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lyzard's list - hoping for 100 in 2012 - Part 1

75 Books Challenge for 2012

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Dec 26, 2011, 5:46pm Top

For a new thread in a new year, I thought I'd bring things closer to home. This is the Australian eastern rosella, which is found all over the south-east of the country. I picked this species because while my yard is frequently graced by rainbow lorikeets, and I get occasional visits from crimson rosellas, scaly-breasted lorikeets and king parrots, I'm hardly ever lucky enough to catch a glimpse of these little guys and their amazing mix of colours.

Edited: Dec 26, 2011, 6:20pm Top

So what goes on here?

1. I have a blog, for which I am undertaking a roughly chronological examination of early English (mostly) literature, tracing the development of the novel from the 1660s onwards. This has had the unanticipated side-effect of forcing me into a crash-course in Restoration politics and the Stuarts.

2. Also for my blog, I read novels published between 1751 - 1930, chosen blindly from my wishlist by means of a random number generator. I am also taking a closer look at the complete works (or as complete as possible) of certain authors who have caught my interest for one reason or another.

3. While most novels published prior to 1931 will be reviewed at my blog, with brief comments and links here, for any novel published 1931 onwards I will post a review on this thread. Lately my off-blog reading has been dominated by Silver and Golden Age mysteries.

4. I also read some non-fiction, mostly books-on-books and history or sociology that supports my blog reading.

In other words - if you're looking for discussion of the latest bestsellers, you probably won't find it here. :)

But if you have an interest in the history of the novel, in 18th and 19th century literature, or in the development of the mystery genre, or if you just like discovering or being reminded of authors and books that have slipped through the cracks, you've come to the right place!

Edited: Mar 28, 2012, 5:32pm Top


1. The Great Portrait Mystery by R. Austin Freeman (1918)
2. Sick Heart River by John Buchan (1941)
3. The Maxwell Mystery by Carolyn Wells (1913)
4. The Devil And X.Y.Z. by Barum Browne (Hilary St George Saunders and Geoffrey Dennis) (1931)
5. The Voyage Home by Storm Jameson (1930)
6. Susan Spray by Sheila Kaye-Smith (1931)
7. Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers (1927)
8. Without My Cloak by Kate O'Brien (1931)
9. The Castle Of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)
10. Dr Priestley's Quest by John Rhode (Cecil John Street) (1926)
11. One By One They Disappeared by Moray Dalton (Katherine Mary Dalton Renoir) (1929)


12. Danger Calling by Patricia Wentworth (1931)
13. The Bride Of Anguished English by Richard Lederer (2000)
14. The Novel In Letters: Epistolary Fiction In The Early English Novel 1678-1740 by Natascha Wurzbach (ed.) (1969)
15. The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled by Francis Kirkman (1673)
16. Whigs And Hunters: The Origin Of The Black Act by E. P. Thompson (1975)
17. The Heart Of Midlothian by Walter Scott (1818)
18. The Murders In Praed Street by John Rhode (Cecil John Street) (1928)
19. Mary Lou: A Story Of Divine Corners by Faith Baldwin (1931)
20. Mistress Of The House: Great Ladies And Grand Houses 1670-1830 by Rosemary Baird (2003)
21. Today's Virtue by Faith Baldwin (1931)
22. A Richer Dust by Storm Jameson (1931)


23. The Secret Of High Eldersham by Miles Burton (Cecil John Street) (1930)
24. Helen Vardon's Confession by R. Austin Freeman (1922)
25. Anybody But Anne by Carolyn Wells (1914)
26. Lord Peter Views The Body by Dorothy L. Sayers (1928)
27. The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1767)
28. The House On Tollard Ridge by John Rhode (Cecil John Street) (1929)
29. The Brooklyn Murders by G. D. H. Cole (1923)
30. Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy: A Casebook by Thomas Keymer (ed.) (2006)
31. The Mystery Of The Thirteenth Floor by Lee Thayer (1919)
32. The Gothic Flame by Devendra P. Varma (1957)
33. The Path Of Love by Norma Octavia Lorimer (1921)
34. Week-End At Hurtmore by Mary Lutyens (1954)

Edited: Mar 26, 2012, 11:44pm Top

Books in transit:

On interlibrary loan request:
Rachel Moon by Lorna Rea

Purchased and shipped:
The Beacon Hill Murders by Roger Scarlett

On loan:
The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy: A Casebook by Thomas Keymer
The Dead Letter by Metta Fuller Victor
The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Path Of Love by Norma Octavia Lorimer
Weekend At Hurtmore by Mary Lutyens
The Gothic Quest by Montague Summers

Edited: Mar 22, 2012, 6:20pm Top

Ongoing series:

*R. Austin Freeman - Dr John Thorndyke - Dr Thorndyke's Casebook (8/26)
*Carolyn Wells - Fleming Stone - The White Alley (6/49)
E. F. Benson - Mapp And Lucia - Lucia's Progress (5/6)
*Lee Thayer - Peter Clancy - The Unlatched Door (1/59)
***John Rhode - Dr Priestley - The Davidson Case (7/72)
*G. D. H. Cole / M. Cole - Superintendent Wilson - The Death Of A Millionaire (2/?)
*Dorothy L. Sayers - Lord Peter Wimsey - The Unpleasantness At The Bellona Club (5/24)
Margery Allingham - Albert Campion - Sweet Danger (5/35)
Gladys Mitchell - Mrs Bradley - The Saltmarsh Murders (4/67)
***Patricia Wentworth - Benbow Smith - Walk With Care (3/4)
*Moray Dalton - Inspector Collier - The Body In The Road (2/?)
***Miles Burton - Desmond Merrion - The Milk-Churn Murder (10/61)
Faith Baldwin - The Girls Of Divine Corners - Myra: A Story Of Divine Corners (4/4)
Hugh Walpole - The Herries Chronicles - The Fortress (3/4)
Patricia Wentworth - Miss Silver - The Case Is Closed (2/33)
Phoebe Atwood Taylor - Asey Mayo - Death Lights A Candle (2/24)
***Martin Porlock - Charles Fox-Browne - Mystery In Kensington Gore (2/3)
Stuart Palmer - Hildegarde Withers - Murder On Wheels (2/18)
Olive Higgins Prouty - The Vale Novels - Lisa Vale (2/5)
Richard Lederer - Anguished English - The Revenge Of Anguished English (4/4)

Edited: Dec 31, 2011, 7:43pm Top

The 2011 wrap-up:

2011 was my first full year on LibraryThing, and it turned out to be a very good reading year, marked by the resurgance of my old taste for classic mysteries. Here is the final breakdown (categories overlapping):

Books read: 128
Best reading month: November (16 books)
Fiction/ non-fiction ratio: 112 : 16
Male / female / anonymous author ratio: 60 : 61 : 7
Oldest work: The English Rogue (First Part) by Richard Head (1665)
Newest work: Seventeenth-Century English Romance: Allegory, Ethics, And Politics by Amelia Zurcher (2007)

Library books: 75/128 = 58.6%
eBooks: 27/128 = 21.1%
Blog reads (including non-fiction): 33/128 = 25.8%
Help! I'm stuck in 1931 and I can't get out!: 41/128 = 32.0%
Wait a minute - that wasn't published in 1931!: 38/128 = 29.7%
Mysteries: 27/128 = 21.1%
Viragos and Virago authors: 13/128 = 10.2%
Part of a series: 38/128 = 29.7%
TIOLI reads: 93/128 = 72.7%

Dec 26, 2011, 7:05pm Top

Got you starred!

Sandy K

Dec 26, 2011, 7:06pm Top

Thank you, Sandy! Happy 2012. :)

Dec 26, 2011, 8:22pm Top

dropping in to leave my star

Dec 26, 2011, 8:52pm Top

Welcome back! Thanks for setting up the tutored reads!

Edited: Apr 15, 2012, 9:54pm Top


Aww...you're a star!


Thank you for letting me elbow my way in! :)

Dec 28, 2011, 8:26am Top

Oooh, I like the sound of what you're into reading!

Also, I'm incredibly jealous that you get rosellas (and other parrots!) in your yard. I was just commenting to my husband the other day that I've never seen a rosella in person (the local pet shop has just posted that they have one in for purchase). I adore parrots, so don't hesitate to snap those photos and show them off here! Heehee...

Edited: Dec 29, 2011, 4:50pm Top

Hi, Faith!

Wow, you LIKE the sound of what I read!? Most people just give me a funny look and hurry away. :)

I'm very lucky with my garden visitors. Rainbow lorikeets are the perfect example of how you can get away with anything if you're pretty enough - they're actually a noisy nuisance, but you like having them around anyway.

Dec 29, 2011, 11:26pm Top

OK, you have to promise me that I do not have to break out the cat in 2012, Liz. All reviews are to be posted, right? :)

Dec 29, 2011, 11:33pm Top


We haven't even STARTED and already she's bullying me!!

Great to have you back, BTW - there's no-one I'd rather be bullied by. :)

(P.S. I'm not sure the cat is a good idea around all these birds...)

Dec 29, 2011, 11:55pm Top

I guess you had better post the reviews then, huh? If not, there will be no more birds to be found on this thread, lol.

Dec 30, 2011, 1:16am Top


Dec 30, 2011, 5:04am Top

Yeah, yeah, yeah. . .

Dec 30, 2011, 8:36am Top

>13 lyzard:: I say that about my sun conure all the time, too... he screams like the devil is after him half the day, but he's so gorgeous he can get away with it... LOL!

Dec 30, 2011, 6:10pm Top

Starring your thread because I stalk your blog anyway! :D I love your book choices so far, and also the birds! I wish we had such colorful birds here.

Edited: Dec 30, 2011, 6:31pm Top

Ah, my new friend! Thank you so much!!

(Eta: Ahh! You're Blue Stockings, aren't you?? Sorry - I should have known that already, but I'm suffering from a serious end-of-year brain-melt at the moment. To make up for it, I'm just off to link your blog to mine! I'll be interested to hear what you make of Cecilia - is it just me, or are 18th century heroes called "Mortimer" always more trouble than they're worth??)

Yes, we are very blessed with our fauna and flora, although I could wish that more people here appreciated that fact...

Dec 31, 2011, 5:29am Top

Yes, that's me! I agree about Mortimers! They are so awful & morally sketchy. Maybe there's some sort of 18th century reference to Mortimer we aren't getting. So glad I've decided to make a go of Cecilia though. I'm in the home stretch and totally annoyed by everyone around her. :)

Dec 31, 2011, 6:00am Top

Looking forward to following your reading even though you make me want to read books which are very difficult to find! Actually, thinking about it, maybe that's a good thing ;-)

Dec 31, 2011, 2:20pm Top

Liz look forward to following your reading and your cataloguing again in 2012. Hope you realise that any comments on such a veritable list is made from admiration (an a little envy tbh) and I set you as a positive example not a negative one. Happy new year.

Dec 31, 2011, 3:49pm Top

You are starred for the new year, Liz. Looking forward to more great reviews.

Dec 31, 2011, 5:09pm Top

Hello, all! Thank you very much for all the good wishes and hopes - I hope it's a great New Year for all of you!

>#22 It sounds like you're reacting absolutely correctly! :)

>#23 It's one of the downsides of my obscure reading that I don't get to do as much book-bullet damage as most people around here.

>#24 Wishlist envy? Okay, I can live with that!

>#25 Can never have too many stars...

Dec 31, 2011, 6:29pm Top

Starred you - and loved your rosella photo! New Zealand's birds tend to be less colourful (but still lovely). Must take a tui photo for my thread...

Dec 31, 2011, 7:11pm Top

NZ is right up there with the fabulous and bizarre. :)

Thanks for stopping by - I hope you have a fabulous 2012!

Dec 31, 2011, 11:29pm Top

Happy New Year, Liz!

Jan 1, 2012, 5:36am Top

Thanks, Stasia - back at ya!

Jan 1, 2012, 6:01am Top

Appreciate it! The new year is looking up anyway!

Jan 2, 2012, 12:59pm Top

I have a whopping 5 books in common with you, but I was impressed with your Emma tutoring so I figure your thread will stretch my horizons. And the birds are a nice contrast to the dreary gray here.

Jan 2, 2012, 1:14pm Top

I love the pictures here, Liz. My grandkids' favorite exhibit at the Kansas City Zoo is the lorikeets; their mother (my daughter) is named Lori. Maybe I'll visit there with them this year.

I too was impressed with your tutoring of Emma. I think there were lots of us lurkers on Madeline's thread!

Jan 2, 2012, 3:31pm Top

>#32 Hi! Thanks for visiting. Oddly enough, Madeline and I only share five books, too, one of which is Emma - as we discovered to our mutual amusement! I'll have to see what I can do about your horizons... :)

>#33 Thanks, Donna. The tutoring was a lot of fun for me (if not for Madeline!), and if it helped others with the book, all the better!

Hmm...perhaps I'll use more bird pictures to usher in the new month, not just the new thread? I'd love to see any photos you manage to grab.

Jan 2, 2012, 5:15pm Top

Happy New Year Liz - that's a beautiful rosella bird.

#5 Oh, you've reminded me that I was going to copy your idea and list the series I was reading on my thread and I forgot to leave space for it! Perhaps it's better that I don't count them for my own peace of mind.

#6 So even when you read a book published in the 21st century you're still the only person on LibraryThing to have catalogued a copy? :-)

Jan 2, 2012, 5:26pm Top

Thanks, Heather!

The disturbing thing about listing your series is you keep remembering that there's ANOTHER ONE that just slipped your mind...

So even when you read a book published in the 21st century you're still the only person on LibraryThing to have catalogued a copy?

Seems so. I like to think of myself as a booster and promoter of unknown authors.

Rather than, you know, a complete whack-job.

Jan 2, 2012, 9:32pm Top

Well, if you are a complete whack-job, I guess the rest of us are too.

Jan 3, 2012, 2:11am Top

How is the Black Hole, by the way??

Jan 3, 2012, 9:21pm Top

The BlackHole is ever growing!

Edited: Jan 8, 2012, 12:26am Top

Well! - a slow start to the reading year, as I have spent most of my spare time going over old reading texts in order to catch up some outstanding blog reviews - including one of Catherine Cuthbertson's amusingly complicated sentimental novel, Santo Sebastiano; or, The Young Protector, which ran into three parts: Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

However, I have also managed to finish my first book for the year - The Great Portrait Mystery by R. Austin Freeman, which as it turns out is not part of his Dr Thorndyke series - review to come.

Now reading Sick Heart River by John Buchan, the last of his stories about Edward Leithen.

Jan 8, 2012, 4:21am Top

I have been reading your blog posts on Santo Sebastiano. From the sounds of them, the novel really is amusingly complicated!

Jan 8, 2012, 6:28am Top

Ooh! - very flattered to have you stop by! Catherine Cuthbertson's novels are a lot of fun, as long as you have a high tolerance for fainting scenes. :)

Jan 8, 2012, 6:34am Top

Yes, I subscribe to your blog. Just do not make me bring the cat over there ;)

Jan 8, 2012, 3:01pm Top


Jan 8, 2012, 3:02pm Top

As well you should, lol.

Edited: Jan 8, 2012, 6:56pm Top

Still fighting the good fight: I've added a blog review of the fourth volume of The English Rogue, and taken a look at what passes for its fifth volume. The usual "mature content" warnings apply, although given that we're mostly talking poo jokes, the content really isn't all that mature.

Review here.


The Great Portrait Mystery - R. Austin Freeman gave up writing across the years of WWI, resuming his literary career with this collection of short stories, which were evidently written before the war, but not published until 1918. Contrary to what some sources would have us believe, there is no story here featuring Dr John Thorndyke, and this collection forms no part of that series.

There are five stories in this work, each one of them built around the search for, or acquisition of (legally or otherwise), valuable artefacts; and the effect of this upon the individuals involved.

The title story is the longest in the volume, and centres upon the elaborate theft from the National Gallery of a portrait of James II; only for the mystery to deepen when the portrait is subsequently returned. It is evident to Joseph Fittleworth, aspiring artist and part-time curator, who to his mortification was actually present when the portrait was stolen, that the theft was about more than the intrinsic worth of the painting, and he devotes himself to solving the puzzle - in the process discovering a startling secret in his fiancé's family, and unmasking a most unlikely gang of thieves...

In The Bronze Parrot, the meek but good-natured curate Deodatus Jawley is bullied and taken advantage of by almost everyone around him, chiefly the Reverend and Mrs Augustus Bodley; but all that changes when Jawley, watching the unloading of a ship from West Africa at the docks, finds a small bronze parrot that once belonged to an African war chief - and undergoes a startling personality change... In Powder Blue And Hawthorn, a criminal gang pulls off a daring robbery of priceless porcelain, and then concocts an elaborate scheme to hide it which involves a lead-lined coffin and a fake funeral. What, then, are the feelings of the gang-members when, upon opening the coffin to retrieve their booty, they find it occupied by a dead body...? In The Attorney's Conscience, a long-standing mystery of identity and inheritance is finally solved by apparently supernatural means, as whoever holds a particular old book begins to experience inexplicable phenomena... And in The Luck Of Barnabas Mudge, a bricklayer discovers within a wall slated for demolition a hidden jar filled with gold sovereigns - and must then find some means of accounting for his sudden wealth...

Although they are certainly not entirely grim and serious, the nature of the Thorndyke mysteries prevents their author from too often indulging his obvious sense of humour; and there is almost a sense of relief about this collection of stories, which vary in tone from the outright comedy of the worm turning in The Bronze Parrot to the amusingly macabre thwarting of the criminal gang in Powder Blue And Hawthorn. In context, the most surprising story is certainly The Attorney's Conscience, in which the humour fades away and the supernatural is played entirely straight. All of the stories, however, are both entertaining and clever, and none of them outstays its welcome. As a whole, this volume provides a good introduction to the style of R. Austin Freeman, as well as displaying another side to his talents.

Fittleworth started, and was sensible of a chill of vague alarm. The painter's appearance was so remarkable that a mistake seemed impossible. And yet he began to have an uneasy feeling that this was not the same man. There was the same long, red hair and the same enormous spectacles, but the face was not quite that of the man whom he had talked to yesterday, and the voice and manner seemed appreciably different. And again, a vague and chilly terror clutched at his heart...

Jan 8, 2012, 6:57pm Top

Please post the review of the Freeman book so I can give it a well-deserved thumbs up!

Jan 8, 2012, 7:02pm Top

> 32

Never fear, Katherine. I, too, only have 5 books in common with Liz, and she has gazillions of books on her wishlist. You did guess right. Emma is one of those 5 books. :)

Jan 8, 2012, 7:04pm Top

> 33

I think there were lots of us lurkers on Madeline's thread!

I'm sorry, Donna, that more lurkers did not come out of the woodwork when Liz and I were working on Emma together. I like how the lurkers have now proudly announced themselves on Morphidae's thread, though.

Jan 8, 2012, 7:09pm Top

> 34

The tutoring was a lot of fun for me (if not for Madeline!)

Liz! You know that the tutoring was fun for me. It was the book that was not fun. I remain proud now that I've read a book by Jane Austen. I still can't believe that I did it!

I told my niece that I'm not following her English syllabus any more. In the meantime, she'll most likely be changing majors before she has to declare. I can't remember exactly what she told me it would be, but it had nothing at all to do with English.

Jan 8, 2012, 7:10pm Top

>#47 Done, done, DONE!!!!

So, nyeh! :)

Jan 8, 2012, 7:12pm Top

>#50 Another one bites the dust, hey? :(

Though I suppose some of the logic behind my NOT studying literature at university was so that it would stay fun for me.

Jan 8, 2012, 7:17pm Top

> 52

Well, I told her how excited I was that she was studying English. However, I gave her an addendum to think of what she really wants to do for a career. I'll keep you posted!

Jan 8, 2012, 9:52pm Top

#51: I will get you yet, my little pretty ;)

Jan 8, 2012, 10:25pm Top

I don't doubt it. I have to brag while I can!

Jan 9, 2012, 3:42pm Top

Finished Sick Heart River by John Buchan for TIOLI #9 - review to come. (But not today. So don't nag!)

Now reading The Maxwell Mystery by Carolyn Wells, from 1913, the fourth of her Fleming Stone mysteries.

Jan 10, 2012, 1:24pm Top

Glad to see Stasia is back and keeping you in line Liz!

Edited: Jan 13, 2012, 4:07pm Top

You're both mean!

Finished The Maxwell Mystery - review to come.

(Oh, goody. January 11th and I'm already two reviews behind.)

Now reading The Devil And X.Y.Z. by "Barum Browne", another pseudonym for Hilary St George Saunders, the co-author of Death Walks In Eastrepps and The Three Fishers, this time writing in partnership with Geoffrey Dennis.

Jan 10, 2012, 3:54pm Top

#58 You share The Devil and X.Y.Z. with Lawrence of Arabia!

Jan 10, 2012, 4:10pm Top

Hey, I move in high literary circles!

Actually, it's a fact that I'm much more likely to share a book with a legacy library than with a contemporary reader. You have no idea how many books I share with Walter Scott. Seriously.

Hmm...speaking of Walter Scott, shall we say February, or shall we wait and see how A Tale Of Two Cities pans out before we make another commitment?

Edited: Jan 16, 2012, 6:54pm Top

Sick Heart River (US title: Mountain Meadow) - When his health suddenly deteriorates, Sir Edward Leithen receives from his doctor the grim news that he is suffering from a form of tuberculosis brought on by his gassing in WWI, and that in all likelihood he has less than a year to live. His impulse being to hide himself from the world, Leithen avoids his friends while setting his affairs in order, then begins to ponder the question of where to live out his days, all those places most dear to him seeming to mock him with their associated memories of youth and health. One place that does call to him is a valley in Canada known as the Clairefontaine, briefly glimpsed but never forgotten. When an American businessman called Blenkiron solicits Leithen's help in finding his nephew-in-law, the financier Francis Galliard, who vanished of his own volition some time earlier, his acceptance is influenced both by the hope of re-visiting that particular scene, and his desire for one last task to keep him occupied to the end.

Travelling first to New York, Leithen meets with Galliard's wife, Felicity, and a number of his friends. He learns that as a young man Galliard, a French-Canadian of farming stock, turned his back upon his family and their way of life, becoming a naturalised American and rising to great prominence in the world of business and finance. Leithen also hears of Galliard's acute sensitivity, and his recent restlessness; and that in the brief note of apology he left for his wife before his disappearance, he claimed to be sick in mind. One friend, Walter Derwent, provides a concrete clue when he tells Leithen that Galliard asked him about a guide for a journey into the far north of Canada, and that he recommended Lew Frizel, a brilliant woodsman of mixed Scots-Indian blood. Recruiting Frizel's brother, Johnny, Leithen sets out on what he believes will be his final journey, in which it slowly becomes evident that Galliard and Frizel have sets their sights upon one of the most remote, and most dangerous, areas in Canada: a near-legendary territory known as the Sick Heart River...

The knowledge that Sick Heart River was published posthumously, from a manuscript from amongst John Buchan's papers after his death in 1940, adds a further layer of poignancy to this already inherently elegaic work, in which Sir Edward Leithen, of all Buchan's characters the closest to him, is confronted by his own mortality. Leithen's immediate impulse upon receiving the news of his state of health is to hide himself - to withdraw from public life and avoid his friends - yet at the same time, something within him rebels against the thought of passively waiting for death. The search for Francis Galliard offers Leithen the opportunity he desires to keep working until the very end, to "die on his feet"; but as sets out on his journey into northern Canada, as he moves ever further away from civilisation and the world that he has known, the search for a missing man becomes something much greater - an exploration of the right way to live, and the right way to die.

It is the combined force of the heritage he rejected and the religion he has neglected, suppressed but not defeated, that has poisoned for Francis Galliard the world of wealth and privilege to which he has ascended; yet as Edward Leithen follows his trail, it becomes evident that instead of the closure and comfort he was seeking, Galliard has encountered only loss and guilt: a valley ruined by a pulp mill owned by a company in which Galliard has interest; the family farm neglected under an alcoholic uncle; and, in the deep interior, the graves of another uncle and Galliard's brother, who went to seek him. Leithen, too, finds disappointment, discovering that the Clairefontaine valley of his memory has likewise suffered under the hands of time: an event foreshadowing the ultimate revelation of the true nature of the Sick Heart River. Though named by a native chief "sick at heart" for his homeland and a symbol of the terrible yearning that, one way or another, grips each of the characters in this tale, when the travellers reach their destination it is to find, not the redemptive paradise on earth envisaged by the desperate, half-mad Lew Frizel, but a beautiful but desolate wasteland incapable of supporting life...

During the last years of his life, John Buchan served as Governor-General of Canada; and even as his early novel about Edward Leithen and his friends, John Macnab, reflects Buchan's deep love for the Scottish Highlands, the pages of Sick Heart River similarly reveal a profound appreciation of the very different but equally beautiful Canadian scenes, the vastness of the country inspiring both awe and terror. However, at the same time there is an uncomfortable paternalism about the novel's attitude to the native Canadians, who are presented as needing to be "looked after" by white men; and an important aspect of the story revolves around the fate of a small community of the Hare tribe, which has been devastated by disease and famine. The human ugliness of the natives' lives is starkly contrasted with the pristine yet dangerous beauty of the landscapes surrounding Leithen and his companions. As they journey northwards, the world of man ceases to exist for them, their existence becoming stripped down to the most elemental level - hunger, cold, exhaustion, fear, survival. And it is in this great emptiness that Edward Leithen is able to bare his own soul and confront the final, and greatest, questions of his life: his place in the universe and his relationship with God; and, in these contexts, his connection with and responsibility to his fellow man.

