On my last visit to the library I was lucky enough to find some books I wanted to read. Mary of Mary’s Library has been reading her way through Deborah Crombie’s crime novels and rating them highly, so I was pleased to get In a Dark House. This is set in Southwark, quite atmospherically and I only noticed one slip: nobody says ‘Millenium Wheel’; everyone calls it the London Eye. Crombie’s technique is to have several plot lines on the go and to move between them every few pages, which makes for a good page turner. As usual with this sort of book, I’m far more interested in the crimes than in the personal relationships of the detectives. On the back of the book it says, ‘Comparison with Elizabeth George is inevitable.’ I gave up reading Elizabeth George some time ago as I dislike all the main characters except Barbara, and just couldn’t stand them any more. So I prefer Deborah Crombie and will look out for more of her books.
In complete contrast was The Other Garden and Collected Stories by Francis Wyndham. If you’re looking for an exciting read, look elsewhere. I’m not keen on short stories and the ones collected here (some written when the author was very young) are so inconsequential that they read like chapters which have become detached from their novel. The title story, The Other Garden is more of a novella and very reminiscent of Anthony Powell in that the narrator is less interesting and important than the characters he writes about. It’s a quiet sort of story, very well written but with no shocks or thrills.
I simply loved The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan. It’s set in a Dylan Thomas-ish Welsh village and is told from the child’s eye view of Gwenni. Poor Gwenni, far too imaginative for her own good, thinks she will solve a local mystery when a neighbour disappears. By the end of the book she’s learned more than she could want to know about village and family secrets and her mother’s mental illness. Luckily her father is an absolute saint so you hope that things will turn out well for Gwenni, even if she inherits the family disease.
I’ve enjoyed several of Laurie Graham’s books, finding them funny. Life According to Lubka is funny but the joke wears thin by the end of the book. Buzz Wexler is a pill popping, hard drinking and hard smoking executive in the music business, who’s made her name promoting Urban Music bands with ridiculous names. In spite of her high maintenance body and self belief in her total fabulousness, now she’s over forty she finds herself demoted to World Music. This is how she meets Lubka, one of the Gorni Grannies, a singing group from Bulgaria. Much of the book’s humour comes from the Bulgarian version of the English language. Buzz is awful but so lacking in self-awareness that you feel sorry for her. Lubka is a great character but rather sentimentally portrayed, I think. Needless to say, Buzz is changed for the better by the Grannies and even learns to knit, which she finds ‘better than Valium’. I liked Buzz’s assistant Mal and all the south London name checks. An amusing light read with an unlikely ending.
I’m still reading The Shooting in the Shop by Simon Brett, which was my fifth pick. It’s another Fethering mystery so there’s nothing to say about it except that it’s the same as all the others and that I happen to like them. Definitely not Crombie territory but cosy crime.