of the MacGregor House: intense sunlight, deep and complex shadows. The range of green is extraordinary, palest lime, bitter emerald, mid-tones, neutral tints. The textures of the leaves are many and varied, they communicate themselves through sight to imaginary touch, exciting the finger-tips: leaves coming into the tenderest flesh, superbly in their prime, crisping to an old age; all this at the same season because here there is no autumn. In the shadows there are dark blue veils, the indigo dreams of plants fallen asleep, and odours of sweet and necessary decay, numerous places layered with the cast-off fruit of other years softened into compost, feeding the living roots that lie under the garden massively, in hungry immobility.
….From the house there is the sound of a young girl singing. She sings a raga, the song of the young bride saying goodbye to her parents, before setting out on the journey to her new home far away.

* * * * *

….“Well, gentlemen, everybody in the world now knows what I found that night. The man who called himself Doctor Charles – we never found another name for him – was lying on his face on the floor. He had been shot clean between the eyes. The door was locked on the inside and the key was on the mat. There was also a bolt on the door which was thrust firmly home. On a table near the body were two roughly drawn maps, without lettering, and I remember getting a thick ear from my superior when I suggested that one of them traced exactly the itinerary of the Ripper murders of eighty-eight. But the most extraordinary thing was that there was no revolver either in the room or anywhere in the house. There was a thorough police search – and I need not tell you what that means. To all intents and purposes the man died in a box sealed from the inside, and the gun he was shot with might well have been a phantom. There was never a trace of it found anywhere.”

From Room to Let by Margery Allingham

* * * * *

….Seated at a small table surrounded by graven idols, the windows closed to the boiling air, he drank sassafras beer and agreed with his host about the weather and dismissed his apologies for making him endure it to come all this way. That said, D’Ortega swiftly got to business. Disaster had struck. Jacob had heard about it, but listened politely with a touch of compassion to the version this here client/debtor recounted. D’Ortega’s ship had been anchored a nautical mile from shore for a month waiting for a vessel, due any day, to replenish what he had lost. A third of his cargo had died of ship fever. Fined five thousand pounds of tobacco by the Lord Proprietarys’ magistrate for throwing their bodies too close to the bay; forced to scoop up the corpses – those they could find (they used pikes and nets, D’Ortega said, a purchase which itself cost two pounds, six) – and ordered to burn or bury them. He’d had to pile them in two drays (six shillings), cart them out to low land where saltweed and alligators would finish the work.

* * * * *

….“How do I know?” said Mrs. Oliver crossly. “How do I know why I ever thought of the revolting man? I must have been mad! Why a Finn when I know nothing about Finland? Why a vegetarian? Why all the idiotic mannerisms he’s got? These things just happen. You try something – and people seem to like it – and then you go on – and before you know where you are, you’ve got someone like that maddening Sven Hjerson tied to you for life. And people even write and say how fond you must be of him. Fond of him? If I met that bony gangling vegetable eating Finn in real life, I’d do a better murder than any I’ve ever invented.”

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So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 208…

Episode 208

A huge drop in the TBR this week – down 3 to 223! I wish I could say this is because I’ve been racing through piles of great books, but it’s actually because several have been consigned to the garbage…

Here are a few more that I should be reading soon

History

The Hour of Peril by Daniel Stashower

This one was very kindly sent to me by a blog buddy who clearly knows my tastes very well! Civil War-era history, political conspiracy and an edge of true crime complete with famous detective Allan Pinkerton – sounds great!  

The Blurb says: Daniel Stashower, the two-time Edgar award-winning author of The Beautiful Cigar Girl, uncovers the riveting true story of the Baltimore Plot, an audacious conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln on the eve of the Civil War.

In February of 1861, just days before he assumed the presidency, Abraham Lincoln faced a clear and fully-matured threat of assassination as he traveled by train from Springfield to Washington for his inauguration. Over a period of thirteen days the legendary detective Allan Pinkerton worked feverishly to detect and thwart the plot, assisted by a captivating young widow named Kate Warne, America’s first female private eye. As Lincoln’s train rolled inexorably toward the seat of danger, Pinkerton struggled to unravel the ever-changing details of the murder plot, even as he contended with the intractability of Lincoln and his advisors, who refused to believe that the danger was real. With time running out Pinkerton took a desperate gamble, staking Lincoln’s life and the future of the nation on a perilous feint that seemed to offer the only chance that Lincoln would survive to become president.

Shrouded in secrecy and, later, mired in controversy, the story of the Baltimore Plot is one of the great untold tales of the Civil War era, and Stashower has crafted this spellbinding historical narrative with the pace and urgency of a race-against-the-clock thriller.

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Classic Science Fiction

The Question Mark by Muriel Jaeger

Courtesy of the British Library. Not content with feeding my addiction for vintage crime, the BL is now intent on getting me hooked on vintage sci-fi. Not that I’m complaining… quite the reverse! I prefer older SF to contemporary stuff by far, because it tends to concentrate less on science and technology and more on humanity…

The Blurb says: In 1926 Muriel Jaeger, dissatisfied with the Utopian visions of H G Wells and Edward Bellamy, set out to explore ‘The Question Mark’ of what a future society might look like if human nature were properly represented. So, disgruntled London office worker Guy Martin is pitched 200 years into the future, where he encounters a seemingly ideal society in which each citizen has the luxury of every kind of freedom. But as Guy adjusts to the new world, the fractures of this supposed Utopia begin to show through, and it seems as if the inhabitants of this society might be just as susceptible to the promises of false messiahs as those of the twentieth century. Preceding the publication of Huxley’s Brave New World by 5 years, The Question Mark is a significant cornerstone in the foundation of the Dystopia genre, and an impressive and unjustly neglected work of literary science fiction. This edition brings the novel back into print for the first time since its original publication.

* * * * *

Historical Fiction

The Second Sleep edited by Robert Harris

Courtesy of Hutchinson. A new release from Robert Harris is always a major event in my reading life and this one sounds very intriguing – a little different from his usual, perhaps…

The Blurb says: 1468. A young priest, Christopher Fairfax, arrives in a remote English village to conduct the funeral of his predecessor. The land around is strewn with ancient artefacts–coins, fragments of glass, human bones–which the old parson used to collect. Did his obsession with the past lead to his death?

