Friday 28 October 2022

The 1929 club - The Seven Dials Mystery

So, the 1929 club runs all of this week and is being hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at  Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings. As it says on the tin, the chosen year is 1929 and the idea is to read books published during that year, all week, as many as you like. I don't read all that fast, plus I'm having a slow reading month, so I'm not expecting to get through more than one book, maybe two, and I've started with The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie.

So, Lord Caterham has hired out 'Chimneys' for a couple of months. The couple living there temporarily are the Cootes, the husband a self-made, no nonsense, overbearing sort, with pots of money, the wife a good sort but a bit downtrodden. Not quite sure why they had a load of young things staying for the weekend but they did and one of them was brilliant at not getting up in the mornings. The others play a joke by buying eight alarm clocks and setting them up by creeping into his room in the middle of night, so that in the morning the noise of all the clocks going off early will make him leap out of bed in fright. Except that he doesn't because he's dead as a dodo.

Fast forward a few weeks and Lord Caterham and his daughter, 'Bundle', are back in their own home. Bundle is cogitating over the murder of the young man in their house, with her father, who isn't at all interested. She sets out to investigate with the help of a couple of the young things who were staying at Chimneys at the time, Jimmy Thesiger and Bill Eversleigh. Another death brings them to the realisation that this is not some lark but it's serious and deadly. When the police are called in, in the shape of the stolid Superintendent Battle, it's decided that they should pool their resources providing the young people stay safe. But really and truly they have no idea what they've got themselves into.

I think this might now be my favourite Agatha Christie. I think she must've had a field day with this one as, to be honest, it's a bit OTT crazy and so funny. I really did giggle all the way through at some of the things people said to each other and the way in which Christie describes her characters. I thought Bundle's father, Lord Caterham, particularly well-drawn and amusing, especially when he takes up golf. I also love these books she writes where a young woman takes centre stage and heads off into the unknown. They Came to Baghdad springs to mind and The Man in the Brown Suit. Bundle doesn't end up abroad as the two heroines in those books do but she certainly ends up in some very odd places indeed! 

The book is also a kind of a country house mystery... twice over really. It's also as much of a thriller come spy yarn as it is a murder mystery, so that was interesting. Stolen codes are involved and foreign spy rings and secret societies and nobody knows who to trust and who not to trust. Keep your wits about you if you're going to read this as there are a lot of characters and you're not always certain who's doing what to whom. There's a decent twist at the end too which I must admit I didn't see coming.

I believe this is a sequel to The Secret of Chimneys, that being the first 'Superintendent Battle' book. I don't think I've read it but maybe seen the TV drama because I have a feeling they turned it into a Poirot or a Miss Marple, but I could be wrong about that. And, in point of fact, book three in this series. Cards on the Table, is, I believe, a Poirot book, so that's not confusing at all! I must certainly go back and read The Secret of Chimneys as I loved Bundle Brent and would love to read more of her adventures.

Thursday 20 October 2022

I have been reading...

And I have. Been reading that is, but slowly. Here we are, well past the middle of the month, and I've read four books, am in the middle of two more but not that close to finishing either. And nor have I been particularly busy this month. So what this is all about I don't know. I suppose some months the mad enthusiasm is just not there. I've also done several jigsaw puzzles and that really does eat up your spare time. I suppose what I ought to do is look into audio books then I could listen while I puzzle. 

Anyhooo, a quick update. The first book I finished but have not reviewed is Persuasion by Jane Austen. I read this partly because I fancied a reread after eons and eons but also for the Back to the Classics challenge which is being hosted by Books and Chocolate. 

I balk at the idea of trying to write a long, intelligent review of such an iconic book so this will not be that! The heroine of Persuasion is stoical, sensible Anne Elliot. The gist of the story is that she broke off her engagement to Captain Wentworth eight years ago after pressure from her family and very close friend, Lady Russell. He wasn't, in their opinion, a suitable match for a girl born into high society despite the fact that the couple were very much in love. But now he's back and has made his fortune on the high seas and of course is much more acceptable. The problem is, he's harbouring a grudge against the family and who could blame him. Anne, of course, still loves him but sees no way of getting him back and has to watch while he courts the two daughters of a family related to her by marriage, apparently determined to take one of them for his wife. You have that thing sometimes when you finish a book that you have loved and felt like you were holding your breath as you gobbled it up, and then a week later you feel like picking the book up again and reading it at a much slower pace. It was a beautiful book and I feel like I devoured it too quickly. It's so long since I read Persuasion that I'd forgotten all but the accident in Lyme Regis and a little scene at the beginning where Anne is being physically overwhelmed by her sister's two small children and Wentworth rescues her by snatching them away. Loads of characters I'd forgotten such as Anne's two awful sisters and the vain father who judges everyone on how beautiful or handsome they are. I adored the Musgroves who took Anne to their hearts and treated her as a human being worthy of their time. And I loved the west country setting, rural Somerset, Bath, Lyme Regis, all beautifully depicted. I will read this again but next year I think, let the dust settle for a few months and then 'try' to read it slowly over a couple of weeks rather than three or four days. The trouble is, like a lot of people, I find Austen's writing so very compelling.

