Peace Breaks Out by Angela Thirkell – Peace is to be declared, but is everyone happy?

Peace Breaks Out

Over the last couple of days I have been reposting my reviews of some of Angela Thirkell’s wartime novels that have just been republished in paperback by Virago Modern Classics. The covers are lovely, but more importantly it has meant that these particularly good novels are more easily available to those who are just discovering the Barsetshire series.

This is one of Thirkell’s  wartime novels in a way, though based more on the events of V.E. Day and “Vee – Jay” Day. It does reflect why some do not get on with her books, as the war is a background issue and those who lose loved ones rare in her books. There is a character in one book whose husband is posted as missing, and it is a moving picture of a woman whose life is in some senses on hold until she gets confirmation of her husband’s fate.  One of the characters who is not always the most popular (Mr Adams) tries so hard to find news. Which novel is it? I feel it might be one that is due to come out in the near future…

But I digress. This novel is surprisingly bitter about Peace being declared, seeing the announcement as an inconvenience rather  than marking the end of a terrifying time. Maybe it’s because this book is set in the countryside where air raids are rare (see Northbridge Rectory   for  home front descriptions), or maybe the day to day concerns of bread supply are the realistic way most people actually made it through. There are some disturbing references to refugees from European countries, but maybe I’m a little sensitive to such things at this time. Having just finished a Mitford novel ( I read them over breakfast – don’t judge) I found myself gritting my teeth far more over her subject matter. Is it a matter of hindsight or a genuine problem with writing of the past?

This 1946 novel is dominated by romance. David is at his outrageous flirting again, which almost proved disastrous in Wild Strawberries  , and it is more than time that someone stronger takes him on, which looks increasingly possible. In the meantime both Anne (Miss Buntings second heroine) and Martin are both made miserable by his antics. This book features many reoccurring characters, so may not be the best place to start with Thirkell (High Rising or Wild Strawberries  being better) . This novel will not disappoint Thirkell fans, if only because it features Lady Emily and her “portable property” barriers, her formidable if selective memory, and her appreciation of “that lovely creature”, Robin’s mother. This book ends so well for those with a sentimental nature, but could put others off who like their fiction a little more realistic and sensible….


Growing Up by Angela Thirkell – A new paperback edition published!

Growing Up (Virago Modern Classics): Thirkell, Angela: 9780349013435: Books

This is a reposting of my review of this excellent book to mark its republishing by VMC – if you have not read any of the Barsetshire novels, this is an excellent on, one of Thirkell’s wartime books from 1943.


This one of the wartime Thirkell novels that work so well. It reflects a time when the Second World War had been going on some time, written when the outcome of the fighting was still not apparent, when there was no indication of exactly how much longer it would go on. The fear of whether one of the characters had survived the evacuation of Dunkirk was in the past, but the drama of D Day and similar decisive action was still very much in the future. Men, brothers, husbands are still liable to be sent abroad; there is the real fear of them not returning. There is a certain settled acceptance of war time arrangements such as an entire hospital being billeted in the local big house, wounded soldiers being invalided out of the army, women taking on roles that would never have been envisaged pre war. This is the civilian side of war, but not one of bombings and blitz, but still there is some grief and fear.

Sir Harry and Lady Waring are living in part of their large house, the rest having been converted to a hospital for wounded soldiers. They lost their only son in the First World War, but are more than accepting that their nephew Cecil will inherit the house, provided that he survives his naval service. His sister, Leslie arrives on the scene having been involved at a high level in war work, but having suffered when her ship back from foreign work was torpedoed. At the beginning of the novel Lydia and Noel Merton are sent as paying guests to live with the Warings. Both have appeared in the Barsetshire novels before; Lydia was the memorable Lydia Keith, outrageous and noisy as a girl, now utterly devoted to her husband Noel and a settled character. She has become someone able to deal with many people and situations in a mature way, but still she has doubts. The servants in this novel are real characters, far from being dismissed as being unimportant. The scary Nannie Allen, overprotective of those she cares for, her daughter Selina, the focus of many male hopes while she cries at any situation, and Jasper the gamekeeper all contribute to the novel. Meanwhile the soldiers and nurses in the other part of the house contribute greatly to the story. There are a few set pieces which are particularly funny, including Mrs Spender who otherwise features in the Northbridge Rectory novel and Mrs Laura Morland, who gives a talk at the hospital. The latter sounds very much like a real experience on Thirkell’s part.

