Time for several short reviews to get myself caught up.
First up, Murder at the Spring Ball by Benedict Brown.
It's 1925 and Lord Edgington is a retired police detective aged 76. He lost his wife ten years ago and for that ten years he's been frozen in time rather - a recluse in a huge mansion of a house. Waking up from this self-induced coma he decides on a magnificent ball such as the hall used to host in the old days. What he doesn't bargain for is for his sister to keel over, dead, poisoned by the champagne she couldn't wait to sample before everyone else. It's clear someone is after killing the whole family off. Lord Edgington, feeling the actual police are incompetent, sets about solving the murder himself along with the help of his teenage grandson, Christopher. This was huge fun and if you enjoy a country-house murder mystery you might like this. Lord Edgingtom is a bit autocratic but very clever and I like how he takes Christopher under his wing, believing in him when no else has time for the boy. There's a nice sense of a country mansion and a load of grasping, not very pleasant relatives, all with their own secrets of course. I'll definitely be reading on in this series as book 2, A Body at a Boarding School, is, as the title suggests, a 'school' mystery and I'm always up for one of those.
Next, a classic, Dr. Thorne by Anthony Trollope which is the third book in his Chronicles of Barsetshire series.
Mary Thorne is Dr. Thorne's illegitimate neice and she's lived with him most of her life. Her father was the doctor's brother, Henry, her mother, Mary Scatcherd, from a rough family in the local town. Henry was not much good, and ended up being accidently killed by Mary Scatcherd's brother who went to prison for his crime. Dr. Thorne persuaded Mary to leave the baby with him and go off to America with her fiancé who wanted Mary, but not someone else's baby. Fast forward 20 years and the two live in Greshamsbury and are very friendly with the local squire. Young Mary is in fact almost part of the family and very attached to two of the daughters and the eldest son, Frank Gresham, is in love with Mary Thorne. This is Not Good. Frank's father has squandered money left, right and centre and in order to save the house and the family, Frank must marry money. Mary Thorne has none. So that's the setting for what I gather Trollope felt was his best novel. I can see why, it's beautifully written, the problems and obstacles are so engrossing to read about and I loved it. Hypocrisy is very much the theme of this book, especially around money and blood. Some of these upper crust families desperately needed money so they happily married someone rich with a trade background - perhaps not 'happily' but 'needs must' sort of thing - but heaven forbid one of them wanted to marry a delightful girl from a good family but uncertain parentage and no money. And of course the one to really suffer is not the squire's family but Mary... the details of which I won't go into because of spoilers. Trollope relates the story of Mary Thorne and Frank Gresham in an extremely engaging manner, really funny in places and I loved his authorial voice breaking in occasionally to reassure or explain. Superb, and I will read more by Trollope this year, possibly the next book in the Barsetshire series, Framley Parsonage, or one of his multitude of standalone books. I'd completely forgotten what a brillaint writer he was.
Lastly, Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell.
So, this is weird because of course I knew that Angela Thirkell set her books in Trollope's fictional Barsetshire but I didn't expect to see families from Dr. Thorne still around and getting mentions in Northbridge Rectory. This is book 10 in her series and the second book which features WW2. Verena Villars is the wife of the local rector in Northbridge. They've been there a year or so and have already settled into their new home and have a lot of friends. Officers from the services are also billeted with them and then there's the vicarage staff who bring all their various trials and tribulations to Verena. This isn't a book where a lot happens, it's about people and how they interact with each other, but unlike most of Thirkell's output this one also has to cover how people coped during the war years. I think it's definitely the funniest one I've read so far. Miss Pemberton protecting Mr. Downing, her academic lodger, who writes books about Provencal troubadoors that no one reads, from other women is hilarious. Of course he gets away, but is that what he really wants? There's Mrs. Turner and her two nieces, whose home is comfortable and welcoming but sheer bedlam. And Mr. Holden, billeted with the Villars, and who has a bad crush on Verena and keeps telling her she looks tired. The vicar is of course pretty much oblivious to all of this... This is now one of my favourites from the series. Thirkell's narrative voice is so funny it reminded me slightly of The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield. I wondered where Barsetshire actually was, where Trollope had in mind, and I gather it was Somerset and possibly parts of Dorset and Wiltshire and that does indeed 'feel' right... to me anyway.
So three good books and all authors with the potential for a 'lot' more reading this year. Can't wait.
I hope your February reading is going as well as mine?