Leithen, sitting on the mountain gravel, had a sudden sharp pang of hopelessness, almost of fear. He realised that this spectacle of a new mountain-land would once have sent him wild with excitement, the excitement of both the geographer and the mountaineer. But now he could only look at it with despair. It might have been a Pisgah-sight of a promised land, but now it was only a cruel reminder of his frailty. He had still to find Galliard, but Galliard had gone into this perilous labyrinth. Could he follow? Could he reach him?... But did it matter after all? The finding of Galliard was a task he had set himself, thinking less of the success than of the task. It was to tide away the time manfully before his end so that he could die standing. A comforting phrase of Walt Whitman's came back to him, 'the delicious near-by assurance of death'.

Edited: Jan 17, 2012, 9:09pm Top

The Maxwell Mystery - Peter King is invited to a house party at Maxwell Chimneys, the country home of the elderly Alexander Maxwell, his sister Miranda, and their young nephew, Philip, who is their heir. On the train, Peter is delighted to encounter Irene Gardiner, another guest. Irene is reading a detective story; and the two discuss the circumstances under which an ordinary person might commit murder. At the house, Philip meets the other guests: Tom and Edith Whiting, and Edith's younger sister, Mildred Leslie, with whom Philip is in love. Gilbert Crane, a neighbour, joins the party; while the Maxwells are expecting the Earl of Clarendon, a friend from England. The house party goes well, but there is tension: although Mildred has repeatedly refused him, Philip is determined to win her, and is furious when she flirts with the Earl. Irene surprises Peter by insisting that it is actually Gilbert Crane that Mildred cares for, citing the fact that he is the one man with whom she does not flirt.

But something is troubling Philip other than his romantic difficulties: Miss Miranda confides to Peter that for the past few weeks, the young man has shown every sign of having something serious preying on his mind. However, the Maxwells go ahead with their planned dance, to which many of their friends and neighbours are invited. During the evening, the tensions between the various individuals surface again. After Irene startles him by angrily condemning Mildred for her treatment of Philip, Peter passes by the library, where Philip is warning the girl that he is growing desperate, and will not be trifled with. However, encountering a worried Alexander Maxwell, Peter tries to cheer him up by assuring him that Philip and Mildred are close to coming to an understanding - only then to realise that Gilbert Crane has overheard him. Peter returns to the music-room, and some time later is dancing with Edith Whiting when a white-faced Gilbert bursts into the room with the terrible news that Philip and Mildred have both been shot. There is a doctor present, who rushes upstairs to the library, where he finds Philip dead and Mildred injured, a gun clasped in her hand...

The Maxwell Mystery, the fourth in Carolyn Wells' Fleming Stone series, finds the author constructing one of her favourite geographical mysteries - which is to say, it is a story that rests upon the structure of a house, the question of who was where when, and who could have seen or overheard what. On this level the novel is a success, requiring the reader to pay strict attention to detail, particularly when various parties start changing their stories. However, what I might call its "overlay" weakens this work significantly. Various subplots just peter out, and when Mildred Leslie is able to speak of her ordeal, she describes an extremely improbable sequence of events (particularly her own part in them). We consequently spend most of the book waiting for this story to be exposed as a silly lie concocted to protect someone, only finally to be assured that it was the truth - an assurance that leaves a very hollow feeling behind. While the killer's identity and motive, and the means and the timing of the murder, are all satisfactorily explained, overall this novel doesn't really work.

However, balancing the story's deficiences is the fact that, as usual, Wells provides us with a fascinating and disturbing glimpse into the workings of her society (circa 1913), both from a legal and a social point of view. From Mildred Leslie, we learn a great deal about the situation of young women at the time. While she is indeed an irritating little flirt, the kind who thinks pouting and foot-stamping is charming, it's hard not to see her eventually as a victim of sorts. Although she has repeatedly refused Philip Maxwell's proposals, and tried to make clear that she does not want him, everyone takes it for granted that they will eventually marry, because he wants it so much. Furthermore, the fact that he does makes Mildred off-limits to any other man; so that when Gilbert Crane (who she does want) continues to show that he is interested in her, it is regarded as nothing short of "treachery" to Philip, a sign of Gilbert's lack of character, which is in turn taken to mean he might be capable of murder. Similarly, we can only shake our heads in mystification over the fact that when Peter overhears an angry Philip trying, literally, to bully Mildred into accepting him, he blithely interprets the scene as the two of them "coming to an understanding". By this point, we wouldn't blame Mildred all that much if she did shoot Philip - apparently nothing short of that could make him understand that no means no.

(Not that I'm saying she didn't shoot him...)

But it is what passes for the criminal investigation in this novel that holds the reader's horrified attention. Interestingly, within the text the point is made that Britain is well ahead of America in terms of policing generally, but particularly in the investigation of serious crime; Lord Clarendon more than once speaks wistfully of Scotland Yard, and we can hardly blame him. Given that Philip has been shot dead, and that the wounded Mildred has a gun in her hand, you might think that there would be some urgency about determining whether the fatal bullet was fired from that weapon - but you'd be wrong: no-one gives fingerprints so much as a passing thought, let alone ballistics. And in fact, fingerprinting was still not widely used as an investigative method at this time outside of New York, and while the matching of bullets with guns was understood, it was only very occasionally done, with different courts allowing it as evidence or not. On this basis, we are also forced to accept this novel's contention that even when a murder was committed, calling in the police was optional. Since the Maxwells decide they'd rather not, the investigation, such as it is, is left to one Mr Hunt, a guest at the dance, who is described as "a sort of society detective", and Peter King, who like all of Wells' narrators fancies himself as a bloodhound. It is evidence gathered by the amateur that builds a circumstantial case against Gilbert Crane, who responds by sending for Fleming Stone. Less than twenty-four hours, a series of interviews, and a single search later, the case has been turned upside-down...

As I look back upon that night now, it seems to me like a horrible dream---so many people coming and going, the servants beside themselves with grief and fright, and the dreadful facts themselves so mysterious and so difficult to realize. It seemed impossible that Philip was dead---merry, light-hearted Philip, who, except for the last week or so, had always been so gay and joyous. And Mildred Leslie's life hung in the balance...


(Footnote: It is amusingly evident here that Carolyn Wells had no idea that there was a real earldom of Clarendon, let alone that it was of historical significance. We also get the usual American struggle with correct usage, most of the characters confusing his name and his title and addressing the Earl as "Lord Clarence". Meanwhile, the unimaginative Mr Hunt lights upon the Earl as a murder suspect on the grounds that he's a foreigner...)

Jan 13, 2012, 11:58am Top

I've been lurking on two current tutored threads...and loving them. Good job on motivating them to begin, Liz!

I find those threads fascinating because there is so much to learn...yet I don't even have to read those books to do it. Ha!

Jan 13, 2012, 4:11pm Top

Lurking likewise. Just to keep an eye on things. :)

What I'm finding interesting is how much random American history I apparently know, since I've never done any formal study in that area. I've known the answers to a surprising number of the North And South questions. (Like the one about the Battle of New Orleans being after the end of the War of 1812, although of course I got that from The Simpsons!)

Jan 13, 2012, 4:22pm Top

You probably know more American History than I do as I always hated studying history in school. I'm guessing that's why I shy away from historical novels.

My favorite subjects were always science and languages. I guess that's why I became a nurse and spent a year in Israel. :)

Edited: Jan 16, 2012, 12:00am Top

Finished The Devil And X.Y.Z., a strange book that starts out like a mystery, turns into a thriller, and then becomes a horror story - review to come.

As to what to read next, I find myself in a slightly exasperating situation, The List confronting me with no less than three different series in which the component books are either rare and expensive, or flat out unavailable.

The strangest of these is surely the Dr Priestley series by John Rhode (Cecil Street). It is obvious that this was a popular and influential series, yet hardly any of the many, many books in it are available today except in rare editions at exhorbitant prices. The very first book, The Paddington Mystery, isn't to be had for love or money and is, apparently, something of a collector's Holy Grail.

Cecil Street (an amazingly prolific writer) is also the author of the second series in question, that featuring Inspector Henry Arnold and Desmond Merrion, which Street wrote under the name "Miles Burton".

I'm also struggling to get hold of any of the books in the Inspector Hugh Collier series written by Moray Dalton, none of whose earlier, stand alone mysteries are available at all.

I guess the question I'm wrestling with is whether it's worthwhile just reading those few books in each of these series that are (more or less) readily available? I know my OCD won't like it. But then, it doesn't like the idea of passing over the available books, either. It's hard, too, when you can't know how much the books in these series require you to have read the earlier ones.

Anyhoo--- While I'm pondering that, it's a case of And Now For Something Completely Different: The Voyage Home by Storm Jameson, the second book in her "Triumph Of Time" trilogy. (She said, plowing doggedly through a forest of Star Trek-related works to find the right touchstone...)

Jan 15, 2012, 6:44am Top

#60 I think February should still be ok for the Scott - there's no Clarissa to read in Feb until the 20th which hopefully gives me a window to fit something else in.

#61 Great review of Sick Heart River Liz. Everytime I read one of your Leithan reviews I have to remind myself that I need to finish the Buchan books I own that are unread before I splurge on the Leithan's

#66 "I guess the question I'm wrestling with is whether it's worthwhile just reading those few books in each of these series that are (more or less) readily available? I know my OCD won't like it. But then, it doesn't like the idea of passing over the available books, either. It's hard, too, when you can't know how much the books in these series require you to have read the earlier ones."

My sympathies Liz :-(

Jan 15, 2012, 3:24pm Top

Oh, mountains out of molehills, I guess. It's just puzzling (and frustrating!) when individual books are pulled out of a series for reprinting and the rest ignored.

Following your A Tale Of Two Cities thread with interest - we can see how that works out before making any solid plans for Scott. I'm also following the Clarissa read, though not joining in; I'm very glad to have read it, but once is enough! :)

Plenty of other Buchans on my list, too. I hope we end up comparing notes on some of them!

Jan 16, 2012, 12:03am Top

Finished The Voyage Home - review to come.

Well - I slipped away from my Virago reading last year, but I'm now back to one at last: Susan Spray by Sheila Kaye-Smith.

Jan 17, 2012, 8:11am Top

Waiting in anticipation for thoughts on The Voyage Home and Susan Spray!

Jan 17, 2012, 4:56pm Top

Hi, Dee! You find me falling behind. Return to work after leave + domestic crisis = not much reading / writing, but I hope to catch up over the weekend.

(Which is of course what I said last weekend...sigh.)

Edited: Jan 17, 2012, 7:41pm Top

During a quiet patch at work I slipped out to my academic library to return a book (The Leithen Stories by John Buchan, which I have had since - eep! - August) and pick up a couple of others, notable the Garland reprint edition of The Life And Adventures Of Sir Bartholomew Sapskull, which I was hoping might have an introduction that could go some way towards explaining this strange and often unpleasant book. (It doesn't.) As I was collecting this book, I suddenly realised it was surrounded by shelf after shelf of authors and novels I was longing to read, which induced a particularly morbid bout of, So many books, so little time...

...but then I had a good laugh when I saw that they are still mistakenly shelving Mary Anne Radcliffe's potboiler Manfrone; or, The One-Handed Monk amongst Ann Radcliffe's infinitely more refined works.

It must be TWENTY YEARS since I first spoke to them about that... :)

(Pedantic? Obsessive? ME??)

Jan 18, 2012, 4:51pm Top

Finished Susan Spray by Sheila Kaye-Smith - review to come.

(That's three outstanding...oh, lordy...)

Now reading Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers, the third Lord Peter Wimsey mystery.

Edited: Jan 19, 2012, 4:50pm Top

Finished Unnatural Death - and working at ignoring my outstanding reviews.

Now reading Without My Cloak by Kate O'Brien - a Virago, but not, alas, in a Virago edition.

Edited: Jan 20, 2012, 7:11pm Top

The Devil And X.Y.Z. - After an over-convivial dinner with his uncle, Harry Hansell speeds back to Oxford in order to beat the midnight curfew. As he drives through the narrow roads of the villages near the university, to his horror he suddenly sees a man in the road ahead of him - and, unable to stop in time, hits him. After bringing his car to a skidding halt, Hansell hurries back and examines the man by matchlight, trying to detect breathing or a pulse. He discovers two things - that the man has four rows of Greek letters tattooed across his chest, and that he is dead. Hansell goes through the man's pockets, looking for identification, but finds only a notebook filled with writing in French, plus two phrases in English referring to a local hotel, and a bathing-place. He then drives on to the nearest house, where he rouses the owner and gives a stumbling explanation of the situation. The man, a Mr Origen Blaithwaite, tells him there is no doctor nearby but that he has some medical knowledge and will come with him - after he gets dressed. After what Hansell considers this unnecessary delay, he and Blaithwaite return to the scene of the accident - but the body is gone...

Waking the next morning to a splitting headache and uncertain recollections, Hansell tells his story to his roommate, Roderick Ffolliott. Longing to accept Ffolliott's comforting suggestion that the man was only stunned and left the scene under his own power, Hansell decides to act on the directions in the notebook and takes himself to the bathing-place known as the Parson's Pleasure, in case the man is there. He does not find him, but is stunned to observe another man with Greek letters tattooed on his chest... This chance encounter plunges Hansell and Ffolliott into a bizarre and terrifying adventure, as they learn of the key to a long-hidden fortune that was divided between three friends, Xavier, Yves and Zennor, comrades together in the hellish prison colony of Cayenne; and of another man, a defrocked priest known generally as "the Curé", but called "the Devil" by those who know him best, who seeks not the fortune itself, but something else darkly hinted at - that which is beside...

We've already made the acquaintance of Hilary St George Saunders, one-half of the authors of Death Walks In Eastrepps and The Three Fishers, which he co-wrote with John Palmer under the name "Francis Beeding". Here we find Saunders working with Geoffrey Dennis as "Barum Browne" (by no means the end of his pseudonyms, by the way) and producing an unexpectedly outré story that entertains even as it strains credibility. The Devil And X.Y.Z. is a novel that undergoes a strange evolution, starting out as the mystery of a disappearing body, becoming a thriller, with the search for all parts of the divided key to a hidden fortune and the race against time to secure it, before plunging into outright horror with the revelation of exactly what it is that the Curé is seeking.

From Zennor, we learn of the will of the eccentric Abel Adams, who bequeathed his nephews - whom he dubbed "the fool and the blackguard" - one-half each of a cryptic message that, if interpreted correctly, would lead them to the fortune he had hidden. Bernard Adams - "the blackguard", known to his French criminal cronies as L'Anglaise - had no sooner received his bequest than, killing a man in a fight, he was transported to Cayenne. Contracting a fatal fever, Bernard passed his legacy to his three closest friends, who kept the message safe by each having one-third of it tattooed on their bodies. Soon afterwards, to their horror, they found that their story had reached the man called the Curé, who was convicted of killing a baby as part of a foul ritual, and rumoured to have done worse... In the hope of escape, Xavier, Yves and Zennor reluctantly joined forces with the man known as the most evil in Cayenne, but his betrayal of them left Xavier dead - his part of the message in the Curé's hands. Later, the Curé was himself betrayed, with Zennor and Yves escaping and making their slow and dogged way to England, and to the Reverend Everard Adams - "the fool" - who holds the other half of Abel Adams' cryptic message. But when Zennor, Hansell and Ffolliott call upon Mr Adams, they find him in company with his dear friend, Mr Du Quesne - who the horrified Zennor recognises as the Curé...

That this increasingly outrageous story works as well as it does is chiefly the result of some thoughtful characterisations. We are given at the outset no reason at all to think well of young Harry Hansell, but his refusal, with every chance to escape unseen, to flee the site of his accident shows us the better side of him. Roderick Ffolliott, an aspiring actor, favours a pose of sated boredom, but behind this affectation lurks a sharp intellect. The Reverend Mr Adams, often muddle-headed and ineffectual, is also a skilled cryptographer; while his lovely daughter Ursula, on the surface a gently-bred English rose, reveals herself to be "Miss Nineteen Thirty-One with a vengeance", as Hansell puts it disapprovingly. The novel also lifts an eyebrow at English class prejudice, seen most dangerously when, having heard two versions of the same story from the urbane and cultured "Du Quesne" and the rough-mannered, often violent Zennor, the listeners believe the former as a matter of course - to their peril. It is an unlikely band of treasure-hunters that commits to the hunt for Abel Adams' fortune and the thwarting of the Curé - though this resolution is taken in ignorance of what it is that has been hidden in the bowels of an ancient church - that which the elder Adams found, and wisely left alone - that for which the Curé is willing, eager, to sell his soul...

The head of the naked Origen bowed three times and was answered by Du Quesne with that grand gesture again of widespread arms. Du Quesne was standing at the altar now. He was bending over it. There was something in his hands; a white fluttering. I will not---I dare not---describe it. He moved to Origen, and for an instant the two were clasped together... Meantime, in climax of trembling horror we saw, in blasphemous silhouette, on the white wall against which they stood, something that was dark as a shadow, something that took shape as a head---a head with sprouting horns...

Jan 20, 2012, 7:30pm Top

Though it becomes increasingly dark, The Devil And X.Y.Z. is not entirely without humour - some of it in the form of a little self-promotion.

Early on, when Ursula Adams tells the story of her great-uncle Abel's will to Hansell and Ffolliott, she begins by saying, "I know what I'm going to tell you will sound like Edgar Wallace and Agatha Christie and Francis Beeding all rolled into one..."

And later, Hansell looks back over a series of extraordinary events:

"But the few days that had elapsed between the fatal night when I ran down poor Yves in that Oxfordshire lane to the last unbelievable moment that I am coming to were days little like those of a gay hero of John Buchan or Francis Beeding; the atmosphere of bright international intrigue amid the pomp and antics of the great was wholly absent. Henry James's Turn Of The Screw or Geoffrey Dennis's Harvest In Poland were, if I am to compare with books, nearer our story's climate..."

Jan 21, 2012, 10:26am Top

Another fine review. This sounds like it was a lot of fun.

Jan 21, 2012, 2:52pm Top

Thank you! It is fun, and in a very unexpected way. It's also interesting that the three books I've read of Saunders' have been so very different from one another. He's got at least two pseudonyms to go - heaven knows what else is waiting for me! :)

Jan 21, 2012, 5:10pm Top

Warning: This review contains spoilers for The Lovely Ship.

The Voyage Home - This second book in Storm Jameson's "Triumph Of Time" trilogy opens in the mid-1880s, six years after the abortive end to Mary Hervey's planned departure from Danesacre with her lover, Gerry Hardiman, who, unable to accept her giving up everything for his sake, left her instead. Great changes have come to Mary's life in those intervening years. Necessity has compelled her finally to sell the old ship yards at Danesacre and to move her business further up the coast to the Tees, nearer the iron works that are the backbone of her business. Profits from the latter have also allowed Mary to build herself a new house; but it is the former that worries her. There is little demand for new ships, let alone the experimentation in which Mary delights; and there is an unusual degree of sentimentality about her determination to hold onto the struggling business. It is not only that the yards are her link to her past, and to her uncle, Mark Henry Garton, who scandalised his community by leaving his business to a woman; it is that their manager, John Mempes, is - as Mary realises with a shock - the only person still living who remembers her as a child. But in spite of Mary's ambivalence over her ship yards, the iron works are more than holding their own; and this allows her to go her own, hard-headed way, in spite of the threat posed by new ideas of reform, of unions and strikes; all of which Mary contemptuously ignores while she can, and fights when she must.

Unlike The Lovely Ship, which followed the trials and triumphs of Mary Hansyke - later Mary Roxby, then Mary Hervey - through the upheavals of her childhood and her adult battles to hold and run Garton's, The Voyage Home concentrates its attention on the personal life of its protagonist. The passing time has been kind to Mary; but at forty-four she is suddenly painfully aware of her own ageing, and of the uneasy family relationships that surround her: the strange friendship into which her marriage to Hugh Hervey has devolved, after years of misunderstanding and mutual infidelity; her desperate, possessive love for her eldest child, Richard Roxby; the rebellious spirit of her youngest daughter, Sylvia, which Mary underestimates; and the almost exasperating eagerness to please evinced by the middle child, the gentle, clumsy Clara - who Mary tends to overlook.

The Voyage Home is, in many ways, a story of Mary's growing - albeit belated - self-awareness; her slow recognition of the destructiveness inherent in her demanding love, and that the more tightly she holds onto someone, the more likely they are to finally slip through her fingers. Of Mary's grown children, ironically it is only the disregarded Clara who successfully manages her own affairs. The wilful Sylvia, with all her mother's obstinacy but none of her judgement, plunges into a disastrous love affair whose consequences sever her from her family; while although Richard manages to extricate himself from an engagement likely to have proven no less disastrous, in its wake he begins to pull away from Garton's - and from his mother. In the face of these separations, real and threatened, a new understanding begins to develop between Mary and her husband - but this promise of renewed happiness is soon imperilled. When Richard announces his intention of travelling "for some years", the dismayed Mary puts off the moment of severence by persuading Hugh into joining her on the first stage of her son's journey, a voyage to New Orleans in her beloved old clipper, the Charlotte Garton - where the travellers find a dangerous fever raging...

How close can we come to Mary Hervey, standing---it is a spring morning of 1886---on the terrace of her new house..? Her mind was equivocal and simple; it is amazing how few things she saw that were under her very eyes---she watched the weary, shuffling men leaving her foundry, but her thought never followed one of them home to his room in a squalid street---and how instantly her imagination leaped to the ends of the earth; she entered with her ships harbours she had never seen, came ashore on strange quays, lived in foreign ports, chaffered in foreign tongues. She was hard; she tyrannised over her daughters; and yet she was generous, she was humble, yielding, secretly shy...

Jan 23, 2012, 6:52pm Top

Just an FYI for those of you who may be interested---

Madeline (SqueakyChu) and I are embarking upon another tutored read, this time The Castle Of Otranto by Horace Walpole, from 1764 - generally considered the first "Gothic novel".

The thread is here.

Jan 25, 2012, 2:26am Top

Finished Without My Cloak - review to come.

And now, per force, I am (re-)reading The Castle Of Otranto!

Edited: Mar 25, 2012, 5:41pm Top

With a pause of sorts in my reading, while I travel with Madeline through The Castle Of Otranto, I've been thinking back over my 2011 reading and about where 2012 might take me. I've done the 2011 numbers (#6 up above), but of course that's only part of the story.

I always find ranking books difficult because of the impossibility of comparing genre with genre, and the unfairness of pitting books written with different purposes against each other. Not every book has to be "great literature", and there's certainly nothing wrong with a book being written just to entertain. For this reason I tend to to break books up into "best" and "most enjoyable", rather than giving them ratings. At the other end of the scale, "least enjoyable" usually gets the job done; although a few books last year did fall into the category of "so bad it's good".

Overall, 2011 was a year full of enjoyable reads rather than great reads, mostly because of my detour into Silver and Golden Age mysteries which, while generally very entertaining, rarely aspire to be more. The exception would be the Lord Peter Wimsey stories by Dorothy L. Sayers, which clearly do aspire to me more than "just" mysteries; although ironically this invitation to take these works more seriously is causing me to judge them more stringently, and to take issue with certain aspects of them.

But Lord Peter was only one of the detectives whose acquaintance I made last year: I was also introduced (in roughly chronological order) to Dr John Thorndyke, Fleming Stone, Albert Campion, Mrs Bradley, Miss Silver, Asey Mayo, and Hildegarde Withers - all of whom made their presence felt in an interesting variety of ways. Mrs Bradley stands out of the crowd, for the sheer weirdness of the books that contain her; although the amusingly elusive Mr Campion endeared himself to me as well.

The other, really striking feature of the mysteries I read, particularly those set in the late twenties and early thirties, is the class gap between the British and American mysteries, and their opposing ideas of who "could" be a detective: while on one side of the pond we have Albert Campion dropping hints about his noble family and tooling around in luxury cars, and Lord Peter amusing himself with criminology in between collecting rare editions and sipping Veuvre Clicquot, on the other we have amateur detection being taken up by Hildegarde Withers, schoolteacher out of Ohio whose small charges reflect the New York melting-pot, and Asey Mayo, working class jack-of-all-trades.

Although I got sidetracked by my mystery reading, at the start of the year I made a dent in an embarrassingly large pile of unread Viragos, acquainting myself with the works of Vita Sackville-West, Winifred Holtby, Rosamond Lehmann, E. M. Delafield, Ellen Glasgow, E. Arnot Robertson, Elizabeth von Arnim and Sheila Kaye-Smith. (And Gladys Mitchell!) I look forward to more this year.

My blog reading didn't get as far as I'd hoped. The negative highlight of the year was certainly my grim tussle with The English Rogue, which was like hitting a brick wall - or like hitting a midden. However, the great (and I must say, inexplicable) popularity of this distasteful mixture of sexual, scatalogical and criminal misadventure at the time of its publication meant that I couldn't reconcile it with my conscience not to read it. Still---at least with The English Rogue, I knew what I was getting into; the year's most unpleasant shock was The Life And Adventures Of Sir Bartholomew Sapskull, which was like The English Rogue's younger brother, and all the worse for catching me off-guard.

On the (much) more positive side of blog-things, last year I discovered some extremely interesting and unusual Victorian novels, and learned that "the typical Victorian novel" is much harder to define than a diet of academic-imposed classics might lead us to believe.

