Dennis & Co., William Glynne-Jones
Five Tigers and a Mouse, Mary Gervaise
Thorneyhold, Mary Stewart
Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor, M C Beaton
Where Memories Lie, Deborah Crombie
John and Mary and Lisetta, Grace James
Our Kind of Traitor , John le Carré
Shattered, Dick Francis
The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith
The Town House, Norah Lofts
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace , Kate Summerscale
Symposium , Muriel Spark
The Sense of an Ending , Julian Barnes
The Strange fate of Kitty Easton, Elizabeth Speller
The Amateur Marriage, Anne Tyler
Longest book: The Town House by Norah Loft. This was part of my recent jumble sale haul, where I picked up a boxed set of The Suffolk Trilogy. I was reading it on and off for about a week, never feeling excited about getting back to it. I’d always assumed I wouldn’t like Norah Lofts and there are irritations here. I do hate to be instructed about the past (all writers of historical fiction should take a lesson from Rosemary Sutcliff). Imagine a book set in the present day which included the sentence, ‘He got into the car and buckled his seat belt. Legislation in 1983 had made this compulsory’. It would drive you mad, wouldn’t it? After a while I did get quite interested in the characters and I like the idea of a series about people of different times living in the same house, so I’ll probably read the others.
Forgettable books. I can’t remember a single thing about Thorneyhold! Shattered was absolutely terrible. I whizzed through Love Lies and Liquor without realising I’d read it before. Agatha Raisin is enjoyable but obviously not memorable
Children’s books: Dennis & Co., by William Glynne-Jones, Five Tigers and a Mouse, by Mary Gervaise and another John & Mary instalment. Dennis is an interesting book. It’s set in a Welsh coastal town and all the heroes are working class, quite unusual for 1947. There are ships delivering pig iron, men working in tin mines, children buying ‘black lossins’ sweets, whatever they were. The women all scour the front doorsteps every morning and their work is never done. Enjoyable. The Mary Gervaise book starts so promisingly, with the three Rivers girls and their two younger brothers arriving in England to go to school. The children are a pain, there’s a great opportunity for some interesting character development and the schools are very understanding about the children’s difficult situation. (Their father has been wrongly imprisoned for treason, just like Daddy in The Railway Children.) Sadly, the book degenerates when it moves away from school to the home of the girls’ new friend, Mouse. The Rivers try to clear their father’s name, which is only reasonable in a children’s story but there’s a lot of silly secret passage stuff as well. Such a shame. John and Mary & Lisetta was published in 1958 so is quite late in the series. The children are a little older but still incredibly babyish and over-protected for their ages. This doesn’t stop me enjoying the book, which is one of my favourites.
The best books. Part of my Kindle Christmas haul was the very first book in Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series and it was interesting to read it again. I’ve read all except the latest book and I thought there was more Botswana and more philosophy in this one. There’s also a glaring anomaly which I’d never noticed before. When Mma Ramotswe decides she needs a secretary, she contacts the secretarial college and is recommended Mma Makutse, *the widow of a teacher*. Her widowhood has been quietly forgotten in all the later books.
Crime of a nastier sort in Deborah Crombie’s Where Memories Lie. I’m still reading this Gemma/Kincaid series backwards but I find I don’t mind too much. This one has a plot going back to the war. A piece of jewellery which once belonged to Gemma’s much older friend, Erika, appears in an auction catalogue. There appears to be a link with the long-ago murder of Erka’s husband and more deaths follow. Quite intriguing but oh, please don’t explain to me what Kristallnacht was! And how nice it would be to read a book which didn’t include a character with cancer (here, it’s Gemma’s mother who is stricken). Quite enough of that in real life, thank you very much.
Now to my last and as it happened best reads of the month. I was gripped by The Return of Captain John Emmett, so I grabbed The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton from the library and could hardly put it down. Elizabeth Speller uses her character Laurence Bartram from the first book. By this time, he’s finished his book about churches and the architect William Bolitho, also from the earlier book, invites him down to Easton Deadall to advise on work he’s doing on the church there. The family seem living in the past, as they’ve never come to terms with the disappearance of Kitty Easton when she was five years old. Laurence isn’t a detective but finds himself drawn into this mystery as well as exploring local myths about mazes and labyrinths. Yet again, events from the First World War, secret until now, influence the story. Great stuff and my only criticism is that I missed nice Charles from John Emmett.
The other book I couldn’t put down was Anne Tyler’s The Amateur Marriage. I have a friend, a keen reader, who says that she read one book by Anne Tyler and spent the whole time waiting for something to happen. There’s no shortage of events in this book but it wouldn’t worry me if there were not, because I absolutely love Anne Tyler and her ability to chronicle the small events of ordinary lives in such a readable way. This book reminded me a little of Fannie Flagg. We begin with the Polish community in Baltimore in 1941, just at the time of Pearl Harbour, then follow one family in particular through the changes of the post-war period to the present. Beautiful writing and characters who stay with you.