Fairfax becomes determined to discover the truth. Over the course of the next six days, everything he believes–about himself, his faith and the history of his world–will be tested to destruction.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime

Murder in the Mill-Race by ECR Lorac

Courtesy of the British Library again! ECR Lorac has become one of my favourites of the authors the BL has been re-issuing, so I’m delighted they’ve brought out another. Her settings are always one of her strengths, so I’m looking forward to a trip to Devon…

The Blurb says: When Dr Raymond Ferens moves to a practice at Milham in the Moor in North Devon, he and his wife are enchanted with the beautiful hilltop village lying so close to moor and sky. At first they see only its charm, but soon they begin to uncover its secrets – envy, hatred and malice.

Everyone says that Sister Monica, warden of a children’s home, is a saint – but is she? A few months after the Ferens’ arrival her body is found drowned in the mill race. Chief Inspector Macdonald faces one of his most difficult cases in a village determined not to betray its dark secrets to a stranger.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

TBR Thursday 207…

Episode 207

I’ve been reading up a storm this last week, but the books have continued to arrive in droves meaning that the TBR has only gone down by 1 – to 226. Still, at least that means I’m going in the right direction, eh?

Here are a few more I should be reading soon. In fact, I’ve started a couple of them. Well, in actual fact, I’ve also finished one of them – Sanditon. Must try to synch these posts better…

Fiction

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Next up for my 5 x 5 Challenge, to read 5 books from 5 selected authors. I’m ambivalent about Steinbeck – I think he writes like a dream but I find him emotionally manipulative and with a tendency to cross the line between pathos and bathos. I gave 5 stars to The Grapes of Wrath and abandoned Cannery Row. So this one could go either way…

The Blurb says: Like his father and grandfather before him, Kino is a poor diver, gathering pearls from the gulf beds that once brought great wealth to the Kings of Spain and now provide Kino, Juana, and their infant son with meager subsistence. Then, on a day like any other, Kino emerges from the sea with a pearl as large as a sea gull’s egg, as “perfect as the moon.” With the pearl comes hope, the promise of comfort and of security….

A story of classic simplicity, based on a Mexican folk tale, The Pearl explores the secrets of man’s nature, the darkest depths of evil, and the luminous possibilities of love.

* * * * *

Classics

Sanditon by Jane Austen

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. Despite my love affair with Jane Austen, I’ve never read her unfinished novel, Sanditon, so when I saw OWC were publishing a new edition I couldn’t resist. Apparently there’s going to be a new TV adaptation next year, and I always prefer to have read the book first…

The Blurb says: In Sanditon, Jane Austen writes what may well be the first seaside novel: a novel, that is, that explores the mysterious and startling transformations that a stay by the sea can work on individuals and relationships. Sanditon is a fictitious place on England’s south coast and the obsession of local landowner Mr Thomas Parker. He means to transform this humble fishing village into a fashionable health resort to rival its famous neighbours of Brighton and Eastbourne.

The seaside holiday was invented in the eighteenth century, with resorts springing up along England’s extensive coastline to take advantage of the craze for salt-water bathing. For Jane Austen, a keen bather, the seaside was a place where the female body might enjoy unusual permitted freedom. In Persuasion, the novel she finished only months before she began Sanditon, the sea and coast elicit rare moments of sensuous delight. In this her final, unfinished work, the dying writer sets aside her familiar subject matter, the country village with its settled community, for the transient and eccentric assortment of people who drift to the new resort, the town built upon sand. If the ground beneath her characters’ feet appears less secure, Austen’s own vision is opening out. Light and funny, Sanditon is her most experimental and poignant work.

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Vintage Crime Shorts

Bodies from the Library 2 edited by Tony Medawar

Courtesy of HarperCollins. This one popped unexpectedly through my letterbox a couple of weeks ago. It sounds great, and so me, with lots of my favourite Golden Age authors included and loads more for me to meet for the first time…

The Blurb says: This second volume is a showcase for popular figures of the Golden Age, in stories that even their most ardent fans will not be aware of. It includes uncollected and unpublished stories by acclaimed queens and kings of crime fiction, from Helen Simpson, Ethel Lina White, E.C.R. Lorac, Christianna Brand, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, to S.S. Van Dine, Jonathan Latimer, Clayton Rawson, Cyril Alington and Antony and Peter Shaffer (writing as Peter Antony).

This book also features two highly readable radio scripts by Margery Allingham (involving Jack the Ripper) and John Rhode, plus two full-length novellas – one from a rare magazine by Q Patrick, the other an unpublished Gervase Fen mystery by Edmund Crispin, written at the height of his career. It concludes with another remarkable discovery: ‘The Locked Room’ by Dorothy L. Sayers, a never-before-published case for Lord Peter Wimsey!

Selected and introduced by Tony Medawar, who also provides fascinating pen portraits of each author, Bodies in the Library 2 is an indispensable collection for any bookshelf.

* * * * *

New Fiction

Night for Day by Patrick Flanery

Courtesy of Atlantic Books. Patrick Flanery is right at the top of my list of favourite contemporary authors, writing fiction with strong political themes mixed with a deep understanding of humanity. He’s won my Book of the Year Award twice, for Absolution and Fallen Land, (which I think is a Great American Novel). So this has to be in the running for my most anticipated read of the year…

The Blurb says: Los Angeles, 1950. Over the course of a single day, two friends grapple with the moral and professional uncertainties of the escalating Communist witch-hunt in Hollywood. Director John Marsh races to convince his actress wife not to turn informant for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, while leftist screenwriter Desmond Frank confronts the possibility of exile to live and work without fear of being blacklisted. As Marsh and Frank struggle to complete shooting on their film She Turned Away, which updates the myth of Orpheus to the gritty noir underworld of post-war Los Angeles, the chaos of their private lives pushes them towards a climactic confrontation with complicity, jealousy, and fear.

