Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

November's reading

Yes, yes, I know - well into December already! And inevitably it's mostly the non fiction and non crime fiction challenge books that have slowed me down - that and finishing A Lochgorm Lament which might, possibly, be out at New Year - seems like a nice time to do it.

                                       So, what have I been reading, and what did I think of it?


The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed, 1600 - 1900

Non-fiction is The Scottish Clearances, by Tom Devine: Even Diana Gabaldon says this was readable, so I thought I should be able to manage it – and indeed it was, very readable. It's a balanced, pleasingly unromantic account, setting the clearances in the context of land management and clan structures across Scotland in the centuries leading up to the clearances, examining broad trends and individual cases and using a wide variety of sources, exactly the scholarship one expects of Devine. All right, so I haven't quite finished it, but I've read the chapters I needed, the bulk of the book, honestly! And I shall finish it, because it really is a good read.


Rotherweird (Rotherweird, #1)
Non-crime fiction this month (though I started it last month) is Andrew Caldecott, Rotherweird – thoroughly Gormenghasty, this opening book of the series set in a part of England that subsists under some other law. We see it in contemporary times and also in flashbacks to the point where it came to be. It took me quite a while to read it: I found it hard going, though I’m not sure why: there was a fair amount of action, and the characters were nicely complex – lots of detail and an interesting plot. Though I left it for a week or so at a time, I always remembered what was going on when I came back, and though, as I say, it was hard going, I still enjoyed it, racing eventually to the end of a very convoluted plot.

Now to crime:


The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)

TheCuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith: you'll have heard of this. I hadn’t bothered with this for ages, waiting for the hype to die down a bit. I didn’t have any expectations one way or the other, and was delighted with the book straightaway. I found the two main characters engaging and there was a good balance between their different perspectives. Pacing is obviously a skill the author has developed already and it was well applied here. Clearly these are not to everyone's taste, even when you push past the grudges against such a successful author, but I found it a very enjoyable read – I’m glad I have a few to catch up on, though I'm already halfway through the third.
Here are a few more 'next in series' ones, authors not new to me but much looked-forward-to:
Dandy Gilver and The Reek of Red Herrings (Dandy Gilver, #9)
Catriona McPherson, The Reek of Red Herrings: set in the Banffshire fishing community of Gamrie in the depths of winter, this is the usual entertainment with lots of philology thrown in – local customs and fishy mystery. The research is copious but lots of fun, and the end is really quite shocking, even if you half see it coming. I’ll be off to the next one soon.


Lies Sleeping (Peter Grant, #7)

LiesSleeping, Ben Aaronovitch: another excellent episode in this series, Rivers of London. I really enjoy the throwaway sarcasm, the random architectural observations, the erudition, the humour and the plots woven into history. I try not to read them too quickly but there – there’s another one finished. Bother.


The Killing Code (DCI Logan Crime Thrillers, #3)
The Killing Code, J.D. Kirk: One of three excellent series currently set around Inverness and the Black Isle. The wit is the same as in the preceding books, but the quality of the writing is increasing. I really enjoyed it and look forward to the next one, which I think may be out already - but it's another one to ration, I think.
Now for a couple of new authors for me:


Death Will Find Me (A Tessa Kilpatrick Mystery, Book 1)

Vanessa Robertson, Death will Find Me: A promising and slightly different start – a woman scarred by her experience in the First World War finding that her handsome husband is no longer interested in her. There are a few inaccuracies but not many, and soon we’re off in a sombre 1920s murder mystery set mostly in Edinburgh, very nicely evoked and quite convincing. It’s like a sober version of the Dandy McGilver books by Catriona McPherson, above, which I also enjoy. There was perhaps a little too much reiteration of the heroine’s violent past and ability to kill and generally look after herself – I hope this might be something that calms down a bit in later books – but on the whole it was a good read.
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BelovedPoison, E.S. Thomson: I met the author and received a signed copy of Surgeons’ Hall, but she impressed me too much for me not to go back and start the series from the beginning before tackling her fourth book. So here we are, in mid 19th century London, at St. Saviour’s Hospital with Jem, a woman apothecary posing as a man, and Will, an architect whose father died in the hospital’s care. It’s lovely, luscious, with characters who look like Hogarth’s grotesques but have real depth to them. Really excellent descriptions of the worst bits of London. She’s used the mysterious little coffins held in the National Museums of Scotland which I’ve known about for years and planned to use in a book except that a colleague showed them to Ian Rankin first (drat), but she’s used them to very good effect and I don’t grudge it at all! (no really. No, not very much at all. Only a very tiny bit.)
I have to admit to three did-not-finishes this month, though they'll remain nameless for now - in fact, I didn't get very far into any of them. This is unusual for me and it's possible that I just had too much in my head to take them in. 
Anyway, I've returned to work on The Slaughter of Leith Hall, the 1763 stand alone, so that should keep me busy over Christmas! I had a good day at the National Records of Scotland on some background research, and I'm awaiting a photo or two from the National Trust for Scotland to help with some detail. After that my plan is to write Orkneyinga Murders 3, and we'll see what happens then! 

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