The Lark, E Nesbit
A Winter Away, Elizabeth Fair
The Pearl Thief, Elizabeth Wein heads up
The Dark Flood Rises , Margaret Drabble
Murder in the Mews: 4 Poirot Stories, Agatha Christie
The Sittaford Mystery, Agatha Christie
Murder at the Mansion (A Reverend Annabelle Dixon Cozy Mystery Book 2) by Alison Golden and Jamie Vougeot
Empty Nest, Marty Wingate 2nd Birds of a Feather book.
Letters from Prague, Sue Gee
A Winter Away is one of six titles by Elizabeth Fair being reissued by Dean Street Press under the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint. Twenty-year-old Maud goes to stay with Alice, a cousin of sorts, who lives with a jealous type called Miss Conway. Alice has got Maud a job with ‘Old M’, owner of the nearby big house. He’s supposed to be impossible but Maud gets on well with him. The Feniston family (for Feniston is Old M’s real name) is full of feuds. Maud finds herself caught between three of them: Old M, his son Oliver and his nephew Charles. It’s a harmless, quiet little story about love and rivalry in a village with a big house; mildly amusing but nothing I’d rave about. That’s why I’m surprised to learn that contemporary reviewers compared Elizabeth Fair with Trollope, Angela Thirkell and even Jane Austen. What? I could see no resemblance at all to these far superior writers. Elizabeth Fair is more like Barbara Pym, which is no recommendation from me. I was underwhelmed by this one.
The big disappointment of the month was not being able to finish The Pearl Thief, by Elizabeth Wein. This is billed as a prequel to Code Name Verity, which I praised so highly here. ‘before Verity was Julie’, actually Lady Julia and this is the story of a Scottish summer when Julie was sixteen. She and her brother Jamie are rather like the upper class Stewarts in Olivia FitzRoy’s books (mentioned here) but nicer. The story was quite interesting but I was really irritated by the number of Americanisms. There were so many things a Scottish aristocrat just wouldn’t say: ‘come sit’, ‘go visit’ and so on. I had to abandon the book because of the terrible proof copy I was trying to read. Appalling layout and whole sections of the book transposed so that it made no sense. I asked the publishers for a hard copy instead but heard nothing back, so I’ll have to wait until May, like everyone else, if I want to read the whole thing.
I read two of the Agatha Christie books I got in my recent little market haul. Murder in the Mews contains four Poirot stories, three very good, one no good at all. I can’t read about Poirot now without hearing and seeing David Suchet. He really made that role his own. The Sittaford Mystery I enjoyed, although it’s quite silly. No Miss Marple or Poirot; instead most of the important clues are discovered by feisty Emily Trefusis, fiancée of the fatheaded young man accused of the murder.
Murder at the Mansion (A Reverend Annabelle Dixon Cozy Mystery Book 2) by Alison Golden and Jamie Vougeot sounded promising, with its sleuthing vicar who loves cake. It was free on Amazon and just as well I didn’t pay for it because it’s terrible. Annabelle’s being a vicar is just a gimmick. Empty Nest, by Marty Wingate was also disappointing, although it’s not actually a bad book. It’s the second Birds of a Feather book and I picked it because I’d enjoyed the first one, reviewed here. It was rather plodding and yet again the use of American English in a very English story really got on my nerves. I was especially annoyed by people constantly ‘cutting’ their eyes at each other. Who says that? And what on earth is a ‘jocunt’? I kept thinking of ‘jocund day’. According to Google, it exists only in Serbian! American readers, please help me out.
I’m still working through a pile of books by Sue Gee which I bought after liking Trio so much. Letters from Prague is the story of a journey across Europe which is meant to be a holiday and turns into a shattering, life-changing experience. In 1968 Harriet, working for her A-Levels, meets and falls in love with Karel, a Czech student. Russian tanks roll into Prague (I remember crying over this), Karel goes home and after a few letters have been exchanged they lose touch. Life goes on for Harriet: she goes to university, becomes a history teacher, marries, has a child. At the time of the journey she’s been a single mother for some time, always busy and what some would call ‘a bleeding heart liberal’. The plan is to visit her brother and his wife in Brussels, go by train to Berlin and then on to Prague, with the hope of perhaps finding Karel again. Harriet’s plans and her peace of mind are thrown out when Christopher erupts onto the scene in Brussels. He’s everything Harriet should dislike yet she can’t help being attracted to him. At one point in the book I got really angry with Harriet because of what she put her daughter through in Berlin, where they find themselves in a really dangerous situation. Marsha may be a precocious only child and London street-wise but she is only nine and Harriet’s behaviour, her desire to see and experience everything, is very selfish. Of course both Harriet and the author are just as aware of this as the reader is. The book is beautifully written, as you’d expect, and the descriptions of the three cities make you feel you’ve been there.