Night for Day conjures a feverish vision of one of the country’s most notorious periods of national crisis, illuminating the eternal dilemma of both art and politics: how to make the world anew. At once a definitively American novel, echoing Philip Roth and Raymond Chandler, it also nods to the mythic landscapes of Dante and the iconoclastic playfulness of James Joyce. With as much to say about the early years of the Cold War as about the political and social divisions that continue to divide the country today, Night for Day is expansive in scope and yet tenderly intimate, exploring the subtleties of belonging and the enormity of exile—not only from one’s country but also from one’s self.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

TBR Thursday 206…

Episode 206

Well, if I’d written this little blurb yesterday as I should have done, I’d have been boasting that the TBR hadn’t increased since I last reported. Sadly, due to heat apathy, Mueller monosyllables and Boris bedlam, I’m writing it now instead… and the postman’s been! Up 3 to 227, and not a single one of them is made out of ice-cream…

Here are a few more that I should be reading soon if I don’t melt (a couple I’ve started already, in fact). I seem to be having a vintage week, by accident rather than design…

Fairy Tales

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. Snow White and Other Tales is the latest in their hardback range of collected short stories which I’ve been loving so far, both for the content and for the lovely books themselves, which are always much more vibrant and gorgeous than the cover pics suggest …

The Blurb says: The tales gathered by the Grimm brothers are at once familiar, fantastic, homely, and frightening. They seem to belong to no time, or to some distant feudal age of fairytale imagining. Grand palaces, humble cottages, and the forest full of menace are their settings; and they are peopled by kings and princesses, witches and robbers, millers and golden birds, stepmothers and talking frogs.

Regarded from their inception both as uncozy nursery stories and as raw material for the folklorist the tales were in fact compositions, collected from literate tellers and shaped into a distinctive kind of literature. This translation mirrors the apparent artlessness of the Grimms, and fully represents the range of less well-known fables, morality tales, and comic stories as well as the classic tales. It takes the stories back to their roots in German Romanticism and includes variant stories and tales that were deemed unsuitable for children. In her fascinating introduction, Joyce Crick explores their origins, and their literary evolution at the hands of the Grimms.

* * * * *

Fiction

One for my 5 x 5 Challenge from the wonderful William McIlvanney. So far I’ve loved everything of his I’ve read – will this one continue that trend? I haven’t read any short stories by him before. I wonder if they’ll be as short as the blurb…

The Blurb says: These are the stories of the casualties of social and emotional struggle, who defy defeat with humour, resilience, and inspiring faith in their dreams. The walking wounded. These are the stories of ordinary people.

* * * * *

Fiction

Another 5 x 5 Challenge book, and also one of my 20 Books of Summer. My reaction to Toni Morrison has been mixed – loved Beloved but wasn’t so blown away by Song of Solomon. Maybe that’s good since it means I’ll be approaching this one with more realistic expectations…

The Blurb says: On the day that Jacob, an Anglo-Dutch trader, agrees to accept a slave in lieu of payment for a debt from a plantation owner, little Florens’s life changes irrevocably. With her keen intelligence and passion for wearing the cast-off shoes of her mistress, Florens has never blurred into the background and now at the age of eight she is uprooted from her family to begin a new life with a new master. She ends up part of Jacob’s household, along with his wife Rebekka, Lina their Native American servant, and the enigmatic Sorrow who was rescued from a shipwreck. Together these women face the trials of their harsh environment as Jacob attempts to carve out a place for himself in the brutally unforgiving landscape of North America in the seventeenth century.

* * * * *

Christie on Audio

I find these Hugh Fraser narrations are giving a new lease of life to all these Christies I’ve read and re-read over the years. This is one I don’t remember so well, so I’m looking forward to rediscovering it…

The Blurb says: An old widow is brutally killed in the parlour of her cottage…

Mrs McGinty died from a brutal blow to the back of her head. Suspicion fell immediately on her shifty lodger, James Bentley, whose clothes revealed traces of the victim’s blood and hair. Yet something was amiss: Bentley just didn’t look like a murderer.

Poirot believed he could save the man from the gallows – what he didn’t realise was that his own life was now in great danger…

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

Six in Six 2019

A half-year retrospective…


This fun meme is run by Jo of The Book Jotter. The idea is to look back over the first six months of the reading year, select six categories from the selection Jo provides or create your own categories, and then find six books you’ve read between January and June to fit each category. It’s my second time of joining in, and I loved looking for patterns in my reading, though I found it harder this year – I seem to have been reading lots and lots of various types of crime and not a lot of much else! But I’ve squeezed out Six in Six categories and avoided duplication, and all my choices are books I’d recommend… except one. But I won’t be so mean as to name and shame it, so it can bask temporarily in the glow of inclusion…

Six Vintage Crime

I remain happily steeped in vintage crime this year, thanks largely to the wonderful British Library Crime Classics and my ongoing Murder, Mystery and Mayhem challenge…

The Colour of Murder

The Blotting Book

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery

Death of an Airman

Smallbone Deceased

The Secret Adversary

Six Historical Fiction

There’s other historical fiction dotted around the six categories – I seem to be attracted more to historical than contemporary fiction at the moment, though I haven’t consciously been selecting books on that basis. This is the category that contains the book I didn’t love – but perhaps you would be blind to its faults…

My Cousin Rachel

Love is Blind

Dunstan

Wakenhyrst

The Elephant’s Journey

Three Bullets

Six Crime New Releases

I haven’t read much new crime this year but happily the ones I’ve chosen have turned out well, and I don’t think those two facts are unconnected. Cutting down on impulse picks on NetGalley and doing a bit of research means that the books that are squeezing onto my overstuffed TBR are tending to be of higher quality… or at least more to my taste…

The Katharina Code

The Plotters

The Man With No Face

Cruel Acts

Critical Incidents

Deadland

Six for the Classics Club

I’m still desperately trying to catch up with my Classics Club list, and am thoroughly enjoying it – there’s a reason books become classics! My love affair with Oxford World’s Classics continues, who are feeding my addiction and whose introductions make for better informed reviews – in theory, at least!

Tarzan of the Apes

The Riddle of the Sands

Little Dorrit

The Fair Maid of Perth

Bath Tangle

The Expedition of Humphry Clinker

Six True Crime

After a few years of reading heavyweight history I needed a bit of a break and something lighter to fill the factual slot in my reading schedule. What better than a bit of true crime?

In Cold Blood

The Adversary

American Heiress

Killers of the Flower Moon

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective

Furious Hours

Six Great Fiction

As with contemporary crime, I’ve been far more selective about fiction this year, so I haven’t read much but the quality has been excellent. All of these are great reads.

