The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson – A snowy mystery in the British Library Crime Classic series

The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr)

The book may have been referred to as a seasonal book, but essentially the only important thing is that the weather is snowy. Originally published in 1934, this is another reprint in the fantastic British Library Crime Classics series. The helpful Introduction by Martin Edwards reveals how John Dickson Carr wrote his stories of the multi – skilled Sir Henry Merrivale, baronet, barrister and physician. His skills appeared in twenty-two novels and two short stories, and this book demonstrates his special abilities in solving mysteries that others are finding impossible. This is not a locked room mystery in the obvious way, but a combination of an upmarket outbuilding near a large house with only one set of footprints in the snow. There is a relatively small group of potential suspects for the brutal murder of actor Marcia Tait, film star, who is on a mission to reveal her talent on the London stage. A list of the key characters is included in the Introduction to the novel which I found very helpful for reference, apparently it featured in the first edition and as an extra has been developed by various authors. It is an intense book in parts, with virtually every character coming under suspicion at some point, but also with a certain humour in the oddities of the inhabitants, temporary or permanent of the White Priory. I really enjoyed this book and was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

James Bennett first meets his uncle Henry Merrivale in his characteristic office, a bit overwhelmed and baffled by this venerable and memorable man with his extensive experiences. James is over from America armed with warnings from his father about the man who seems to specialise in impossible situations, and an ill defined mission to accompany those travelling with the mercurial Marcia to the Priory for Christmas. Her producer, agent, lover and a playwright are all present, the last being the Master of the house, Maurice Bohun. Two young women, Louise Canifest, daughter of the play’s backer, and Katharine Bohun are present, and become thoroughly involved in the mystery of the murder and the apparent dangers in the unique house. The discovery of Marcia’s battered body in the Queen’s Pavilion following a night which she demanded to stay the night alone shocks all of those present, involved as they were with the proposed play in which she was to star. Chief Inspector Masters quickly arrives to attempt to identify the culprit but is baffled by the reactions of those he tries to interview. Revelations and twists ensue, where there seems no relief from the dangers and disturbances in the house which holds its own secrets added to the murder mystery. With little personal stake in the fate of the actress, James becomes the observer, counsellor and most impressed by Merrivale when he arrives. In a situation which is at best confusing, at worse dangerous. Merrivale must draw on his suspicions and talents to get to the truth of what truly happened in the pavilion that night.

I found this book an intriguing mystery which was at times a little confusing, but was always entertaining because of the characters which are well drawn. The tracks in the snow is not an unusual mystery complication, but it is well handled and there are lots of additional red herrings, twists and turns. I would certainly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a classic murder mystery with some unusual characters and the redoubtable skills of Henry Merrivale.

The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont – Agatha Christie’s famous disappearance in a whole new fictional light

The Christie Affair by Nina De Gramont

This book must have one of the most memorable blurb lines ever: “In 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days. Only I know the truth of his disappearance…I’m her husband’s mistress”. Everyone with any knowledge of Agatha Christie’s life will know something about her famous absence and huge search following her husband Archie’s announcement that he wanted a divorce. Much has been written about this event, and it has been the subject of speculative television programmes (including a memorable Doctor Who episode!). In this well written novel Nan O’Dea, the woman Archie claimed to be in love with, tells her story in a narrative that makes extensive use of flashback to her earlier life and its challenges. As she describes other times and places she is not always the omnipresent narrator as there are passages which she did not witness, people she never met. There are many twists and turns in this fictional account of a pre Second World War media event, a lot of drama and some loss. Sometimes the focus changes very abruptly, and the chapter headings describe the following as “The Disappearance” to indicate that these are pages set within the eleven days rather than earlier. This is an engaging novel which really caught my interest, with its detailed swings in subject and style, and proved very difficult to put down.

