The Stranger from the Sea – Winston Graham (Poldark 8) – And Poldark confusion

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This is a book set some ten years after the exhausting events of the previous Poldark book, and the sadness and a little of the frustration still simmers between Ross and Demelza. Perhaps this would explain why he is away from Cornwall yet again, though at least this gives him opportunity to bring up to date another of the characters who finds himself away from the land and house he has inherited. It is difficult to write about a book when the previous novels (and indeed the television series!) deal with the fates of several characters, and the simple fact is that one or two do not make it this far, so it would be useful to read the previous books or catch up with some of the characters.

Having said that, this book would mark a point at which it is possible to pick up the books afresh. Two of the Poldark children feature here, Jeremy and Clowance, and it is interesting to say the least to see what they have turned out like, with such strong willed parents. I was a little disappointed that they are two dimensional compared with the restless, driven Ross and the brilliantly drawn Demelza. Both come over as inexplicably love struck, being attracted to people that are ambivalent about them, at least to begin with, in comparison with the great emotions of the earlier books.

Ross is still restless, seeking a cause, seemingly both desperately driven to adventure and risk while knowing he should seek the safety and comfort of home. He has become quite the celebrity, his opinion sought at the highest level. That is a little ironic given that he has been so blind to the desires and emotions of those around him. This episode does depend more than some on the historical background to the times, but Graham is still the master of personalising the greater political movements of the times and the great battles which have real effects on Cornwall, despite happening far away.

Demelza keeps her home going with her native wit which has become wisdom, though she still hesitates about the correct social forms and behaviour. She has also grown to appreciate that those of her generation are not proving immortal, and by extension she feels her age and that of those she loves.

Altogether, if you have read the previous novels, this eighth book in the series represents a new beginning in the saga enforced by the ten year gap from the previous novels. Its emphasis has changed, as no character remains unaffected by the commercial and industrial changes of the time. It lacks some of the passion of former novels, but it still retains the twists of fate and the adventures which seem to typify the life of all in Cornwall in the early nineteenth century.

The Poldark confusion is related to my obsession with the original BBC version which is freely available on DVD.  By some chance or feat of organisation I put DVD (Series 2, Volume 1, disc 2) in to watch, which happened to be at the exactly same stage of many scenes shown later on last night’s episode…Even Northernvicar was amazed how some lines were the same, and some events given different emphasis. There is more comedy in the original, and the pace is slower to accommodate more detail. Ross seems to spend less time brooding, and I think his relationship with Demelza is more honest than in today’s version, certainly more affectionate. I suppose that it reflects the difference between vintage period drama and today’s, as far more can be shot outside, less important characters lost, emotions heightened. The result of our confusion? Robin Ellis is undoubtedly a more intelligent Ross, Anharad Reece less outwardly emotional, but more consistent as Demelza.

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The 2017 Poldark is probably more dramatic in many ways, and I cannot wait to see where the battle comes from next week. Who will survive?

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards – the Review

This is a very, very good book. It works on so many levels; as a readable text, a history of Crime writing, and a reference book for anyone who collects and reads British Library Crime and Dean Street Press classic crime books. I was thrilled to receive a review copy of this book for the reasons above, and it proved an enjoyable and in depth read.

Basically this book is a run through the major fictional crime books of the twentieth century. Although there a hundred books mentioned in the title, there are dozens, probably hundreds mentioned in the text to explain and reinforce the headings. The chapter headings, which include such phrases as “Making fun of murder” and “Playing politics” demonstrate a lively style which carries on through a detailed examination of such sub-genres as ‘inverted’, ‘impossible’ and ‘locked – door’ crime stories, as well as the popularity of using real life crimes as the basis for fictional treatment. These headings are also familiar to anyone who has read such collections of stories from the British Library series as “Murder at the Manor”.

I am happy to report that the book is full of information/commentary/references to women authors, which is not always the case with ‘books about books’. I have not counted yet, but the stars such as Christie, Allingham, Simpson and others are well represented, with many reviews of Christie’s books in particular. Dorothy L Sayers not only gets credited for her books, but also her role in founding the Detection Club and her influential reviews collected by Edwards in “Taking Detective Stories Seriously”. Edwards also makes clear where women have adopted a male non de plume, or have written books jointly. I have not done the maths but I am fairly confident that all the brilliant women writers are fully recognised!

