The 1937 Week – previous reads

It turns out that I had already read a lot of books which were published in 1937, in fact I’m struggling to find something to read for The 1937 Week which is hosted by Simon @ Stuck in a Book and Karen @ Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

The week of reading books which were printed in 1937 begins on Monday, but the links below are to my previous reads from that year. It’s quite an eclectic bunch, ranging from one for young children – Elsie Piddock – to The Road to Wigan Pier.

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada

The Hand in the Glove by Rex Stout

The Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude

Rosabelle Shaw by D.E. Stevenson

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

Summer Half by Angela Thirkell

Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep by Eleanor Farjeon

Dimsie Intervenes by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea by Arthur Ransome

The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell

 

Green Willow’s Secret by Eileen Dunlop

Green Willow’s Secret by the Scottish author Eileen Dunlop was published in 1993. This book is meant for YA readers but is enjoyable to people of all ages I’m sure.

Kit had lived in Edinburgh with her parents and older sister, but a family tragedy has led to the father travelling to Australia and Kit and her mother moving to Maddimoss, a rural area. Kit isn’t settling in well and when her teacher tells the class about a Japanese exhibition she has been to the other pupils tell her that there’s a Japanese garden where Kit lives. Kit knows nothing about it but later when she gets home she does some exploring and discovers the remains of a very neglected but wonderful Japanese garden.

There’s a photograph of the garden in the house they are living in, as it was in its heyday, and there are people in the photo, including a Japanese man in traditional dress, but strangely he appears and disappears in the photo. There’s something slightly spooky about the garden. When Kit meets Daniel who is also not a local they decide to work on the garden together.

There’s a lot more to this book, but I don’t want to say much more other than that I enjoyed it. As it happens there is a Japanese Garden at Cowden, not that far from where we live and a hop and a skip from where Eileen Dunlop lived in the wee town of Dollar. I’m sure that is where she got the idea from because the garden at Cowden fell into neglect and was vandalised in the 1960s. As in the book the original Japanese gardener is buried in the local churchyard. You can read the garden’s history and see more photos here. It has fairly recently been brought back to perfection and is open to the public, obviously it’s a business too nowadays so you have to pay an entrance fee. It’s quite a few years since we visited, (you can see my blogposts on our visits here) I seem to remember that there was a small play area for youngsters who may not be so enamoured of the beautiful surroundings.

 

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand was first published in 1944 but it has been reprinted by British Library in their Crime Classics series.

The setting is Kent in 1942/43, at a new military hospital called Heron’s Park. Esther is a young woman who had joined the hospital as a V.A.D. against her widowed mother’s wishes as she was terrified of the bombing and didn’t want to be left on her own. Esther feels she has to do her bit though.

It’s a busy time for the hospital as lots of  bombs have been dropped in the locality. Joseph Higgins is a postman, and he’s also part of a rescue squad, helping to dig people and bodies out of bombed buildings. But he ends up in hospital himself after being caught up in a bombing raid. He’s very worried about having to have an operation and Esther reassures him, but something goes wrong when he’s on the operating table and he doesn’t survive it. When there’s another unexpected incident during an operation it’s obvious that there’s something nefarious going on.

Inspector Cockrill is called in to investigate.and it transpires that there’s a small number of people who would have had the opportunity to commit murder.

I must admit that I didn’t guess who the culprit was, which is always a plus, but I felt that I should have known. I didn’t really like many of the characters though which is always a problem for me.

Lynne Reid Banks 1929 – 2024

It’s not all that long ago that I  was surprised to discover that the author Lynne Reid Banks was still alive, but news of her death was printed in today’s Guardian.  You can read her obituary here.

The first book by her that I read was The L-Shaped Room which was the first book in a trilogy.  It’s a great read and although it’s getting on for 50 years since I read it there are still parts of that book which are very vivid in my mind. I passed my copy of the book on to Jack who at that time read mainly Science Fiction, then my mother read it, she read mainly books of the family saga type, particularly Catherine Cookson who was hugely popular at that time. Both Jack and my mother really enjoyed The L-Shaped Room too, it was made into a film starring Leslie Caron. She later went on to write books for children, the most well known one being The Indian in the Cupboard.

Since then I’ve enjoyed several more books by her, but I still have a few to read. She was a fair old age though, 94 so she might have been ready to go, unlike some authors recently who popped off far too early.

If you haven’t read anything by Lynne Reid Banks you should give her a go.

Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorley

Squeaky Clean by Callum McSorley is the author’s first novel and it won the McIlvanney Prize: Scottish Crime Book of the Year. The setting is Glasgow, mainly the east end.  I must say that I did like this one but in parts it’s not for the faint-hearted, or weak stomached, it’s definitely on the violent and gory side, but there is comedy too.

