Rattle His Bones, Carola Dunn
Mariana, Monica Dickens
Cranford, Mrs Gaskell, free Kindle download
Peggy and the Brotherhood, Elsie J Oxenham
The Camp Mystery, Elsie J Oxenham
Phoebe Deane , Grace Livingston Hill
Letters of a Woman Homesteader , Elinore Pruitt Stewart
The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, Alexander McCall Smith
The Crow Road, Ann Cleeves
The Dark of Summer , Eric Linklater
Back to Bologna, Michael Dibdin (Aurelio Zen mystery).
My Last Duchess, Daisy Goodwin
Sheer Folly (Daisy Dalrymple), Carola Dunn
Mrs Harris Goes to Paris & Mrs Harris Goes to New York, Paul Gallico
The Eagle of the Ninth , Rosemary Sutcliff
The Silver Branch, Rosemary Sutcliff
I haven’t had time to write up many of these during the month as good weather meant the garden had priority. Detectives first. I love Daisy Dalrymple and Rattle his Bones was a lucky find as it was next on my list. This one is set in the Natural History Museum and yet again Daisy ‘stumbles over the body’, to the annoyance of her Scotland Yard fiancé Alec. The first chapter, which describes the first, non murderous crime, was just one big muddle for me. I lack spatial awareness, I’ve been told, so it’s practically impossible for me to follow a description of someone negotiating a complicated building. Those plans of houses which are printed in this and many other detective stories are completely wasted on me. It was still very enjoyable. I then jumped a few years in Daisy’s life as the library had Sheer Folly, a much later book which is an excellent country house mystery. Vera Stanhope is a very different sort of detective as she’s the real, official thing. I’d already read Ann Cleeves’ Telling Tales, thanks to ramblingfancy and I’m glad I didn’t start with The Crow Road. I found the first chapter very confusing; had no idea who anyone was or why I should be interested. Once I got into it I couldn’t put it down.
Back to Bologna by Michael Dibdin came from the library so I had to start quite late on in the series. I enjoyed Zen on television even though half the time I had no idea what was going on, because it was so pretty to look at. Things are clearer in a book, although you wonder how the author is going to bring all the different threads together. As so often seemed to be the case in the television series, Zen gets a lot of credit without having done much detecting. Can he help it if he’s lucky? This is far from classic detective mystery, as at the end it’s clear that a great injustice is going to be done, which is slightly amusing but disconcerting.
It was the second time I’d borrowed Mariana, by Monica Dickens, from the library and this time I managed to read it. It’s quite interesting as an account of a young girl of a certain class growing up just before the war but I’m astonished that the writer of the preface could compare it with The Pursuit of Love and I Capture the Castle, both wonderful and favourite books which are so much better than this. The heroine Mary is hard to sympathise with as she’s completely self centred and self pitying. Everything takes so long to happen; pages and pages devoted to her getting appendicitis, for instance. I really can’t agree that it’s ‘a hot water bottle read’ as I would never want to read it again.
Caught up on Elsie J Oxenham by reading two books I’ve had for ages but never got round to: The Camp Mystery and Peggy and the Brotherhood. These are regarded as Abbey connectors because some of the same characters appear in Abbey books. Goodness, how tiresome I find Camp Fire! All those ridiculous names, the elaborate costumes, the posturing. Guiding was much more sensible but oh dear, the agonies some girls go through choosing between the two are too much for me. I really love the illustrations in both books.
No need to say anything about The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith except that the prolific author has found a winning formula which never disappoints. I had meant to save it for a metaphorically rainy day but couldn’t resist it. My Last Duchess I read avidly and finished its 500 pages very quickly. I love the title (Browning, of course) though I’m not sure how appropriate it is. It’s the story of how beautiful and fabulously wealthy American Cora is taken to England by her ambitious mother in search of a title to match the millions. She does nab her duke but unfortunately for her she marries for love, which leads to complications. I was reminded over and over again of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books The Shuttle and The Making of a Marchioness. A delicious read about gorgeous clothes and houses, with a Heyer-ish touch.
I’m sure I read Flowers for Mrs Harris in my mother’s Woman’s Own in the sixties. I was pleased to see the Bloomsbury Mrs Harris Goes to Paris & Mrs Harris Goes to New York in a charity shop, even if I had to haggle a little because of its poor condition. Once you get over Paul Gallico’s patronising idea that there is such a universally recognised character as ‘the London char’ and accept that Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is a fairy story, it’s quite a charming read. The second book really doesn’t work. Mrs Harris becomes a little tiresome and the story is padded out with travelogue details about America. The events are even less likely than in the first book but without the charm.
It’s a great tribute to the story telling powers of Rosemary Sutcliff that I pressed on with The Silver Branch and am halfway through The Lantern Bearers even though the latest Flavia de Luce story arrived in the post. Another one I’ll try to save but will probably succumb to.
Reading Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford again reminded me how annoyed I was that the popular television adaptation changed so much in the book and, because they’d got Judi Dench, I suppose, by the end changed Miss Matty’s character. Perfect bedtime reading. Phoebe Deane by Grace Livingston Hill should really have been called ‘Miranda’ because the red-haired, freckled servant girl saves the day by being far more intelligent and interesting than any other character in the book. I’m still enjoying the adventures of Elinore Pruitt Stewart, who has married and had another baby without letting husband or children cramp her style and is becoming the life and soul of the neighbourhood. The homesteads were so far apart they could seldom make a visit without an overnight stay and in snowy weather it was hard to go anywhere at all. I’m also still reading The Warden and noting that the dialogue is so good that Alan Plater was able to use chunks of it with very little alteration when he adapted the book for TV.
One reading failure this month: The Man Who Knew Everything by Tom Stacey, reprinted by Capuchin Classics (first published as Deadline). From the foreword by Peregrine Worsthorne and the author’s own introduction, I was expecting a story about the glory days of the foreign correspondent, with sideswipes at the likes of John Simpson. I was thinking Scoop, I was thinking Towards the End of the Morning, I was picturing a Graham Greene-ish scenario of world-weary men in white tropical suits. Sadly, the first chapter was so boring I couldn’t get any further with the book.