The Greenbecker Gambit by Ben Graff – a novel of a man obsessed by the spirit of chess

 

Chess is a way of life, a way of seeing things, a way to deal with life. That is how Tennessee Greenbecker thinks in this novel where he believes that he is the true, if unrecognised champion of the world. It is a novel which tries to answer a question; what would happen if someone tried to disturb a world championship chess match. I am not a chess player, but in this book everything is related to chess, specifically by Tennessee, whose relative success in the game is his superpower as far as he is concerned. He is very concerned, obsessed, by what he sees as his world beating skill at the game. It overrides every other consideration in his life, his physical frailty and his mental health, except his side interest in setting fires. This novel takes the form of a stream of conscious, a narration of Tennessee’s thoughts and actions,  however unsavoury. It is always his views, his complicated thought processes that propel the story as he drifts round a London of cafes, hostels and pubs. This is an intense read in some respects, full of a difficult life, but with flashes of unintended humour on Tennessee’s part. It is a very personal book, written with great power from the mind of a fictional character. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this unusual novel. 

 

The first phrase we hear from Tennesse is “Waiting for the body to burn is making me impatient”. It follows a number of quotations, including TS Eliot “human kind Cannot bear very much reality”. As Tennesse debates the merits and techniques of getting a bonfire to light, it becomes clear that he has experience of setting illicit fires. He consoles himself when he is forcibly moved on with the thought that he will be world chess champion. His night in a cafe is full of his thoughts of meeting Gabriel his brother, Bobby Fischer the chess champion, and his folder of chess strategies and great ideas for regaining his supposed position in the world of chess. There are hints of poor physical health, and his reactions to other people show a mental instability, but it is not a simple matter. This is a man who is fixated on missed opportunities, unfair treatment and most crucially, his expectation of challenging his nemesis to a world champion level match. His family, of which Gabriel is the only survivor, obviously had a great effect on him, especially his writer mother.   He writes of the kitchen where he grew up “Our kitchen smelt of paper and hope and words trying to connect and somehow failing”. Tennesse’s progress, or movement around London, is dominated by memories and ambition, and the squalor of his life is sad and somehow moving. 

 

This is a powerful read of one man’s descent, or thwarted ambition, and more. It does not have a lot of technical detail regarding chess, but it captures something of the spirit of the game in terms of thoughts about strategy and dedication to the skill of playing.  I recommend this book as an engaging read about one person’s thought process and view of the world, and as an extremely well written story of a life.

Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees – in the aftermath of war, food is the code

 

 

After the Second World War finished, the state of much of mainland Europe was still confused. Refugees or “displaced persons” moved across borders of former countries, Germany was divided into zones between the victorious forces, but squabbles about a new world order were dominating any attempt to rebuild cities. Into this world arrives Edith Graham who has spent the war teaching at a girls’ school, but now wants to do her bit in sorting out schools in the British zone. That would be a sufficient challenge, but her friends want to give her different missions, mainly in terms of discovering those convinced Nazis who are hiding in the ruins of a society. She has her own agenda, looking for her ex lover. While she is given official unofficial contacts, in order to transmit information to a friend she comes up with an unusual idea: a code based on a specific cookery book, hidden in innocent seeming recipes. The book brilliantly describes her feelings on arriving in Germany, her shock at the state of the buildings and plight of the people, and her confusion at who she can truly trust. This is an excellent testament to the spirit of those who wanted to help rebuild a world, but also a strong examination of some of the urge to punish those who did such appalling things in the name of a terrifying ideology and aggressive self interest. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review such a powerful historical novel of a remarkable time in Germany.

