No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym – Love researched and explored

No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym


Dulcie is heading towards being an older spinster.  Disappointed in love, she now lives a quiet life in her late parents’ house in an unfashionable, even distant suburb of London. As with many other books, some of whose characters turn up in this novel, there is another woman who feels the sadness of love. These are not tragedies, as Dulcie’s new aquaintance Viola elegantly suffers the frustrations of unrequited love, and Laurel discovers the possibilities. There is an absurd man in the form of Dr Alwyn Forbes, impressed with himself, yet always wondering about the women around him. There is also a clergyman, floating around in a tatty cassock, not quite getting the point. This 1961 novel is full of the light touches of women working within their worlds, but this is a book which goes further afield than some of the others into areas of London that have associations for characters that prove to be otherwise, as well as a further journey of discovery for some, which provide a meeting of plot as well as some of the central people of the story. This is a book of realistic clothes, disappointing meals, indexing and researching, of odd books turning up and paintings which typify life. A gentle book of confusions, embarrassments, and little hints of the lives of women and some men as they contemplate others and their expectations. A book of acute observations and faded lives, this is a slightly sadder novel in Pym’s output, but still captures something of Dulcie’s curiosity about those around her, beyond the indexes.


The novel begins with three characters all slightly out of their comfort zone. Dulcie is attending a conference of those who work in publishing, but not those who have the glamour of racy bestselling novels, but rather the mechanics of indexes, of editing and small bits of research. She meets the languid Viola, an admirer of Alwyn, possibly affecting even his marriage to the disappointing Marjorie, whose interest in the conference centred around his scheduled lecture, “Some problems of an editor”. It is notable that more than one of the lectures is entitled “Some Problems of…”, as if the important but unexciting topics of indexes and editing are apologetically handled. The evening meal, as many of the carefully described meals throughout the book, is colourless and unexciting, even though Dulcie and to an extent Viola have some hopes of it.


The relationships as established at the conference go forwards into the rest of the novel, as other characters are discovered rather than firmly laid down, and is propelled by Dulcie’s gentle researches and accidental discoveries. Her hopes for her young niece Laurel’s influence on her rather quiet home do not come to pass in the way she expected, whereas her unexpected lodger becomes a vague partner in her unusual researches into the life and times of a man for whom a small stone squirrel  becomes a talisman of a past time and attraction. The set pieces of Dulcie’s unwilling witnessing of a sort of confrontation, of a shy florist who takes surprising action, and a dinner party which brings together some strange friends all contribute to a life where a particular form of love will not be returned, but nothing is impossible. 


This is a Pym that Husband acquired because I couldn’t find any more on my double banked and tough to access books. As I mentioned before, I’m struggling to access A – H because of my daughter’s house contents being shoved in that room. The limited space for the letter P is stuffed rather full with Ellis Peters (especially Brother Cadfael) Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody) and Jean Plaidy (many, many historical novels) . I am still searching for Pym – maybe they are being shy and retiring….?

Good Husband Material by Trisha Ashley – a classic romantic comedy with real flair


Tish is married – and to a suitable husband. James, a solicitor in the family firm, seems good, solid, reliable good husband material. He is on good terms with her mother, which is more than Tish is, supports her while she writes romantic novels, and is eager to become a father. He agrees, eventually, to move to an idyllic, country cottage.  The problem is that Tish is not that convinced. Part of her remembers her first love, the famous, or maybe infamous, Fergal, pop star, celebrity, notorious for his lifestyle of wine, women and song. She knows that she should make the most of her safe, orderly life with James, but somehow all her fictional heroes resemble Fergal far more than her “good husband”. This funny book, mainly narrated by Tish as James becomes less than attentive and indeed her life changes, brings in several other characters that are all beautifully depicted, ranging from her slightly disreputable grandmother to Fergal’s ambitious self appointed girlfriend. It is possible to visualize her cottage, its challenges and proximity to a village in this well written book, full of dialogue and thoughts that entertain and engage throughout. 