But enough blather! Here are my picks for 2011 (in chronological order), subject to afterthoughts:

Best fiction:
All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West
Poor Caroline by Winifred Holtby
Father by Elizabeth von Arnim

Best non-fiction:
The Secret Life Of Aphra Behn by Janet Todd
Reading Early Modern Women's Writing by Paul Salzman

Most enjoyable:
Romance Of The Pyrenees by Catherine Cuthbertson
Santo Sebastiano; or The Young Protector by Catherine Cuthbertson
The Eye Of Osiris by R. Austin Freeman
Secret Lives by E. F. Benson
The Mystery Of A Butcher's Shop by Gladys Mitchell
Babs: A Story Of Divine Corners by Faith Baldwin
Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles
The Jade Of Destiny by Jeffery Farnol
Mapp And Lucia by E. F. Benson
John Macnab by John Buchan

Most unexpected:
The London Jilt; or, The Politick Whore by Anonymous
Retribution; or, The Vale Of Shadows by E.D.E.N. Southworth
The Gilberts And Their Guests by Julia Day
Leap Year by Margaret Anne Curtois
The Law And The Lady by Wilkie Collins
Joan!!! A Novel by Matilda Fitz John
The Mary Carleton Narratives by Ernest Bernbaum
Death Walks In Eastrepps by Francis Beeding

Least enjoyable:
The Life And Adventures Of Sir Bartholomew Sapskull by William Donaldson
The Destroyer by Ernest Poole
Back Street by Fannie Hurst

So bad it's good:
Valentine by Anonymous
The Interesting Story Of Edwin And Julia by "a Doctor of Physic"

A class of its own:
Four Frightened People by E. Arnot Robertson

Jan 25, 2012, 11:55pm Top

Finished The Castle Of Otranto, which was a lot more fun than I remembered - probably because on this read, I've had the pleasure of Madeline's company.

Now - a while back up-thread, I was complaining about incompletely available series. I've come to some compromises about those. With respect to the Dr Priestley mysteries by "John Rhode" (Cecil John Street), I've decided not to worry too much, and just read those works that are easily (or at least inexpensively) available.

So my next read will be Dr Priestley's Quest, the second in the series, the first available, and for no readily discernible reason, one of the few to be reprinted.

Edited: Feb 6, 2012, 5:30pm Top

Finished Dr Priestley's Quest...and now embarking upon a search to discover which is the next of this 72-book series (!!) accessible. The third book, The Ellerby Case, is only available in rare, expensive copies, but the fourth, The Murders In Praed Street, may be available through an academic interlibrary loan. We'll see.

By the way--- I make a practice of not reading blurbs before I read the book in question, and my copy of Dr Priestley's Quest was a salutory reminder why: is there anything more unforgiveable than a blurb on a mystery that, to all intents and purposes, gives away the killer's identity!?

Another of the incompletely available authors I've been hunting down recently is Moray Dalton (Katherine Mary Dalton Renoir). None of her stand-alone mysteries, written across 1924 - 1928, are available, but I have gotten hold of the first two novels in her series featuring Inspector George Collier. My next read will be the first, the marvellously titled One By One They Disappeared.

And---oh, dear. My secondhand purchase has stamped across the title page: GIVEN NOT TO BE SOLD FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY NEWARK NJ.


Edited: Apr 15, 2012, 9:58pm Top

Susan Spray - The eldest child of a Sussex farm labourer and his wife, from an early age Susan Spray is sent to earn her keep in the fields, her parents' dreams of an education for this strangely pretty and graceful daughter shattered by the brutal exigencies of life under the Corn Laws. At the age of six, Susan is caught in a terrifying thunderstorm while working in the fields, and commits the unforgiveable sin of deserting her post to run home. Confronted by her furious parents and imminent punishment, Susan blurts out that she has had a vision of God... The pleasant notoriety that Susan's experience earns her amongst the members of her parents' sect, the Colgate Brethren, is soon no more than a distant memory. Orphaned, the Spray children become inmates of a workhouse, finally separated when the two oldest girls, Susan and Tamar, are sent to labour on a farm. As Susan grows, so does her desire to escape "the common lot of women"; to be different, special; and, armed with tales of her visions and prophetic dreams, she pursues her ambition of being not just a member of the Colgate congregation, but its leader - a preacher...

Sheila Kaye-Smith is an author best known for her heartfelt tales of the Sussex countryside, and her love of her native soil pervades the early stages of her 1931 novel, Susan Spray, where the beauties of the natural world and the simple comfort of the soil itself acts as a balm even against the desperate, killing poverty of agricultural life in the 1830s. Indeed, a love of country life may ultimately be the one thing that this work's author and main character have in common. Susan Spray is a very interesting novel, but also a very uncomfortable one. There is a strange but unmistakable sense in this book that Sheila Kaye-Smith and her creation were at war with one another - and an even stranger sense that, in the end, Susan was the stronger of the two.

Although Kaye-Smith understands and depicts her title character with devastating acuteness, it does not seem that she is much in sympathy with Susan or her ambitions. And in fact, Susan is not an easy person to like: with her vanity, her egotism, her capacity for self-delusion and her paper-tiger jealousy of her sister Tamar, it would be easy enough for the reader to hope for and take pleasure in the various falls from grace that punctuate Susan's pursuit of leadership amongst her small religious community.

It is the man who will become Susan's second husband, Charles Clarabut, who provides the touchstone of Susan's character, finding it by accident during their first quarrel and separation, then returning to it deliberately, as a weapon, during the final meltdown of their marriage and their brutal, mutual deconstruction. I forgot how I first met you, travelling first class with a third-class ticket, which is what you've been doing ever since, Susan throws at Charles, who retorts with the single word that above all others, cuts Susan to her very soul: humbug. And clearly, Susan is a humbug. Her religiously-tinged dreams are real enough, but her interpretation of them is entirely self-serving; the "visions" with which she impresses and frightens the Brethren are always wonderfully convenient; and while her faith is sincere, her goal of leadership in her community is far more about her own aggrandisement than about serving God.

But time has been curiously kind to Susan Spray. We get the impression, in reading, that Sheila Kaye-Smith disapproved of Susan's dogged determination to avoid "the common lot of women", or perhaps considered it an impossible dream: she depicts sexuality here as a negative force that must inevitably drag a woman down to earth. But Susan herself won't accept this - and her furious cry to an uncomprehending world, why should it matter that she is woman and not a man, resonates today in a way that Kaye-Smith can hardly have anticipated. Consequently, modern readers may well be inclined to look more kindly than they were intended to upon Susan's "unwomanly" ambitions, and even the ruthless, sometimes dishonest means that she adopts to achieve them. Whatever else we doubt about Susan, we cannot doubt her perception: though a woman, low-born and incompletely educated, she unerringly identifies the one path in life that will allow her to escape her alternative fate - and clings to it. There is, as I have said, a strange sense in this novel of an ongoing battle for dominance between author and character; and while Sheila Kaye-Smith does deliver one final, stunning blow, it is unlikely that the reader will be sorry that Susan nevertheless gets her moment in the sun.

She stepped over the little stream of the waters of life, and went up the slope to the vestry door. Her old contentment was returning with an added sense of victory... Why should she be afraid? After all the Lord had done for her in the past, would He fail her now? He had brought her out of Egypt, not once but again and again, and now she walked in the Land of Canaan, and she knew that land was sealed unto her for ever... She had nothing to fear. She had triumphed, and Clarabut had failed. He had meant to scare her---to make her miserable---to punish her for having forgotten him so quickly. But he could not touch her, because all the hosts of heaven were on her side. He did not know who fought for Susan Spray.

Jan 27, 2012, 11:21pm Top

Unnatural Death (US title: The Dawson Pedigree) - Over dinner, Lord Peter Wimsey and his friend Detective Parker are discussing the obligations of the attending doctor in the case of a suspicious death when they are interrupted by a man at the next table, who tells them feelingly that he severely damaged his own career by taking steps in just such a case. Invited back to Lord Peter's flat, the man tells the others of a particular case involving an elderly woman whose death, in spite of the cancer she was suffering, struck him as premature and overly sudden. Reluctant to let the matter rest, the doctor insisted on an autopsy - of which the finding was natural causes - and found himself as a consequence a professional outcast. In spite of the doctor's reticence, his story contains sufficient clues for Lord Peter to identify the case as that of Miss Agatha Dawson of Leahampton in Hampshire, whose great-niece, Mary Whittaker, inherited her entire estate. In spite of the lack of evidence and in the face of Detective Parker's scepticism, Lord Peter decides that the case has sufficient odd features to warrant beginning an investigation - and so initiates a sequence of events that will bring death to both the innocent and the guilty...

This third entry in the Lord Peter Wimsey series marks another step forward in Dorothy L. Sayers' quest to make her novels more than "just" mysteries. Daringly, the story is built around a death that, if it is murder, could really only have been committed by one person; the mystery is not one of whodunnit, but why - and above all, how? At the outset, it is the sheer improbability of an elderly cancer patient being chosen as a victim that baulks the investigators, until the likely outcome of a collision between a change in the laws of inheritance and the reluctance of Miss Dawson to make a will becomes evident - namely, the desirability for one particular person of Miss Dawson's slightly premature death. Though there is no medical evidence of murder, a conjunction of suspicious circumstances, including the dismissal of Miss Dawson's housemaids after they overheard a violent quarrel between Miss Dawson and her great-niece on the subject of the non-existent will, are enough to convince Lord Peter that the matter is worth his looking into - not foreseeing that his indulgence of his favourite hobby will have dire and bitter consequences.

Though a stronger work overall, Unnatural Death resembles the first Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, Whose Body?, in both its positive and its negative features. I, for one, am inclined to count it as a virtue that this story takes place out in "the real world", instead of amongst the exclusionary privilege of the Wimsey family. There is a vivid sense of time and place about this novel, whose action is divided between a rather questionable area in London, a Hampshire village and the South Downs. In spite of this opening up, however, a general tone of snobbery is still apparent (pity poor Parker, showing his lack of breeding by his lack of enthusiasm for snails), and we are subjected to another ugly outbreak of religious and racial and even sexual prejudice. We hear much in this tale about the criminal proclivities of "Jew boys" and "niggers", although as it turns out no gentleman of either persuasion is involved in the crimes in question (not that anything resembling an apology or a retraction is forthcoming, of course); and the handling of one character, implied if not declared to be a lesbian, is also uncomfortable. The novel's one black character, a West Indian minister, is treated in a way that seems intended kindly, but which is in fact rather patronising.

However, if we're learning anything about Dorothy L. Sayers, it's that it's a case of having to take the rough with the smooth - and in the case of Unnatural Death, the smooth is very smooth indeed. One of the interesting aspects of this novel is that Lord Peter must at first operate without the benefit of the patient legwork of Detective Parker, who remains for some considerable time unconvinced that a crime has been committed at all. As a result, the reader is introduced to one of the triumphs of Sayers' series, in the unlikely shape of Miss Alexandra Katherine Climpson, spinster, and undercover operative extraordinaire, whose shrewd intelligence, patient doggedness and hilarious correspondence lift the novel to new heights.

But running in parallel with this deliciously humorous component, Unnatural Death offers a sobering check to those of us - Lord Peter and the reader alike - who find entertainment in murder and mayhem. Inherent in the tale told here is a cool questioning of the morality of Lord Peter's criminology, undertaken for no better reason than curiosity and a desire for intellectual stimulation. Yes, as it turns out, Agatha Dawson was murdered. This might in itself seem reason, or excuse, enough for Lord Peter's interference in a matter declared closed by the police - except that, as a direct result of his investigation, three more people die, and very nearly a fourth. What price justice? On the back of Lord Peter's personal struggles in Whose Body?, we are not surprised to see him carry his troubles to the Leahampton minister, who can offer only moderate comfort to a man for whom the solving of mysteries has become something very much like an addiction...

"We can't answer that," said Mr Tredgold, "without knowing the ways of God with the soul. In those last weeks or hours of pain and unconsciousness, the soul may be undergoing some necessary part of its pilgrimage on earth. It isn't our business to cut it short. Who are we to take life and death into our hands?"
"Well, we do it all day, one way or another. Juries - soldiers - doctors - all that. And yet I do feel, somehow, that it isn't a right thing in this case. And yet, by interfering - finding things out, and so on - one may do far worse harm..."

Jan 28, 2012, 9:34am Top

Hi Liz - Thought I would de-lurk to say how much I enjoy your reviews and comments. I feel I rarely have anything to add so I tend to keep quiet :)

Jan 28, 2012, 10:05am Top

Thanks for all your thoughtful reviews, Liz. You've definitely satisfied a lot of my curiosity about Susan Spray. I will look out for it as I collect Virago Modern Classics but it might take a while to make top of my To Read list!

Jan 28, 2012, 10:07am Top

Great review of Unnatural Death. I need to read some Dorothy L. Sayers again. I've only read the 4 books with Lord Peter and Harriet Vane.

Sandy K

Jan 28, 2012, 3:42pm Top

>>#87 Thanks, Katie - de-lurking is always much appreciated! :)

>>#88 Hi, Dee. Susan Spray is one of those books where you look for an alternative phrase to "I enjoyed it", because that doesn't quite express what you felt. But it certainly did hold my interest.

>>#89 Thank you, Sandy! I, of course, am tootling along in order, so I still have some way to go before I meet Harriet.

Jan 28, 2012, 4:57pm Top

One of the things I enjoyed most about Unnatural Death is that it is a very booky book - each chapter bears an epigraph, and all sorts of literary allusions are scattered throughout it, sourced from everything from Shakespeare to Elinor Glyn to "Hawkshaw The Detective", a popular comic strip of the day.

At one point in its pages, a character praises the works of Michael Arlen, specifically Young Men In Love, while another enthuses over Sheila Kaye-Smith - which, coming directly on the back of my reading of Susan Spray, gave me a good laugh. (It is evident from the context, by the way, that Sayers intended no compliment to Kaye-Smith.) Meanwhile, an attempt to disguise the true nature of a crime elicits from Lord Peter the observation that the criminal must have been paying attention to the works of R. Austin Freeman - that is, the Dr John Thorndyke mysteries.

Best of all, though, are the two disparate views offered of Lord Peter himself. He chooses to compare himself to "Prince Florizel of Bohemia", the hero of a number of works by Robert Louis Stevenson, most famously The Suicide Club. Lord Peter's creator, however, sees him rather differently:

"Lord Peter paused, in the very act of ringing the bell. His jaw slackened, giving his long, narrow face a faintly foolish and hesitant look, reminiscent of the heroes of Mr P. G. Wodehouse..."

Jan 28, 2012, 5:32pm Top

I'm loving reading all your reviews, even though I don't have much to add. I have Without My Cloak in my VMC collection and this year I'm going to try to catch up on reading some of them instead of buying more.

Jan 28, 2012, 5:44pm Top

Thanks! I look forward to comparing Virago notes with you. :)

Jan 29, 2012, 1:03pm Top

As I was reading your post, I decided that I would add a note thanking you for your thoughtful reviews – only to find that I’d been beaten to it. I decided to post it anyway, because I think ‘thoughtful’ is the perfect word to describe your offerings. Thank you.

I’ve read all of the Lord Peter books (more than once) and Unnatural Death is one of my favorites. Miss Climpson is wonderful – I’m always delighted when she appears. It’s great that you’re reading series in order. By reading in order you can really see the changes in Lord Peter – his recovery from the War, his struggles to understand the importance of his ‘meddling’ and acceptance of its consequences. I hope you enjoy the entire series as much as I have. I’ll be keeping as close eye on your thread!

Jan 29, 2012, 2:20pm Top

Cathcing up Liz. I can't really think of anything particular intelligent to say but I do enjoy your reviews and in particular your musings in msg 82 about last year's reading and the discovery that I have two of the books in your best fiction list in my TBR pile :-) Sadly. neither of them are von Arnim's Father which I would happily read if I could find a copy in English for a reasonable amount of money :-)

Does most unexpected mean books which were unexpectedly good or bad? :-)

#86 I love Miss Climpson. Sadly, she was absent from the last couple of Sayers' I read. I sincerely hope she's in some more of the Wimsey stories. I thought your review was excellent (as usual) so why can I not find your review on the book page. Don't make me do a Stasia on you!

Edited: Jan 29, 2012, 7:37pm Top

>>#94 Hi - and thank you! I am enjoying the series overall, though of course it has those moments we wince at. Peter's personal journey is fascinating and I'm delighted to have met Miss Climpson!

>>#95 Aww, thanks! I've been compromising by posting reviews for works that don't have any, so I wasn't going to for Unnatural Death...but then, if you absolutely insist... :)

Unexpected means that it surprised me in a good way. For example, I was expecting E.D.E.N. Southworth's Retribution; or, The Vale Of Shadows to be a romance, which it is, but it also turned out to be significantly pro-abolition, which I certainly was not expecting.

Jan 29, 2012, 7:34pm Top

As usual Liz - very thoughtful and well considered views on your past and present reading. You have your quite individual taste (which fortunately or not often coincides with my own) and you are not a follower of reading fads which is very refreshing.

Edited: Jan 29, 2012, 8:05pm Top

Hi, Paul - thank you very much. No, I've never been much of a fadder, unless you look at it as me following a fad, but about eighty years late. :)

I confess I've only been skimming your threads lately as I am squishy as a jelly when it comes to animals being hurt, even if the story has a happy ending. I look forward to hearing about your NZ trip!

Jan 29, 2012, 11:19pm Top

Thanks Liz - hahaha the time warp comments - trendy in the 1930's would have been ok with Benson, Priestley, Maugham et al to go at.
Not exactly Dr. Doolittle myself but luckily Hani, my wife, is a tenacious creature (in this instance anyway)!

Jan 30, 2012, 2:39am Top

#96 And thumbed - thank you!

Jan 30, 2012, 5:27am Top

Thank you.

Jan 30, 2012, 4:27pm Top

Finished One By One They Disappeared - review to come.

Now reading Danger Calling, the second in Patricia Wentworth's "Benbow Smith" series - I think - there seems to be some dispute about its original publication date. Hmm...

Edited: Jan 30, 2012, 6:06pm Top

I won't be finishing my current read today (and just as well, since I listed it for February TIOLI!), so it's time for the monthly wrap-up.

January was a strange, disrupted month; I suppose it always is; but I never felt settled into anything. Still, I got 11 books read, of which 6 fitted TIOLI:

#8: Susan Spray by Sheila Kaye-Smith
#8: The Voyage Home by Storm Jameson
#9: Sick Heart River by John Buchan
#13: The Castle Of Otranto by Horace Walpole
#22: Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers
#23: One By One They Disappeared by Moray Dalton

Mysteries: 5
Historical fiction: 3
Classics: 1
Thrillers: 1
Contemporary (i.e. at time of publication) fiction: 1

Part of a series: 5
Viragos: 2

I started two new series this month, which I really didn't need - the Dr Priestley books of John Rhode, and the Inspector Collier books of Moray Dalton - but on the plus side I actually finished a series, too: the Edward Leithen stories of John Buchan. Granted, only a five-book series - but I have to start somewhere, right?

Jan 30, 2012, 6:50pm Top


The University of Melbourne has just hiked its interlibrary loan fees up 20%, plus slapped on a "NO RENEWALS" ban.

Why are some people so intent on stopping other people reading...?

Jan 30, 2012, 6:57pm Top

>104 lyzard:

Ouch...that's just painful.

Jan 30, 2012, 7:09pm Top

Well, the particularly stupid thing about the book I just picked up is that I could have bought a copy for less than the loan is costing! :)

I understand that libraries always need to raise funds, and usually I don't mind - but raising fees to a point where people don't use your service is just self-defeating.

Jan 31, 2012, 2:21am Top

My library raised it's fees per Jan 1st as well, although not with that much. But they also cancelled the extra loan money for CDs, DVDs and audiobooks, as well as extended the loan period from 3 to 4 weeks - and we've got 2 renewals, so technically you could loan a book for 12 weeks now instead of 9. So at least the raise is compensated!

Jan 31, 2012, 4:22am Top

Considering how much use I get out of my libraries' services, I guess I shouldn't complain - but this one was a sharp jab that took me by surprise.

Jan 31, 2012, 9:02am Top

It's a shame they don't announce upcoming fees changes in advance, so you could prepare and not get "sticker shock" at the checkout desk. That seems to be the way it works everywhere, though.

Jan 31, 2012, 9:19am Top

Isn't the idea of a library that you get to read a wide choice of books without having to go to the expense of their purchase. If the loan cost exceeds the purchase - what the hecks the point?

Jan 31, 2012, 11:48am Top

#104 Yowch.

Edited: Jan 31, 2012, 2:35pm Top

>>#109 Yeah, that's pretty much what happened. I'll put it this way - I thought I was collecting two books. :)

But you know - the more I think about it, the more I am ashamed of bitching about this. The universities have always charged more for their library services, and I should probably just be grateful (given the obscurity of my reading tastes) that some of these books are available to me at all.

Moreover, I have the blessing of an extremely efficient and generously organised public library system that facilitates interlibrary loans from all over the country for a tiny fee. I read a lot here on LibraryThing about the cutting of library services - really, I should shut up and be thankful that I have it as good as I do.

Jan 31, 2012, 9:29pm Top

Finished Danger Calling for TIOLI #11 - review to come.

Now reading (albeit briefly) The Bride Of Anguished English by Richard Lederer, which fits TIOLI#3.

Feb 1, 2012, 4:29pm Top

Finished The Bride Of Anguished English - mercifully short review to come.

Now reading The Novel In Letters - sort of. "Sort of" because this turns out to be, not a study of the early epistolary novel by Natascha Wurzbach, but an anthology with a lengthy introduction. This is also for TIOLI #3.

Edited: Feb 2, 2012, 5:06am Top

Without My Cloak - Though the sprawling, Victorian family saga is familiar enough, Kate O’Brien’s award-winning 1931 historical novel differs from many in its setting amongst the Irish-Catholic middle classes. The early stages of this tale offer a vivid portrait of the Considine family and its strange, interconnected, interdependent way of life: always clashing, always exasperating one another, yet unable to function apart; or rather, it never occurs to them to try. The family is founded in 1789 in the western Irish town of Mellick by Anthony Considine, on the run after stealing a thoroughbred mare. It is Anthony’s son, “Honest John” Considine, who establishes the family’s fortune via the forage business; and by the time he passes control to his own son, Anthony, the Considines have both wealth and respectability. The death of Honest John is a crushing blow to the family's collective existence, and one which compels change, as Anthony takes control of a newly-incorporated Considines and must deal with his brothers and brothers-in-law as members of his board of directors; all of them none the wiser about business, yet suddenly rapacious, as Considines soars to new heights of success under Anthony’s guidance.

Here the story begins to focus upon two of the Considine marriages. That of Anthony and Molly, though happy, is a meeting of the body rather than the mind, with Anthony’s desire for his wife battling with his guilt and fear over the consequences; until the worst comes to pass, and Molly dies giving birth to their ninth child. In parallel, the marriage of Caroline and Jim Lanigan seems everything it should be; but after ten years of surface perfection it is privately shattered by a single hysterical cry from Caroline that her husband must never touch her again – and after ten years more, publically declared a farce when Caroline bolts for London and the affectionate sympathy of her bachelor brother, Eddy. Her rebellion is as short-lived as it is achingly futile; the Considines close ranks; and after resuming her position, Caroline fades to the fringes of the story, growing suddenly older, and ever more bitter and judgemental. It is Anthony – shocked, furious, and utterly uncomprehending – who leads the charge to drag Caroline back to her husband; and indeed, by this stage Without My Cloak is far more the story of Anthony’s deficiencies than of his triumphs. This is a man capable of seeing people only through his own limited vision, even those closest to him. It is made ominously clear early on that even Molly is beyond his understanding; it never so much as occurs to him that she may have interests and desires unconnected with himself. And after Molly's death, this failure of empathy, along with all of Anthony’s love, transfers itself to their eldest child, Denis.

As the story of Without My Cloak becomes that of Denis, the novel takes on a different tone. The boy’s love of nature sets him well apart from his utilitarian family, and as the narrative moves more deeply into his consciousness it becomes studded with passages marking his dawning awareness of the beauties that surround his father’s wincingly ugly house – the pinnacle of the Victorian architect’s art, as we are wryly informed. Left much to his own devices by Anthony in spite of the disapproval of the family, Denis develops a passion for designing gardens, which his father indulges, though he barely understands it. It does not occur to Anthony that his son’s fascination for plants and flowers and the enrichment of the world could pose a serious threat to his own plans for Denis’ future at Considines; but Denis himself is aware from an early age that unless he can find the courage, or the cruelty, to break away, he is destined for a life of stifling unhappiness. As he grows older, his father’s love ceases to be for Denis his refuge and security, becoming instead a terrible force that threatens to smother and suppress him. Unable, at the critical moment and in front of the inevitable family gathering, to speak the words that he knows will shatter his father’s dreams, he surrenders his own hopes and takes his place in the business. Having capitulated, Denis seeks solace in the beauties of the countryside surrounding Mellick – finding instead a passion greater than he has yet known, in the lovely but illegitimate Christina Roche…

In the night of Molly’s labour, Anthony bore the historic pain of husbands in such hours, and when it was safely over they allowed him to take a look at his little son. He was a weary, almost an indifferent, man as he bent over the child some woman held out to him. He wanted sleep and silence; wanted to get away from the clucking midwives and forget the screams of his young wife. He was not ready to be interested in his son, with the mother’s ordeal still shaking him. But as he looked, to satisfy the women, the child gave out a little thin thread of a cry. A small, unearthly sound, hardly a sound at all, but it shivered through Anthony as nothing had done before; it shocked him; it jolted all the wild sensations of the night and overthrew them; it jabbed through his old self down to a nerve of tenderness that the rest of his life had left untouched.

