Lucia in Wartime by Tom Holt

Lucia in Wartime cover

Lucia in Wartime by Tom Holt is an enjoyable read, especially for those of us who just love to be in the company of Tilling’s foremost inhabitants, but unsurprisingly the author doesn’t quite come up to E.F. Benson standards. There are of course plenty of spats between Mapp and Lucia. In Benson’s books these are snobby and catty but in this book they descend into nastiness that feels like it has all been taken just a wee bit too far.

Also I think the author could have been doing with re-reading the originals a bit more closely as he gets quite a few details wrong about them. For instance Major Flint’s habitual yell of quai-hai has become qui-hi.

Diva is even busier than usual with her dressmaking projects, she has of course always had a ‘make-do and mend’ mentality and rationing has just encouraged her to get her scissors out and add chintz roses to her clothing.

Most of the servants have left and gone to make munitions, Lucia and Georgie are appalled at the thought of having to cook for themselves, but Georgie rises to the challenge and discovers a talent for making meals out of practically nothing, and Major Benjy is in charge of the Home Guard. Mapp gets into a terrible fankle due to her usual duplicity, and Lucia is as always on guard whenever Olga Bracely’s name is mentioned.

The wartime setting works really well, with Lucia and Georgie having to ditch their cod Italian as it’s unpatriotic and a bit dangerous to be thought of as pro-Italian. A Polish phrase book is purchased!

Reading this one made me want to re-read the originals – again. I might make do with watching the DVDs though, the original series with Prunella Scales as Mapp and Geraldine McEwan as Lucia of course.

Miss Bun the Baker’s Daughter by D.E. Stevenson

Miss Bun the Baker's Daughter cover

Miss Bun the Baker’s Daughter by D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1939, written in 1938. The author says in a foreword added in 1973: This book was written in 1938 and published soon after, but although many of the facts have proved untrue it is still artistically true of any little town in the Scottish Border Country and the people are as real today as they were thirty-four years ago.

So far this book has been the least satisfying of Stevenson’s for me, in fact slightly annoying at times as it really didn’t ring true to the era, particularly in Scotland. It’s 1938 and we’re supposed to believe that a young girl would be able to live in a house with just her youngish male employer. She would have been the ‘talk of the steamie’, but apart from that her father and grandparents would never have allowed it.

Early on in the book D.E. Stevenson describes what you should do while singing Auld Lang Syne at New Year, but she did it all wrong – something that drives me mad. She said that you should cross your arms to shake hands with the people on either side of you at the beginning. But of course you shouldn’t do that until the last verse (for brevity the second, third and fourth are usually omitted) when the lyrics say – “And there’s a hand my trusty fiere! / and gie’s a hand o’ thine.”

Anyway, to the rest of the book: Sue has been left motherless at an early age and she is left to be brought up by her rather grim and charmless father who is the local baker. She has had to leave school as soon as possible so that she could become her father’s housekeeper, but when her father remarries she’s seen as a nuisance by his new wife, definitely unwanted in the household. When a well known artist living locally and his wealthy wife offer her a job as their housekeeper she jumps at the chance.

However the artist’s wife very quickly takes herself off leaving Sue alone with the artist. His career is taking a bit of a nosedive as he has started to paint in a different style which is not appreciated by the critics.

The setting is the Scottish Borders, probably where the author is at her most comfortable and so that is always pleasing, but her characters left quite a lot to be desired with the maternal grandparents being particularly unlikely, they didn’t come up to scratch as doting grandparents to me anyway.

This is probably me being nitpicking, but I didn’t really like anybody in the book, and that’s always a problem for me.

As 1938 was a year of worry and turmoil for people in Britain with the onset of World War 2 expected at any time, I’ll forgive her this slightly disappointing book.

Spy Line by Len Deighton

Spy Line cover

Spy Line by Len Deighton was first published in 1989 and it’s continuing the Bernard Samson story. The setting is Winter 1987.

Bernie is in a terrible mess at the moment. As an MI5 man he’s been under suspicion for quite a while. Just as he was beginning to believe that his superiors trusted him again it transpires that they decide that he has been working as a double agent.

In this book he’s on the run from British Intelligence and the Soviet KGB. Luckily he has contacts in East Berlin and he’s able to keep a very low profile.

As ever I can’t say too much about the storyline, except to say that it’s a page-turner and Deighton’s descriptive writing is at times poetic. I’ll be going on to the next one in this series soon-ish, Spy Sinker.

I actually finished this one about six weeks ago but it has taken me this long to get around to blogging about it. I signed up on Goodreads to read 90 books this year but I’ve completed that challenge already, mind you I knew that I would, I just didn’t want to be under stress towards the end of the year, if I had signed up for 125 or so. The amount of books I’ve read so far this year says more about our poor summer weather this year than anything else, I’ve been reading when normally I would have been gardening.