 

Edith is an excellent German speaker who is resentful of her war experience limited to teaching girls and caring for her widowed mother. When she gets the opportunity to go to Germany with the education corp, she is keen to go, if only for a belated chance to make a difference. However, it seems that she is required to do more, to discover the fate of some who disappeared, whether friends or enemies. Not that any of it is straightforward, as she is aware some of those placing these demands have their own agendas. Having begun a second career writing recipes and cooking hints under an assumed name, she decides to use her keen observation of food to convey secrets, impressions and information to a friend, Dori, in letters that may well be censored.  Her arrival in the British zone shows her the inequalities of the British who have too much food, power and influence, in contrast to the surviving victims of a war that has displaced huge numbers of people who struggle to find shelter and scraps of food. Her compassion for others, especially the children, reveals that so many have their own story of terrible suffering, and she tries to change some situations. She discovers secrets, dangers, physical attraction, threats and so much more in cities forever transformed by recent events. She finds friends, allies and suspicious individuals, and it is so difficult to work out who, if anyone she can trust. Meanwhile, she comments on the food, the menus, the terrible and fascinating fare presented to her and others in a place of famine and plenty. 

 

This is an elegantly written book of harsh realities but also genuine understanding of people in extreme circumstances. It conveys a terrific sense of place, of cold, of the ruins in which people scrape a living almost alongside those who live and work in enormous buildings. Rees is so skilled at drawing out characters in extremes of cruelty, passion and other emotions that it is a fascinating book, even with its touching testimonies of outrages. She creates images of such powerful scenes that are haunting and memorable. I recommend this book to all those who are interested in the aftermath of war, the experience of people left to cope, and the physical and mental scars of terrible events. By focusing on Edith, the reader is given a real insight into the nearly impossible to describe situation through the eyes of a sympathetic woman.  

 

I really enjoyed this book, if only because it shows such a human response to terrible situations. Compared with some of the books I read and review on this blog, it is a tough read, but so powerful.

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer – an historical mystery farce with a lot of humour

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

 

Drama, excitement and a massive amount of humour; this classic book by Georgette Heyer has it all, as well as some wonderful characters who all contribute to this near farce. Including such staples as a proposed arranged marriage, a hidden ring and midnight horse rides, this book also includes some marvelous characters such as a frequently bewildered magistrate, an excitable young French woman, and some danger loving smugglers/free traders. Set in the Regency or Georgian period, this is a fast moving story of secrets and deliberate deceptions as well as hidden heroes. The women are resourceful, the men enjoy a good fight, and the element of comedy emerges in the dialogue between a fascinating group of characters who spend most of the time in a coaching inn. I really enjoyed this classic novel which tells a brilliant story in a most entertaining way. Originally published in 1936, it shows Heyer writing at the top of her form, as she tells the story of an inheritance from one remarkable old man which goes anything but smoothly. There is romance, but the main drama is concerned with the discovery of a ring which can prove a man’s innocence or guilt, an inheritance and more. 

 

The book opens with Sir Tristram Shield arriving at Lavenham Court, where his remarkable great uncle Sylvester, Lord Lavenham, lies ill. Shield is an unexcitable character, the complete opposite of his cousin Mademoiselle de Vauban, Eustacie, a young woman rescued from the horrors of revolutionary France by her grandfather. Unfortunately for Shield, she is full of romantic ideas of adventure and romantic death, and both of them have severe doubts about their enforced proposed marriage. Another relative turns up, who is known as the Beau, for his stylish manners and appearance, who discusses with Shield the missing heir, Sylvester’s grandson Ludovic, and why he remains in hiding after an alleged murder to recover a Talisman Ring. Following Sylvester’s death, it is proposed that the marriage take place in the near future, but Eustacie objects and decides that she will have her own adventure travelling to London. After a complicated ride around a forest in the middle of the night, Eustacie and her new, injured companion seek shelter in a post inn, with a sympathetic landlord. They also meet Sarah Thane and her brother, Sir Hugh, a befuddled magistrate, and discover that Sarah is completely undaunted by any adventure, and eager to help with any scheme. As people enter and exit the inn, a secret cellar must be used for safety, and there must be a lot of fast thinking if all is to end well. 

 

It is difficult to pick out one event, scene or character that stands out, as they all contribute to a very enjoyable whole. The two Thanes are probably my favourites, as Sarah is able to deal with any situation by adopting a different persona, and Sir Hugh because he is so unconcerned by what is truly going on, as he is more interested in the drink in the cellar than who is hiding or searching there. With hapless early police, an evil designing character and some impressive quick thinking, this book works in its faultless setting, description and characters. I thoroughly recommend it as a fast moving and very funny book which is a brilliant introduction to Heyer’s genre defining books. 

