New to me and recommended for a light, amusing read, are the Lady Hardcastle mysteries by T E Kinsey, which are set in the early years of the twentieth century. I’ve now gobbled down the lot. It’s not the mysteries which make the books but the relationship between Lady Hardcastle and her ‘tiny servant’, as she sometimes calls her. Florence Armstrong is officially Lady Hardcastle’s maid but they are actually close friends and collaborators. They are terribly rude to each other, which provides a lot of the humour in the books. It’s very clever of the author to refer in each book to the thrilling adventures in their past without taking us there. Although she’s good at seeming rather dotty, Lady Hardcastle is actually very clever (Natural Sciences at Girton), speaks several languages, plays the piano very well and is a crack shot. Welsh Armstrong was brought up in a circus and is an expert knife thrower, which comes in handy when there are villains about. She’s also a martial arts expert, thanks to lessons from a monk when they were making their perilous way through China. I would be very disappointed if each book didn’t contain at least one instance of five-foot nothing Flo throwing a giant thug to the ground. Murder to Music by Barbara Newman was the Crime Classics offering of the month. It was first published in 1959 and hadn’t been reprinted until now, when Agora Books are hoping we’ll rediscover the ‘uncrowned queens of crime’. A man is murdered during a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. Hundreds of people saw him die but none saw the means. This is the problem faced by D S Simon Hudson. He needs to investigate the amateur choir which was performing at the time and even Delia, the girl he loves, has to be suspected. Hudson discovers a great deal about the choir and about music but is he completely wrong about motive? There are many red herrings and a twist before he discovers the truth. An enjoyable enough book, although I couldn’t believe any policeman would confide so much about the case to his own girlfriend. The Royal Festival Hall was still quite new back then, so the book comes over as a period piece. Another Agora reprint: One Way to Venice by Jane Aiken Hodge, first published in 1974 and billed as a thriller. Julia is an intelligent young woman who acts like an idiot. After a whirlwind romance, she leaves her job with a kind boss to marry a man she hardly knows and live with his family on an old southern plantation. She’s convinced the family are trying to kill her and eventually gets away, back to her job and understanding Sir Charles. Then anonymous letters arrive, one showing what seems to be a photo of the child she gave up for adoption. When she is sent a ticket to Venice, she sets off, quite unprotected, into an unknown world where people may be out to harm her. Why they would do so is quite inexplicable at first.
I read this book very quickly, so it’s enough of a thriller for you to want to find out what happens. The plot is convoluted and unlikely, although with a proper twist at the end. Heroine Julia is the weak spot. When she describes herself as a fool, you have to agree. I’d prefer a tougher heroine, not one dependent on knights in shining armour. Lucky old Anthony Horowitz, who gets to write continuations of some of his favourite books. Trigger Mortis, a James Bond novel, was a 99p Kindle deal. I’m not a Bond fan but I thought this was brilliant. It could be enjoyed as a standalone book but Horowitz mentions events which take place in Fleming novels and has included just the right amount of unnecessary technical detail and brand-name dropping. There are just a couple of instances of modern sensibilities creeping in but overall, it’s excellent. Looking for something to read for nothing, I found Wakenhyrst free with Prime. It’s one of those books set in a creepy old house with a dark history. It starts in the present day, hinting at past horrors which are eventually revealed. The descriptions of the fens are very atmospheric and it’s easy to believe that something nasty could happen there. It certainly did, ugh! I sympathised with the main character but found the story less scary than it might have been.