Friday 19 February 2016

Two crime titles

Catching up today with a couple of crime titles that are about as far apart contentwise as it's possible to get! I suppose that's me in a nutshell, my book tastes range far and wide and I love variety of settings in my reading. And these two certainly are different.

Anyway. First up is Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey. This is my book eight for Bev's Mount TBR 2016 challenge and my book four for her Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt challenge, covering the category 'More than two People'. This is a vintage crime story set in the 1940s.

Quiet, unassuming Miss Lucy Pym has become a minor celebrity by writing a no-nonsense book on psychology. A former school friend, Henrietta Hodge, is now headmistress of a college for the training of Physical Education, teachers, Leys, and invites Miss Pym to come to the school for a one-off lecture on psychology. Miss Pym finds herself very smitten by the college and its pupils. It's a new experience for her and she's astonished by how hard the students work, how committed they are to their studies and also how charming a bunch they are, especially in their dealings with her. It seems like a perfect, insular, little world, untouched by outside influences. When the course is over, the students are all placed in new, paid jobs. One girl in particular is destined to go far. But it doesn't happen and a nasty accident follows upon this disappointment, one which Miss Pym soon realises is possibly not an accident at all. She is forced to realise that Leys is not a miniature utopia at all, and the decision about whether or not the college can survive might well be hers.

Well, this is yet another little gem from the pen of Josephine Tey. After reading The Franchise Affair, which I felt was more of a standalone than an Alan Grant instalment, I wondered if any of her real standalones might be worth a read. Good decision because they absolutely *are*. It seems to me that Josephine Tey was very good on describing small, insular worlds, places where things hadn't changed much in donkey's years... small towns and villages for instance and, in this case, a college of further education. (She apparently worked in a college for physical education so presumably knew what she was writing about.) She knew too that things were not always as perfect as they seemed in these places, especially when it came to them being described as having no crime or bad behaviour. It was ironic too that Miss Pym, the writer of the book on psychology, turned out not to be that good a judge of human behaviour after all. Such is life sometimes. I enjoyed this lovely little book tremendously, the world Tey created was fascinating, the interactions of the students, teachers and Miss Pym, the more gentle and less hectic days of the 1940s and just the overall atmosphere of the book. As I said, a little gem.

Lastly, Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell. This book was recommended by my lovely friend, Pat, at Here, There and Everywhere.

Thomas De Quincey is the notorious 'opium eater' of the book, Confessions of an Opium Eater. A resident of Edinburgh, he travels to London with his daighter, Emily, and gets caught up in a mass murder investigation. Five members of the same family, adults and children, have been slaughtered and mutilated in their home. It mirrors a similar mass killing some years before, known as the Ratcliffe Highway killings, a real life event which De Quincey wrote about in some detail in one of his essays. As a consequence he comes under suspicion as the murderer because whoever did it knew about the other killings in fine detail. The newly formed detective unit arrest him but two of its officers RYan and Becker, are not convinced and, along with Emily, set out to prove his innocence. In order to do that they also need to find out who did actually do it, before the killer can replicate another mass killing which happened twelve days after the first event. What soon becomes very clear is how dangerous this killer is. It seems he will stop at nothing and no one in London is safe until he's been brought to justice.

What to say about this one other than, 'If you like Victorian crime stories with a Dickensian bent then this is for you'. It's a bit gory, I will say that, but it's not horribly so. David Morrell (he wrote Rambo apparently) is a very skilled writer and he brought Victorian life in all its poverty and seediness and dense fog to life for me. It's full of wonderful little history lessons about London, which might sound boring but it's really not. Why were certain streets named as they were? Well, Pall Mall is after a popular game apparently and Piccadily is something to do with someone who made lace collars. What was the connection between The British Empire and the opium trade? Well, it was all pretty murky and conniving and worth reading this book just to find out a lot more about it in my opinion. I liked the use of Emily De Quincey's diaries to enhance the story, I liked the fact that it wasn't necessary to have read Confessions of an Opium Eater in order to understand the story, as I have not (I plan to), and I liked the interactions of the two detectives, Ryan and Becker, as they go about their business on the crime ridden streets of Victorian London. All in all a stonking good read and I'm very much obliged to Deslily for finding the book and recommending it. I already have book 2, Inspector of the Dead on my library pile and can't wait to read it.



DesLily said...

Hooray!! I am really glad you enjoyed the book!! I have slowed to a turtle crawl. doing a little crocheting.. I need a big shot of "feel good" to get going again. I have no idea what that would be lol!

Cathy said...

I read this book and loved it, too. And...I also have the second book in the series waiting for me.

Kay said...

I think I might have that Morrell book. I do remember hearing about it and also the one after. I love Victorian England and so I really would like to read it sooner, rather than later. :-)

Funny that he wrote Rambo.

BooksPlease said...

I have Miss Pym Disposes but haven't read it -so I'm glad you enjoyed it. The Morrell book sounds very interesting, perhaps I can skim the gory bits!

Cath said...

Pat: Loved the book and was thrilled to find book 2 on the library shelf last week.

Cathy: I'm hoping there'll be mny more of these to come!

Kay: When you get to the books you have a treat in store. Yes, so funny that he wrote Rambo!

Margaret: Miss Pym was excellent. The gory bits in the Victorian bits were not too terrible and could easily be skimmed over. The setting and the plot makes up for that.