Edited: Feb 2, 2012, 9:32pm Top

Without My Cloak is another very booky book - in fact, an incredibly booky book. Denis Considine's first love, and indeed the source of most of his knowledge, is reading; and although he understands it no more than he understands the boy's love of gardens, Anthony indulges him. As Denis grows, we are given several intriguing and amusing insights into the works that are shaping his mind and imagination - and who at LibraryThing can't sympathise with the following description?---

"...Denis was at this time the kind of bookworm who will read anything rather than read nothing at all. His father was assembling an odd sort of library, picking it up in large and small lots at auctions, with the vague idea that 'Denis would be fond of books.' Denis was 'fond of books,' in almost as haphazard a way as Anthony was a buyer of them, and was accumulating a very confused store of information about life, information both of the furtive and non-furtive kinds, from the rapidly filling shelves of the River Hill Library..."

Later on we are given specifics:

"...he read of them too, in Fielding and Sterne and Defoe and Rabelais, and Ovid and Suetonius. But he read enormously at this time in every kind of book, as much to escape as to seek the oppressions of sensuality---Milton and Pope and the Elizabethan playwrights, and Dr Johnson's Lives Of The Poets and Boswell's Dr Johnson, and Renan's Vie de Jesus, and Stendahl and George Sand and Hazlitt's Essays, and Prescott's Conquest Of Mexico, and Plato's Symposium, and Mark Twain and Moby Dick and the novels of Charles Reade. He bought new books lavishly, becoming acquainted with writers that had emerged in the last decade---bought The Dream Of Gerontius and Poems And Ballads, and Fitzgerald's Omar Khayyam, and Modern Love, and In Memorium, and The Ring And The Book and The Angel In The House and Goblin Market, and Desperate Remedies. He did not appreciate equally each one of these works, but he read the greater part of all of them..."

After taking up his position at Considines, reading becomes his refuge and his comforter (and again, who wants to argue?):

"...a sense of proportion came to him out of his books. Reading under the oak tree he somehow discovered the unimportance of circumstances when weighed against the divine importance of life on any terms. He read Esmond and Elia and Imaginary Conversations, and Persuasion and Modern Love and Don Quixote. He read here and there in Spenser, her and there in The Canterbury Tales, here and there in The Anatomy Of Melancholy. He read The Compleat Angler with piety and pleasure. He read a few of Shelley's essays; he read Promethius Unbound. He read Keats very much as the poet himself had read Chapman's Homer, read and re-read with flushed cheeks and catching breath, read his letters and laughed and groaned over them---'My dearest girl...sweet Fanny...' and often sat under the oak tree when the light was gone and bats were wheeling, mourning Adonais with personal sorrow, as the young must ever do. He read Shakespeare's sonnets, some of them four or five times without a pause, something like consternation quickening him for their packed and knotted passion of experience. He read Edgar Allan Poe. 'I was a child and she was a child in that kingdom by the sea...' haunted him..."

Travelling in America, he hears some startling new opinions:

"...Whitman was an exploded old windbag, Denis learnt and was half-inclined to concede, but it surprised him to hear from the velvet-coats that in their pontifical opinion he had never been anything else. Mark Twain was a vulgarian, they said, but here Denis jibbed, if for no better motive than loyalty to Tony who loved him; that swashbuckling fellow Whistler was bluffing Europe that he could paint, and an upstart called Henry James---oh, Denis actually liked Roderick Hudson? Then he'd probably like this new thing The American, too---an appalling, bloodless novelist..."

Tony is Denis' cousin, who astonishes his family by entering a monastery, but not before giving Denis a birthday present:

"He thrust a parcel on Denis. It was Great Expectations..."

Denis does a lot of stupid things in this novel...but it is very hard to dislike him...

Edited: Mar 23, 2012, 5:13pm Top

Hmm. Well. It turns out it's easy to read a lot of books if you only read a portion of what's actually inside them. :)

So I've finished as much as I'm going to read right now of The Novel In Letters, which is to say the portions of it written by its editor, Natascha Wurzbach - the overall introduction, and the individual introduction to each anthologised work. I hesitated before adding this to my reading list, under the circumstances, but did so in the end; salving my conscience with the thought of a looming chunkster, by way of penance. However, I have removed it from TIOLI.

I have a passionate dislike of the, One day, Daniel Defoe invented the novel view of literary history. I believe that "the rise of the novel" was, rather, a slow, serendipitous process involving hundreds of mostly forgotten writers who by trial and error stumbled onto a new art form. So I'm always pleased when I come across a study willing to give weight to the early, minor writers who played their part in the novel's long journey.

Here, Natascha Wurzbach discusses the characteristics and the appeal of the epistolary novel, and traces its evolution out of a variety of related literary forms: real letters, including love-letters - which at the time, as she points out, often involved a kind of role-playing akin to writing fiction; 'letters to the editor', real and fictional, often describing a situation and asking for advice; letter-writing manuals, popular with a newly literate middle class; diaries and journals; and biographies and autobiographies. She illustrates her point via reproductions and extracts from nine different works published over six decades, which show the range of approaches to the fictional letter between 1678* and 1740** - two of which I've already read (and blogged about at length), and the rest of which are on The List:

- The Love Letters Of A Portuguese Nun (1678) - the first English translation by Roger L'Estrange under his title, "Five Love-Letters From A Nun To A Cavalier"
- "Captain Ayloffe's Letters", extracted from John Hartley's Letters Of Wit, Politicks and Morality (1701)
- "From a Lady to a Lady", extracted from Delariviere Manley's Court Intrigues (1711)
- A Letter From Mrs Jane Jones (1737)
- The Lover's Week (1718)
- The Double Captive; or, Chains Upon Chains (1718)
- An extract from The Constant Lovers (1731)
- An extract from The Polite Correspondence; or, Rational Amusement (1740?)
- And, for a big finish, Wurzbach reproduces the entire first volume of Aphra Behn's Love Letters Between A Nobleman And His Sister (1684) - which, although itself greatly influenced by the Lettres Portugaises, is without question the most significant work considered here.

*The Lettres Portugaises were published in France in 1669; 1678 is the date of the English translation.
**I think Wurzbach has made an error here, which alters the dates of her study. The extract of The Polite Correspondence which she uses is taken from a markedly expanded and revised version of John Campbell's work which appeared in 1750.

Edited: Feb 1, 2012, 11:55pm Top

And what should I find next on the TBR but another anthology!? - but this time I'll be reading one of the things that's in it, not just the stuff that's around it.

Oddly enough considering my wrestling match last year with The English Rogue, I came away from it with a desire to read something else written by Francis Kirkman, and finally settled upon The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled, from 1673. This turned out to be in print, as the featured work in Spiro Peterson's The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled And Other Criminal Fiction Of Seventeenth-Century England.

Kirkman's work is a "biography" of the 17th century con-artist, Mary Carleton, and ties into another work I read last year, Ernest Bernbaum's The Mary Carleton Narratives. I will be blogging about the two together...eventually.

Edited: Feb 5, 2012, 6:33am Top

Dr Priestley's Quest - While going through his late brother's effects some months after his murder, Gerald Heatherdale finds a typewritten note warning Austin to stay away from Horn's Lane - the isolated copse near his country house where his body was found. Gerald carries the note to Dr Lancelot Priestley, hoping that the scientific detective will be able to shed new light on the unsolved crime. Questioned, Gerald admits that he was his brother's main heir, but further explains that under their father's will, the two of them were bound with a Captain Murchison to the upkeep and operation of a cargo-ship, the financial obligation to fall upon the survivors should any of the three die. Although he finds Gerald's account of the circumstances of the murder suggestive, Dr Priestley can offer no better advice than for the note to be taken to the police. However, the situation takes a new and startling turn when Priestley and his secretary, Harold Merefield, are abruptly summoned by Gerald and learn that he has received an identical warning to stay away from Hilton Pennings - a lonely copse near his Wiltshire cottage. Priestley and Merefield arrive to find Gerald in a state of nervous collapse, and persuade him to return to London with them. Such is Gerald's terror that Priestley decides it would be best if he left England altogether, and arranges with Captain Murchison to take him on his ship's next voyage. But when the ship embarks, it is without Gerald - whose body is later found in a ditch in Hilton Pennings...

Dr Priestley's Quest is the second entry in John Rhode's extraordinarily long-running series about Dr Lancelot Priestley, a Professor of Mathematics who occasionally dabbles in crime investigation out of a passion for facts. The first book in the series, The Paddington Mystery, is today practically unobtainable and a prime collector's item; so we are left to make inferences about it from this second work. Dr Priestley's Quest is narrated by Harold Merefield, the fiancé of Priestley's daughter, April, and the beneficiary of Priestley's analytical skills after being falsely accused of a crime. Subsequently, Merefield was employed by Priestley as his secretary, and also functions as his "Watson" on those occasions when the professor's interest is caught by a particular mystery.

Although hugely popular in its day - indeed, Dr Priestley eventually superseded Dr John Thorndyke as England's pre-eminent "scientific detective" - the series as a whole was notoriously condemned by leading critic Julian Symons as "of the hum-drum school", and on the basis of Dr Priestley's Quest, I'm inclined to agree. The book is satisfactory as a puzzle, but distinctly lacking on the level of character. Harold Merefield is rarely more than shadowy. At this point in the series, his main function appears to be to try and mislead the reader via his many surmises about the case in question - and like many Watsons, he is occasionally unforgiveably thick. Nor is Dr Priestley himself more than vaguely drawn, being conveyed to the reader chiefly through Rhode harping on the word "testy".

The novel is on firmer ground with Priestley's idiosyncratic approach to crime investigation, and his relentless determination to separate facts from theories, inferences, conclusions and guesses. Particularly interesting is the mathematician's scepticism about the value of eyewitness testimony and the way it can be influenced, as illustrated by the variance in testimony given by a railway ticket-collector before and after he knows that a murder has been committed. In the wake of the second murder, the suspicions of both Dr Priestley and the police - in the form of Inspector Hanslet, who, we gather, gained a reluctant respect for the abilities of the part-time amateur detective during The Paddington Mystery - become focused upon Mrs Milton, Gerald's housekeeper, and his solicitor Mr Withers, both beneficiaries under Gerald's will and, it appears, rather more than "just friends". But while Hanslet pursues his human suspects, Dr Priestley's attention turns to Horn's Lane, where Austin Heatherdale's body was found, and to the features of the surrounding Essex countryside.

As his investigation proceeds, Priestley becomes convinced that the world is looking at the murders of the Heatherdale brothers through a smokescreen, and that a great deal of sleight-of-hand has been perpetrated by the murderer, or murderers, to make the motive and circumstances of their deaths seem other than they really are. While the feints and diversionary tactics succeed in sidetracking the police, Dr Priestley continues with his dogged sifting of the scanty evidence, and finally discards almost everything that is "known" about the death of Austin Heatherdale, from the time of his death, to where it happened, to his last movements during the days leading up to the murder. But in spite of Priestley's own convictions about the case, the facts he seeks remain elusive until a disaster aboard the cargo-ship and a near-escape from tragedy for Captain Murchison supply him with the final pieces of the puzzle...

"The facts, as we know them, are particularly striking," he observed. "You will, of course, have noticed that the bodies of the two brothers were found under almost parallel circumstances. If you agree that Mr Austin was murdered in Horn's Lane, you can scarcely fail to fly to the conclusion that Mr Gerald was murdered in Hilton Pennings. In fact, so close is the analogy between the two cases, that what applies to one is almost certain to be applied to the other. This I believe to be intentional on the criminal's part, and I believe it to be a tendency of thought we must carefully guard against. Argument by analogy is no substitute for proof by fact."

Feb 3, 2012, 11:56pm Top

One By One They Disappeared - A chance encounter brings to the attention of Inspector Collier the story of the American financier Elbert J. Pakenham, a survivor of the sinking of the Coptic during WWI. Cared for during three days drifting in a life-boat by his fellow-survivors, all much younger than he, Pakenham has since shown his gratitude by hosting an elaborate dinner for them once a year in London, and distributing generous gifts. Days after the most recent dinner, Collier reads in the paper of the death of one of the party, a blind man named Henry Raymond, who fell down an elevator shaft in an unoccupied building in what is being treated as a tragic accident. Although due for a well-earned vacation, Collier's professional instincts are roused, and with his Chief's permission, he takes instead a "busman's holiday". Collier's inquiries reveal that the dinner-party was a disaster, with only two of the eight expected guests turning up - Raymond, and another young Englishman called Gerald Freyne, who Collier knows has a criminal record. He also learns that within the last year, the wealthy but solitary Pakenham announced his intention of ultimately dividing his estate amongst the other survivors. Inquiring into Raymond's death, Collier discovers that his sister protested against the accidental ruling - and has since disappeared; while further investigation determines that two more of Pakenham's potential heirs have recently died - one in a hit-and-run, one of blood poisoning. Accidents - or not...?

The first book in Moray Dalton's series featuring Inspector George Collier of the C.I.D. is an unusual and gripping mystery, while Collier himself is a refreshingly flawed hero, dedicated and intelligent, but anything but infallible. Indeed, during his investigation of this strange and bewildering case Collier is frequently astray in his conclusions, and requires both a large slice of luck and the shrewd assistance of the elderly but spirited Elbert Pakenham before he can untangle the mass of hidden connections behind what he believes, but struggles to prove, are a series of murders. Of course, if the three deaths are murder, the obvious suspects are the Coptic survivors yet living: Davies, manager of a firm supplying musical instruments for which Henry Raymond worked as a piano-tuner; Vane, an actor; Malory, a talented artist ruined by his cocaine addiction; Olivieri, a well-born but dissolute Italian; and Freyne, who as a young man served a prison term for forgery.

After interviewing Davies in London in the wake of Raymond's death, Collier next tracks down Freyne at the ancestral mansion he cannot afford to maintain, where he lives with his only family, his sister-in-law and young nephew. Collier is also introduced to Wilfred Stark, a neighbour, whose young cousin and ward, Corinna Lacy, is staying with him. It is immediately evident the Freyne and Corinna are attracted to one another, and equally so that Stark, who knows about Freyne's past, is dismayed by the situation, which grows further complicated when Collier also finds himself drawn to the girl. It is with the assistance of Freyne and Stark that Collier learns of the deaths of the two other men, Pike and Minchin. Meanwhile, Elbert Pakenham is summoned to Italy, where he finds the Count Olivieri gravely ill, and Malory in attendance on him. But all is not as it seems: the alert Pakenham narrowly escapes an attempt on his life when Olivieri makes him a gift of an antique ring carrying a hidden, poisoned spike. Returning to England, Pakenham reports this to Collier; the two decide to circulate a false report of Pakenham's illness. Another ruse brings home Malory, who finally admits that he and Olivieri are in collusion with a third party to whom they spoke only at a costume party, and whose identity they do not know...

One By One They Disappeared is a surprising book, one that entertains while slowly becoming ever more grim and disturbing, as Elbert Pakenham's intended act of generosity and gratitude becomes the driving force behind a labyrinthine plot of murder, attempted murder, abduction and concealed identity. In that inimitable British Golden Age mystery way, this novel manages on the whole to maintain a light tone while dealing with a series of horrifying events; although in spite of its spiralling body count, the book's most shocking scene is certainly that in which Collier and his superior, Sir James Trask, compel Malory to answer their questions by withholding his supply of cocaine - and then give it back to him when he has. Also very British is the degree to which pets feature in this novel - until it eventually becomes evident that you can fairly reliably tell the good guys from the bad guys by their respective attitudes to animals. Elbert Pakenham, for example, is usually accompanied by a black cat called Jehoshaphat, which he rescued from the Coptic; while Collier keeps canaries, and adopts a dog "orphaned" by one of the murders. But alas, given the fate of some of its four-footed characters, this is not an easy book for the animal lover...

Is it wrong, I wonder, to get more upset over the fate of fictional animals than over that of fictional people...?

"I've had a shock, Inspector. I'm not naturally suspicious of people's motives. I like to think well of my fellow creatures, and especially of those who showed such kindness and consideration to an old man at a time when he could do nothing to show his appreciation. And so I made my will as I told you. And I told them! They learned that they would benefit by my death. I'm a sort of moral Borgia, Inspector. I didn't poison their bodies at my banquet, but I poisoned their minds! Not all of them. God forbid! But two---three---to my knowledge. They began to feel that they could not wait. They could not wait..."

Feb 4, 2012, 12:49am Top

The Bride Of Anguished English - In this third book in Richard Lederer's "Anguished English" series, we begin to feel the grim effects of The Law Of Diminishing Returns. In addition to the bloopers that we know and still love, this collection exhibits some less welcome features including re-used material, entries that are anecdotes rather than one-liners, a "kids say the darndest things" section, more "classic bloopers" than new ones, and far too much editorialisation from Lederer himself. However, as always, when the bloopers hit the mark, they are hilarious.

We get bloopers from history:

Thomas Edison invented the pornograph and the indecent lamp.


Kangaroos are not mammals. They are menopausals.


"Whose virgin was the mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary or the King James Virgin?"

The law:

Q: And this card contains a print of each finger of Mr McGinty's hands, is that correct?
A: It's all five fingers of the right hand, all five fingers of the left hand, plus all four fingers and thumbs.


His rectal exam revealed a normal-sized thyroid.


Spay/Neuter Clinic. Department of Human Services.

Travel brochures:

We offer you peace and seclusion. The paths to our resort are only passable by asses. Therefore, you will certainly feel at home here.




"If it's in stock, we have it!"

And on the roller-towel holder in a restroom:

Warning! Improper use may cause injury or death!

Feb 4, 2012, 3:25pm Top

I am embarking upon another communal activity - this time a shared reading with Heather (souloftherose) of Walter Scott's The Heart Of Midlothian. We are just getting under way, and any participants or lurkers would be very welcome!

The thread is here.

Edited: Feb 4, 2012, 4:59pm Top

Danger Calling - Lindsay Trevor is unexpectedly contacted by a stranger, one Benbow Collingwood Horatio Smith, who offers him a chance to undertake an important mission for his country. Lindsay, who spent two years after WWI with the Secret Service, is tempted; but with his wedding only days away, he firmly declines. However, when Marian Rayne calls off the wedding without a word of explanation, Lindsay is in the mood to do something reckless, and offers his services to the mysterious Mr Smith. To his astonishment, Lindsay finds himself with his hair dyed red and impersonating his own third cousin, Trevor Fotheringham, who suffered a nervous breakdown after only a short time as private secretary to a man named Algerius Restow, apparently the key figure in a conspiracy to plunge Europe into war. It is Smith's contention that Fotheringham was involved in Restow's activities, possibly under the compulsion of blackmail; and Lindsay's mission is to learn what those activities are. Lindsay successfully infiltrates the household, soon recognising that the greatest threat to his position is Restow's librarian, Drayton, a dangerously perceptive individual who reminds the nervous interloper of a bird of prey. But Drayton is only one possible road to exposure: Lindsay discovers that Fotheringham was involved with a girl called Elsie Manning, who seems to know more than she should about his work for Restow. But even as Lindsay tries to win Elsie's trust and discover what she knows, he is dealt a stunning blow when one night he sees a young woman slipping secretively into Restow's house via the back door. It is Marian Rayne...

Like its series predecessor, Fool Errant, Danger Calling is an enjoyable tale of ordinary people being plunged into espionage, danger and romance. While the first novel in the Benbow Smith series involved the potential sale of new weaponry to a foreign power, this second tale lifts the stakes even higher, dealing with a deliberate plan to precipitate another war. It becomes evident that men in high and influential places - politicians, manufacturers, journalists - are being blackmailed into actions that will create violent unrest across Europe. Scraps of intelligence point to Algerius Restow as the prime mover in this conspiracy. Restow is a public figure, claiming descent from half a dozen nations, who has, as he boasts, "starved in all the capitals of Europe"; a man who has made and lost enormous fortunes, famous for his art collection, and equally notorious and lauded for his personal extravagance and his philanthropy. In person Restrow is a massive figure, with a character to match. He is overpowering, almost violent in his manner; demanding, domineering and quite possibly dangerous; and yet, as Lindsay realises ruefully, also oddly likeable, particularly in his unabashed passion for his ex-wife, Gloria Paravicini, who he pursues with the lack of restraint that marks all his actions.

Lindsay is only too well aware that he must not let his involuntary liking for Restow cloud his judgement about what is happening under his roof - the nature of which is made appalling clear when Drayton sends "Trevor Fotheringham" to deliver an open threat of exposure and ruin to Sir John Gladisoe, the head of a major British steel-works, ordering him to cut wages and alter his workers' conditions until he forces them into a strike. Lindsay is unable to obtain any firm indication of Restow's involvement, or otherwise, in the blackmail scheme, but as events play themselves out he grows increasingly certain that it is the apparent underling, Drayton, who is the main force behind the plot; yet if so, what is Restow's position? Lindsay is aware from the outset that danger threatens Elsie Manning through her involvement with Fotheringham; but when he learns that Marian Rayne, too, is somehow caught in Drayton's net, disaster seems to be looming from all sides. But a still more shocking discovery is in store for Lindsay: an encounter with a disreputable acquaintance from his Secret Service days reveals to him that a man thought - hoped - long dead, a man who sold his services to the highest bidder during WWI, a conscienceless profiteer who slipped through the fingers of five pursuing nations, is not only still alive but very active. Whatever Lindsay's personal fears and feelings, he now knows he must put them aside to resume his pursuit of the shadowy individual known only as "the Vulture"...

Though he gives his name to this series, in truth we see even less of the elusive Benbow Smith (and his multilingual parrot, Ananias, who functions rather like a Greek chorus) in this novel than we did in Fool Errant. This elusiveness, however, is all part of the fun: if we saw more of Mr Smith - and of Ananias - we would, I suspect, believe in him rather less. Danger Calling is an engaging novel that successfully overcomes its own improbabilities via a number of unexpected touches. There is a certain amount of jingoism about the story - a German and a Frenchman capitulate, but the Englishman threatened with exposure of his family's secret decides to sacrifice all rather than cooperate with the blackmailer - but at the same time it is refreshingly free of the class prejudices and assumptions that were rife at its time of publication, including that birth and breeding are more important than what a person is. It is a dark secret about her own family and background that causes Marian Rayne to break her engagement to Lindsay Trevor; a secret that, when he learns of it, Lindsay waves away impatiently as a thing of no importance. It is also noteworthy that while this is a novel with two leading female characters, it is working-girl Elsie rather than upper-crust Marian who emerges as its heroine.

"It is a singular commentary on our civilization that there is no law to restrain a man from planning such a thing. If you and I conspire together to bring a single Brown, Muller or Leblanc to a violent death, the law has a gallows or guillotine most conveniently ready for us; but you may conspire with perfect impunity to precipitate a war in which a million or so of Browns, Leblancs and Mullers will kill each other."

Feb 4, 2012, 5:11pm Top

And I have now caught up all of my outstanding LT reviews - yay!! All I have to do now is catch up my outstanding blog reviews...only four of them...all about ten times longer than what I write here...


And groan again. It seems I won't be continuing through with Patricia Wentworth's Benbow Smith novels. The third book in the series, Walk With Care, is mighty hard to get hold of. In fact, the cheapest copy I've been able to locate is listed for $360.00.

Plus shipping, of course.

Feb 5, 2012, 3:05am Top

Finished The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled for TIOLI #6 (Kirkman = 17 points).

And now I can concentrate on The Heart Of Midlothian! This is a shared read with Heather (souloftherose), and if anyone is interested in joining in or lurking, the thread is here.

This is also for TIOLI #7.

Feb 5, 2012, 5:23am Top

#116 Great bookish quotes from Without My Cloak Liz. I have that book on my Virago wishlist.

#118 Liz, I admire your tenacity in reading another Kirkman, although I suppose it's better than reading another work by Richard Head.

#120 "Is it wrong, I wonder, to get more upset over the fate of fictional animals than over that of fictional people...?" - I do the same thing, and then feel guilty for caring more about the animals. Black Beauty has always been a very traumatic book for me.

#124 Wow, that's quite a price for Walk with Care.

#125 Yay!

Feb 5, 2012, 4:48pm Top

Hi, Heather!

It's just occurred to me that Hugh Walpole's Judith Paris, another historical novel set in the 19th century but written in the 1930s, scatters literary references around in just the same way. I'm beginning to think this was the equivalent of a TV show "placing" a flashback via a pop-song soundtrack. (I'm looking at you, Cold Case!)

I was curious to see what Kirkman could do away from Head - and whether those glimpses of his personality that seemed to show through The English Rogue were real or not.

I should stop kidding myself and just accept that I'm always going to be more concerned about the animals. (I'm glad your cat came home - I would have been hysterical. In those sorts of situations, there is no such thing as an "over-reaction"!)

Yes, too rich for my blood, sigh...

Edited: Feb 7, 2012, 7:47pm Top

So! - while working on my shared read of The Heart Of Midlothian, I will also be undertaking another job of tutoring - this time tutoring Madeline through Northanger Abbey.

The thread is here, and lurkers are welcome!

And while juggling these two communal events, I will be pacing myself with some non-fiction: E. P. Thompson's Whigs And Hunters, a study of the terrifying escalation in legislature protecting the propertied classes in early 18th century Britain.

