detective, Forgotten books, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: The Inspector Richardson series

If you follow my Week in Books posts, you ma have noticed me tearing a streak through Basil Thomson’s Inspector Richardson series earlier in the summer, and I’ve been planning to write about them for a while.  As this is my first week away in the USA, I though now might be a good time to post this – as I’ve no idea how busy I’m going to be – and whether I’ll be able to keep normal service going on here!

The eight books in the Inspector Richardson series follow the titular policeman as he rises through the ranks, from police constable in the first book, into the detective branch and all the way up to the giddy heights of Chief Constable.  They were originally published between 1933 and 1937 – which makes rather a rapid rise for Richardson – and fit nicely into the Golden Age of murder mysteries that I love so much.

These aren’t as complicated in plot terms as some of their contemporaries, but they are fast-paced and very readable.  The first book sees an estranged couple murdered on the same day, later stories feature diplomatic intrigue, the drug trade, a suspicious suicide and smuggling.  As he rises through the ranks, Richardson becomes more of a supervisory figure, but there are some themes that run through the series – and which get pulled together nicely in the final book in the series, A Murder Is Arranged, which I think might be my favourite of all.

What makes these a little bit different from most of the other mysteries of the time that featured a police officer as the detective is that the author, Basil Thomson was a former Assistant Chief Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police and a former head of their CID department.  So the police procedural detail in this is drawn more from real experience from many of its contemporaries.  Martin Edwards has written an introduction for this latest batch of reissues that tells you a little bit about the author and the context of the books at the time – although it doesn’t mention some of the more dubious aspects of his life that are in Thomson’s Wikipedia entry. However as Thomson’s been dead since 1939 I felt ok buying the books because its not as if I’m lining his pockets!

I wouldn’t suggest making these your starting point if you want to dip your toe into the world of inter-war crime novels – but then i find it hard to see beyond Peter Wimsey for that –  but if you’ve exhausted Sayers and Christie, these are easier to get hold of than Margery Allingham can be and are worth a look – along with more well known authors like Josephine Tey and Patricia Wentworth and are more affordable than some of the other more forgotten authors that British Library Crime Classics have been republishing*.

The first book in the series, Richardson’s First Case is available for 99p at time of writing on Kindle and Kobo and the rest of the series are at a similar price point so if you like it, it’s a fairly cheap way of passing a few hours!

Happy Reading

*See BotW posts on The Cornish Coast Murder and The Sussex Downs Murder (both by John Bude), Christopher St John Spriggs’ Death of an Airman and Christmas compilation Silent Nights if you want more on some of these.

book round-ups, non-fiction, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Books about Queen Victoria’s dynasty

As you may remember from last year’s post about the History Books on the Keeper Shelf, As a child I had a serious Queen Victoria obsession.  Other children were obsessed with My Little Pony, Lego or Beanie Babies, but I had a thing for the Empress of India.  I could recite all her children’s full names in order.  Where other kids wanted to go to Alton Towers as a treat, I wanted to go to Osborne or Frogmore (and my parents took me to both, bless their hearts).  One of my favourite dressing up games was to be her eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, with my little sister taking on the role of Princess Beatrice.  I think you’re getting an idea of the scale of the problem.  Anyway over time it developed into my love of history and the history degree that I enjoyed so much.  These days I love a good nonfiction history book as well as historical fiction and I’m particularly susceptible to books about Queen Victoria and her family.

Cover of Queen Victorias Matchmaking

Earlier in the year, I read Deborah Cadbury’s Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking, which I was hoping would be right up my street as it was billed as an examination of her role in using her granddaughters’ marriages to exert international power and influence.  Sadly for me, it was more a of a group biography of the various grandchildren and what happened to them after her death than an examination of her machinations.  It would make a great introduction to the subject, but if, like me, you already have an interest in the subject, there wasn’t a lot of new information here.  It did get me thinking though about other books that I’ve read around the subject and reminded me to fill in a few gaps and read some books I had on the list and then it spawned this post.  There’s a little bit of cross over from the aforementioned Keeper Shelf post, but there are some new books on the list too. So, if you’ve read Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking and want to know more here, are my suggestions (which I hope would work equally well if you’re just interested in the subject).

