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gertrude

July 2018

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reading

October Books


List
The Longest Whale Song , Jacqueline Wilson. Read on the Kindle.
The Friendly Young Ladies , Mary Renault
A Pig of Cold Poison, Pat McIntosh
Love Letters, Katie Fforde
Maidlin to the Rescue, Elsie J Oxenham
Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison, M C Beaton
The Mystery of the Blue Train, Agatha Christie
A Most Wanted Man, John le Carré
Wonderful Today , Pattie Boyd with Penny Junor
Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor, M C Beaton
The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy, James Anderson
The Affair of the Mutilated Mink, James Anderson
The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, Jonathan Coe
Nella Last in the 1950s , edited by Robert and Patricia Malcolmson
Joy’s New Adventure, Elsie J Oxenham
The Dog Who Came in from the Cold, Alexander McCall Smith
The Attenbury Emeralds , Jill Paton Walsh

Crime
A Pig of Cold Poison is the latest Gil Cunningham murder mystery by Pat McIntosh. These books are set in fifteenth century Glasgow. As I know nothing about the subject, I can enjoy them without getting irritated by the perceived historical errors which so often spoil books for me. For anyone who hasn’t read any of the earlier books, the first chapter of this one would be just a confusing jumble of unfamiliar names. Once past that I think it would be easy enough to pick up the threads and treat it as a standalone. In this story Gil is twice on the scene when a man is poisoned right under his nose, so to speak. Annoying for him. It’s nice to see his sister Kate back in this book.



James Anderson is a new author to me. Given the vogue for retro mysteries – Dandy Gilver, Daisy Dalrymple, Phryne Fisher, Josephine Tey – I was surprised to find that The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy was first published in 1975 and The Affair of the Mutilated Mink in 1981. The three books known as the Burford Family Mysteries or the Inspector Wilkins Mysteries have been repackaged for modern taste and if you like a cosy country house murder story with a hint of spoof, they’re right up your street. The two I’ve read follow a formula. Lord and Lady Burford live in the beautiful seventeenth century pile of Alderley. They assemble a large party of house guests to provide plenty of victims and suspects. Lord Burford is an idiot; no sooner does he have a houseful of strangers than he shows them his magnificent gun collection, with detailed explanations, while someone else shows them the secret passage. About half way through the book a murder is committed. Then Inspector Wilkins turns up and the last few chapters are devoted to lengthy explanations of all the improbable goings-on. Wilkins is the delight of these books, an astute detective forever bemoaning his lot and wishing he could be back in uniform dealing with straightforward crimes. He complains of ‘the crime wave that’s broken out among the English upper classes in recent years … Never a week goes by without a nobleman being murdered in his library … or a don in his study or an heiress in her bath.’ Definitely tongue in cheek crime fiction.

Agatha Christie’s The Mystery of the Blue Train is a Poirot story which I’ve already forgotten. As I’ve said before, I enjoy M C Beaton’s Agatha Raisin stories, however silly they may be. Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison and Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor didn’t disappoint.

I don’t know how to classify The Dog Who Came in from the Cold, the latest Corduroy Mansions instalments from Alexander McCall Smith. There’s certainly an element of spoof in the recruitment of an unsuspecting Freddie de la Hay to the secret service. Otherwise, further chronicles of the other inhabitants. I enjoyed this very much but I still prefer Scotland Street.

Disappointments
I thought Katie Fforde was back on form with Wedding Season but found Love Letters much too long and rather boring.
I would never have expected to find a novel by Jonathan Coe dull. But then I started The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim. When I reached the letter to Poppy from her uncle about Donald Crowhurst (a poor device for introducing the subject, I thought), I switched off and wondered whether to persevere with the book. I gave up. Plus, Coe or his editor should learn to spell Malory Towers correctly: there’s no excuse!

Elsie J Oxenham
No need for jealous fumes from other Abbey readers. I don’t actually own a copy of either Maidlin to the Rescue or Joy’s New Adventure but was able to read them on the Kindle; never mind how. Just as well, as I would never fork out the £300 + each would cost on the second-hand market. Maidlin to the Rescue comes after Biddy’s Secret, in which Maid got all grown up. The book introduces her cousins Rachel and Damaris whom she has no idea exist. Like practically everything else which goes wrong at the Abbey, this turns out to be all the fault of Maid’s aunt Ann Watson, who has the misfortune to be low born and therefore narrow minded and *wrong*. Confusingly, Damaris at Dorothy’s, about Rachel and Damaris at school, was written after MTTR. Even more confusingly, for those who know Damaris Dances, there is not a hint here that she’s ever danced in her life.

