Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers

I have finished another volume in my Folio Sayers set! It’s still only January…

I have also been away for a few days, apparently on holiday but really on a book buying tour. Heffers in Cambridge was raided for crime once more! I actually picked up two Dean Street Press crime books to feed my addiction, and saw some Furrowed Middlebrow paperbacks in real life. The new books due in March look as if they are also going to be worth collecting as well; see http://furrowedmiddlebrow.blogspot.co.uk/  for many more details.

Have his Carcase refers to not only the body which is the feature of this mystery which spends much time establishing that a murder has indeed been committed, as the nature of the death leaves open the question of suicide. The title refers to the other basic necessity in a murder mystery; an actual body to have an inquest on. Another problem is actually arresting someone and having sufficient evidence to charge them with a crime, as suspects are elusive and alibis seemingly unbreakable. It is undoubtedly a clever book, with Sayers doing her best to combine her usual mystery creation, characters and relationship into a good read.

This novel starts with Harriet on a walking tour, solo but with money and time on her hands after her acquittal as recorded in Strong Poison. Lord Peter Wimsey is absent though living in hope that she will accept his frequent proposal, and soon arrives when he hears that she has found a body. Significantly, she informs a newspaper of her gory discovery rather than Peter, but when he hastens to assist in the case she is genuinely pleased. She has done everything right given that the body is not only bloody but about to be washed into the sea, in that she takes photos and removes all identifying items. It is fortunate that she does, as the body disappears and she has to walk a long way to discover a telephone. This journey does mean that she picks up a few clues en route, which prove valuable in the long run.

The focus on Harriet in this novel does predict her determination and abilities in detection which really dominates Gaudy Night,  as her appearance in Strong Poison is much more passive apart from the banter with Peter. Peter does do some sterling work in detection, including his “lounge lizard” persona adopted to impress a female witness. He also comes out with some priceless lines in his typical self mockery and appeals to Harriet.

My biggest problem with this book is the abrupt ending, even if it is well worked out a short epilogue would have been enjoyable. It also becomes very technical at one point as Sayers brought in another Detection Club member with specific expertise (according to Martin Edwards in his book on Golden Age Murder). I was also continually remembering the tv adaptation, with is actually very faithful to this novel.

I enjoyed this book as the plot is clever and substantial, the characters/suspects complex and realistic, and the Harriet – Peter relationship as funny as ever. I would recommend this book as a well written, readable and a worthy addition to the Lord Peter series, even though he is not the first detective on the scene.

House – Bound by Winifred Peck. A Persephone Classic

After reading the wonderful Bewildering Cares and Arrest the Bishop I was hoping for great things from Persephone’s reprint of House – Bound. I was not disappointed on my re read of this 1940s book. It is a book of the wartime home front in Edinburgh, where one of the main concerns is an actual house, stubbornly of another age; object of very mixed feelings for Rose Fairlaw.

The novel opens in an agency for finding domestic servants, which as a result of munition factory openings and a whole attitude change by young women formerly happy to work in genteel houses, cannot find and offer any staff. Rose meets up with her friend Linda, and discusses her intention to make her war work looking after the family house and cooking for her husband herself. This is a significant decision for a woman who has no clue about cooking, cleaning or any form of domestic work beyond the ordering of goods and services. Answering the door, the telephone and coping with dust will prove to be a full time occupation in a house built for a full set of servants, even though she is helped by a passing, organising stranger. Providing food for herself and her singularly unhelpful husband, especially in the face of rationing and shortages, brings her to her knees.

Another challenge is her grown up children. Rose’s family is what we would now call blended as she has a daughter, Flora, from her first husband killed in the First World War. Mickie is a much loved son from her husband’s, Stuart’s, first marriage to Rose’s friend who died tragically young. Tom is the son of this second marriage, and happily robust, down to earth and pacifies people with humour and understanding. Flora is very difficult, unhappy for so many reasons, a young woman with grudges against everyone, particularly her mother.

This could have been a family saga of gloom and doom, or a sad account of domestic woe. In Peck’s hands, however, it is an enjoyable account of what feels like real life. There are tragedies and challenges; after all this book was published in 1942 when the war was uncertain, dangerous and undecided. I felt for Rose in her domestic discoveries as she debates if vegetables need to be washed with soap and if dusting and polishing is essential when the room is unused. Her husband is icily isolated, feeling some sympathy for her exhaustion but unheeding that his routine causes so much work. There are some funny and appalling characters such as Grannie Carr Berwick, with her firm views and catch phrases.

This is a relatively short book but it packs a lot in, especially about the family dynamics which ring so true, especially in the tense setting of war.  I enjoyed it more on a re read, seeing far more humour and empathy in the writing. It is a very good read, and a worthy reprint from Persephone.