The Night Tiger

The Dakota Winters

Night Theatre

The Kiln

Go Set a Watchman

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World

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So that’s my six sixes, and they tell me I’ve had a fabulous reading year so far! As usual, I’m late to the party but Jo gives us till the end of July, so if you haven’t already joined in you still have time – it’s a wonderful way to waste spend some time!

Here’s to the next six months! 😀

TBR Thursday 205…

A seventh batch of murder, mystery and mayhem…

I’m still going slowly with this challenge although I’m reading lots of other vintage crime too. So many great books are being re-issued now, it’s like having access to a long-buried treasure trove!

I haven’t finished reading and reviewing all of the books from the sixth batch of MMM books, but I’ve acquired a couple of review copies of ones recently re-issued, meaning I have to make some changes to the priority list. So here goes for the seventh batch…

The Curious Mr Tarrant by C. Daly King

This one is a collection of short stories rather than a novel, and mostly of the “impossible crime” or “locked room” variety. The original eight stories are the ones Edwards includes in his list, but the currently available edition contains another four, written at later dates.

The Blurb says: “The Most Imaginative Detective Stories of Our Times.” So wrote Ellery Queen about The Curious Mr. Tarrant, an extraordinary collection of detective stories by Charles Daly King (1895-1963). The cases solved by Trevis Tarrant, during the early 1930’s, assisted by his manservant (who is in actuality a Japanese spy) include locked rooms, headless corpses, a vanishing harp, and newly built but haunted house, and other bizarre events. With the encouragement of Ellery Queen, King wrote four additional stories about Mr. Tarrant, some of them becoming “curiouser and curiouser.” They include the case of a Hollywood star who disappears from a locked suite of rooms, in a house surrounded by detectives, and the murder solved only because of the absence of a fish. These additional stories along with the original eight tales are included in The Complete Curious Mr. Tarrant. Introduction by Edward D. Hoch.

Challenge details

Book No: 92

Subject Heading: Across the Atlantic

Publication Year: 1935

Martin Edwards says: “King’s work illustrates the truth that, alongside the more acclaimed ‘hard-boiled’ crime fiction of the era, some of the most remarkable Golden Age mysteries were written by American authors.

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Case for Three Detectives by Leo Bruce

While the author’s name means nothing to me, Sergeant Beef is ringing all kinds of bells. I feel I must have come across him when I was reading my way through my sister’s vast crime collection in my teens. Can’t remember if I liked him though… 

The Blurb says: Possibly the most unusual mystery ever written. A murder is committed, behind closed doors, in bizarre circumstances. Three amateur detectives take the case: Lord Simon Plimsoll, Monsieur Amer Picon, and Monsignor Smith (in whom discerning readers will note likeness to some familiar literary figures). Each arrives at his own brilliant solution, starting in its originality, ironclad in its logic. Meanwhile Sergeant Beef sits contemptuously in the background. “But,” says Sergeant Beef, “I know who done it!”

Challenge details

Book No: 48

Subject Heading: Making Fun of Murder

Publication Year: 1936

Edwards says: “Lord Simon Plimsoll, Amer Picon and Monsignor Smith are thinly disguised versions of Wimsey, Poirot and Father Brown, and the mannerisms, dialogue and methods of detection familiar from the originals are captured wittily and with considerable skill.

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The Case of Miss Elliott by Baroness Orczy

Courtesy of Pushkin Vertigo via NetGalley. Another collection of short stories, and I do remember reading stories about The Old Man in the Corner when I was young – the sleuth whom Pushkin now appear to be calling the Teahouse Detective, which is a baffling mystery in itself…

The Blurb says: Classic mysteries by the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

In the corner of the ABC teashop on Norfolk Street, Polly Burton of the Evening Observer sets down her morning paper, filled with news of the latest outrages, and eagerly waits for her mysterious acquaintance to begin. For no matter how ghastly or confounding the crime, or how fiendishly tangled the plot, the Teahouse Detective can invariably find the solution without leaving the comfort of his café seat.

What did happen that tragic night to Miss Elliott? Who knows the truth about the stolen Black Diamonds? And what sinister workings are behind the curious disappearance of Count Collini? The police may be baffled, but rare is the mystery that eludes the brilliant Teahouse Detective.

Challenge details

Book No: 3

Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns

Publication Year: 1905

Edwards says: “The story-telling formula, although inherently limited, was neat and original, and the book enjoyed considerable popularity; it was included in the tiny library taken by Sir Ernest Shackleton on his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1915.

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Family Matters by Anthony Rolls

Courtesy of the British Library – one from their back catalogue of Crime Classics. I enjoyed their later re-issue of the author’s Scarweather, so am looking forward to this one…

The Blurb says: Robert Arthur Kewdingham is an eccentric failure of a man. In middle age he retreats into a private world, hunting for Roman artifacts and devoting himself to bizarre mystical beliefs. Robert’s wife, Bertha, feels that there are few things more dreadful than a husband who will persist in making a fool of himself in public. Their marriage consists of horrible quarrels, futile arguments, incessant bickering. Scarcely any friends will visit the Kewdinghams in their peaceful hometown Shufflecester.

Everything is wrong – and with the entrance of John Harrigall, a bohemian bachelor from London who catches Bertha’s eye, they take a turn for the worse. Soon deep passions and resentments shatter the calm façade of the Kewdinghams’ lives.

This richly characterised and elegantly written crime novel from 1933 is a true forgotten classic.

Challenge details

Book No: 81

Subject Heading: The Ironists

Publication Year: 1933

Edwards says: Family Matters [earned] a rapturous review from Dorothy L. Sayers in The Sunday Times: ‘The characters are quite extraordinarily living, and the atmosphere of the horrid household creeps over one like a miasma.’

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All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.
The quotes from Martin Edwards are from his book,
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

TBR Thursday 204… and Quarterly Round-Up

TBR Quarterly Report

At the New Year, as I do every year, I set myself some targets for my various reading challenges and for the reduction of my ever-expanding TBR. I was doing pretty well at the first check-in at the end of March, but I always start off full of enthusiasm. It’s the summer months that do for me – I read less, and lots of new shiny books have appeared so that my commitment to my challenges goes a bit wobbly.

