Breath of Suspicion by Elizabeth Ferrars

 Breath of Suspicion cover

Breath of Suspicion by Elizabeth Ferrars was first published in 1972. The setting is London and later on Madeira.

Richard Hedon is in partnership with his brother, they own a bookshop which deals with rare books. Richard’s sister-in-law is always trying to pair him up with possible wives, she believes he has an aversion to commitment.

When Richard meets Hazel Clyro at a party he falls into a sort of relationship with her, she’s often stand-offish though. Her husband Paul had been a scientist and a few years previously he had just disappeared, so she didn’t know if he was alive or dead. One of Paul’s work colleagues had turned out to be a spy. Had he been kidnapped or murdered?

Richard decides to follow some clues which lead him to Madeira and danger.

This is an enjoyable read, it’s the sort that you can’t say too much about in a review though.

Elizabeth Ferrars is for some reason known as E.X. Ferrars in the US. She was born in Burma into a Scottish family and lived in Edinburgh in later life. So far I’ve enjoyed all of her books, not that I’ve read them all, she was quite prolific as you can see from her Fantastic Fiction page.

Classics Club Spin #25

The Classics Club Spin number is 14 which means I’ll be reading The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck. It’s a book that I’ve had in the house for quite a few years now unread, despite the fact that I pounced on it when I spotted it in a secondhand bookshop – only to leave it completely neglected on a shelf. Why do we do that?! I love the Classics Club spins as they really encourage me to read the books on my list.

steinbeck

Bookshelf Travelling, November 22nd

It’s Bookshelf Travelling time again, this meme was originally hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, but I’m doing it at the moment.

This week my photo is of a shelf in my book/crafting/ironing room which is home to books by Scottish authors beginning with ‘S’ and they’re almost all Stewarts.

'S' Bookshelf, Katrina's books

J.I.M. Stewart is probably better known as Michael Innes the crime fiction writer. The books he writes as Stewart have an Oxford College setting, something which he was familiar with. He wrote a quintet in the 1970s which goes under the name of A Staircase in Surrey but the individual titles are The Gaudy, Young Patullo, Memorial Service, The Madonna of the Astrolabe and Full Term. I really enjoyed these books when they were first published.

Mary Stewart was very popular when her books were first published. I really like her romantic thrillers which are full of suspense. Her books have been reprinted more recently and she has quite a lot of fans nowadays. I loved her Arthurian/Merlin books which were also published in the 1970s – The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment. The Wicked Day was published in 1983 and that one is about Mordred.

The very last book on the right hand side of the shelf is an ancient one by Annie S. Swan. She sold masses of books. Apparently by 1898 she had published over 30 books, a lot of them were serialised in magazines originally. There are a few of her books free on Project Gutenberg here but not all of the books are by the Scottish Annie Swan, they’ve been mixed up with a Finnish author with a similar name.

Other Bookshelf Travellers this week are –

A Son of the Rock

Staircase Wit

The School on the Moor by Angela Brazil

 The School on the Moor cover

The School on the Moor by Angela Brazil was first published in 1939. Brenda is 13 and she and her brother Denis are living with their Aunt Madge and Uncle Harry while their father is working in India, their mother is already dead. When Uncle Harry gets a job in Argentina the children have to be sent to boarding schools as Aunt Madge will be going with him, it’s not something that they’re looking forward to, they’d rather stay with Grannie but that won’t be possible. So Brenda is sent to a school in Cornwall while Denis is sent to Portsmouth.

I can’t say that I found this book that entertaining, maybe the prospect of war was weighing on the author’s mind at the time. The schoolgirls seemed to spend a lot of time getting up entertainments for people and each other, and none of them was particularly enthralling, I found the whole thing to be very predictable. Thankfully it’s a very quick read.

Oh well, there have to be some duds in life so that we can appreciate the stars!

Wild Harbour by Ian Macpherson

 Wild Harbour cover

Wild Harbour by Ian Macpherson was published in 1936 but it has been reprinted by British Library in the Science Fiction category. Actually it’s a bit of a difficult book to categorise, I wouldn’t really call it SF. Ian Macpherson was a Scottish author and he was obviously influenced by what was happening in the news in the 1930s, with Hitler tooling up for WW2 and indeed the Spanish Civil war already ongoing.

