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June 2016




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Apr. 27th, 2016


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Reviews Published

Jun. 23rd, 2016


Nature Watch: rabbits

At this very moment there are SIX baby rabbits disporting themselves in front of the tool shed. They only come out in the evening and if they're startled they all jump under the shed.

Should I give up gardening and just declare the place a wildlife sanctuary?

Jun. 22nd, 2016


The Patricia Wentworth fest continues

News from Dean Street Press that they’re bringing out the last thirteen Patricia Wentworth books. They’ve been kind enough to send me Weekend with Death, which I’m really looking forward to reading.

Even more exciting news about the enterprising Dean Street people. They are going to publish Furrowed Middlebrow Books. If you follow the blog, you’ll know already that Scott’s literary passion is for books written by women authors and published in the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, many of these are hard to find so reissues will be very welcome. Scott is naturally wildly excited about the project and you can read more about it here.

I can’t wait!

Jun. 13th, 2016


The weekend

Oh dear. I’ve just posted a stinker of a review of a new book. When I look at what it will cost and think that I’ve had the chance to read it for nothing, I feel ungrateful but if I don’t say what I think, how will anyone trust my reviews?

I’m sure there will be no such problem reading the books huskyteer and I picked up at the weekend. It was Folk Festival weekend and a rather subdued one. The usual charities’ fair was held on the Minster Green, with a very large bookstall. As is the way with nearly all book hunts these days, there were almost no old books to be seen. huskyteer was pleased with her haul which included Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal by H E Bates. She read it and left it behind and now I’ve nearly finished it, too. Because it’s good! It came from a box which included several other old Penguin editions of books by Bates and, two days later, I’m still kicking myself for not grabbing the lot at 20p each.

I got three books which I look forward to reading. The Villa in Italy by Elizabeth Edmondson, yay! It’s the first of her books I’ve ever been able to find second hand. Next a book by Rachel Hore which I hadn’t read, A Week in Paris. When I got it home I found it was a signed copy. So that’s two nice, fat paperbacks for me. From a smaller charity stall I got an even greater bargain, a hardback 1st edition of H is for Hawk, in excellent condition.

The weekend was pretty wet, on and off, which was a shame for the folk dancers, the birthday teas for the Queen and the cricket at Lord’s. Yesterday evening rain was coming down in sheets and it’s still wet this morning, with regular showers. Ah, an English summer.


The Countenance Divine, Michael Hughes

This book will be out in August and is already creating a buzz. In 1666, that annus mirabilis, Thomas Allgood is working as John Milton’s secretary while at the same time spying on him. In 1777, William Blake creates a creature or homunculus from one of Milton’s ribs. In 1888 ‘Jack’ describes and justifies the murders he commits in Whitechapel. In 1999 a computer programmer called Chris is working on fixing the millennium bug while becoming involved with co-worker Lucy, who has some seriously weird preoccupations. What they all have in common is that at some time each has in his possession a curious little wooden puzzle, or rebus, which fascinates them. The other linking factor is that each sees a cloaked and hooded man with a shining metallic mask instead of a face. Plus, each feels in some way special, singled out for a great purpose.

Each of these characters has his own voice, faithfully reproduced in the correct style of the period. This kind of pastiche is very clever but it’s been done before; by Peter Ackroyd for example. It happens that I’m familiar with seventeenth century prose and also know my Milton and my Blake. What would people without this advantage make of the book? It’s inevitably rather elitist. Worse, it does not hold one’s interest. I was constantly reading another section, putting the book aside in order to read something quite different, then returning to it with a dogged ‘I will finish this book!’ feeling. I was looking for a sense of direction, a conclusion of some kind, however fantastical. Numerology? Complete nonsense. Likewise Millenarianism.

You will gather that I didn’t get this book at all. It pains me to be harsh about something which is, after all, much better than most books which get published but I found it to be pretentious tosh.

The Countenance Divine is published by John Murray and I read it courtesy of NetGalley.

Jun. 4th, 2016


Who reads Peter Cheyney these days?

Once an international bestseller, his books made into films, now Cheyney doesn’t even appear in the Fantastic Fiction lists. I’d had Dark Bahama lying around for ages (probably 20p from the market) and at last picked it up to read. The first chapter, set in the Bahamas, put me right off. I feel so uncomfortable reading about ‘a coloured gentleman’, ‘the negro’ and so on. I thought I must find out more about this author and didn’t like what I found. In 1931 he joined Oswald Mosley’s New Party and was said to be good at fending off disruption at meetings. In other words, good in a scrap. He didn’t join the British Union of Fascists when it was formed the following year but had he changed his views or was he just too busy writing? He wrote at least two novels a year. Several of these were turned into films, mostly arty French ones starring Eddie Constantine. The artwork for these is amazing. You can see some on the website here.

