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February Books



Guns in the Gallery, Simon Brett
Magnificent Obsession , Helen Rappaport
The Black Ship, Carola Dunn
The Fountain Overflows, Rebecca West
Prelude to Terror, Helen MacInnes
Hasty Death, M C Beaton
Chronicles of Carlingford: The Rector and The Doctor’s Family , Mrs Oliphant
The Old Wives’ Tale , Arnold Bennett
The Dream House, Rachel Hore
The Nine Tailors, Dorothy L Sayers
The Memory Garden, Rachel Hore
Faulks on Fiction, Sebastian Faulks

Quite a lot of crime and adventure this month. The Black Ship ( a Daisy Dalrymple book) I found I’d read before but still enjoyed it, always a good sign with a series. Hasty Death is another in M C Beaton’s Edwardian mystery series, starring Lady Rose Summer and Harry Cathcart. In this one Rose and Daisy slum it as typists, but not for long. Rose escapes kidnapping, murderous attacks and an attempted rape in quick succession, all delivered in the author’s usual staccato style. Prelude to Terror is a cold war thriller set in Vienna, which I happened to be in the mood for. The library had the very latest Fethering mystery from Simon Brett: Guns in the Gallery. I’m quite addicted to these books about Carole and Jude for the social comment and the Sussex setting. None of these compares remotely with The Nine Tailors, which I had to read again after watching the 1974 TV series with Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey. As it’s the next choice for Cornflower’s book club I won’t put in any spoilers but I have to say that each time I read this book I notice more clues in it. After the first reading you might wonder why you didn’t pay them enough attention. On subsequent readings, they give you the willies.

Another Cornflower choice was The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West. I really enjoyed this strange story and felt that the first person narration worked well, making extraordinary events seem believable. My favourite character was definitely the adored little brother, Richard Quin. I understand there are two sequels but I’m not going to read them because I’m guessing what’s going to happen to him and I just don’t want to know.

I loved Rachel Hore’s A Place of Secrets, so I was pleased to pick up two more of her books for 50p each at the market. Neither was as good as the one I read first. Rachel Hore specializes in stories with a slight supernatural twist where past events influence the present day characters. The Dream House begins with the heroine and her husband planning to leave London for a less hectic life and more time with their children. In the first chapter, I thought I’d wandered into I Don’t Know How She Does It by mistake (I don’t care how she does it) so I was unsympathetic. Luckily the book improved as soon as the house search began. After Kate finds an old locket in an antique shop she has vivid dreams of the perfect house, just the one she’d like to live in. This house exists, she finds it by accident and not only gets to know the elderly owner, Agnes but learns they are related. I felt there was too much of Agnes’ back story, which contained period errors. It was still a good read.

You’d expect The Memory Garden to be right up my street because part of it involves planning to restore a ‘lost’ garden in Cornwall. Mel has gone there to finish writing a book about the Newlyn school of painters. She’s intrigued by some pictures she finds in her rented cottage, all signed ‘PT’. What’s more, PT turns out to have been a woman called Pearl who worked at the big house, Merryn. How did a servant girl become an artist? We do learn Pearl’s story but it gets lost as Mel ricochets between her ex-lover Jake and her new one, Patrick, who’s inherited Merryn. Mel didn’t seem a well realized character to me, nor could I understand what she saw in either of her lovers, so for me this book was less successful than the other two I’ve read. It’s a pity that the garden restoration thread got sidelined as it had echoes of The Secret Garden. When Mel first arrived, she saw that she had in fact ripped a tear in the shroud of weed. There was a flash of purple in the undergrowth … Violets! And a glimpse of creamy yellow proved to be a clump of primroses … She crouched down and pulled impatiently at the ivy, trying to see what other treasures its smothering blanket might hide. Doesn’t that remind you of Mary Lennox clearing around the bulbs so that they can breathe? There’s even a robin which shows the way although here it’s an albino blackbird, also linked to the past inhabitants.

When I picked up Faulks on Fiction at the library, I’d forgotten how irritated I’d been by the TV series and how much time I’d spent shouting at the screen. The book is much better, though it’s hard to see just who it’s aimed at. Faulks says plainly that it’s ‘not a work of literary criticism’, although in some ways it obviously is, and of an old fashioned, accessible kind. It’s none the worse for that and I particularly enjoyed the sections on Emma (‘Mozartian brilliance’) and Great Expectations. How could I not like someone who writes of the latter, ‘It is hard to know whether you weep at the sadness of the events described and the words uttered by the characters or whether the tears spring from simple admiration and gratitude for the genius that conjured these immortal people out of nothing and offered them to us for the price of a paperback or a library ticket’? Faulks seems to cry a lot over books and he puts a lot of himself into this one. The chapter on James Bond, for instance, is all about how he wrote his own Bond book, Devil May Care. Oh dear, shouting again.


Tags: carola dunn, charles dickens, dorothy l sayers, helen macinnes, m c beaton, rachel hore, rebecca west, sebastian faulks, simon brett
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