 

As I am re reading these novels I am discovering just how funny they are, with characters and dialogue that really bring the story alive. Sitting in the sunshine laughing out loud at this classic novel is a great way to spend an afternoon! If you want to investigate Georgette Heyer’s novels, this is an excellent place to begin.

 

The Women Who Ran Away by Sheila O’Flanagan – two women search for clues for life

 

An idyllic literary tour of France and Spain sounds a most attractive idea for a holiday, staying in beautiful hotels, exploring small towns and cities, eating fabulous food, all sounds wonderful. However, the two women who undertake this journey in this lovely book from Sheila O’Flanagan’s  are both traumatised and searching for a new perspective to be able to cope with their recent respective pasts. Deira has been in a relationship with Gavin for thirteen years, coped with various challenges, and now feels betrayed. Grace is an older woman whose strong willed husband is dead, but she still has many questions and regrets about the man who controlled most of her adult life. Meeting by accident or fate, thrown together on this unusual journey by unique circumstances, this is a book which explores more than beautiful scenery in their search for new lives, or at least a way of coping with their present ones. This dynamic book looks at the cost of love and relationships for women in contemporary Ireland, and the strength of new friendship in coping with the challenges that women face. I found this a remarkable and wholly enjoyable read, full of genuine insight, beautiful descriptive writing and a powerful picture of women who have regrets. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel. 

 

The book opens with Deira acquiring a convertible and very desirable car from her ex partner’s car parking space. They had booked a trip with it from Dublin by ferry to France. Deira decides that although they have split up, she still wants to fulfil her ambition of driving around Paris in an open top car. She is angry with Gavin for more than just breaking up with her in finding a younger woman; she now feels her chances of becoming a mother slipping from her. She accidentally meets Grace, an older woman of serene beauty who gives the impression of coping brilliantly with life. However, after a small accident and no longer being able to drive the disputed car, Deira discovers that Ken, Grace’s late husband, has left her a series of puzzles on his laptop relating to the hotel rooms he has booked for her to stay across France. It emerges that Ken had been one of Deira’s literature lecturers at University, and she helps Grace to solve the mainly author related clues on a treasure hunt. As they travel together they reveal their individual traumas to each other; Deira’s sense of betrayal, Grace’s realisation of how Ken had dominated her life and always assumed that she would cope. They both have their points of despair, but in each other they begin to discover a mutual support in their journey through beautiful countryside. 

 

This is a genuinely lovely read in which the setting shimmers with sunshine and comfort, but is shadowed by the emotions that both women struggle to come to terms with as they share some times and also separately consider their lives. It shows how women can give up their independence and their chance to live their own fulfilling lives. It shows how women, people, can go through truly difficult times, as Grace says “And you look back and and say, that was a terrible week, or month or year.But you’ve got to remember that it’s only a tiny amount of your whole life.”. I enjoyed this read of what feels like real life in some respects, when ironic events can bring home what we have, and what we have achieved. I thoroughly recommend this book for its wonderful writing, its insight into the questions many people, certainly women, ask, and its sense of momentum as the two women travel hopefully.   

 

This novel is a contemporary story which contrasts in some ways with the historical novels or classic books that I often review, but I think that some of the issues it discusses transcends the time in which it is set. The themes of limitations on women’s lives and much more really dominate this book as it does in many historical books, even if the twenty first century is supposed to be a time of equality. Not an obviously “feminist” book, this novel does look at some of the dilemmas which women face today, and how they can begin to cope.  