Edwards has obviously a great breath of knowledge of his subject and the confidence to write critically and persuasively about the history of these books. Such diverse groups as clergy get honourable mentions, as they spend hours puzzling over “a variety of matters which would puzzle many a businessman”. Books such as “Gaudy Night” are not in the hundred, but get mentioned as “a love letter to Oxford”, which really sums up the book.

Edwards is trying to flesh out and produce evidence to back up his argument for the nature, importance and popularity of classic crime that he set out in “The Golden Age of Murder”. The hundred titles effectively receive mini reviews, with references to other relevant books, and authors are mentioned in terms of sadness on occasion that they did not produce more stories, and comments which show their development of themes. I think that one of the achievements is to write about all these books without revealing the end, which is a huge success as he provides enticements to read the stories without spoiling them. This is a useful book for anyone interested in fictional crime as a reference book, and an excellent read for those who just want to expand their enjoyment of this popular genre.

So, do get hold of a copy of this book if you possibly can. It is great to recognise so many books from the British Library series, as well as look forward to many to come. Thank you, Martin, for letting me see a copy of this book,  for being such a major part of this fantastic series, and providing a great guest post!

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards – A Guest Post

Detective stories from the “Golden Age of murder” between the world wars are being discovered all over again. Thanks to enterprising publishers, and the advent of digital publishing, readers around the world now have the chance to enjoy many long-forgotten mysteries of the past. They are also finding that the critics who for decades tended to write off these books as dated and facile were way off the mark. Novels by writers such as John Bude and Christopher St John Sprigg, who were far from household names even in their hey-day are now enjoying a wholly unexpected renaissance.


The British Library’s highly popular Crime Classics series has led the way. The series features authors who were once very highly regarded and successful – like Anthony Berkeley and Freeman Wills Crofts – and also the likes of John Rowland and Charles Kingston, who never hit the heights but were capable of telling a good story. Bude in particular has become a real readers’ favourite – five of his books have now reappeared as Crime Classics, with two more in the pipeline. And now plenty of other publishers – including Harper Collins with their revived “Detective Story Club” series, and Dean  Street Press, who have revived authors as diverse as Sir Basil Thomson, once a kingpin of Scotland Yard, and former naval commander Peter Drax – are following suit.


Of course, nostalgia plays a part in this revival. And the gorgeous period artwork of the British Library paperback covers has led many people to collect the whole set. But there’s much more to it than fascination with the past and high production values. The fundamental appeal of Golden Age detective fiction is that the leading authors knew how to entertain their readers.


Yet if entertainment was their priority, their books still tell us a great deal about life during the Twenties and Thirties. Read Antidote to Venom by Crofts, for instance, and you’ll be presented with an interesting picture of life in a provincial zoo, as well as a tricky murder method, and an interesting moral at the heart of the story. Sprigg was a poet and a Marxist, but his playful Death of an Airman offers a glimpse of the workings of a small Thirties airfield that is not only authentic (Sprigg was an expert on aeronautics) but also highly engaging. A visiting bishop from Australia does the detective work – you don’t find sleuthing bishops nowadays!


Crofts and Sprigg are two of the writers whose work is discussed in my new book for the British Library, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. It’s a companion to the Crime Classics series, but it’s not meant merely to be a reference book – though you can dip into it if you don’t immediately have time to read it from cover to cover, and sample some of the themes I discuss, such as country house mysteries and police stories.


The book follows my The Golden Age of Murder, which gave me a pleasant surprise by winning awards here and in the US, and earning gratifying reviews worldwide (it’s currently being translated into both Japanese and Chinese). Here my approach has been different, because the canvas – the first half of the last century – is much broader. I’ve chosen to discuss in depth books which seem to me to illustrate the evolution of the genre in an interesting way. But as with The Golden Age of Murder, I’ve endeavoured to use techniques I’ve honed as a novelist to tell a story that is much more – I hope! – than a recitation of endless facts.


What both books particularly have in common is that writing them has been a labour of love. I’ve been thrilled by the number of readers who have contacted me to express thanks for having their attention drawn to new titles. And if by any chance, you’re casting round for fresh reading, have no fear. The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books can help – never mind the title. In all about seven hundred books feature!

Thank you so much, Martin! I’m not sure I’ve ever had an author guest post on Northernreader before; I would love some more.