Possibly the greatest achievement of this novel is the collection of characters whose reality leaps from the page. From Nan herself to a disillusioned police officer, Teddy, the Christie’s daughter to a mysterious young Irish man, each have their part to play in a story coloured by an all too recent World War. Agatha is perhaps shown in a different light, not in herself the focus of all of the novel, but at the centre of much of the action. Her mysterious disappearance shakes Archie to his core, as he alternates between the bereft husband in tears to the chief suspect for murder. He emerges as a somewhat weak character in terms of his decisions, far from the dashing pilot that he had earlier seemed. He definitely does not have the answers, in common with virtually every other character in the book. The somewhat harrowing descriptions of a young woman’s life in Ireland dominate a significant part of the novel, and go some way to overshadow the other events, including murder. There are also some powerful descriptions of settings as the disappearance of at least Agatha seems to be partly explained in terms of places, a hotel, a hideaway for more than one person. There are also some themes discussed that are cleverly inserted in the narrative, including religious practice and belief, damage done to individuals and the implication of living secret lives.

This book is not a whodunnit in the Christie tradition, a thriller or even a book totally focused on a notorious disappearance. It is a cleverly constructed novel with great depth, and is the product of a lot of research not only into Agatha but also what happened to many young women in the early part of the twentieth century. It comments in an interesting way on the motivation for actions by various characters, and the confusion that can result for other people. At least two men reflect the obvious and more subtle damage done by War, while women are differently damaged. I found this a fascinating character driven novel which swerves from the obvious and in doing so reveals deep secrets in a successful manner. I recommend this book as more than just another Agatha Christie based novel, an enjoyable picture of lives under stress.   

Ryan is Ready for You Now by Lisa Marks – An Insider’s guide to interviewing a celebrity – from a journalist who was in the room

Ryan is Ready For You Now by Lisa Marks

This is not a usual book to appear on my blog, but from when I picked it up I knew that this vibrant, honest and celebrity name dropping book was a good read. Not that the celebrities are there for kudos or showing off, this is a great book of memoirs of actually interviewing celebrities that have dominated the magazines and newspapers of the last few decades. Perhaps more importantly it is “An Insider’s guide to interviewing a celebrity – from a Journalist who was actually in the room” as the sub title has it. With Chapter headings like “Research is your Rocket Fuel”, this is a valuable guide for anyone who wants to succeed in the area of interviewing and getting pieces published in a variety of mediums; although most of these anecdotes are based on print publications, the skills of writing an attention grabbing headline would undoubtedly translate to online work. The celebrities are not all British based reality stars either, as Marks has spent time in Hollywood interviewing the sort of film stars that have stood the test of time. Indeed the title refers to Ryan Gosling, who was apparently the focus of everyone’s enquiries when Marks revealed what she did; at the time he was enjoying a personal adulation from all age groups. Within the pages of this lively book you will find the joys and challenges of time spent with Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig and Robbie Coltrane. There are questions that have provided revealing details about giving birth, the need for speed with Reese Witherspoon, Kate Beckinsale honestly revealing belt issues, and how Cher proved unapproachable. This is a good read with real style, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

Technically within this book there are many details that will be of interest to would be journalist and anyone who wants the inside track on coping with the tardy, the time obsessed and the largely silent celebrity, among other challenges. Each chapter ends with “Headlines”, a short list of hints and rules for the tasks. These range from “Be adaptable and open to the experience” to “How and why you ask a question is as important as the question you ask”,  to a general rule for life “Don’t be afraid to be yourself” and the tip for teachers, lecturers and many more, “The first ninety seconds count”. Within the chapters themselves there are also gems, such as carrying a pen and paper for notes; despite the ubiquity of recording devices, smart phones and other electronic aids, there is still a place for the written note. When the technology malfunctions, when writing down keywords and observations would help – “feet on table”,  eats real food, “ignores phone”, and when it is helpful just to have something to hold onto, a notebook and pen can help.

