The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley

 The Golden Tresses of the Dead cover

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley is the tenth book in his Flavia de Luce series and it was published in 2019. It’s a really enjoyable read, a good mystery well written with plenty of humour mainly via the twelve year old Flavia who is such an appealing character, it’s just lovely to be in her company again. The setting is 1950s England.

The story begins with Flavia’s sister Ophelia’s (Feely) wedding where there’s a surprising addition to the wedding cake which kicks off an investigation for Flavia and Dogger, her late father’s valet who had been a Japanese prisoner of war. They’ve set up a detective agency and there’s plenty of scope for Flavia to use her chemistry skills in this tale.

It’s a mystery, so I can’t say too much about it. Flavia’s older sisters don’t feature much in this one and those gaps have been filled by their young cousin Undine who seems to be keen to follow in her cousin’s sleuthing footsteps, and Colin whom she meets through Mrs Richardson, the unusual wife of the vicar.

The title phrase “The golden tresses of the dead” appears in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 68 which you can read here. Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series titles are mainly phrases taken from Shakespeare, Tennyson, Andrew Marvell and others. My favourite of his titles is As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust which you can read here which comes from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. When I first read that line I didn’t realise that in some places dandelion ‘clocks’ as they’re generally called nowadays in the UK were called ‘chimney sweepers’ in Shakespeare’s time, when you know that it makes more sense.

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times – 26th, September

Here we go again, how quickly the time comes around, it’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times, and this week it’s another guest bedroom bookshelf. This meme was of course started by Judith, Reader in the Wilderness, but I’m gathering the posts at the moment.

Jane Austen and E F BensonBooks

I had to photograph this shelf in two separate photos as the bed got in the way! The shelf contains a hardback set of Jane Austen books, they’re not the best quality and haven’t worn well over the years as the paper has yellowed, but they’re better than reading the paperbacks. The Folio books are lovely, it’s the Mapp and Lucia series by E.F. Benson which I find really entertaining.

Barbara Pym and Anthony Trollope Books

The Barbara Pym books are the second incarnation as in a house move I decided to get rid of my originals – and then of course regretted doing it. This shelf is home to books that I will happily re-read, and that’s not something that I do a lot of. In fact they’re mainly the kind of books that are ideal for dipping into at random if you can’t get to sleep. I really like Anthony Trollope’s books, but of the ones that I’ve read they’ve mostly been on my Kindle, free from Project Gutenberg. There are a few actual Trollopes on this shelf though, but they don’t come under the category of great bedtime reading although I definitely have done so in the past.

Other Bookshelf Travellers this week are:

A Son of the Rock

Bitter Tea and Mystery

Staircase Wit

Checkmate to Murder by E.C. R. Lorac – Readers Imbibing Peril XV

 Checkmate to Murder   cover

Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. Lorac was first published in 1944 but has been reprinted by British Library Crime Classics who kindly sent me a copy to review. It’s just the second book by the author that I’ve read but I’ll definitely read more as I enjoyed it. I read her book Fell Murder last year.

The setting is London during World War 2 and Lorac makes a great job of evoking the foggy and dank atmosphere of the city. In Hampstead an artist Bruce Manaton and his sister Rosanne are renting a large studio, they also live there and their ancient and miserly landlord lives next door. Rosanne is a bit of a doormat, supporting her brother and putting up with his moods and as the mystery begins she’s cooking supper for her brother and two friends who are playing a game of chess while Bruce paints a portrait of an actor who is dressed as a cardinal.

Rosanne is constantly worried about money and is afraid that if their windows aren’t screened properly and show a chink of light then the special constable will fine them £5, they’ve had trouble in the past with him. But when there’s a commotion at the front door it’s the special constable who has a young soldier in custody, he claims that the soldier has just committed a murder.

Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard is called in to sort things out, but it’s not an easy task as everyone has an alibi.

E.C.R. Lorac lived in London throughout the war which no doubt went a long way to making the setting seem so authentic, you can just about smell the fog. Lorac also wrote under the name Carol Carnac, Lorac is obviously Carol backwards, but she was born Edith Caroline Rivett and wrote a lot of Golden Age mysteries.