My copy of “The Story” has travelled with me to Orkney and back, and tomorrow I hope to post my review. Needless to say it was a brilliant read, and yes, I am compiling a list of books I must read as a result…





The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders

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The big question I was left with after reading this book is, are there going to be anymore Laetitia Rodd mysteries? I enjoyed it so much that I can only think that there must be a series in this; it was not great literary fiction but a fascinating read. The body count was a little high and it was gory at times, but certainly not as graphic as many pseudo Jack the Ripper type books that are around. It also threw in a little element of thriller at the end, which added greatly to the story if not the realism!

There is probably a sub genre developing of Victorian/Edwardian lady detectives, which admittedly does fit the actual beginnings of the crime classic “female detectives” which did emerge. There are one or two that feature brothel keepers, but in this case Laetitia Rodd is an eminently respectable archdeacon’s widow of immense resource. Sadly her much loved husband also left her impoverished and forced to find lodgings with a friendly Mrs Bentley. Her connections remain impeccable, however, and when necessary she can call on a network of clergy friends throughout the country. She is also a shrewd judge of character, which is very useful when she is called upon by her much loved brother Fred to help on another case. Fred is a famous defence lawyer, and employs Laetitia to make discreet but vital enquiries into the background of his clients.  On this occasion her expertise is directly sought when Sir James Calderstone employs her to assume the role of a governess to his two daughters while discovering the background of a woman his son and heir wants to marry.  Mrs Rodd is happy to do so if only to provide for some extras make her home with Mrs Bentley more comfortable, but she soon becomes intrigued by the Calderstone family and their secrets, as well as the beautiful if tragic Helen Orme. Disguises, coincidences and murder follow, with attempted blackmail and painful truths thrown in for good measure.

This is an enjoyable novel which moves a lot faster than the real Victorian tome it mimics, packed with characters (possibly too many?) who all contribute to the tale. It is a little too dependent on coincidence, but well within the detective novel rules. I enjoyed reading of Mrs Rodd’s adventure and her summing up of character and situations. References to clothes and transport alone make it a well -researched book, even if she does have an unusual amount of access to police, prisons and dubious places for a woman of the time. It is not great literature, nor does it have pretensions to be, but a solidly satisfactory read which is entertaining and well plotted. I would recommend it for a holiday or weekend read when actual Victorian literature is too much, but an adventure in the past is tempting.

We are now back from a lovely holiday which combined all the best elements of rest and exploring lots of favourite places. I will try and get Northernvicar to let me have a few photos which record our travels and the discovery of a wonderful library…

I did manage to get enough internet access to put some posts on this blog, especially as they were for blog tours. Do look back for the classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Around the World in Eighty Days just republished by Legend. There is also a review of a really interesting book about a lighthouse community: “Skylarking” by Kate Mildenhall is well worth tracking down. A tough but clever book is ” Rain falls on Everyone” which I reviewed recently and is not really holiday reading, but a fascinating contemporary novel. Lots of reviews to come, if only Selwyn the Vicarage cat will let me type…

Rain Falls on Everyone by Clair Ni Chonghaile

This is a tough novel. The main character, Theo, is a survivor; not only of Rwanda’s genocide and his particular experience of it, but of life in Dublin. This book describes life in the raw, the underbelly of Dublin life, of life in any city, and the things that people do to survive it. Theo’s technique is honesty, as he knows that his foster family did their loving, struggling best to put him back together after his tearful arrival at seven years old. They keep in contact, enquire about what he is doing, try to keep him in their lives. Theo knows that in many ways he has succeeded in surviving, getting this far, getting a degree that fate has decided is not really worth much. He knows that he could have done better, that there have been and are people who care. To survive he must keep his wits about him, see people for what they really are, think about the possibilities of what those he encounters are capable, and incapable, of doing in this life. A life of interconnections and the support that can be negative as well as positive.

The book opens with an incident from which Theo must escape, lie low, disappear. We follow his journey as a reflection of the earlier journey from his first life. Fear, in this novel, can take many forms.

The other person involved in this mysterious incident is Deirdre. Older if not wiser than Theo, she lives a life of fear and regret as her husband’s brutality makes her question everything she has done, everything she is in life. She has teenage children, with their own problems and agendas, a child who she can see is beginning to outgrow the capacity for simple love. Her job, her life, is a sad one, where she knows that a fresh start is the only real cure, but she is stuck. Her family and friends are as interconnected as Dublin life can be, and like Theo, she is in fear.

