Shorts August 2022…

A Bunch of Minis…

I’m storming through the books at such an alarming rate at the moment that my reviewing is continually behind. So another little batch of three, all for the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge…

Books 13, 14 and 15

A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie

Read by Joan Hickson

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Rex Fortescue is poisoned the list of suspects includes most of his family and several others who either want to inherit his money or who may have been hurt by his dodgy business practices in the past. The suspect list is soon reduced by one, when another member of the family becomes the next victim. But what brings Miss Marple into the investigation is the third murder, of the maid Gladys. Gladys had grown up in the local orphanage and Miss Marple had trained her for domestic service, so she feels a sense of responsibility towards this young woman who has no one else to care about her. And Miss Marple feels that aspects of her death were particularly cruel, showing that the murderer treated her with a kind of mocking contempt. So, like an avenging angel with knitting needles, Miss Marple descends on the household at Yew Tree Lodge to find justice for Gladys…

This is one of my favourites. (I know, I say that about so many of them, but it’s true!) It makes great use of the nursery rhyme referenced in the title, but without allowing the constraints of sticking to the rhyme to make the story feel at all contrived. But what makes it stand out most is Miss Marple’s righteous anger over the murder of Gladys. One of my regular criticisms of Golden Age authors, including Christie, is that domestic servants are often despatched as second or third victims with barely a second’s thought or a moment’s recognition, merely as a convenient way to move the plot forward. So it’s refreshing to see Miss Marple really care about Gladys’ murder, possibly more than Rex Fortescue’s own family care about his. And the mystery itself is good – not perhaps quite as fair-play as some of her books, but the suspect list is full of intriguing characters, most of whom are unsympathetic enough for the reader to happily contemplate their fictional hanging! Read superbly by the wonderful Joan Hickson – a treat!

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Cover Her Face by PD James

Read by Daniel Weyman

🙂 🙂 😐

The servant problem has become so acute post-war that the Maxies of Martingale are reduced to taking on a “delinquent” as housemaid – Sally Jupp, a young woman with an illegitimate child. But Sally refuses to be as humble, penitent and grateful as a fallen woman should be, and various members of the household soon have reasons to resent her presence. So when she is found strangled in her room one morning, the field of suspects is wide. Enter Inspector Adam Dalgleish – full-time policeman and part-time poet…

I mentioned when I put this on my reading list that I used to love PD James but had found her last few books a struggle because it had felt to me that her style had dated badly. I hoped by going back to the beginning of her long-running Dalgleish series that my love might be revived, but I fear not. Sadly her class snobbery is too much for me to take now. It’s odd – I can put up with snobbery and other ’isms in the older authors of the Golden Age much better than from post-war authors. I suspect I feel they should have known better, although my own love for this series back in the day suggests I didn’t know better myself at that time! Whatever, I find I now have no tolerance for passages in post-war novels like the following, describing an elderly maid…

Dagleish had met a number of Marthas in his time and had never supposed them to be complicated people. They were concerned with the comfort of the body, the cooking of food, the unending menial tasks which someone must carry out before the life of the mind can have any true validity. Their own undemanding emotional needs found fulfilment in service. They were loyal, hardworking and truthful and made good witnesses because they lacked both the imagination and the practice necessary for successful lying. They could be a nuisance if they decided to shield those who had gained their loyalty but this was an overt danger which could be anticipated. He expected no difficulty with Martha.

I shall remain grateful to PD James for the enjoyment her books once gave me, but sometimes it’s best to leave the past undisturbed.

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Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

Read by Ian Carmichael

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

I’ve reviewed this one previously, and my dear little cat Tuppence also once told us why it was her favourite book, so I shall merely remind you all that it’s the funniest book ever written. Ian Carmichael is the perfect narrator for it, and I laughed and chuckled and guffawed my way through the audiobook – if you can get hold of his narration, I highly recommend you do so! In lieu of a review, then, have an extract…

….I knew a young fellow once, who was studying to play the bagpipes, and you would be surprised at the amount of opposition he had to contend with. Why, not even from the members of his own family did he receive what you could call active encouragement. His father was dead against the business from the beginning, and spoke quite unfeelingly on the subject.
….My friend used to get up early in the morning to practise, but he had to give that plan up, because of his sister. She was somewhat religiously inclined, and she said it seemed such an awful thing to begin the day like that.
….So he sat up at night instead, and played after the family had gone to bed, but that did not do, as it got the house such a bad name. People, going home late, would stop outside to listen, and then put it about all over the town, the next morning, that a fearful murder had been committed at Mr. Jefferson’s the night before; and would describe how they had heard the victim’s shrieks and the brutal oaths and curses of the murderer, followed by the prayer for mercy, and the last dying gurgle of the corpse.
….So they let him practise in the day-time, in the back-kitchen with all the doors shut; but his more successful passages could generally be heard in the sitting-room, in spite of these precautions, and would affect his mother almost to tears.
….She said it put her in mind of her poor father (he had been swallowed by a shark, poor man, while bathing off the coast of New Guinea – where the connection came in, she could not explain).

