Thursday 15 September 2022

Halfway through September

What a week it's been for the UK. Unless you've been living in a cave on a remote island in the Outer Hebrides (somedays it has its attractions) you'll know that The Queen died last week. I think pretty much everyone was taken by surprise. Yes, she was 96 but, apart from looking rather frail in that lovely photo with the cardy and the kilt, there was no real indication that we would lose her two days later. I am a monarchist... not of the fanatical kind... but I believe in it and am  very sad to lose her. I personally have never known another monarch. I was born in May, just a few weeks before her coronation in June 1953, and was given the middle name 'Elizabeth' after her. I saw on Facebook that the author, Louise Penny, is the same and realised with a jolt that there are probably quite a lot of us women out there, in our sixties, all named after The Queen! How odd. So now we have King Charles III. It's going to take some adjustment for all of us, not least for him. Good to see people rallying behind him but my goodness Queen Elizabeth II will be a hard act to follow, I don't envy him one little bit. Interesting times, as they say. But after the last few years I think there's a strong argument for a petition to whomever it might concern that times have got a bit 'too' interesting of late and could we possibly have a break now.

So, reading.  September's been a quietish reading month so far. My last book of August/first book of September was a lurid and unlikely romance set in Montana, Rushed by Aurora Rose Reynolds. It's superior Mills and Boon/Harlequin romance fare really. Woman is jilted by fiancĂ©, but they had booked an adventure holiday in Montana, hiking, learning to survive in the wilderness, that kind of thing. So she goes anyway, on her own, and falls for the chap who's running the course. Bit of conflict ensues but not a lot, it's quite explicit but not excessively so, and the setting was divine and well depicted. It's part one of a three part series, Adventures in Love, where each book deals with a particular male character who appears in book one. The book was fun, bit too much 'lifting of chins' going on (don't books get edited these days?), but I don't think I'll be reading any more.

My next read was, Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers, a not entirely successful read but it had its moments.

After that I picked up, Burglars Can't Be Choosers by Lawrence Block, this was on my autumn shelf which I posted about HERE.

Bernie Rhodenbarr's chosen profession is that of 'burglar'. He lives in New York city and just a few jobs a year keep him in a decent appartment with a decent life. Then he accepts an assignment from a man who looks vaguely familiar but Bernie can't put his finger on where he's seen him before. The job is to break into someone's appartment and steal a blue box from a desk. Except that the box isn't there and before Bernie can search elsewhere, in rush the police. But they know him and he pays them to keep quiet, except that one of them goes to use the bathroom and discovers a dead body in one of the bedrooms. Bernie, panicked, makes a dash for freedom and finds himself on the run. Holed up in a friend's appartment, afraid to go out, he must work out a way to find the real killer and clear his name. So this is book one in Lawrence Block's long running series about the New York burglar, Bernie Rhodenbarr. There are 13 books in the series but Block is quite a prolific writer so other series are available, so to speak. This was a light-hearted book, quite an accomplishment I feel to make a crime investigator of a burglar and make him a sympathetic and funny character into the bargain. The action is fast paced, always something going on, but this is New York so I rather expected that. The flavour of that city is very strong. I've never been lucky enough to go to New York (although I've flown over it and had a good view) but like a lot of people I've seen so much of it on the TV that I almost feel like I have been there and know the atmosphere. Not sure if there's another city that could claim that. Do people from other countries feel that way about London even though they may not have actually been there? Hmm. Anyway. Well written, light-hearted, clever, this is a good start to a 'new to me' series and I'll be trying to read more, I have book 3 so will be trying to find book 2 asap.

The book I've just finished is, The Pact by Sharon Bolton.

So this is another book about a group of students getting into trouble. I say 'another' because it brought to mind The Secret History by Donna Tartt and A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine. And I think Tana French also wrote a student based crime yarn too, The Likeness, but I have not read that. In this story a group of students have just finished their A levels and are enjoying one last summer of freedom before going on to university. There are six of them, aged around eighteen, five are from wealthy backgrounds, the sixth is a scholarship girl from a poor family. Basically they've been enjoying a summer of drink and drugs... and a dangerous dare which all six of them are expected to undertake. On the night in question there's one last person to do this thing and the result is that three innocent people, including two children, die. What to do? One person will take the blame that's what. That person will go to prison but when they come out the remaining five will owe him or her a favour each. What could possibly go wrong? Ok, so this is one of those modern compulsive reads you come across sometimes. Not so much that you actually love it or the characters, who are mainly awful I have to say... it's just that it's written so well that you're compelled to keep turning the pages at a great rate of knots to see what happens next to these horrible people and will they get their come-uppance. 'Pacey' I suppose one might call the book. I also loved how good the author is at gauging human nature, especially the selfish side. How far are people prepared to go to protect what is theirs? How do they go about convincing themselves that they haven't behaved appallingly? Interesting twisty stuff in the end scenes which were very 'edge of the seat' and compelling. An excellent read. 

I hope you're all enjoying your autumn reading.