This novel on first sight seems as if there will be little light, little hope, but it is there in the portrait of people who are not one dimensional, not easy to categorise. Theo has Precious, the sympathetic girl who can bear the nightmares, even if she gets annoyed with Theo at times. Grace is the daughter with her good and bad impulses, the reason that Deirdre continues, wants the dream of life as it could be. This is a book of the tiny details of people that make up life; the understanding teacher, the unlikely love of poetry, the fighting spirit of women whose lives have not fulfilled their early dreams. It is a hard book in many ways, yet Chonghaile is a clever enough writer, a sophisticated observer, to keep the book moving forward while revealing backstories that could be depressing, in small pieces. It is undoubtedly a clever novel, a novel that explains much while keeping forward momentum. It is a book that I was glad to receive to review, as I believe it is an important contribution to begin understanding of refugees in many settings.

Rain Falls on Everyone by [Ní Chonghaile, Clár]

Skylarking by Kate Mildenhall

This is a book of growing up in an enclosed community. It is a book of female friendship and what that may mean for the future. It is a novel of place, time, and essentially of love. Set in a lighthouse community in late nineteenth century Australia, it deals with a time when a woman was judged on her marriage prospects rather than what she actually felt, and the disastrous consequences that could mean for her.  I was sent this novel based on real events by Legend Press to review, and it is a stunning debut by an author who has actually thought about life in the circumstances which existed so long ago.

In a way the narrator, Kate, is confined by her father’s job. He is a lighthouse keeper on a cape in Australia, and Kate’s life experience is confined to the families of those who work on the lighthouse with her father. There are the native people who exist on the fringes, and a few fishermen who pick up a small living locally. The most important person in Kate’s life is Harriet Walker, who is slightly older but as an only child, dependent on Kate for company. They grow up together, though Kate takes more risks, leads Harriet into danger in the playground of cliffs, beaches and the natural world around them. As Harriet grows up, meets people, goes to Melbourne, Kate has only her imagination and the books she reads for company, and she makes mistakes.

The research into the period is beautifully incorporated into this novel, as the reader can follow the tiny community in its simple life of near self-sufficiency.  I really admired the graceful descriptions of the world enjoyed by Kate and Harriet, including the basic school and struggle to grow even a few vegetables. The descriptions never get in the way, but occasionally the feeling of sadness and even doom does tend to dominate the flow of the story. Otherwise, it is a beautiful story of maturing in a community and growing to appreciate feelings.

This is not a miserable book, but it reflects joy rather than humour. The narrator is honest if sometimes confused by her life, and I recommend it for the elegance of its descriptions and the truth of its feelings.

Today is Northernreader’s  “stop” on the blog tour, and I’m really pleased that I had the opportunity to read this book.  At the moment I’m having fun reading all sorts of books, having found some lovely bookshops (sadly, not local usually!). Over the next few days I’ll probably have a rest from posting while I finish them!!


Alice’s Adventures and Around the World – Two Classics from Legend

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an amazing book that everyone thinks that they have read, knows what happens, can quote each character. Like so many classics it has been adapted, filmed, rethought so many times that it is easy to lose sight of the original text. The original Alice is clever, funny and resourceful, and far from the blonde pushed around by circumstance and the other characters. The reissue of this classic by Legend Press is an opportunity to rediscover the original. The book, which I received as a review copy, is a lovely example of a reprint done well. There are no disturbing illustrations, good quality paper has been used, and the text is clear and of a good size.

My relationship with this book began like many other people, a pocket money purchase which transformed their attitude to books and reading. Alice is a curious child in this book, baffled by everything but determined to do her best, remember her lessons and assert herself. She fixes on entering the garden she can see, and risks drinking and eating the strange bottles and foods which appear. She does so intelligently after a few disasters, including wondering what would happen if she is extinguished. I enjoyed her conversations with the other characters such as the Cheshire Cat, and attending the tea party at which she cannot have more tea, because she has not had any in the first place. She frees the pig baby, she defends herself and others from the Queen and is never more than bewildered and taken aback by what happens. Like other classics I was surprised how many quotes come from this book, and I have always remembered the versions of poems and songs which fill the story, even if I have no idea of the original Victorian classics. Alice is a fearless girl, and her elder sister realises that she will always remain an excellent story teller.

Altogether this is a lovely book which I enjoyed rediscovering, and it forms the basis of a set of classic novels which are well produced and entirely readable.

The other Legend Classic I received is Around the World in 80 days by Jules Verne.