Detective Inspector Alison McCoist (yes, Ally McCoist) bungled her last investigation so she’s been demoted, if that wasn’t bad enough her husband has got custody of their teenage twins, things couldn’t get much worse for her but she’s determined to claw her wake back up again, it’s either that or she’ll be retired out of the force.

Sean owns a car wash business, he doesn’t do any of the work himself though, he’s in the office, with a serious cannabis habit. Davey is one of his employees, and he makes the huge mistake of ‘borrowing’ a client’s massive 4×4 to get to a family court session on time, he’s in danger of losing visiting rights to his much-loved daughter. Unfortunately Davey gets kidnapped on the way there, and the very expensive car is torched. He has been mistaken for Paulo, Glasgow’s most violent psychopathic gang leader.

Ally has had dealings with Paulo and company before, and she’s very suspicious of the car wash business. It’s all very dangerous for her, but if she succeeds in getting a conviction she’ll be back on that career ladder again.

This was a good read which reminded me a bit of Christopher Brookmyre’s books, but with less of the crazy humour, although it is funny in parts. I would definitely read more by McSorley in the future. I must admit though that there is quite a lot of Glasgow dialect which was no problem for me and I think should be easy for non Glaswegians to understand, but some people just can’t cope with dialogue like that.

 

 

The House of Lamentations by S.G. MacLean

The House of Lamentations by S.G. MacLean is the fifth book in her Captain Damien Seeker series which ranges over the whole of the Cromwellian era.

It’s widely thought that Captain Damien Seeker had died at the end of the previous Seeker book, but in reality he has moved to Bruges where he has returned to his previous work as a carpenter. It’s a great cover for him as he is able to gain access to places he wouldn’t otherwise have reached.

Bruges has always been a popular place for the Royalist supporters to congregate. King Charles Stuart ( he had been crowned in Scotland after his father’s execution) hasn’t been welcomed elsewhere due to the politics of the time. His Royalist supporters have made themselves very unwelcome in the town as they’ve been spending a lot of their time gambling, drinking and causing trouble. A lot of the exploits centre around the House of Lamentations, a brothel.

Seeker is particularly interested in four of the Royalists, he has been sent information from England that one of them is a traitor to their cause, that puts Seeker himself in danger, but which of them is the turncoat?

Seeker, like many people had been becoming disillusioned with Cromwell’s regime which is as corrupt and nepotistic as the Stuarts’ had been, Cromwell’s cause certainly isn’t worth dying for.

The plot involves nuns and a Jesuit priest who even gives the nuns the creeps. The Jesuits always seem to be the bad guys, even nowadays, especially among old boys who had been taught by them!

I must say that at the beginning of the book there’s a description of a man being hanged drawn and quartered which for me was the most graphic that I had read, but maybe I’ve led a sheltered life.

There’s an author’s note at the back of this book, MacLean explains that she has used a lot of locations in Bruges which can be visited now by tourists, I wish I had known that when we visited the town some years ago, we just did a canal boat trip and walked around admiring the buildings.

The Bear Pit by S.G. MacLean

The Bear Pit by S.G. MacLean was published in 2019 and it’s the fourth in the author’s Captain Damian Seeker series. The setting is 1656, Cromwellian London.

The book begins with a botched attempt on Cromwell’s life, he has become so unpopular because it has become obvious that a large part of his reason for ousting the Stuart dynasty and having King Charles I executed was so that he could have the throne for himself. His regime hasn’t led to improvements in the lives of most of the ordinary people. Damian Seeker is kept busy sniffing out the many plots against Cromwell.

While chasing after one of the would-be assassins, Seeker discovers the horribly mutilated body of a man. He had been shackled to a wall by his neck, it looks like it must have been a bear that had attacked him, but all the bears had been shot on Cromwell’s orders, bear baiting has been banned. Who would do such a thing to an old man? Seeker is determined to track the perpetrator down, he’s a busy man.

I’m still enjoying this series. This one won the CWA Sapere Historical Dagger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Destroying Angel by S.G. MacLean

Destroying Angel by the Scottish author S.G. MacLean was published in 2018 and it’s the third book in the author’s Captain Damian Seeker series.

At the end of the previous book The Black Friar Seeker had been sent to Yorkshire. He’s been banished from London and he isn’t happy about it. When he travels to the village of Faithly on the moors to let the inhabitants know of the most recent anti-Royalist laws, the place is far from its usual quiet backwater. The Trier has been summoned by Abel Sharrock, the gravedigger, but with the advent of the Cromwell era he is also the village Constable and so it was he who had summoned the Trier, to question the local preacher and schoolteacher the Reverend Jenkin. The villagers have no hope that Jenkin will be seen as being innocent of whatever he is supposed to have done.

