A late Golden Age murder – Love Lies Bleeding

Love Lies Bleeding – Edmund Crispin

If you have read this book blog before, you’ll know that I’m rather fond of murder mystery novels. I admit to struggling with the more modern crime books, Ann Cleeves excepted, but I really like murder mystery books set in early to mid 20th Century Britain, as well as medieval evil doings…

I am pounding through Laurie R King’s Mary Russell books. For fans of Sherlock Holmes they are an intriguing feminist twist. I must admit still being baffled at their running order, and I am still a bit miffed at the end of The Language of Bees which dovetailed into God of the Hive. At least the latter goes paperback next week, I believe, so it will be cheaper to buy. My wonderful local library got a much read hardback copy for me, so I did not have too long to wait.

Anyway, today’s book was written in 1948, and is an enjoyable whodunnit set in a large private school. Gervase Fen, the Professor of English from Oxford, is once more called on to solve murders, and cracks the case quickly, much to the mystification of everyone, including the reader. The hunt for evidence is still enjoyable, even if a hard slog for the hero.Crispin is one of the few writers of this period (any period?) who can describe a car chase in words and still make it exciting, funny and comprehensible. I will reveal that the much abused, desirable sports car Lily Christine survives, but apart from her there are lamentably few opportunities for females to take the detecting lead. I feel that Mr Crispin enjoys describing the younger women in the novel, though…

Altogether this is an good murder mystery, with comedy, pathos and a reasonable quota of victims and suspects. The setting is not quite as interesting as The Moving Toyshop and the characters not as funny, but this is an enjoyable run around with suitable ‘how is he going to get out of that?’ moments. More complex than Christie, less wordy than Sayers, and funnier than many similar  mysteries, this is a good book.  A tv series, anyone?

Pride and Prejudice still being continued

Greetings from a blowy North East! I think that the only thing to do when 70 mile an hour winds are forecast is stay put. Last night’s excellent quiz organised by Son One kept nearly 80 of us entertained and raised funds for a flower festival in August. Well done that man. Tomorrow night is a ” Cantonese Banquet” for the same good cause. It’s not all about the flowers though – we are raising money for 3 charities including the Children’s Hositals in Newcastle. No doubt I’ll mention it again…

And as to the book, I thought that I would write about one of the many ‘sequels ‘ to Pride and Prejudice. This type of book seems to be dominated by American writers who do a lot of research, but who equally commit serious howlers like having a pregnant Elizabeth Darcy/Bennett riding alone from Derbyshire to London within a couple of hours…

This one, The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview, doesn’t commit so many blunders, and focuses, interestingly, on the otherwise unpopular Caroline Bingley.

I liked this book. The author makes a virtue of her U.S. roots by making the hero the original Darcy’s American cousin. This at least means that he can get away with flouting some of the precise etiquette of the period which, if nothing else, could slow a book down. Caroline’s insecurity comes over here, as the novel opens on her distress that she was not Fitzwilliam Darcy’s bride. There may be a few quibbles here with some distances and travel realities, but overall this is a good book for anyone who wondered if Lydia came to a sticky end, Elizabeth produced another generation of Darcys, and if Jane maintained her superhuman sympathies for everyone. Essentially it is a book about what happened to a minor character, but it is entertaining and enjoyable. I would certainly look for Fairview’s other book, The Darcy Cousins, which promises to deal with the monstrous Lady Catherine de Bourgh among others. Monica Fairview’s own blog, http://monicafairview.blogspot.com/ mentions other authors and books which continue the Austen legacy, so it may be worth a look if tis is the sort of book which attracts you. (Especially you, Mrs. A.N.!) I enjoy them as a lighter alternative to some books that I no doubt ought to be reading…

After drama and classics – a very silly book!

What do you read when you’re getting just a little bit bored of serious reads? When even the best literary classic gets a bit heavy, and some of your book group choices are just plain miserable, however beautifully written?

Well, here is one answer. The Bloomsbury Group are useless are replying to emails, but are producing some funny little classics. I wrote ages ago about Henrietta’s War and Henrietta sees it through both by Joyce Dennys, which were a jolly pair of books about a doctor’s wife in World War Two, complete with some excellent cartoons.

The latest that I have read is Love’s Shadow by Ada Leverson.

