Amelia Peabody – An Egyptian fiction by Elizabeth Peters

And in today’s breaking news – my Carola Dunn marathon has paused (after 4 and a half books…Phew!) because I think it’s a bit of overload, it’s not her, it’s me…

That doesn’t mean I have permanently abandoned my attempt to read all her “Daisy” series; I just picked up one of my old copies of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books and yes, gentle reader, I was hooked.

I last read about 18 of these books beginning in 2004 and continuing until I had finished all those available. Another paperback episode appeared last year, but I did not quite get round to it. I then found the first one in the series Crocodile on the Sandbank and was soon plunged back into the late Victorian world of mystery (not necessarily murder, but close) solved by the redoubtable Amelia, a lady who can deploy a parasol to great effect.

When her scholar father dies, the firm minded lady is left wealthy and with a determination to visit Egypt. There she makes lifelong friends and solves the evil doing planned by a mysterious mummy. She also meets the awesome Emmerson in whom she may well have finally met her match in all senses.

Warning. This is a book set back when the British Empire was still trying to take over the world, and some of the attitudes to native Egyptians are really dated. Read these books in the spirit of the original Sherlock tales, but with a lot more humour and female determination, rather than a modern politically correct picture of Egypt and archaeology.

There are something like 18 books in this series, but I actually then jumped to number three, The Mummy Case (they are carefully listed in order in each book which is really helpful) and encountered the delightful child, Rameses. He is not always in danger, but everyone else is when he is around. Through the books the family grows, mysteries are solved and many archaeological discoveries are made. They are very funny books, as the leading characters argue, get into scrapes and generally develop into as near to real characters as you could wish for in a non literary set of books.  They are not great literature, but a form a great antidote to the heavy historical stuff I’m plodding through

( or should be).

Start with the Crocodile because that sets up the characters, and general setting of most of the books. Like any series, there are those stories which are not as good, especially later in the run, but these books are easily accessible (from all good libraries and book shops) and a good lightweight, if politically incorrect, read.


The birth of a book, Slightly foxed, Dunn and book reviews

If you are a complete book person like what I am…

This should lead you to a lovely film about the making of a limited edition book, largely by hand. Even if you are unable to see the film, there is a fascinating article about The Slightly Foxed people, their quarterly Magazine and their beautiful little books. I actually opened my copy of this book which had just arrived; not cheap but it seems a potential investment!

I have posted before about how much I enjoy the review quarterly, if only because it is not all about new books that I must read, but about old favourites and those books that you may have heard of, but never actually got round to reading. Some books are frustratingly out of print, but often the  articles feature the sort of authors that have a few books still in print at the very least. This is one of the few literary endeavors where a long term addiction to the likes of Georgette Heyer is tolerated, if not openly encouraged.  There are also quirky pieces about books that you will never read, such as the instruction guide for a powerboat (!) but the article is so well written that it stands alone. This film is well worth watching; for all those for whom the ancient art of bookbinding is still interesting and those who just love real books. (Much as I like my kindle…)

And the Carola Dunn readathon goes on! I have just finished The Mourning Wedding

which is in the tradition of the country house mystery. A large family gathers for the wedding of Lucy, Daisy’s best friend, when the murder of a senior member of the guest list rather stops everything in its tracks. Daisy is again plunged into difficulty and danger when there is only a certain number of suspects for her husband Alec to investigate. Exactly who is to blame is kept well concealed until the end in the best tradition, and this is a restful read after doing battle with more challenging topics and authors. Not a great literary effort but interesting nonetheless. I must be halfway through the Dunn twenty by now, at least, and some are better than others, but I enjoy them anyway.

I am also watching the series My life in books on iplayer. A fascinating assortment of guests here, with some unusual books to say the least. I’m still not sure about Ann Robinson as the host, but I suppose she cannot be accused of any book bias as she seems far more interested in winding up some of the guests.  If it’s just a series of suggestions of people’s meaningful books you are interested in, and if you want to be certain that they have all been actually read by their proposer, try as a similar series is running there. I suppose it is an easier sell for tv to have celebrity book reviews, but sometimes I just wish there was a more “serious”programme available apart from the odd flash of brilliance on BBC4… Oh well, I can always watch a bit of bookbinding…

Carola Dunn – an American view of the 1920s way of murder

Agatha, Dorothy, Josephine, Gladys, – the list of Golden Age Detective writers who actually wrote during the 20s and 30s is impressively long. Indeed, there are those, like the super blogging Bibliomouse who have made quite a study of them. I’ve read a few, seen a lot on tv, and admit to being very fond of the big house mystery. While I’ve enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes revival in all its variants, there’s something about the whole 1920s scene which is fascinating. There are many modern attempts to capture that period of murder writing, and my current wallow is in the less than literary but still good fun, Carola Dunn series of “Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries”.