The Prologue is written from the view of a young Fergal Rocco, remembering his first glimpse of Tish at seventeen, falling from a tree. A vision of beauty, trying to capture a bad tempered parrot. Twelve years later Tish observes that when she writes her novels as “Marian Plentifold”,  all her heros “bear a definite (physical) resemblance to Fergal”. She manages to find and buy a cottage in the countryside, which means that James has a longer commute, and she will be living out of town without being able to drive. Owing to strange twists of fate, Fergal and Tish meet again in a hotel. Meanwhile, James is becoming more uncommunicative, abandoning Tish with a temperamental dog and parrot, refusing to eat what she cooks, staying away overnight and becoming obsessed with the local pub and radio building. The locals in the village include a strange neighbour, a local shopkeeper and a wealthy woman, Margaret who has her own agenda. When the local manor house is bought, things become even more lively for Tish, and her challenges seem to multiply. Will her grandmother plots help? Will her awful mother finally gang up with James? Why has he been spending so much time away? 


This book dates back to 2000, so predates mobile phones and the internet being everywhere. Research is more complicated, communication more tricky, and instead of social media the newspapers and magazines carry all the celebrity gossip that Fergal attracts. There is a lot of subtle comedy here, and there are some wonderful set pieces between various characters. Despite his supposedly wild ways, Fergal comes over as a good man, who tries hard for those he likes. The novel overall is genuinely entertaining and the character of Tish grows with the book, overcoming challenges and maintaining her independence despite her qualms. I really enjoyed this book, and would strongly recommend it as a positive book with a basis in real life.    



This sort of novel is a welcome distraction from other concerns, though there is a health scare in the story. It is very funny, with terrific characters and a lot more. Some characters demand sympathy, some dislike and others are just for fun. Even the animals add to the story. All part of the rich variety I am aiming for on this website!  

Art and Soul by Claire Huston – A story of contemporary life fixing and crisis management


This is a positive view of twenty first century relationships, with very natural and unforced humour. The characters are realistic and spring off the page, convincing and involving from their first appearance. At the centre is Becky Watson, crisis manager, events fixer, and crucially mum to toddler Dylan. The people she gets involved with are reacting to a situation and indeed her with honesty. Though much of her work is with wealthy people keen to put on a show, whether that is an actual exhibition, or a hugely expensive wedding, her role is to unofficially prevent problems or at least fix them. Her real interest is in fixing lives, transforming them and offering them solutions. In this book she encounters a tough challenge in the person of Charlie Handren. Charlie is a reluctant artist who has lost his vision, and is at sea with all relationships. Can Becky help him rediscover his ability, a muse and also, can she help herself make and maintain a life for Dylan? I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this engaging tale of contemporary life.


“Calm and composed” is her mantra as Becky approaches the renovated railway station where Charlie lives with his daughter Phoebe. She is worried that the invitation to meet, in a drunken phone call the previous evening, may display a certain reluctance to actually engage with her variety of life coaching. Sure enough, she has to negotiate her way past a door chain to be confront with an unkempt man with no real interest in his own life and lovely house. She has her secret weapon, the fact that Lauren, Charlie’s sister, has long been on the case that he needs to focus and start painting. She also establishes quickly that Phoebe will be potentially leaving home in a year’s time for University. Charlie’s estranged wife left them six years ago, and has had limited contact since. As Becky enquires about his home studio, we are told of his feelings. Of how he feels pathetic, despite his beautiful home and apparently inspiring studio. He has kept a canvas that he has tried to work on, rework and generally got frustrated with, and accordingly Becky soon picks up on his thoroughly blocked inspiration. 


Becky consults her friend Ronnie, cake maker of local fame, and creator of amazing window displays. She and her partner Mike are a vital part of Becky’s support system, as she attends weddings in the wealthy area in which she lives, not as staff but to divert and distract when family tensions and jealousies threaten to disturb the smooth running of the event.  As she establishes what Charlie wants and indeed needs to get his artistic talent back on track, Becky cannot help getting involved with him as he becomes more attractive. Nevertheless, he has specified that he wants to become involved with the beautiful, wealthy Rachel, and Becky must not only organise an exhibition, drive Charlie to paint, but also ensure he can summon the courage to approach the seemingly unobtainable woman.


Becky’s real talent is to think laterally and fix problems. While she knows that she can potentially earn a lot of money if Charlie has a successful exhibition, she knows that she will work her way out of a job, having fixed Charlie’s life so he can be independent of her life coaching.She knows that life can be hard, disappointing and a bit of a struggle, and it seems she needs someone else to fix her life. This is an inspiring and entertaining novel, full of moving and lively descriptions, and is an interesting commentary on contemporary life. I recommend it as an uplifting and fascinating read in a positive tone.  


