Christmas books, detective, Forgotten books, Recommendsday

Book of the Week: The White Priory Murders

As you may have noticed yesterday, last week was very much a week of Meg Langslow. But I did also finish a murder mystery with Christmas in the subtitle: which is a perfect timing as everyone* starts to finish work for the holidays.

A glamorous Hollywood actress is back in London. Marcia Tate has returned to try and get her revenge on the theatre community who snubbed her before she was a star of the silver screen. But when she’s found dead in a pavilion in the grounds of the author of the play she’s due to star in, a murder investigation starts and Sir Henry Merrivale is called in to investigate. This is a variation on a locked room mystery, where snow plays a key role. There is a large cast of suspects but it seems impossible for any of them – or anyone – to have committed the crime. And yet someone did.

Every year the British Library adds another few seasonal mysteries to their Christmas collection, and this is one of this year’s additions but despite the subtitle, the snow is the only really festive element – I think A Winter Mystery would probably be a better description. Carter Dickson is one of John Dickson Carr’s other pen names, and like his other books all the clues are there for you to figure it out if you know where to look – and he’ll give you the page numbers to prove it! Dickson’s writing style is not my favourite of that group of crime writers, but it’s a clever enough impossible puzzle that I didn’t mind too much.

I got my copy via Kindle Unlimited, which means you won’t be able to get it on Kobo at the moment, but you could also buy it in paperback from the British Library bookshop – it’s too late for posting before Christmas, but you could pop in to the shop if you’re in London, and I’m sure it’ll be on the Christmas mystery table in the larger bookshops.

Happy Reading!

*everyone else – I’m still at work until Friday night, and it’s a really busy week.

Book of the Week, crime, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Green for Danger

Another week, another British Library Crime Classic pick – and I would apologise except that this is really really good and a new to me author so I’m not really sorry.

Green for Danger is set in World War Two, at a military hospital in Kent. At the start of the novel, a postman delivers seven acceptance letters to people who want to work at the hospital. A year later, he returns to the hospital as a patient, and dies on the operating table during what should have been a routine operation. At first it is thought to be an accident, but Inspector Cockrill is sent to double check. When he is stranded at the hospital during an air raid, events start to unfold that prove that Joseph Higgins’ death was no accident.

This is a really clever and atmospheric novel – enough to make you afraid of ever having an operation again, for all that it’s set in the middle of World War Two and technology has obviously changed and moved on since then. I didn’t guess who did it – but I probably could have done if I had tried hard enough because the clues were there if you thought about it hard enough. As I said at the top, this is the first Christianna Brand novel that I’ve read – having spotted this on the BLCC table at Waterstones in Piccadilly a couple of months ago and waited to see if it would rotate into Kindle Unlimited – which it has. And if they are all as good as this, I’ve got a treat coming, even if this is her most famous mystery. And I chose my words wisely there – because she’s also the creator of Nurse Matilda – which was adapted for screen by Emma Thompson and turned into Namny McPhee, which is one of my favourite kids films of the last twenty years. And not just because it has Colin Firth in it!

Anyway, the paperback of Green for Danger is fairly easily found: in the British Library shop, and I’ve seen it in several more bookshops since that first time in Piccadilly. And as I said it’s in KU at the moment, which means it’s off Kobo for a while, but should be back there at some point.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective, Fantasy, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Fire in the Thatch

I read two British Library Crime Classics last week, and it was a tough choice between the two – both of which are within the statute of limitations according to my own rules, but I’m going with Fire in the Thatch, because I read it quickest and I do like Lorac’s style – it’s so easy to read.

It’s towards the end of the Second World War, and a service man who has been invalided out of the forces takes a tenancy on a thatched cottage in rural Devon. Vaughan sets about putting the cottage and land in order, seemingly ready to make his life there. His landlord is a local farmer, whose son has been taken prisoner and has invited his daughter in law and baby grandson to come and live with them. But June is bored of the country and its company, and invites her friends to stay nearby, disturbing the peace of the rural idyll. And then Vaughan’s cottage burns down and one of his friends refuses to believe that it’s an accident. Inspector Macdonald is sent down from London to investigate whether there was a motive for murder.

Setting aside that I really liked the victim and wanted him not to be dead (it’s so much easier in a murder mystery when the victim is awful isn’t it?) this is a clever and twisty mystery, where I had figured out the who of the solution but not quite the why. Some of the motivation is a little of its time – sorry can’t explain more than that because of spoilers – but it’s not really any wilder than some of the stuff that goes on in some of the Girls Own stuff I read so I was prepared to go with it.

MacDonald is Lorac’s regular detective and his is calm and methodical and although you don’t always see much of his personality or personal life, he still manages to be engaging to the reader. This is one of a long series, not all of which are available on Kindle, but I’ve already written about several others – including Post After Post Mortem, These Names Make Clues and Murder By Matchlight.

