Tuesday 11 May 2021

Catching up a bit

As usual I'm waaay behind with reviews, four to be precise, so I'm going to do a quick run-down of three of the books I've been reading since the beginning of the month.

First up, Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac.

Author, Bruce Attleton, has disappeared. His wife and friends all thought he was on a trip to Paris but at a recent dinner party they had all been discussing how you would get rid of a murdered body and two of his friends become concerned enough at his lack of communication to investigate. The police, in the form of Chief Inspector MacDonald,  are called in but they struggle to get anywhere at first. It turns out there's blackmail involved, not to mention infidelity, mad artists, impersonation... and an old, rambling house, 'The Belfry' in London's Notting Hill. It's quite complicated to be honest and I struggled a bit, not only to keep up with the intricacies of the plot, but to remember who was who, and what relation they bore to everyone else and what was going on. Nevertheless I enjoyed it a lot (no harm in giving an addled brain a good workout) because E.C.R. Lorac's writing is never anything less than superb and I will read anything at all written by her. I wondered if this book was the origin of the term, 'Bats in the Belfry', meaning mad or eccentric, but apparently not, it's thought that that term originated in America at the beginning of the 20th. century.

Next, Fat Dogs and French Estates, a non-fiction book, by Beth Haslam.

The author, Beth Haslam, and her husband, Jack, decide to retire to France. They enjoy shooting game and want to buy a house with land, including plenty of woodland, so they can start a shooting business. Sounds pretty straightforward? Er... no. It seems Estate Agents are the same the world over... you tell them what you want and they try to bamboozle you into thinking something entirely the opposite is precisely what you asked for. Beth lines up lots of viewings and her and husband and the two dogs, Biff and Sam, set off on a very long road-trip. Their experiences are catalogued in this, part one, of what is, I think, a four book series telling of their adventures in France. I loved it. Partly because some of their journey was familiar to me from our own trips to France but also it's beautifully written in a very funny, self-deprecating manner and the dogs are as much a star of the show as the humans. Plus, the eccentricities of the owners of the houses they view are beyond belief at times, and the estate agents are not far behind. I will definitely be reading on in this series. 


Lastly, Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, another non-fiction.

Geography was probably my favourite subject at school, apart from possibly Maths, so this one was a bit of a must-get for me when I spotted it on Goodreads. It concerns Geopolitics, which looks at the way international affairs can be viewed and understood through geographical factors. It stands to reason really, except that I'd never given it much thought until I read Krakatoa by Simon Winchester wherein he discusses that quite a lot. Tim Marshall considers the history and politics of various areas of the globe from the point of view of their rivers, mountains, seas, plains and so on: Russia, China, The USA, Western Europe, Africa, The Middle East, India and Pakistan, The Arctic, Korea and Japan and Latin America. The most interesting for me was The Arctic - with the ice rapidly disappearing who's going to lay claim to the waters? Answer, probably Russia and of course there's absolutely 'no' potential for conflict there! I appreciated the author's attempt to explain The Middle East and its divisions and wars, because I gather even experts have trouble with that. Really the author made me think about things that I never had before, or more about things I was only vaguely aware of. Some of it was scary, especially when discussing the potential for conflict just about 'everywhere'. It made me wonder how there are any humans left on the planet, let alone 7 billion of us. An interesting read. The author states, 'Geography has always been a prison', and I understand now what that means.

So, four down, one to go. I shall do a longer review of Case Histories by Kate Atkinson I think. Interesting book.


Jeane said...

I think the French Estates book sounds pretty good, even though at surface it doesn't seem like my type of read!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I love the cover and title of Bats in the Belfry.

Sam said...

I've taken to starting out every new crime fiction book by jotting down the character names and a brief description of who they are as I first encounter their names. Then I start drawing lines to the ones that are connected to each other in some way. I've read several books that would have completely confused me if I hadn't done that. Sometimes, I think, authors overestimate the ability of their readers to keep up with a dozen or more character-names. LOL

That book set in France reminds me of an English friend who retired with his wife to France about three yers ago. They love it, but I'm not completely sure what the advantages may be. I do know that he returns to the UK for health care, so I don't think it's that.

Lark said...

Bats in the Belfry is one I'll definitely be reading just because I love all of those British Library Crime Classics. Even the so-so ones. :)

Judith said...

Cath, I was so intrigued by your comments about the Prisoners of Geography book. This one sounds fascinating, and I can see how examining global issues from the point of view of geography is definitely nail-biting. Will keep an eye on this one. Thanks.

CLM said...

Love your variety! I never know where to start with those British Library Crime Classics as some are better than others and the library never seems to own the good ones, but I know Lorac is an author I want to read.

I don't think I ever reviewed Case Histories because it is such a convoluted but compelling book I doubt I knew where to start! But I do like Jackson Brodie! These books remind me of a series by John Verney that also twisted the reader's mind in knots. In a good way!

TracyK said...

Geography might not have been my worst subject in school, but I certainly never got any information I learned to stick. I am sure I would enjoy reading Prisoners of Geography.

My husband has Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac, so I will be reading it someday. In fact he has two others by Lorac, one that he just purchased recently... Checkmate to Murder.

I plan to read the most recent Jackson Brodie book by Kate Atkinson (Big Sky) this summer.

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

I do like your catching up posts - I'm always trying to catch up and never quite manage it. I rarely read geography books, but Prisoners of Geography does sound different and I think I'd like it. I read Case Histories before I started my blog - and don't remember much about it, except that I enjoyed it.

Cath said...

Jeanne: Yes, this first book in the series was fun and although the couple like hunting there was very little detail about that included. I don't know whether that will apply to later books.

Diane: Yes, all of these British Library Crime classics have lovely covers. I would cheerfully buy them for that alone.

Sam: That is such a good idea and I might steal it. I thought maybe it was old age creeping up on me but I see a lot of comments on Goodreads and book blogs about this kind of thing so I suspect it's not just old age.

Retiring to France is 'hugely' popular in the UK. Goodness knows how many thousands of people do it. In fact my late sister-in-law did it, as I think I may have mentioned, which was the reason for our three visits to the country.

Lark: Even the so-so BLCC books are very readable and great fun. And such great writing.

Cath said...

Judith: Well events have overtaken me. There I was reading about the origins of the trouble in the Middle East and then mentioning it here and now we almost have war there again. Unbelievable.

Constance: Thank you, I like to ring the changes. The BLCC books do vary and you need to leave your 21st. century sensibilities at the door, which can be difficult when you read some of the words they commonly used. Lorac is definitely one of the better authors, excellent writing and plotting.

I'm not sure how I'm going to get on reviewing Case Histories because, as you say, it was so convoluted. I had some trouble remembering who was who at times but yes, 'compelling' and I always wanted to pick it up and read some more.

Cath said...

Tracy: With me it was science stuff I couldn't get to stick, geography I loved and still do. Prisoners of Geography is a good book to read to explain a lot of what's going on in the world as regards conflicts. I had a lot of 'Oh' moments.

I haven't got Checkmate to Murder but have heard good things about it, Lorac is always very reliable.

Ah, so you've presumably read the Jackson Brodie books to date except for the latest. I'll asume from that that they're good!

Margaret: Thank you. I know the feeling. I think I'm trying not to review everything I read and then realise that I'm kidding myself as I actually do try to say something about every book. I need to stop that as it's impossible.

I think I read a lot of geography books but in the form of travel writing. Even the fictional books I read are nearly always somewhere interesting around the world. I clearly missed my vocation, I should've been a geography teacher. Bit late to discover that now...