Lisa Marks has obviously had a wide life experience which she freely reveals in this entertaining book. This is a book that I found fascinating for its humour and honesty, and I feel it reveals a lot about the reality of interviewing and writing up experiences that would be helpful in many instances. I note that Marks now lectures students and others in the field of journalism, and I feel on the basis of this book would be an entertaining speaker. She has a real gift for engaging the reader and I found it an enjoyable book. For the aspiring journalist and the general reader who wants to know the truth behind the glitter, this is an excellent read.    

Books about Books – a Booklist featuring books about reading, bookselling and libraries among other things!

Admiring Gladstone’s Library – where I found some remarkable books about, well, books….

(If you click on the links, they should work despite not being highlighted!)

Books About Books – A list

I have always had an obsession with books – their content, as objects, libraries and so on. I am not the only one – apparently  Simon Thomas of https://www.stuckinabook.com/about-stuck-in-a-book/ has a shelf of Books About Books.

So I thought I would post a list of some of my favourites, some new, some older, some I have reviewed and some which are waiting to be read! There are some strange choices here – rabbit holes have been gone down…

As with all my lists on Northernreader, please add any ideas in the comments below. I know I will forget some obvious ones and I would like anyone who reads this to feel free to add their own ideas to the list.

  1. The Library – A Fragile History by Arthur der Weduwen and Andrew Pettegree (2021) – I have had a copy of this since it came out, it seemed so desirable. A solid history of libraries, the people and books that fill them – academic but apparently quite readable – the source book for many further studies.
  2. The Bookseller’s Tale by Martin Latham (2020) I reviewed this here https://northernreader.wordpress.com/2023/01/25/the-booksellers-tale-by-martin-latham-a-very-readable-history-of-books-and-those-who-appreciate-them/  I really enjoyed reading this!
  3. Portable Magic – A History of Books and their Readers by Emma Smith (2022) I am looking forward to reading this which appears to have a detailed look at controversies concerning books as well as “What Is a Book?”
  4. Eve Bites Back – An Alternative History of English Literature by Anna Beer (2022) I have just started reading this – feminist historical perspectives on British Women writers from the theological Julian of Norwich though to someone called Jane Austen…
  5. What Writers Read by Pandora Sykes (2022) a fascinating little books with lots of ideas. I reviewed it here https://northernreader.wordpress.com/2023/01/07/what-writers-read-edited-by-pandora-sykes-thirty-five-writers-on-their-favourite-book/
  6. Bibliomanic: An Obsessive’s Tour of the Bookshops of Britain by Robin Ince (2022) I have got a copy of this to read. As you may know I feature accessible bookshops – when I can find them – on this blog under the heading “Bookshop Tour on Four Wheels”. Maybe this will suggest a few more I can try…
  7. Bookshop Tours of Britain by Louise Boland (2020) I have consulted this to try to find possible accessible bookshops with limited success though it is a well -produced book which is generally useful.
  8. Dear Reader : The Comfort and Joy of Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink (2020) A deeply personal book about reading, bookselling and how books can change lives. I reviewed it here https://northernreader.wordpress.com/2020/12/20/dear-reader-by-cathy-rentzenbrink-a-book-about-the-joy-of-reading-and-the-love-of-books/
  9. Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan (2018) I reviewed this book here   https://northernreader.wordpress.com/2018/04/29/bookworm-a-memoir-of-childhood-reading-by-lucy-mangan-only-for-children/and I was a bit disappointed in that it only mentioned children’s books. I subsequently met Lucy and she explained that it represented ideas for children’s books rather than what she actually read ( I was surprised that she had not acquired more grown up books like I did!)
  10. The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell (2017) The first in a series of three so far revealing the daily life in a bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland. Fascinating and often funny, I reviewed it here    https://northernreader.wordpress.com/2017/11/11/the-diary-of-a-bookseller-by-shaun-bythell/
  11. Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell (2019) more of the same – here is my review https://northernreader.wordpress.com/2023/01/09/confessions-of-a-bookseller-by-shaun-bythell-a-humourous-and-honest-account-of-life-in-a-remarkable-bookshop-and-the-people-who-frequent-it/    I have Remainders of the Day, the 2022 book to read – I’m looking forward to it!
  12. The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and their Creators by Martin Edwards (2022) A big book which encapsulates the history of crime writing – fictional – from the very beginnings and in various countries. A book of reference, but also very readable! Here is my review https://northernreader.wordpress.com/2022/05/28/the-life-of-crime-by-martin-edwards-detecting-the-history-of-mysteries-and-their-creators-a-big-book/