Fire in the Thatch is £2.99 on Kindle at the moment in the BLCC edition, but there is another version for 99p, if you can live with the fact that the author’s name is spelt wrong on the cover. This is also the only version that I can find on Kobo. But the BLCCs do slowly rotate through Kindle Unlimited, so it may comethrough at some point. Several of the other Lorac’s are in KU at the moment though if you want to read them instead.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Til Death Do Us Part

There were a few options for this post this week, but in the end I’ve settled on a really good locked room mystery, because those are so satisfying when done right – and this is really done right!

Dick Markham is in love (again). The object of the crime writer’s affection is Lesley Grant, a new arrival in his village. But when she accidentally shoots and injures a fortune teller at the village fete, he is told a story about her that is very different from the one that she tells about herself. Cast into confusion, he is asked to take part in a scheme to expose her as a serial poisoner – only for the person accusing her to be found murdered in exactly the way that he was told Lesley kills her victims: in an impossible locked room set up. Then Gideon Fell arrives on the scene to try and untangle the mystery.

It’s been a while since I read a locked room mystery, and this one is so clever. It is the first Gideon Fell mystery that I have read – although I read another of John Dickson Carr’s novels earlier in the year, and gave another Fell lined up already. But I can see why this one in particular has such an impressive reputation. It’s really pacy and makes you feel completely off balance as a reader because it twists and turns around so much you’re never really sure what you think – or what you’re meant to think. And I can’t really say any more about it than that because it gives too much away – even writing the plot summary was tricky! Anyway, give it a look for yourself.

My copy of Til Death Do Us Part came via my Kindle Unlimited subscription, but it’s a British Library Crime Classic, so when it cycles out of KU it should be available on all the major ebook platforms. And of course you can buy it in paperback direct from the British Library Bookshop online.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Children's books, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: A Time to Dance

It’s been a couple of weeks of Girl’s Own type books, so I’ve no regrets about making another of them this week’s Book of the Week and carrying on the theme of theatres and dancing.

A Time to Dance is a standalone ballet career book about the first couple of terms of a newly established ballet school in the north of England. It follows a selection of the pupils as they study dance, help promote the school and try and work out if dancing is really what they want to do. It’s quite gentle and there’s no peril really at all – even less than usual in these books if anything, but I particular enjoyed the fact that it focussed on several of the girls and the different challenges they faced.

Most of the time in ballet books you have a school-age heroine who is convinced that she is destined to dance and that there is nothing she would rather do with her life. But this has a couple of older pupils who have left school are trying to balance learning to dance with jobs and the need for cash. And it’s got several girls who are studying even though ballet isn’t going to be their career. Of course it does have a desperate to dance or two too, but I appreciated the variety and the realism it added to the mix. This was written in the early 1960s and has a more modern feel to some of the other books – the potential distractions for the students include television adverts and modelling.

I haven’t read any Robina Beckles Willson before but this was charming. Goodreads only has this and a couple of picture books under her name, and I didn’t get a chance to look her up to see what else she might have written that hasn’t made it into Goodreads database!

I got my copy at one of the book sales at conference, but I suspect that most of you aren’t going to be interested enough in the genre to want to buy it! If you do, you’ll probably need a specialist bookseller or a lot of luck.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: The Incredible Crime

As mentioned yesterday, not a lot of options this week for Book of the Week, but luckily I read a really interesting British Library Crime Classics book so all’s serene, even if slightly later in the day than recently!

Prudence Pinsent is the unmarried daughter of the Master of a (fictional) Cambridge college. On her way to visit her cousin in Suffolk, she meets an old friend who is investigating a drug smuggling gang and has connected it with both Prudence’s cousin’s estate and the colleges of Cambridge itself. Prudence is sure her cousin can’t be involved, so she decides she must investigate and find out who is.

I’ve written (at length!) about my love of Gaudy Night which is also set in a fictional college (at Oxford though, not Cambridge) and so the premise of this appealed to me a lot. And it’s funny and entertaining – and the mystery is good as well. Suffolk makes such an atmospheric setting for mysteries – like Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham – with eerie flats, fogs, water ways etc and then you have college life and academic personalities.

Lois Austen-Leigh is a relative of Jane Austen (several greats niece) and it is very tempting to say that the witty style must be a family trait. I haven’t read anything of hers before – as well as telling me about her famous relative, the forward said they have been very very rare until the British Library Crime Classics got hold of this, so I hope they publish some of the others too.

My copy came as part of my Kindle Unlimited subscription, which means it’s only available as an ebook on Kindle at the moment, but you can buy the paperback direct from the British Library shop should you so wish.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, mystery

Book of the Week: Death of a Bookseller

I know it’s only a few weeks since I did a while recommendsday about British Library Crime Classics, and there was another one in the May Quick Reviews, but I’m back again with another one…

When Sergeant Wigan stops to help a drunken man at the end of a late shift, he makes a new friend and discovers the world of book collecting. Soon he is beginning his own collection, following the advice of Michael Fisk, who makes his living scouring book shops and sales for valuable books. When Fisk is found dead, Wigan is seconded to CID to help investigate and use his newly acquired knowledge of the second hand and antiquarian book trade to track down a killer.