Next up, a complete change of scenery, The Black Seraphim by Michael Gilbert. 

Actually... 'not', I lied. The setting for this is Melchester, a fictional cathedral city within reach of Bath, Winchester and Salisbury and definitely, like Persuasion, a West Country novel. But then Michael Gilbert was educated in the town where I live so hardly surprising he sets novels down here. I digress. (Sorry, I love these little details.) James Scotland, a twenty five year old pathologist, is suffering from overwork and has been told by his doctor to take a rest. He returns to Melchester to the cathedral close and choir school where he taught briefly some six years ago. But goodness me, it's a quagmire of hostilities and polarisation based on various issues and James is in it up to his neck immediately. The murder amd mayhem in this book is quite subtle, the Archdeacon dies in a nasty manner but it takes them a while to realise he was done away with as they all want to think well of The Cathedral Close inhabitants. The book is quite character based and people like The Dean, The Archdeacon, The Dean's daughter, and James, the main protagonist, are well fleshed out. There's humour too, as with all of Gilbert's books. I didn't think it was quite as good as his other cathedral close book, Close Quarters, and the reason for that is that there were so many people in this that I struggled to keep track of who was doing what to whom and why. There was a decent twist at the very end and I liked that. All in all, not one of Gilbert's best but nevertheless, excellent. 

So I've just started this:

In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu is a book of supernatural stories that I've had hanging around for years and not read. I've just started it and already think it's very good and M.R. James was a fan of the author apparently so that must mean something.

I hope you're all enjoying autumn and finding some good books to read. 

Friday 7 October 2022

Catching up

So, I'm about 83 books behind on reviewing... OK, '3'... it just feels like 83. So I'd better get on with the task of catching up with some brief reviews.

First up, from September, The Ghost Slayers: Thrilling Tales of Occult Detection, edited by Mike Ashley. This was sent to me by The British library for review.

The theme of this anthology is occult detectives. I was very pleased to see that this was a Mike Ashley collection because I find his choices to be very reliable. And so it turned out to be, this is easily one of the best weird anthologies I've read from the British Library. There are nine stories in all which is less than usual but this is because many of the contributions are quite long. I had several favourites. The Story of the Moor Road by Kate and Hesketh Pritchard is a 'Flaxman Low' tale. He goes in to investigate when people report being attacked by something unseen on a lonely road on a moor. This was so atmospheric and the outcome very creepy. A Psychical Invasion by one of my favourites, Algernon Blackwood, concerns an author who makes his living writing humorous books. The wife goes to John Silence for help because her husband has suddenly lost his sense of humour and can't write. I loved the use of a cat and a dog in this one, used because they sense things humans cannot. Blackwood was clearly an animal lover. The Valley of the Veils of Death by Bertram Atkey is a 'Mesmer Milann' story. He can apparently project his soul from one place to another. The man needing help here has just walked across Australia from North to South. This is a bit of a ripping yarn story of something guarding jewels in a valley in the desert but it's also a very good study of human nature. So those were my favourite three stories in this collection but every story in it was very well written and very readable. Highly recommend and I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.

Next, and also from September, Mark of the Lion by Suzanne Arruda. This is book one in the author's Jade Del Cameron series, set in the 1920s in different regions of the African continent. 

Jade Del Cameron is an American woman who drove ambulances in WW1. She lost someone very close her, David, a pilot, was there at his death in fact, and his dying words were to ask Jade to find his brother. In London the pilot's mother denies the existence of another brother so off Jade goes to the Kenya Colony to dig around and see what she can discover. There's quite a large ex-pat community around Nairobi and Jade makes friends quickly but none of them seem to be able to tell her much about David's father and who he might've had a child with. She soon realises someone knows though and that her life is very much in danger: it's a good job Jade can look after herself. Well, this is another ripping yarn, full of adventure and daring do. Jade is great character, fiesty and intelligent and not willing to bend to the will of anyone. The setting of Kenya just before it actually became Kenya is superby depicted and I very much felt I was there. A word of warning, attitudes to big game hunting back in the 1920s were 'very' different to what they are now. It's not overdone in this book but there are one or two scenes which might upset some. There are seven books in this series, the last one written in 2015 and I gather the author is not writing any more. I don't know why. I will definitely be reading all of the books that have been written though as I thought Mark of the Lion was a very promising start.

Lastly, A Time of Torment by John Connolly, book 14 in his Charlie Parker series.