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The book with it’s endpaper; as usual a brilliant package from Persephone. I’m really looking forward to reading the latest acquisition, Long Live Great Bardfield,  no.119 which Northernvicar bought from the Persephone bookshop itself.  Another book written in 1942 apparently.


Marling Hall by Angela Thirkell – A Character Classic


In short, a Thirkell to savour where she develops and shows her mastery of her characters.

After much waiting, this is another reprint of an Angela Thirkell wartime novel set in the fictional Barsetshire. This means that it is easy to get hold of this Thirkell classic which builds on her familiar themes and her varied characters. It is of its time, and it is worth remembering that when this book was originally written and published in 1942 no one knew how the war would end. This is an entertainment for Thirkell fans who were coping with rationing and loss; the fact that it is partly a comedy, partly a romance is a gain in the twenty first century.

Lettice Watson is a widow with two small girls who lives next to her family and can therefore join with family events and visits. Her sister, Lucy Marling, runs house, estate and everyone else’s life with her catch phrase “I’ll tell you what” but emerges as a truly sympathetic character. Geoffrey Harvey and his sister Frances are persuaded to take a house for the duration and have to deal with a landlady who visits and departs with those sentimental items she cannot continue without, much to their despair and our entertainment. Hens are obtained and housed, but not without a gathering of the characters who may only have a walk on part in this novel, but are well known to those who have encountered the Barsetshire saga. David causes trouble, Captain Barclay needs a shove, and Miss Bunting exercises her usual calm supervision.

Overall Thirkell is at the top of her form as she brings out her stock of characters and causes them to react to rationing and romance.  It is a tribute to her writing that some of her favourite characters are only fleetingly mentioned in this book but that it is still marvelously populated. There are the usual issues with Thirkell’s writing in that some of her female characters are sometimes shown as weak and ineffective, but others take the lead and celebrate their diversity; just like real life in fact. There is the usual suspicion of non –British characters and some class bound observations which may jar, but when compared to Nancy Mitford for example this is a gentle comedy of manners. Thirkell is not for everyone, but those who enjoy her books will really enjoy this novel. If you have not discovered Thirkell yet this story would be a good place to start, but a warning, you may become addicted…

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Madame Solario by Gladys Huntingdon from Persephone.

I received this book for review from Persephone and was excited to start on it. If I am honest, I was disappointed. Possibly I have lost my taste for books without a murder or dramatic action, possibly I was missing something that everyone else appreciated. Either way, I really struggled to get to the end, which is not a problem I usually have with Persephone books, which I have read and reread for many years.

The subject of this leisurely novel is an Edwardian September  in an expensive resort, Cadenabbia on the Lake of Como.Bernard is a young man who is on a European trip after graduating  and before, as it transpires, joining a provincial bank as arranged by his family. The atmosphere is therefore wistful, as he realises that this is a final period of freedom enjoying and observing a lifestyle that he cannot join. He indulges in the petty social life of the hotel and resort as romances, jealousies and day trips surround those who share meals in  dining rooms, boats and walks. Huntingdon describes each point in heavy detail, though every time some emotion, some crisis looks possible, she changes the focus, the names and the setting very slightly. We observe things from Bernard’s point of view, and his uncertainties and lack of self knowledge dominate the text.

The arrival of Madame Solario, a woman with a whiff of scandal, great beauty, and a wardrobe of individual effects which Huntingdon describes in frankly mind- numbing detail, even for those of us with a passing interest in clothes of the period, changes the atmosphere. Bernard becomes devoted to the mysterious lady, making excuses to see her and accidentally on purpose meeting her on walks. He begins to see the other guests as relating to her, as possible rivals for her affection, even though he has developed a crush on her that her knows cannot ever be fulfilled  as her style, maturity and his own circumstances show that she is just destined to be his romantic obsession for a few brief weeks or days. We never discover what she thinks, why she does what she does, and essentially her own view on her life. She may be as serene as she seems, she may be desperate with longing for someone or something; we do not ever see things from her point of view.

Her brother arrives and creates a stir of interest and some jealousy among the other guests. They talk intimately,  and he enters her room to continue their discussions. We have small pictures of her rooms, their conversations, and fact that her brother is not all he seems. Again possible scandal, possible events beckon. I will not spoil the end, but …

I found the book very difficult to engage with, and it had little sense of suspense for me. I have read long books, and enjoyed comedies of manners in which the events are small scale and local. This book reminded me of Ford Maddox Ford’s The Good Soldier,  in its setting of leisured enjoyment in a resort for the wealthy Edwardians. I found the daily round of sitting in the sun and being waited on by semi invisible servants a little tedious in this novel, and longed for  something to happen.

I would hate to put you off this book. It is elegantly written, the imagery is stunning and the descriptions are beautiful. It is a subtle book, delicately constructed, with consistent characters. It reflects its time well, and flows gently. Possibly I was not in the mood for this novel, and others have enjoyed it over many years since its first publication. It adds to the variety of books published by Persephone, and I was glad  to have the opportunity to read it.

