A smallish but varied selection last month:
Julie Anderson, Plague: A very London start, heading down into a part of the Underground being refurbished, where a burial chamber and informal ossuary has been found. The plot circles around Westminster and particularly the House of Lords, and the route of the Tyburn river, where a small organisation is gratifying the fantasies of important visitors to London. Cassie is trying to revive her own career while stepping warily around the upper echelons of the Civil Service. It’s an exciting thriller, though I thought that the plague element of it was lost and I had hoped for more about the historical features under London’s streets, not just the Tyburn. Still, it’s quite a good start for a series and I liked the setting, much of which is familiar to me.
Cecilia Peartree, The Heiress is not at Home: This is a companion series to the Missing Heirs series, and very much in the same lines. The action has moved to Dorset, where a young lady is very sensibly fleeing an unwelcome attempt to marry her off as a financial settlement. The plots are lively but more in the manner of a Georgette Heyer than a murder. Yet there is political action here as well as the ever present threat of smugglers – riots in Lyme Regis! This is another very intelligent and amusing read from this author.
Cecilia Peartree, The Identity Illusion: Darn it, every time one of these books comes out I can’t resist dropping everything and heading back to Pitkirtly! This time Amaryllis’ sister makes an appearance, causing confusion and chaos in a manner that Amaryllis herself would be perfectly happy with. And is Christopher developing a backbone? And what is happening in the museum? Goodness, Pitkirtly might be the crime capital of Fife but the population feel like my dearest friends!
David Penny, The Red Hill: Good atmosphere from the start, in 15th century Granada under the Sultan. A British man is his surgeon, and the sultan asks him to investigate a series of maimings and killings in the palace. It’s a bit repetitious – could have done with an edit, really – and the hero is not as bright as everyone thinks he is - there are a couple of points where he's just too busy to hear what the useful informant has to tell him - but the sense of place is really spot-on and the end sets up the series well.
M.J. Trow, Maxwell’s House: A knowing, brisk beginning with a dead girl in a murky, deserted house. The descriptions of schools and their management are amusing, but bitter, and the constant mimicry of actors and comedians is a little overdone. I preferred his Kit Marlowe series. But this has its interest, too, and when the teacher who is trying to take responsibility and find out more about the murders of his pupils is at risk of arrest for those murders, the plot becomes more sinister. Can the police, with their curiously dull senior officer, actually be trusted? Can the teacher? Or is that senior officer sharper than he seems?
Delia Owens, Where the CrawdadsSing: As this book progressed I became more and more reluctant to read it. It begins miserably and improves, which usually leads to a disaster. I shan’t say whether or not that disaster happens – I did cry, I’ll say that much – but certainly this is a beautifully written book with a deep feeling for the marshes where it is set, so that you can hear the birds and smell the damp vegetation and feel the sea breeze. I’m glad I read it.
Peter May, ExtraordinaryPeople: The first in the Enzo MacLeod series set in Paris and other parts of France. This is a real puzzle book, and an exciting chase with interesting characters, though you have to suspend quite a bit of disbelief for the plot. I had read May’s Lewis trilogy some time ago and found it quite hard to take entirely seriously, though they were well-written too. I then abandoned him for some years until I saw him interviewed at Granite Noir this year and found him very entertaining, so on the strength of that I bought this and the first in the China series.
Letters to a DiminishedChurch, Dorothy L. Sayers: Goodness, this could have been written last week, instead of just after the Second World War. Sayers is knowledgeable and witty, and can take us from the Apostles’ Creed to crime fiction to T.S. Eliot with ease and purpose, and you find yourself nodding and agreeing with all of it. Though there are excursions elsewhere, the main theme running through the book is human creativity, how it reflects that of God and how it is essential for our happiness and fulfilment in our spiritual life, whatever that life may be. The context of industrialisation, global crisis, economic struggles and celebrity culture are very familiar to us. My only regret is that this edition, which includes questions for discussion groups, also incorporates both American spellings and some odd, probably spellcheck related, errors I’m sure Sayers herself would have winced at.
Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends andInfluence People: If you took out all the business-related anecdotes about Mr. Smith from Delaware winning the contract for the diagonal steam traps from the intractable tycoon after attending the classes on winning friends, this book would be about a quarter of its size. But they are gently amusing, mostly, and they do reinforce the author’s simple points – be nice to people, imagine what they might want, remember their names and help them, and you will win the game. It’s a very American book – there are methods recommended that would come across as quite creepy in the U.K. – nevertheless, its advice is sound and given in an innocent, guileless fashion that negates my cynicism. And having heard of it for years, I was pleased finally to give it a read, even if there was only so much I could take of Mr. Smith’s business triumphs in one sitting.
And aside from reading, what am I up to? I'm waiting to be given access to an archive for some research for a new book that I can't really start until that happens, and toying with the idea of Orkneyinga 4. Only toying, though, so far!