Death of a Busybody – George Bellairs – A British Library Crime Classic

The series of British Library Crime Classics continues to grow; I am thinking of starting a new shelf on my bookcase! This addition to the group introduces a new detective, Inspector Littlejohn, and I think he is a worthy addition, especially if you like your detectives to take second place to the mystery as opposed to dictating it. For those who like real characters, fear not; there are characters aplenty here. My favourite, apart from the bewildered Vicar of course, is Gormley, the fed up gardener and clearer of cess pits. He becomes most militant with fearful consequences  as a result of sheer grumpiness. Miss Tither’s most unsettling end comes at the start of a series of events which unspool across the village as her activities become known to Littlejohn. Red herrings, dark deeds and clues emerge which both divert and entertain the Reader, as truly no character (apart from Littlejohn!) seems above suspicion.   I really liked the Reverend Claplady, who sneaks off with an apple tart from his own pantry and After taking a large bite, he placed the rest carefully on his blotting pad for further attention later…   

As always, it is really difficult to effectively talk about a murder mystery without the dreaded spoilers. I can assert though that there are many memorable characters in this book and the plot takes some violent turns. Do watch out for the ambitious Constable Harriwinckle, whose prodigious appetite does not block his understanding or speed when ‘evidenks’ (evidence) emerges at the last.

Inspector Littlejohn is noted for his “understanding of country ways”. A chat with a bookseller recently suggest that there are more George Bellairs/ Inspector Littlejohn books to come in this series, and I look forward to them.

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In other news, why is it so difficult to actually finish a book? As usual, I have several ‘on the go’ but have yet to actually finish them. Maybe it’s the hundreds of Christmas cards that needed to go out extra early to confirm our new address, or the choir practices that go with being a member of three choirs in the run up to Christmas? Either way, I am valiantly trying…

Bewildering Cares – Winifred Peck – A Furrowed Middlebrow edition

This is an actual book! Thank you to the nice people at Furrowed Middlebrow/ Dean Street Press who listened to my plea that as a 21st century Vicar’s wife that I would really enjoy this book about a Vicar’s wife in 1940, I now have a a new favourite book!

If you have ever found a book that you wanted to last longer, and that you really didn’t want to read too fast, this is it for me. I appreciate that it may not be to everyone’s taste, but anyone who has enjoyed The Diary of a Provincial Lady  will recognise and enjoy this style of writing.

Camilla Lacely is married to Arthur, Vicar and Philosopher, as the Second World War is beginning. Their only son, Dick, is in the Army already, but so far safe. They live in a fairly grim parish just outside Manchester, and the book is an account by Camilla of a week in the life, in which she copes with a campaign against a curate’s sermon (which she has slept through), romance, an Archdeacon, a Clergy Wives Quiet Day, innumerable committee meetings, and a charity Bazaar.  There are the phone calls that she deals with (always at the wrong moment…how do they know?), the appeals for help from the strangest of sources, the pile of Stuff that appears at every sale, the complaints that no one can sort out, those people who need careful handling….

Also there are the people who want little, but who are a delight to meet, like the older lady who slips towards her end dreaming of her youth in the countryside, the clergy wife who drops cakes in the road which need retrieving or hiding in the pouring rain, the family crisis solved against the odds. The style is discursive, and the story diverts into Camilla’s thoughts as she tries to cope with being late, being insufficiently holy, a cook/maid who has an individual approach to work, and a fire that will not light. She fights the battle of a husband who does not stop to eat, a small income on which to run a large house, as well as maintaining a calm unruffled face in all circumstances. Of course, there is the looming threat of war, as she fears for her son, and indeed the country in the face of possible invasion. Sickness in a family is a a financial worry  for everyone, as well as pre-penicillin dangers.There is hope, and even love, as some couples eventually plan to marry, and as much as possible there is a happy ending. I was also really interested in the references to other books that she is reading, notably Demon in the House   and Wild Strawberries,  both by my favourite author Angela Thirkell.  It is fascinating (for me at least) to think of these books actually being important in their own time, which I enjoy today. Indeed, she claims that she has read the latter thirty times, and will probably read it thirty times more, as a reliably happy book.

