It was a bit of a post-holiday come down week in reading, in fact I only bought The Division Bell Mystery in Cambridgeon Sunday, but I read it on Sunday afternoon and evening and it was so good. And also, in case you missed it, it’s an important week for the British Parliament this week, so it seemed an apt pick.
When a wealthy American businessman dies while having dinner inside Parliament, at first it looks like suicide, while he was alone in the room as voting was taking place but the evidence doesn’t add up. Soon a young parliamentary private secretary plays amateur sleuth to try and work out what happened. This is a classic locked room myster, although I think you might need a bit of knowledge of how the House of Commons work for this to make sense. The Division Bell of the title is the bell that rings across the Palace of Westminster (and in some nearby drinking establishments) when MPs are called to go and vote (which is called a division because they divide into two lobbies, the Ayes and the noes) but for the most part Ellen Wilkinson has explained everything you might need to know. In fact Wilkinson, was one of the first female MPs and so the book is filled with insider details about what Westminster was like in the 1930s – and more than a few digs at the male-centric nature of it all.
I love a Golden Age crime novel as you know, and locked room mysteries are always fun. This is quite traditional/of its time in terms of structure – friendly cop, amateur detective with some skin in the game, tame reporter, but that’s probably to be expected! I basically read this in one sitting, which tells you a lot as well. Wilkinson is a fascinating person even before you add writing a Murder mystery into the mix (go google her) and on the basis of this, I wish she’d written more. The Division Bell Mystery is part of the British Library Crime Classics series – which is a fairly reliable source of forgotten mystery stories – I’ve featured several others as BotW before* – some are great, sometimes you can see why they might have been forgotten! Heffers had a whole load of them on Sunday and they were on 3 for 2, so of course I got three.
If you’re not going to Heffers, then you should be able to find a copy from all of the usual sources as well as on Kindle (£2.99 at time of writing). Most bookshops will have a selection of the British Library Crime Classics too if they don’t have this one. I also recommend Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Haye – which seems to be one of the more commonly stocked books in the line.
I am the person who gives everybody they possibly can a book for Christmas. My immediate family all get a book AND a “normal” Christmas present. I buy young relatives books as often as I can. I even gift myself a Christmas book. So I thought that I would give you suggestions for presents – on top of a post about Christmas-themed books. This is the first of four post which I hope cover all eventualities. Most of the links are to Amazon – because quite a few of the books mentioned across the various posts are in their 3 for £10 promotion, thus saving you money to use to buy yourself books on other things.
Men can be tricky to buy for – or at least I find them hard. I often end up buying biographies of sportsmen. The Boy in my life is a massive petrol head – he devoured motorbike Guy Martin’s Autobiography this last weekend, which had been sitting on the shelf since last Christmas and is out now in paperback. He’s said he’d quite like Martin’s hardback, When You Dead, You Dead. Also on his Christmas list this year is ex-F1 driver turned World Endurance Champion Mark Webber’s book Aussie Grit. The annual Jeremy Clarkson book will have been a fixture on many people’s Christmas lists for years, but if you fancy a change, The Boy really wants And On That Bombshell – a behind the scenes look at Top Gear, written by Top Gear’s script editor Richard Porter, who I’ve been following on Twitter for years without knowing what his day job was!
Away from the motorsports books he’s a big Bill Bryson fan – so The Road to Little Dribbling may also turn up in his stocking. One of his favourite books this year has already featured here as a Book of the Week – but A Year of Living Danishly is so good that I think it deserves another mention – particularly as Hygge starts in January and moving to a new country is often one of those things that gets mentioned in New Year’s Resolutions.
On the history front, I haven’t read Trumbo (yet) but it’s just been turned into a film and the McCarthy era is fascinating – particularly in the movie industry. I’ve also had quite a good hit-rate with Ben MacIntyre – my dad loved Operation Mincemeat, and Agent Zigzag and Double Cross have also gone down well with him and several other men of various ages that I buy for. His latest is A Spy Among Friends, about Kim Philby, which I haven’t read – but which may well end up in someone’s stocking this year.
My Boy has got hooked (like me) on Janet Evanovich this year, so I’ve been on the lookout for pacey and fun thrillers for him. It’s tricky as it very often ends up with me buying books for me! I’m going to try and turn him onto the Fox and O’Hare series next – The Heist is the first one, The Scam is the latest. They’re basically Ocean’s 11 or White Collar but as a book. She’s an FBI agent, he’s a fraudster – but they have to work together to catch con-men.
I’ve already mentioned The British Library Crime Classics series in the BotW post on Silent Night, but it bears repeating that there some really good titles in this attractive looking series which would make good gifts for an Agatha Christie fan looking for Golden Age Crime. And as the series is bring stuff back into print that’s been out of circulation for a long time, there’s much less risk that they’ll have read them already! On top of the ones I’ve already mentioned, try The Z Murders and Murder Underground. Speaking of Golden Age crime, Sophie Hannah’s Poirot continuation The Monogram Murders might also be worth a look.
This is breaking my own rule about not mentioning stuff I’ve read for Novelicious before the review goes up there, but I’ve just finished reading TV historian Neil Oliver’s first novel Master of Shadows, and without preempting my review there too much, it is basically the novel version of one of those historical epic movies. Set in the fifteenth century. it follows a young man as he flees Scotland, becomes a mercenary and ends up entangled in the fall of Constantinople and the end of the Byzantine Empire. It was too gruesome for me, but if you have a Game of Thrones fan in your life, this could be a great choice for them.
My Boy has also expressed an interest in Timur Vermes’ Look Who’s Back, which has been sitting in my Library book bag for ages. In case you’ve missed it, this was a massive best seller in Germany – and tells the story of what happened when Adolf Hitler wakes up in 2011 Berlin. It’s already been made into a movie in Germany and Radio 4 have dramatised it over here. It’s meant to be laugh-out loud funny, but disturbing.
And finally, I’m not big on scary, but The Boy has film director David Cronenberg’s debut novel on his to-read pile. I don’t like recommending books that I haven’t read (or that people around me haven’t read) but Consumed has a good review average on both Amazon and Goodreads and pull quotes from Stephen King and JJ Abrams, so strikes me as a fairly good punt in a genre I’m really not very fluent in.
If you want to give bookish gifts that aren’t actually books, then may I point you in the direction of American company Out of Print. They do the most gorgeous clothes with book covers printed on them and for each purchase they donate a book to a community in need. I’ve gifted their t-shirts to several men at various points – including The Boy, who loves them and stares wistfully at their website every time he sees me looking at it, but tells me he has enough clothes. The tees are soft, the print isn’t crunchy (if you know what I mean) and they wash well and hold their shape. If you’re in the UK I think we’ve already missed the cheap shipping international deadline, although they say you can upgrade, but TruffleShuffle stock a few styles, as do Amazon.
So there you are, hopefully I’ve recommended something for most tastes or situations – or at least provided a jumping off point. Coming next: Books for Her.