This book is a fast moving adventure set in 1872 featuring the memorable characters of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout speeding around the world in extravagant fashion. It has just been reprinted in the Legend Classics series, and I was very pleased to receive a review copy. It was a book that I only appreciated as an adult, but enjoyed greatly when I did read it properly. This edition is especially easy to read, being like the others of this series in a clear, good sized type on good quality paper. It also feels like a book that can actually be read, rather than kept on a shelf for reading on special occasions.

There have been many versions of this novel presented in film and even cartoon format. Phileas Fogg is a man of such regular habits as to be hardly human. His new servant, Passepartout, is impressed by his new master’s calmness and predictability, and has reason to be grateful for his unerring faith in his own ability to sort out difficulties. Their journey, undertaken for a wager as well as a desire to prove that the new modes of transport across the world mean swift efficient travel is possible and predictable, often involves unforeseen challenges. Elephants, rescues against the odds and even the effects of opium are explored in a book which establishes the travel novel in a developing world. The attitudes to the natives of the countries traversed can possibly surprise or even offend, but it is basically the hapless and annoying detective Fix who creates most problems for the travellers. The only female character is not greatly inspiring, being chiefly present to admire and be a travelling companion, but these were different times and in some ways different places. It is a book of adventure and overcoming the odds in which the hero is always a gentleman. It has become the starting point for interpretations which have involved affable tv presenters and dashing actors to enjoy themselves in many different settings. It is a period drama, with all the limitations and beautiful scenery that involves. The character of Passepartout has always been my favourite, as he will not be stopped even when everything seems against him.

For an entertaining read and an exciting adventure, this book would take some beating, and I recommend this edition to indulge in a perfect holiday read for all ages. It has the great advantage of being easy to transport in all senses…

Those of you with good eyesight will see that other classics are available!

The Road to Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

The essential thing to know about this book is that it is not a guide to Middlemarch in the style of exam pass notes, but rather an appreciation of a novel that in some senses depicts an entire community, an entire way of life. If you have not read Middlemarch, you may find spoilers in this book, but overall it is for all those who love the biggest novel by George Eliot. It also has a biographical element in that it takes a loose view of Eliot’s life through the places she lived and worked in, as well as the significance of visiting certain people who may have unwittingly provided inspiration for Middlemarch characters.

Mead uses her own life experiences to understand and illustrate various points in the novel, especially when she is able to visit the house in which Eliot, or Mary Ann Evans as she was born in 1819, spent a significant period of her life.  The name George Eliot reflects the unconventional life which she chose to live. Her partner, George Henry Lewes, was a married man with sons when they met. He was unable to get a divorce, and he and Eliot’s unconventional lifestyle affected her career. There are many touching sections in this book, especially in respect of her relationship with Lewes’ sons. Mead speaks of how her reactions to finding the actual notebooks and texts that Eliot handled created new links with the novels that she wrote. The villages that Eliot and Lewes visited, the inspiration geographically and emotionally for her writing, is reflected in elements of Mead’s own life, as she gains understanding of the novels.

I thought that this book worked because I too love Middlemarch, and my reading of it is definitely enhanced by this book. It is not wildly exciting and I am not sure that there are any great academic insights into the text itself, but this is a heartfelt book of appreciation for a novel which is big in every respect. If you have read and liked Middlemarch you will find much to inform, interest and inspire you in this book, and it will appeal even more. You will also discover much about Eliot’s life and other work from this book, and Mead’s own journey alongside her legacy.

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Over the next few days I hope to be adding some blog tour stops for some classic novels, and a new novel which I am greatly enjoying. Internet access is a little trying, so please bear with me if I am not posting at dawn!


What Dread Hand? by Elizabeth Gill

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It is a great tragedy that owing to her early death, Elizabeth Gill only published three novels, of which this is the middle one, set like the first in France. When sent a copy to review by Dean Street Press, for which many thanks, I knew nothing of this careful but convoluted novel. I was really impressed. In the introduction by Curtis Evans, her novels were described in a contemporary review as “she writes detective stories like a novelist” and I found that it was true. Her allusions to poetry, styles of plays and general descriptions make this book read more like a novel than a whodunit, but the plotting kept me guessing until the end.