This is a very satisfactory episode in the Barsetshire series. There is no denying the fear and tension in the background; Thirkell in common with everyone else had no way of knowing what the outcome of the war would be; while the immediate fear of invasion had receded by this point, there was no foreseeable end and many people were still being sent secretly abroad. This novel does not contain the subtext of suspicion of refugees that some of the other books feature, each character has respect and understanding. I have really enjoyed rereading this book, and anyone who likes Thirkell’s novels will appreciate it.


Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell – a new Paperback edition appears

Cheerfulness Breaks In

In honour of the release of the new paperback edition by earlier this month from Virago Modern Classics – I am reposting my review. If it is a new book to you, this wartime book is a wonderful read and thoroughly recommended!


This is a wartime book, first published in 1940, which deals with the first months of the Second World War from the depths of the English countryside.  It is the story of various groups of families and friends of the mythical “Barsetshire”, comprising a  city with a cathedral, villages and country houses. Fans of Angela Thirkell will know that the series began in 1933 and carried on until 1961, with at least one book being published nearly every year. They featured the same group of families and some individuals, with the focus being on a smaller group in each book. Like a modern soap opera many stories ran in parallel, and took due note of the war by exploring departures and arrivals in the area by individuals as they served in the military forces and did other war work. This book deals with the evacuees who arrived in the area and depicts some of the token refugees from a fictional European state. It includes men who are about to be sent to serve elsewhere, and those who will miss them. It begins with a wedding and ends with engagements, but many of those involved are having to get used to other shortages and challenges.


One of the characters who features in this book is the lovely but distracted Rose Birkett, elder daughter of the Headmaster of Southbridge and his wife, Mr and Mrs Birkett. They and several men had been driven to despair by Rose’s distressing tendency to get engaged and break the relationship off all within a very short time, as recorded in previous novels and sort of fondly remembered by many. This book opens with her wedding to the extremely sensible Lieutenant John Fairweather, RN, who firmly deals with Rose’s ideas and takes her off to his posting in a South American city. In order to make sure that the wedding actually takes place the twenty one year old Lydia Keith is a firm and effective bridesmaid, and is much discussed throughout this novel. She would like to be nursing or joining another of the women’s services, but her mother’s illness and the need to run the small family estate means that she must be busy at home, with only occasional forays to help with the Communal Kitchen for Evacuee children. She attracts the attention of Noel Merton, but he realises that her age and responsibilities militate against him and his hopes. 


There are several set pieces which bring many of the characters together to meet and discuss matters of the day. A wedding, a sherry party, a dinner party are the civilised gatherings with social expectations which enable revelations. Less well controlled is the Christmas party held for the evacuated school children of the area, with religious and social divisions. Various characters reappear throughout the novel with great effect, including Mrs Morland, author and helper to at least one family. An entire school, Hosiers’ Boys Foundation School, are also brought into the area from London, and the staff have some issues settling in.


Like other of Thirkell’s other novels, there are social divisions here; servants and workers can be dismissed as being different and can be ordered about by their employers and others. The refugees are seen as aggressively different and challenging, dirty and unprincipled. However, there is a lot of acceptance among the gentry and others of relationships and friendships which are perhaps not the norm, and eccentricities of manner and behaviour. Noel observes that many people at this time are wishing they could be doing something else, somewhere else. There was a feeling that they were not sufficiently contributing to the war effort, despite their necessary work in producing crops or permitting others to run committees. At the heart of the book, however, beyond the comedy and fascinating dialogue, is the fear of what is to come, the separation and worse. After all, when Thirkell was writing this novel neither she or anyone else knew what was to come, or how long it would last. A most enjoyable novel, amid the best of Thirkell’s Barsetshire series, and a largely fascinating picture of a society.