 So there you have it – a dozen books about books – some specific, some more general. I am sure that there are dozens more – perhaps older, that I have not listed, so please feel free to add your own ideas. My next list may be about books, bookshops and libraries in fiction – watch this space!

The Bookseller’s Tale by Martin Latham – a very readable history of books and those who appreciate them

The Bookseller’s Tale by Martin Latham

This book fits in well to my current obsession with books about books. Although the framework may be the author’s personal experience of several decades of bookselling, it is in fact a history of the nature of books and those who love them – finding comfort in their presence, writing in them, buying and collecting them, and just reading them. It deals with those who risked everything to read, possess and distribute them in difficult times, such as in France’s Ancien Regime, but also those for whom they were a vital escape, such as Welsh miners for whom Robin Hood was a popular subject. It deals with those for whom access to books was difficult for economic reasons, who had to depend on “chap books” and those cheap editions and previously owned volumes from irregular booksellers. From his own perspective he laments how people feel obliged to read books of literary merit, the Booker winners and challenging reads, when really they want to read books they actually enjoy, despite the labels of “beach reads”. Over the thirteen chapters there are the characters, the collectors, the authors, the obsessives, but also the people who simply love books in whatever situation they are in.

There is humour, there is joy to be found in this friendly and well written book. It diverts into unexpected ways – the section on libraries will explain how collections of books are full of possibilities; the chapter is less a list of libraries through history than the ways that libraries affect people, and how librarians, those charged with their order, have been perceived and behaved. This book is a diverse collection of information, and reflection on what books as objects have meant to people, as well as the way people have reacted to books through the centuries and cultures. It is not an academic book in that there are no pages of notes or indexes, but “A Note on Sources” for each chapter. These notes are personal comments on the inspiration for the chapter, or where further information may be found. The first two chapters – “Comfort Books” and “Reading in Adversity” are seen as a “study in people reading” and that this is a good description of those two discursive chapters. Some are more specific, such as a one dedicated to “Life on the Edge: The Mysteries of Medieval Marginalia”. This somewhat obscure chapter leads into a far more general “Signs of Use”, which revolves around the far more contentious question of how we treat books. Do we regard them as sacrosanct, never thinking of writing in them, barely leaving a trace of handling and reading? Or do we thoroughly engage with them, dog earing to find our place, writing our views in the margins, using the endpapers for lists? There is a whole range of behaviours and justifications for them – some feeling that reading without a pencil in hand to scribble comments is not truly reading a book, others regarding the book as an object separate from such abuse and writing notes in a separate book. Latham points out that historically amending books was an almost expected thing, that many writers and historical figures left their tracks in books which actually added to their interest and even value. I found this chapter particularly interesting owing in part to its free associations.

This is a  book which I greatly enjoyed and found immensely readable. Not an academic tome, but a great read for anyone fascinated by books as objects, as influencing lives, as something which mirrors historical characters. I recommend this as a book of great general appeal, and especially to the book addict in all forms.           

Five Leaves Bookshop, Nottingham – An accessible Bookshop in the centre of the city!

Five Leaves Bookshop – An accessible, radical and independent bookshop in central Nottingham

It’s been some time since I did a Bookshop Tour on Four Wheels post – major health problems in the family sadly. This bookshop was a happy discovery or rediscovery on a cold January day. It is very central in a side street, and very near a tram stop – Old Market Square (a system which is also accessible to wheelchair users in this city). Its roots are in publishing, but this bookshop is also the centre of many events in the area.