So here we are – the second check-in of the year…

Uh-oh! It’s all beginning to go horribly wrong again! The MMM challenge is going fine, and I’m just about keeping the new releases under control. But the other challenges are sooooooo behind! Partly this is because I haven’t read much for the last few weeks, and also the classics I’ve read this year have been some of the chunkier ones. But even so. Some swift remedial work will be required. Look out for lots of classics and stuff over the next three months…

The TBR hasn’t dropped much, but thanks to yet another bout of rigorous (and emotionally devastating) culling, the more important combined TBR/wishlist reduction is well on track! I might be a loser, but I’m also a winner!

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The Around the World in 80 Books Challenge

Last check-in was in March, and this quarter I’ve visited a couple of places and been on a trek across Europe!

On the Main Journey (made by the characters in Around the World in 80 Days) I helped investigate a murder with Inspector Chen of the Shanghai police in Qiu Xiaolong’s excellent Death of a Red Heroine. Then I travelled from Portugal through Spain, over the sea to Italy and finally to Austria in José Saramago’s whimsical The Elephant’s Journey, ticking off the tricky elephant travel box as I went.

I had only one detour this quarter, but it’s one of the best trips I’ve taken, and I’d probably never have gone had it not been for this challenge – which is why I love it! Leila and her friends took me on a life-affirming tour of the underbelly of Istanbul in Elif Shafak’s wonderful 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in this Strange World.

To see the full challenge including the Main Journey and all detours, click here.

63 down, 17 to go!

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The Classics Club

I’ve reviewed just three books from my Classics Club list this quarter and have one other pending…

42. The Fair Maid of Perth by Sir Walter Scott – 5 bright and twinkling stars for this excellent Scottish classic – a historical novel that tells the story of Catherine Glover, the Fair Maid, who is beloved by the town’s famed armourer, Henry Smith of the Wynd. But she has also caught the eye of the pleasure loving and dissolute Earl of Rothsay, eldest son and heir to King Robert III. Great story, great writing, great book!

43. Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer – Heyer’s Regency romances are the ultimate in comfort reading. This one wasn’t my favourite because I wasn’t so keen on the rather bullying hero and heroine, but there are some great secondary characters and it’s always fun to visit Bath. 4 stars.

44. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett – 5 stars again for another Scottish classic (am I biased? I think I might be…). Matthew Bramble, hypochondriac and charitable Welsh gentleman with a choleric temper and a humorously jaundiced view of life, takes his family on a journey round Britain seeking benefit to his health. As each member of the party writes letters to their friends we see the country and its regional customs through their eyes, meeting with some interesting and often eccentric characters, and being witness to some hilarious (and some not so hilarious) episodes along the way.

I should be at about the three-fifths mark now, so I’m a good bit behind. I’ll need to do some intensive Classics reading over the next few months!

44 down, 46 to go!

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Murder Mystery Mayhem

I’ve done a bit of catching up on this over the last three months, having reviewed five and with another one pending. Another challenge I’m thoroughly enjoying, being constantly surprised by the variety of styles and the wide range in tone, all the way from humour to near noir. To see the full challenge, click here.

24.  Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert –  When a rather decaying corpse turns up in a deed box in a lawyer’s office, Inspector Hazlerigg enlists the help of one of the new lawyers to investigate. Loved this one – 5 stars.

25.  Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers – oh dear! I really can’t stand Sayers’ snobbery and it’s out in full force here. Plus the plotting is fundamentally silly and the solution is a major cop-out. Just 2 stars.

26.  Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg – when an experienced flying instructor crashes everyone is ready to write it off as a tragic accident. Everyone except for the Bishop of Cootamundra, that is, a pupil at the flying school. The plotting is messy and crosses the credibility line by miles, but the characterisation and gentle humour make up for it. 4 stars.

27.  The Blotting Book by EF Benson – well-meaning but greedy trustee Edward Taynton has been gambling with his client’s inheritance. When it looks as if this might be revealed before he can fix it, things begin to go very wrong. A thoroughly enjoyable, if not very mystifying, novella-length mystery – 5 stars.

28.  The Red Redmaynes by Eden Phillpotts – When Inspector Mark Brendon is investigating a murder, he is hampered by the fact that he has fallen head over heels in love with the victim’s lovely young widow. Great settings – Dartmoor and Italy – and a surprisingly modern-feeling motivation for the crime make up for the rather messy structure and some implausibility. 4 stars.

28 down, 74 to go!

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5 x 5 Challenge

Finally! I managed to actually review a couple for this challenge this quarter! Still going very slowly with it, though…

3.  Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. Sadly, this one failed to meet my perhaps over-high expectations. The story of an African-American man learning about his history and thus finding his own identity is filled with symbolism that didn’t seem to symbolise much, to me at least, and it’s filled with repeated scenes of ugliness and brutality. The excellent prose didn’t quite cover its weaknesses. 3 stars.

4.  The Kiln by William McIlvanney. As Tam Docherty is on his way home to the Ayrshire town where he was born and bred, he is visited by memories of his childhood and adolescence, his later life and marriage, but mostly of the summer of 1955 when, between leaving school and going to University, he worked in the local brickworks for a few months, and learned a little about life, girls and himself. Loved this sequel to the wonderful Docherty – together the two books tell the story of the working classes in Scotland through the twentieth century. 5 stars.

4 down, 21 to go!

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I may not have met my targets this quarter, but I’ve still read some jolly fine books!
I’m taking a Wimbledon break now, so I’ll see you in a week or so.

Meantime, thank you for joining me on my reading adventures and…

Here’s to more great reading next quarter! 😀

TBR Thursday 203…

Episode 203

Well, people, I’ve read nothing this week. Nada. Zilch. Don’t ask me why – I don’t know. Don’t ask me what I’ve been doing with all that extra time I must have had to do other things in – I don’t know. Don’t ask me when I’m suddenly going to start reading again – I don’t know. Don’t ask me when I’ll ever write the outstanding reviews that have been waiting so long I’ve pretty much forgotten the books – I don’t know. Don’t ask me how many books are on my TBR – I don….