This a great pick for the 100th BLCC book. And not just because it’s about a bookseller and the book trade. The mystery is really good but it also has a side of the murder mystery you don’t usually see – the convicted man and what happens to him. In my beloved Strong Poison you see Harriet Vane in prison on remand, but she is innocent and eventually freed*. But what happens to the man who is convicted? It adds a darker edge and a sense of urgency to the book, and an aspect that is easy to forget now that capital punishment is no longer a thing in the UK.

My copy came via my Kindle Unlimited subscription but you should be able to get hold of this through all the usual sources for British Library Crime Classics – including the British Library Bookshop.

Happy Reading!

* Technically, yes this is a spoiler, but a) Strong Poison was published in 1930 b) Peter is trying to clear Harriet from the start of the book, to the point where it’s in the blurb and c) I refuse to believe that anyone who has been hanging around here for any length of time has missed my whole Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane situation.

Book of the Week, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: The Young Pretenders

I said yesterday that I thought I was going to set a new record for the number of authors I’d already featured in the list, but today’s BotW pick is one of the exceptions. But it was also last months book from my Persephone subscription which is turning out to be one of the best gifts I have recently been given. Thoroughly recommend.

Set in the mid 1890s, The Young Pretenders is the story of two children, Teddy and his younger sister Babs. At the start of the book they are told that their grandma has died and find out that they’re going to move to London to live with their aunt and uncle while they wait for their parents to return from India. Having done pretty much as they wanted in the countryside – including basically running wild in the garden – the adjustment to city is not an easy one, especially for five year old Babs, our heroine. She is described as a grubby sturdy little girl, and not the cherubic blonde Angel that her aunt Eleanor was hoping for. And as if that wasn’t enough, Babs has an unerring knack of saying exactly the wrong thing to her aunt. For Babs has no idea how to fit in in the artificial world of London – and no idea what she is expected to do or say. So she just does what she thinks or says what she has heard the adults say and it lands her in trouble.

This was written for children, but is absolutely a book that adults will adore. I mean I did, but also adults who don’t usually read children’s books. For children Babs’s missteps will be nothing but funny. For adults you see her stumbling through her new life and assess the mistakes and weaknesses of the adults around her. It’s hard to explain what I mean without given massive spoilers, so you’ll have to trust me on this. I enjoyed it so much I read it in one evening, it would have been one sitting, but I started in the sofa and then carried on reading it when I went to bed and consequently got less sleep than I should have done.

As I said, my copy was part of my Persephone subscription picks from and you can get it direct from them but you can get Persephone Books from good book shops too – like Foyles.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, women's fiction

Book of the Week: A House in the Country

I said on at the weekend that it’s sometimes been a struggle to finish something that’s not a reread and isn’t a later in series book that breaks a bunch of my rules do BotW posts. And this week was looking very like that, until I finished A House in the Country on Sunday evening.

A House in the Country is set in 1942, at the time of the fall of Tobruk. The titular house is a large, attractive country pile run by Cressida, a widow with an unhappy past. She is looking after it for its real owner who is away, and is supporting it by letting rooms. It’s filled with characters and types and shows the different ways that people are affected by wars. At times it’s comic, at times tragic. There is not a lot of Big Plot Action – although six bombs are dropped nearby one night they’re in the countryside and the war can feel a long way away from their every day lives – but it somehow manages to feel like everything is happening at the same time as well.

It was written in 1943, so at a time when no one knew which way the war was going to go and this gives it an underlying thrum of uncertainty that you don’t see in similar books set after the period. It’s like a little slice of some of my favourite things in the Cazalets – a dashing brother descends on his sister and wants advice on a love affair, young men picking the wrong women to propose to, older relatives not understanding the difficulties and shortages of war – but without the definite endings that strands of the Cazalets get. It will make you think and maybe break your heart a little bit, or a lot.

My copy was the second in my subscription picks from Persephone Books, and you can get it direct from them but you can get Persephone Books from good book shops too – like Foyles.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: The Lake District Murder

It’s nearly the end of March and I’m back to some classic crime and another British Library Crime Classic for this week’s pick.

This is the first of John Bude’s Inspector Meredith series and sees the detective investigation what appears to be the suicide of one of the co-owners of a petrol station in a deserted corner of the Lake District. The dead man was due to get married and as Meredith investigates he discovers a plan to emigrate after the marriage. And when he digs a bit deeper he discovered suspicious going’s on at the garage. What follows is a complicated plot involving all sorts of aspects of rural life that I can’t really go into with spoiling things!

This isn’t the first book in this series I’ve read and the Sussex Downs Murder was a book of the week as well when I read that five years ago. I’ve had this on my radar and been wanting to read this and waiting for this to come into my hands for a while. It’s really cleverly done, a little bit bonkers in its own way and also a lovely window onto 1930s life, which I really enjoyed. Definitely worth a couple of hours of your life if you can get hold of it. I’ve got the next book, The Cheltenham Square Murder, lined up to read already.

My copy came from the Willen Hospice bookshop, but it’s available on Kindle, Kobo and from the British Library themselves. It was in Kindle Unlimited when I started writing this post, but it’s dropped back out now and the cover has even changed. A couple of the other books in the series are in KU at the moment though, so if you want to try some John Bude, there is that option for you if you’re a subscriber.

Happy Reading!