As you can see from the pictures it is accessible for wheelchair users as ably demonstrated by myself and daughter. While not huge inside it has a big stock of books, especially poetry, radical and independently published. It also sells books which you may be lucky enough to discover that are of more general appeal. It is well designed so that I could get around easily and see the magazines and other items available. Referring to access on the website it states

Access:

The approach and doorway to our shop is level access. Wheelchairs and motorised wheelchairs can reach most parts of the shop. Staff are always happy to pull down items from high shelves. Our toilet is also accessible (note – because of COVID we do not currently allow customer access, but there are Council public toilets in the next alleyway.) Mail order is postfree to those who are housebound or shielding.

We received a friendly and helpful welcome, and I thoroughly recommend a visit.

Website: https://fiveleavesbookshop.co.uk/

Opening Hours: 10am to 5.30pm  Mon-Sat, 12noon-4pm Sundays

Murder By The Book – Mysteries for Bibliophiles Edited by Martin Edwards – A wonderful collection of stories from the British Library Crime Classics series

Murder by the Book – Mysteries for Bibliophiles Edited by Martin Edwards

This book beautifully reprinted by the wonderful British Library Crime Classics series deserved a swifter review from me – particularly as it fits in with my current obsession with books about books. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this collection. As the title and subtitle suggest, it features sixteen short stories (they vary in length!) where a crime, usually a murder, relates to books, publishing, authors or writing in general. After all, when writing a detective story an author is often encouraged to write about what they know – and they know about the process of writing, getting published better than most. Add in the fact that most writers read a lot and have access to books as objects and the perfect set up may well involve a clue in a book, even if it is a bit obscure!

This particular book is edited by Martin Edwards who provides an Introduction which explains the genre of “bibliomysteries”, a popular tradition within mystery writing since the late 1800s. While the term is subjective, it suggests that if the setting is a “bookshop or library, it is a bibliomystery, just as it is if a major character is a bookseller or a librarian”. The involvement of collectors of rare books, publishers, and authors, if their calling is relevant to the story can also bring the novel or as in this case, story, into the definition. Martin lists and highlights novels which through the decades of the twentieth century have featured one or more of the necessary elements to qualify as a bibliomystery.

As with the other collections of stories in this popular series, Edwards has discovered a range of stories from various authors which reflect the styles and achievements of various authors from the earlier half of the twentieth century onwards. For those who enjoy “Golden Age” mysteries and similar there is so much to enjoy and authors to recognise. They range from the well known A.A. Milne whose fame is based on the Pooh stories but who was a founder member of the Detection Club, to Gladys Mitchell and Ngaio Marsh, some of the leading lights of the Golden Age Detection group. Edmund Crispen is also represented in a typically quirky tale of a frustrated author in “We Know You’re Busy Writing”. There are less well known writers included, but those who enjoy the British Library series will recognise such names as E.C. Bentley and a particularly chilling tale from Christianna Brand. Julian Symons’ “The Clue In The Book” is a short story which is difficult to review without spoilers, as it is so short and includes a classic set up and crime. It is a valuable story in the context of this collection as there are at least two reasons why it should be considered as a bibliomystery.

Those who enjoy mystery and crime fiction will definitely find much to enjoy in this collection of stories, benefitting as it does from the theme of books, writing and general reading. It features names that many will be familiar with in perhaps different guises as well as those whose first calling was short stories to entertain through confusion. I recommend this volume as an enjoyable read, but also one that introduces writers to new potential fans.   