This book is a long way from A Chelsea Concerto  and does not cover the bombing, the problems of refugees, and in some senses the harsh reality of war. I can say that I recognised some of the pressures, some of the constraints, that can affect  clergy families today.  I realise that it is a privilege in some ways, but hard work in others! This is a good book of its type, and I certainly plan to read it again, though not perhaps thirty times…

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Knole -A Place with a Past, and now a bookshop!

I have been quiet recently on the posting front as we have been away for a few days in Kent, visiting places like Hampton Court where we heard a great lecture by Tracy Borman on the Private Lives of the Tutors. We acquired ( by some quick work on Northernvicar’s part,) a signed copy of her latest book

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Which I have started, and it is in her readable and informative style.

I also visited Sevenoakes, especially their wonderful independent bookshop where I did my own version of supermarket sweep in honour of my birthday the following day…which I’m very happy to report is wheelchair friendly and serves drinks and snacks to cheer the husband!

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Another great place …

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which is just across the road!

My other favourite place was Knole, an NT property and birthplace of Vita Sackville West. Having just read A House full of Daughters  and reviewed it  on this blog, I was keen to visit. The deer are tame, there is an accessible display and a tower to climb even in winter, and there are obviously extensive grounds. I also loved the Bookshop. Not a second hand one which is becoming common in many NT properties, but selling new books relating to the property (as Greenway has with the Agatha Christie books).

I succumbed  to three books here. Francis Partridge’s Love in Bloomsbury,   Robert Sackville – West’s Inheritance,  and in the week of a U.S election, Gail Maccoll and Carol Wallace’s To Marry an English Lord. The latter is very intriguing, with illustrations…

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I also returned to find two books to review. Despite all the choice, I am struggling to finish a book at the moment, but have started many…watch this space!

Northbridge Rectory – Angela Thirkell

I thought that it was about time I wrote about a book that I really love, that you can buy easily, and is an enormous contrast to A Chelsea Concerto,  reviewed here  .

Northbridge Rectory  is one of the Thirkell books that I managed to read when I first discovered this writer a few years ago. The fact that it is one of her earlier novels,written and set in wartime when the outcome was still very far from clear (1941), makes it interesting. More than that, she takes the setting of a fairly rural rectory not directly affected by air raids and peoples it with such characters that even if you have never read Thirkell you can read it with enjoyment. It has got some of the reoccurring characters for fans, but they work well here and do not need their backstory to be detailed to enjoy the narrative.

Back in the days of large Rectories and Vicarages ( they tend to be big now, but not that large, thank goodness!), eight officers of the local regiment have been billeted there with the Reverend and Mrs Villars for the duration. Most are no trouble and unremarkable, but Lieutenant Holden greatly admires Mrs Villars, and becomes a bit of a nuisance with his never ending insistence that she must be tired and needs to rest. Miss Pemberton is a frequent vistor, sad in her devotion to her ‘lodger’, Mr Downing. Romance happens, there are women who emerge in order to ‘run things’, and a rota is constructed of watchers from the church tower, nervous of parachutists but actually bird watching through a much envied telescope.

The best character for sheer description, if not exhaustion, is Mrs Spender, one of the officer’s wives. She has witnessed some of the bombing in London, but so many stock phrases issue forth from her that no one is terribly alarmed. She apparently tells herself much when any audience is lacking, and her constant “believe it or not” and ” if you know what I mean” leads those around her when there is a raid to become more than a little murderous themselves. She is a great creation, and the other characters’ reactions to her are farcical. She certainly sticks in the memory!

This is one of the excellent reprints that Virago have produced in the last few years, and make Angela Thirkell’s novels (or some of them) much more available to the general reader as well as the fans who spend time and money tracking down copies. There are another three available later this month, including at least two that I have had problems finding. This is a great installment in the ongoing Barsetshire series, in which Thirkell is really enjoying creating and working with her characters. Well worth a read.

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