Paris Savages by Katherine Johnson – an historical story of spirits, science and the treatment of people

 

An historical novel which brings to life the unfortunate experience of small groups of people brought to Europe in the 1880s, this is a book of large themes and horrors. Hilda is a young woman who has travelled to Fraser Island, Australia and spent six years there, learning of and experiencing at first hand the Badtjala people, their family links, traditions and superstitions. When her father, a troubled engineer, decides to take three of the surviving tribe members to Germany and beyond, Hilda believes that it is to help raise funds for a reserve in which they can live safely. This is a complex tale told in journal entries, third person narration and from the viewpoint of a ghostly interpreter. The three individuals they take, Bonny, Jurano and Dorondera, are far more vulnerable than they at first seem, especially to the exploitation and more that they face. This is a book in which the settings of nineteenth century Europe really come alive, and the attitudes towards the “other” are demonstrated in all their painful reality. This is a novel which deals with the nuances of the treatment of people who were denied voices then, and has therefore something to say about how people are treated today. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

 

The book opens with Hilda remembering her mother and observing her father as they live amid the tribespeople in almost dreamlike circumstances. Several of the older people remember losses of loved ones, yet there are also the small touches of humour as the natural world affects the dances and lives of the people and Hilda’s friends. She mourns her mother, and remembers vividly the things she said, how she looked, how she wrote in her journal. Hilda has a close relationship with the tribespeople, and taking the three individuals abroad creates all sorts of feelings for her, the desire to protect them, the fear of their embarrassment and suffering. Their experiences are hurtful in many ways, their living quarters insulting, and there is an enthusiasm to treat them as exhibits, objects to be measured, anything but people. Bonny in particular is physically strong, determined and focused on his intention to see Queen Victoria in person, but even he struggles to retain his dignity and sense of self in the face of challenges. The young woman, Dorondera, suffers from the indignity of being surrounded by men who want to examine her, treat her as an object, claiming that the needs of science overcome the considerations of common humanity.

 

This is a novel of showmanship, of how the prospect of financial gain can overcome conscience. This is not the hopeful world of the earliest circus celebrated in film, but of the sordid shows of people from other ethnic groups, treated like animals, with little concern for their well being and dignity. Written off as being less than human, Hilda sees their sadness. This book is full of the spirits, the stories and the impossible to explain elements of a life so different from that experienced in Europe, and Johnson writes so powerfully of the pain of that misunderstanding. Johnson is so good on the telling details of people encountered that many people spring from the story making it a complex tale. I recommend this book as a powerful exploration of lives lived in the shadow of discrimination and more, with many implications for today’s world.

 

I found this a complex and painfully honest book. It certainly shows a very different type of historical novel from many I have reviewed on this blog, which shows the variety in this genre. It is a very powerful read.

 

  

The Secret of Creek Cottage by Tina M Edwards – the links between times in a Cornish cottage

 

“The supernatural is the natural, just not yet understood” is the quote which begins this book which makes the most of two storylines set in two time periods. It looks at the calm, contemporary tale of a couple who have moved to the small cottage from Bristol, who hope for a child once the stress of city life is eased. Kitty and Ben are happy in their new lives, though Kitty is beginning to wonder about their cottage. In the other time line, Will is married to Loveday, who is also hoping for a child. This is, however, the time of the First World War, and when Will signs up in the early part of the war Loveday fears for her chance of becoming a mother. This novel is a beautifully written evocation of hope and faith in the setting of the beautiful Cornish countryside, among people who have strong traditions. The after effects of war, the mystery of the supernatural, the essence of belief in what cannot be easily explained all contribute to this masterly novel of love and hope. It is written with a gentleness and descriptive power which marks it out as a very special read. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review this book. 

 

As Kitty cleans and makes the most of her cottage in the beautiful setting of a small village, she begins to appreciate that there are people who live locally who have a greater understanding of the locality and the history of her cottage. Loveday meanwhile is interested in an offer she has had from a Mrs Cromp, a wise woman of the area, who has knowledge that can change lives. When Will joined the army to go and fight, Loveday knew the chances of having a baby must be put on hold, but still she has hopes. Her journey to consult the wise woman is difficult, there is a surprise in the form of a “Droll Teller”, of tales, but she still has hopes if only Will returns to her. The other local people such as Daisy, the enthusiastic deliverer of post, good and bad, care for the young woman, and the revival of hope that comes. Kitty meanwhile is a thoroughly realistic young woman, but disturbing elements of her home are beginning to disturb her. Involved in the study of herbs, Kitty also becomes fascinated by the history of her cottage, a fascination she shares with her good friend Lizzie, especially when a crisis threatens. 