Apparently this author was much admired by Oscar Wilde, and I can see why. It is the very British humour that you can see in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and leads to Wodehouse and Cold Comfort Farm. It is in the characters, the ridiculous things that they say and do, and the silliness of melodrama in which nothing bad happens (apart from the odd misplighted trough).

In this book , a young married couple are very central. The Ottley’s live in comfortable circumstances, but Bruce must be handled very carefully. He always wants the opposite, has aspirations to be a great dramatist, and would drive a saint mad. The funniest section is when he takes part in amateur dramatics, working hard at his two line part. Anyone who has worked in these groups will whimper with recognition…

The rest of the book is about unrequited love, unlikely coincidences and impossible women who wear an odd assortment of golf hats, mackintoshes and clothes that make them ‘look upholstered’. This book will not appeal to everybody. But if you like things like Cold Comfort Farm, Diary of a Nobody or Oscar Wilde, this is a funny little book to spend an hour or so enjoying.

Persephone Post – and one of their books

One of the interesting things about the Persephone Books website is the link to http://thepersephonepost.blogspot.com/ which offers an unusual, historical picture, often of women reading, working or just as an alternative view of the world. Here is today’s

which is an interesting image of a woman operating a printing press. I’m using it today because I want to post about Persephone no.86, To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski.

This book,  in some ways, fulfills the expectation of a book by this small but excellent publishing house.It is written by a woman in the twentieth century and it certainly warrants reprinting. I enjoyed it. It is a book set in World War Two, and features a young wife and mother, Deborah, left to look after her small son while her husband is posted to the Middle East for the duration.But this is where the book begins to diverge from the expected. Instead of being yet another ‘brave woman on the home front’ account, Deborah exploits the freedom offered by an absent husband and a willing housekeeper to go to London and find a job. She begins by regretting a one night stand and becomes a solitary, respectable war worker returning to the countryside at the weekend. She changes into a different person gradually, staying in London more, meeting a man and then another who change her life view.

What is so good about this book is the depiction of her reasoning with herself which enable her to justify to herself what she is doing. It is written in the third person, but accurately captures her thought processes, even when the reader is willing her to make a different choice, take different action. Not that I would condemn her outright; women were in a unique position of being given so many new choices and responsibilities. The traditional ways of life were going, and women for the first time had more than marriage, home and children to concern themselves with. This is a short book, with an understandable heroine. I liked reading this alternative view of what women really did in wartime, and it is another memorable book in my Persephone collection.

Crow Trap – so what did happen?

Crow Trap – Ann Cleeves.

Just a brief post about Crow Trap. Well, I had read the book carefully – but found that any resemblance between that and the tv version was by way of overlapping. Only one woman on the project rather than three, murder rather than suicide, etc. And they left out my favourite character! Having said that, the cast of characters in the book is long and the plot/s very complicated, so maybe this trimming was a good thing; or at least a virtue out of necessity.

Overall, it was a good programme, the setting was good, and the main police characters improving every week. Though why does Vera always have to go steaming to the rescue virtually single handed? It is beautifully acted, though.

Husband very pleased to be able to identify the church at the end. On  http://northernvicar.wordpress.com/he even gives you a post and some photos!

The Crow Trap-what will happen on tv?

I’ve mentioned Ann Cleeves’ The Crow Trap before in this blog; it is the first one in the Vera Stanhope series set in the North east of England. A dramatized version is due to be shown on ITV this Sunday in the series Vera. I’m not sure why they are showing them in this order, but it so far has been an interesting series, if a little dark. Husband has been calling out suggestions for the locations it has been set in, having objects thrown at him as a result…

The Radio Times suggests that the tv film tells a different version of this story than in the novel. Certainly the plot line that I’ve read doesn’t seem true to the book, but we will see.

I’m usually quite keen on tv adaptations because they usually lead to more people (if only me!) reading the book. Obviously there are going to be differences. South Riding 

was a good example of a good tv series based on a really big, great book. I probably would not have read it if it had not been shown on tv, but found that the book was far, far better in terms of content and characterization. The obvious problem was the short series which could not hope to capture more than the main themes of the book. I’m not sure that will be the case on Sunday, although it is a complex plot.

