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!

Recommendsday

May Quick Reviews

It’s the first day of June – but it’s also a Wednesday so it’s time for some more quick reviews. This is a somewhat shorter post than usual this month (who knew that was even possible) because I’ve already talked about so many of the books that I read that weren’t rereads. But I have still managed to find some books to talk about! However I would say this is very much a post of books where I have a but in my thoughts about them!

Jumping Jenny by Anthony Berkeley

So this was one I started when I was working on the British Library Crime Classic post and didn’t get finished in time because I got distracted by rereading Vicky Bliss! Anyway, this is another Roger Sheringham mystery (the next in the series after Murder in the Basement in fact) and is quite hard to write about without giving more spoilers than I should. Roger is attending a fancy dress house party where the theme is murderers when the horrible wife of one of the other guests is found murdered. Berkeley enjoyed playing with the genre and genre conventions – and if in Body in the Basement you spent a lot of the book trying to find out who the body is, in this he is playing with another aspect of the genre. I didn’t find it entirely satisfying and it’s not quite playing fair with the rules of the time either and that’s about all I can say – but if you read it you’ll probably be able to work out what my issues are. Aside from the spoilers issues, I’m not sure that Berkeley really liked women, but there are quite a few like that from his era so that’s not entirely unexpected.

Set on You by Amy Lea*

I read this in an incredibly busy week of new books so this got skipped at the time because I didn’t love it the way that I loved Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting or Book Lovers. Crystal is a successful curvy fitness influencer, Scott is her gym nemesis. But when her grandmother announces she’s getting remarried, it turns out that Scott is about to be part of the family. In the run up to the wedding the two grow closer, until the internet threatens to tear them apart. This is a romantic comedy where I liked the characters and I liked some aspects of the way their romance unfolded – but the start of the novel where they’re irritating each other didn’t work for me – and some of the resolution of it didn’t work for me either. But we know I have issues with pranks in novels (see previous reviews for some of the early Christina Laurens) but in between there was flirty, romantic fun with a main character who has more going on that just the romance, and a hero who is just about adorable once you find out what he is really like. Also I really liked the extended families. I will definitely watch out for more from Amy Lea.

Hotel Magnifique by Emily J Taylor*

I also just wanted to give a mention to Hotel Magnifique – which was not for me but I’m sure will suit other people. Jani and her sister get jobs at the magical Hotel Magnifique because Jani thinks it’s the way to a better future for them and an adventure as it moves from place to place each day. But behind the doors of the hotel, things are not what they seem and soon Jani is fighting to free herself, her sister and the other staff from the Magic. I was hoping for something similar to the Night Circus but YA and although it starts like that, it’s not how it carries on. I found the heroine quite hard to like, the magic is hard to understand and it all gets a bit brutal. The closest I can get for a description is the closest I can get is Dystopian YA Magic. And that’s still not quite right. I see some people comparing it to Caravel but it’s hard to tell without having read that. This has reminded me thatI really do need to try and read Caravel…

And that’s your lot. It’s a bank holiday here tomorrow, but you’ll get your stats as usual.

mystery, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: More British Library Crime Classics!

One of the consequences of the Great Steam Scald of Sunday was reading some more of British Library Crime Classics while I couldn’t hold a paperback. Of course as soon as I could I abandoned them in favour of Attack and Decay. But I’ve been planning this post for a while and I’ve now finished the other books I wanted to review so here we are!

Post after Post-Morton by E C R Lorac

When a member of a family of writers dies, it is initially thought to be a suicide – until her brother receives a letter from the deceased, which had got delayed in the post. He calls in Superintendent Macdonald to find out the truth behind his sister’s death. I’ve reviewed a couple of Lorax’s books here before (These Names Make Clues, Murder by Matchlight and Murder in the Mill Race as well as Crossed Skis under one of her other pen names ), and this one is right up there. It has plenty of twists and turns as Macdonald tries to prove whether it was murder or suicide.

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude

Fancy a murder carried out with a bow and arrow? Read this! There’s no shortage of suspects either as several residents of the titular square are keen archers and the murdered man is very unpopular. Solving this is Superintendent Meredith (last seen on this blog in The Lake District Murder) helping out a friend while on holiday. The setting is part of the charm of this – you can really picture the houses clustered around the square and their residents and their resentments and jealousies.

Deep Waters edited by Martin Edwards

This is one of the BLCC’s themed collections – all of the stories here have a nautical theme. There are a bunch of names in this who I have read full length novels from, but by a miracle not any of the other three authors in this post! There is also a huge range of styles of mystery – the authors including Arthur Conan Doyle, Christopher St John Sprigg, Edmund Crispin, Michael Innes and more. They also tend towards the shorter end so if you don’t like one it’s over quickly!

Castle Skull by John Dickson Carr

A blazing body is seen running around in the battlement of Castle Skull near Koblenz – but who did it. The castle is a maze of passages and awash with legends and stories of magic and ghosts. There is a small pool of suspects, and two detectives competing to solve figure it all out. This is the least Verity of all of these – but I include it because although it’s not precisely my thing, it is a good creepy, chillery, thrillery mystery. Atmospheric is probably the word.

All of these were in Kindle Unlimited when I read them, so if you keep a list of books to borrow from that, otherwise the British Library shop is doing Three for Two on the paperback versions.

Enjoy

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!