 

This is a book which benefits greatly from lyrical and beautiful writing, creating a sense of other worldliness, a gentle force beyond explanation. Full of customs and references to local folklore, this book also looks at the significance of the trauma of war. It is honest in its account of two women’s lives, separated by time but linked by threads of belief, however confused. I enjoyed reading this book with its deceptive simplicity and moving revelations. It speaks honestly of the ties of love and hope that go beyond obvious links. It is a very good read, and I recommend it as a vivid and lovely book. 

 

I was really pleased to read this book, which was engaging and honest in its writing. it even mentions an army regiment that my father joined at a young age, so it had a personal link. It shows a deep knowledge of Cornish life and folklore.   It is a lovely read!

Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart – a classic read of fast cars and deceptions from the past

Madam, Will You Talk? : Mary Stewart : 9781444711202

 

A thriller with car chases, people who are not who they seem, and the scenery of southern France dominate this 1955 thriller narrated in the voice of Charity Selbourne. From a hotel in a small town to the streets of a big city, this fast moving and tense classic features a lot of elements that make for an exciting novel. There are questions to be answered amid the ruins and tourist sites which Charity has come to visit, and the descriptions of the settings are so vivid as to make an unknown area truly come alive. Like Stewart’s other classic thrillers which involve murder and mystery, this is a book where the setting, with vivid descriptions of roads, hotels, even rooms, help bring to life a well plotted story. The characters, from a bright and frightened boy to a sophisticated woman are established quickly and effectively. I also enjoy the dialogue, whether full of menace or gently amusing, which is so helpful in establishing the personality of the characters as well as the progress of the story. As always with a Mary Stewart story it is easy to become involved with a well written novel and engaged with a brilliant paced story.

 

“The whole affair began so very quietly” The book opens with two friends, Charity and Louise, arriving and getting established in a small French hotel. Louise is a school teacher, and keen to sit and sketch, whereas Charity is a young widow, enthusiastic about visiting all the tourist spots. She is also the sort of person who enjoys people watching, guessing at nationalities, ways of behaving and so forth. She observes a boy in the courtyard of the hotel, struggling with his dog Rommel, which he has tied on a piece of string. It soon emerges that he is called David, English and apparently troubled. He is bright and articulate, but seems uneasy, especially when she suggests the name Byron when he mentions that his surname is Shelly. His apparent mother is expensively attractive, but disinterested in the boy. The humour of the book emerges in exchanges with Louise, when Charity offers to go to see the Pont du Gard, Louise answers “My dear, I’ve seen the Holborn Viaduct, life can hold no more…” Accordingly she goes alone to the city of Avignon, mindful of the story of a boy whose father was arrested for hitting him and murdering a friend. When she spots David en route she offers to take him and his dog to Avignon. The boy suddenly becomes extremely frightened, and it is when Charity is alone she has an encounter which leaves her bruised and shaken. She chooses to visit a town famous for its ruins, and while there she has a terrifying encounter, which triggers off a chase which covers many miles and discoveries. 

 

This is a book which is full of surprises and plot twists, as secrets from the past clash with deceptions of the present. It is a book which is extremely well plotted, which maintains the reader’s involvement in the small details and the large themes. I found it a great read, which kept my interest right until the very entertaining end. I recommend it as another engaging novel from a superb writer.  

 

I spent an entertaining hour or so sorting out books with my daughter today, as she gathered more of her stuff. She discovered that I had a lot of duplicates of Georgette Heyer books, and I tried to explain that as she published something like fifty novels I may have acquired mote than one copy of some. I am obviously going to have to work out some sort of checklist from Fantastic Fiction or similar if I am going to have to check the missing books! Similarly I am going to have to do something with my Mary Stewart collection – there are eighteen novels in addition to the Arthurian series. I am certainly enjoying discovering and rediscovering both authors’s books – at least until I run out of them!     