If you want to read a group biography about the principal granddaughters, my choice would be Julia Gelardi’s Born to Rule, which examines the intertwined lives of the five of the granddaughters who went on to become queens of other European countries and gives you a good jumping off point if you want to find out more.  Spoiler: they don’t all get happy endings.  You’ll probably have come across one of these before – Alexandra, the last Tsarina of Russia.  If you end up with a to find out more about the Romanov’s there’s Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Romanovs, which I’m still working my way through on audiobook.  I’m still only in the nineteenth century and I can vouch for the fact that it’s incredibly gruesome well before you get to the execution in Yekaterinburg.  I listen to it while I’m out running, because it makes me go faster listening to all the terrible ways the Romanov’s found to kill people.

I wrote about Hannah Pakula’s An Uncommon Woman back in that Keeper Shelf post, and if you can get hold of it and want to find out what was going on in Prussia in the second half of the nineteenth century it’s still worth a read and is marginally more cheerful than a book about Kaiser Wilhelm would be.  But only marginally – it’s still a story of what might have been and ominous portents of what is to come.

If you want to find out how Edward VII turned into the Uncle of Europe, but in a light and fun way, Stephen Clarke’s Dirty Bertie shows how the playboy prince turned into a shrewd manoevering diplomat who was able to help keep the peace in Europe during his lifetime, and why it all fell apart after he wasn’t there to hold it together any more.

And if you don’t mind me breaking my own rules about repeating authors too frequently, and want some fiction about one of the granddaughters, there’s Laurie Graham’s The Grand Duchess of Nowhere, about Ducky, aka Princess Victoria Melita, one of the daughters of Prince Alfred – who comes up in passing in Cadbury’s  book, but who actually had a fascinating life, even if she didn’t marry a king.  I reviewed it for Novelicous back in the day, but it’s like having a drink with an indiscreet, drunken elderly auntie.  I still need to find a proper biography of Ducky to find out how much of it is accurate.

Cover of the Grand Duchess of Nowhere

Still sitting on my to read list, hoping that I’ll get to them one day are The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley and Three Emperors by Miranda Carter as we head into the twentieth century.  If you’ve got any more books that I should add to the list, let me know in the comments!

And now for the links.  I got my copy of Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking via NetGalley  but it is out now in hardback and KindleBorn to Rule is harder to get hold of – there’s no Kindle edition and it’s 10 years old – but there are reasonably priced secondhand editions available on Amazon and Abebooks.  Dirty Bertie is available on Kindle and is still in print in paperback so you may be able to find it in an actual bookshop as well as on Amazon.

Happy Reading!

historical, new releases, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: The Governess Game

Bonus post this week – because the new Tessa Dare book came out yesterday.  I read it back at the start of the month and really, really enjoyed it.  It is the second book in the Girl Meets Duke series and features the romance between one of the friends of the heroine of the first book and a man you saw her run into in that book.  The Duchess Deal was a BotW back in May, and is also well worth reading.

Cover of The Governess Game

Alexandra Mountbatten makes a living by setting clocks in the London houses of the rich.  But when she loses her equipment, she finds herself the governess to two out of control orphans who are in the care of a renowned libertine.  Alexandra knows that what they need is a stable, loving home.  Chase is the heir to a duke and lives by one rule: no attachments.  He won’t settle down and he doesn’t want anyone depending on him.  He knows he’s not to be trusted – all he wants is for his new governess to turn his wards into proper young ladies so that they can find men that they can rely on when they grow up.  And we all know where this is going.  It’s got a grumpy scared to love rakish hero with two children to take care of, a very wary accidental governess who sees the job as her ticket to her own independence and a bit of forced proximity. Bingo, my catnip.