Goodreads

Mr Fortune’s Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Mr Fortune's Maggot cover

Previously I had only read Sylvia Townsend Warner‘s Lolly Willowes, and enjoyed it although I suspect not quite as much as many people did. But when I saw this old paperback in an Edinburgh bookshop I decided to buy it although I had never heard of it before.

Mr Fortune’s Maggot was published in 1927, the second book by the author. It’s not a very attractive title, but apparently in this case ‘maggot’ means a fad, a whimsical or perverse fancy.

Mr Fortune is a bachelor, he had worked in a bank for years before he decided to become a vicar, he was drawn to missionary work and eventually found himself on a Pacific island called Fanua, hoping to convert the inhabitants to Christianity. I have to say that my heart sank when I realised the subject matter of this book but it ended up being a good read.

Mr Fortune’s endeavours get off to a good start as he inadvertently makes a convert on his first day on the island. A young boy has become attached to him and helps him build his home and shows him how to survive on the island. He makes no more headway in converting the rest of the islanders who are a relaxed and welcoming lot, happy with their own form of worship, each has a small wooden god of their own, a sort of lucky totem.

Mr Fortune thinks he is taking care of Lueli (whom he has christened Theodore) but really it’s the opposite and Lueli sees Mr Fortune as a responsibility. A volcanic eruption changes everything with Mr Fortune losing his faith. Eventually it dawns on Mr Fortune that he is an interloper and that he is doing harm, has no right to try and change the way the islanders live or to meddle with their religious beliefs.

Considering this book was published in 1929 that’s quite an amazing thing for an author to write. Sylvia Townsend Warner was decades ahead of the times in thinking that colonialism was an evil. Thankfully the UK gave it up long ago. Sadly there are still people who believe that they should go out and become missionaries and I have a nasty feeling that a lot of the inter-tribal violence in places like Africa nowadays is the upshot of that.

Anyway, it turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable read. It may seem like sacrilege to some people but I liked it more than Lolly Willowes.

From the Guardian Review

Edward Lear

Jenny Uglow has written a book about Edward Lear – Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense. I enjoyed reading the review of it here in Saturday’s Guardian Review section, if you’re interested in Edward Lear’s work you’ll probably like it too.

Short story collections by Ruth Rendell and P.D. James have been published, ideal reading for long autumn evenings according to this article by Sarah Perry.

ruth rendell p d james

Ian Jack has written an article about a book on islands and the people who live on them. Islander: A Journey Around our Archipelago by Patrick Barkham. He visited 11 islands out of the 6,300 which comprise of Great Britain, although only 132 are inhabited all year round.

Patrick Barkham

If you want to know what it’s like to run a bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland’s secondhand book capital – have a read at this article by Shaun Bythell.

New to me books

For the past couple of days we’ve been back in my beloved west of Scotland, visiting a couple of National Trust properties – amongst other things. A trip to Byres Road in Glasgow’s west end is always on the itinerary and I was lucky to find four modern paperbacks and Mary Berry’s Baking Bible at some secondhand bookshops there. I now have regrets that I passed up the chance to buy a few rare old books that I thought were hideously expensive, because I now know that they were in fact absolute bargains. So annoying – but that’s life.

Early October Book Haul

Anyway, as you can see I also bought:

Lucia in Wartime by Tom Holt
The Day of the Storm by Rosamunde Pilcher
The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith
Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs

Lots of people seem to be reading George Bellairs books at the moment but I haven’t read any yet. It’s a fair wee while since I read anything by Rosamunde Pilcher, this one is set in Cornwall, she seems to veer between Scotland and Cornwall for her settings, I like a Cornish setting – always have since way back in my Malory Towers reading days, and it’s an awful lot easier for me to go there via books than to travel the 500 miles or so from here.

I like Dodie Smith although – as I recall – I Capture the Castle isn’t my favourite. Controversial? What do you think? And lastly Lucia in Wartime is of course not by E.F. Benson, but Tom Holt is quite good at writing in Benson’s style and as I adore the Mapp and Lucia books and just about any domestic fiction set in World War 2 it is right up my street, so I’m really looking forward to reading that one. In fact it has jumped straight to the top of my TBR queue, unfair on the many that have languished there – sometimes for years, but a few days back in Tilling with Mapp and Lucia is just what I need now.

The recipes in the Mary Berry Baking Bible look sumptuous although with her lemon meringue pie featuring a large tin of condensed milk as part of the filling ingredients it’s fair to say that none of the recipes are for the calorie counters among us. I’m going to have to work my way very slowly through the 250 recipes in the book!

Have you read any of these books?