As I hope you can tell, I really enjoyed this book! I do hope it is a success, it certainly deserves to be. Good luck, Claire!


Meanwhile, back at the Vicarage, life goes on quite quietly. Selwyn the Vicarage cat is used to having his humans around virtually all the time, except when we defect to the garden. I am having a fine time reading and sorting books, though my trained librarian has the problem of trying to wedge them onto the shelves. As daughter’s stuff is still in her room here, fiction is still difficult to store, and to access. One day I will be able to read and review my books where the author’s surname begins with a letter before H…



The Princess of Felling by Elaine Cusack – Poetry, politics and pop in a book of memories


This is a very positive book about the power of remembering and the character of a place. Memory is explored in a detailed and impressive way, with the use of photographs, poetry and text, supplemented by maps of an unusual nature. The whole book is an unusual and sometimes moving tribute to love and more in the life of a remarkable woman. Elaine Cusack is a woman who grew up in a distinctive area of the North East of England, Felling in Gates head near the river Tyne. She captures the idea of a  strong family close in many ways and certainly geographically. Beyond that, she writes of her ventures into a world of music, of poetry and more. This is an unusual book, full of colour in many ways. It goes to prove that there is no such thing as an ordinary life, in this celebration of memory and place. 


This book is subtitled “Poetry, Politics Pop”. This is a non linear tale of a life that began at the Queen Elizabeth hospital, and featured some special people. Elaine explains the ruined pumping station that became in imagination a castle fit for a princess, that gave her an identity which has been at the back of her mind for many years. She explores memories of places, well known rooms, smells and sounds that evokes people and relationships long past. Grandmothers, aunts and uncles playmates and cousins are lovingly remembered in a delightful scrapbook of stuff. This is non linear so the death of much loved parents is mentioned early on in the  book, and later anecdotes of kindness and loyalty from them are especially moving. 


There are passages which feature stories of childhood, toys abandoned and games enjoyed. This is a vivid telling of common tales and all the more powerful for their familiarity, of pop stars followed and concerts much enjoyed. There are stories of letters written to celebrities who warmly reply. The obsession with pop music means that Elaine begins to write lyrics and has ideas for songs that become poems, and poetry is expanded into a new love that continues throughout life. Happily a gift for words is matched with the confidence encouraged by parents, so that publication and competition success leads to writing courses and similar that refine natural talent and flair. This is the heart of the book, a love of creative writing that has produced a book which stands the test of interest to those who are not familiar with the area. 


Happily this is a book of interest to many people, even those who did not grow up in the same time and have similar memories. Apart from the deaths of loved ones, there is another hint of sadness and regret in this otherwise happy book, as the author refers to an abusive relationship and the resulting anorexia which had to be resolved with the kindly support of friends. It is the inclusion of elements like this that make this a three dimensional and realistic book in its honesty and love for life, however tricky. This is a very special book which will be received well by those with an interest in the area or the excitement of coming of age in a different century, but a recent place for many.  The actress Jill Halfpenny accurately wrote of Elaine’s “words allow me to remember things that I didn’t know I’d forgotten”, which will be true for many of us.  


This special book is not available from Amazon and similar, but can be ordered from my favourite independent bookshop  or direct from Elaine’s publisher Other outlets are probably sadly closed at the moment, as they include libraries, but I’m sure one of those two links will be able to help!

Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire by M.R.C. Kasasian – historical police work in Suffolk, 1939

Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire by M.R.C. Kasasian


Betty Church is a police officer. This was unusual, especially in small town Suffolk, 1939. She is rather unusual anyway, a gritty and determined young woman, who has seen and experienced much in her career in the Metropolitan force, when she was famous for never backing down in the face of aggression. She is also remarkable in another respect, she is the goddaughter of March Middleton, who was the goddaughter of the foremost investigator in London, the great Sidney Grice of Gower Street, London. March is now elderly, but still formidable, an incredibly well connected woman. So when Betty turns up on the doorstep, convalescent but desperate to return to duties, she promises to use her influence “There are still men of influence who have reason to be grateful to me or fear my knowledge and there is no point in having strings if you do not tug them occasionally”. This is a book of sometimes understated, sometimes broad humour, which includes some fairly grisly murders.The characters are superbly drawn, with a fair range of useless police officers and the very special Dodo. As Betty is sent, as a newly promoted police Inspector, to Suffolk where crime is rare and she originated from, she realises that it can be seen to be the “dumping ground” that she was concerned about. Within hours of her arrival, she realises that there may well be more challenges here than she thought.