Feb 10, 2012, 4:22pm Top

Phew! It's been a tough reading week, between the barrage of Scottish dialect in The Heart Of Midlothian and the bewildering maze of names, places and legalese that makes up Whigs And Hunters. However, while Heather and I continue to work our way through the former, I did manage to finish the latter.

Not surprisingly for a work largely about hunting and poaching and other criminal activities (or perceived criminal activities), Whigs And Hunters fitted into Madeline's animal on the left / beverage on the right / '3' in the page number challenge - deer / liquor.

I've now taken on a much lighter between-Scott palette-cleanser - The Murders In Praed Street by John Rhode, the fourth Dr Priestley mystery and the second available. This is for TIOLI #3.

Edited: Feb 10, 2012, 6:56pm Top

Whigs And Hunters: The Origin Of The Black Act - E. P. Thompson's book is an important study of a frightening piece of 18th century English legislation, "The Waltham Black Act", or as it is generally known, the Black Act, which took its name from a forest area to the north of London which became the arena for a remarkable conflict between rich and poor, and the darkening of the face, or "blacking", commonly practiced by poachers and others as a form of disguise.

Thompson's study outlines the traditional management of "the King's forests" around London, wherein certain rights and privileges were extended to the farmers, cottagers and other foresters who occupied the area in exchange for complete protection of "the King's deer". This was not always a happy arrangement for the local people: like the sacred cow, the King's deer could go anywhere and do anything; it was illegal not merely to kill or harm them, but to put up fences to block their ingress; farmers whose crops they destroyed were allowed to chase them away, but nothing more. Keepers were installed to watch over the situation, and inevitably there were clashes with the locals, who were regularly guilty of killing deer either for profit or for food, or of simply trying to protect their own slender holdings.

Into this already fraught situation came the nouveau riche of the early 18th century, who bought or obtained leases to properties in the forest area and proceeded to build themselves mansions with sprawling landscaped gardens, to fence off traditional common areas, and in a dozen other ways to violate the traditional rights of the foresters. The result was an escalting class war, which at length resulted in the emergence of a surprisingly organised counter-force. The "Blacks", as they became known, were a small outfit led by a man who called himself "King John" (probably one William Shorter), who turned out to be the closest thing to Robin Hood that recent history can supply. Though the Blacks killed deer and other livestock, burned barns, attacked houses and threatened their occupants, in every case an attack can be traced to a provocative act on the part of a landowner, in which the local people were hurt or dispossessed. The deer that were killed were rarely carried away to be sold or eaten, but left behind as a message. Whatever else they were, the Blacks were not profiteers or poachers.

But of course, the idea of the poor having the temerity to strike back against the rich, not randomly but as an organised resistance, was an outrage in the eyes of the ruling classes - for whom the final straw was the local juries which, their sympathies solidly with the foresters, repeatedly refused to bring in the verdicts that the government wanted. In the face of what was perceived as an intolerable act of defiance, the Walpole administration retaliated by drafting the Black Act, which in 1723 added to the existing statutes more than two hundred new capital offences for crimes against property.

The early chapters of this book, which describe the historical, geographical and social background to the passing of the Black Act, are somewhat heavy going. The record is frustratingly incomplete and fragmentary - not least because, during the period in question, the government instituted blanket censorship of the press - and Thompson is repeatedly forced to try and fill in the gaps himself, or simply to admit that he doesn't know. But ultimately, the scantiness of the public record is exactly Thompson's point---this brutal piece of legislation, openly framed to protect the wealthy against the poor, passed without resistance; it appeared to no-one in power to require debate.

Thompson is on firmer ground when he begins to examine the role of Robert Walpole and the Whig administration in the passing and implementation of the Act. The profound political corruption of the time is a matter of common knowledge; yet again and again the reader feels Thompson's outrage and disgust as his investigation into the circumstances of the Black Act uncovers yet another bribe, yet another cheat, yet another instance of pork-barrelling. Again and again, Thompson traces the beneficiaries of the Black Act back to Walpole, his relatives and his political cronies, who were only too willing to kill to maintain their privileges; or rather, to let the machinery of a corrupt law do their killing for them. Furthermore, as if the Act itself was not quite brutal enough as written - under certain of its provisions, individuals could be found guilty and condemned to death without trial, thus circumventing those defiant juries - it was further twisted and abused by various figures in authority. The Lord Hardwicke, who had helped to draft it, liked to pull out of it and apply specific clauses - for example, ruling that blacking in and of itself was a capital offence, without the individual required to be caught in the commission of a crime, or even armed. In the ultimate illustration of the extremities of the Black Act, we find one man, condemned for blacking alone, wailing from the gallows that he hadn't been disguised - his face was just dirty...

There's not much light to be found in Whigs And Hunters. This is, finally, an incredibly grim cautionary tale about the corruptions of power. (Thompson, realising in retrospect just how angry and depressing his study was, how ugly its depiction of legal abuses, added an afterword chapter arguing for the inherent value of the rule of law, properly administered.) However, we do see over time a general revulsion against the provisions of the Black Act, an increasing distaste for the idea that a deer, or a rabbit, or even a tree, was worth a human life. If we readers are to take anything positive away from this book, it is perhaps the role played by literature in this fight. Thompson credits the writings of people like Henry Fielding and Oliver Goldsmith with influencing public attitudes and helping to bring about change, and highlights the most scathing satires of the Walpole era: Swift's Gulliver's Travels, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, and Fielding's Jonathan Wild.

At the level of affrays between poachers and keepers there was some equality in the contest. But at the point where the petty seriously inconvenienced the great, then the entire apparatus of power and law could be brought to the side of the latter. The Black Act put unprecedented legal power in the hands of men who had not a generalized, delegated interest, such as the maintenance of order, or even the maintenance of the privileges of their own class, but a direct and personal interest in the conviction of men who were a nuisance to them. The obtaining of sworn informations, followed by...summary condemnation to death, was a power only too easily open to abuse in a society in which every office-holder was subject to immediate political influence. It was a power which made nonsense of a whole costly historical paraphernalia whose proclaimed object was to safeguard the liberty of the subject. One part only of the traditional procedures of inherited law remained as a safeguard for the accused---the jury system.

Edited: Feb 13, 2012, 10:37pm Top

One extreme to the other...

I'm surrounded at the moment by quality classic literature - Northanger Abbey to the right of me, and The Heart Of Midlothian to the left of me - so I feel a little guilty about my impulse to drop everything and hunt down a novel by James Corbett, a writer of mysteries and thrillers from the late twenties through to the early fifties. Here is a description I have just found of Mr Corbett's, ahem, "style":

There are certain types of readers to whom Corbett will not appeal. He should be avoided by those who like fine writing; by those who appreciate good description; by those who enjoy characterization and who think it helpful to be able to tell the characters apart; by those who do not appreciate non sequiturs or the almost-right word; by those who think real clues are essential in a mystery; by those who want detection and fair play; and by those who expect a writer to remember what he has written just a page before...

And here is a quote:

“Have you a cigarette?” she asked.
Cavanagh threw his case on the desk.“You seem upset?” he suggested, lighting a match and holding it to her lips.

And yet Corbett managed to get more than 40 novels published. The person who kindly drew his works to my attention suggests that blackmail may have been involved...

Feb 14, 2012, 10:38am Top

Whigs and Hunters sounds both intelligent and fascinating -- and a little to grim for me at the moment. However, your excellent review has left me considerably more informed and should the Black Act come up in casual conversation, I will have a clue. Thanks!

Enjoy the Corbett -- I think I'll pass there, too!

Feb 14, 2012, 4:54pm Top

I think *I'm* the only person who has those sorts of "casual conversations"... :)

Yes, it is a very grim subject, but one that was alluded to quite frequently in 18th century literature, so it was helpful for me to get my head around the minutiae of it.

As for the rest--- I confess that whenever someone denounces a book here as bad, I usually become intensely curious about it! On that basis the Corbetts sound right up my alley, but I wouldn't blame anyone else for giving them a miss.

Feb 16, 2012, 3:05am Top

#130 Very good review Liz - why not on the book page hmm?

#131 The quote about Corbett makes me wonder exactly who would enjoy his writing?

Edited: Feb 16, 2012, 4:12am Top

Too long and chatty? - as opposed to just too long. But, then---if you insist. :)

I have to admit, really bad writing (as opposed to just the bad editing / spelling / grammar all too common these days) does hold a sick kind of fascination for me.

Edited: Feb 17, 2012, 5:24am Top

A twofer - I finished The Heart Of Midlothian and, having made that milestone, I then gobbled down what was left of The Murders In Praed Street by way of dessert.

Now reading Mary Lou: A Story Of Divine Corners by Faith Baldwin

Feb 17, 2012, 6:00am Top

...though of course, finishing a Dr Priestley mystery means resuming my hunt for the available entries in this frustratingly incomplete series.

I have decided to pass on the next book, the fifth in the series, Tragedy At The Unicorn, as I am unable to locate a copy for less than $50.00 (including shipping), which I've decided is beyond my cut-off for this particular project. Still---to put that into perspective, the most expensive copy out there costs $850.00...plus shipping.

The sixth book in the series, The House On Tollard Ridge, is available. Now I just have to make up my mind whether I'm buying a copy, or getting it on an academic loan, since annoyingly enough the costs are almost identical.

And while I'm pondering that, perhaps I'll also try to solve the mystery of why it's every second book in this series that's readily available. (I can only assume that some variant of the Star Trek Movie Rule is in effect.)

Feb 18, 2012, 7:17pm Top

The Murders In Praed Street - Praed Street is an ordinary London thoroughfare, running from Paddington Station into a corner of Bayswater, and lined with small businesses; yet it is about to become the scene of terror... Joseph Tovey, a greengrocer, is lured from his house by a false emergency call and stabbed to death in the street; Ben Colburn, a baker, dies of poisoning from a shard of glass embedded in the stem of his pipe; Richard Pargent, a poet, is stabbed like Tovey after leaving Paddington Station; and Jacob Martin, a wine-merchant, is found poisoned in the cellar of an empty Praed Street property. It is revealed that each of the victims had received a counter, on which a Roman numeral - I, II, III, IV - had been etched in red ink. This revelation provokes a rash of sick practical jokes, and one recipient of a counter dies of heart failure. Samuel Copperdock, a Praed Street tobbaconist, also receives one; but the police believe this to be a blind. When the murders stop after Copperdock is found dead in what could be suicide, the investigation drops, but not everyone is satisfied. Inspector Hanslet carries the case to scientific investigator Dr Lancelot Priestley - who turns out to have a closer connection to the murders than anyone could have imagined...

I was not particularly impressed by my first encounter with John Rhode's "scientific investigator" in his second mystery, Dr Priestley's Quest, but The Murders In Praed Street is a superior work all around. It's also a very strange book. In fact, it's almost fair to say that this isn't a mystery at all. While the police remain unable to find an explanation for the series of seemingly unconnected deaths, finally concluding that the murders can only be the work of a psychopath, Dr Priestley has a piece of knowledge that both provides the motive, and identifies the killer as an individual not mad, but obsessed. Unfortunately, however (and the novel has some wry fun with its protagonist's self-absorption), while he is working on one of his books, Dr Priestley pays little if any attention to what is going on in the world around him, not even bothering to glance at a newspaper - and thus remains quite oblivious to the mystery that has the rest of England in a frenzy.

The Murders In Praed Street is also unusually structured. It is divided to two sections, "The Crimes" and "The Criminal". During the first section we are made familiar with Praed Street - the movements and habits of its residents, and of those passing through it on business or on their way to Paddington Station. While some of the murders occur, as it were, at a distance, we become well-acqainted with one or two of the victims, and see the impact of their deaths on their families and friends. As panic begins to engulfs the street, events are seen chiefly through the eyes of three men: Inspector Whyland, a thorough but unimaginative investigator, who the reader soon realises is in over his head; Elmer Ludgrove, a herbalist in whom many of the neighbourhood confide, and who gives shrewd assistance to the struggling Whyland; and Samuel Copperdock, who had a connection to several of the victims and whose statement about his own movements is contradicted by an independent witness, which focuses the attention of the police. Then Ludgrove receives a counter - but on the same night, Copperdock dies while alone in his house. While some sections of the police consider the matter closed, Inspector Hanslet is ordered to seek the opinion of Dr Priestley, whose acuity Scotland Yard has learned to respect.

The second half of the novel is told in the the third person, with usual narrator Harold Merefield relegated to a minor supporting role. Almost from the moment that he hears Hanslet's detailed account of the Praed Street murders, Priestley knows what the motive for them must be - but he keeps his own counsel, confiding in neither Hanslet nor Merefield as he wrestles with the fact that the obvious suspect has been dead for many years. While taking unusual steps to throw the killer off his trail, Priestley's investigation leads him into into Dorsetshire, to the Isle of Purbeck. Here the narrative offers some wonderfully evocative descriptions of the surrounding heath, beautiful yet eerie; the gorse and heather studded with clay-pits that could, as the unwontedly apprehensive Dr Priestley soon realises, very well conceal a murderer - or a murderer's victim. His suspicions, and his fears, confirmed by his investigation, Dr Priestley travels back to London knowing that his own life is in imminent danger; yet in spite of his precautions, before long he is drawn into a trap - and must face the fact that the killer has been one step ahead of him all along...

The Professor shuddered, and increased his pace. This lonely heath was no place in which to indulge in morbid thoughts. His life might be in danger, but somehow he felt that it was not here that the blow would fall. If his theory were correct, if he had gauged aright the psychology of his adversary, it would not be thus that he would meet his death, here were there was none to witness the blow. Despite the almost threatening aspect to the country, deepening in tone every instant as the sun sank lower behind the distant hills, there was no vestige of any real danger. The shadows that lurked amid the gorse and heather were but the shadows of his own fears.

Feb 19, 2012, 8:31am Top

just wanted to say how much I have enjoyed catching up on your tutored reads especially when you are covering books I love (like Austen). I find myself thinking "I could answer those questions" which makes me wonder if I could hand being a tutor even though I didn't graduate with an English degree or anything, I just love the books...

Feb 19, 2012, 6:24pm Top

Hey, I've got no training either - I'm just a gigantic nerd! :)

Colleen, if you feel you'd like to try tutoring, by all means add yourself to the wiki, and advertise yourself on the hook-up thread, if you like - the more the merrier! I'm very glad you've been enjoying the Austen reads.

Feb 20, 2012, 2:16am Top

Finished Mary Lou: A Story Of Divine Corners - this was for TIOLI #9.

Now reading Mistress Of The House: Great Ladies And Grand Houses 1670-1830 by Rosemary Baird - which I'm having trouble fitting into a TIOLI. Hopefully there are lots of animals and beverages in it.

Feb 20, 2012, 10:14am Top

Couldn't you add Mistress of the House to Challenge #13 Set on an Island? It looks as though it'd focused on Great Britain.

Thanks for bringing it to my attention - it looks fascinating!

Feb 20, 2012, 4:39pm Top

Of course! Thank you. I think psychologically I'm still resisting the thought of Britain as an island, though of course it's technically correct.

I hardly ever get to dispense book bullets, so it's always a big thrill when I do. :)

Feb 21, 2012, 3:24pm Top

#135 "Too long and chatty?" Or interesting and informative?

Feb 21, 2012, 4:23pm Top

Just popping in to say hello :)

Feb 21, 2012, 5:06pm Top


That's very kind of you. :)


Glad you did, thanks!

Feb 23, 2012, 4:17am Top

Finished Mistress Of The House for TIOLI #13 - review to come.

Now reading Today's Virtue by Faith Baldwin.

(By the way, is it just me, or is there something really wrong in the fact that the first touchstone that comes up for any book with the word "virtue" in its title is for a work by the Marquis de Sade?)

Feb 23, 2012, 11:23am Top

LOL Re: Virtue

Feb 23, 2012, 4:26pm Top

I think it says something very sad about LibraryThingers. :)

Feb 23, 2012, 5:38pm Top

Yes, but then only LTers and similar (and perhaps a literate subset of the S&M crowd) would understand why it's warped!

Feb 23, 2012, 5:48pm Top

True! We're educated perverts!

Feb 24, 2012, 3:27am Top

Finished Today's Virtue - review to come - another review to come...

Now reading A Richer Dust by Storm Jameson.

Edited: Feb 24, 2012, 4:28pm Top

I've reached a strange impasse in my journey through The Infinite List - a long, long stretch where none of my potential reads are readily available, but must be bought if they're going to be accessed at all. How many of these I end up tracking down, and how many I can bring myself to pass by, remains to be seen. In the meantime, I'm wading onwards and trying to pick out those books that might be available via interlibrary loan. They are startlingly few...

The other thing I notice about this stretch of books is that there are about twenty in a row in it with the word "murder" in their titles. I can only think that at some stage, I must have been messing about with keywords.

Either that, or I was in a particularly bad mood one day.

Feb 24, 2012, 8:20am Top

#153 Oh dear - does that mean it's time to move on to 1932?

Feb 24, 2012, 9:27am Top

I have to ask - how did you come to be reading Faith Baldwin?

Feb 24, 2012, 4:27pm Top


First I have to find 1932! At the moment my 1931 list is the literary equivalent of The Endless Steppe.


She wrote a lot of books in 1931. :)

I always had an awareness of Baldwin because so many of her books were adapted into movies in the early 30s, which is an era I'm keen on. On top of that, she rarely gets mentioned without an accompanying sneer about "women's books", which put my hackles up. I'm finding her rather interesting, actually. Make-Believe was too much of a straight melodrama / romance for my taste, but The Divine Corners stories are sweet and a lot of fun, and I'm intrigued by the proto-feminism of some of her others.

Feb 28, 2012, 9:57pm Top

Finished A Richer Dust - the unwritten reviews are piling up...

...but at least I've finished a series.

(What? Yes, of course a trilogy counts as a series! You're not going to spoil this for me!!)

Now reading The Secret Of High Eldersham...

...the first in a 63-book series.


Edited: Feb 29, 2012, 11:51pm Top

Time for the February wrap.

Eleven books read this month, the same as for January. I fitted 10 of them into TIOLI:

#1: Whigs And Hunters: The Origin Of The Black Act by E. P. Thompson
#3: The Murders In Praed Street by John Rhode
#3: The Bride Of Anguished English by Richard Lederer
#6: The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled by Francis Kirkman
#6: Today's Virtue by Faith Baldwin
#6: A Richer Dust by Storm Jameson
#7: The Heart Of Midlothian by Walter Scott
#9: Mary Lou: A Story Of Divine Corners by Faith Baldwin
#11: Danger Calling by Patricia Wentworth
#13: Mistress Of The House: Great Ladies And Grand Houses, 1670-1830 by Rosemary Baird

The odd book out was The Novel In Letters by Natascha Wurzbach, an anthology of which I only read the original content.

Blog reading: 1
Classics: 1
Mysteries: 1
Thrillers: 1
Historical fiction: 1
Young adult: 1
Contemporary (i.e. at time of publication) fiction: 1
Non-fiction: 4

Part of a series: 5

The highlight of the month was the shared read of The Heart Of Midlothian; not an easy work - I don't find Scott easy! - but made fun and interesting by being able to discuss it with Heather. My non-fiction reading was up, and my mystery reading down - the latter because I've been saving up for Mystery March!

And in fact, March is shaping as an odd sort of month, dominated by mysteries, but also containing a re-read of Tristram Shandy for a tutored read in April. And I think I'll be tutoring another Austen...

Feb 28, 2012, 11:59pm Top

Do you know what I hate?

I hate tags that give away major plot points.


Edited: Feb 29, 2012, 7:07am Top

Hi, Liz. I think your odd book out will fit in a TIOLI, too. #6 - author's last name with a scrabble value of more than 12. And yours is a great one at 27 points (if I counted correctly)!

eta: And a quick skim down the wiki list shows that one would be the most points listed, too!

Feb 29, 2012, 2:26pm Top

Thanks for that, but I removed that book deliberately, as I didn't really "read" it - I only picked out the bits in it that were of immediate interest to me. I felt that was okay as a listed read as I'd taken everything from it that I wanted, but it seemed like cheating to list it for TIOLI.

But yes, "Wurzbach"...it was a struggle with my conscience, I can tell you! :)

Feb 29, 2012, 4:11pm Top

I hate tags that give away major plot points.

I can imagine that! What was the tag?

Feb 29, 2012, 4:39pm Top

I don't think I should say - I don't want to spoil it for anyone else! - but it was attached to a mystery novel, and basically gives away how the murder was committed.

Feb 29, 2012, 4:44pm Top

Ah, that kind of tag. That's either really stupid or really mean, depending on if the user of that tag understood (s)he was spoiling other people.

Feb 29, 2012, 4:59pm Top

What's most exasperating is that as soon as you go to the book's main page, you can't avoid it - it's just THERE. Perhaps the person didn't realise that tags become common knowledge? I'd hate to think someone was deliberately that careless of other readers.

Feb 29, 2012, 6:25pm Top

Bewildering recommendations of our time:

Oracle Database 10g High Availability with RAC, Flashback, and Data Guard (Osborne ORACLE Press Series) by Matthew Hart NEW!
10 copies. Average rating 4. Recommended Feb 28, 2012.
Why? | No thanks!
(close why) Recommendation based on:
The English Rogue by Richard Head

Mar 1, 2012, 2:40am Top

Finished The Secret Of High Eldersham for Mystery March and for TIOLI #16 - review to come.

Now reading Helen Vardon's Confession, the seventh of the Dr John Thorndyke mysteries by R. Austin Freeman - fits Mystery March, but not, alas, TIOLI!

Mar 2, 2012, 4:36pm Top

I have managed to get some work done at my poor, neglected blog over the past few weeks.

I have posted a review of James R. Foster's History Of The Pre-Romantic Novel In England, an intriguing look at the development of the 18th century English novel, which I read towards the end of last year.

I have also written a lengthy post on Ernest Bernbaum's The Mary Carleton Narratives, an examination of the literary reaction to a 17th century con-artist, and Francis Kirkman's The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled, one of the many publications on Mary Carleton.

And yet, I am still two blog reviews behind. HOW CAN THIS BE!?


The Heart Of Midlothian - I have been meaning for some time to read more of Walter Scott, and wanted to read this novel in particular; and I was lucky enough to have Heather (souloftherose) join me.

One of Scott's greatest successes, The Heart Of Midlothian is the story of Jeanie Deans, a young Presbyterian woman whose sister Effie is charged with the murder of her illegitimate baby. Although knowing that Effie is innocent, Jeanie cannot bring herself to lie under oath even to save her sister's life. Instead, she makes a extraordinary bid to secure Effie's release by walking from Edinburgh to London, to seek a pardon from Queen Caroline. Based upon a true story and set against the Porteous riot of 1736, Scott's novel is a vivid study of early 18th century Scotland, and of a remarkable woman.

The discussion thread for The Heart Of Midlothian may be found here.

Edited: Mar 2, 2012, 7:42pm Top

Mary Lou: A Story Of Divine Corners - While it contains plenty of the good humour, good times and improbable adventures that we've come to expect of Faith Baldwin's series about a group of friends in a small upper New York State town, this third entry is a more serious, slightly sadder work than its predecessors; a story of growing up and moving on. It opens with the friends of Divine Corners scattered: Judy Edwards at teachers' college, Babs Howard in the mid-west studying aeronautical design, and the boys divided between Princeton and Yale. The first wedding in the group, that of Slim Gaston and Rosie Daniello, is imminent; while Professor Willing and his wife Catherine have had a baby. By the end of the book, the long friendship of Judy and Richard Kirby will have deepened into something warmer, and Mary Lou herself will have found romance.

As another summer begins, a lonely Mary Lou Mitchell waits impatiently for the return to Divine Corners of her friends. Having graduated high school, Mary Lou's ambition is to train as a nurse, but so far she has been thwarted in this by her rather domineering doctor-father, who is reluctant to have her devote herself to this demanding profession. While she does not - and indeed, in view of her financial dependency, cannot - defy her father, Mary Lou goes quietly about preparing for the career she is nevertheless determined to have, joining the Girl Scouts in order to gain experience in child care, home nursing and first aid. To Mary Lou's joy, Judy and Babs do finally return home for the summer, but their reunion is short-lived. Mrs Mitchell is in ill-health, and Dr Mitchell decides that she and Mary Lou will accept a long-standing invitation from some distant cousins to spend the summer at their home on Harbor Island, just off Long Island. Although bitterly disappointed to have her time with her friends cut short, Mary Lou's concern for her mother stifles any thought of protest; while the warmth of the welcome extended by Larry and Sally Parker, and the unfamiliar beauties of their seaside home, reconcile her to her situation. Another new factor in Mary Lou's life is Marty Young, Sally's brother: a pre-medical student who, accustomed to being pursued by the local girls, finds Mary Lou's frankness and attitude of casual friendliness refreshing and attractive.

Mary Lou is thrilled and grateful when the understanding Sally issues an invitation to Judy and Babs for a fortnight's visit. No sooner are the three girls together again than they manage to find an adventure - this time revolving around a deserted, ramshackle local property that supposedly hides its late owner's fortune, and which has a reputation for being haunted. As summer draws to a close, Mary Lou and Mrs Mitchell return to Divine Corners, where the friends must part yet again when the new college year begins. However, the maturity that Mary Lou has displayed in her care of her mother and the steadiness of her personal ambition have impressed her father, who begins to relent with respect to her training. But Dr Mitchell is to receive a far more dramatic demonstration of his daughter's dedication and level-headed efficiency, as along with the rest of the townspeople Mary Lou must play her part on the terrible night of what becomes known as "the great Divine Corners fire"...