The dialogue is sparky, the characters are great from the hero and heroine, right the way through all the minor characters.  I loved the running joke about the funerals.  You’ll get it when you read it – but if I tell you it’ll spoil it.  Here’s what the author had to say about it on twitter:

And if that doesn’t make you want to read it, I don’t know what will.  Anyway, if I had one quibble, it’s that the heroine’s surname is Mountbatten which I *think* originated as one of the invented surnames for some of the British end of the Royal Family when they were Anglicizing things during World War One – in this case the bits of the Battenburg family that married Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter and one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters.  It’s also the one that Prince Philip adopted just before he married the then Princess Elizabeth – meaning the current British royal family has the surname Mountbatten-Windsor.  If you’re not a massive nerd like me, it probably won’t bother you, but it made me think of Prince Philip every time it was mentioned.*  I’m sorry if by mentioning it I’ve caused the same issue for you.

My copy came via NetGalley, but The Governess Game is available on Kindle and Kobo and if it’s anything like the Duchess Deal it may pop up in larger supermarket book selections and some of the bigger bookshops when it comes out in paperback in the UK next week.  If not, order it from your local friendly indie.

Happy Reading!

*Oddly not the only romance novel I’ve read recently that has done this.

children's books, Recommendsday, Series I love

Recommendsday: The Sinclair Mysteries

For #Recommendsday this week I wanted to talk about the Sinclair Mysteries – as the final book in the series is out tomorrow (October 5).  Regular readers will be well aware of my love of detective fiction and middle grade novels and Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair mysteries are a great meeting of the two.

In the first book in the series, we meet Sophie and Lily – newly employed to work in Sinclair’s department store which is the biggest thing to happen in Edwardian London since, well, a long time.  Sophie’s father has recently died and she’s having to find her own way in the world.  Lily works in the shop by day and is trying to break through onto the stage at night.  Over the course of the books they gather a gang together and solve crimes, with department store owner Mr Sinclair (think Mr Selfridge) always hovering somewhere in the background.  Starting with the theft of the titular Clockwork Sparrow and moving on to things more dastardly and complicatated.  There is a big bad here, although I can’t say too much about that without giving far to much away.  Suffice it to say that although you can read this on their own, they work best as a series, building to a wonderful climax that pulls all the threads from the previous books together and ties them into a nice neat bow.

If you grew up on a diet of Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew, then these books may well be for you.  Or for your children if you have them.  I’ve lent (given?) my copy of the first one to Eldest Niece who has been tearing her way through the Famous Five and Secret Seven.  I came to these after reading the first Wells and Wong book – and needing more middle grade mystery in my life and they filled that gap admirably.  I’m sad that the series over – but really looking forward to seeing whatever Katherine Woodfine does next.

You should be able to find these in any bookstore that has a good children’s department, as well as in supermarkets – I got my copy of the first book from Tesco (although I got books 2 and 4 from NetGalley) and I can’t remember where I bought book three.  Anyway, read them in order wherever you buy them from.

Happy Reading!

literary fiction, non-fiction, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Quick reviews

As the deadline for Fahrenheit’s #Noirville competition draws ever closer – you’ve only got three days to go people, three days – I’ve been trying to clear the decks a bit so that I’m ready to read the entries.  So I thought I’d mention a few books this Recommendsday that I’ve read recently but haven’t chatted about.  It’s a bit eclectic, but that’s just how I roll and I know you won’t mind!

The Greedy Queen by Annie Gray

Ever wondered what Queen Victoria ate?  Annie Gray has the answers.  As well as looking at what Victoria ate across the course of her reign, it looks at how the kitchens worked, who worked there and who else they were feeding as well as the Queen.  It jumps backwards and forwards  in the timeline a little bit, but I came away feeling like I’d learned a lot about upper class dining in the nineteenth century.  ITV’s TV series Victoria is back on screen at the moment – and although the Victoria in that is very much the young queen, this would still make a nice companion read for people who want to know a bit more about the Queen’s life and her household.

