The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons

 The Colour of Murder cover

The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons was first published in 1957 but British Library Crime Classics reprinted it in 2018. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

John Wilkins sort of drifted into marriage with May who came from a rough background and is a determined social climber, but as wives go – she’s cold and materialistic. Unfortunately John’s family’s wealth is in the past and he’s working in the complaints department of a department store in Oxford.

When John goes to the local library to change a library book he falls for Sheila the new young assistant, and becomes somewhat obsessed by her, almost immediately he’s wishing that May didn’t exist. John has given up just about everything that he enjoyed doing before he married May, she just wants to play bridge and disapproved of him being a member of the tennis club. Sheila is a member of the club so he starts playing tennis again and eventually gets a date with her, of course Sheila doesn’t know he’s married.

It’s all going to be very messy, but not in the way that most readers would have anticipated.

I’m not sure if it’s just that I’ve read too many vintage crime books recently or if this is a particularly predictable book, but I knew what was going on as soon as there was a murder – and that’s always a disappointment.

I was particularly annoyed because I read a book by Symons called Bloody Murder which is his thoughts on a lot of vintage crime fiction writers and he fairly tore into a few of them. He really didn’t rate Elizabeth Ferrars at all, but I think all of the books I’ve read by her have been better than this one. The cover is good though as ever from British Library Crime Classics. It has been taken from a 1930s holiday poster advertising the south-east of England holiday resort of Brighton in East Sussex.

Lord Byron’s Novel The Evening Land by John Crowley

Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land

Lord Byron’s Novel The Evening Land by John Crowley was published in 2005 and it was Jack who recommended that I read it. This is the first book by John Crowley that I’ve read and it’s fair to say that although I quite enjoyed it, I wasn’t as enamoured of it as Jack was. You can read his review here.

Apparently when Lord Byron died his estranged wife told their daughter Ada Byron (Countess of Lovelace) to burn a lot of his papers which included a novel that the he had written but never had published. This Crowley novel imagines that Ada couldn’t bring herself to destroy his novel so being an absolute whizz at things mathematical she transcribed the entire book into a secret code. When Byron’s papers turn up in an old trunk in an English storeroom there’s huge excitement among some academics and interested parties who have found out about it, so The Evening Land is interspersed by emails between a few people who are unsure whether the papers are genuine or fake.

Eventually one of them cracks the code and The Evening Land – a fairly autobiographical novel ensues.

This book is well written but I’m not keen on the whole idea of people writing in another novelist’s name. To me it’s just too much of a liberty, but that’s probably just me being too serious and po-faced about what is after all a piece of entertainment.

Make sure you click the link to read Jack’s very different thoughts on this book.

Lost Empires by J.B. Priestley – The 1965 Club

Lost Empires cover

Fairly recently I bought a copy of Lost Empires by J.B. Priestley and when I realised it was published in 1965 I decided to read it for The 1965 Club which is hosted by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

Lost Empires is supposedly an account of Richard Herncastle’s life on the variety stage. It begins in 1913, Richard is a young aspiring watercolour artist, he’s the nephew of Nick Ollanton a very famous stage magician and when his Uncle Nick offers him a job as one of his assistants in his act Richard agrees to join his merry band.

They tour around Britain playing in music halls, most of them being called ‘The Empire’. Uncle Nick is a bit of a tartar and is particularly harsh with his female assistant Cissie who is also his ‘bit on the side’. But Cissie is lonely and interested in Nick, he’s besotted with Nancy who is one of the other turns on the music hall bill. Nancy isn’t interested in him though and it’s the much older Julie from yet another variety act who he ends up having a rather torrid liaison with. She’s part of the popular comedian Tommy Beamish’s act and also his squeeze on the side, so it’s a dangerous affair for both Richard and Julie. All of the men have been targeted by Nonie – yet another female on the variety bill. She’s one of those women who love to tease men by shoving her bits up against them whenever she can.

I particularly liked Doris who appears towards the end of the book. She’s one of those women who is permanently angry. “She was a devoted wife but only in a furious way, as if being married to Archie was the last straw.” Well – it made me laugh!

I’m not going to say anything else about the plot for fear of ruining it for anyone who might decide to read it. It’s ages since I read anything by Priestley and I have to say, I loved The Good Companions in the past and don’t know why it took me so long to read anything else by him. There’s great writing and some wonderful characters, especially the female ones and for me some laugh out loud moments. Although this book was published in 1965 it pointed out the problem that younger women had with older and more powerful men taking advantage of them – all very topical now.