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times – 20th September

Yet More Books

It’s that time again, Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times, a meme which was started by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, but I’m collecting the posts for the moment. Again the shelf is from a bookcase in our guest bedroom and it’s a mixture of authors that I really admire such as Sarah Dunant, Hans Fallada and Zola and some not so great. I haven’t read all of these books, I was given Donna Tartt’s The Secret History by my brother who enjoyed it, but it says the original bestseller on the front and I rarely want to read what everyone else has been reading. It’s 629 pages long and I wonder, should I read it?

I enjoyed Ethel Lina White’s Some Must Watch which was published in 1933 and made into a film titled The Spiral Staircase in 1946. It’s a bit of a puzzle as to why it’s in this bookcase and not with my vintage crime books, maybe I thought when I shelved it that putting it beside T.H. White’s Arthurian books was sensible.

For a bit of armchair travelling the Chinese author Chiang Yee’s Silent Traveller books are entertaining. The one on this shelf is The Silent Traveller in London (1946), and although it has some illustrations they are very sparse, mundane and insipid compared with the Edinburgh version. Presumably he didn’t find much of beauty in London to draw! I haven’t read this one yet.

I could not stand Joyce’s The Dubliners. I loved Laurie Lee’s books about his early life, then I read that they were mainly fiction and that to say the least he was economical with the truth – and that annoyed me.

To the far right of the shelf there are several books in Dutch and a Dutch dictionary. They represent an epic FAIL. The books are Enid Blyton’s Famous Five in Dutch. I thought they would be a good starting point in my endeavours with the language, there’s also a copy of Rumer Godden’s The Greengage Summer in Dutch, but I haven’t touched them for ages. I did think that the lockdown would be a good time to get on with things that I had been putting off for ages – such as Dutch – but I’ve done hardly any of the things that I ‘hadn’t had enough time to do before’ and the time seems to have shrunk with the end of yet another week arriving before I had really realised that it had begun.

Anyway, that’s another of my bookshelves. Have you read any of them?

Other Bookshelf Travellers this week are:
A Son of the Rock

Staircase Wit

The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson

 The Turning Tidecover

The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson was published in 2019, I’m glad that I’ve caught up with this series which should be read in the correct order if possible. Dandy’s family has just expanded by two as her daughter-in-law has given birth to twins.

The setting is the summer of 1936 and on the east coast of Scotland Dandy is feeling no need to shed her cardigan as there’s a keen wind, as usual! Dandy and Alec have been asked to investigate goings on at the Cramond Ferry. It doesn’t sound like their sort of thing and initially they decline to take the case on, then refuse the second plea, when the third request came along things at Cramond had deteriorated and they decided to take the case on. Apparently the ferrywoman’s behaviour was now so strange that she was refusing to ferry anyone out to the small tidal island in the middle of the Firth of Forth. There has been a tragic accident, the body of a young man has been fished out of the river and Dandy realises that she knows his family. When Dandy and Alec arrive at Cramond island the ferrywoman who goes by the name of Vesper Kemp is raving, filthy and is naked from the waist up. Alec doesn’t know where to look! Vesper claims she murdered the young man.

Various Cramond residents including the local minister don’t believe that Vesper is guilty, surely it was just an accident, but there’s no doubting that there are strange things going on in the small community. Dandy and Alec are the ones to get to the bottom of it all, assisted by Grant, Dandy’s maid who now sees herself as a key component of any investigation.

This was a good read and for me the fact that I know the settings of Cramond and Edinburgh so well added to the enjoyment. You can see images of Cramond here. However the tidal island off Cramond whih is featured in this book sounds much bigger than the actual island.

A Step So Grave by Catriona McPherson – Readers Imbibing Peril XV

A Step So Grave

A Step So Grave by Catriona McPherson was first published in 2018 and it’s the 13th book in her Dandy Gilvers series.