Oh, OK, I do know the answer to that last one actually. Up 2 again to 224, which considering I haven’t finished a book since 18th June isn’t as bad as it might be. Don’t you judge me!

Here are a few more that I should be reading soon, but don’t ask me when – I don’t know…

All oldies this week and all from my 20 Books of Summer list, which would be going much better if I was actually reading…

Historical Fiction

This is a re-read of a book which I remember enjoying so I should be on safe ground with it. And it will complete another of the Main Journey destinations on my Around the World challenge…

The Blurb says: India 1942: everything is in flux. World War II has shown that the British are not invincible and the self-rule lobby is gaining many supporters. Against this background, Daphne Manners, a young English girl, is brutally raped in the Bibighat Gardens. The racism, brutality and hatred launched upon the head of her young Indian lover echo the dreadful violence perpetrated on Daphne and reveal the desperate state of Anglo-Indian relations. The rift that will eventually prise India – the jewel in the Imperial Crown – from colonial rule is beginning to gape wide.

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Spy Thriller

I might be the only person in the entire blogosphere who has never read a le Carré novel, but that’s about to change! This one is from my Classics Club list…

The Blurb says: Alex Leamas is tired. It’s the 1960s, he’s been out in the cold for years, spying in Berlin for his British masters, and has seen too many good agents murdered for their troubles. Now Control wants to bring him in at last – but only after one final assignment.

He must travel deep into the heart of Communist Germany and betray his country, a job that he will do with his usual cynical professionalism. But when George Smiley tries to help a young woman Leamas has befriended, Leamas’s mission may prove to be the worst thing he could ever have done.

In le Carré’s breakthrough work of 1963, the spy story is reborn as a gritty and terrible tale of men who are caught up in politics beyond their imagining. With a new introduction by William Boyd and an afterword by le Carré himself.

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Science Fiction

Another from my Classics Club list and the winner of the last Classic Club spin, although I’m very late reading it. Have I read it before or haven’t I? I don’t know! I certainly feel as if I know the story but I’ve realised that with a lot of these classics I think I’ve read long ago, I probably actually know them from a film or TV adaptation. Time will tell…

The Blurb says: After a nuclear World War III has destroyed most of the globe, the few remaining survivors in southern Australia await the radioactive cloud that is heading their way and bringing certain death to everyone in its path. Among them is an American submarine captain struggling to resist the knowledge that his wife and children in the United States must be dead. Then a faint Morse code signal is picked up, transmitting from somewhere near Seattle, and Captain Towers must lead his submarine crew on a bleak tour of the ruined world in a desperate search for signs of life. On the Beach is a remarkably convincing portrait of how ordinary people might face the most unimaginable nightmare.

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Don’t know what to categorise it as…

Oh, dear! After my reaction to Book 1 in the Jackson Brodie sorta-crime/maybe-literary/possibly-contemporary/maybe-none-of-the-above series, I can’t say I’m looking forward to this one at all. But at least my expectations are so low that if it surprises me this time, it can only be in a good way…

The Blurb says: It is summer, it is the Edinburgh Festival. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road-rage incident – a near-homicidal attack which changes the lives of everyone involved. Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, ex-private detective, is also an innocent bystander – until he becomes a murder suspect.

As the body count mounts, each member of the teeming Dickensian cast’s story contains a kernel of the next, like a set of nesting Russian dolls. They are all looking for love or money or redemption or escape: but what each actually discovers is their own true self.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

TBR Thursday 202…

Episode 202

Aha, you doubters! Last week’s increase was a temporary blip! This week the TBR is back down – by 2 to 222. Cause for celebration…

Here are a few more that will be sashaying off the list soon…

Factual

Courtesy of Oxford University Press. A nicely quirky way to tell the story of some of the women recognised by scientists but often not well known to us lesser mortals. I had a quick look at the list of names and am ashamed to admit to only recognising about five of them, so I’m looking forward to learning more about them all…

The Blurb says: Philosophers and poets in times past tried to figure out why the stainless moon “smoothly polished, like a diamond” in Dante’s words, had stains. The agreed solution was that, like a mirror, it reflected the imperfect Earth. Today we smile, but it was a clever way to understand the Moon in a manner that was consistent with the beliefs of their age. The Moon is no longer the “in” thing. We see it as often as the Sun and give it little thought ― we’ve become indifferent. However, the Moon does reflect more than just sunlight. The Moon, or more precisely the nomenclature of lunar craters, still holds up a mirror to an important aspect of human history. Of the 1586 craters that have been named honoring philosophers and scientists, only 28 honor a woman. These 28 women of the Moon present us with an opportunity to meditate on this gap, but perhaps more significantly, they offer us an opportunity to talk about their lives, mostly unknown today.

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Fiction

The book that’s been lingering on my TBR longest, since 20/6/2011, it seems about time I should actually read this one! It’s one of my 20 Books of Summer

The Blurb says: Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her not-so-innocent past in Glasgow, Bessy Buckley – the wide-eyed Irish heroine of The Observations – takes a job as a maid in a big house outside Edinburgh working for the beautiful Arabella. Bessy is intrigued by her new employer, but puzzled by her increasingly strange requests and her insistence that Bessy keep a journal of her most intimate thoughts. And it seems that Arabella has a few secrets of her own – including her near-obsessive affection for Nora, a former maid who died in mysterious circumstances.

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Classic Adventure

Another of my 20 Books and also one from my Classics Club list. I love Rider Haggard but have read surprisingly few of his books, tending to re-read the same ones again and again. So I’m looking forward to this one, which will be new to me…

The Blurb says: “Nada the Lily” is the thrilling story of the brave Zulu warrior Umslopogaas and his love for the most beautiful of Zulu women, Nada the Lily. Young Umslopogaas, son of the bloodthirsty Zulu king Chaka, is forced to flee when Chaka orders his death. In the adventures that ensue, Umslopogaas is carried away by a lion and then rescued by Galazi, king of an army of ghost-wolves.

Together, Umslopogaas and Galazi fight for glory and honour and to avenge their wrongs. With their fabled weapons, an axe called Groan-Maker and the club Watcher of the Woods, the two men become legendary warriors. But even these two unstoppable heroes may finally have met their match when the Zulu king sends his army of slayers to destroy them!