Apparently this book was dramatised for Granada TV in 1986 starring Colin Firth as Richard Herncastle.

1965 club

The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff – The 1965 Club

The Mark of the Horse Lord cover

Participating in The 1965 Club encouraged me to read The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff which I’ve had in the house for at least a couple of years. I would have read it sooner if I had realised that the setting is mainly in the exact place that I grew up – albeit some 2000 years or so earlier than when I was stravaiging about the land around Dumbarton Rock or Theodosia as the Romans called it, and Are-Cluta which is an ancient name for Dumbarton although it was more widely known locally as Alclutha. There is a handy map and glossary in my 1967 reprint of the book.

The Romans are in control of most of Britain and Phaedrus is a young red haired gladiator hoping to win his freedom after spending seven years as a gladiator. He does gain his freedom but a drunken night of celebration leads him into big trouble and imprisonment again.

He’s confused when he’s unexpectedly sprung from prison by a group of strangers, they had spotted how similar in looks Phaedrus is to Midris, their missing king. Eventually they talk Phaedrus into taking the king’s place and to try to eject the usurperer Queen Liadhan from Are Cluta (Dumbarton). Phaedrus will have to make the rest of the tribe believe that he is really King Midris. The real king has been blinded by Liadhan to make sure that he can never be accepted as their king again and he’s earning a living as a leather worker in the south.

While travelling north of the Antonine Wall to Dumbarton Phaedrus works hard at learning the history of all of the tribe so that he won’t be discovered as a fake Midris, and eventually a brutal battle ensues.

As you would expect of Rosemary Sutcliff this book is beautifully written, she does take some liberties with the geography of the area but not many readers would realise that. I was particularly pleased that she included an unusual character in the shape of a young warrior who just happened to be in touch with his feminine side when it came to clothes and jewellery. He was a bit of a fashion icon but the inclusion of Conory seems to have riled up the fundamentalist religious types one of whom cut her Goodreads rating right down to one star!!! for what she kept calling ‘content’. Honestly there is nothing in the least bit sexual in this book. Some people just go around their lives scouring everything for something they can object to, and if it isn’t there then they make up something that will feed their homophobia. I suppose it makes them feel superior somehow.
But we all know better don’t we?!

I’ll give it four stars on Goodreads. If you want to know what Dumbarton Rock (Theodosius) looks like have a keek at some of the posts on this link here.

For a much more detailed review have a look at Helen’s @ She Reads Novels
I read this one for The 1965 Club.

1965 club

The 1965 Club

1965 club

Ages ago I decided to take part in The 1965 Club which is being hosted by Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings, but I got mixed up with the dates and read a book a month too early, so if you are interested you can read my thoughts on what should have been my first read of the week The Looking-Glass War by John le Carre.

Previous books from 1965 that I’ve read are:

Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken

The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith

Ninth Life by Elizabeth Ferrars

Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart

I’ve just finished reading The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff and I’ll blog about that one tomorrow.

Classics Club Spin # 20 – The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov

I’m going to be reading The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov for The Classics Club Spin # 20 as the number that came up in the spin is 19, and I have to read it by the 31st of May. I’m particularly pleased to get this one in the spin as the setting is Revolutionary Russia and amazingly I’m going to be in St Petersburg in May. Jack is insisting on calling it Leningrad as when he visited in the 1970s that was what it was called! I had been wondering which books I could take with me on my trip as it’s always good to read books that are set in places as you actually visit them, even if it’s now a historical book.

Otherwise, I had a lovely Easter Sunday, it was a gorgeous day here in Scotland, we were on the north east coast of Fife, so basically on the edge of the North Sea – not that I dipped any part of me in there, I left that to others. I did see a pod of four dolphins in the distance though. I took photos but I suspect that a magnifying glass will be required to see anything resembling a dolphin.

If you are doing the CC spin – are you happy with the book you got?

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

 In the Name of the Family cover

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant was published in 2017 by Virago and it’s a sequel to Blood and Beauty which I blogged about here so it’s a continuation of the Borgia family’s story. It’s a chunky read at 488 pages.

