The Case of the Missing Money-Lender, W Stanley Sykes
At Break of Day/The First of July , Elizabeth Speller
Mrs Scrooge, Carol Ann Duffy and Posy Simmonds
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
The Minor Adjustment Beauty Parlour, Alexander McCall Smith
Ten Lords A-Leaping , C C Benison
Christmas at Carrington’s , Alexandra Brown
The Home Corner , Ruth Thomas
As Luck Would Have It, Derek Jacobi
Do You Think That’s Wise? Biography of John le Mesurier by Graham McCann
The Thirteen Days of Christmas, Jenny Overton
The Best of Good Housekeeping at Christmas 1922 - 1962
Christmas at Fairacre, Miss Read
Kevin Pietersen, Portrait of a Rebel, Marcus Stead
Round the Christmas Fire: Festive Stories A collection from Virago
The edition I read of The Case of the Missing Money-Lender was published as a green Penguin crime book in 1936. It’s a real period piece, full of snobbery, anti-Semitism and anti almost all changes since the last war. Some things never change though:
‘Everything was done to ensure the survival of the unfittest. It has been said that the world is full of willing people; some are willing to work and others are willing to let them work. Prudent, hard-working families of the former type were compelled to limit their families very stringently in order to pay for the unrestrained and irresponsible multiplication of the shiftless, the half-witted and the diseased.’ Blimey. In spite of these faults, the book is a good read. W Stanley Sykes (1894 – 1961) was a medical doctor and used his expertise to devise the extraordinary murder plot.
Mrs Scrooge and A Christmas Carol were both festive re-reads. I also re-read several Christmassy chapters from favourite books like Christmas at Nettleford. I tried some new ones as well. I’ve already mentioned the Good Housekeeping book; I think I’ll have to buy it in order to pore over those advertisements every year. In its early years the magazine had a classy line-up of authors, including Somerset Maugham, Rebecca West and Beverley Nichols. I even found a children’s story by Helen Clare, best known for Five Dolls in a House. I haven’t finished The Thirteen Days of Christmas by Jenny Overton. I just couldn’t get into it, yet I know it to be a regular Christmas re-read for many people. It does have lovely illustrations by Shirley Hughes. Christmas at Fairacre is a compilation of stories by Miss Read and just as enjoyable as I’d hoped. Round the Christmas Fire must be the prettiest book of the year but was rather a disappointment to me, as I found I already had most of the books the extracts were taken from!
I’ve read three biographies this month. By far the best was Derek Jacobi’s autobiography As Luck Would Have It. Its publication is very timely just as he’s appearing in Last Tango in Halifax and Vicious on television. Lots of anecdotes, a little about the craft of acting and, as he writes it, the story of a lucky and happy man. Astonishingly, Graham McCann managed to write quite a boring book about the adorable John Le Mesurier. I skipped a lot of tedious family background at the beginning, muttering testily about writers of non-fiction who feel obliged to write down everything they’ve found out. Do your research, then file it away at the back of your mind! In spite of his laid back ‘this is easy’ performances, ‘Le Mez’ was as disciplined an actor as Derek Jacobi but had less luck getting good parts. I am no nearer understanding KP’s complex character after reading Marcus Stead’s book. Fortunately I’m the sort of cricket fan who’s perfectly happy to read ball by ball accounts of matches. We need to wait a little longer to get a proper perspective on Pietersen’s career, methinks.
I needn’t say anything about The Minor Adjustment Beauty Parlour. It’s more of the same about the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, which is just the way I like it.