This was to be her home; personal yet severely impersonal. For three years except for very short intervals, this roof would shelter her; under it she would learn to see life straight, in the raw; under it she would learn the compassion of service, the pity which is swift to help, the long, unending lessons in endurance, the other lessons which suffering must teach those who come into intimate contact with it... Here she would make mistakes, would retrieve them, would know hours of discouragement, as her father had said, and hours of sheer joy... Here she would live and learn and work.

Edited: Mar 2, 2012, 6:28pm Top

Mary Lou: A Story Of Divine Corners gave me an amusing, cross-reading moment. Towards the end of the novel, Mary Lou spends a few days seeing the sights of New York City:

After that they found their way to the Battery and to the Aquarium where Mary Lou made faces at the fish who, secure behind their thick walls of glass, made faces back at her. Here...she tried to make friends with the grave and melancholy penguin, a bird she had always longed to see...

This being 1931, this is presumably the same penguin that starred in Stuart Palmer's The Penguin Pool Murder, where it helped Miss Hildegarde Withers solve a baffling mystery - and, I have to say, seemed neither grave nor melancholy; possibly because, at some point between the two novels, it had acquired a mate.

Mar 2, 2012, 7:25pm Top

Your review makes me want to read the Divine Corners novels - thanks for sharing!

Edited: Mar 2, 2012, 7:59pm Top

Mistress Of The House: Great Ladies And Grand Houses, 1670-1830 - This non-fiction work by Rosemary Baird examines the role of the "chatelaine" in the design, building and decoration of a number of England's most famous estates over a period of some 150 years; the passing years providing a vivid historical backdrop to the story, as well as exerting their influence upon the "great ladies" who are the focus of this study. This book necessarily focuses primarily upon the women of the aristocracy, and opens with an introductory section describing the realities of their 18th century life: the business-like contracting of marriages, the role of the family estate in maintaining power and prestige, and the astonishing wealth of the privileged few, reflected in their determinedly ostentatious public display.

Told chronologically, this book describes the lives and activities of ten powerful women: Louise de Kéroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth, the mistress of Charles II; Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart and Duchess of Lauderdale; Caroline Lennox, Baroness Holland; Mary Blunt, Duchess of Norfolk; Elizabeth Griffin, Countess of Portsmouth; Elizabeth Seymour, Duchess of Northumberland; Elizabeth Robinson, Mrs Montagu; Theresa Robinson, Mrs John Parker; Jane Maxwell, Duchess of Gordon; and Elizabeth Howard, Duchess of Rutland. While their reasons varied - some saw themselves as having a duty to maintain tradition, some sought consolation for an unhappy marriage or a failure to have children, some had a passion for art or a talent for design - in each case we uncover a remarkable story of a woman taking charge of and putting her own mark upon the "grand houses" that they built, bought, inherited or married into. For those with an interest in 18th century architecture, design, interior decoration or painting, this book offers an extraordinarily detailed glimpse into the creation of a series of truly remarkable buildings.

It is not a criticism of Mistress Of The House to say that it isn't the book I was expecting: on the contrary, it does exactly what it sets out to do, to examine "the particular symbiosis between a woman and her house". My own interest is the detail of day-to-day life, and while its focus remains on the creation of the houses, the book contains plenty of social information as well. The strength of the book is the way that it draws upon both public archives and private papers in its portraits of its great ladies, often highlighting a significant gap between perception and reality. We discover, for instance, contrary to the prevailing stereotype, that many of these women were enthusiastic, hands-on mothers directly involved in the care and education of their children. While most of the marriages here are arranged, and some are bitterly unhappy, in other cases we see a warm and loving partnership between husband and wife. This was a time when the aristocracy could afford to be careless of public opinion, and the book contains quite a bit of sex and scandal, too. Most surprising of all, however, is the enormous power and autonomy of these women; something which, as Baird points out in her concluding passages, would be progressively stripped away from them as the Georgian world evolved into the Victorian.

Various writers have been interested in the history of everyday life at all levels in historic houses, and in documenting the daily routine of servants and their domestic duty, but much more needs to be said about the achievements of the lady of the house. This book goes against the current trend in historic house visitor interest by investigating the drawing room rather than the nursery. It considers the extent to which women have played a part in the creation of those interiors, and the magic touch that brings together a whole house and its intricate workings.

Mar 3, 2012, 2:20am Top

>>#171 That's a lovely compliment - thank you! I'm a little surprised myself at how much I'm enjoying the stories. Everyone in them is rather improbably nice, but that's part of their charm. :)

Mar 3, 2012, 7:59am Top

Mistress of the House sounds fascinating. It's not one that I'm likely to get around to reading soon since it's not available at either my public library or university library, but I might pick it up if I run across it.

Mar 4, 2012, 5:02pm Top

Hi, Lori - thanks for stopping by! Mistress Of The House is very interesting, though occasionally dizzying with its details.

Mar 4, 2012, 5:08pm Top

Hi Liz. Just catching up and realised that I shamefully forgot to give you credit for helping me through The Heart of Mid-Lothian when I did my own review.

I enjoyed your blog review of James Foster's History of the Pre-Romantic Novel. This comment really struck me: "Foster contends that, during the second half of the 18th century in particular, sentimental novels dominated the English literary scene, and that the few, more realist works now accepted as “classics” give a skewed impression of what people were reading. While the more romantic works have not survived the way their realistic brethren have, in Foster’s opinion they nevertheless better reflect the contradictory and warring attitudes of their time." Certainly, before the last year or so, I'd never have stopped to think about whether the 'classic' novels I was reading were representative of what people read at the time or not. Very thought-provoking.

And your review of the book about the Mary Carleton narratives got me to add Factual Fictions to my wishlist after backtracking to read some of the other reviews you linked to. And you left me almost wanting to read something written by Francis Kirkman :-)

#172 Mistress of the House sounds really interesting and I was incredibly surprised to find that my library has a copy - that never happens!

Mar 4, 2012, 6:46pm Top

Hi, Heather! Never mind. :)

James Foster's book was a very pleasant surprise, thought-provoking and with some very interesting and unusual viewpoints, particularly in the way it ties the sentimental / deistic novels to the shifts in social mores. It's the kind of study that makes you realise how many other studies basically just regurgitate one another.

I'm enjoying watching you being sucked into the whirlpool that is 18th and 19th century English literature! :)

And you left me almost wanting to read something written by Francis Kirkman :-)

On the other hand, some things you should not allow yourself to be sucked into! I think a fan-club of one for Mr Kirkman is perfectly adequate.

Mar 4, 2012, 10:59pm Top

I just ordered Mistress of the House from AMP. I can't wait! Thank you, Liz!!!

Mar 4, 2012, 11:11pm Top

I hope you like it - it's quite a dense work that covers a lot of ground.

Mar 5, 2012, 2:44pm Top

Finished Helen Vardon's Confession - so many reviews behind...

Now reading Anybody But Anne, the fifth in Carolyn Wells' Fleming Stone series, for Mystery March and for the TIOLI homonym challenge.

Mar 6, 2012, 2:51am Top

Finished Anybody But Anne for TIOLI #6 - and I've stopped counting...

Now reading Lord Peter Views The Body for Mystery March and for TIOLI #1 - Dorothy L. Sayers was born in Oxford.

Edited: Mar 6, 2012, 7:56pm Top

When I complained about incomplete series up-thread, I hardly knew how right I was.

Having recently read The Secret Of High Eldersham, the first book in Miles Burton's (Cecil John Street's) long-running series featuring Desmond Merrion, I took an opportunity to run through the next books in the series to get a feel for how many of them might be available.

More fool me.

Cecil Street was an amazingly prolific writer who commonly published four books a year, two as "John Rhode" and two as "Miles Burton", so between 1930 - 1940, he racked up no less than twenty-one novels about amateur detective Desmond Merrion and his CID offsider, Inspector Arnold. Of these, The Secret Of High Eldersham was reprinted as part of the Garland Press "50 Classics Of Crime Fiction 1900 - 1950" series, and is also available as an ebook. The only other one in print is, oddly enough, Death Leaves No Card, the one book in the series in which Merrion does not appear; it was reissued recently by Ramble House. Of the rest to 1940, one is available electronically, and three more I have tagged "rare, expensive". So three out of twenty-one readily available.

The later entries in the series - which went on for about another twenty years and forty books, remarkably - are at least somewhat easier to get hold of, as you might expect. The disappearance of the earlier ones (other than into the Rare Book section of a few libraries) is, however, as puzzling as it is exasperating. This series is talked about in all the studies of Golden Age mysteries; the books were popular, and often re-printed; so where did they all go??

Edited: Mar 7, 2012, 3:07pm Top

Finished Lord Peter Views The Body - and not even thinking about it...

Now reading The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, for TIOLI #7.

This is a re-read in preparation for tutoring - or, more accurately, trying to tutor - Keri through it next month.

Edited: Mar 7, 2012, 4:52pm Top

Today's Virtue - The product of an unhappy marriage and finally a broken home, Pamela Norris spends first her adolescence and then her young womanhood as the friend, companion and confidante of her writer-father, Andrew, who must resign his college professorship after his wife divorces him. The Norrises spend several years travelling together, so comfortable with each other that they rarely seek other company. As a result, Pamela reaches adulthood intellectually advanced but emotionally immature, with little experience of interacting with people her own age. When her father dies suddenly, the solitary Pamela is offered a job in the New York publishing firm that handled his books, and from financial necessity shares an apartment with a co-worker, Rachel James. Pamela is at first bewildered by Rachel's casual approach to life, but becomes accustomed to her friends running in and out of their apartment at all hours. One day, Pamela is home alone when Tony Powell, an aspiring artist, drops in. Almost before she knows it, Pamela is swept into the first serious love affair of her life; one that ends disastrously, with Pamela forced to confront not only her pregnancy, but the realisation that Tony is not the man she thought...

While its general story-line is familiar enough, Faith Baldwin's 1931 novel about a girl "in trouble" manages to separate itself from the pack through its non-judgemental handling of its material. To the reader, seeing Tony Powell through clearer eyes than the dazzled Pamela, the end of the affair is inevitable from the outset; and when, in rapid succession, Tony reacts with anger at the thought of his ruined life, an offer to pay for an abortion, an accusation that the pregnancy is a lie to trap him into marriage, the suggestion that another man's child is being foisted on him, and finally by leaving the country, it is hard not to cheer Pamela's determination to have nothing more to do with him regardless of what society might dictate. Pamela is fortunate in her sympathetic doctor, who has seen only too many such cases, and who arranges both a home and medical care for her in Merton, a small town in Pennsylvania, where his own nephew, Dr John Lathrop, runs a hospital. However, Dr Edwards warns Pamela that Dr Lathrop is entirely conventional in his thinking, and that in order to secure this refuge, she must pose as a widow. Pamela finds the necessity for deceit humiliating, but has no choice but to agree.

Through Pamela's experience, Faith Baldwin presents both sides of the argument - and the fact that, writing in 1931, she thought that there were two sides makes her fairly daring. The prevailing social view is put into the mouth of Dr Lathrop, who is unflinching in his condemnation of transgressors; but the inclusion of a subplot about a pregnant teenager being forced into marriage with a violent man who has already beaten her makes Baldwin's own distaste for such blanket judgement clear enough. So, too, is her opinion of the fact that as a single mother, Pamela faces rejection by the medical profession, and can only obtain decent care by a lie. Nevertheless, Baldwin does not contend that Pamela's way is "the" right way, only that it is right for her.

But Pamela does not escape punishment for her flouting of convention, even if it does not come in the usual form. After the birth of her son, Pamela stays on in Merton, working as Dr Lathrop's secretary. The two become close, and when the doctor proposes marriage, Pamela is forced into a terrible decision, one rendered still more terrible when Tony Powell - who, while he did not want either the child or marriage, cannot tolerate Pamela's rejection of him - finally tracks her down. The resulting confrontation decides the fate of Pamela and her son - and also teaches Dr Lathrop that there is sometimes a gap between theory and practice...

She did love him. She who had thought never to love again, now loved. And so soon. A year ago she had been in Anthony's arms. A year ago. And in that year she had surrendered to Anthony, repudiated him, borne his child and fallen in love with another man. It wasn't fair, she told herself desperately. No, she had not "fallen" in love; nothing as sudden, nothing that so conveyed a sense of headlong impetus. She loved him. From friendship she had grown into loving, slowly, irrevocably. Anthony---that had been like a summer storm, all tempest and lightnings and warnings...heat and oppression and a sort of forlorn mothering, a trying to believe, an endeavour to keep a nonexistent ideal alive and warm in her heart...

Edited: Mar 8, 2012, 7:23pm Top

(Warning: This review contains spoilers for both The Lovely Ship and The Voyage Home.)

A Richer Dust - This concluding volume in Storm Jameson's "Triumph Of Time" trilogy leaps forward from the late Victorian era of The Voyage Home to the rapid change and confusion of the late Edwardian period and the horrors of World War I. Mary Hervey herself, however, though by now in her seventies, is much as we left her at the end of The Voyage Home: domineering, obstinate, and self-willed.

Yet the intervening years have taken their toll on Mary. Her most beloved son, Richard Roxby, who slipped from her grasp to undertake "a five-year journey", died before its conclusion, leaving behind a Spanish-American widow and a daughter, Maria. Meanwhile, though Mary will not let herself see it, Hugh Hervey's heath is failing; while the estrangement between Mary and her favourite daughter, Sylvia, begun with Sylvia's rash marriage and set in stone when, in response to her mother swallowing her pride and making the first move of reconciliation, Sylvia slammed the door in her face, continues into the next generation, with Mary's rejection of Sylvia's children. All Mary's hopes for the future, and in particular her hopes for her shipyards and steelworks, now centre in her grandson, Nicholas Roxby, the only son of her scorned second daughter, Clara, who Mary thrusts aside without compunction as she tries to mold Nicholas to her own purposes.

The narrative of A Richer Dust is a a divided one, split between Mary, whose sheer force of will allows her to ignore old age and hold at bay a world she barely understands, and Nicholas, whose own confusion of purpose reflects the growing chaos across Europe. An early, abortive love affair with Maria Roxby, who contracts a wealthy marriage even while making declarations of eternal love to Nicholas, prepares the reader for his subsequent, disastrous marriage to Jenny Ling, one marked by the near-masochism with which he tolerates his wife's evasions and deceit. The war, when it comes, is an escape and a refuge for Nicholas, who finds new clarity and strength in its demands, and who, like his uncle before him, sets quietly but unswervingly about the task of freeing himself from the spectre of Garton's and the weight of Mary Hervey's expectations.

As a whole, the "Triumph Of Time" trilogy offers a vivid account of a rapidly changing world, and of a woman who both defies it and exemplifies it. Its strength lies equally in Storm Jameson's grasp of the middle- and working-class Yorkshire setting of her story, and the very distance this milieu puts between this particular series and the bulk of historical novels set in the same time period. The point is made that Mary Hervey is entirely a product of a particular time and place, and that it is as much a coincidence of circumstances as her own indomitable will that allows her to sieze her opportunity and build an empire. Yet as we know, empires have a habit of falling. While we must admire Mary Hervey's dedication and courage, and her ability to withstand the many blows that life aims at her, her wilful stubborness and her conviction that she has the right to control the lives of others make her difficult to like; and it becomes hard not to feel that, in the repeated thwarting of her ambitions, she is only getting what she deserves. But even the final, shattering blow of Nicholas's defection is not enough to defeat Mary Hervey, of whom it might be justly said that nothing in her running of Garton's Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Works Limited becomes her so well as the leaving of it...

Her thoughts rounded another corner, bringing her up against the gross figure of Mark Henry Garton. Who would be defeated in her defeat, dying---if there was no-one to take Garton's from her---in her death. He had not reckoned on that when he left her his ships, but he had reckoned on sons and grandsons... It was no good showing him the forty-five acres of yards and works that bore his name. The old Yard and the sail loft were nearer his heart, and his house so placed that he could look out of the window of his dining-room at the ship building in his yard and at the masts of a ship lying in mid-harbour or alongside the wharf. And when he gave her that he expected to live in her life and in the lives of those who came after her...

Mar 7, 2012, 6:42pm Top

I have to tell you that I love reading your reviews, even if I don't always end up wanting to read the books! Thanks.

Edited: Mar 7, 2012, 7:06pm Top

Thank you!

Around here, I consider helping people to avoid book bullets a noble calling! :)

Edited: Mar 8, 2012, 7:24pm Top

The Secret Of High Eldersham - Strangers are not welcome in the East Anglian village of High Eldersham, nor do they ever seem to prosper there. For a time it seems that Samuel Whitehead, the retired police sergeant who has taken over the lease of the 'Rose and Crown', is an exception---until he is found dead with a knife wound in his back... Arriving on the scene, Detective-Inspector Robert Young of the CID is soon aware of a strange atmosphere in the village. A slightly shamefaced Constable Viney recounts to him various odd occurrences involving newcomers to High Eldersham - the persistent ill-health of one, the contamination of another's dairy production - all of which Young takes with a large grain of salt. A local man with a grudge against Whitehead seems a likely suspect, but investigation reveals Ned Portch guilty of nothing worse than unauthorised pig-killing; an activity that alibis him for the time of the murder. Though his efforts seem to clear Portch, Young's attention is caught by an odd detail: the presence in Portch's house of a crude wax doll with a long pin driven through it. Feeling that he is getting out of his depth, Young sends for a friend of his, an ex-Naval Intelligence officer called Desmond Merrion, whose wide experience has been helpful in the past. Without revealing his own suspicions, Young arranges for Merrion to have a few minutes alone in Portch's living-room, from which Merrion emerges having drawn the same conclusion - and, furthermore, able to report that the label on the pin driven through the doll reads "Samuel Whitehead"...

Having established himself as a successful writer of mysteries with his Dr Lancelot Priestley series, published under the name "John Rhode", in 1930 the prolific author Cecil Street adopted another pseudonym, "Miles Burton", to embark upon a second series of mysteries focused upon the intelligent and urbane amateur detective Desmond Merrion. The Secret Of High Eldersham is an auspicious debut, mixing together clever detective work and action scenes, with an atmosphere of the supernatural thrown over the whole - and a lightly sketched-in love story, to boot.

Though holding hard to the thought that it was certainly no unearthly presence that drove a knife into Samuel Whitehead, Young accepts that hidden forces are at work in High Eldersham; and while he pursues conventional paths of inquiry, he gives Merrion the task of conducting a more esoteric one. Merrion's research into the history of witchcraft convinces him - in spite of PC Viney's sudden, inexplicable illness - not that the people of High Eldersham are actually using dark powers to chase away strangers and revenge themselves on their enemies, but that someone in authority has revived "the old ways" to gain power over the villagers and to create a smokescreen for various criminal enterprises. A problem for Merrion is that the obvious suspect is Sir William Owerton, the local magistrate, who has a reputation for arcane scholarship, and to whose daughter, Mavis, Merrion finds himself strongly attracted. For the girl's sake, Merrion keeps his suspicions about Sir William from Young.

After his manservant and helper, Newport, observes a midnight ceremony in the local graveyard, Merrion determines to be an eyewitness of the next gathering of the coven; knowing full well that, even if the villagers' dark practices do not constitute a danger in themselves, as he firmly believes, he is nevertheless dealing with people willing to kill to keep their secrets. Further investigation suggests that the meeting will be held upon a wood-ringed promontory of land jutting into the river that winds around High Eldersham. Approaching silently by water, Merrion manages to conceal himself in some bushes behind the stone altar around which the coven gathers, from where to his horror he witnesses not only the initiation of a new member, but the baptising of a wax doll with the name "Mavis Owerton"...

Holding these lighted candles in front of them, the silent procession moved once more out into the open. The flickering light shone upon their dark cloaks, making them seem huge and unearthly. But it could not penetrate the deep shadow of their hoods, giving the appearance of a horrible emptiness where their faces should have been. Behind them their shadows danced erratically among the tombstones, enormous and grotesque, taking on shapes that could surely never be cast by any human form...

Edited: Mar 8, 2012, 7:28pm Top

Helen Vardon's Confession - Helen Vardon overhears part of a conversation between her father and Lewis Otway, a neighbour, in which the latter accuses the former of misappropriation of funds and threatens him with prison - then offers to save him in exchange for Helen's hand in marriage. Although Vardon angrily turns Otway from his house, defying him to do his worst, Helen's terror for her father leads her to offer herself to Otway in exchange for an undertaking that there will be no danger of imprisonment. On this basis, a marriage is secretly solemnised. However, no sooner have the newlyweds returned to Otway's house than a furious Vardon arrives. Helen hears first a violent quarrel - and then the sound of a heavy body falling. She enters the room to find her father lying dead, a trickle of blood at one temple, and Otway standing over him, Vardon's own silver-headed stick clutched in one hand. A terrified Otway gasps that Vardon collapsed in the middle of their quarrel and struck his head in falling; a doctor later confirms that the cause of death was heart failure. Nevertheless, Helen avers that she will never live with Otway - and when Otway makes her silence on the circumstances of Vardon's death the price of a legal separation, she reluctantly agrees. After the funeral, Helen leaves for London, intending to use her jewellery-making skills to support herself, and hoping that she has seen the last of her husband. However, it is not long before Otway contacts her - a frightened, panicky Otway, who has received a anonymous letter speaking ominously of the silver-headed stick, and of suppression of evidence...

After a break of eight years, including those of World War I, R. Austin Freeman resumed his series-writing in 1922, with a work that entertains as a novel, but may disappoint as a mystery; particularly as a Dr John Thorndyke mystery. Helen Vardon's Confession differs in both structure and content from the earlier series entries. Set in 1908, it is told in the first person, and follows Helen Vardon not only through her involvement in the story's mystery - which is not the death of her father - but also through her move to London, her efforts to support herself, the new friendships she makes, and her resumption of a brief, early relationship with law-student-turned-architect, Jasper Davenant. The rapid development of the latter poses a serious problem for both Helen and Jasper, to whom she has explained the circumstances of her marriage and her inability to secure an annulment. After an abortive attempt to separate, the two seriously contemplate living together - "marrying", as Jasper insists upon calling it, even if society calls it by another name - and they are about to take the decisive step when they learn that Lewis Otway has been found dead, hanged, an apparent suicide; an act committed, it seems, only minutes after Helen's visit to his rooms where, finding him in ill-health and obsessing over the numerous suicides in his family, she could not help reflecting how simple a solution that would be...

When Helen first arrives in London, she moves into a boarding-house run for the benefit of young women who earn their living by various skilled trades - as designers, artists, pottery-makers and woodworkers. One of Helen's new housemates is interested in the occult, and among various attempts to involve Helen in her hobby, teaches her about "the power of suggestion". Helen is initially a sceptic, but when Lewis Otway is found dead exactly as she envisaged it, a terrible sense of guilt envelopes her - one so great that she comes to believe herself responsible for her husband's death. With the coroner's inquest, however, the question of Helen's guilt becomes a far more concrete matter. Incriminating circumstance after incriminating circumstance is revealed: the truth of the Otway marriage; the blackmailing letters, and Helen's suppression of evidence; the disappearance of a parcel of jewels, known to be in Otway's room before Helen's visit; the discovery of the missing silver-headed stick, blood smeared upon its end; and Helen's knowledge of her husband's suicide fixation... When Helen learns that Dr John Thorndyke, the famous medical jurist, has been asked by the Home Office to inquire into the deaths of both Vardon and Otway, it seems to her that she is as good as convicted...

The main problem with Helen Vardon's Confession is that, in a series where the painstaking scientific methods of its detective are the chief attraction, the reader never once gets to see Thorndyke in action, but only hears the results of his investigations after the event. Nevertheless, various unexpected features in this novel help to compensate for this shortcoming - including Helen's belief that she has "willed" her husband's death; a macabre touch that would make this novel an interesting companion-piece to An American Tragedy - how far is the wish sufficient for guilt? Also surprising is the text's lack of condemnation of Helen and Jasper when they decide that the circumstances of Helen's marriage justifies them in what they refuse to think of as "living in sin". Overall, the novel's attitude to women is strangely contradictory; something we've seen before in Freeman. We get the usual negative generalisations: women are over-emotional, woman are illogical, women are incapable of rational thought...yet at the same time we are given a vivid and heartening portrait of a group of intelligent, determined, independent young women supporting themselves by their own labours - as was the case with the heroine of The Eye Of Osiris. It's as if Freeman was ashamed of his preference for women who are not weak and helpless. However---whatever we make of its attitude to women, there's another attitude in this book that is unmistakeable: its anti-Semitism, common enough in English novels of this period, though thankfully absent in this series to this point, is ugly and ubiquitous, and leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.

As the day of the adjourned inquest drew near, my anxiety---intensified by the consciousness of my guilty secret---grew more acute... The suggestion factor in the suicide would probably remain unsuspected by the coroner and the jury. But would it escape Dr Thorndyke's almost superhuman penetration? I could not believe that it would, for the hint of it was plain in Mrs Gregg's evidence. And if it were detected, it would be revealed. Of that I had not the shadow of a doubt. Dr Thorndyke was a kindly, even a genial man; but he was Justice personified. He would investigate the case with relentless accuracy and completeness; and he would tell the truth to the last word. Of that I felt certain. If he held my fate in his hands I was lost.