It’s 1935 and Dandy is crossing from the beautiful Scottish Highland village of Plockton to Applecross Bay, Wester Ross, in a small boat. She had expected it to be a smooth jaunt but the sea loch was choppy, it’s not something she’s keen to repeat any time soon. Dandy’s accompanied by her husband Hugh and her two sons, Donald and Teddy. They’re on their way to meet Donald’s future mother-in-law Lavinia, Viscountess Ross, she’s about to celebrate her 50th birthday. Dandy hasn’t met Donald’s fiancee Mallory, but she’s not at all keen on her, mainly because at the age of 30 Mallory is seven years older than Donald. Surely Mallory should have been married already at her age, maybe there’s something wrong with her?

It isn’t long before Lavinia’s body is found in the garden, but she’s surrounded by a fall of snow and there are no footprints at all in the area. How did the murderer manage that? Who would want to kill Lavinia and why? Then there’s another murder.

This was a good read, and it made a nice change to have the action going on in the Scottish Highlands instead of the Edinburgh area or Fife. There’s a wee glossary at the beginning as there are quite a few Gaelic words used, the tale features folklore but McPherson says in her ‘Facts and Fictions’ at the back of the book that most of the folklore is made up by her. Applecross is of course a real place and the manse which appears in the book is apparently available for holiday lets. I imagine that the owners were very happy to have the publicity as it sounds like a beautiful place for a holiday – and it’s fairly unlikely that you’ll be murdered there!

If you want to read this book you might be interested in what the scenery looks like. You can see images of Plockton here. Applecross images are here.

I read this one for Readers Imbibing Peril.

readers imbibing peril

Bookshelf Travelling – September the 12th

It’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times again, taken over from Judith at Reader in the Wilderness. How quickly it comes around!

Books Again

The bookcase this week is situated in our guest bedroom, there are three bookcases in there so if you’re ever visiting you’ll have plenty to choose from.

The shelf in the photo begins with a few Helen Dunmore books. I really like her writing, it’s such a shame that she is no longer with us.

I went through a W. Somerset Maugham phase when I was in my late teens and the two red volumes contain nine of his novels. Liza of Lambeth, Cakes and Ale, Theatre, The Moon and Sixpence and The Narrow Corner are in volume one. I have no recollection of Theatre or The Narrow Corner and I suspect I haven’t read those ones. Have you read them by any chance?

A.A. Milne is of course best known for Winnie the Pooh but he also wrote for adults – not that adults can’t enjoy Winnie the Pooh. His book Two People is a searingly perceptive account of a marriage between two people who come to realise they have little common ground. You can read my thoughts on it here.

Then there are a few books by various Mitfords. There’s something annoyingly fascinating about those sisters. I think that the youngest Deborah was the best of them all – but I would say that wouldn’t I – being the youngest myself.

Are you bookshelf travelling this week? Other travellers are:
A Son of the Rock

Bitter Tea and Mystery

Staircase Wit

Readers Imbibing Peril XV

RIP

This year I’ve decided to join in with Readers Imbibing Peril XV, for the first time ever. I don’t know why I haven’t got around to it before – but such is life – I am not a great joiner. I still haven’t signed up with Twitter or Instagram.

Anyway over September and October I’m aiming to read at least ten books that feature:

Mystery
Suspense
Thriller
Dark Fantasy
Gothic
Horror
Supernatural

I’ve already started with A Better Man by Louise Penny, here’s my list.

A Better Man by Louise Penny

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes The Martian Menace by Eric Brown

A Step So Grave by Catriona McPherson

Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. Lorac

The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson

Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes

I’m hoping to manage more than this lot but, we’ll see.

A Better Man by Louise Penny

 In a Dark Wood Wandering  cover

A Better Man by Louise Penny was published in 2019 and it’s a continuation of her Chief Inspector Gamache series, number fifteen.

As expected this was a really good read, a lot of the enjoyment is just being back in Three Pines, that off the map Quebecois village that so many of us want to live in – despite its crime rate! The odd local murder now and again would be worthwhile putting up with if you could have your coffee and pastries at Gabri and Olivier’s bistro, sitting by the fire.

