Coming Home to the Comfort Food Café, Debbie Johnson
Murder isn’t Easy, Richard Hull
Birds, Beasts and Relatives, Gerald Durrell
The Garden of the Gods, Gerald Durrell
The Durrells of Corfu , Michael Haag
A Month in the Country, J L Carr
The Lost Letters of William Woolf, Helen Cullen
In Farleigh Field: A novel of World War 11, Rhys Bowen
The Silver Music Box, (Silver Music Book Series Book 1) Mina Baites
Old Baggage , Lissa Evans
The Woman in White , Wilkie Collins
Crooked Heart, Lissa Evans
The Only Story, Julian Barnes
I didn’t enjoy Coming Home to the Comfort Food Café as much as the other two books in the series I’d read. It has the usual story: sad people with huge problems sorted by a stay in Budbury but I felt the main characters were too dominant and wanted more about the other eccentric patrons of the Comfort Food Café.
Murder isn’t Easy was my monthly offering from the Ipso Crime Classics advance readers’ club. I’d never heard of Richard Hull and was impressed by the cleverness of this crime novel, set in a badly run advertising agency. There are three directors, two murders and three unreliable narrators. Towards the end, you can see what’s coming but it remains intriguing. I thought this much better than many of the ‘golden age’ crime novels currently being republished. Unfortunately, it can’t compete with Dorothy L Sayers’ Murder must Advertise.
There was a Kindle deal on Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy. As I only had the first book, I snapped up the offer. I followed up that reading with a return to Michael Haag’s The Durrells of Corfu. All three just emphasised for me how completely ridiculous the TV series The Durrells has become.
I first read A Month in the Country many years ago but appreciated it much more this time around. Carr’s description of that idyllic summer seems more like a time before the First World War than 1920, when it’s set. It’s a beautiful book and another I bought as a Kindle deal.
I read Helen Cullen’s book thanks to Penguin/Michael Joseph and NetGalley. William Woolf works as a kind of detective in the Dead Letters Depot, dealing with letters which for one reason or another it’s not been possible to deliver. The work is satisfying but it’s not the life he planned for himself, as a writer. His wife, earning more than he does, is irritated by his settling for such a dead-end job rather than writing the great work he planned. Their marriage is in big trouble. Then William starts to find a series of letters, each unaddressed and always in the same kind of envelope. The letters begin, ‘My Great Love’ and are written by someone writing as if her ‘great love’ is out there somewhere but she just hasn’t met him yet. William becomes obsessed with these letters, searches for them in the post bags, starts to wonder if he could be the mysterious great love, even though he is still in love with his wife.
I found the details of the work at the depot interesting and cheered William’s best results at reuniting a letter with its intended recipient. The attempt to track the writer of the mysterious blue letters is rather creepy. I found it irritating that two people who had loved each other since their student days seemed set on wrecking their marriage. As with Dear Mrs Bird, I felt that the letters alone made an interesting story, without the surrounding baggage.
The Lost Letters of William Woolf will be out in July
I think In Farleigh Field was the free Kindle book for February. It's already been criticised for historical inaccuracy. For me, this was in the use of language. Who said, ‘Get outta here?’ in 1941? Who would spell Pa and Ma, Pah and Mah? In spite of such annoyances I did race through the book and enjoyed it. The plot reminded me of Elizabeth Edmondson’s Very English Mystery series, but Edmondson is so much better.
I must have been trawling the Kindle for things to read last month as The Silver Music Box was yet another free Kindle book. It’s been translated from German and the next book, Dreams of Silver, will be out next November. The story is interesting but the writing rather plodding. A German Jewish silversmith makes a beautiful little music box for his young son. We then follow the history of the box from before the First World War to 1963. I thought that events moved too swiftly in the second, more modern half of the book compared with the slow pace of events between the wars.
I had to read Crooked Heart again after Old Baggage; it’s becoming one of my very favourite books. In the paperback edition, there’s an afterword by Lissa Evans in which she says that she is ‘now writing about Mattie’. This would become Old Baggage.
The Only Story (signed copy!) was a birthday present which I was saving for just the right moment when I really wanted to read it. Rather like The Sense of an Ending, it’s a retrospective first-person novel written by an older man looking back at his life. What is the only story? The story of the love of one’s life. In ‘the Village’ in suburban Surrey, nineteen-year-old Paul, who despises everything about life there, joins the tennis club. He falls in love with a woman of forty-eight and she with him. This turns out not to be a one-summer, Mrs Robinson-like affair but a serious commitment. The story of their long relationship is sad and painful to read about and I couldn’t really understand Susan, the older woman. An unusual subject and written with all Julian Barnes’ sympathy for and understanding of emotions and how they make people behave. Excellent.