The book, The Crow Trap, is an interesting, complex read. It is written from different viewpoints, which while enabling a really clear view of the events of this multiple murder mystery, is also a little disorientating. I have seen it done before, but each section has been in a very different style, where this sits solidly in the third person.It also leads to a certain amount of repetition, which means that it is an easier read than some modern mystery novels where missing one clue is crucial. I thought that the descriptions of the landscape were effective, even speaking as a reader who has not been northern enough for long enough to recognise the area.The characterization is good, each character being given a distinct voice and personality. Most of the significant characters are female, which is a interesting situation for a novel, and the characters are well differentiated. It is a complex plot, with red herrings and elements swirling round.

It is not a comfortable book, or a particularly easy read, but one that is difficult to put down because it is so well written. I think that it could do with losing a few pages because it does tend to repeat the facts, and I think (though not a great reader of modern murder novels) that there are a few too many characters. My favourite has to be Edie, a hippy single mother, whose grown up daughter frequently cringes with embarrassment at her over enthusiasm for talking things through and being accepting of whatever anyone gets up to (within reason). I would recommend this book as a not too brutal murder mystery, with interesting themes, good characters and a well worked through plot. Husband has read the first Shetland series book, and seemed to enjoy it. I’m looking forward to reading more Cleeves!

Barter Books – A big Bookshop

When we announced that we were moving “up North” some people got excitable about me being able to visit Barter Books at Alnwick Station. This advertises itself as “one of the biggest secondhand bookshops in Britain” and it’s the sort of place to visit on a wet Saturday afternoon – or indeed at any time, as their opening times are generous. For those of you not blessed by being northernreaders, you can see their website, and ask them about finding books for you, on  http://www.barterbooks.co.uk/shop.php among other things.

It is a secondhand bookshop set in an old station. I have been here a few times, but not really got into the swing of it. This time I was deposited here while Daughter’s choir (including Husband and Son One) was singing at a wedding. I found enough to keep me amused for a couple of hours, which says something about the size of the place and my new technique in here: pick up a pile of possibles and sit down to have a read. If I have the time it means that I’m less likely to pick up duplicates or stuff that, if I’m honest, I’m not going to read in the foreseeable future. I was tempted by some Mills and Boon type Regency romances, but was firm and put them back. Easy to read, but impossible to accept as realistic. I have nothing against M&B; I grew up surrounded by them, but if you saw the size of my Have It, Unread shelves…

Anyway, I did emerge well fed (the cafe is really good) and clutching some interesting stuff, including three Molly Keane books. I also bought the entire Poldark series…on DVD (well, I’ve got all the books twice over in most cases).

More seriously, I bought the biography of Angus Wilson by Margaret Drabble. I knew Tony, Angus’ longtime partner,  in a former place. It’s a big book, so I’m not sure when I’ll get around to actually reading it. Drabble is an immensely good writer, so there’s at least two good reasons to try.

Well, a great bookshop visit, and interesting to see what they had. And if you do find yourself in northernreader territory, well worth a look.

Five Books and a book Group

Sounds like a film title?! Or just a book bloggers exercise to look at five books briefly, with a view to longer posts to come. http://www.stuck-in-a-book.blogspot.com/ is a good read for avid readers everywhere, and Simon who writes it suggests the following headings.

1. The book I’m currently reading…A Man of Parts by David Lodge

I have mentioned before how much I’m enjoying this book. It’s set in an intriguing period and about a very interesting author. His relationships and writing are fascinating and Lodge’s writing style draws the reader in. I get the impression that I would not like Wells the person, but who knows where this novel will go.

2.The Book that I’ve just finished… Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves

This  book definitely deserves a full post, as does the rather good tv series Vera now showing on ITV. This is the first in the series, despite the running order on tv. It’s a good modern murder mystery, basically.

3. The next book I want to read…Good Behaviour by Molly Keane

One of a number of Molly Keane books I’ve picked up recently. I think that it deals with the interwar period which is so fascinating. It seems to be family stories, but not tragic saga types. We’ll soon see.

4. The book I bought most recently… Love’s Shadow by Ada Leverson

I must admit that I picked this up at Barter Books ( more about that another day) because I like The Bloomsbury Group set. This time an Edwardian novel, I am promised wit and love affairs. An interesting choice for £1.80!