The arrival at the police station is marked by her discovery of what she at first thinks is a dead body, but turns out to be a memorable police sergeant called Briggs. She discovers that everyone expects a male police Inspector, and that the resident inspector is determined to maintain his seniority and to lay claim to the most exciting cases. The constables are a motley crew as they arrive on the scene, most significantly a childish but strangely endearing young woman called Dodo, with family contacts and a strange line in quotes and observations which  test Betty’s patience. Betty also encounters her neglectful parents, who do not trouble to display any interest in her. There are people who she feels closer to, those who remember her from her childhood, those who know something of her romantic history. She soon discovers that it is not all quiet in Sackwater, where there are violent men who threaten women and sudden not quite explained deaths. The oncoming war is creating its own problems, with paperwork and regulations, the blackout and a threat to those of foreign citizenship despite their long residence. Some men have to depart for the military, leaving women with a broad range of reactions.


Betty has to cope with a lot of problems and challenges in this subtly amusing book. I really enjoyed the humour, as Betty narrates her true reactions and what she thinks but does not say. The characters are brilliantly drawn, from the barely useful police officers to those in the area who believe they have the answers to the mysteries. There are those who make assumptions about her, attack her because she is a woman,  those who are bewildered by her, and those who find her a little threatening. This book makes reference to the five Gower Street Detective series, and itself is the first in a series. I really enjoyed every part of this brilliant book, and would recommend it as a tremendous read on many levels. 


My first encounter with this book was in the crime fiction department of Heffers bookshop in Cambridge, where I invested in a signed first edition of this book. Well, we had spent fifteen years in Suffolk, and the time period in which this book was set seemed to be just right for me. Husband meanwhile had just worked out how to borrow audio books from the library, including this one. We enjoyed listening to the first half of it in the car, before Husband changed his phone and we lost access to it. So when I decided to read this book the first part was familiar and really enjoyable, and the second half was not a disappointment. It is tremendously funny, and is well narrated on the audio book.  I usually fall asleep listening to audio books – but never this one.  

I Am Dust by Louise Beech – a supernatural thriller set in an atmospheric theatre



In this book, the statement “I Am Dust” has more than one implication in the several time periods it covers. Chloe is the focus of the novel, remembering the performance of the musical “Dust” she saw as a child, the teenage years where she was part of a theatre group and experimentation of various kinds, and her current work as an usher in the Dean Wilson theatre. There is a lot of history connected with the original production which opened the theatre building, as the lead actress, Morgan Miller, had been brutally murdered in her dressing room. Chloe is a disturbed young woman, especially as the proposed revival of “Dust” is reawakening interest in the ill fated show. Chloe is vividly remembering a time when she and two other teenagers played what Ryan, a talented young amateur actor, proposed what he called“ playing a game”. Chloe is having nightmares based on what happened then, but is also focused on her attempts to cope since the explosive events of that summer. She is struggling with her current existence of frustration and inability to move on from past loves and experiences. The production of the musical with which she was obsessed is deeply disturbing not only to her, but to many people involved with events of the past. I was intrigued and pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book. 


Chloe is seen as a successful employee at the small struggling theatre. She “picks up the glitter” and makes sure that the audience is supervised during the performance. Nevertheless, she is worried by the atmosphere of unexplained noises and subtle hints of what had happened in in the dressing room which had been the scene of Morgan’s murder. She is forced to recall the summer when Jess, Ryan and herself had got into the old church where the youth theatre met and experimented with an Ouija board. All three made discoveries that were unexpected, as Chloe seemed to have unleashed powers that she cannot understand. She remembers her clumsy attempts to express her feelings for one of her friends, which will haunt her forever afterwards. The revelations from the game included references to the murder that had taken place years before, and warnings that the three of them should never be be together again. Choe becomes obsessed with the actress who is to revive the tragic role in the musical, and she reacts to the memories that are awakened. She recalls that her grandmother had suggested there was something about her, something magical, and she begins to recreate in her mind the emotions and results of her previous experiences. 