Yes, book 14 and my love for this series never seems to wane. The minute I pick up one of John Connolly's books I am sucked in, hook, line and sinker. In this instalment an area called The Cut in the mountains of West Virginia comes to the attention of Charlie Parker. First though he has to work out the mystery concerning James Burnel who at first was a hero in a gas station robbery and then finds himself accused of being a paedophile and serving time in prison. Parker believes him to be innocent and that perhaps darker forces are at work. When Burnel disappears, this is confirmed but Parker, Louis and Angel have their work cut out discovering the source of the evil until one of the suspects let's something slip about The Dead King. To my mind John Connolly is the best horror/crime writer writing today. I suppose there's something about the way he writes that is perfect for me personally but how he manages to hit the spot with his Charlie Parker books, every single time, I do not know. But he does and every book is beautifully written, full of secrets to be discovered, excellent historical detail, and creepy enough to keep me happy. I have said before that this series is not for all, it is violent and has some strange ideas about it. But for my money, the longer Connolly keeps writing these books, the better.

So that's me up to date. I hope your autumn reading is going well and that you're finding some good books to read.

Saturday 1 October 2022

Books read in September

Well, that was a month wasn't it? Who knew September would be like 'that'! Heaven forfend. I didn't think I would but I watched The Queen's funeral from start to finish. I was ok until the pipes played The Skye Boat Song which always has the ability to finish me off. Add to that the Shetland pony and the Corgis and that was me, gone. What a send off. And now we have a new era and we shall see what that brings. 

So, September has been quite a slowish reading month for me. I'm starting this post on the 27th. and at the moment I've read six books this month. Many distractions and those include putting together a 3,000 piece jigsaw: that always cuts down on my reading time. 

So, now it's the 1st. October and I'm up to eight books because I finished off a short story collection and snuck in a final crime read. 

Anyway, these are the books:

82. Rushed - Aurora Rose Reynolds. I spoke very briefly about this book here. 

83. Five Red Herrings - Dorothy L. Sayers 

84. Burglars Can't Be Choosers - Lawrence Block 

85. The Pact - Sharon Bolton 

86. Death Walks The Woods - Cyril Hare

This was a very typical example of a village-based vintage crime story. Retired judge, Francis Pettigrew, and his wife, move from London to a village in the English countryside. Very pretty, lots of hills and woods, a view of which they have from their house. Pettigrew is writing his memoirs but is dragged out of retirement to help at the County Courts. Which is where he comes across a Mrs. Pink who is trying to resist being evicted by her landlord who wants her house for his daughter's young family. Mrs. Pink is one of these irreplaceable women in villages who help to run various charities and events by doing all their typing. But she has A Past which only comes to light when she's found murdered on the hill that Pettigrew's house overlooks. Not only that, it seems he might've been the last person to see her alive. So this is my first book by Cyril Hare, I don't think I'd even heard of him until I nabbed this for 99p for my Kindle. It turns out this is book 4 in a 5 book series but it honestly doesn't matter. It's very well written with a nice bit of humour running through it, which is of course my favourite thing. Hare (real name, Alfred Clark) was apparently a county court judge himself so the details in the story feel very authentic, especially the brief courtroom scene near the beginning. As usual there are heaps of suspects all with their own agenda and reasons why they might want the dead woman gone. I thoroughly enjoyed this and have grabbed another cheap book for my Kindle, a book of Hare's short stories.

87. Caliph's House - Tahir Shah. I read this for my Book Voyage challenge, September's region being Africa. The book recounts how the author moved his family to Morroco to live, despite his wife not wanting to go and his relations and friends thinking him mad. I'm with them! Reading this was like reading a catalogue of disasters, one after the other, mainly to do with building renovations and the fact that the author really did not understand the psyche of the local people. His wife was hardly mentioned and I just wondered what effect it really had on her. I was exhausted reading it all and none of it happened to me! Three stars on Goodreads for good writing and the flavour of Morroco being very strong, strong enough to convince me that I could never, ever go and live there. 

88. The Ghost Slayers: Thrilling Tales of Occult Detection - edited by Mike Ashley. To be reviewed but it was an excellent anthology. This and the Sharon Bolton were my two 5 star reads of September. 

89. Mark of the Lion - Suzanne Arruda. To be reviewed but this was a 'ripping yarn' kind of murder mystery set in 1920s Africa (aroundabout the time Kenya became Kenya, although back in my prehistoric day we called it Keenya) and I really enjoyed it but it needs to be remembered that attitudes to big game hunting were very different back then. Book one of the author's 'Jade del Cameron' series and another book for my Book Voyage challenge. Oh... interesting fact for today, Mount Kilimanjaro used to be known as Mount Kilima Njaro.

So, eight books read. Seven fiction, one non-fiction. I was very heavy on the murder mystery books in September... mainly because that was what I was in the mood for, so that was what I read, and I thoroughly enjoyed my crime reading month. My September books also took me around the world, Montana, Scotland, Morroco, Kenya and, in one of the long short stories in The Ghost Slayers, Australia

So now it's October, one of my favourite months of the year. Lots of reading plans and I hope you have too. Happy reading!