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October Books



I still keep my book lists but got tired of writing them up every month. Here I’m catching up with my reviews and expressing some heretical opinions.

Pink Sugar, O Douglas
In the Woods, Tana French
Penny Plain, O Douglas
Priorsford, O Douglas
Silver Snaffles, Primrose Cumming
All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot
The Secret Life of Books, Tom Mole
Utopia Avenue, David Mitchell
Dance of Death, Helen McCloy
Lolly Willowes, Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Firemaker, Peter May



First a couple of books I read in September and should have reviewed before. The enterprising Dean Street Press brought out in October a further ten Anthony Bathurst novels by Brian Flynn. ‘These ten novels, which represent 11-20 in the long-running series, are classics of the English crime golden age. They were published between 1932-1937, and all feature beautiful new cover artwork, plus insightful and fascinating introductions by crime fiction historian Steve Barge.’ Dean Street kindly sent me two e-books.

In Tread Softly, Claude Merivale, film actor, turns himself in and confesses that he has murdered his wife by strangling her *in his sleep*. The police believe him, Bathurst is not so sure. Ugh, the snobbery of this book! It must have been written for men who were old-fashioned even in 1937. When Bathurst speaks to the Inspector, he calls him ‘Andrew’. When McGorran replies, it’s ‘Mr Bathurst’. At Merivale’s trial, about half way through the book, the author opines that it will be interesting to the know the thoughts of the twelve jurors as they wait for the trial to start. It is not interesting at all and, had I been editing this book, would have been cut. Then he gives the speech for the defence in full. Clever but quite unnecessary.

The Spiked Lion is much better, involving a serial killer and the familiar ‘apparently returned from the dead but is it really him?’ theme. And what on earth is this spiked lion? It was fun finding out.

In the Woods by Tana French didn’t ring any bells when I picked it up but
as soon as I read the cover blurb, I realised it was the origin of the Irish mystery Dublin Murders, about disappearing children, which I watched on TV last year. Detectives Rob and Cassie investigate the murder in the woods of a young girl, a potential ballet dancer. Twenty years before, three children went into those same woods and only one came out again. The one boy was Rob himself, who has changed his identity and told no one of his involvement. Is there a connection between the cases? When I watched the TV series, I was disappointed that the earlier mystery was not solved and it’s the same with the book. I was wondering why there was so much more on TV than in the book and have only just discovered that the TV adaptation was based on another book as well, The Likeness. I really enjoyed this book. It’s narrated by ‘Rob’ and you can tell at once by the tone of the writing that this is a story that won’t end well.

I was looking forward to reading Silver Snaffles at last. I love the format and the illustrations by Stanley Lloyd (he also illustrated Cummings’ lovely book The Wednesday Pony) but I find talking horses are not my thing. It remains an important book in the genre and I’ll put it with the other pony books. More animals in All Creatures Great and Small. I took advantage of a 99p Kindle deal, obviously timed to coincide with the TV remake. It’s years since I read this and I found myself shocked by the amount all the vets drink! As for the drink driving …it’s a miracle they could work at all.

I was sent a review copy of The Secret Life of Books by Elliot and Thompson and I just don’t know what to say about it. I enjoyed the book while I was reading it, as I would enjoy most books about books but much of it seemed so obvious that I wondered the author (who sounds very nice) bothered to say it. And what a silly title. Every other programme on TV these days is called The Secret Life of something or other, when there’s actually nothing secret about the subject at all. I did learn some interesting facts from it, which can’t be bad.

I should have known better. I couldn’t get through Cloud Atlas; managed Black Swan Green but thought it just clever writing. The synopsis of Utopia Avenue, telling me it was about struggling bands in the sixties (plus the lure of another 99p buy) led me to think I might like it. So I did at first, when it was the story of a struggling band, but then along came the drugs and, just as with the music, IMO, it was all downhill from there and turned into a tale of everything I most dislike about the sixties (and I lived through them). I abandoned it about three quarters of the way through. I may go back to see what happens but I’m in no hurry.

Another review copy next: Dance of Death by Helen McCloy, reissued by Agora Books and an ‘extra’ for the Crime Classics Review Club. It was her first novel and the first appearance of Dr Willing, who featured in twelve more mysteries. The story is set in New York. A girl is found dead under frozen snow but the body is hot! The preliminary autopsy suggests that she died from heatstroke. How? Once the poor girl is identified, it seems to be a case about high society or at least rich people. An unpleasant lot they are, too, but what on earth is the motive for her killing? Dr Willing is not a policeman but a psychiatrist and tackles every case from that angle, so his solution is more about perception than about evidence. I enjoyed the book but both science and psychiatry have moved on since 1933 and I found that a slight problem.

Lolly Willowes has been on my ‘books I really should read’ list for ages. Why so? Book bloggers rave about it to the extent that it’s seen almost as a sacred text. It is a ‘feminist classic’. Not for me, it isn’t. I hate, hate, hate Lolly Willowes! The heroine, Laura (Lolly) is completely wet and uninteresting. She has grown up comfortably in the country. When her beloved father dies, it is decided for her that she will live with one of her brothers and his family in London. She not only goes along with this but stays for twenty years, making herself useful but *doing nothing*. Then, uncharacteristically, she breaks away from her family and lodges in a village in Buckinghamshire. Here she is happy but still she *does nothing*. This book was first published in 1926, a hard time to be a single woman when there were so many of them (not that Lolly shows any interest in marriage). The Amazon blurb describes Laura as ‘dependent’, which isn’t really true, as she has a small private income of her own. Many women had to work. There were single mothers, widowed by the war, struggling to bring up families on next to nothing. There’s Lolly, who could have done something had she chosen to, *doing nothing*. As for the end of the book (spoiler coming), if women’s empowerment can only come through witchcraft, there’s no hope for most of them. If the book hadn’t been so short (224 pages), I would probably never have got through it because of the outraged irritation I felt throughout my read. I can only think that people confuse Lolly with the author, who really did lead an unconventional life.

It was a huge relief to turn from this to Peter May’s thriller The Firemaker, the first book in The China Thriller series. Utterly gripping and a real page turner.

The books by O Douglas have been my bedtime reading and there’s nothing more suitable.
Tags: crime fiction, david mitchell, helen mccloy, o douglas, pony books, sylvia townsend warner
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