This is an amazingly atmospheric novel, with subtle suggestions of horror and supernatural events. Chloe is a damaged character, hurting in many ways, and in unusual circumstances. It is a haunting book which makes effective use of suggestion and superstition, shadows and threats. It goes beyond the simple use of ghostly appearances, using the mind games, the emotions of teenagers and the special atmosphere of a theatre after the show is over. It is an incredibly well written book, offering real insight into the emotions of a young woman, the nature of theatrical personalities, the danger of dabbling into unexplained elements of life, and the power of unrequited love. I found it a chilling and powerful read, and I thoroughly recommend it to those who enjoy an absorbing story.   


This was an effective and chilling book,  a very contemporary thriller. It certainly makes a change from some of the other books that  have been reviewing recently.  Happily another package of books arrived from Cogito books this morning, including a book called “The Fall of the House of Byron” by Emily Brand – a non fiction book which both of us are keen to read, and Claire at Cogito had managed to get very quickly. She is still answering the phone during normal hours, and maintaining the website . Why not have a look? 

The Ladies of Locksley by Francis Vivian – a Dean Street Press Inspector Knollis mystery

The Ladies of Locksley by Francis Vivian



This 1953 novel is opened with two meetings which are unusual for a murder mystery.  Inspector Knollis, the police officer who will be investigating the knotty problems in this mystery, is meeting with a friend, Brother Ignatius. Their talk is not one of complete agreement, as Ignatius has strong feelings about investigation and judgement. The second meeting is of a Woman’s Club leaders , mainly Mrs Marion Cartland “the uncrowned squireen of the village…She was, of course, also chairman of the Women’s Club” , doesn’t let anyone forget it. Kathleen Morley is honorary secretary, quietly trying to assert her wishes against the wife of her husband’s business partner. This meeting is a carefully written and amusing picture of two women each trying to assert their authority in the selection of speakers to the Club. It introduces the idea of asking Sir Edmund Griffin, an eminent expert on crime, to give a talk. Both of these meetings seem to have little to do with the crime which emerges over the rest of the book. Dean Street Press have reprinted this novel by Vivian along with  some of his others, and it is a stunning portrait of a brilliantly constructed murder mystery with some unexpected twists and turns. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.


Many of the novels which featured in the Golden Age of Detection struggled to depict women in a truly realistic way, but even the minor female characters are brought to life in this novel. As Inspector Knollis carefully picks his way through the mystery of Roger Cartland’s murder, he takes care to look at many elements of the days that led to his death. A serious car accident seems the obvious cause of death when Cartland’s body is found in his damaged vehicle, but it soon transpires that he was poisoned before he even got into the car. This investigation goes beyond the strict confines of the local area, as it involves Cartland’s jewelry business, and his unusual relationship with Morley as the latter does work on valuable pieces. Knollis is frustrated by the needs and time taken to do painstaking forensic work, and instead does his own investigating which sometimes exceeds the strict rules of procedure. He uses intuition and a dogged determination to investigate the unlikely and the obscure to get to the truth. Brother Ignatius, being almost a voice of conscience and reason, makes appearances in the book which force another approach. 


This is a book which repays careful reading, because of the convoluted nature of the plot and the twists and turns which took me by surprise. Inspector Knollis is an attractive and undramatic detective, who does not bring his personal dramas to the investigation. He gets hungry and exhausted, and sometimes has doubts which make him a realistic investigator. Past crimes and holes in the defences of those he questions are patiently investigated and followed up; this is not a matter of brilliant leaps of knowledge but method and determination. Not that Knollis doesn’t make allowances for human weaknesses, he allows for individual reactions and decisions. This is a mature and clever novel, and a good choice for reprinting by the excellent Dean Street Press.    


This is one of the really interesting reprints of classic but little known crime novels that Dean Street Press have been producing over the last few years. I have had the opportunity to read several, but I am always keen to discover new authors. Another of their lines is the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint, which republishes women novelists of the mid twentieth century. I have particularly enjoyed these and will be hoping to read more at some point. I have even managed to cover some authors’ entire output reprinted by Furrowed Middlebrow, particularly those written during the Second World War. If I have made you want to find out more, why not check their website   where they have what I think is a truly mouth watering range of books, and a blog about the blitz spirit and life today.  If you follow twitter, you will discover that they always offer a free kindle book every week. Definitely worth more investigation!

