A couple of crime titles to catch up on today and a couple of good'uns too!
First up, Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R Lorac, this is one of the BLCC reissues dating from 1952 so just a little bit older than me. I wonder which of us has aged best. (No need to answer that...)
So, a young doctor, Raymond Ferrens, moves to a small village in North Devon, very close to Exmoor. With him goes his wife of four years, Anne. The village is Milham-in-the-Moor and lies on a hilltop about ten miles from the nearest town. It's a stunningly pretty place but it doesn't take long for the couple to realise how isolated it is and how insular the villagers are. The new neighbours trot along to introduce themselves, among them Sister Monica, the nun who has run a small orphanage for many decades. Anne takes an instant dislike to the woman although she's not really sure why, something about her feels malign. So it's no surprise when, some months later, Sister Monica's body is found floating in the mill-race at the bottom of the hill, below the village. The local policeman, Sergeant Peel, does his level best with the villagers but he's from the local town and therefore 'not one of them'. It's decided to call in Scotland Yard and Chief Inspector MacDonald is consequently dispatched to Devon, along with Sergeant Reeves, to find out who could possibly want a nun, so beloved of the village, dead. And it's no easy task for them either. All they can get out of people is, 'Her come over dizzy, poor soul. That be it. Terrible dizzy Sister's been these weeks past'. That and how wonderful she was, what a saint and so on. But somebody clearly did not agree... So this is actually book 37 of Lorac's Inspector MacDonald books and I have not read the previous 36 in order, I've read 4 or 5 completely out of order. It doesn't matter, MacDonald is not a tortured soul and neither is Reeves, so there's no backstory to keep up with. I love how down to earth both of them are too and most of the humour that runs through the book is down to those two, particularly as regards the villagers and their, 'Her come over dizzy, poor soul'. I laughed quite bit having lived in Devon for many years. The village is a beautiful setting and it jumps off the page at you, and Lorac clearly knew her village mentality 'very' well. Parts of the book are almost creepy, taking place as they do in the dark and one scene near the end in a dark house was really quite edge-of-your-seat. E.C.R. Lorac (Edith Caroline Rivett) was a top-notch crime writer and why she was ever forgotten is as much of a mystery as you'll find in any of her books. A really excellent read.
Next, Camino Island by John Grisham. I thought he only wrote court-room, lawyer type books until Lark mentioned that she might read this for the Bookish Books challenge, back at the beginning of January. Intrigued, I looked it up and then reserved it from the library. It then languished on the shelf and I forgot what it was about and was very pleasantly surprised when I found it was about 'books'. *Head-desk* I'm 70 in May... that says it all really.
Anyhoooo. Mercer Mann is an author who's had one literary book published that did very well and a book of short stories that did not. She's been working in a uni, teaching, but is losing her job due to cuts. She's approached by a mysterious woman who knows all about her, even down to the fact that she spent a lot of her summers as a child on Camino Island off the coast of Florida. Why is that of interest? Well, five valuable original manuscripts of the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald have been stolen from the vaults of Princeton university. The woman, Elaine, works for an insurance company and is conducting her own enquiry into the whereabouts of the stolen manuscripts. She thinks a bookseller, Bruce Cable, who lives on Camino Island has them and she wants Mercer to return to the island on the pretext of trying to finish her next book and of having writer's block, which she actually does have. But really she wants Mercer to infiltrate the writing and book-selling community on the island to try and find out if Bruce actually does have the stolen works. So, John Grisham is not an author that generally appeals to me as I'm not a huge fan of court-room, lawyer types of books (although The Client is a great film so I should probably try the book). This is nothing like that. I wasn't sure what to expect of his writing and found it spare, not many frills, although the island is very real and I could picture it beautifully so the writing is not that spare. I absolutely loved the authors on the island, especially the couple, Myra and Leigh, one of whom writes sexually charged pot-boilers which have made a fortune and the other, literary novels, which have not. It was also an excellent glimpse into the world of rare book selling and the wheeler-dealing which goes on in a very shadowy sort of underworld. The heist at the start of the book was exciting and ruthless and I didn't know I liked that sort of thing so there you go... you never can tell. A pageturner, I read it in two sittings and ignored pretty much everything yesterday until I'd finished it. The end fizzled out a bit weakly I thought but no matter, I thought this was an excellent read and there is a another book about Bruce Cable I gather, Camino Winds. I'll get that as soon as my library reopens after renovations. If anyone has any other Grisham recommendations that are not set in court-rooms I would welcome them.