There are many copies of these books in libraries and cheaper book shops. No, they are not taut, literary efforts which require careful study, and there are some bits which make me wince stylistically, but when you want an easy, quick read they are good value.

I recently picked up five in the series at the library.

To Davy Jones Below is just a very readable mystery. Daisy and her new husband Alec  are on a cruise ship which hits stormy weather and murder. There is a limit to how many possible murderers there are, and there is much debate as to possible motives. I enjoyed Dunn’s playing with the Yorkshire accent, and her observations on those who are seasick are very funny. The body count is pretty high, and one death is a little drawn out, but still quite clever. There are some good characterisations and onboard moments, including the grumpy captain. A friend of mind wasn’t going to finish it before she went home, so I had to tell her what happened. It sort of made sense when I explained it, so was not too convoluted. Not quite in the class of last week’s  Susanna Gregory, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Mistletoe and Murder 

is set in an obscure bit of Cornwall (?) which is cut off by distance from most other possible suspects when there is a murder at Christmas. This book features a confusing family, which includes so interesting characters, to say the least. There are references to some obscure bits of historical artifacts, and the children are a bit unrealistic, but overall an interesting read even if it’s not quite the season.

Unlike the Gregory which I mentioned recently, this book is not an undertaking to read, but an interesting diversion for an evening. There are twenty books in the series so far, and Ms Dunn seems to be producing them very fast. I don’t  think that it matters if you read them out of order, so if you see one in a library or sale, it’s worth giving it a try.  They are not quite in the same league as the Golden age greats, and there are times when it is obvious that they are written by someone who has done the research rather than lived in the period, but as modern pastiches go, this is a consistent series with well established characters.


Happy Book Day! (And St. David’s Day, of course) And another Gregory novel

Happy World Book Day… or whatever it’s called. Happy St. David’s Day as well.

Here in Northernreader towers I’m still coasting along in a post – essay reading bubble. Two Carola Dunn murder mysteries have been consumed, as well as today’s book, The Mystery in the Minster, the Seventeenth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew, by Susanna Gregory.

I’ve posted before about my love of historical mysteries, and Susanna Gregory’s books in particular. I find her other series a bit tougher -( I think that the Thomas Chaloner books are a little stronger and more like C. J. Sansom.  Not that they are less well written at all, but somehow much more grim)

I usually wait for each of these books to go paperback and then buy them to read. I did see this one in hardback in my wonderful local library, so I thought that I would read it now then look for a cheap copy at some time to complete my set. And I couldn’t wait to read the next installment…

This book sees Matthew, Michael and assorted others travel from medieval Cambridge to York in search of an inheritance promised to the College. There is soon murder done, but not before we encounter some mincing priests with a shoe fetish, (Sex in the medieval City?)  a rather racy nun and a feminist theologian. There are the usual skirmishes, death defying escapes, fights and general hunting for guilty parties (with some light pathology thrown in for the really ghoulish). Fans of Dorothy Sayers will recognise the sense of impending doom as a flood threatens to overwhelm the city, obscure any clues and threaten the righteous and the downright murderous alike.

Although set in a different place from most of the series, like the episode set in Lincoln this is a faithful representation of a city and buildings that survive until today. I enjoyed this book. I know know the characters well enough that I know what to expect, although I am sure that if you had not read any of the earlier books you would still enjoy this one. There are a lot of names to remember, and a little technical stuff about churches, prayers for the dead and wills.It is the sort of book that you can coast along on the general flow, without worrying about every detail. There are some classic moments here as the heroes throw themselves into the hunt for miscreants and documents, with plenty of ‘how will they get out of this?’ moments.

In short, if you like historical murder mysteries this is great. If you are addicted to Susanna Gregory books as I am, this is a really good episode in the ongoing series. Longer than Ellis Peters’ classics, less disciplined and with a wider scope, it is a good book.