Letters From the Past by Erica James – a story of a family and friends in a Suffolk village, 1962


Letters can be powerful things, and in this book they take on special resonance as from early in the book they threaten relationships. This novel is actually a sequel to a previous book concerning this very extended family, but I read it as a standalone. It means that the first section shows several people going about their lives but it is quickly revealed the relationships between the people who are nearly all in Suffolk, England, where the central house in the story is to be found. Island House has evidently been home at some point to many of the characters in the novel, though its owner, Romily Deveraux- Temple is in America at the beginning of the book. The time is autumn of 1962, when war is a memory from childhood for many of the characters. Evelyn is married to Kit, and has two children who are at Cambridge University. His sister, Hope, is married to Evelyn’s brother, Edmund, with an adopted daughter Annelise who is a junior fellow in Oxford. Kit and Hope’s other brother, Arthur is the permanently angry and aggressive husband of Julia, father to Ralph and Julia’s son Charles. Julia, Hope and Evelyn together with Florence, Romily’s housekeeper, all receive unsettling anonymous letters. The book is so well constructed that all the characters have their story told, but Romily’s story is once more big enough to encompass all the others. I was pleased and intrigued to have the opportunity to read and review this extremely engaging book of family and friends.


Melstead St Mary is a small village, where generations of people have worked together and relationships have become complex over the year. Evelyn’s marriage to Kit during the War followed his severe injuries on a ship, and her own work and experiences at Bletchley Park. When she receives a letter which questions her children’s parentage, it sets off all sorts of memories. Hope is a successful author of children books and is driven to work, while her husband is the local doctor. Edward’s dedication to the people of the village makes a letter’s suggestion of his multiple infidelities possible to Hope’s already confused mind. Julia is already in an abusive relationship as Arthur is excessively controlling and dominating, so a letter which alleges her inadequacy is profoundly disturbing. Meanwhile, Romily is in America meeting a mysterious writer who may work on a film adaptation of one of her books. Red St Clair is a man who has an attitude which she finds annoying and upsetting, but there is something which she finds more attractive than she can understand.  Many storylines come together as desperation and drama come to a head during a Christmas which brings the area to a temporary halt.


This book takes complex and three dimensional characters and situations and presents them in a linear way which develops ideas and associations so cleverly that the story is satisfactorily explored. There are moments of high drama, and painful memories here, but all are dealt with in a sensitive and appealing way. I was really drawn into the story and I found every character, even relatively minor ones, have realistic and understandable motives for what they do and say.This is a mature novel which offers enormous insight into relationships which exist outside strict conventions and expectations. I recommend this book as a wonderfully engaging family story.   


I am pleased to note that I am the final stop on a tour for this book which deserves a great deal of attention for another novel by this successful author. I particularly enjoyed the setting of this novel having spent many years in Suffolk, even if I never experienced a significant snow fall there! James is especially good at blending a large number of characters into a story line which includes elements from previous experiences and times, and she demonstrates that skill most effectively here. I will be keen to track down more of her booksas soon as possible.    

The Poor Relation by Susanna Bavin – a story of a woman who must fight for her ambitions


Mary Maitland is the centre of a saga beginning in 1908 which poses many questions embedded in an extremely engaging story. This is not a story of many deaths and destitution – rather a story of a girl from a respectable family who is continually linked to her relatives who have the position, the influence and the money. They are used as a threat, and eventually actively work against her, as she struggles to assert herself in a world already against her as a woman. The unfairness of unequal wages, being passed over for promotion and continual assumptions about her abilities is one element of the battles she must continually fight. The more secret deliberate thwarting of her ambitions by her relatives means that she loses her opportunities. She is accidentally involved in the growing fight for women’s suffrage. The important thing is that she has tremendous self belief and drive. Other women also do their best; the nurse unable to continue working, the stepmother who makes the best of a marriage and motherhood, an elderly lady who realises that she must fight for her very home. This book is about the survival of people against the social pressures on them. No one is wholly bad or wholly good; this is a novel filled with real people in a setting that is deeply researched, but even more deeply felt. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this impressive book. 


Mary is the daughter of Edward, whose mother married a Kimber, the local family who have enormous influence in the area. Once a year the family are invited to the big house, where their social inferiority is emphasised at every point. Mary is enormously frustrated that despite ten years of efficient and effective work in the town council, she is always passed over by younger men who she has trained. Her father, a well drawn if annoying character for the reader, rules his household strictly, always with an eye to perceived objections by the grand Kimber relations. Not that they are happy in their lot, as Lady Kimber has being crossed in her romantic life too often. She is therefore bitter and ambitious for her daughter, Eleanor. Her clothes show her personality clearly; she is described as wearing a hat on which “ostrich feathers would quiver with her indignation”. She especially against Mary, as symbolizing her unfortunate relations by marriage.