The Spitfire Girls by Jenny Holmes – a novel of some women of the Air Transport Auxiliary

The Spitfire Girls

 

This is a novel of some of the women of the Air Transport Auxiliary, A group of talented pilots who spent much of the Second World War transporting airplanes. They did not fly in battle, or just deliver new planes, but also those whose airworthiness was of a doubtful nature to be repaired.These women were not fair weather aviators; they had to fly planes as needed even when conditions were not perfect and enemy aircraft were present. While there is much written in non fiction about them, this is a novel which shows the fictional world of three characters who fly with the service, and one woman who would desperately like to despite the danger. This is a powerful story of love and devotion to duty, but also of the very real feelings of the women involved. These brave women were young, and sometimes made mistakes, but essentially they were fixated on flying craft without some of the cover that male pilots had during battles. This novel is the first in a series of books featuring the women, and men, who were responsible for getting the aircraft to the correct place to enable a vitally important element of the war to be fought.

 

The three pilots that fly the aircraft at the start of the novel have all had opportunities denied to many people, let alone women, in the 1930s. Planes were far more rare and relatively expensive to fly. In the First World War impossibly fragile planes had flown over the trenches to see the lie of the land, and the technology had advanced to provide planes which could be used for aerial combat. Angela, glamorous and wealthy, whose family owned woollen mills, had wanted to fly and could afford to. She blossomed in the ATA, flying bravely and well. It is known that she has been chosen to be the model on the ATA recruiting poster, and is well known on the base in Yorkshire in September 1943 as the novel begins. Her friend Bobbie is also well known as a pilot with ambitions, who had first learnt to fly on her father’s own plane in Scotland. She is however naive and when she becomes the object of interest to at least one male pilot, she is unsure how to cope despite her bravery. The third pilot, Jean, had a less easy path to flying. Having gained a scholarship to grammar school, she has had to work really hard to get the opportunity to fly, and makes the most of her chance by being the most able and courageous of the women pilots. Mary, meanwhile, is a driver, who is nonetheless brave and dedicated to getting personnel to the right place, even when in shock and physically affected by the dangers of the bombing which to the area was subject. Her friend Stan pushes her to apply for training, but she knows that women from her background are fighting a huge battle to get behind the controls of a plane under any circumstances, let alone when their importance to the country’s fate was so acute. 

 

This novel gives an excellent account of both the excitement and dangers of flying planes at this time. It shows that it was not only a matter of ability, but also background and opportunity. The tension is not always confined to being in the skies; the male pilots and ground staff have their own agendas on occasions, even feeling jealous of the women and their abilities. This novel is a well written look at the real humanity, the romances and intrigues of the women and those around them who flew planes in the most challenging of circumstances. It is an engaging and even gripping read, which more than kept my interest and kept me reading. I recommend this as a real book of the humanity and excitement of aviation in the Second World War. 

 

I picked this book up a while ago, and enjoyed it greatly. I noticed the the next in the series “The Spitfire Girls Fly to Victory” had been published, and I have happily managed to get a copy! I also see there is a Christmas one to come, so something to look forward to over the next few months.

Spirited by Julie Cohen – a powerful historical novel of love, freedom and truthful lives

 

 

Love, memories and the cost of freedom – this is an historical novel which takes expectations for Victorian life and shatters them. Julie Cohen has created characters that have real life and real emotions, however many challenges they must face. Looking at the secrets of spiritualism, this book considers at what people most want, and what that can cost. Viola is a woman who understands something of grief, and a remarkable discovery means that she wants to help others in their loss. Jonah, a quiet man, is full of duty, but struggles to come to terms with the secret behind his dutiful heroism. Henriette is famous for bringing messages from those who have gone to those who desperately seek, but knows that she must fight to survive. All three become connected, but in different ways, as prejudice, duty and suspicion dominate their lives. This is a splendid examination through people’s lives of the rules of sexuality and more, themes which are still relevant in today’s society. This is a beautifully written book, and I am so pleased that I have had the opportunity to read and review this book. 