A Match Made in Heaven – British Women Write About Love and Desire in 16 Short Stories

A Match Made in Heaven 


This is a book of short stories which are drawn together by the fact that they are all by Muslim women, and all take as their subject “Love and Desire”. Not that, as the Introduction is at pains to point out, they are similar beyond that theme. The apparent expectation is that Muslim are “both conservative and submissive”, but these sixteen stories do not demonstrate that to be the case; indeed they are sufficiently diverse to suggest that all they all feature relationships in a vast range. 


There are stories which show enormous respect for a relationship by the rules, even if not exactly as expected by organising mothers. There are also those that show a strong resistance to what is enforceable under the strict rules of the faith, as one man proposes to take a second wife. The women who are at the centre of these stories sometimes express themselves through the narrative, whereas in at least one both partners’ views are fully explored. These stories are limited only by imagination, but are mostly grounded in experience. Some of the authors are well known, others produced their stories from a workshop setting. Some use pseudonyms for various reasons, as honesty and down to earth truths even in fiction can be too revealing. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this special book.


The pressure on young women and men to marry can lead to difficult relationships, which is a theme explored in more than one story. Women in Britain also experience the pressures of education and career being in conflict with traditional expectations of marriage and house work, and this is reflected in the stories. Some women’s stories reflect betrayal of different types, whereas others have quite a twist with responsibility not lying where it first seemed. 


This is not a miserable collection of stories throughout; there are flashes of humour, determination and strength. Obviously some stories will appeal more to some readers than others, which reflects the variety and mixture of writing styles. It is difficult to work out which is the ultimate favourite without revealing the twists in many of the tales, the unexpected and unpredictable endings, the satisfactory resolutions and the open endings which encourage further speculation on the part of the reader.


This is essentially a varied collection of stories which show the diversity of views they reflect from the perspective of Muslim women. There is humour in a story involving a bathroom window, there is deep and unresolvable sorrow in a story set amongst the Syrian war. There are happy marriages, relationships, there are those who struggle to rise above an incident or fact, while others show true survival. The editors have done an amazing job in bringing together words, stories and contributions that really push the boundaries of the expected. There is no one presumption of what women can produce here, as the description states “so absolutely nothing can be taken for granted”. This is a book which can be enjoyed on many levels, by people who may not have much knowledge or understanding of the Muslim faith, and by those for whom it is a life long commitment. I found much to enjoy in this book, being able to explore its diversity in the contributions it contains, and would definitely recommend it.   

The Museum Makers by Rachel Morris – a book of how the past is told in stories with objects

The Museum Makers by Rachel Morris 


This is an unusual book with two streams which intertwine throughout the book; the memories of a family through one person’s discoveries, and the making and maintaining of museums. Rachel Morris’ family is dominated, like many, by stories and the women who tell them. Museums in whatever part of the world, however local, national or even symbolic in themselves, are shown as not only repositories of objects, but the focus of stories in themselves.


 The power of story is central to this book, as Rachel looks at the stories of her family that survived via her redoubtable Grandmother. It also looks at the way that stories are attached to buildings and their contents, from the smallest items to the largest. This book sets out the history of museums as repositories for personal or local collections by enthusiasts, from the might of the great London museums established by bequests, to the small local museums in towns and cities across Britain. It also looks at the problems faced by museums today, by the financial pressures on local authorities which means underfunding for many traditional institutions. It also mentions the dramatic issues faced by those who attempt to maintain or begin to collect objects in war zones. This thoughtful book looks at how we interpret the past, whether it is best done through objects, and the importance of preserving stories in an effective way. I was fascinated by this book, and very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.  