Wise Children by Angela Carter

Meet Nora and Dora Chance – former musical all stars, illegitimate twin daughters of a pillar of the theatrical establishment – on their 75th birthday, which by coincidence is also their father’s 100th birthday.  Join them as Dora tells you the story of their lives before they head to the (televised) party.  This is a whirling, magical realist journey through the world of the theatre – legitimate and otherwise – full of Shakespeare references and sets of twins galore.  I found it enjoyably bonkers although it took a little while before I got my head around it all – there is a big old cast of characters here – and I’m still thinking about it a couple of weeks later.

True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop by Annie Darling

You may remember me raving about the Little Bookshope of Lonely Hearts last year – and now it has a sequel.  The good news is that this is not the sort of sequel that breaks up the couple that you’ve invested so much in in the first book and then getting them back together.  This sees one of the other girls who works in the bookshop get her happily ever after.  I always find it slightly weird to read books where the main character has my name, but I liked Verity Love so much that I got over that quite quickly.  This Verity is an Austen mad introvert, who invents a boyfriend to keep her friends off her back and then ends up with a real life fake boyfriend.  I had a few issues with Johnny’s back story – and insufficient grovelling at the end – but was mostly swept away by this – I do love a relationship of convenience story.

Right, that’s your lot for now, but I hope there’s something in here that’s tickled your fancy and might help you fill a reading gap while I’m off reading all those Noirville entries.

Happy Reading!

cozy crime, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Books About Renovations

I’ve got renovations and building work on the mind at the moment – I wonder why – and so this week’s #Recommendsday post is about books featuring renovations or building projects. Let’s start with some murder mysteries.

photo of boxes of books.
These are the boxes of books that went off to storage *after* the book cull...


First, a classic: Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie. New Zealander Gwenda and her husband have just moved into her new house, but as she starts to modernise it, all she does is uncover the house’s history.  As far as she knows, she’s never been to England before, so why does she have a creeping dread every time she uses the stairs – and why are all the things that she wants to do to the house, features that the house used to have?  It’s creepier than many of the Miss Marple books – and although it’s very good, it’s not my favourite of the Miss Marple stories, but I think that might be partly because the copy that we had at home when I was little had a cover with a pair of knitting needles stuck in someone’s head.

That would be this cover, and it still freaks me out.

The fourth book in the Aurora Teagarden series, The Julius House, has a big renovation project in it when Roe’s husband to be buys her a notorious house where a family disappeared from some years previously.  Roe is an amateur sleuth, fascinated by real life murders she can’t resist trying to figure out what happened to them.  Houses feature a a few of the books in this series: in book two, A Bone to Pick, Roe inherits a house from a friend, and in book 3, Three Bedrooms, One Corpse,  she has a go at selling real estate and keeps stumbling over corpses.

Not quite a renovation, but Karen Rose Smith’s Caprice de Luce series features a house stager who solves crime. I’ve only read one of them – but as house stagers are  something we really don’t have in the UK, I found her job fascinating, even though I had a couple of quibbles with the mystery.  I have more in the series on my Amazon watch list though, so I liked it enough to want more.

Now, on to romance…

I’ve mentioned Jill Shalvis a few times recently, but the first book in her Lucky Harbor series – Simply Irresistible – features a heroine who is trying to renovate and relauch her late mother’s guest house.  It’s a romance – and her contractor is her love interest and it’s fun and romantic and everything that you would expect from a Jill Shalvis novel.

Among Katie Fforde’s novels, there are a couple that have renovation projects – including Practically Perfect, where the heroine is an interior designer who is doing up a tiny cottage to showcase her skills and slightly tangentially one of my all time favourites of hers, Stately Pursuits – where house sitting turns into an attempt to save the house from redevelopment by getting it into a state where it can pay its own way as a historic home (and venue) open to the public.

And a couple more to finish:

I read Nick Spalding’s Bricking It a couple of years ago and laughed consistently the whole way through.  It features two siblings trying to renovate a house they’ve inherited from their grandmother, with the added complication of taking part in a reality TV show.  It’s got a cast of hilarious secondary characters and I loved the live TV scene – even though my inner broadcasting nerd (hello day job!) wasn’t sure if it would actually have been able to go down the way it did.  Writing this has made me wonder why I haven’t read more of Nick Spalding’s stuff since.