It begins in 1501 and Niccolo Machiavelli is a young poverty stricken diplomat and witness to many of the shenanigans going on within the Vatican where an elderly and ailing Rodrigo Borgia is still Pope Alexander VI. His daughter Lucrezia is now on her third husband, and is Duchess of Ferrara, her life isn’t her own, she’s used as a political pawn by her father and as ever for women of those times she’s under pressure to give birth to a male child. Pope Alexander’s remaining son Cesare realises that when his father dies the power that the Borgias have had is going to disappear. Cesare has never been one to toe the line.

The whole book is liberally scattered (or should I say pock marked) by references to the French pox as it had become almost an epidemic, it’s a historical fact that syphilis first appeared around this time, apparently brought to Italy by French troops.

I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as Blood and Beauty. I have a feeling that Dunant wasn’t as interested in this part of the Borgia story and even the arrival of Machiavelli didn’t help with what seemed to me to be quite a flat book. As you would expect not everyone agrees with me.

The Times has it on a list of Best Historical Fiction of 2017 describing it as ‘A stunning tale of power and family.’

History Today said it had been ‘Meticulously researched.’

Daily Mail said ‘Stuffed with violence, danger and passion.’

Mark Lawson of the Guardian said ‘Dunant has made completely her own the story of Italy’s most infamous ruling family … in a way that we can see, hear and smell.’

Classics Club Spin #20

classics club spin

It’s Classic Club Spin time again and the rules of the spin are:

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Monday 22nd April the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by 31st May.

My list is a bit different this time.

Five by Scottish authors:

1. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
2. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
3. Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant
4. Salem Chapel by Margaret Oliphant
5. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott

Three by American authors:

6. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
7. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
8. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck

Five by English men

9. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
10. Maurice by E.M. Forster
11. Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley
12. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
13. The Tempest by Shakespeare

Five by English women

14. An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer
15. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
16. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
17. Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff
18. The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff

and lastly two by a Russian author:

19. The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
20. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Are any of these ones favourites with you?

New to me books

I’ve banned myself from the library – again, which is just as well as I seem to be hauling home new to me books almost on a weekly basis. Yep I was book-mugged again.

More Books

I couldn’t say no to another Blackie’s book, this time it was –
1. A Book of Stories from the Norse.

Yet another Blackie book, complete with dustjacket is
2.St Catherine’s College by Angela Brazil

Two British Library Crime Classics jumped out at me:

3. The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons – and

4. The Christmas Card Crime – a book of short stories which I’ll keep for next Christmas reading.

and lastly, I was given a book by a friend as it was a doubler, he hadn’t remembered that he already had this one (we’ve all been there I’m sure)

5. Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

I’ve never read anything by that author before. Have you read any of these books?

The Cheval Glass by Ursula Bloom

The Cheval Glass cover

The Cheval Glass by Ursula Bloom was first published in 1973. It isn’t the first book that I’ve read by the author but the ones I have read were much earlier. I really expected to see that this book was one of her last – as it’s shot full of holes. It only has 183 pages and I read it in a couple of sittings and when you do that it’s so noticeable when the same man’s hand is described as being smooth and brown – then later on as being wrinkled, when the author wanted to point out how much older he was than his young love interest.

The setting is Norfolk and Hilary is a young artist who is renting the lodge house of a large house called Whitethorn. Her landlord is James, a 60 year old retired army officer, married to Margaret and with a young daughter and two much older sons.

In no time flat James and Hilary have embarked on an affair. James is very much attracted to much younger women. When Margaret falls terminally ill Hilary moves into Whitethorn to help look after her. By now she has formed a close relationship with Pearl the young daughter. Pearl is obsessed with a cheval glass which is housed in the attic and talks about the lady in the mirror.

This book isn’t well or even carefully written and I hated the fact Margaret is not allowed to know how ill she is, it brought back so many bad memories for me as I experienced that situation while I was helping my mother to nurse my father when he was terminally ill. For me it meant such a waste of precious time – lying about a situation that my father well knew about – but my mother couldn’t cope with. But it’s what some people used to do.

As I said previously – I expected this to be one of Ursula Bloom’s last books as it is so carelessly written but according to Wiki she wrote over 500 books in her lifetime under various names – just churning them out, so it is no surprise that it’s so badly written. According to the Fantastic Fiction link at the beginning of this post she wrote fourteen other books in 1973. Quantity over quality obviously! Did she write them, or was it some sort of franchise deal? -As often happens in publishing.

Ursula Bloom (1892 – 1984) aka Sheila Burns, Mary Essex, Rachel Harvey, Deborah Mann, Lozania Prole.