The first element of this book is the personal story. Morris is a museum designer, and one day she is inspired to go beyond arranging displays and exhibitions to take out boxes of long stored items from under a bed. As she looks at the objects she remembers her childhood in difficult circumstances, her parents being absent and her grandmother having limited financial resources to care for her and her brothers. There are also the stories of family members with notorious reputations as relationships are spoiled, money lost and families put under strain. Morris looks at the stories around the articles she finds, the letters and the photographs, the tiny scraps of lives lived in different times and in different places. As a display she compiles those things which reflects people and stories as important and speaking to today. 


The other element of the book looks at how the obsessive collections of enthusiasts of so many different items led to collections which span the full range from the might of the British Museum, through a museum in which nothing can be moved, via the sometimes surprising things to be found in small museums. It looks briefly at the problems of cataloguing, the evolution of catalogues themselves, and the problems of categorization. There is discussion of arranging displays in the light of chronology, “Progress”, and the whole philosophical question of how objects should be shown to an audience. There is a look at at the sheer logistics of showcases, labelling and display generally before the more mundane questions of funding and keeping the buildings staffed and open.


This book opens the view of the reader to so many questions which beset the museum organisations in the twenty first century, such as ownership and origin of objects, even the questions relating to repatriation of items obtained in dubious circumstances. She has opted to ask the big questions through the prism of her family history, which gives what could otherwise be an academic exercise a personal twist. It is a book that will be of interest to many in the heritage sector, as well as those who visit and love museums, and anyone who looks at objects and items in the light of the past and the comments they can make into the future from the present. I found it an enlightening book with much to recommend it, and enjoyed reading it.   


This is a really interesting book which you can obtain from who are promoting this blog tour as above.


I found this book particularly interesting as I have recently finished my MA in Public History and Heritage, which looked at several points raised in this book, yet it is not a textbook in any sense. Obviously with access to museums and heritage buildings being tricky at the moment some of this book can feel a little distant, but it points out how the study and appreciation of the past is not limited to traditional settings, so possibly it has something to say even about our challenging times.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer – a masterpiece of Regency comedy and life

The Grand Sophy: Heyer, Georgette: 9780099465638: Books


A resourceful, and some would say meddlesome, lead character called Sophy is arguably one of Heyer’s greatest creations. A cheerful young woman who is rarely worried by any circumstance thrown at her, she upsets the life of at least one family in Regency London, as she challenges many expectations of correct behaviour for an unmarried female. With a deft hand, Heyer suggests how she should behave in the words of her surprised cousin Charles and his scandalised fiance Eugenia Wraxton, then show her going way beyond it. With a taste for animals, especially horses, thanks to her upbringing in many places by her father Sir Horace, she knows and is known by many people, and has already experienced some dangerous situations. This is a light hearted look at life and rules followed by the upper set in the Regency period that Heyer so effortlessly portrays with her usual impeccable research and understanding of a time when men usually controlled the way a household was run. A favourite amongst Heyer’s considerable output, this is a novel to be relished by anyone who enjoys a social comedy in a different, but somehow familiar, time.


When Sir Horace visits his sister, Lady Ombersley, it is with the surprising news that he is once more to go abroad, and accordingly will impose his only child Sophy on her for an indefinitely long visit. She protests in her apathetic way that her eldest son, Charles, may object, and that as he holds the purse strings for the family due to an unexpected inheritance and his resulting hold on his feckless father. His engagement to Miss Wraxton influences him to a rather inflexible view of life, which is rather unfortunate. The next oldest boy is carrying a secret worry that he cannot share. Cecilia is the oldest daughter, promised to Lord Charlbury but infatuated with a distracted poet Augustus Fawnhope. Charles soon discovers that Sophy is far from predictable, as she arrives with a menagerie of animals including a spirited horse. As she expresses her determination to set up her own stables and more, Charles begins to realise that she is far more strong willed than he was prepared for in any sense. Meanwhile “It seemed (to Sophy) that she had taken up her residence in an unhappy household”, and she resolves to sort it out. Some problems take her a short burst of effort, while others require a more long term policy. She is willing to even use a gun; as she tells one opponent while pointing at him “Well, if you move out of that chair you will discover that it is loaded,” said Sophy. “At least, you will be dead” She shows little fear, devotion to others, and an intelligent actor in any situation, even when things seem to descend to farce.  


