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 Disrict 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!

Book of the Week, cozy crime, crime, detective, Forgotten books, mystery

Book of the Week: These Names Make Clues

I mean I would say that this is slightly cheating but you know that already because I told you yesterday that I hadn’t quite finished this because I went to see Jools Holland, so you already know that I finished this on Monday. But I did read most of it last week and it is my favourite thing I (mostly) read last week so it’s fair game for this.

These Names Makes Clues is a classic closed group mystery. Detective Inspector MacDonald is invited to a treasure hunt at the house of a well-known publisher. Along the other guests are writers of mysteries, romances and other books all with pseudonyms to hide their identities as part of the game. But before the night is over, one of the guests has been found dead in the telephone room and MacDonald is suddenly involved in an investigation filled with fake names and complicated alibis.

I really enjoyed this. I’ve recommended some books by E C R Lorac before and this is right up there. There are plenty of mysteries among the cast of suspects, even though some of them are revealed quite late on which is verging on cheating for the rules of Golden Age mystery writing but I forgave it because it’s a proper thrill ride towards the end as it all unravels. If you have kindle unlimited this is definitely worth a look as it’s currently in the rotation of British Library Crime Classics included in your membership in the UK.

My copy of These Names Make Clues came from the British Library bookshop during my book buying spree on my London trip in mid-October, but as mentioned above it’s available on Kindle Unlimited at the moment – which means I can’t find it on other ebook vendors, but when the unlimited period ends it may well pop up on Kobo again.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, mystery

Book of the Week: The Secret of High Eldersham

Back with another murder mystery again this week. It’s another British Crime Classic, but it’s a new to me author so that makes variety right?!

Scotland Yard are called in to investigate the murder of the landlord of a pub in an East Anglian village known for its insular nature and hostility to outsiders. Samuel Whitehead was a stranger to the neighbourhood, but somehow he seemed to be making a reasonable go of it – right up until the point that someone stabbed him in is own bar around closing time one night. Detective Inspector Young is struggling to make inroads in the case, so he calls on a friend and amateur sleuth, Desmond Merrion, to help him solve the murder.

This is the first book by Miles Burton that I’ve read, but it has a number of recognisable Golden Age crime tropes – east Anglia and it’s villages being a bit strange (see also: a fair few Margery Allinghams, but particularly Sweet Danger, Sayers’ The Nine Tailors, the Inspector Littlejohn I read the other week) and of course the gentleman amateur detective. Burton’s Merrion has a military background – but this time it’s the navy, which is useful because there is a lot of sailing in this plot. It’s a bit uneven in places – the focus of the narrative switches abruptly to Merrion from Young, Mavis the love interest is a little bit of a one dimensional Not Like Other Girls character and the secret is, well. But if you’ve read a lot these sort of classic murder mysteries it’s worth a look – to see how someone different tackles all these things. I would read some more of these – partly just to find out what Merrion turns into and see if he evolves the way that some of the other similar characters did (but particularly Campion). The British Crime Library have republished at least one other of these so I’ll keep an eye out.

My copy of The Secret of High Eldersham came via Kindle Unlimited, but it’s also available as a paperback – which you can buy direct from the British Library bookshop as well as the usual sources.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime, Forgotten books, mystery, new releases

Book of the Week: The Man Who Wasn’t There

Honestly I nearly started this with “another week, another crime pick” but then I got such bad deja vu that I realised I did that last week. But it’s still true. For the third week in a row, I’m picking a murder mystery book for my BotW. But as I said yesterday, I’m in a distinctly murder mystery mood so I don’t know how surprising this news is!

Sally and Johnny Heldar have helped solved mysteries before, so when the woman that Johnny’s cousin Tim wants to marry finds herself caught up in a murder case, it’s only natural that Tim turns to them for help. Prue’s employer has been murdered and as a result she’s called off their engagement. Tim is desperate for Sally and Johnny to clear Prue’s name and win her back for him; but the more they investigate, the more complicated the mystery gets, with infidelity and blackmail and wartime treachery to contend with.

I read a previous Heldar mystery, Answer in the Negative, last year and really enjoyed it. I like Sally and Johnny as characters in both books – they have a nice relationship where they both get to do investigating. This is a previously unpublished entry in the series that the author’s nephew discovered in a stash of manuscripts. It’s not known when exactly this was written, but I would guess around the time that it was set – which is the early 1950s. The introduction says it went unpublished because tastes changed, which makes me sad because it’s too good to have only come to light now.

I’ve read a lot of mysteries with roots in the First World War and a lot set in the Wars but not a lot in set in the fifties with links to the Second World War. So this is a nice change. It’s also interestingly twisty, but follows the rules that the clues are there if you know where to look. On the basis of this, I’m hoping that more of the unpublished Heldar books find their way into the light soon.

I got an advance copy of this, but it’s actually out on Thursday in Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!