Greyladies Books is a relatively new imprint started by the owner of The Old Children’s Bookshelf in Edinburgh. The idea is to publish adult novels by authors better known for their children’s titles, all in a distinctive striped livery. Some of these books are very scarce and much sought after by collectors. I’ve just had an orgy of Greyladies, reading three in two days after they were kindly lent to me.
The first was Poppies for England by Susan Scarlett, better known as Noel Streatfeild. I’m sure that given a chunk of this book as an unseen I’d have spotted the author straight away; it all seemed so familiar. Two cosy families, a lot of stage talk, beautiful but selfish daughter, another girl talented but overlooked. The story is set just after the Second World War. Family members must get to know each other again, everyone is tired of queues and shortages; coupons feature. The theatrical families make the most of a summer season by the sea as do the literally happy campers, who have a wonderful time. I was bored by the endless descriptions of stage business and costumes, perhaps because I’d read so much like it in Streatfeild’s other books. To be fair, she thought nothing of her Susan Scarlett books but this one is very slight indeed. I’d rather read Wintle’s Wonders and that’s far from being a favourite.
Next I read Murder While You Work (good title) also by Susan Scarlett. This is a murder mystery starring people working in a munitions factory. The war background is good, the heroine one of those idiots who insist on putting themselves in danger, the hero rather nice in the Albert Campion style. Although I quite enjoyed the read, there is something deeply unpleasant about it; I find it worrying that Streatfeild so often wrote about people who are barking mad and horribly cruel.
Death on Tiptoe is by R C Ashby, better known as Ruby Ferguson, author of the Jill books. The only adult book by her which I’d previously read was Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary; although the secret is easily detected it’s a charming read.
It’s been reissued by Persephone Books
Death on Tiptoe is a classic 1930s detective story: murder in a castle, party of house guests, everyone suspect, a rather austere barrister playing the role of amateur sleuth. He’s the weakness, not a well realised or interesting character. It’s still a pleasant enough way to spend an evening. I have to whisper this but I think Ruby Ferguson was a better writer than Noel Streatfeild even though I prefer Ballet Shoes to anything RF ever wrote.
The most recent Greyladies release is Pink Sugar by O Douglas (Anna Buchan).
I would definitely be buying this if I didn’t already have a copy. I find O Douglas endlessly re-readable. The books are set in the Scottish borders, mostly around Priorsford (Peebles). Quiet but busy lives, lots of descriptions of houses, gardens and clothes, plenty of humour. I’m so glad Greyladies went for a semi-pictorial cover on this one: here’s my Nelson Pocket edition.
O Douglas was very good at boys. If you haven’t yet met Bad Bill you’re in for a treat so read Pink Sugar!