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Two out of three ain’t bad! 😉

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my recent reading in quotes…

….…you could tell by her eyes that she was losing interest and Iain was looking warningly at his mother but she didn’t pay too much attention to that for after all didn’t he have to be saved from himself. How could this girl, so pale and fashionable, milk the cows, cut the corn with a sickle, plant potatoes, carry the peats home and do all the other jobs a woman had to do?
….Unless, of course, Iain went to Glasgow.
….Hadn’t she done everything for him, even when her mother had been screaming inside her that she must be strict with him? And now this girl, hatched heaven knows where but quite suited to Glasgow with its lights like the fires of hell, had come to her home and was only half listening to what she had to say. And looking so confident though she was only seventeen, and casting around very likely to see if there were any mirrors in the room and comparing this house to the great houses in which she was used to staying. I do not like her, she was saying to herself, as she took back the scone which had been barely pecked at (but perhaps in Glasgow they had finer food than that and something called coffy which you could buy in a dish).

~ Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith

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….I forward the file to her, and she opens it on a computer display, clicking on PLAY. All we see is darkness, the muddy image of the road leading to Colonial Landing’s walled brick entrance.
….At 5:13 P.M., something is pulled over one camera, then the other, making a quiet crinkly plastic sound exactly as August described. Two minutes later, Gwen Hainey’s code, 1988, is entered, and the entrance gate slides open. There’s no car engine, no sound of anything driving through.
….Just the wind and rain, then the faint strains of organ music getting louder, crescendoing like The Phantom of the Opera. But what we’re listening to isn’t Andrew Lloyd Webber.
….“Next you hear the entrance gate close, and then nothing,” I say to Lucy. “Apparently, all was quiet until fifty-two minutes later.”
….I fast-forward the recording almost to the end. We listen to the noise of the metal exit gate opening. Then the same eerie musical theme is playing again, and it’s enough to make one’s hair stand on end.

~ Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell

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….To look at Montmorency you would imagine that he was an angel sent upon the earth, for some reason withheld from mankind, in the shape of a small fox-terrier. There is a sort of Oh-what-a-wicked-world-this-is-and-how-I-wish-I-could-do-something-to-make-it-better-and-nobler expression about Montmorency that has been known to bring the tears into the eyes of pious old ladies and gentlemen.
….When first he came to live at my expense, I never thought I should be able to get him to stop long. I used to sit down and look at him, as he sat on the rug and looked up at me, and think: “Oh, that dog will never live. He will be snatched up to the bright skies in a chariot, that is what will happen to him.”
….But, when I had paid for about a dozen chickens that he had killed; and had dragged him, growling and kicking, by the scruff of his neck, out of a hundred and fourteen street fights; and had had a dead cat brought round for my inspection by an irate female, who called me a murderer; and had been summoned by the man next door but one for having a ferocious dog at large, that had kept him pinned up in his own tool-shed, afraid to venture his nose outside the door for over two hours on a cold night; and had learned that the gardener, unknown to myself, had won thirty shillings by backing him to kill rats against time, then I began to think that maybe they’d let him remain on earth for a bit longer, after all.

~ Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

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Nor were they entirely safe in the city: in early April 1986, after two performances of a piece titled The Idiot President, Diciembre’s lead actor and playwright was arrested for incitement, and left to languish for the better part of a year at a prison known as Collectors. His name was Henry Nuñez, and his freedom was, for a brief time, a cause célèbre. Letters were written on his behalf in a handful of foreign countries, by mostly well-meaning people who’d never heard of him before and who had no opinion about his work. Somewhere in the archives of one or another of the national radio stations lurks the audio of a jailhouse interview: this serious young man, liberally seasoning his statements with citations of Camus and Ionesco, describing a prison production of The Idiot President, with inmates in the starring roles. “Criminals and delinquents have an intuitive understanding of a play about national politics,” Henry said in a firm, uncowed voice.

~ At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón

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So… are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 342…

Episode 342

Phew! A little flurry of finished books and no new arrivals means the TBR has fallen this week, down 2 to 177!

Here are a few more that are reaching the top of the heap…

Winner of the People’s Choice

It became even more exciting than usual this month when the poll suddenly stopped working halfway through! Happily, although they weren’t showing up on the blog the votes were being recorded on Crowdsignal’s site, the poll host, where I was also able to delete the myriad of multiple votes from people who’d tried several times to get their vote to record. So I think the final result is accurate! Mr Bowling Buys a Newspaper put up a very strong performance but in the end it was pipped at the post by just one vote. The winner is…

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Blurb says: Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.

Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.

Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.

Good choice, People! It’ll be an October read.

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Fiction

Dr. B. by Daniel Birbaum

Courtesy of 4th Estate via NetGalley. I picked this one purely on the basis of the blurb, but sadly it’s getting pretty negative ratings on Goodreads. However given my track record of disagreeing with the majority on books, maybe that means I’ll love it! Maybe. 

The Blurb says: In 1933, after Hitler and the Nazi Party consolidated power in Germany, Immanuel Birnbaum, a German Jewish journalist based in Warsaw, is forbidden from writing for newspapers in his homeland. Six years later, just months before the German invasion of Poland that ignites World War II, Immanuel escapes to Sweden with his wife and two young sons.

Living as a refugee in Stockholm, Immanuel continues to write, contributing articles to a liberal Swiss newspaper in Basel under the name Dr. B. He also begins working as an editor for the legendary German publisher S. Fischer Verlag. Gottfried Bermann Fischer had established an office in Stockholm to evade German censorship, publishing celebrated German writers such as Thomas Mann and Stefan Zweig.

Immanuel also becomes entangled with British intelligence agents who produce and distribute anti-Nazi propaganda in Stockholm. On orders from Winston Churchill, the Allied spies plan several acts of sabotage. But when the Swedish postal service picks up a letter written in invisible ink, the plotters are exposed. The letter, long a mystery in military history accounts, was in fact written by Dr. B. But why would a Jew living in exile and targeted for death by the Nazis have wanted to tip them off?

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Queen of Crime

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

Courtesy of HarperCollins. Sometimes out of the blue HarperCollins send me a couple of Christies. I don’t know why – they don’t seem to be new editions. New print-runs maybe? Anyway, whatever the reason I always enjoy getting them – nice covers! This one has always been a favourite – how could it not be, with such an iconic title? 

The Blurb says: When the Bantrys wake to find the body of a beautiful, young stranger in their library, Dolly Bantry knows there’s only one person to call: her old friend Miss Marple.

Who was the young girl? What was she doing in the library? And is there a connection with another dead girl, whose charred remains are discovered in an abandoned quarry?

Miss Marple must solve the mystery, before tongues start to wag, and the murderer strikes again.

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Jerome on Audio

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome read by Ian Carmichael

Another couple for the #20(Audio)BooksOfSummer challenge! First, one of my favourite books of all time. I’ve read it so often I practically know it by heart but it still makes me cry with laughter and even at one point – the same point every time – actually cry. Ian Carmichael, who was once a wonderful Bertie Wooster, seems like a very appropriate choice for narrator…

The Blurb says: A comic masterpiece that has never been out of print since it was first published in 1889.

Martyrs to hypochondria and general seediness, J. and his friends George and Harris decide that a jaunt up the Thames would suit them to a ‘T’. But when they set off, they can hardly predict the troubles that lie ahead with tow-ropes, unreliable weather forecasts and tins of pineapple chunks – not to mention the devastation left in the wake of J.’s small fox-terrier Montmorency. Three Men in a Boat was an instant success when it appeared in 1889, and, with its benign escapism, authorial discursions and wonderful evocation of the late-Victorian ‘clerking classes’, it hilariously captured the spirit of its age.

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Forster on Audio

Howard’s End by EM Forster read by Edward Petherbridge

Why have I never read or seen Howard’s End? Baffling. Since Breakfast at Tiffany’s and I didn’t get along, I abandoned it and am swapping this one in to replace it. This one is on my Classics Club list. I fell in love with Edward Petherbridge many years ago, when he played a wonderful Newman Noggs in a fabulous RSC stage production of Nicholas Nickleby which was filmed for TV – a very rare event back in 1982. So I’m looking forward to his narration as much as to the book – fingers crossed!

The Blurb says: Howards End is the story of the liberal Schlegel sisters and their struggle to come to terms with social class and their German heritage in Edwardian England. Their lives are intertwined with those of the wealthy and pragmatic Wilcox family and their country house, Howards End, as well as the lower-middle-class Basts.

When Helen Schlegel and Paul Wilcox’s brief romance ends badly the Schlegels hope to never see the Wilcoxes again. However, the family moves from their country estate, Howards End, to a flat across the road from them. When Helen befriends Leonard Bast, a man of lower status, the political and cultural differences between the families are exacerbated and brought to a fatal confrontation at Howard’s End.

Considered by some to be Forster’s masterpiece it is a story about social conventions, codes of conduct, and personal relationships in turn-of-the-century England.

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

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?