It’s a time of change at the Surete de Quebec, Armande Gamache has been demoted and Jean Guy will soon be moving on with his family to a new job in Paris, meanwhile there’s still work to be done. Vivienne Godin is a 25 year old local woman and her father is worried as she’s missing. To make matters worse she’s also pregnant. Her drunken and abusive husband is under suspicion.

At the same time the police are having to deal with the fast melting snow and ice which is threatening to flood the whole area. The Riviere Bella Bella is in danger of breaking its banks, and the dams are about to burst. If that happens the flooding will stretch into Vermont. All the villagers can do is fill sandbags and watch the river rise.

As ever there’s a lot of angst as Armande has more than his fair share of enemies among politicians in power, but there’s also an awful lot of love around, not only between Armande and his wife Reine-Marie but also among the other villagers and their various animals – not forgetting Ruth the ancient poet (how old is she?) and her beloved companion the duck Rosa. I think they’re both mellowing with age.

If you do read Louise Penny’s books you should make sure that you read her Acknowledgements at the back of the book. They’re always very personal and moving. I think she should copy Elizabeth von Arnim and write a book called All the Dogs of My Life. Mind you given the shortish age span of most dogs it would be a tear-jerker.

Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay

 Dangerous Ages  cover

Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay was first published in 1921 but I read a British Library Women Writers reprint. It’s quite different from the other two books I’ve read by the author – The Towers of Trebizond and The World My Wilderness. I really enjoyed this one too, but it couldn’t be called a comfort read.

The story features four generations of women within one family and it begins with Neville’s 43rd birthday. Neville is actually a woman which is slightly confusing to begin with, her son is called Kay which is of course normally a girls name – apart from in Scandinavia. Birthdays can be depressing and Neville looks back on her life. Now that her son and daughter are grown up she is regretting that she had given up her medical studies to get married. Maybe if she resumes her studies after 20 odd years she would would regain the confidence that she had had back then. Neville is worried that she’s beginning to turn into her mother (Mrs Hilary).

‘I don’t like being merely a married woman. Rodney isn’t merely a married man, after all … But anyhow, I’ll find something to amuse my old age, even if I can’t work. I’ll play patience or croquet or piano or all three, and I’ll go to theatres and picture shows and concerts and meetings in the Albert Hall. Mother doesn’t do any of those things. And she is so unhappy so often’

Mrs Hilary who is 63 years old has always been consumed with self-pity, but since her husband’s death she has got worse. Her family is well used to her self-centred moods and silliness, especially her own mother who is 83 and obviously knows her best and has put up with her for so long. She had tried to interest her daughter in parish works, art or handiworks to no avail, with the result that when her children became adults she had nothing to fall back on. She doesn’t even like her children to communicate with each other or with their grandmother without her being there. As Freud and psychology in general has become fashionable Mrs Hilary decides that she might feel better if she sees one. It’s exactly what she wants, someone who will sit and listen to all her moaning.

‘Grandmamma’ is the happiest member of the family, she has attained contentment as many do when they have reached a great age and outlived so many acquaintances. Hearing a distant Salvation Army band playing a jolly tune in the distance is enough to make her happy – just don’t think of the rather violent words that go with the tune.

But it’s Gerda who at 20 is the youngest woman in the family who is going to cause grief within the wider family as Gerda has been spoiled and it looks to me like she’s the one who will turn into a self-pitying updated version of her granny Mrs Hilary.

This makes it all sound rather grim and as I said earlier it isn’t a comfort read, there’s a lot of angst, but such is life. This book was written just after the First World War which was a time when women of all ages and classes had been ‘doing their bit’ for the war effort, whether it was knitting balaclavas or making munitions. At the end of the war when the surviving men returned, going back to the way things had been pre-war must have been a difficult transition for all concerned, historically the suicide rates for women were very high, gas ovens were such handy things and many stuck their heads in them, right up into the 1950s. Being able to work outside the home went a long way to improving their mental health and I suppose anti-depressants helped too!

Anyway, this is a really good read. My thanks to the British Library who kindly sent me a copy of this book to review. I was really pleased to see that the Afterword is by Simon of Stuck in a Book.