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!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Silver Street

I said yesterday that I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today – and here’s the answer – I finished this on Monday evening, so it’s a bit of a cheat but hey you’re used to that now!

Ann Stafford’s Silver Street follows a group of people from Armistice Day in 1918 through til 1932. Although initially unconnected, by the end their lives have all intertwined, mostly because of Alice Gedge a former ladies maid who ended the war as a supervisor of a group of clerks at a Ministry but who, when the men return becomes a “treasure” – aka a rather superior sort of daily maid to the residents of a building in Silver Street. Over the years the tenants include an elderly woman who likes to hold court for her birthday, a spinster who works as a social worker, two independent young women, a newly married couple and a single young man. And on top of that there’s Alice’s husband and her two children.

This is quite an every day story of normal people and normal lives – where there is no huge drama, I mean except your future happiness, but not death or peril if that makes sense. It’s not comic, but it’s not tragic – it’s closer to Barbara Pym than Miss Buncle but it’s another example of a novel by a women, first published in 1935 and now a bit forgotten and as such was right in my wheelhouse. And yes I know that Barbara Pam isn’t forgotten, but you know what I mean. I read it in two sittings – and it would have been finished for last week’s list if we hadn’t gone out for the day on Sunday and I didn’t have space in my bag to take it with me – even if I hadn’t borrowed it from someone and not wanted to mess it up!

My copy is on loan from a friend and this is going to be one of the harder books to get hold of I’m afraid – as it’s published by a small house and there is no ebook version. So if you want to read it, please buy it from Greyladies here. And mum, if you’re still reading and haven’t already messaged me to ask, yes, you can borrow it.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, LGTBQIA+, mystery

Book of the Week: Death Goes on Skis

Yes I finished this on Monday. So yes it’s cheating. But it is a book set in a ski resort and I spent the part of my weekend that I didn’t spend in London watching the Winter Olympics so I am going with it!

Death Goes on Skis is one of a series featuring Miriam Birdseye, written in the years following the Second World War. Miriam is a revue artist and has a champagne lifestyle and a coterie of hangers on. This is the first in the series that I have come across (and isn’t it gorgeous!) but Good reads tells me it is the fourth in the series. It sees Miriam on holiday in a ski resort popular with Brits. Her fellow travelers include a ballerina and her night club owner husband, a playboy, his wife and their children and their governess and a wealthy couple whose family make their money from perfume. Most of these people are awful, but when they start dying in mysterious circumstances, Miriam and her friends investigate. But, crucially, they’re investigating because they are bored and not because they have a burning passion for justice or to see the criminal behind bars.

And that is the difference to other Murder mysteries of the era that I have written about – this is a farce and a (black) comedy and doesn’t quite follow the genres connections that you might expect. Think Evelyn Waugh does murder mysteries. And it works very well. You’re not going to like any of the suspects, and the children are truly awful, but it’s really quite entertaining. It also comes neatly broken up into nice small chunks, which makes it perfect for bedtime reading – which is mostly what I’ve been doing with it, although I did read some of it on the sofa on Monday night because I wanted to finish it!

If the name Nancy Spain sounds familiar, well that may be because she’s one of the women featured in Her Brilliant Career, but in brief she was a great niece of Mrs Beaton (of household management game) she went to Roedean and then became a journalist after being asked to write about women’s sport. She served in the WRNS in the war and afterwards started writing detective fiction. This got her a newspaper column and also turned her into a personality who appeared regularly on TV and radio. Her partner was editor of She Magazine, Joan Werner Laurie and they lived openly together in what sounds like a somewhat complicated household with the rally driver Sheila Van Damme. They were friends with Noel Coward and Marlene Dietrich and she was the inspiration for a song. Spain and Laurie died in a plane crash at Aintree in 1964 – they had been travelling there to cover the grand national.

I bought my copy of Death Goes on Skis as a birthday present for myself, and I’ve already ordered another one of them, as Virago have helpfully reissued several of them now, all with delightful covers in this style. They’re also on Kindle and Kobo and in a matching audiobook to this from all the usual vendors.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime, Forgotten books, mystery

Book of the Week: Murder in the Basement

Another week, another British Library Crime Classic pick. I’m not going to apologise though because they’ve got seem to have changed their Kindle Unlimited selection and you have to take advantage of that while you can!

Murder in the Basement opens with a newly married couple moving into their first house together and promptly discovering a corpse being in the cellar. It has been there for some time and Chief Inspector Moresby’s first task is to figure out who it is. The first section of the book deals with the routine police work necessary to try and identify a body in pre-DNA times. When Moresby discover it, the reader is still left in the dark – you know it is a woman who worked at a school – but not which one. The next section of the story is a book within a book as you read the novel that Moresby’s friend Roger Sheringham wrote while working at the school and try to figure out who the victim is. And then the final section features the attempt to prove a case against the Very Obvious Suspect.

Now if I’ve made that sound complicated, I apologise but do go with me – it makes much more sense when you read it and it really is very cleverly put together and out of the ordinary for Golden Age crime novels. This is only my second Anthony Berkeley and from what I can deduce from my review of the other one I didn’t like that anywhere near as much as this one. I can’t quite work out whether part of my delight in this is because I love a boarding school story so much that seeing the seething rivalries between the teachers in the book within a book really really works for me, but it may well have something to do with it. Moresby and Sheringham are both interesting characters and the resolution is somewhat unexpected. Definitely worth a look – especially if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member.

And if you aren’t a Kindle unlimited person, the kindle edition isn’t too much to buy or you could just get the paperback. I assume the Kobo edition will reappear when it rotates out of KU.

Happy Reading!