Bess is a widow and she knows her pub is going to be very busy with people coming to the village for the trial, but she also has to cater for ten dinner guests the night before it, her young ward Gwendolen will help her. Although she’s just young, Gwendolen is the local herbalist and Bess always worries about her being accused of witchcraft, especially with the Trier being so nearby, and the village having more than its fair share of jealous gossips.

Seeker is kept even busier than usual as he’s also supposed to be looking for a man from a local family who hasn’t been seen for four years, but when the Trier and his wife arrive he’s astonished, they’re from his past and he has been looking for them for years.

The blurb on the front of the book says: ‘One of the best writers of historical crime … a fascinatingly flawed hero.’

I don’t know if it was because the action moved out of London and into rural Yorkshire, but I enjoyed this one even more than the previous two in this series which I’m binge reading now because the local lovely librarian ordered them all in for me and I noticed that this one now has two reserves on it.

However, one detail did strike me as being unlikely.

‘Grenade in there, is there? asked Seeker.

‘Of sorts, Captain. And once the pin is out I’d rather be in Mr Thurloe’s camp than the other.’

Some research online came up with this about the history of grenades. Pins on grenades are a very modern invention, they didn’t even exist in World War 1.

 

 

 

 

The Black Friar by S.G. MacLean

The Black Friar by S.G. MacLean was published in 2016 and it’s the second book in the author’s Damian Seeker series which begins with The Seeker.

The date is January 1655, the seventh year of Oliver Cromwell’s ‘reign’ and the people are discontented because for ordinary folks things are no better than they had been under the rule of the Stuarts. Seeker is having to deal with rebellious Royalist plots from abroad and disgruntled one time supporters of Cromwell.

Fanatical religious sects are springing up, most of them are based on the book of Daniel and they’re all more than a bit strange. It seems like desperation to me, but it is all very authentic and historically correct.

When a perfectly preserved body in the clothing of a Dominican friar is found to have been bricked up in the crumbling Blackfriars Monastery some people think it’s some kind of miracle, but Damian Seeker knows better. He recognises the body as  a man who had been working for him, and the reason the victim’s body is still fairly fresh is because he hasn’t been dead long, so it’s no miracle.

Some children have been disappearing from the streets of London, is it something to do with the murdered man? As Captain of Cromwell’s Guard Damian Seeker is kept very busy in this one, he’s well able to see that most of the ordinary people are actually worse off under Cromwell, or certainly no better off.

Shona (S.G.) MacLean has a PhD in 16th and 17th century history so presumably she gets the details correct. It’s interesting to see that women could have a prominent/ leading position as preachers in religious sects, something that seems to have gone backwards in more recent times.  If I’m nit-picking I find it unlikely that so many poorer women in these books are able to read and write, but often it’s necessary for the plot so I’m willing to suspend my disbelief.  I’m really enjoying this series and I think I’m learning quite a lot about the era.

 

 

 

 

Forest Silver by E.M. Ward – British Library

Forest Silver by E.M. Ward (Edith Marjorie) was first published in 1941 but it has just been reprinted by British Library as part of their British Library Women Writers series. I was sent a copy of the book by British Library for review.

The setting for the book is the Lake District, around the Grasmere area, quite early on in World War 2. The area has a lot of new people in it now as the bombing in cities has led to people looking for a safer place to live. But Wing-Commander Richard Blunt is there because he has been invalided out of the R.A.F. He had been badly wounded in an incident which had gained him the Victoria Cross, but had been left with a weak heart and a limp after his convalesence. He immerses himself in the history of the estate.

Corys de Bainriggs is now the owner of her family estate since the death of her grandfather. He had decided to skip a generation when writing his will, presumably he didn’t trust his daughter and wife with the running of the estate. Bonfire Hall is the name of the ‘big house’ and Corys loves every bit of the land surrounding it. She has been offered a lot of money by two of the new inhabitants, they each want a plot of her land to build a house on, but she’s determined to see off all such temptations. But when one of the old houses is burnt down the old man who had lived in it takes to sleeping outdoors Corys is so worried about him she makes a decision she comes to regret bitterly.

This is a great read, I hadn’t even heard of E.M. Ward before being sent this book. Her writing is lovely, she obviously loved the Lake District deeply, but her prose just lands on the right side of being purple. Corys is a bit of a tomboy, she’s described as being a bit immature because she wears shorts and doesn’t care about her looks, she even has brown skin at a time when having a tan wasn’t fashionable. When Corys rather fancies the looks of one of the male evacuees she begins to smarten up her appearance to try to attract his attention, she’s copying the behaviour of some of the young female evacuees, it all makes her seem authentic. An ungrateful old man is particularly recognisable.

Luckily I do know the Grasmere area, and for me that always adds to the enjoyment of a book, when I can see the landscape.

Thank you to British Library for providing me with a copy of the book. I hope that some more of her novels will be reprinted in the future.