I took a great dislike to the sisters. Finding themselves virtually destitute and unable to afford more school fees, they run away with a mad idea of being waitresses in the world’s worst café. They rail against their cousin Maidlin, assuming that she has got too grand for them then, having accused her of snobbery, they are intolerably snobbish about the woman who takes them in. Rachel writes Maid an unforgiveable letter (which is of course forgiven), declaring that they will never accept any help from her. Maid sets off north with Jen, who on the strength of the awful letter declares them to be ‘sporting girls’, to bring the truants safely into the Abbey fold. It’s all completely bonkers.

That’s two books in which Maid allegedly shows that she is learning to be independent (she’s twenty two!) but in Joy’s New Adventure she fails to spot what everyone else has seen coming: Joy’s remarriage. Just as, six years before, she failed to notice that Joy was pregnant until the Terrible Twinnies were actually born. True to form, the brats nearly kill a harmless visitor to the Abbey (Gail), who is obviously therefore doomed to spend the rest of her life there worshipping the little horrors and their mother. The main aim of everyone in the book is to make sure that everything goes right for Joy.
“if she wants it – if she’s not satisfied –we’ll have to put up with (the marriage). Joy must have everything!” Why?! BTW the joys of Kindle. That sentence was highlighted as I read and then retrieved from ‘my clippings’.
Readers may wonder why on earth I bother with EJO. I do genuinely enjoy the early stories and well, it’s a lovely fantasy world in which the abbey is a refuge where there’s always someone to look after you.

Comments

I love both those covers.

James Anderson sounds like fun, so I looked him up in my library's catalogue. Apparently he is the author of the Murder, She Wrote series. Never read the books, but I'm not a big fan of the TV adaptation. If I come across an Inspector Wilkins book, I'll have a look.
Coo, I didn't know that. I've never been tempted to watch Murder, She Wrote.

I liked this Gil Cunningham cover less than the earlier ones, but it is good. I should have said that there's lots of interesting stuff in the book about medieval apothecaries and medicine (hence the poison).
Do you know if The Harper's Quine is any good?
Sorry, it's the only one I haven't read!

PS it's the first in the series so probably a good place to start and get to know the characters. I was a little confused by the first one I read.

Edited at 2010-10-31 05:29 pm (UTC)
I have never really got on with historical crime fiction - my mother was a big Cadfael fan and tried to convert me but failed (although I do like her Edith Pargeter? (too lazy to check)books. The Gil Cunningham books sound good, though - perhaps I will try again.

I completely agree on the Abbey Girls. I manage to enjoy the books, in spite of not liking the vast majority of the characters. Since I started my mental health training I can't help noticing that they nearly all have borderline personality disorder.
I've never read Cadfael or Lindsay Davies (?) the Roman ones, but I do like these.

It makes you wonder about EJO herself, doesn't it? Just one of the reasons Monica Godfrey's book was so disappointing; she didn't tackle any of the knotty issues.
Many years ago I joined the Abbey Chronicle when MG first started it - there seemed to be a fairly high ratio of bonkers members who all seemed to be in denial about some of life's grittier realities. There was debate over whether things like the Pixie's real life suicide should be kept quiet. I decided it wasn't for me.
MTTR is one of my least favourite of the main Abbey series (leaving aside the later retrospectives) - I find the first section pretty much unreadable, especially the completely pointless 'theft' of the suitcases. I'd resigned myself to not having a full Abbey set (it was the only one I was missing) but I was lucky enough to get the one that cropped up on abe for £45 a couple of months ago. Miracles do happen....

I like Rachel and Damaris much better in later books, especially once they get to the Abbey - Rachel especially seems to go through several personality transplants before she arrives. I prefer Elsa and Daphne though, I wish we'd seen more of them.
A full set! Wow.

I suppose the girls do improve; they're unbelievably silly in MTTR.
I liked The Harper's Quine - as good as the others, I think. I've just discovered a new, rather similar series by Shirley McKay -Hue and Cry is set in St Andrews in 1593. I recommend it.
Thank you!
Nice to find another EJO fan! I visited Cleeve Abbey a couple of years ago and it was lovely to wonder around. And it didn't spoil too many of my mental images of the abbey either!
I'd love to go. Are you in any of the Abbey groups?