This is a classic Heyer Regency novel, where a lot of the comedy emerges from a character flouting the rules for the best of reasons. There are many comic moments, and the characters are so well drawn that they are inherently funny. The dialogue is priceless, especially between Sophy and Charles Rivenhall. The character of Sophy is constantly surprising, entertaining and memorable, and she is at the heart of this lively and engaging book. Certainly one of my favourites, this novel is highly recommended.  


Since its first publication in 1950 this book has probably been in print in one form or another, and as you can imagine it has had a wide variety of covers, some of which are better than others. Over the last few months people have been putting pictures of the Heyer covers online, and there are some really extraordinary ones out there! How important are the covers in your decision to pick up a Heyer novel, or indeed any book? The cover above is what I have on my copy – how popular is it? Does it reveal anything about the book? Does it matter? How important is a cover to selling you a book?

Who Killed Patrick by Syl Waters – A Murder Mystery in a Holiday Resort, with a Small Detective!


A fabulous permanent holiday experience, an enjoyable varied job, and a guinea pig with attitude, Tarah has it all. Moving on a whim from a boring office job in Britain to an uncertain future in Fuerteventura, she makes a change which risks everything in this unusual and very down to earth mystery of a holiday resort. Waters’ first book, a “Mr Bob Murder Mystery” , “A Guinea Pig Cozy Crime Investigation”, is a lively and deceptively insightful book of what happens on a holiday island when secrets and lies emerge. Tarah is an honest and resourceful lead character of a novel which catches some of the challenges of life as she narrates a story of good observation which catches some of the essence of what life is really like for someone who runs a holiday resort. Funny, fascinating and well expressed, this is a book which is essentially a light read with poignant moments. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book with its unusual theme. 


At the beginning of the novel, Tarah is working in an office which is punishingly boring and petty. Realising “I don’t know what I’m doing. I want to escape. I want a different life”, she opts for the unknown island of Fuerteventura for her flight to a new life. Arriving to find her accommodation is a very basic dilapidated shack amongst some holiday cottages, she finds some free furniture and paint left overs from upgrading locals and so impresses her landlord that he offers her a job doing the day to day running of the resort, sorting out the minor problems of holidaymakers. Despite the friendly happy people who are enjoying their holidays, she is a little lonely, so when her boss Jorge asks her if she would like a very young guinea pig she is pleased to accept. A vet tells her that it needs constant company, so she devises a carrier for him and Mr Bob goes everywhere with her. 


Tarah is happily running the site and meeting those who visit, and comes up with the idea of a games evening for the guests to meet and enjoy some entertainment. An older lady becomes a particular friend on her regular visits. When a group of four, two couples, arrive, she is happy to welcome them back to a regular holiday destination. However, there seems to be some difficulty with their ambitious plans, and when a phone call alerts her to a tragedy, she will have to summon all her resources to find out the truth, by any unconventional means she can find. 


This book benefits from some lovely descriptions of the island setting and the idea of permanently sunny weather. The characters of the landlord, his workers and other locals are full of insight, especially a disappointed but nonetheless ambitious musician in a local bar. When a tragedy happens, Tarah’s determination to get to the truth  is impressive, especially when she is inspired by Mr Bob to observe the holiday party carefully and think about the implications of what they are doing. This is a carefully written and sometimes funny book with a genuinely engaging theme, and I would be interested to read further books from this author.     