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Strong Poison – A Classic Murder by Dorothy L. Sayers

One of my favourite authors for all sorts of reasons is Dorothy L. Sayers. I have given a talk on her, read many of her books, and love the versions made for T.V. I have mentioned Edward Petherbridge and Ian Carmichael on this blog before, and I have watched and rewatched all of the videos, now dvds, which have aged, but are still most enjoyable. So I was really pleased to get a Folio set of the five main books for Christmas.

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It includes my favourite, even if it does not mention Harriet Vane, The Nine Tailors,   and a larger print version of Gaudy Night . 

The first chronologically is Strong Poison.  I’m sure that I have read it before, so this time I read it quickly but with great enjoyment. It recalls the story of Lord Peter’s first encounter with the love of his life (even if she doesn’t know it yet), Harriet Vane. Unfortunately it transpires that she is on trial for the murder of her lover, Philip Boyes, who died of arsenic poisoning after he met Harriet to fruitlessly seek a reconciliation. Happily for Peter and Harriet, a staunch supporter of Peter’s happens to be on the jury, and manages to avoid a unanimous verdict. That leaves Peter to see Harriet in prison , assure her that he loves her, and they enjoy the banter and humour that will typify their relationship. (That’s not a spoiler; the existence of a relationship which starts so inauspiciously is well known to anyone who has picked up any of the later books)  . She is understandably unsure that he can work a miracle and save the day, especially when he has a bare month to find sufficient evidence to convince another judge and jury to dismiss the case against her.

Things that I like about this book include the conversations between Peter and Harriet which show such dry humour, the redoubtable ladies of the Typing agency, especially Miss Climpson who shows enormous resource in mastering specialist skills to great effect, and the overall clever nature of a book which lifts it way above the standard whodunnit.  I know that I have written in glowing terms about many murder mysteries, but Sayers wrote books which may centre on the mystery but are also superb on character, method and motive. Many commentators think that Sayers was a little in love with her own creation, Lord Peter,  and writing Harriet was a sort of wish fulfillment. Possibly so, but if so she makes him very self aware and her so reluctant to accept his offers that they emerge as real people. My other favourite is the Dowager Duchess, who is never shocked even by Peter’s excesses and enjoys the comforts of her life hugely.

So, one book down, four to go. Of course, other editions are available of this really lovely book…

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A new arrival at the Vicarage, Books of the Year and a mini reading Challenge

Happy New Year! I hope that everyone had a good Christmas and New Year celebrations.

In a working vicarage, there were services to do, a massive garden to start taming and lots of lovely family and friends. We also greeted a new Vicarage cat, Selwyn.

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He came from a local Animal rescue centre, is two years old and loves (at the moment) meeting new people. As you can see, he also tries to help Northernvicar with vital admin…. (Sorry for the uncropped nature of this picture… I’m not brilliant with my phone camera). The name is from the college where Northernvicar and I met, and it was his choice.

Anyway, as to books of the year. The book I enjoyed most, that I did not want to finish, was definitely Bewildering Cares  by Winifred Peck . From the lovely publishers Dean Street Press who are reprinting some great Golden Age mysteries as well as the Furrowed Middlebrow list, this is a great novel for anyone who enjoyed Diary of a Provincial Lady and many of the Persephone titles.

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I have reviewed it on this blog (though I can’t find the link at the moment, sorry) and I would urge you to track down a copy or a kindle version. For those who are interested, it is written from the point of view of a vicar’s wife in 1940, as she struggles to cope with the normal struggles of life with the added challenges of war. It is very funny, a fascinating view of faith, and realism. For those who prefer a more “non fiction” account of wartime survival, you could also try A Chelsea Concerto  by Frances Faviell


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(Also reviewed on this blog…somewhere)

Other books which stick in the memory are Sweet Caress   by William Boyd

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The story of a woman who lives her life through the challenges of war and so called peace. This is a fascinating book, and such is the reality it constructs that it seems to become a genuine autobiography.

Greengates  by RC Sheriff is a lovely book about the challenges and concerns of a retired couple who seek a new life in the early 20th century rebuilding programmes, and is a great Persephone edition.

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Finally for this brief roundup, another novel of a woman’s life which spans much of the 20th century, Freya  by Anthony Quinn.

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This is a sequel in some respects to Quinn’s earlier A Curtain Call,   but is a far bigger novel with a bigger story of life and love.

Those were some of my highlights this year, in no particular order. I have not posted about them all as moving to a new Vicarage has taken up a little time this last year, which has also affected my reading tally of only 123 books in 2016.

Anyway, in the next few months, well by the end of June anyway, I want to have read (reread mostly) my Christmas present of the folio edition of Dorothy L. Sayers Peter Wimsey books

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I have made a good start by already finishing Strong Poison. Five books in six months? It should be straightforward… I aim to write about each as I finish them so watch this space!