Although he is more famous for his romances “King Solomon’s Mines” (1885) and “She” (1887), the unjustly neglected “Nada the Lily” (1892) is one of H. Rider Haggard’s finest achievements. “Nada the Lily” is a dazzling blend of adventure, romance, fantasy, and the Gothic, brilliantly weaving fiction and history into an unforgettable tale.

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Vintage Crime

Courtesy of the British Library. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the other books of Bellairs the BL has already published, so am looking forward to meeting Inspector Littlejohn again…

The Blurb says: Following a mysterious explosion, the offices of Excelsior Joinery Company are no more; the 3 directors are killed and the peace of a quiet town in Surrey lies in ruins. When the supposed cause of ignited gas leak is dismissed and the presence of dynamite revealed, Superintendent Littlejohn of Scotland Yard is summoned to the scene.

But beneath the sleepy veneer of Evingden lies a hotbed of deep-seated grievances. Confounding Littlejohn’s investigation is an impressive cast of suspicious persons, each concealing their own axe to grind.

Bellairs’ novel of small-town grudges with calamitous consequences revels in the abundant possible solutions to the central crime as a masterpiece of misdirection.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

The Red Redmaynes by Eden Phillpotts

Blinded by love…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Inspector Mark Brendon is on a fishing holiday in Dartmoor when he first spots the lovely, ethereal, auburn-haired Jenny Pendean and falls instantly in love. Lucky for him, then, that she is promptly widowed, providing him with both a mystery to solve and a woman to woo. Less lucky for her husband, Michael. Jenny’s grandfather was a rich man and had left her a legacy, but only on condition that one of her three uncles approved her marriage. None of the three approved of Michael, though, in part because he wasn’t from the right class, but also because he managed to escape serving in the armed forces during WW1 (not bone spurs – a minor heart condition). However recently Uncle Robert had reached out to the young couple and seemed ready to accept Michael. But one night, after Robert and Michael had been working alone on the house Michael was building, neither man returns. The next day all that is found on the site is a pool of blood and signs of a body having been dragged away. Sightings of Robert making off on his motorcycle leave little doubt that he had killed Michael, probably in a fit of madness brought on by the shell-shock he had suffered in the war. Jenny begs Mark to find Robert…

This was first published in 1922 at the earliest stages of the Golden Age and, perhaps because of that, doesn’t follow the format that later became recognisable as the traditional mystery novel. It’s a bit rambling in parts, takes place over a period of more than a year, and the dénouement comes a few chapters before the end, followed by lengthy explanations and a round up of what happens to the surviving characters in their futures. It feels looser and not as well plotted as many of the later GA mysteries, though oddly I felt it was a good deal darker and more psychologically twisted than most of them too. I found a lot to enjoy in it, though I would have enjoyed it more had it been tighter and a bit more pacey.

Challenge details:
Book: 44
Subject Heading: Resorting to Murder
Publication Year: 1922

The first half takes place on Dartmoor and then on the weather-beaten coast of Devon, and Phillpotts uses these bleak landscapes effectively to create an atmosphere of impending doom. It transpires that Michael was merely the first victim – the murderer seems to want to destroy the remaining Redmaynes too, though no-one can understand his motives. In the second half, Jenny visits her uncle Albert at his home in Italy – again a well realised location – and when danger seems again to draw near, Albert reaches out to both Inspector Brendon and to Albert’s American friend, Peter Ganns, who happens to be a great detective. (Naturally, in such circumstances, one cannot put one’s faith in the Italian police, because after all they’re foreigners…)

This is another aspect of the book which makes it different from the standard – it appears as if Mark is going to be the central detective in the first half, but then, admittedly after Mark has proved his incompetence several times over, Ganns becomes the main man. And it’s he who will finally unravel the mystery. He’s hampered by having to rely on Mark as his sidekick, since Mark is so in love with Jenny his brain has turned to mush. Ganns points this out to him, but still Mark allows himself to get distracted at crucial moments. (One wonders if the Italian police could really have been less competent than the British and American ones…) Ganns is fun, in that I did wonder if Phillpotts had ever actually met an American or if he created the entire portrayal based on characters in pulp fiction of the day. Ganns seems to be a well educated, cultured man but sometimes slips into the kind of wise-guy speech of the fictional American PI or gangster, such as referring to women as “dames”. But he’s psychologically astute, which is more than can be said for poor Mark.

Eden Phillpotts

I had a reasonably good idea of the solution from fairly early on, although I was a bit baffled as to motive. And when the dénouement came and all was explained, it felt much more modern than I was expecting – definitely heading towards psychological thriller territory, which surprised me for a book from this early, and added considerably to the interest level.

Overall, then, despite some weaknesses and an odd format, I enjoyed this. The settings are particularly well done and I found aspects of it pretty original, especially for the time. Another author I’d be happy to meet again.

I downloaded this one from Project Gutenberg.

TBR Thursday 201…

Episode 201

Oh, dear! After all those weeks of it going down, the TBR has suddenly soared again! Up another 2 to 224…

Here are a few more that will reach the summit soon…

Classic Crime

One from my Classics Club list and also one of my 20 Books of Summer. I’ve never read this but have watched the film several times and loved it, so this is one where the book will have to try hard to compete with the movie…

The Blurb says: ‘They call me Mr Tibbs!’

A small southern town in the 1960s. A musician found dead on the highway. It’s no surprise when white detectives arrest a black man for the murder. What is a surprise is that the black man – Virgil Tibbs – is himself a skilled homicide detective from California, whom inexperienced Chief Gillespie reluctantly recruits to help with the case. Faced with mounting local hostility and a police force that seems determined to see him fail, it isn’t long before Tibbs – trained in karate and aikido – will have to fight not just for justice, but also for his own safety.

The inspiration for the Academy Award-winning film starring Sidney Poitier, this iconic crime novel is a psychologically astute examination of racial prejudice, an atmospheric depiction of the American South in the sixties, and a brilliant, suspense-filled read set in the sultry heat of the night.