The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson – A Dandy Gilver Mystery in a Coastal Village


It is 1936, and Dandy Gilver, private detective working with her trusted colleague Alec, is pulled away from her full time duties as a grandmother to undertake another case. It is an unusual one, not concerning murder or mayhem, but a young woman behaving strangely. This book, like several others in this series, involves Dandy and Alec immersing themselves in a community that is unsure of what to make of them, demonstrating local prejudices and suspicions that make their lives more difficult. This book is the latest in a series, but can easily be read as a standalone or out of sequence; like the others it demonstrates Dandy coming to terms with the Scottish life she has married into and Alec, a platonic best friend with whom she enjoys total trust. Their shared dialogue is always entertaining, and Dandy peppers her conversation with modern phrases picked up from her sons, to whom she is deeply attached and fearful for in case of another war. Her husband Hugh is obsessed with his estate and agricultural matters, but can still surprise with his help. As they struggle with accommodation, meals and more, Dandy and Alec must find out why a ferry woman will not carry passengers, and what is really going on in a small Scottish village on the coast.


When Dandy discovers that she is to become a grandmother, she is not prepared for the huge commitment of time and energy it will take, but she is as always helped by her friend Alec. When the third call for help comes from a Reverend Hogg, she decides that her daughter in laws plan for an enormous picnic can proceed without her help, so she willingly packs her bags and goes to Crammond with Alec. They soon discover that the local cause for concern is a woman, Vesper Kemp, who managed to retain her late father’s role as ferry keeper, but who has recently started behaving very oddly. The local clergyman has his own agenda, but there are two women, Miss Speir and Miss Lumley who have mixed feelings about the case.  When Alec and Dandy meet Vesper, she is indeed behaving very oddly and seems frightened. The locals seem to have mixed feelings about her, and there are several odd happenings which confuse Dandy and Alec. There are students in the area with a strange fixation with potatoes, men with an unusual reason for being in the area, and two public houses with different clientele. When a young man’s fate is also questioned, Alec and Dandy must make every effort to discover the truth as soon as possible, even though there is danger in the finding out.


This is a lively and engaging book with some endearing characters, vivid descriptions of everything ranging from food to village life, and a delightful excursion to Edinburgh. This book explains a lot about the way Scottish people lived in the interwar period, the variants of class and money, and the shadows of the rise of Hitler. I greatly enjoyed this book, and always anticipate with pleasure reading another episode of adventures of Dandy and Alec. I was so pleased to read this book, and recommend this series to anyone who enjoys fairly gentle mystery novels.   


This is the fourteenth book in the series, and if you have not discovered Dandy and her family yet, you have a real treat in store! I have really enjoyed all of them, learning a lot about life in Scotland in the first half of the twentieth century, and some really funny incidents as Dandy struggles with the pretensions of her maid and the fixed views of her husband. 

In other news, I am starting a re read (after about twenty years) of “A Suitable Boy”. Yes, it’s only a few pages so far, but its a big book! I have watched the first couple of episodes and think it is beautifully filmed and usefully simplifies a complex story. I’ll let you know how it goes!   

The Sterling Directive by Tim Standish – A Victorian fantasy of Action, Mystery and Machines


A thriller, a fantasy, historical fiction and mystery, this innovative book combines many elements to make a exciting, tense and really enjoyable book. A man emerges from an exile in military service in Canada in Victorian London, but this is a very different world from what could be expected in a normal historical fiction novel. The technology is very different in this carefully constructed world. Airships are ubiquitous, transport far from just horse drawn carriages, but there are also engine computers, with a primitive internet and communication facilities. Thus Charles is launched into a world of slippery identities, instant communication and records of people’s lives called berties. Meeting a new group of people, given a new role, he must pursue a new identity and a directive to investigate the notorious murders attributed to Jack the Ripper. This is an intriguing and exciting book, which contains action scenes and memorable characters, is a tense and engaging read. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this unique book on the edge of fantasy. 