Another strand is the dissolute Greg, whose expectations are dashed in the early part of the novel, and he finds his life difficult, despite his comfortable lifestyle. Dr Brewer becomes involved in settling disputes following a surprising will reading. The doctor, with his colleague, have ambitions to set up a community clinic, but their continual difficulties show the limitations of social and welfare provision at the time.


This book cleverly intertwines the stories of several individuals and carefully builds up their backstories, some of the reasons that they behave as they do. It is written with enormous understanding of the time, and people who lived in widely varying circumstances. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, feeling caught up in Mary’s story in particular, and was reluctant to put it down without discovering her progress through her fascinating experiences.


This is a very involving book which quite literally kept me awake, in a good way. At the moment there is a lot of concern for mental health, and whether concentration on reading books is possible. As you may appreciate, I find different books are good for different moods, but this one is the sort that truly involves the reader. Different from the funny, the safe, the re read or the classic. Which books are attracting you at the moment? Are you able to get hold of books now that you cannot browse in bookshops or visit libraries in the same ways? Are there particular books you would love to get your hands on but cannot at the moment?

The Herring Seller’s Apprentice by L.C. Tyler – A funny book of murder, writing and mayhem

The Herring Seller's Apprentice (Herring Mysteries Book 1) eBook ...


Ethelred Tressider is a writer. In a way, he is three writers, Peter Fielding, J.R. Elliot, and Amanda Collins. All three have one agent, Ms Elise Thirkettle, who is always interested in Ethelred, but is far more obsessed with chocolate. Both are content in their way, alone but in contact if only so Elise can cajole, persuade and generally pressure him into producing books for sale and therefore commission. These two characters are the leads in a comedy murder mystery from 2007. To begin with it is a missing person hunt, as Geraldine, Ethelred’s ex wife, appears to have disappeared. Fairfax, Ethelred/ Peter’s police character, is refusing to be written, except in strange little extracts which involve various literary characters from Winne the Pooh to P.G. Wodehouse. As the novel proceeds, Elise takes over the narration of the story from Ethelred, and the lively story continues in a unique and very funny way. A body, Ethelred’s autobiographical tales and various people connected with the memorable Geraldine and Elise’s reflections on what is really going on makes for a lively novel, the first in a series of books by L.C. Tyler. I really enjoyed this engaging book, and am looking forward to subsequent novels in the series.


The book opens with Ethelred stating that “I have always been a writer” and listing his various authorial aliases. Peter Fielding writes of Fairfax, a policeman who is nearing retirement, JR Elliot writes of a character in the time of Richard II, and Amanda  Collins who writes modern romance. Elise has arrived at Ethelred’s house to read his latest submission, hoping that his recent stay in France has fuelled his creative impulses. She is just informing that far from being a literary masterpiece as he hopes, his latest work is rubbish ( which she puts more basically)  when a police officer turns up to inform Ethelred  that Geraldine’s hire car has been found abandoned locally.  Ethelred is very informative about his separation from his ex wife and her subsequent relationship with Rupert Mackinnon, now ended it transpires, which Rupert confirms when he turns up at Ethelred’s house. It is assumed that Geraldine, with her “perpetual money troubles”, has committed suicide having left a note. When a body is discovered, Ethelred duly identifies it as Geraldine, and begins the process of sorting out her affairs. It seems that everyone, excluding Ethelred, has invested money with her, which has disappeared. Elsie realises that he will not get down to writing his next book until everything is sorted out, so gets involved in investigating what really happens while consuming heavy amounts of chocolate of course.


This is an unusual, funny and really well written book. It casts a cynical look at the progress of writers and a possible relationship with agents, though I suspect Elsie is completely fictional. It is a clever and humourous book which calls in lots of literary references and the sort of investigations in a criminal matter which may well have been attempted in a pre internet world. I really enjoyed its unusual storyline and the robust dialogue between the main characters. I recommend this book as a fun read with some serious themes, well handled. It looks towards subsequent books, and has many strengths on its own.   


This is a very different book from yesterday’s Barbara Pym post, but both are quite funny and light in a way. They both attempt to reflect a version of contemporary life in their time. All part of my attempt to offer a wide variety of reviews to distract and tempt people into trying new authors and even genres of book.