Edited: Mar 8, 2012, 7:30pm Top

Anybody But Anne - Raymond Sturgis accepts an invitation to a house-party hosted by David and Anne Van Wyck - the former Anne Mansfield, with whom Raymond went to high school, and whose marriage to the much older, very wealthy Van Wyck has attracted some unkind comment. The Van Wycks' home is Buttonwood Terrace, near the Berkshires; a beautiful house whose jewel is the two-storey, glass-ceilinged gallery that David Van Wyck calls his study. Raymond soon realises that there is ill-feeling between Van Wyck and his family. The bone of contention proves to be Van Wyck's declared intention to give away the bulk of his fortune to build and endow a library; a philanthropic gesture which his family believes is impulsive, and that he will regret. Furthermore, furiously jealous at the attention that his wife attracts from other men, Van Wyck threatens to add the famous family pearls to his bequest, purely to spite Anne. He declares that he has asked invited the town committee to call upon him that night, to finalise the arrangement. However, the next morning Anne announces worriedly that Van Wyck is still locked in his study, where the meeting took place, and is not responding to calls. The family must break into the study, which is at all points bolted on the inside as well as locked. Inside they find David Van Wyck dead, a broad red stain across his chest. The pearls are missing, and so is the deed of bequest for the library. It seems that murder has been committed - but if so, how did the killer get out of the room? And conversely, if it is suicide, where is the weapon?

This locked room mystery, the fifth entry in Carolyn Wells' Fleming Stone series, is an enjoyable puzzle featuring both the strengths and the weaknesses of its author. Wells is most comfortable in her creation of a geographical mystery that depends upon the relationship of one room to another, and on where exactly a particular person was at a particular time. However, this novel finds Wells still struggling with her characterisations, and too often giving in to her tendency to tell, not show. This is particularly true of her women. Anne Van Wyck is another of Wells' innocent sirens, attracting men and causing conflict quite without conscious intent, though the reader ends up having to take her "deadly charm" on trust; while the housekeeper, Mrs Carstairs, who hoped to marry Van Wyck herself and becomes a malignant, Mrs Danvers-like presence in the household after being jilted by him, is an embarrassing stereotype of a Frenchwoman.

On the other hand, there is something oddly charming about Wells' unembarrassed preference for setting her stories amongst the moneyed, leisured classes. The text of Anybody But Anne is amusingly uncritical of the fact that Anne has, clearly, married David Van Wyck for his money and his beautiful house, and entirely in sympathy with the family's outraged reaction to Van Wyck's plan to give the bulk of his fortune away. The household's neighbours, interested spectators at the inquest, are shocked and sorry that he has been murdered - until they hear of his threat to give away the pearls, at which point their sympathy veers around to Anne. It is, indeed, difficult to think otherwise than that Raymond is speaking for his author when, upon hearing of David Van Wyck's planned bequest, he reacts with an incredulous demand to know whether the man is a Socialist!?

However, for this reader the peculiar attraction of this series continues to be the exceedingly off-hand way in which murder is treated. By this stage, the inquest scene almost writes itself: everyone behaves suspiciously, exchanging meaningful looks that only the narrator notices; the woman are one and all on the verge of emotional collapse; the servants get hysterical; and the coroner allows the proceedings to be hijacked by any layperson who feels so inclined. However, while an inquest is unavoidable, actually investigating the murder remains entirely optional - as indeed, as it turns out, is arresting the guilty party, once identified. At no point is there any police presence in this story; and while the Van Wycks do hire a detective, once his suspicions fasten on Anne he finds himself confronted by a stone-wall consisting of Condron Archer, the object of Van Wyck's jealousy; Morland Van Wyck, whose feelings are not very step-son-y; and Raymond, his old love having reawakened. Of the three, only Raymond has sufficient faith in Anne to insist upon the murder being solved. It is he who sends for Fleming Stone, who is - for the first time in the series - initially baffled by the mystery that confronts him, but who soon becomes convinced that the theft of the pearls and the murder of David Van Wyck are two different crimes committed by two independent parties. The question remains - how?

The coroner had only put into words what everybody present had been uneasily thinking. The missing deed seemed to prove that the murderer was one of the household... Of course my glance flew straight to Anne, to see how she took this blow. She sat very still, and her face was white even to the lips. I could see it was only by a brave exercise of will-power that she kept herself from collapse. Morland looked angry and belligerent. He glared at Lasseter, and the secretary responded with a stare equally unfriendly. Barbara looked horror-stricken. She seemed about to speak, then shut her lips tightly, as if determined to say nothing at this crisis. In agony, my heart cried, "Anybody but Anne!"

Edited: Mar 11, 2012, 8:21pm Top

Lord Peter Views The Body - Like many collections of short stories, this fourth book in Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey series is ultimately a bit too much of a good thing. Placed back to back, the coincidences - such as Lord Peter's mysterious ability repeatedly to stumble over a crime in the making - are too frequent, and the solutions a little too outrageous for comfort. However, taken individually, each story has its attractions, with perhaps only the last of the collection, The Adventurous Exploit Of The Cave Of Ali Baba, making demands upon the reader's suspension of disbelief that he or she might be disinclined to meet. At the other end of the spectrum, The Undignified Melodrama Of The Bone Of Contention is notable for its supernatural overtones - and for Lord Peter's inarguable contention that he might be as ass, but he's not a bloody ass; both The Unprincipled Affair Of The Practical Joker and The Unsolved Puzzle Of The Man With No Face contain flashes of the kind of moral complexity that we have learned to expect from Sayers' novels; while The Bibulous Business Of A Matter Of Taste is a delicious - literally delicious - tale in which the desperate struggle for possession of an experimental poison gas that could tip the balance of power in Europe degenerates into a wine-tasting contest.

In spite of its title, not every story in this volume features a murder, although the ones that do tend to be exceedingly gruesome; and for reasons known only to Dorothy Sayers, artists seem particularly culpable in this respect. A number of stories - perhaps too many - deal with curmudgeonly relatives hiding their accumulated fortunes and compelling their heirs to go treasure-hunting, a game at which Lord Peter proves himself unusually talented; while we also find him thwarting robberies, giving a blackmailer a taste of his own medicine, carrying out negotiations for the government, and hunting down a major criminal gang. Mervyn Bunter, manservant extraordinaire, is well in evidence, of course; Detective Parker puts in a few appearances, as required; and we are introduced to Lord Peter's young nephew, Viscount St George, aka Gherkins, who is a lot more likeable than any other member of the Wimsey family we've met up to this point. However, given the boy's experiences while in the custody of his "Glorified Uncle", it is difficult to imagine the Duchess trusting him to Peter's care a second time...

Yet for all its undoubted entertainment value, in the end I came away from Lord Peter Views The Body with the uncomfortable sense that these stories were less about creating an opportunity for Lord Peter Wimsey to show off his skills as a detective, than they were about Dorothy Sayers having one to display her classical education - and her lack of concern for anyone not so fortunate. Sayers was notorious for fighting her publishers over any attempt to translate the various passages in French in her works, with the result here that The Entertaining Episode Of The Article In Question ends up being, for most readers, far too clever for its own good. Similarly, The Fascinating Problem Of Uncle Meleaguer's Will turns on solving a puzzle constructed almost entirely from classical and biblical references. Nor does Miss Sayers hesitate to exercise her advanced vocabular gifts. Here are just a few of the terms we encounter on our way through this book: chryselephantine, ambsace, inspissated, viridarium, ampelopsis, myrmidons... Confronted by this erudition, I am forced to assume that there's a typo in my copy of this book, rather than that Miss Sayers is guilty of misquoting Charles Dickens...

Mrs Ruyslaender hesitated. Lord Peter was not what she had expected. She noted the sleek, straw-coloured hair, brushed flat back from a rather sloping forehead, the ugly, lean, arched nose, and the faintly foolish smile, and her heart sank within her.
"I - I'm afraid it's ridiculous of me to suppose you can help me," she began.
"Always my unfortunate appearance," moaned Lord Peter, with such alarming acumen as to double her discomfort. "Would it invite confidence more, d'you suppose, if I dyed my hair black an' grew a Newgate fringe? It's very tryin', you can't think, always to look as if one's name was Algy."

Mar 8, 2012, 4:19am Top

Well! - so much for that day off. Phew!

And now I'm going to curl up with my chunkster, secure in the knowledge that at least I won't have to review anything for a while...

Mar 8, 2012, 12:23pm Top

I've added The Lovely Ship to my TBR list after reading your review of it, after glancing at your review of A Richer Dust. It sounds interesting!

Mar 8, 2012, 1:34pm Top

Lord Peter Views the Body really is a mixed bag. I love The Bibulous Business Of A Matter Of Taste and I really do not care for The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will and I'm fond of The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head because of the young Viscount St. George. As for Sayers using the short stories as a chance to show off her education, well, I'd never thought of it that way, but you may be right!

Edited: Mar 8, 2012, 5:15pm Top


They are interesting, well-written books, but without any real identification figure, as I have said; or anyway, that's how I felt. I think Storm Jameson liked Mary more than I did. I'll be interested to hear your opinion.


There was something about the tone of this book I found irritating - as if it were sneering at the reader. I'm possibly being unfair to Sayers, though - it might just be a quirk that becomes much more noticeable through the collating of the individual stories into one volume.

Of Uncle Meleaguer, I am forced to disagree with Peter and say that witholding your money from a sister who needs an operation, and abusing your niece because she wants to be something more than a decorative object, does not, in my opinion, make you "an old sport".

Mar 8, 2012, 6:55pm Top

Liz, do you know what it was with Storm Jameson and the name, "Hervey"? I've read the first of *Mirror in Darkness* series, and the protagonist's first name is Hervey.
I'll just add that I tried to reread the LPW short stories last year and couldn't do it. I dislike the form, and that seems to trump my adoration of Lord Peter. Too bad.

Mar 8, 2012, 7:41pm Top

We're all a bit torn about these particular short stories, it seems. I don't dislike the form as such, but it does have certain inherent problems, particularly for mystery writers. Although that said, I've very much enjoyed R. Austin Freeman's short stories, with and without Dr Thorndyke.

Peggy, I don't know, but---it might be that the Mirror Of Darkness series is a continuation of the Trilogy Of Time? Maybe the next generation? One of Mary Hervey's spurned grandchildren is called Mary Hervey Russell, and she uses the name "Hervey". Could it be the same person, or a relative?

Mar 9, 2012, 1:16pm Top

195> Don't hold your breath waiting for my review. I've added it to the end of my TBR list, which currently holds 166 books. That's not counting the series that I have in a seperate list, nor counting my Book Around the World books, nor counting Orange prize books I want to read - never mind my very, very high physical pile of TBR books. :D

Edited: Mar 9, 2012, 3:56pm Top

Speaking as someone with 18,000* books in my wishlist, I gave up breath-holding about anything long ago! :)

(*I also gave up my grip on reality. It was a nuisance anyway...)

Mar 9, 2012, 3:57pm Top

Thanks, Liz. The Hervey in *Mirror of Darkness* is Mary Hervey Russell. I didn't know that the earlier trilogy existed, and I don't know which she wrote first, so I"m off to do a little research. Oh! I now remember my Hervey talking about her grandmother with whom her mother had no relationship. MORE for a completist like me to hunt down and buy and read. I can't die until I'm 150.

Edited: Mar 9, 2012, 4:06pm Top

Ooh, ooh! My first CONTINUATION link!! How exciting!

Not going to use it just now, though; think I'll stick it out to the end of the month, just to keep things neat and quarterly.

And thank you, Peggy - I was already aware of the second trilogy as such, but didn't know the two were connected. You can take it from my OCD that the "Trilogy Of Time" came first. :)

"Die, doctor? What nonsense! That is the last thing I shall do!"

Mar 10, 2012, 2:29am Top

199> Glad I'm not the only one with an ever-growing, unrealistic TBR list! Your number makes me feel so much better about my tiny - in comparison - list. :D

Mar 10, 2012, 3:54am Top

You're hardly a proper 75er with an ever-growing, unrealistic TBR!

Edited: Mar 10, 2012, 3:57am Top

Ah, then I am most assuredly a proper 75er :D

Mar 13, 2012, 2:03pm Top

#177 Well, I did say almost :-)

#184 & 185 But Faith Baldwin and Storm Jameson are slowly but surely working their way onto the list of authors I would like to try one day.

#192 I always have high hopes for the number of reviews that I'll manage to get done on a day off but I rarely meet them. That was a superb effort!

Mar 13, 2012, 6:02pm Top

Oh, it was EXHAUSTING - and literally took the entire day, about twelve hours, I think, though with short breaks for coffee and cat cuddling. I nearly quit before Anybody But Anne, but then decided I would grimly plow through the lot. I was very tired and cranky by the end of it, and Dorothy Sayers seems to have borne the brunt. :)

Mar 13, 2012, 6:03pm Top

Finished Tristram Shandy - feeling rather shattered...

Now relaxing with The House On Tollard Ridge by John Rhode, for Mystery March and TIOLI #16.

Edited: Mar 14, 2012, 5:52pm Top

Finished The House On Tollard Ridge for TIOLI #16 - and here come those dreaded words again - review to follow...

Now reading The Brooklyn Murders by G. D. H. Cole - because if there's one thing I really need in my life right now, it's one more series!

This fits several TIOLIs, so not sure yet which one I'll slot it into. (ETA: #19, as most of my TBR mysteries are a lot shorter.)

Edited: Mar 16, 2012, 5:04am Top

Finished The Brooklyn Murders...muttermuttermutter...

Now reading Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy: A Casebook, edited by Thomas Keymer, a series of essays I'm fully intending to plunder shamelessly to make myself sound knowledgeable when it comes to Keri's tutored read.

Haven't scanned the TIOLIs yet, but it certainly fits the divisible-by-three surname, if nothing else.

Edited: Mar 16, 2012, 5:55am Top

The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman - The introduction to the "Macdonald Classics" edition of Laurence Sterne's landmark declares at the outset, "If there is any book in English Literature harder to analyse, more difficult to dissect, more evasive under a critic's microscope, than Tristram Shandy, I have yet to learn its name" - which I'm taking as permission not even to attempt to write a proper review.

Or to put it another way---words fail me.

In spite of which - and in spite of the fact that 250 years after Sterne himself notoriously declared his work to be a story about "a COCK and a BULL", professional critics are still vigorously debating its qualities, intentions, allusions, philosophies and targets - next month will find me tutoring this impenetrable jungle of a book; or rather (let's be honest), floundering around and pretending to know what I'm talking about.

What's that line about fools rushing in..?

Mar 16, 2012, 8:59am Top

. . . just chuckling through your last three posts . . .

Mar 16, 2012, 4:40pm Top

...easy for you to laugh...

Mar 16, 2012, 7:51pm Top

Actually ... laughing WITH you. I haven't put 'em on my thread yet, but you should see my spreadsheet full of "awaiting reviews".

Mar 16, 2012, 8:14pm Top

Aw, I know - just joshin' ya!

What I love most about this place is the way we all tend to celebrate getting a review written by...reading another book. :)

Mar 17, 2012, 5:59pm Top

#206 A glutton for punishment! We've (well, my husband) managed to persuade our cat to sit on our laps for strokes.... but only if she's in her box.

#210 I'll be following the tutored read thread with interest although I can't say I envy you... It's a book I'd like to try one day but how soon probably depends on what you and Keri make of it - no pressure!

Mar 18, 2012, 11:52pm Top

Oh, none at all.

Or no more than I've already put on myself, I guess. :)

Mar 20, 2012, 5:25pm Top

Finished Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy: A Casebook for TIOLI #15 - comments, rather than a review, to follow.

Now reading...something I think I'm going to put aside for next month, because as it turns out, it fits the next TIOLI challenge I have in mind.

Mar 20, 2012, 5:39pm Top

#217 "as it turns out, it fits the next TIOLI challenge I have in mind"

Aargh - it's not getting to that time of the month already?

Mar 20, 2012, 5:58pm Top

Oh, don't panic - I'm mentally organised for TIOLI for at least the next three months. :)

March is one of the long months...

Mar 21, 2012, 5:15am Top

So! - I finally settled on reading The Mystery Of The Thirteenth Floor by Lee Thayer, which has been in the TBR for a while; and when I'd made that decision I then realised---(i) this was a first novel AND the first in a series (ii) by a new-to-me author, and (iii) the rolling TIOLI was up to 'T'.

I love it when a plan comes together. :)

Mar 22, 2012, 4:41am Top

Finished The Mystery Of The Thirteenth Floor for TIOLI #21.

Now reading The Gothic Flame by Devendra P. Varma, an important early study of the Gothic novel, for TIOLI #22.

Edited: Mar 23, 2012, 5:22pm Top

Whoo! I have just belatedly discovered that we have regained the ability to "force" touchstones!

I admit I haven't needed it as much as I used to, thanks to the last touchstone clean-up, but those occasional gaps drive me crazy!

Edited: Mar 24, 2012, 8:33pm Top

The House On Tollard Ridge - Superintendent King is summoned from the quiet harbour town of Lenhaven to an isolated house on Tollard Ridge, some fifteen miles away, where Samuel Barton has been found murdered, struck with a blunt object. King learns that the victim had given up his lonely residence a year earlier to live at Tilford Farm with Jim and Kitty Hapgood. Mrs Hapgood, the daughter of Barton's late business partner, insists that in Hapgood's absence on business, she was the only one who knew of Barton's intention to spend a night alone at his house, and that his sudden decision had something to do with his interest is spiritualism. She reveals that it was on medical advice that she and her husband persuaded Barton to move in with them, after he became convinced that he was in communication with his dead wife. Superintendent King's investigation leads to Barton's long-estranged son, Arthur, who is found with five hundred pounds of his father's money. Though the case seems open and shut, for Barton's sake Kitty Hapgood retains the best possible defence. Nevile Otterburn discusses the case with his old friend, Dr Lancelot Priestley, admitting that he has little hope of gaining an acquittal; and in spite of his best efforts, Arthur Barton is indeed convicted and condemned to death. However, a tiny discrepancy in the evidence of one witness leads Dr Priestley to believe that the case may be far more complicated than it seems, and that Barton is the victim of a carefully laid plot...

This sixth book in John Rhode's series featuring Dr Lancelot Priestley finds its author again experimenting interestingly with the structure of his story. For much of The House On Tollard Ridge we see events through the eyes of Superintendent King, as he conducts what seems to be a thorough and competent investigation of a brutal crime. The identification is so complete that that the reader may not even notice what so swiftly occurs to Dr Priestley: that nothing in the evidence that King so painstakingly tracks to Arthur Barton excludes the laying of a clever false trail. Moreover, a second violent death in the house on Tollard Ridge while Barton is in custody - an apparent suicide, which everyone is eager to have ruled an accident - is in Dr Priestley's opinion a second murder. However, the circumstantial evidence against Arthur Barton is convincing enough that, taken in conjunction with his bitter relationship with his father and his notoriously violent temper, the jury has no hesitation in convicting him. As Dr Priestley realises, in order to get the authorities to contemplate overturning the verdict, the most dramatic demonstration of another's guilt will be necessary - not least because the individual upon whom the detective's suspicions have fastened has been given an alibi by no less a person than Superintendent King.

Although John Rhode's strength as a mystery writer lay in his puzzles rather than his people, The House On Tollard Ridge is a more character-driven story than most of its predecessors. Particularly startling are the implications made about the Hapgood marriage, and Jim Hapgood himself, of whom it it is said: "It isn't in your nature to want a woman as your wife" - fairly daring stuff for a mainstream novel of 1929. As with several of the earlier entries in this series, one of the pleasures of The House On Tollard Ridge is the descriptions of the landscape. The sweeping downs that stretch as far as the eye can see around Samuel Barton's house, only intermittently broken by flocks of sheep or small groves of trees, are to Superintendent King a scene of awe-inspiring beauty; while to Kitty Hapgood, lonely and unhappily married, they are desolate and suffocating. As for the house itself, it becomes almost a character in its own right. Set in a clump of fir trees dense enough to exclude the passage of light, it has an atmosphere so ominous that even Superintendent King and Dr Priestley are affected by it; and having experienced for themselves its nighttime creakings and the eerie sound of the wind in the trees, the two men no longer wonder that Samuel Barton began to hear voices...although Superintendent King, for one, is hardly prepared to start hearing them himself...

And then, suddenly, it seemed as though the wind had somehow found entrance to the room through the closed window. They could not feel it---there was no cold draught upon their faces to tell of its presence---but they could hear the sound of it, as though the rustling of the fir-trees had penetrated into the room... In tense stillness they sat, straining their ears to the ghostly sound of this strange whispering, while the inarticulate voice of it seemed slowly to resolve itself into spoken syllables. A voice, such as no human being had ever possessed, incalculably far away, coming from all sides at once, was hidden in that whispering...

Edited: Mar 24, 2012, 4:39pm Top

The Brooklyn Murders - Sir Vernon Brooklyn, former actor and theatrical impressario, summons his family and friends to his London house for a celebration of his 70th birthday. Absent is Walter Brooklyn, the black sheep of the family, from whom Sir Vernon is estranged. Over dinner, Sir Vernon announces that he has made his will, and describes the provisions. When it becomes clear that he is assuming that Joan Cowper, his step-niece, will marry John Prinsep, his nephew and the manager of his business, Joan disrupts the party by declaring flatly that she will do nothing of the kind. Sir Harry Lucas, Sir Vernon's old friend, manages to diffuse the strained atmosphere; while Robert Ellerby, Lucas's ward, begins to cherish his own hopes about Joan. The rest of the party is a success, with the guests departing relatively early to allow Sir Vernon to retire. The next morning, however, John Prinsep is found dead, murdered. A knife has been driven into his body, but the cause of death is found to be a blow on the head. The investigation conducted by Inspector Blaikie discovers evidence suggesting that the guilty party is George Brooklyn, Sir Vernon's other nephew and with Prinsep his main heir, who was seen returning to the house after the party; but then Brooklyn himself is found dead in the grounds, another victim of a blow to the head - the evidence suggesting that his killer is John Prinsep...

George Douglas Howard Cole was a journalist, a biographical writer, an economist, a political analyst and a socialist, who became Professor of Social and Political Theory at Oxford. In 1918 he married Margaret Postgate, a feminist and socialist, a teacher of the classics, and a campaigner for education reform, who was eventually made a Dame of the British Empire.

And in their spare time, they wrote murder mysteries together.

I find that adorable.

Critical consensus is that the Coles did their best work during the 1920s, when they produced a number of extremely well-thought-of mysteries. However, in the 1930s they increasingly used the mystery framework as a vehicle for social satire. These works are considered inferior to their earlier efforts, but whether this is a general opinion or just the opinion of disappointed mystery fans remains unclear.

Be that as it may, the first of the Coles' mysteries, The Brooklyn Murders, which was published in 1923, is by G. D. H. Cole alone; although it may well be that Margaret contributed. (My own copy incorrectly credits her as co-author.) This is an amusing and intriguing work, offering at the outset plenty of financial motive for murder and the self-evidently absurd proposition that the two victims have killed each other. Inspector Blaikie, a hard-working police officer if not exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, is initially baffled by the scenario confronting him, but eventually concludes that John Prinsep murdered George Brooklyn and was then killed himself by a third party. A second, more subtle trail of clues leads to Walter Brooklyn, who after the death of his two nephews becomes Sir Vernon's residual legitee.

A thoroughgoing cad whose life has been spent lurching from scandal to scandal, Walter is deeply in debt and has no hope of recovering without the financial aid of his disgusted brother, whose family pride will, however, not allow him to cut the black sheep off altogether. When Blaikie discovers that Walter, too, returned to the house after the party, and that he has no alibi for the following hours, he makes up his mind as to his guilt - and when Inspector Blaikie gets an idea into his head, little short of dynamite can shift it. Arrested and charged, Walter Brooklyn finds an unexpected ally in his step-daughter, Joan Cowper. Although she considers Walter capable of any dishonourable conduct, and has been a victim herself of his conscienceless dishonesty, Joan cannot believe him guilty of murder - particularly not murder so cleverly committed - and makes up her mind that she will work to prove his innocence. Her partner in her investigation is Robert Ellerby who, while having no faith in Walter, is more than willing to do anything Joan asks. Meanwhile, Inspector Blaikie's superior officer, Superintendent Wilson, has his own doubts about Walter's guilt, and starts to wonder whether the police have fallen for an elaborate double bluff...

The Brooklyn Murders is an engaging example of a mystery novel written before the genre formula became more or less set in stone. Rather than concealing its killer's identity to the end, as we might expect, it gradually allows it to emerge in the middle of the story, which then becomes about the not-so-simple matter of proving it. Much of the interest of this novel lies in its parallel investigations, with the enthusiastic amateurs on one hand and the experienced professional on the other; each with their own distinct knowledge and pursuing a separate line of inquiry that eventually leads to the same conclusion. Although Joan and Robert dominate the narrative, it is Superintendent Wilson who emerges from the story's fringes to become its hero - and who would go on to become the Coles' recurrent series character. An intelligent man who prefers quiet reflection to leg-work, and with a habit of carrying his most frustrating cases to his wife, whose common-sense helps him to clear the cobwebs from his thinking, Wilson is neverthless quite capable of taking decisive action when he must; and when Inspector Blaikie's obtuseness finally compels him to step into the investigation himself, it is to find Joan and Robert in danger of their lives from a desperate killer who has been brought to bay...

"Unfortunately there is absolutely nothing to show which set of circumstantial clues ought to be accepted and which discarded in that case. We do not know which of the two men was killed first. When Brooklyn went to see Prinsep, did he murder him then and there in the study, or did Prinsep decoy his visitor into the garden by means of the note we have found, and there kill him? Either theory fits some of the facts: neither fits them all... How are we to tell which is right and which is wrong?"