Dark Bahama is apparently ‘a Johnny Vallon book’ and the last in the ‘Dark’ series. It was published in the US as I’ll Bring her Back. You can see more covers here. The second chapter is quite different from the first. We meet Johnny Vallon, who runs a detective agency. He’s already featured in several books which, of course, I’ve never read. He’s obviously tough, experienced and attractive to women. A beautiful woman visits him with a request for help to fetch a young woman home from Dark Bahama. Vallon hardly features after this. Instead we have a variety of agents, all working towards the same end but from different angles. Who can be trusted in this murky world?

The text reads like the script for a film noir; I could almost hear Fred MacMurray (Double Indemnity) reading it to me. Cheyney’s characters drink and smoke a great deal, like women and are rootless adventurers. I dislike characters who see themselves as outside the law; it’s one of my chief complaints about Dornford Yates. Yet I go on reading him because he was a good story teller. The same can be said for Cheyney, although I prefer Yates.

Here’s what Peter Quennel wrote for The Daily Mail, quoted on the back cover.
Heavens, what a craftsman! How adroitly he keeps a story going; how cleverly, like an experienced bar-tender, he slaps in and briskly shakes together all the right ingredients – sex, violence, mystery, laced, when the occasion serves, with an entertaining fashion-hint!

Portrait of a successful author. Note the monocle.

Jun. 1st, 2016


May Books

Foxes Unearthed, Lucy Jones
Wonder Cruise, Ursula Bloom
The White Cottage Mystery , Margery Allingham
The Fashion in Shrouds , Margery Allingham
The China Governess , Margery Allingham
Hide My Eyes , Margery Allingham
The Mind Readers , Margery Allingham
The Tiger in the Smoke , Margery Allingham
Lone Pine London, Malcolm Saville
Who Pays the Piper? An Ernest Lamb Mystery, Patricia Wentworth
Love, Nina, Nina Stibbe.
White Boots, Noel Streatfeild
The Art of Love aka The Villa on the Riviera, Elizabeth Edmondson
West End Girls, Jenny Colgan
Started: The Countenance Divine, Michael Hughes
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May. 27th, 2016


Brief Encounter Again

Just spotted this on the BBC news site, while I was looking for the cricket. I’ve written previously about Margaret Barton (Mrs James) here and about Shillingstone here.
The performance seems an event not to miss!

May. 18th, 2016


The China Governess & Margery Allingham’s London

Cover of reprint

After reading The White Cottage Mystery, I embarked on a small Allingham re-read. I began with The Fashion in Shrouds, an old favourite set in the upper class, fashionable pre-war world which was then Campion’s natural milieu. I moved on to The China Governess. This was a late addition to my collection and I’d only read it once before, so it was like reading a new book. The plot is very complicated. A young man, Timothy, recently engaged to a beautiful heiress, suddenly discovers that everything he has believed about his birth is wrong. His prospective father-in-law wants to know more before allowing the marriage to take place and most of the book is taken up with finding out the truth.

What struck me on re-reading this was what an isolated little world Margery Allingham created for it. She rarely visited London, preferring to stay at home in the country, yet you believe totally in her imagined little corners of London. This goes for More Work for the Undertaker and The Tiger in the Smoke as well. The China Governess has the usual cast of Albert Campion, Charlie Luke and Lugg but sadly no Amanda, whom Allingham made little use of in her later books. Timothy’s family live in a world of their own; they are a family for whom the very word ‘governess’ is strangely sinister. The book was first published in 1963 but it might as well be 1953. It’s as if the end of the "Chatterley" ban And the Beatles' first LP. had never happened.

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May. 16th, 2016


Angela Thirkell News

1948 reprint

I bought my first book by Angela Thirkell donkey’s years ago, probably at a jumble sale. I loved it and since then have managed to acquire all her books, either in hardback or in old Penguin editions. The reason there are so many mentions on my blog is that I so often re-read her books.

For those less lucky, it’s been good news that Virago are republishing Thirkell. The latest reissue, Cheerfulness Breaks In is just out this month. I was shocked to see Amazon reviewers giving the book only one star, but found it was because people buying this for the Kindle have been sent the wrong book! So be warned.

The reason for this post is really to point you at this excellent review of Cheerfulness Breaks In. Just follow the link on the blog.

Virago edition 2016

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