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Fiction on Audio

One for my Five times Five challenge, this is the second book in Roth’s American Trilogy, narrated by Ron Silver. The first, American Pastoral, achieved The Great American Novel status in my occasional GAN Quest challenge. I’ve read this one before many years ago, and from memory I thought it was great but not quite as great as American Pastoral. However, I feel I know more about the subject matter now than I did back then, so it will be interesting to see if my opinion changes…

The Blurb says: Iron Rinn, born Ira Ringold, is a Newark roughneck, a radio actor, an idealistic Communist, and an educated ditchdigger turned popular performer. A six-foot, six-inch Abe Lincoln lookalike, he emerges from serving in World War II passionately committed to making the world a better place and instead winds up blacklisted, unemployable, and ruined by a brutal personal secret from which he is perpetually in flight. His life is in ruins.

On his way to political catastrophe, he marries the nation’s reigning radio actress and beloved silent film star, Eve Frame (born Chava Fromkin). Their marriage evolves from glamorous, romantic idyll to a disparaging soap opera of tears and treachery when Eve’s dramatic revelation to gossip columnist Bryden Grant of her husband’s life of espionage with the Soviet Union soon twists the couple’s private drama into a national scandal.

I Married a Communist is an American tragedy as only Philip Roth can conceive…fierce and comical, eloquently rendered, and definitely accurate.

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Crime

Courtesy of Harvill Secker via NetGalley. Another of my 20 Books of Summer, and I have high hopes for it after loving Mina’s last book, The Long Drop

The Blurb says: It’s just a normal morning for Anna McDonald. Gym kits, packed lunches, getting everyone up and ready. Until she opens the front door to her best friend, Estelle. Anna turns to see her own husband at the top of the stairs, suitcase in hand. They’re leaving together and they’re taking Anna’s two daughters with them.

Left alone in the big, dark house, Anna can’t think, she can’t take it in. With her safe, predictable world shattered, she distracts herself with a story: a true-crime podcast. There’s a sunken yacht in the Mediterranean, multiple murders and a hint of power and corruption. Then Anna realises she knew one of the victims in another life. She is convinced she knows what happened. Her past, so carefully hidden until now, will no longer stay silent.

This is a murder she can’t ignore, and she throws herself into investigating the case. But little does she know, her past and present lives are about to collide, sending everything she has worked so hard to achieve into freefall.

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Vintage Science Fiction

Courtesy of the British Library. As an addict of the BL’s Crime Classics, I’m thrilled that they’re now expanding their range into vintage sci-fi and horror. This collection of stories is billed as sci-fi, but I suspect that stories about machines will have more than an edge of horror to at least some of them…

The Blurb says: ‘“It’s a hazardous experiment,” they all said, “putting in new and untried machinery.”’

Caution – beware the menace of the machine: a man is murdered by an automaton built for playing chess; a computer system designed to arbitrate justice develops a taste for iron-fisted, fatal rulings; an AI wreaks havoc on society after removing all censorship from an early form of the internet.

Assembled with pieces by SF giants such as Murray Leinster and Brian W Aldiss as well as the less familiar but no less influential input of earlier science fiction pioneers, this new collection of classic tales contains telling lessons for humankind’s gradual march towards life alongside the thinking machine.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

The Blotting Book by EF Benson

An excellent vintage…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Morris Assheton is due to come into his inheritance when he’s twenty-five. However, a clause in his father’s will allows him to take control of his money earlier, should he marry a woman of whom his mother approves. Morris has met and fallen in love with just such a woman, so his trustee, Edward Taynton, suggests he might want to look over the accounts of the trust. Young Morris has other more important things to think of, though – his future wife, and his new car which he loves with at least as much fervour. This is lucky for Edward, since he and his partner Godfrey Mills have been gambling unsuccessfully with the trust funds. So all seems well, but things are about to go wrong and when they do, it will all lead to murder…

More of a long novella than a novel, this isn’t really a mystery, or at least the possibilities are so limited that most readers will be able to work out whodunit with a fair degree of certainty pretty early on. Instead, it’s an entertaining and quite insightful character study of the three main characters, Morris and the two trustees, and mostly of Edward Taynton.

Edward isn’t a bad man – in fact, his gambles were meant as much to benefit Morris as himself and he still hopes to make good the losses before the trust is wound up. He’s worked hard to give himself a comfortable life, and hopes to retire soon to enjoy life before he’s too old. But we see how he’s affected by pressure as his secret looks in danger. He makes some odd decisions, but happily manages to justify his behaviour himself. A kindly, friendly man whom everyone likes and respects – with a streak of narcissism hidden beneath the surface.

Morris too is a pleasant character, leading a contented, pampered and happy life and with every reason to expect that to continue. However, when things go wrong, suddenly he becomes filled with a rage that surprises everyone, including himself, by its intensity. Godfrey, Edward’s partner, is somewhat less well drawn, and to a degree is a bit of a plot device. He too suddenly behaves in a way that surprises his partner, but I didn’t feel I knew him nearly as well as the other characters so didn’t feel the same surprise.

Challenge details:
Book: 6
Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 1908

The murder happens quite late on and Benson builds a great atmosphere of approaching dread, with some fine dramatic writing…

Overclouded too was the sky, and as he stepped out into the street from his garden-room the hot air struck him like a buffet; and in his troubled and apprehensive mood it felt as if some hot hand warned him by a blow not to venture out of his house. But the house, somehow, in the last hour had become terrible to him, any movement or action, even on a day like this, when only madmen and the English go abroad, was better than the nervous waiting in his darkened room. Dreadful forces, forces of ruin and murder and disgrace, were abroad in the world of men; the menace of the low black clouds and stifling heat was more bearable. He wanted to get away from his house, which was permeated and soaked in association with the other two actors, who in company with himself, had surely some tragedy for which the curtain was already rung up.

EF Benson

After a police investigation in which the police show themselves to be sharper than the murderer anticipated, the whole thing winds up in a courtroom drama where there’s an excellent revelation around a physical clue that turns the prosecution’s whole case on its head at the last minute. It is fair play in that the reader was made aware of the clue at the appropriate place, but this reader, while I had spotted that it was A Clue, couldn’t work it out, which always adds to the fun!

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It can easily be read in an evening and my interest never flagged despite having very little doubt as to whodunit or how it would end. It’s the character of Edward that makes it entertaining – he may be a cheat and a fraudster, but I found him good company anyway. Highly recommended.

I downloaded this one from the excellent www.fadedpage.com