Mar 23, 2012, 11:04pm Top

Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy: A Casebook - Feeling compelled by my own sense of inadequacy to read up on all things Shandean, I was pleased to find that this book of essays sheds some interesting light upon Laurence Sterne's infamously elusive work.

After an introduction by its editor, Thomas Keymer, the book is divided into five sections, each of which considers Tristram Shandy and its author from within a different set of parameters. Part I "Genres, Traditions, Intertexts" examines it as the descendent (and/or opponent) of various lines of philosophy and literature; Part II "Public Performance and Print Culture" looks at it as a work of fiction, and considers its relationship to the still-evolving English novel, and how Laurence Sterne acquired and exploited the celebrity his book won for him; Part III "The Language Of The Body" dissects the novel's biological preoccupations, particularly in light of Sterne's own fatal illness; Part IV "Narrative, Reading, and Meaning" analyses Sterne's relationship with his novel's readers and the book's many ways of telling its story; and Part V "Politics and History" places the book in its 18th century context and examines it as a reaction to contemporary concerns.

It speaks volumes for Tristram Shandy's own volumes that even this extensive and wide-ranging consideration fails to exhaust the ways that this novel has been and continues to be interpreted. For the modern reader, to whom the one thing about Tristram Shandy that seems obvious is its relationship to the 18th century English novels that preceded it, perhaps the most surprising thing is the discovery that there are a number of critics who assert that far from reacting to or satirising the works of writers like Richardson and Fielding, Sterne had no interest in their novels and may in fact never have read them. It is therefore reassuring to learn that others believe exactly the opposite, and are able to provide convincing arguments to back up their assertion; although it is a third novelist, with whom Sterne was conducting a personal / political feud, who they contend got most of his attention.

Overall, I found the most interesting essay in this book to be Peter J. de Voogd's "Tristram Shandy As Aesthetic Object", which gives a comprehensive account of Sterne's visual experimentation in his novel, which in its first editions had its narrative repeatedly interrupted by a myriad of textual flourishes including lines of asterisks, blank pages, music scores, changes in font, linguistic games built around the catchwords, line drawings, pointing hands for emphasis, and the famous "marble pages", which were originally in colour - all of which Sterne personally oversaw during the layout and printing of his book. The point is made that very few modern printings of Tristram Shandy bother to reproduce these carefully planned signifiers, eliminating one of the most crucial and informative aspects of Sterne's work in the interest of saving expense; and that an edition without them deprives the reader of much of the real experience of reading this remarkable book.

The hospitality of Tristram Shandy to different approaches and divergent readings is not a discovery of modern criticism. Within this relentlessly self-conscious work, Tristram defines writing as an act of conversation or work of imagination in which a creative role is exercised by readers as well as by authors. An unruly cast of inscribed readers lurks in the margins of his text, differentiated by gender, rank or profession, and dramatizing the openness of the work to varying modes of response...

Mar 24, 2012, 3:15am Top

The Mystery Of The Thirteenth Floor - James Randolph Stone, a successful lawyer infamous for his ruthlessness and his ability to make enemies, dictates a new will to an office stenographer, and has the finished copy witnessed by her and an office clerk. Barely have Miss Daudray and Mr Wilson left Stone's office than from behind the closed door that hear a cry and a thud. They hurry back in and find Stone dead, a dagger buried to its hilt in his heart; but there is no sign of the killer, and no-one has been heard running away. The doctor summoned to the scene puzzles over the fact that, from his expression, Stone saw the fatal blow coming, yet evidently did nothing to defend himself; while the detective on the case, Inspector Graves, discovers that Stone's new will has disappeared. Estelle Daudray reveals that the will disinherited one of Stone's nephews, his namesake James, in favour of the other, Chester Morgan; both young men work in victim's firm. Though he is unable to explain how the crime was committed, Graves finds circumstantial evidence of James's guilt. When Morgan reveals that the night before the murder he overheard a violent quarrel between his cousin and his uncle, James is arrested and charged. But James's friends do not believe him guilty, and set out to succeed where they are convinced the police have failed...

When the forty-five-year-old Emma Redington Lee's marriage to Henry W. Thayer ended in divorce in 1918, she began writing and publishing mysteries under the comfortably androgynous name of Lee Thayer - and continued doing so until the age of ninety-two, when in 1966 she completed the wryly titled Dusty Death. While the rest of her better than sixty novels feature the detective Peter Clancy and his valet-henchman Wiggar, her first, The Mystery Of The Thirteenth Floor, is a stand-alone.

Written at a time when the genre was still very much in development, The Mystery Of The Thirteenth Floor is a transitional work. It obviously feels no particular need to "play fair" with the reader, and while there is a mystery, inasmuch as someone gets murdered and we don't know how or by whom, from the materials presented there is very little likelihood that the reader (or, for that matter, the other characters) will be able to figure it out. As was often the case in these early days, this novel is as much about the effect of the murder, and of the subsequent arrest of James Stone, upon those close to these events as it is about the solving of the crime.

Indeed, if this novel could be said to be about one thing, it would not be "murder", but "honour". One reason for the official belief in James's guilt is his reluctance to account for his movements around the time of the murder. While he is partly motivated by his determination to keep his fiancé, Phyllis Calvert, out of the public eye, it turns out that James's silence is due to his having witnessed something that makes him believe that Phyllis's father is the murderer, and deciding that he will keep that secret no matter what. Hamilton Calvert, perhaps Stone's bitterest enemy, managed to fight his way back to prosperity in spite of being once ruined by him, and then took offices next to Stone - on the 13th floor - with the sole idea of infuriating him. Calvert is also a collector of military relics, including daggers - one of which just happens to have been mislaid. Even the not-exactly perspicacious Inspector Graves might have been interested by this combination of facts, we feel; but having made up his mind at the outset that James is guilty, Graves looks no further. "Society", meanwhile, is demanding that someone pay for the murder - without, it seems, caring all that much about guilt or innocence. No attempt is made to explain how the crime was committed, and the evidence against James is incomplete and circumstantial; yet were it not for the killer's own sense of honour, an innocent man might have gone to the electric chair with Society's blessing.

For myself, much of the interest of this novel lies in its general similarity to the bizarre, police-less mysteries of Carolyn Wells - which suggests that Wells may not have been so far from the mark as these days we tend to assume. One of Wells' novels makes the point that, at this time, early in the 20th century, America was far behind Britain in terms of criminal investigation, and based upon her novels and this by Lee Thayer, we're inclined to believe it. Certainly neither novelist gives us any reason to have confidence in the forces of law and order. Equally unnerving is the conduct of those touched by the murder, who in response to their dissatisfaction with the official investigation conceal and tamper with evidence, withhold information, and even commit crimes - the end being held to justify the means. The Mystery Of The Thirteenth Floor offers not one but two highly improbable amateur detectives, namely, Mr Gregory, Stone's kindly, rotund, late-middle-aged senior clerk, and young Peter the office boy (who speaks a horrifying though possibly not inaccurate mixture of Irish and East Side). Between them, the two locate the missing will - the real contents of which are the novel's funniest touch - and discover, though not intentionally, the identity of the killer. Their tactics may be unorthodox - not to say illegal - but it's hard to argue with the results.

"You see, sir," he began, "it did happen and---it couldn't have! No, sir, not in the time! Wilson and Miss Daudray weren't out of the room while you could count ten... And it was done and the murderer gone and the will gone! I put it to you: look at the length of this room; look at the chairs and the lights standing on the floor, and the table taking up nearly all the remaining space. Look at the little room there was for a man in a hurry to pass through without disturbing anything. I tell you that it couldn't have been done. And yet it was done, and God only knows how!"

Mar 24, 2012, 9:31am Top

I was hoping that The Brooklyn Murders was a free Kindle download, but I don't see it. It sounds really good. I'll make myself a note to try to locate a library copy.

Mar 24, 2012, 4:51pm Top

I was surprised and pleased that my academic library had a copy for open borrowing - it has a nasty habit of putting everything from this era into Rare Book, whether it is actually rare or not.

As I say, the mysteries from this era can be jolting, because they just don't play by "the rules"; but if you can get into the swing of that, they're a lot of fun.

Mar 24, 2012, 5:00pm Top

Finished The Gothic Flame - review to come.

Now reading The Path Of Love by Norma Octavia Lorimer, which was pulled randomly from the library shelves when the book I actually wanted wasn't there.

Edited: Mar 25, 2012, 5:46pm Top

The Gothic Flame - It can be difficult these days to put a proper value on Devendra P. Varma's breakthrough 1957 study of the Gothic novel. This work was responsible for reviving academic interest in this once wildly popular form of literature, which sat at the nexus between the sentimental tale and the horror story, and eventually led to the release by the Arno Press of "facsimile reproductions" of some of the second-tier Gothic novels, a project for which Varma acted as series editor. But while this work is an important landmark for those with an interest in this area, in a way The Gothic Flame has become a victim of its own success. The increased availability of the Gothic novels themselves, and a greater willingness in academic circles to admit the worth of studies of the less high-brow forms of literature, now make the limitations of this seminal work rather painfully obvious.

The Gothic Flame begins with a consideration of the social, political and emotional factors that created the fertile soil which was to nourish the passionate and irrational literature of the late 18th century, suggesting that the Age Of Reason, with its cool rationality and its elabotate rituals, engendered a sense of lack. There was a hidden hunger for works that stimulated the imagination, and even when the Georgian period was at its most controlled there was a growing body of non-fiction and poetical writing dealing with esoteric subjects. Fiction, meanwhile, was developing upon strictly rational and realistic lines - until Horace Walpole's personal dissatisfaction with modernity and his love of all things antiquarian inspired him to write what he described as "an attempt to blend the ancient romance with the modern". The result, The Castle Of Otranto, pulls together in one brief work a sprawling castle with dungeons, vaults and secret passageways, underground caverns, a villain with uncontrollable passions and a dark secret, an immaculate hero with a hidden identity, persecuted maidens, inescapable fate - and, most contentiously, genuine supernatural manifestations. It was in reaction to these features, both approving and disapproving, that the genuine Gothic novel was born.

From this point in his study, Varma takes a slightly disappointing path. He talk a lot about Horace Walpole and The Castle Of Otranto, and the works of Ann Radcliffe, which did and do represent the high-water mark of the genre; and also gives much weight to Mathew Gregory Lewis's The Monk and Charles Maturin's Melmoth The Wanderer, which are the extreme manifestations of the form. Yet even as he insists upon the worth, both literary and emotional, of the Gothic novel, there is an obvious reluctance on Varma's part to step away from these well-worn paths and engage with the second-tier novelists whose works, he assures us, filled the shelves of the circulating libraries and were read and re-read until they literally fell apart. The Northanger Abbey "horrid novels" are given some consideration, and a few popular writers including Reginia Maria Roche and Eliza Parsons are mentioned; but we are given little idea of what these authors personally contributed to the genre, or how they did, or did not, differ from Radcliffe in their use of the Gothic armoury. Ultimately, there is too much talk here and not enough analysis.

Varma is on firmer ground with his examination of what he calls, not the death, but the disintegration of the Gothic novel, which burnt itself out over the course of a few frantic decades. He shows how the genre tropes were not lost, but appropriated by other writers and put to new uses - by early 19th century novelists such as Scott, Ainsworth and Bulwer-Lytton, in the first place, and later by Dickens and the Brontes; and perhaps even more importantly, by the Romantic poets. And this, finally, is the overriding problem with this book: it is much more secure in discussing the influence of the Gothic than the Gothic itself, and finally leaves us with a sense (perhaps the same sense that Walpole and his readers had in the mid-18th century) of something fundamental missing. Although there is no disputing the importance of this work, it is not wholly satisfactory - and ironically, it ends up persuading where it means to dissuade. The most important study of the Gothic novel before Varma's was Montague Summer's The Gothic Quest, published in 1938, the first volume of a project terminated by its author's death. Varma acknowledges Summers' work but quotes a contemporary review that criticises it as suffering from "a want of selective discipline, from a tendency to extremism in praise and blame." After reading Varma's own cautiously narrow approach to the subject, the thought of Summers' lack of discipline becomes oddly attractive.

It is true that the machinery of Gothicism creaks at times, and its phantoms stalk too mechanically, that a tone and colour of unreality undermines its values. Yet one may still relish even the strangely attractive absurdities of the School, and find pleasure in its outmoded fantasies and stucco supernaturalism, its most bizarre intrigues and baroque adventures, its language which is sometimes queerly coloured and patterned. While we may laugh at the statue from whose nose fell three drops of blood, and may not get a shiver from the portrait that walked out of its frame, these novels met the need of their times, which had not been met by the polished intellectualism of the Augustan age. These novels answered to a demand for something wild and primitive, exciting the primordial emotions.

Edited: Mar 27, 2012, 5:23pm Top

Finished The Path Of Love by Norma Octavia for TIOLI #7 - review to come.

Now reading Week-End At Hurtmore by Mary Lutyens, another random selection off the library shelves.

Edited: Mar 28, 2012, 5:36pm Top

Well - that was quick: finished Week-End At Hurtmore, which does not fit any TIOLI - review to come.

Now reading The Gothic Quest, Montague Summers' "undisciplined" study of the Gothic novel, from 1938.

Mar 28, 2012, 5:36pm Top

Well, you could fit it into Challenge #6 - week/weak, more/moor - if you want to go for an embedded word.

As always, I'm enjoying your reviews!

Mar 28, 2012, 5:41pm Top

Hi! Thanks!

Yes, I guess it would fit, but I have a psychological block against using embedded words, even if they're allowed. :)

Never mind!

Mar 29, 2012, 3:00am Top

#224 The Brooklyn Murders sounds interesting but at £25 for a used copy I think I will have to pass...

#225 And very interesting comments on Tristam Shandy.

#230 My library has a copy of The Gothic Flame! It sounds interesting despite the weaknesses you mentioned.

Edited: Mar 29, 2012, 3:39am Top

Yee-ouch! Yes, I certainly lucked out finding a library copy of that one.

Thank you - I only hope I can keep it up! :)

Oh, it is interesting, but it's one of those traditionally structured "history of the novel" works that concentrates on three or four major authors and hasn't much to say about the rest. You know me and my passion for obscure writers! But if it's your introduction to the topic, it's certainly a valuable work in that respect.

Must say, though - I'm having more fun with Montague Summers, who has an unabashed passion for the lesser known Gothic authors.

Edited: Mar 31, 2012, 7:55pm Top

Yayyyy!!!! I have finally caught up all my outstanding blog reviews!!

I have posted on both The Life And Adventures Of Sir Bartholomew Sapskull by William Donaldson, which was pretty awful, and The English Novel by George Saintsbury, which was entertaining but exasperating.

Which I guess explains why it's taken me this long to get them written up.


The Path Of Love - I hardly know what to make of this 1921 novel by Norma Octavia Lorimer, which offers up such a strange mixture of politics, philosophy and romance - or "romance" - that it is difficult to decide what the reader is supposed to take away from it. This is, ostensibly, the story of Rosmunda Masson, a girl of English parents raised in post-WWI Italy; of her experiences after pursuing her dream of visiting England; of her political awakening; and of her belated embracing of - *cough* - her natural destiny as a woman. Although in Italy she considers herself terribly English, once ensconced in the stifling middle-class respectability of Ealing, Rosmunda is an alien presence in the home of her uncle and aunt, so entirely an outsider that she quickly determines to strike out and build a life of her own. Her political interests and her skill with languages secure her the post of secretary to Mr Swanson, the Liberal member for Lloydstone - although it soon becomes clear that the fact she is an unusually beautiful young woman has quite as much to do with her hiring - and before long she is offered a future of leisured luxury, when her employer's son, Norman, asks her to marry him.

To be fair to The Path Of Love, it is never less than interesting, albeit in an odd sort of way, particularly in its handling of what is not, in fact, its romantic triangle; or at least not for some considerable time. Rosmunda's best friend, political mentor and not-lover is a man known only as "the Professore", or just as "Maz", who it is several times implied is literally the reincarnation of the 19th century Italian political activist, Guiseppe Mazzini. As Italy rebuilds after the devastation of war - a background which allows Lorimer to hold forth angrily upon the behaviour of the Allies, and the likely future consequences of their treatment of Germany (in which she is sadly quite right) - Maz devotes himself to the concept of the brotherhood of man, travelling through Europe preaching a message of unity, peace and common humanity. As a sign of his commitment to the cause, he has sworn to live a single, celibate life - a stance to which his passionate love for Rosmunda makes no difference at all.

As for Rosmunda herself, it is a case of "don't know what you've got 'til it's gone". In Italy she is inclined to treat Maz lightly, as a friend, as a brother, and to argue against his beliefs; but once in England she comes to realise how deeply his philosophy has engraved itself upon her heart and mind - and that she is in love with him. This latter revelation comes to her - and again I have to stress, literally - in a dream; a dream most inconveniently situated between Rosmunda becoming Mrs Norman Swanson, and her wedding-night... But as it turns out, this belated awakening is almost the least of Rosmunda's worries. It is soon clear to her that there is something "wrong" with Norman, who in spite of his wealth and position is a perpetual outsider in the social events he enjoys so much. Some overheard gossip eventually reveals to Rosmunda that the Swanson fortune is built upon war-profiteering, confronting her with the necessity of deciding what is the honourable thing for her to do. She considers it her fundamental duty to try and reclaim Norman, and rightly mistrusts the motive behind her immediate impulse to walk out on him, which is only strengthened by the arrival of Maz in England, his constitution shattered by his exertions in the cause, and his doctor prescribing for him "a normal life": marriage and fatherhood...

The Path Of Love places Rosmunda in various situations that make it difficult not to sympathise with her; but there is, nevertheless, something exasperating about her ability always to realise important things just a little too late - and her conviction that women "do not understand themselves" doesn't help, either. But it is the revolution in her views on life towards the end of the novel that finally carries her beyond the limits of my empathy. Throughout the story, Rosamund is frank about her profound desire to have children, which is of course her right and privilege - at least until she (or perhaps Norma Lorimer) expands this into an insistence that this is what all women want, and that a woman who does not have children lives a thwarted, useless life. By the end, indeed, Rosamund has embraced a philosophy of barefoot and pregnant, not just for herself, but on behalf of fifty per cent of the world's population. Thank you so much. This position even comes with a corollory, as illustrated by a group of young children, the boys playing soldier and the girls with dolls - from which (according to Rosmunda) we are to understand that girls are natural mothers from the beginning*, and that the games children play are serious foreshadowings of their adult lives**. I did start out sympathising with Rosmunda; I ended up wanting to slap her.

Was she just to go on living as she was living, a parasite on humanity, a worshipper of mammon, a drone, or was she to link herself to the little band of disciples who bravely tried to accomplish the task which their masters fifty years ago had laid upon their shoulders? By doing so she knew that she would be giving up the very things for which she had married. Money, power and intellectual ambition. Could she do it? Was any woman strong enough to do it? By love and sympathy and fellowship she was to awaken the sleeping angel in her husband. Was there angel enough in herself? She knew, as she asked herself the question, that only Maz could make her do it. Communion with Maz, the assurance that he would help her, that he would be with her and strengthen her until she was able to walk alone.

* I didn't have many dolls, but the ones I did I regularly dissected. I wonder what Rosmunda would make of that?
** Which I guess explains why I've spent so much of my adult life beating elderly military men over the head with candlesticks in their own studies.

Mar 30, 2012, 9:52pm Top

Just a heads-up for anyone who might be interested - as I have mentioned before, I will be tutoring Keri (keristars) in Laurence Sterne's fascinating and exasperating novel, The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

The thread has just been set up - here. At the moment it contains only an (admittedly fairly lengthy) introductory post, but the tutoring proper will be under way shortly.

I hope some of you will join us - or at least lurk!

Mar 31, 2012, 8:57am Top

Re: The Path of Love Thank you for another wonderfully wise and hilarious review of a book I know I'll never read. It occurs to me that you ought to receive some sort of medal or at least a commendation for slogging through some of the things you write about and then turning around and making the experience so enjoyable for the rest of us. Having no medals to hand I can only say, again, thanks!

Mar 31, 2012, 8:02pm Top

Heh! - thanks. No medals necessary; an occasional comment will do. :)

I mean, it was interesting - I keep using that word, don't I? - "interesting" - but this was one of Norma Lorimer's later novels and reading it was like coming late to a party: I kept getting the feeling there was a whole body of related literature sitting behind this particular novel. Obviously she knew her stuff with regard to post-war sociology, but I can't say I cared for the use she made of it.

Mar 31, 2012, 8:11pm Top

Liz, I just thought I'd drop by to say a quick hello. I've been so antisocial lately and you've been such a great help with your excellent tutoring that I wouldn't want you to think I ignore you completely the rest of the time!

Edited: Mar 31, 2012, 8:20pm Top

It's always lovely to see you here when you have the time, Ilana, but don't worry about hurting my feelings if you don't drop in for a while. It's hard enough keeping up around here even when you're not dealing with outside issues, as you are. Take care of yourself, and just stop by when you feel like it.

My best to the furkids, BTW!

Mar 31, 2012, 8:27pm Top

Thanks Liz for being so understanding, and I'm sure furkids appreciate the attention too! :-)

Mar 31, 2012, 10:27pm Top

Week-End At Hurtmore - Perdita Charant lives a perfect life in the country. Her home is beautiful, her garden flourishing, and her income secure. In difficult employment times she still has enough servants, her children are well-behaved, and her husband, Antony, adores her. In fact - Perdita's life is so very perfect, she occasionally finds it a little dull... A looming weekend house-party offers a welcome diversion - not least because one of the expected guests is the handsome, wealthy and charming Oliver Hillingdon. As the party draws near, Perdita's thoughts centre themselves more and more about Oliver, and the possibilities of the weekend...

But Perdita is not the only one whose presence at the party has an undercurrent of ulterior motive. The elderly Sir Edward Fulven is an epicure of memories, and has come hoping to add a few perfect moments with the beautiful Mrs Charant to his collection; while his wife, Isabel, whose life has narrowed to her obsession with getting her daughter, Betty, married off, has come in maternal pursuit of the party's two unmarried men, Oliver and Antony's best friend, Patrick. However, Patrick is secretly involved with young woman called Marilyn, who is still to get her divorce from the husband she left on the grounds of cruelty. Short of money and desperate for a new job that will allow him to support a wife, Patrick convinces Marilyn to try and charm Oliver into agreeing to "do something" for them. The final guest is Perdita's widowed cousin, Inez; and although the overt reason for her visit is to see her young daughter, Susie, who lives with the Charants while her mother works in London, Inez can think of nothing but rekindling her long-dead affair with Oliver...

So when Oliver Hillingdon telephones to say that his arrival has been delayed - twice - the effect is to rock the gathering on its heels, and to set off a chain reaction of frustration, disappointment and ill-temper, which stretches the hostessing skills of Perdita to their very limit.

Mary Lutyens' 1954 comedy-drama about a less-than-successful house-party is an engaging piece of writing that avoids the potential trap of wearing out its welcome, and gives us just enough insight into its cast of characters - who collectively are a pretty awful bunch of people, albeit in a highly civilised, well-mannered sort of way - to allow us to appreciate the tangled relationships and interactions that play themselves out under the Charants' roof. The careful, closely observed deconstruction of these "nice" people, and the gap that occasionally opens up between Lutyens' subject matter and her cool, poised prose, makes Week-End At Hurtmore an amusing, if occasionally uncomfortable read---which is to say, I wasn't expecting to come across so many references to sex, adultery, divorce, and contraception, let alone menstruation and group urination. There are even hints, in the story of Marilyn, of both sexual sadism and homosexuality; while the novel's concluding shock - and most pleasant surprise - involves an interracial relationship. Looking back across this deceptively simple tale, it struck me overall as a rather daring piece of writing - or have I just been mired in the 1930s too long?

To think of the frenzy of the early days made her rather sad---their first forty-eight-hour honeymoon in the war and then that wonderful long honeymoon after he came home. But it had been different then. There had been no beastly preventatives for one thing because they both wanted children, and besides there had been nothing else to do because they had not had a proper home. (Antony so often asked her to go upstairs with him now just as she was going to spray the roses. It was not as if you could spray the roses any time.)

Apr 1, 2012, 12:19am Top

So I guess that wraps it up for March - and the first quarter - eep!

I read 12 books during March, of which 10 fitted TIOLI, and in a nicer spread than I usually manage:

#1: Lord Peter Views The Body by Dorothy L. Sayers
#6: Anybody But Anne by Carolyn Wells
#7: The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
#7: The Path Of Love by Norma Octavia Lorimer
#15: Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy: A Casebook by Thomas Keymer
#16: The Secret Of High Eldersham by Miles Burton
#16: The House On Tollard Ridge by John Rhode
#19: The Brooklyn Murders by G. D. H. Cole
#21: The Mystery Of The Thirteenth Floor by Lee Thayer
#22: The Gothic Flame by Devendra P. Varma

The two non-TIOLI books were Helen Vardon's Confession by R. Austin Freeman, and Week-End At Hurtmore by Mary Lutyens.

As befitting Mystery March, my reading this month was dominated by mysteries - including the beginnings of three more series. Sigh.

Mysteries: 7
Classics: 1
Contemporary (i.e. at time of publication) fiction: 2
Non-fiction: 2

Part of a series: 5

Balancing my mystery reading this month was my preparation for tutoring Keri through Tristram Shandy - drop by across April to see how it goes!

And see you in the new thread!

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2012

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