Mary Wakefield, Mazo de la Roche
The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde , Eve Chase
N or M?, Agatha Christie
Because of the Lockwoods, Dorothy Whipple
Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers, Alexander McCall Smith
The Killing in the Café, Simon Brett
Hiss and Hers, M C Beaton
The Unpleasantness in the Ballroom, Catriona Macpherson
Number 10, Sue Townsend
A Summer at Sea, Katie Fforde
The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
Variable Winds at Jalna, Mazo de la Roche
The Z Murders, J Jefferson Farjeon
Over the Gate, Miss Read
Quite a little crime wave last month. First up was Agatha Christie’s N or M?, part of my market haul weeks ago. It’s the first Tommy and Tuppence book I’ve read and I will now offend Dame Agatha’s many admirers by saying that I found it a poor book. I much prefer Simon Brett’s OTT Blotto and Twinks stories. The Killing in the Café was as entertaining as the rest of the Fethering series. I’ve got quite fond of Jude and Carole (prefer Carole, actually), and enjoy the amusing social comment. I find I’m two books behind so I hope the library has them the next time I visit. I’m also way behind in a vain attempt to keep up with Agatha Raisin. How on earth does M C Beaton write so fast? By being a little slapdash in her writing, truth be known but Agatha and friends still entertain me. I love the way something new happens on every page. Hiss and Hers sees Agatha hopelessly infatuated again, only for the object of her unrequited passion to be murdered in a particularly horrible way. In The Unpleasantness in the Ballroom, Dandy and Alec find themselves mixed up with gangsters in Glasgow. All highly improbable but I so like Alec. Sad news in this one about Bunty the Dalmatian. The Z Murders by J Jefferson Farjeon is another British Library Crime Classic. Wonderful cover, terrible book; absolute nonsense. I do admit that the murderer is exceptionally creepy and scary.
I loved Mary Wakefield, with its descriptions of Jalna and Mary’s triumph over the fearsome Adeline. There was the added pleasure of a very pretty jacket by Biro. Variable Winds at Jalna was less enjoyable than the earlier, simple love story. The number of characters makes things confusing (if you’ve jumped several books to get here) and I referred often to the family tree. Because the Whiteoaks live in such an isolated, self-contained way, it’s hard to date from internal evidence. At one point I pinned the date to 1950, based on the family tree, only to find this contradicted by another entry. I still galloped happily through the book.
I’m a great admirer of Dorothy Whipple. At the start of Because of the Lockwoods it’s very obvious that Mr Lockwood is going to swindle an ineffectual widow (annoying woman!) and that would seem to be the end of the story. How was Whipple going to get such a long book out of it? She succeeds brilliantly. I must be the last person in the world to read The Shell Seekers. I enjoyed immersing myself in the long story, only to find that by the end I didn’t like any of the characters very much.
Yet again I find myself reading a series out of order, this time Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street. In Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers, Bertie reaches the important age of seven and his mother goes missing abroad. What a relief for everyone! I do like these tales but when did Mathew stop being an ineffectual gallery owner and become a philosopher? Sue Townsend is sadly missed. I read Number 10 in about five minutes, even though I didn’t want it to end. Here are some quotes which typify her spot-on social comment and humour.
‘she’d grown nervous of answering the telephone since a series of desperate sales people had rung her day and night begging her to buy her electricity from the gas board and pay for her phone calls through the water board. She had thought they were playing a cruel joke on her.’
‘Schoolchildren walked by shouting affectionate obscenities to each other. They were bent under the weight of huge rucksacks; they looked like foot soldiers walking through the ruins of a fallen city.’
‘The concourse at King’s Cross station resembled a crowd scene from an early Russian film about the October Revolution; there was a similar sense of confusion and despair.’
The book was published in 2002 and every word about how people live still rings true.
A Summer at Sea was a great disappointment. Such a pity, because I liked Katie Fforde’s early books. For me, she’s been overtaken by Trisha Ashley and even Lisa Jewell.
A Miss Read book I hadn’t read! And it came from the Co-op charity book table, which I frequently donate to. Over the Gate is a linked series of short stories about residents of Fairacre alive and dead. They are variable in quality and my favourites always included Mrs Pringle.