Julia Dallas is the central character in this novel; the story is told from her point of view in all its honest awkwardness and snap decisions. It is her fiancé, the multi- talented Charles Kulligrew, who falls victim to a murderous attack during the premiere of a play, and she is honest enough to realise that while she is left distraught, she is not truly broken by his death; that she has lost a dear and true friend rather than the only possible love of her life.  Her confused emotions lead her to some mistakes as well as inspired actions while in pursuit of the true killer, happily she is accompanied by the artist Benvenuto Brown, whose other skill is the detecting of murderers. This is no working through the list of suspects; each character who falls under suspicion is a real person with a backstory and a credible reason for being on the scene of the murder.

The setting of this mystery in a London theatre of the 1930s shows assurance of backstage knowledge and audience appreciation. The pursuit of the guilty takes place across France which would normally reduce my interest, but the places are so well described that even the less well travelled reader can picture the excesses of Monte Carlo and the small villages which are traversed by a combination of lovingly described cars. The crimes of the infamous Tiger which dominate the book provide motives, opportunities and even alibis for other activities. There is the shadow of the First World War, leaving its scars on some of the combatants, but this book is rarely miserable. There are moments of farce, as Julia finds herself locked in, consuming alcohol which affects her actions, and acting on suspicions half formed and uncertain. She is not the hero of the tale; this is 1932 after all, but her progress guides the reader to their own conclusions. I cannot say that I warmed to the character of Brown at all, but he is the amateur detective who works with the police to a satisfactory conclusion, and is there for his cousin throughout.

This is a rich book of descriptive power and consistent characters. The countryside is lush and the people feel real. The clothes worn by the heroine are lovingly described, and her genuine jealousy of Louise heartfelt. I really wanted to find out what happened in this mystery, loved the characters and will be seeking out the other two Elizabeth Gill books very soon!

Lots of things are happening over the next few weeks, so there may be gaps and then 4 blog tour stops! I also have a guest post from THE Martin Edwards, so keep an eye on this space!!

Don’t Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford

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I read this book as part of the Complete Novels of Nancy Mitford, and perhaps it works better after reading “The Pursuit of Love”, “Love in a Cold Climate” and “The Blessing”. On the other hand, it is a funny, well written and memorable novel that I think would stand alone.  A late book in the Mitford set, it was published in 1960 and reflects some of the confusions felt by the pre Second World War generation in the face of new pressures.

Fanny, narrator of the previous novels whose role in those books was not major, suddenly becomes centre stage as “On the day which was to be such a turning point in my life” she learns that Alfred, her safe, dependable husband, has been made British Ambassador to Paris. This completely unexpected appointment, as far as she is concerned, not unnaturally throws her into a panic. She lacks the clothes, the social background and generally a clue about what that means. Her son Basil, who she was trying to track down on that very day, has become a travel agent through the good offices of her mother’s latest husband, and her other son, David, has embraced new philosophy, a wife and a baby. The two younger boys are plotting at Eton, aided by the ambitious Sigismond, anti hero of “The Blessing”. All these boys will come to the Embassy at some point to add to the general mayhem of which Alfred is not to be told.

The confusion and panic of living life in a goldfish bowl of press and social interest is added to when the previous Ambassador’s wife continues to hold court in a part of the Embassy, confusing the picture as Fanny makes her first attempts at entertaining on a grand style. A gossip columnist for a newspaper becomes entrenched and the confusion really erupts with the arrival of Northey. This relative is supposed to be acting as a social secretary, but instead she becomes the object of attraction for French government ministers, visitors, and most other males who visit the Embassy. She also develops an unfortunate attachment to any animals, including badgers and live lobsters, who she deems in need of help. So there are situations which verge on the edge of diplomatic incidents as she rescues animals great and small and variously has them liberated or established in the grounds. She also has a delightful technique for borrowing against her wages which means that she dabbles in the stock exchange. There is also a riot, a tottering government and Uncle Matthew for Fanny to contend with, all to be kept from Alfred who (presumably) has higher concerns, including disputed islands which cause problems for all.

This is perhaps not the social satire which Mitford is best known for, nor does it have the melodrama and emotional impact of some of her other novels. It does feature many of the characters which stride through those books, even if toned down and domesticated. I enjoyed it as an amusing semi domestic tale of crisis and sort of resolution that could be translated to many lives, as impossible relatives and children reduce the most level headed person to semi despair. It all convinces me that this was Mitford having fun, not really trying to criticise or comment, but expressing her bafflement at a new world in which pop music has replaced politics, cocktail parties require military planning, and families in their extended form cannot be expected to behave rationally. A light read perhaps, but good fun and an enjoyable novel.