Hugh has no intention of waiting for his call up papers, he doesn’t want to take part in any war, so he and his wife Terry pack their little car with as many things from their home as they can and as much food as possible, and set off for the western Highlands of Scotland. They know of a well hidden cave there that they can hide out in. Hugh has also managed to buy lots of ammunition for his gun and takes a lot of rabbit traps too, he plans to shoot deer to feed them.

The next part of the book is all about them trying to make their cave into a home, levelling the floor, building a chimney and hearth. It’s fine in the warm summer weather but they know that it’ll be brutally cold and snowy in the winter. This section reminds me of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie except they were building a cabin, not fitting out a cave.

Life is much harder than they could have imagined and eventually the war catches up with them as starving gunmen make their way into the Highlands. Certainly towards the end this wasn’t an uplifting read as I’m sure you can imagine. I’m sure that in the 1930s there were a lot of ordinary people who just felt like getting away from the threat of a wartime situation, just as many people nowadays hanker after going off grid and withdrawing from society – even without the prospect of being called up to ‘do their bit’.

The Classics Club Spin # 25

classic spin

It’s Classics Club Spin spin time again, how quickly it comes around. Ths spin number will be chosen on Sunday the 22nd of November, but this time we have almost 9 weeks to read the book which comes up in the spin. It should be read by the 30th of January. I have a few chunksters on my list so it would be ideal if one of those ones came up. Are you participating this time around?

My spin list is:

1. Montaigne essays
2. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
3. Coot Club by Arthur Ransome
4. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
5. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Parrot by Hugh Lofting
6. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
7. Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
8. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
9. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
10. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
11. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
12. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
13. The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade
14. The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
15. Sing for Your Supper by Pamela Frankau
16. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
17. The Trial by Franz Kafka
18. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
19. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
20. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison

Bookshelf Travelling – November, 15th

Bookshelf

This week’s Bookshelf Travelling (originally hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness) features the shelf above last week’s. Click on the photo to see it enlarged. I must admit that most of the books on this shelf aren’t mine, but I have read a few of the Primo Levi books and intend to read the rest of them. Another book that I have been meaning to read for years is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. It’s on my Classics Club list. This copy is a 1975 paperback and I remember that Jack bought it new, not long before we got married. Those 1970s paperbacks were so tightly bound that they’re a real pain to read, especialy if like me you don’t like to crack the spine of a book, that’s why it has taken me so long to get around to it.

Surprisingly and for some unknown reason I have my copy of The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield on this shelf, it’s a really pretty Virago hardback, I loved this one when I read it some years ago.

I have no idea why the two Daphne du Maurier books are here instead of being with the other du Mauriers. Not After Midnight is a collection of five short stories and The Scapegoat was published in 1957 and this one is a first edition, sadly it doesn’t have its dustjacket.

Are you Bookshelf Travelling this week? I’ve dropped the ‘in Insane Times’ part as I’m trying to be optimistic and hoping that things won’t be quite as crazy as they have been this year – in the not too distant future.

Other travellers this week are:

A Son of the Rock

Bitter Tea and Mystery

Staircase Wit

Strip Jack by Ian Rankin

 Strip Jack cover

Strip Jack by the Scottish (Fife) author Ian Rankin is the fourth book in his long Rebus series which follows Detective Inspector John Rebus through his whole career in the Lothian police force, based in Edinburgh. I have read quite a few of the books and it would have been sensible to read them in order mainly for the personal life of Rebus, although not crucial I think.

Strip Jack was first published in 1992, it’s quite shocking to think that that is now 28 years ago, so this book now has the feel of vintage crime, no mobile phones or internet, it adds to the charm.

The book begins with a police raid on an up-market brothel in one of the Georgian terraces in Edinburgh’s New Town, (believe me – there is one!) One of the clients caught up in the raid happens to be the popular local Member of Parliament Gregor Jack. The ‘gentlemen’ of the press are hanging around the brothel doorway and it dawns on Rebus that they must have had a tip off from someone, he suspects that the MP is the victim of a set up.

Gregor Jack’s wife Elizabeth is from a local wealthy family and she’s more than a bit wild, she’s a party animal, with drink and drugs involved. She spends a lot of time away from home, sometimes at her home in the Highlands, so when she disappears it’s assumed that she has gone there in high dudgeon after having seen her husband’s face all over the newspapers.