The Lumberjills – Stronger Together by Joanna Foat – A novel of the Land Army women who specialised in forestry

The Lumberjills  – Stronger Together by Joanna Foat

This is a novel set in the Second World War which looks at some important themes which had a great impact of women. There are undoubtedly many books which look at groups of women brought together in the wartime effort, often through specific jobs and places of work that had previously been all male preserves. This well written and sympathetic novel has been thoroughly researched like many others and takes a very serious line which marks it out. Its focus on the women of the Land Army who specifically worked to cut down trees to provide pit props and other items for the immense war effort has been tackled in non -fiction books but less often in novels, and this book fictionalises the difficulties they faced. Apparently, it is based on interviews with some sixty women who had experience in the Land Army and a great deal of solid research. It has the tone of authenticity in every chapter which distinguishes this novel from some others in some respects.

Another aspect of this novel is the writer’s own appreciation of the places in which the girls worked – the woodlands and forests of Britain. It means that even when the girls are in real difficulties, they catch something of the beauty of the trees and their setting that can provide the material. There are descriptions which are genuinely lyrical, of light, the effect of the branches in diffusing the sunlight, the target of obtaining the best trees to provide the vital pit props for the mines. The author has chosen to focus on three young women who start as Land Girls on the same day, as part of a group brought in as a desperate attempt to increase the production of wood in early 1940 in the Forest of Dean. Keeva is from a family with a very different lifestyle and beliefs; she has experienced rejection because of her father’s objections to fighting in this second war in his lifetime. She finds it difficult to get on with the other young women in the group, especially when they make certain discoveries about her. Rosie comes from a family where domestic violence is a way of life, and she has had to become streetwise in a way beyond the understanding of the other young women. Beatrice comes from a wealthy background and has very different expectations of the Land Army – she believes that she can offer her mathematical skills and is surprised at what she is asked to do. All the girls are running away from something, but they have difficulty in understanding what they are aiming for in such challenging circumstances.

Another character who appears in this novel is the very real Lady Denman, who appears in many accounts as the important woman who argued the case for the Land Army at the highest level. She is frequently depicted as a formidable and powerful advocate for women’s work, but this novel looks at the woman from a different perspective.   

I found this a very vivid and well-expressed book which took a thoughtful and empathetic view of an important group of women whose efforts made a real difference to the war effort. It is authentic and realistic, a powerful piece of writing which deserves to be widely read. I recommend “The Lumberjills” as an important novel, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.  

This Golden Fleece by Esther Rutter – An enjoyable Journey Through Britain’s Knitted History

This Golden Fleece by Esther Rutter

This book is subtitled “A Journey Through Britain’s Knitted History”, and it is just that, a personal account of knitting throughout the British Isles. It skilfully blends the history of knitting with impressions of the area, showing an impressive amount of research which is presented in a very readable style. Moreover, it also features Rutter’s own attempts to copy the knitting project which is specific to the area, a process which can require wool from the area or special tools. Thus, she attempts such diverse projects as a Monmouth cap, a fisherman’s kelp and even a successful knitted bikini!

This is a good humoured book which involved a lot of travelling to places such as Shetland and Jersey, as well as mainland places which have been traditionally associated with specific knitted garments over the centuries, from the earliest knitted footwear to be discovered to the kitting patterns of the twentieth century. There are many fascinating descriptions in this book, as the constant task of an immensely heavy and daunting project of a man’s gansey lurks in the background set against smaller tasks, some of which are immediate and of the moment, such as a Pussyhat for an anti- Trump protest. Each item of knitwear is honestly described as some are more challenging than others, and while Rutter is obviously a skilled knitter in many ways, she sets herself some daunting challenges! There is an enormous sense of place associated which each section of this book, as the author relates her own impression of the place alongside its knitting traditions and not only looks at the existing examples but also attempts her own versions. The illustrations in the hardback edition clearly show the complexity of the project. There is enormous detail associated with each tradition which is well expressed and extremely readable even to the non-historian.