And down here and not with the cozies because I’ve mentioned this series recently already, but the sixth Meg Langslow mystery, Owls Well That Ends Well, sees Meg start the renovations to the big old Victorian house that is such a centre piece for the rest of the series.

If after all that you want more buildings in books, I wrote a #Recommendsday about books with amazing houses back at the end of May.

Send me your suggestions for more renovation books in the comments or on Twitter – I’m @WildeV.

Happy reading!

Recommendsday, The pile

Recommendsday: Book clear outs…

Hello! It’s already been a busy week here on the blog – don’t forget to check out my interview with Derek Farrell and my review of his latest book if you haven’t already. Anyway, today I wanted to use my #Recommendsday post not to talk about a book, but to extoll the virtues of having a book clear out every now and then.

As you may have seen in yesterday’s Week in Books, we’re about to have some work done in the house and this means we’re packing up half the house basically (our big downstairs living area and the spare bedroom) to put it into storage while the work is done.  It’s not major building work, just plastering and associated stuff that all goes better if there’s no furniture in the way.  And where are the main places in our house where my books live?  The living room and the spare bedroom of course.  So I’ve taken this opportunity to have what my mum calls a “rationalisation” of the bookshelves and I wanted to share my methodology (if it can be called that) with all of you.  Some things I know I’m keeping, no question – basically the Children’s book collection, the Georgette Heyers and the Peter Wimseys – but for most of the rest of the books, these are the questions I ask myself during a clear out.

So the first and most important questions has to be: will I ever read it again?  Now if a book has made it to one of my keeper shelves, it has done so because I thought when I finished it that I would want to read it again.  But have I? And do I still think that?  If the answer is no, then the book can probably go.  If it’s been 3 years and I haven’t read it again do I really need to keep it?  My downstairs bookshelf tend to be where the frequent rereads are, so if I haven’t read something on that for a while, it’s time to relegate it to upstairs and see if I miss it.  If I don’t miss it, it can probably go next time.

Next up: Am I sentimentally attached to it?  This is the reason why I still have copies of most of my A Level and GCSE texts – they’re filled with my notes and scribbles and they remind me of English classes (and history classes) and how much I enjoyed them.  It’s why I found it so hard to get rid of a book about the Congress of Vienna that I’ve never managed to get past page 50 (of 600) in – because I bought it in a fit of misty nostalgia about my writing my A Level coursework about the Congress just after I finished University.  It’s been unread for a decade – and I’ve only just now put it in the bag for the charity shop and deleted it from my to-read list on Goodreads.

The next question is am I keeping it for completeness or because it’s part of a set? Do I really need to?  I’ve got rid of a few books this time that are by authors that I used to buy everything from but now… less so.  I’ve kept my favourites of theirs – the ones that I do re-read – but I’ve jettisoned the rest.  This is all made easier for me if the author has changed publisher and the books no longer match – because we know how much I like matching sets of books!

And finally, if I changed my mind, how hard would it be to replace this?  Most of the time the answer is that it would be fairly easy.  Occasionally, I’ve already got an ebook copy so that solves the problem.  But if it’s out of print or not available in ebook (or very expensive in ebook) then I might hold on to stuff for a little bit longer.  But there comes a point where you have to let go.

And I’ve let quite a lot go.  I’ve even weeded the to-read pile and got rid of stuff that I know in my heart I’m never going to get around to reading because there’ll always be something “more important”.  I’ve got rid of books by authors that I’ve gone off and don’t buy any more, stuff that I kept to make my bookshelves look cool and least favourite books/series by some authors that I do still like.  My mum’s WI will have a a very well stocked book stall this month, and I’ve still got a bag or two for the charity shop.

The key thing now, is to resist the temptation to keep buying physical books while the to-read pile is away in storage.  I love m kindle, but sometimes I just want a proper book to read.  I’m hoping to solve/mitigate this urge by keeping a small stack from the to-read pile by my bed for when I feel the urge to read actual words printed on a piece of paper…

Cross your fingers for me.