Gregor Jack’s staff and close friends that he has known since childhood rally round to protect him, but his friends are not what they seem to be on the surface.

I really liked this one although I do think that the books get even better as the series progresses.

At the back of my copy of the book there is a map of Edinburgh New Town which will be of use to people who don’t know the city, but if you do know the area part of the charm of these books is being able to visualise all the locations. However, if you’re really keen you can go onto Google Street to have a wee ‘walk’ around and see for yourself.

Gerald and Elizabeth by D.E. Stevenson

 Gerald and Elizabeth   cover

Gerald and Elizabeth by D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1969 and I really enjoyed it, up until page 188, then I got a shock.

Gerald Burleigh-Brown is on a ship, on his way home from South Africa where he had been working as an electrical engineer at a diamond mine. He left under a very dark cloud, without any references as he had been accused of attempting to steal uncut diamonds and as you can imagine he was very depressed about his future. He was going to London to look for work, but his half-sister Elizabeth has become very successful on the stage and Gerald doesn’t want to contact her, he’s too embarrassed about his situation and is worried that it would somehow harm Elizabeth’s career if anyone found out about the accusation.

But Eliabeth spots Gerald in the audience one night and is determined to keep in contact with him. She has a problem of her own. She’s in love with a wealthy shipbuilder. Sir Walter owns a shipyard in Glasgow and he’s keen to marry Elizabeth, but she is sure that there is a strain of mental instability in her family and refuses to marry him. Of course Gerald manages to sort it all out.

There’s quite a bit of travelling from London up to Glasgow and then on to the Scottish Highlands involved in the storyline and it’s all very scenic, especially if you know the areas mentioned, but for me it was ruined by D.E. Stevenson’s anti-semitic attitude. When Gerald is looking for a gift he visits an antiques shop in Glasgow.

The bell jangled as he opened the door and an elderly man with a hooky nose emerged from the back premises. I was surprised by the mention of a hooky nose and I thought ‘surely not’. Then Gerald is annoyed when the dealer refuses to accept a cheque as he doesn’t know him and he has lost money before that way. This is before bank cards of course. Gerald wants him to make enquiries at the bank.

“I’ve no time for that,” replied the little Jew nastily. You’d better go to the bank yourself and come back with the money.” He had been turning Gerald’s cheque over and over in his dirty hands; now he handed it back.

Honestly I was absolutely gobsmacked, and mortified that any other readers might think that that sort of attitude was normal in Scotland, especially considering that Gerald is portrayed as a decent chap all the way through the book. I can assure you I’ve never heard anything like that. I was ten years old in 1969, but that sort of attitude to Jews seems to me to be medieval. As Robert Burns said a couple of hundred years earlier, “A man’s a man for a’ that.”

I’m also wondering why an editor didn’t strike it out? Days later my heid is still birlin’ just thinking about it. Up until page 188 this was a good read. It was her penultimate book with House of the Deer published in 1970 being her last so maybe she was going a bit odd in the head in her old age, she died in 1973.

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times – 9th, November

Here we are at another Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times blogpost although times don’t seem to be quite as insane as they were in one part of the world anyway. This meme was originally hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, but I’m gathering any blogposts together at the moment.

Another Bookshelf

My bookshelf this week is in the living room which we think of as the winter living room, so tonight that’s where I’m blogging from, for the first time this year. It’s a shelf full of fairly hefty books, quite a few of them being those omnibuses that were popular back in the 1970s and 80s. I think they were quite cheap to buy considering they contain four or so novels, but they are very unwieldy to read, especially in bed.

Really the books here are by several of my favourites authors. Daphne du Maurier, Hilary Mantel, Olivia Manning, John Galsworthy and a few books about the Mitford sisters, the Mary S. Lovell one is a good read.

There’s a book of Robert Burns poetry on its side, three volumes from the Our Beautiful Homeland series which is a travel series, the three that I have are on the north of England, mid Scotland and the south of England. These books are really lovely with quite a lot of illustrations which were taken from watercolours by E.W. Haslehust. You can see his works here. He seems to have got the contract for illustrating all of this series of books, it must have been quite lucrative for him, well I hope it was anyway. They date from around the 1900s and can be surprisngly cheap in secondhand bookshops, often just four or five pounds.

The books to the far right are nothing to do with me, they’re on football history and various International Exhibitions.

Other Bookshelf Travellers this week are:
I read that in a book