5. The most recent book that I have been given…Women in the Second World War by Colette Drifte

This is a signed hardback by a local author, bought for me by Husband in Cogito Books in Hexham, a very efficient independent bookshop currently very involved in  the Hexham book festival. He knows that this is one of my current obsessions.  Here’s hoping I haven’t  used up all my credit as I want the new trio of books from Persephone when he goes to London soon…

And the Book Group? Well, one is happening on Wednesday night and we are looking at Alan Bennett’s A Life Like other People’s. Not sure about this as a cheerful read, but we’ll see what everyone else thought.

If walls could talk…something for everyone!

This is a book I have mentioned before, as well as an interesting tv programme. If Walls could Talk – an Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley. 

Available cheaply in many places, including the wonderous BookPeople, this is a very readable book which goes through the history of each room in the British house throughout history. Starting with the bedroom, Worsley looks at issues such as privacy, marriage rituals, the arduous task of making a bed and the wonderful introduction of the duvet (or the continental quilt as it was known in our childhood). Anyone who has seen the tv programmes, still showing and online, will get a flavour of the perky, irreverent style of this book, though the terrible trial of not having a bath for a week was a little exagerated… has this woman never been camping? (well, nor have I since being a student the first time round – many, many years ago)

This is a British history. As I mentioned previously, I lost patience with Bryson’s similar book because of the large amount of American history. This book includes such gems as the history of servants, mourning, toilet arrangements and how to test the temperature of an oven using a piece of paper.The problems of cleaning and international royal incidents in the reign of Mary, gas lighting and the delicate motives for bathing all feature here, so that even if social history usually leaves you cold, this is a fascinating book with lots of interesting research evident. Mention must also be made of the lovely illustrations ranging from in text line drawings to high quality photographs and reproductions of paintings. This book is very picturesque in many ways, and would make a great gift for anyone with a passing interest in history. You do not need to be a fully paid up member of the National Trust to find much of interest here, as there is a great deal of gritty basic information here about houses not seen as all stately…

More books in the pipeline include A Man of Parts by David Lodge, being a book about HG Wells. This is proving surprisingly readable written in a variety of interesting biographical  styles, and not at all shy of issues such as fidelity for women to marriage but men being allowed to deal with their ‘physical needs’ outside the marital bounds. The fight for women’s rights went beyond the actual vote. It also makes me interested in reading Wells’ own books, if only to see if the emphasis Lodge has chosen is true.

One of Many Books- Chadwick, Plaidy and the rest…

Back in my far off youth I could round up and read odd copies of Jean Plaidy’s novels on history. I worked my way through the children’s books, like the Young Elizabeth and the Young Mary (Queen of Scots). Her books also came in handy when I was doing A level history, as I read through various series relating to 1066 and all that.

Looking around bookshops, including the bargain and second hand variety, I noticed a lot of Elizabeth Chadwick novels. So yes, I acquired one or two and they became, in the words of the Stuck in a Book blog, HIU (Have It, Unread) to the extent that I was picking up duplicates – whoops! So I finally actually read The Leopard Unleashed by Elizabeth Chadwick

I can honestly say I enjoyed this book. It’s not great literature, it’s a work of fiction in many ways, and there are not tons of research to weigh it down. Which is why it is essentially an easy read. There are no big historical characters in evidence, though the warring factions of Stephen and Matilda are represented. This is a book based on a family connected with royalty. There is sex and violence, but in context. There are battle accounts, and tragedy, but it does imply truthfulness to the  time. The book is based on one family, related to royalty but still fighting for survival on the Welsh Marches. There is a new wife, an abandoned mistress, subterfuge and suffering. I felt that the action kept going and for me the ending ‘worked’. I think that, like Plaidy, Chadwick does her research, but picks individuals  that either are fictional or relatively obscure, so that she can be generous with the facts. Apparently she tutors historical and romantic fiction, so that is the best clue as to her skills. It’s a romance, I liked it, and will try  to read her other books (of which there are many…) After all, weddings seem to be fashionable at the moment…

Those of you who remember my suffragette studies in the Working Class Movement Library will remember that  I was stuck to find novels relating to the subject and period, apart from the brilliant Half the Human Race by Anthony Quinn. Today’s http://www.dovegreyreader.co.uk/ blog tackles this lack, and in the comments there are some suggestions of novels. Tracking them down as we speak, and endangering life, limb and liberty by pulling at piles of books…