Suicide Excepted by Cyril Hare

Suicide Excepted cover

Suicide Excepted by Cyril Hare was first published in 1939 and it’s the first book by Cyril Hare that I’ve read. His real name was Alfred Gordon Clark and for his day job he was a judge, that must have given him plenty of ideas for his writing.

Inspector Mallett of the C.I.D. has just had a very disappointing lunch in the roadside hotel where he is having a short break. A brief chat of mutual commiseration with another guest on the poor food on offer leads to Mallett becoming a witness in a subsequent inquest.

Was it murder, an accident or suicide? A lot rests on the outcome and this one kept me guessing so I’ll definitely read more by this author.

The Methods of Sergeant Cluff by Gil North

The Methods of Sergeant Cluff cover

The Methods of Sergeant Cluff by Gil North was first published in 1961 but my copy is a British Library Crime Classics re-print. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards. This is the first book I’ve read by Gil North, I can’t say I’m wild about it, I think I’ll probably give it a three on Goodreads. It has occurred to me though that quite possibly the author wrote this book as part of the successful anti death penalty campaign that was going on in the early 1960s. It was a time when there had been several miscarriages of justice and the British juries became disinclined to bring in a guilty verdict for murder, in case they got it wrong.

The setting is a small town on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, it’s a wet night and a young woman’s body is found face down on a cobbled street. Jane Trundle had been an assistant in a chemist’s shop.

There’s only one CID man in the division, Sergeant Cluff, a typical rough no nonsense North of England man, independent and stubborn. He’s a bit of a loner and his colleagues seem to resent his previous successes.

The whole town seems to think that the culprit is a young man who has held a torch for the victim for ages, his horror of the whole situation just makes matters worse, but Cluff is determined to investigate properly.

The trouble with this one is that Cluff seems like such a stereotype detective, along the lines of Morse and many other such mavericks, but maybe he didn’t seem such a cliche in the early 1960s.

I love the front cover though, it has been taken from a British Rail Yorkshire Dales travel poster. I love that style.

Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott

Redgauntlet cover

Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott was first published in 1824. I’ve wanted to read this one for ages, but I can’t say that it is one of my favourites. Scott is of course very wordy, and I usually get used to that very quickly, but this one seemed like an awful long road to reach what the author wanted to say which was that the Jacobite cause was well and truly over and the Hanoverian King George sitting in London had no need to fear any other Jacobite rebellions. Scott was actually very much involved with the British royal family, he masterminded George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822 and even designed the clothes that he wore for it. Yes we have Scott to blame for all that tartanry and fol-de-rol lace and velvet, although thankfully nobody has been keen to emulate that king completely as George IV insisted on wearing pink tights with his kilt!

Anyway, back to the book – young Darsie Latimer is a bit of a harum scarum and while on an adventure on the Solway Firth close to the English border he ends up getting kidnapped by Redgauntlet. His good friend Alan Fairford hears about this and decides to ride to his aid, despite the fact that he is in the middle of his first court case as a lawyer.

Darsie had no idea who his parents were but it turns out that the Border laird Redgauntlet himself is related to Darsie and Redgauntlet has been busy trying to gather together some people that he thinks might be interested in taking part in another Jacobite rebellion. He tells Darsie exactly who he is, and that his father had been executed for his involvement in the 1745 rebellion. Darsie isn’t interested in joining the cause, not even when he knows that Charles Edward Stewart is there. There’s a bit of romance in there as you would expect, and a man dressed up as a woman to avoid detection, a standard Jacobite rouse!

My favourite Scott novel is still The Pirate.

Coffin Road by Peter May

Coffin Road cover

Coffin Road was published in 2016 and it’s the first book by Peter May that I’ve read.

It begins with a man being washed up on a beach, he has been injured, is bleeding and disorientated, close to hypothermia – and he has no idea who or where he is. He realises that he must live nearby though as a woman he meets recognises him, she calls him Mr Maclean and helps him to his nearby cottage where his dog is ecstatic to see him, he knows the dog’s name – Bran, but nothing else. He feels he has to hide his predicament hoping that his memory will come back to him, but it doesn’t.

He has no idea why he has been living on the Isle of Harris, he’s certainly not writing a book as people think, and he suspects that his name isn’t even Neal Maclean, but why would he tell people it is? He turns detective and ends up in Edinburgh, thinking he has tracked down his family, but it’s a dead end. I don’t want to say too much more about this one for fear of ruining it for any possible readers.

This book didn’t grab me quickly as some do, it’s hard to like a character when you know very little about them and what you do know doesn’t seem particularly endearing, but I did end up really enjoying Coffin Road and I’ll definitely be reading more by Peter May. I think I have quite a lot to catch up with.