Not sure why I haven't read quite so many books in April, but here they are:
V.E.H. Masters, The Castilians: I read The Conversos, second in the series, first, so to an extent I knew the plot of this one. It’s extremely well-written, told from the point of view mostly of Bethia, daughter of a merchant in St. Andrews in anxious political times, sixteenth century Scotland. Her brother Will has been instrumental in the assassination of Cardinal Beaton at the Castle. The historical detail is handled very adeptly as in The Conversos, and the action is varied and well-paced. The covers are really lovely!
Lynda Wilcox, A Burglary in Belgravia: I haven’t read one of these for a while but settled in with great pleasure to refamiliarise myself with Lady Eleanor Bakewell and her intelligent maid. Jewels have been stolen in Belgravia, and then a rich man is shot in the theatre, and we’re off on another well-envisaged adventure in 1920s London. The tone is light but the setting is very realistic, with touches of humour – most enjoyable.
John Holland, The Light at the Bottom of the Garden: This is a strange little novella, written in a slightly naive style, part police investigation, part romance, part paranormal mystery set in rural Australia.
Ambrose Parry, A Corruption of Blood: This is a good series, though often the writers stray into anachronistic language. This particular book gathers in a number of real life events and people with some considerable skill, and Victorian Edinburgh is quite well portrayed. Delighted to see a reference to the sadly messed-up Jessie King, putative baby-farmer and actually pathetic creature, about whom I wrote an article some time ago (and even appeared on Women’s Hour!).
A.S. Byatt, Possession: My first book by this author. I picked this one up because I needed a ‘romance’ for a book challenge, and this caught my eye as potentially intelligent and mysterious. The work involved in this is impressive – Byatt has invented a whole poet and his circle, along with some of their work, for a modern group of academics to investigate and research. The characters are wonderfully and sometimes awfully drawn (one of the main characters has a radically self-destructive girlfriend who seems doomed from the start, and another is a painful Victorian poetess), and the locations are equally richly described, from the damp basement flat to the mostly disused manor house in winter. The plot is intriguing, too. There is, however, a whole exchange of awful letters between two Victorian poets that could be cut to ribbons, as far as I’m concerned – I’m obviously a lost soul in this. They were so dreadful that in the end I couldn’t stand it any more and did what I rarely (almost never) do in a book, and skipped past them. Skilfully written pastiche, but oh, so dreadful and so apparently pointless! There were also a few points where, let’s say, I would have edited differently. I’ve recently watched Three Thousand Years of Longing, also apparently based on an A.S. Byatt short story, and I think perhaps that she and I are not on the same wavelength. However, if she has brought revenge on the hideous, mad, Cropper by the end of the book I shall be content.
Angela Thirkell, Northbridge Rectory: Another gentle and sometimes rather biting read set during the Second World War in Barsetshire. I wouldn't want too many of these in a row but they're great to turn to when you're in the mood for a little sarcastic pleasure.
So there we are. And where am I? I am sitting with my back to the printed-out draft of Hippolyta Seven, dreading looking at it. But it needs to be edited. Definitely. Maybe tomorrow.