Thursday 8 September 2022

Five Red Herrings - Dorothy L. Sayers

So, Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers is my second book of the month (the first being a lurid but fun romance set in Montana :-D) but I'm treating it as the first of my Autumn reads... it's on the 'Autumn' shelf I created for my Kindle as a matter of fact. For those who like books set in Scotland this fits the bill. It's set in the south west of that country in the two counties of Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire... the county town of which, Wigtown, is Scotland's version of the the English book town, Hay-on-Wye. Although it wasn't of course when this book was first published in 1931.

The town of Kirkcudbright, at the mouth of the river Dee, is a bit of an artist's colony type of place, they flock there for the beauty of the area and the light and so on. Lord Peter Wimsey spends a lot of time there, not because he's much of an artist, he just likes the place. The inhabitants have got used to his eccentricities and the artists do not mind him popping in to chat and watch them paint. The other main preoccupation of the people who live in this area is fishing and the two occupations fit very nicely together in the town.

The story begins with an argument in a pub. Campbell, a thoroughly Bad Lot who gets on with no one, has been drinking and is looking for a fight. Wimsey is present and helps to cool things down but Campbell still leaves in a strop. He's found dead the next morning, in the river in an isolated spot. He'd been painting and it was thought he accidently lost his footing and got swept away and the the knocks and bruises that are evident were caused by his body getting a bashing on the rocks. 

Of course, none of this is actually so. It's discovered that his injuries happened 'before' he went into the water and foul play is very soon suspected. Lord Peter is naturally there like a shot and the local police don't seem to mind this as he has the reputation of being good at solving this convoluted kind of murder. This one, however, tests him. There are half a dozen suspects, all artists because before the murderer left the scene he painted a picture in the style of the dead man, Campbell. All of these artists had some ongoing disagreement going on with the deceased, be it marital jealousy, neighbourly disputes over boundaries, or just plain dislike of a boor of a man. Several of them choose this moment to disappear off the face of the Earth but does this mean anything at all?

OK, well this is one of those 'keep your wits about you' kind of reads because the details are quite hard to keep track of and so are the suspects. To be brutally honest I struggled with this book. The six artists all melded into one and each time one was mentioned I had stop and think why he was a suspect and think of something different about him to remind me who he was. That's no way to have to read a book.

Worse than the struggle to remember the suspects was two other things. Firstly, Sayers decided on writing the broad Scottish dialect as it sounds and that was tremendously difficult to decipher at times. I'm sure I missed important details because of it. Secondly, there is an absolute obsession with train times and timetables. I have come across this before in a few other vintage crime stories but oh my goodness, it was so tedious here. 

I hate calling any Lord Peter book tedious but sadly it really was in places. On the plus side, the Scottish setting was delightful and beautifully depicted. And I gather Kirkcudbright really 'is' an artist's haven, so that was interesting and something I didn't know. And Wimsey himself is never less than fun to read and there's some good and funny dialogue in this. Also, I did not guess who the culprit was but I'm not sure I ever stood much of a chance of that! So it wasn't all negative. That said, this is definitely not a favourite Wimsey book, that would be books such as Clouds of Witness, Have his Carcase, Gaudy Night, Busman's Holiday. And I cannot recommend the Lord Peter short stories enough, I have a collection of all of them and they are just superb.

Saturday 3 September 2022

Autumn reading plans

So, as I said in my previous post, September has arrived and as far as I'm concerned autumn's here. One minute I'm trying to finish off the 20 Books of Summer challenge (post to come) the next I'm yearning after all thing crimes laden and spooky, dead bodies littering the place, ghosts scaring people out of their wits, that joyous kind of thing. So for a week or two I've been putting a few books up on the shelf to choose from, changing my mind and then taking them away, putting them back again... so decisive am I. But this is the selection I finally decided upon.


This is not the best photo ever taken but hopefully it might be clearer if clicked on. I think only one of these is a reread and that's The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. It's about 10 years since I originally read it and I always knew I would want to read it again at some stage. There're a couple of non-fictions at the end on the right, a biography of Daphne du Maurier and London Fog by Christine L. Corton, which, as the title suggests, is a history of fog in London. Rebecca is on the shelf too. I bought a lovely new copy of that in Cornwall recently, and I have to be honest and admit that it might be a reread and it might not. I think I read it in my late teens, early twenties but I can't quite remember. And as the film is also a bit of a blur I'm thinking this is going to read like a new book. It's all good.

Other books I'll be choosing from this month:

The four books on the left are all travel books based in Africa as that's my Book Voyage challenge region for September. And on the right, a few sundry books I also want to get to. The Virago edition of The Diary of a Provincial Lady has four books in it and I only have one book left to read and that's the 'wartime' one. And I haven't read a Simon Winchester book in a while so Pacific fits the bill nicely.

Apart from these shelves I also have an 'autumn' collection on my Kindle Fire that I've gathered together:

Now, all in all, there're almost 50 books on all these piles. Highly unlikely I'll manage to read all of them, plus I'm terribly prone to making delightful lists and then pootling off to read something else entirely. It's ridiculous. I suspect most of the fun is to be found in compiling said lists, not actually reading the books. Anyway, we shall no doubt see what occurs and one thing to remember is that I'm counting 'autumn' as the three months from September right through to nearly the end of November. So that's a fair old whack of time. And 'fun' I'm thinking...

Happy autumn and happy reading and I hope it's getting cooler wherever you are.