 

The book opens with a vivid picture of quite a dull event in many ways, the marriage of Jonah and Viola. Viola is a vicar’s daughter, but her much loved parent has just died. The vicarage where she has grown up, where the young Jonah stayed during holidays, can no longer be her home, and Jonah has promised to marry her. So while she is dislocated by grief, and he is nursing a secret which he feels unable to share, they marry and commence parallel lives. Moving to Dorset, they set up home where they are unknown, but gradually they receive invitations partly because of Jonah’s fame. Until her father’s death, Viola had been a keen amateur photographer with him, learning about every stage of taking images and producing photographic prints. It is only after meeting the remarkable Henriette that she feels inspired to attempt photographs again, with remarkable results. Jonah feels challenged in a completely different way by a session with Henriette; he feels consumed by memories of his life changing experiences in Delhi, an unresolved guilt and an overwhelming sadness. Henriette, it soons becomes plain, is not what she seems, and her determination to survive and follow an unexpressed love is what drives her, but her discoveries are revelations to a woman who shocks others for a living. 

 

This is such a well balanced book of twists and turns, revelations and surprises which fit beautifully within a very English setting, where even the weather seems to mirror the emotions. Contrasted with that is the bright whiteness of life in Delhi, the confusions of cultures, the limitations placed on Jonah. I found that the characters in this book are really well drawn and powerfully presented, especially the women who must fight to create truthful lives for themselves. The societies presented also hint at the inequalities of poverty beyond gender though that is a sufficient restriction on many lives. This is more than a historical novel; it deals with faith, love and truthful lives, and I recommend it as a powerful read. 

 

It is books like this which remind me while I love historical fiction which goes beyond royalty and the famous, to look at what life for people, especially women, was actually like. Far from being a straightforward romance, this book revels in so much more.

 

 

Crossed Skis – An Alpine Mystery by Carol Carnac – a worthy reprint for British Library Crime Classics

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac, Martin Edwards | Waterstones

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac

 

A mystery which features skiing in Austria as well as a London fog, this superb 1952 novel, now republished in the British Library Crime Classics Series, has all the ingredients for a classic read. Written under one of the pen names of Edith Caroline Rivett, (the other being ECR Lorac) this experienced and skilful writer holds two storylines in parallel for much of the novel extremely well. One story is of a party of skiers of mixed ability, eight women and eight men, who make their way to a ski resort in Austria. The other is the death by fire in a boarding house in London which excites the suspicions of Carnac’s usual lead detective, Scotland Yard man, Julian Rivers. In his usual excellent introduction, Martin Edwards draws attention to the different identities of the writer, her inspiration for this novel, and the clever way in which she structures this book. There is much to admire in this novel, in terms of detailed knowledge of the trip, the currency rules and the entire atmosphere of post war Austria. The dialogue is as well written as the setting, and one of the characters in the party almost becomes a detective of strange events. Not being someone with first hand experience of skiing I can only suppose that the accuracy of the runs, classes and challenges are as well written as every other element of this extremely enjoyable book. 

 

The book begins with an account of the departure of the party from Victoria station. There is all the confusion of tickets, different classes of travel, picnic food and the distribution of sleeping berths to contend with as well as the last minute confusion of delayed trains. Two elements are worthy of note at this stage, the general appreciation of the difference in atmosphere as soon as the channel is crossed as the rules of rationing are forgotten; the second is the way that the party is not known to each other as several of the original men dropped out and others were substituted at the last moment. The journey is not without incident or revelation of character as the men argue and bicker, the suggestion is made that it is possible to create a  personal history when it is not easy to check the truth.

 

Meanwhile in London an older woman is horrified to find that her house is on fire, and her son is not telling the truth of what he saw. When Rivers and his assistant Lancing get involved at the discovery of a man’s body in the house, certain elements make them sure that this is not an accident, and there is a connection to other crimes. In a long string of clues and investigations, Rivers and Lancing begin to suspect that skiing is connected, and their ambitions to visit the slopes in the pursuit of the guilty may not be impossible. 

 

This is a very readable book which is well paced and plotted, and the characters are well drawn and realistic. Altogether it is a fine example of a classic crime story which deserves a wide audience as a true gem of the Golden Age of detection written by a skilled hand.