The book begins with a duel and a death, as Charles returns to Britain after an exile of some eight years. All is far from well, and he is soon arrested before he can discover the truth of a crime which he struggles to remember. Condemned to a cell without hope, he is suddenly released and introduced to an organisation that he struggles to understand. Meeting new colleagues is one thing; he is also introduced to the mysterious Milady, who sets out his lack of options. Adopting a disguise and a fake fiance, he goes on a tour of parts of London associated with the Ripper, and gets a lead for further investigation. Partnered by the laconic Church, they have to survive more than one attack which are extremely well written. As a technical back up back at base Charles meets Patience, who manages the computer system, discovering people, creating false messages and more. A memorable character in many ways, she provides an extra dimensional to a story with real vibrancy and depth. There are careful descriptions of weapons and technological innovations that are on the edge of reality even now. The presence of innovation combined with an investigation which tests everyone in the service makes for an irresistible read. 


At the beginning of this novel it seemed a lot to assimilate, as even a working knowledge of Victorian history did not seem to prepare me for reading this book. I need not have been concerned. It is funny, exciting and gives a real insight into Charles’ motivation as we observe the challenges he faces through his eyes, as he narrates the novel. His resourcefulness comes in part from his military experience on the edge of Empire in Canada, as a Civil war continues across the states of America, and partly through his maverick view of life. This book artfully plays with history, historical technology and humanity to great effect; it is a book which appeals on many levels as being fast moving, thrilling and more. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a well written novel with a fast pace and depth of story that will entertain and engage.      

Vintage Crime – a Crime Writer’s Association Anthology edited by Martin Edwards


Vintage Crime from the Crime Writers Association


This book contains no less than twenty two short stories “Hand – Picked from the Mystery Archives” by Martin Edwards from the archives of the Crime Writers’ Association going back to 1953.  In his brief introduction, Edwards points out that the earliest story in the collection is from John Dickson Carr which was reprinted from a 1940 publication, and which I had already read elsewhere. The stories are undated which is unhelpful, but it is made up for by the quality and variety of the contributions which includes stories from such well known writers as Simon Brett, Kate Ellis and Peter Lovesey. 


There are some very memorable stories here – as murderers confess, animals leave the solution on show, detectives follow their instincts. There are many stories here to entertain, inform and more, as some murderers just allow things to happen whereas other crimes are meticulously planned. Most, if not all of the stories, reflect careful plotting, while some of the characters really come alive in the hands of practised and skilful writers. In any collection like this, there will be some stories that a reader enjoys more than others, but this is a collection which is strong in all respects. It is not necessarily  the oldest stories which are the most enjoyable, or the most recent which reflect one’s own experience. As with any crime story, or short story of any kind, the plot needs to be almost timeless, as could happen beyond a particular set of circumstances. The great advantages of a collection like this is to discover new stories, new authors without committing to a full novel by an author who may be new to a reader. This was my experience with “Inspector Ghote and the Noted British Author” by H.T.F Keating, which manages to demonstrate gentle comedy, a different setting of India, and an excellent plot all in the space of a few pages. Celia Fremlin looks at different sorts of courage, while Frances Fyfield looks at the pressures that an individual can exert on a family in “Cold and Deep”. The famous chef Elizabeth David becomes the unwitting centre of attention in  a poisonous story from Andrew Taylor, while a wistful story of past memories of life in Egypt dominate a contribution  from Marjorie Eccles. Martin Edwards’ own “Melusine”, inspired by a legend, takes the context of a horrible situation to look at what happens when secrets are exposed. Kate Ellis’ “Top Deck” is an award winning story which takes a small experience and looks at its effect. 


This is a book with a story for every mood, every perception of crime, understandable or baffling, turning on small circumstances or major events. I found it a very readable book, with the ability to change moods from story to story. When life is challenging and possibly concentrating on a full novel is difficult, an anthology like this is very attractive as demanding less sustained attention. I did not have to retain clues and motives, circumstances and red herrings over a complete book; it satisfies the need for completion within a short time. I recommend this book as presenting many opportunities for satisfying, distracting reading, with an excellent mixture of stories for every taste and mood.