Two books to review briefly today, starting with A Talent to Amuse by Sheridan Morley.
This, as will be seen from the cover, is a biography of Noel Coward, the playwright, actor, song-writer and writer. He was born in 1899 (it's funny, I never think of him as Victorian) to a middle-class family who were not well off. He performed in school concerts and holiday competitions and knew from a very early age that he would be going into into the theatre and knew too that he would be famous. His first paid job was at the age of eleven and it was soon obvious that not only did he have a natural gift for music, he was also grimly determined to make it in the business. Which of course he did and was responsible for some of the most famous plays in the history of the British theatre, Blithe Spirit, Private Lives, Hay Fever, but he also wrote or starred in some iconic films, In Which We Serve, Brief Encounter, Blithe Spirit again, and The Italian Job. Not to mention songs such as Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage Mrs. Worthington and London Pride. This was a free book from Dean Street Press. Every week they advertise a free book on Twitter and the link takes you to Amazon where you can download it to your Kindle. (The link to their Twitter page is HERE.) Anyway, this was a very enjoyable read. It's made plain from the start that it's a theatre based biography, not a warts and all exposé. The author knew Coward and Coward asked him not to discuss his homosexuality in the book because 'there were still a few very old ladies out there who did not realise'. As such it is very much about his work rather than his personal life, although it does not altogether neglect that either. I found the ups and downs of Coward's working life quite surprising. He had a lot of failures amongst his huge successes and at times was quite unpopular in the British press. Some of his plays were thought to be solacious or immoral, dealing as they did with the reality of marriage and affairs. Noel Coward's life is a 'huge' subject and I would definitely like to read more. Possibly his diaries and letters would prove very interesting, he was also an habitual traveller, often travelling with the Royal Navy, and I would love to hear more about that. A good introduction to the man though.
Lastly, Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth, which I first read about on Tracy's blog.
This is the first book in the author's 'Miss Silver' series of books, written in 1928. Charles Moray is returning to London after a four year absence. He's been travelling the world trying to recover from being jilted by his fiance, Margaret Langton. She gave no explanation and Charles assumed there was someone else and that by now she is married with children. It comes as a shock to discover she's not and that she's mixed up in some very funny business. Looking around his empty house one night, prior to moving back in, he realises someone is upstairs. Hiding in a cupboard, he overhears what is clearly a gang planning something criminal, and in walks Margaret. She's only there for a few minutes and he can't hear what's said but it changes everything for him. Margaret meanwhile has picked up a young women in distress off the street. Empty headed, Margot Standing, is in fear for her life and Charles and Margaret end up trying to help her. Realising he's out of his depth and not willing to go to the police because of Margaret's secret involvement in criminal activities, Charles enlists the help of Miss Silver, a private detective of mature years, to help them with these knotty problems. This was great fun, reminding me a little of a couple of Agatha Christie's standalones, such as The Man in the Brown Suit. Miss Silver is not at all centre stage, it's more about this group of young people trying to get out of the tangled web they've woven for themselves. I'm assuming that in subsequent books Miss Silver is more to the fore. The character of Margot Standing was pretty annoying if I'm honest, but then I suspect she was meant to be. The writing, as you'd expect from someone beginning her writing career in the 1920s, was superb, they knew how to write back then. It's interesting to note that Patricia Wentworth didn't stop writing until her death in 1961, she was 83, and was incredibly prolific. I shall certainly try another of her books, in fact I have another free book from Dean Street Press again, The Red Lacquer Case, and I'll check out what the library has as well.