I discovered this book by chance some time ago, and my daughter pointed out that she was at school with the author in Suffolk! I am not a knitter (I turn out many crochet blankets) but many female relatives were compulsive knitters, especially my mother, so reading this book felt like coming home in some senses. Although I could never see myself knitting as well, I have some understanding of the processes involved in producing the finished items. These are beautiful and thoughtful descriptions of a skill usually associated with women, often not as a hobby but as an essential contribution to family incomes. I appreciated the descriptions of the women such as the herring women who would walk along knitting and glimpsed something of the way my mother would knit and talk, watch television and read while turning out lovely garments.  I have also been to some of the places Rutter visited, including Shetland, and was very interested in the Wool Week that she attended, and how she chose to remember her visit.

Another lovely aspect of this book is the way that as someone who lived on a sheep farm, she wrote about the way fleece is treated from sheep to finished piece, including spinning. She writes about the difference between different sorts of sheep and their fleece, how it can be treated and what it can be best used for in knitting terms. Rutter has also researched the more rare sheep breeds that have survived more intensive farming, and how they produce fleece of different types, sometimes in very restricted amounts. This book, although well written as to be readable, features notes on sources listed at the end. It also features a Select Bibliography and an extensive Index, making this book a useful source of information for further study.

This is a book that I greatly enjoyed reading and one I thoroughly recommend to anyone with an interest in knitting, but also with an eye to social history especially in terms of Women’s Work. It would definitely be worth tracking down a copy!

The Girl on the 88 Bus by Freya Sampson – A lovely book goes paperback today! A reposted review

The Girl on the 88 Bus by Freya Sampson

A bus, or at least the route through central London it takes, is an unusual setting for a love story – but this is an unusual love story. Rich in characters and with a seemingly effortlessly constructed plot, this lovely book deals with friendship and love of various types. It begins with a Prologue set in April 1962, but the bulk of the novel is set very much in contemporary London, as people journey on a bus which takes in the main sights and well known places in the capital, including crucially the National Gallery. In some ways the predictability of the journey makes meetings and encounters of all sorts perfectly possible, but this novel is based on one journey taken by Frank in 1962. He met a vibrant red headed girl, who seemed unlike anyone he had ever met before, and sadly since. He has been travelling on the bus for the sixty years from that meeting, whenever his life and career have allowed, looking for a girl who he lost the phone number for, but has occupied his memory ever since. Another encounter, with a despondent and desperate young woman called Libby, in 2022, sparks off a hunt for the original girl with a sketchbook. 

This is a beautifully written book, which tells the story of an unusual search from the point of view of a young woman whose situation could be overwhelming, were it not for the distraction of Frank and his plight. The story follows her reaction to being spoken to by an elderly man on a bus, which she finds significance in even when she has been rendered homeless and jobless by her boyfriend who suddenly announced their relationship was over. I found this a credible situation, and Libby’s feelings of shock and even guilt are understandable. The characters in this novel have such richness and depth, even though they may not be central to the novel. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Libby’s sister Rebecca, and her firm manner over her expectations of Libby’s stay. There are other characters whose depictions are generous and carefully written, with a real sense of life. 

The situation that Frank finds himself in is probably difficult to imagine in a world of mobile phones, social media and so many ways of tracking people down, but it reminded me that for so many older people,such innovations are tricky to understand. This book has so many fascinating things to say about community, about the proximity of people on public transport that usually means very little, but can take on whole new significance. It is obviously a heart felt book, as Frank is shown as beginning to lose his ability to cope and remember. Libby is also hurt and confused, and grasps some of the hope that new friends and companions can impart. Both Frank and Libby are struggling with their families expectations, holding on to the slim hope of finding the special person who changed at least one life. 

This is such a beautifully written book that has so much to say about the power of memory, of hope, and friendship. I found it a compelling read which carried me along as I was so keen to discover what would happen with each of the characters. I found the whole description of travelling on the bus enticing! I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this fascinating and lovely book.and recommend it to anyone who enjoys positive stories written with real feeling.