The Mousewife by Rumer Godden

The Mousewife cover

The Mousewife by Rumer Godden was one of the books I got for Christmas, it was first published in 1951 but my copy was published in 1958. It’s such a cute wee book with just 39 pages and lots of illustrations which are by William Pene du Bois. This is ostensibly a book for children but in reality it will probably be appreciated more by adults, or maybe I should say by women.

A mouse couple live in an old house belonging to a spinster. They’re house mice and never venture beyond the walls, they think that the house is the whole world, but when the mousewife catches sight of the garden and woodland through a window she’s entranced by what she can see. The seasons come and go and she sees all the flowers and then the snow, but all her husband thinks about is cheese.

She’s a good mousewife, taking care of her husband when he over-indulges on currants and wrapping him up with tufts of carpet wool behind the fender. By this time she has a family to look after too and she’s the breadwinner so to speak and she has no time for thinking. But a boy brings the spinster homeowner a dove in a cage and the dove is pining for the great outdoors, it has lost the will to live, the peas which the dove is given for food are just what the mousewife needs to feed her growing brood and she makes friends with the dove.

This is a lovely tale with the dove and the mouse helping each other. The dove tells the mousewife about the hills, corn, stars and clouds.

It has been given to few mice to see the stars: so rare is it that the mousewife had not even heard of them, and when she saw them shining she thought at first they must be new brass buttons. Then she saw they were very far off, farther than the garden or the wood, beyond the farthest trees. “But not too far for me to see,” she said. She knew now that they were not buttons but something far and big and strange. “But not so strange to me,” she said, “for I have seen them, and I have seen them for myself,” said the mousewife.

Ladies or mousewives – please beware of neglecting your husband, as if you don’t give them your full attention, they might just bite your ear! You can see some of the illustrations here.

The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham

The White Cottage Mystery cover

The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham was first serialised in the Daily Express in 1927 and was published as a book the following year. I read a Bloomsbury Reader paperback which I borrowed from the library.

I’ve previously only read Allingham’s Campion books which I do generally enjoy, especially the later ones, but I liked this one even more and it’s a shame that she didn’t write more books featuring Inspector Challenor of Scotland Yard, with his son Jerry as his side-kick. This one begins just as I like with the murder being committed very early on.

Jerry is driving along a Kentish road, enjoying the change from London when he turns into a good Samaritan, offering a lift to a young woman who is struggling with a large basket having just got off a bus with it. He drops her off at the White Cottage which is situated close to an ugly vast pile of a private house. As Jerry is in conversation with the local policeman they hear a loud gunshot and so begins the mystery.

The victim is Eric Crowther, owner of the ugly house, but it seems that despite there being lots of people around within the two houses, nobody can give any information as to how Crowther ended up shot in the White Cottage and certainly nobody is sorry to see the back of him. There’s an embarrassment of riches suspect-wise and as Jerry has fallen for the young lady that he helped, he’s worried that she is involved in the murder.

This book certainly doesn’t read like the first effort at a murder mystery that it is, and I really liked the relationship between Inspector Challenor and his son Jerry.

Bloomsbury has chosen to go down the same route as the British Crime Classics Library and based the book cover on the vintage railway poster below, although it seems to have been slightly changed by Emma Ewbank.

Wales

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

 Transcription cover

Transcription by Kate Atkinson was published in 2018, but it begins briefly in 1981 before the action moves to wartime London. Juliet is just 17 and orphaned with the death of her mother. She’s going to have to fend for herself and manages to get a job with the intelligence service MI5. It turns out not to be as exciting as that sounds as she ends up sitting at a typewriter in a room next door to one which is being used as a meeting place for Nazi sympathisers. The walls are bugged and it’s her job to type out what she hears – not as easy as you might think. No-one is to be trusted and Juliet finds herself wondering about her own colleagues. Is her boss who is supposedly posing as a Gestapo officer actually a Gestapo officer? She now has a different name and it isn’t long before she’s embroiled with the Fascists she has been listening in to and given the task of searching for The Red Book which apparently has names and addresses of Nazi sympathisers.

Fast forward to 1950 and Juliet is working for the BBC making the Schools radio programmes, but her life with MI5 comes back to haunt her, or is she just being paranoid?

I really enjoyed this one and I’ll probably give it 5 stars on Goodreads as I can’t give it 4.5. Kate Atkinson has been living in Edinburgh for donkey’s years so I count her as a Scottish author.

You can read Jack’s much more detailed thoughts on this book here.

The Paper Cell by Louise Hutcheson

 The Paper Cell cover

The Paper Cell by Louise Hutcheson was published in 2017 by Saraband/Contraband and I was drawn to it in Waterstone’s in Chester because it’s such an attractive wee hardback, it even has attractive end-papers. I hadn’t ever heard of the author but I bought it as it was in a sale, I’m so glad that I did as it turned out to be a great read. It seems that the author hasn’t written anything else, but I really hope she does. Louise Hutcheson has a PhD in Scottish Literature from The University of Glasgow.

There’s a short prologue which is set in London 1953, but in no time we’re taken to Edinburgh, 1983 where the author Lewis Carson is about to give an interview to a young journalist after years of silence, but Lewis takes ill during the interview, and the action moves back to London 1953.

Back then Lewis Carson had been a lowly publishing assistant, not fitting in at the family business which was headed up by the bullying son of the owner. When a down-at-heel young woman presents him with her manuscript to be appraised he realises that it’s a great read, but sends her away disappointed, however he still has her MS.

When the young woman is murdered a couple of weeks later Lewis takes the opportunity to claim the MS as his own and it kicks off his writing career. But after writing many more books everyone agrees that none of them come up to the standard of his first book. Lewis doesn’t want to talk about that one though, it’s a taboo subject which weighs on his conscience and contributes to the break up of his marriage. Lewis realises that his whole life has been lived in a ‘paper cell’ of his own making. This was a cracking read.

The Blind Side by Patricia Wentworth

 The Blind Side cover

The Blind Side by Patricia Wentworth was published in 1939 and was the first of three Inspector Lamb books that she wrote. The setting is London where Ross Craddock has inherited what had been the family mansion, but years ago it had been divided up into numerous flats, some of which his father had given to other relatives to live in. But Ross is a bit of a ‘bad hat’ and when his cousin Lucy has the temerity to speak to him about his behaviour he takes the first opportunity to put her out of her flat. The elderly spinster is shocked, as are other members of the family.

When Ross comes to grief there’s no shortage of culprits and some of those under suspicion aren’t at all sure of their own movements on the fatal night.

I really liked this one. There’s plenty of tension and suspense, some very good characters, some wonderfully awful characters and Inspector Lamb and his side-kick Abbott were a nice change from Miss Silver.

I read this book on my Kindle which I hadn’t used for ages and I have no idea how I got this book although I do know that I got it free from somewhere, but it has been reissued by Dean Street Press and has a very interesting introduction. I hadn’t realised until I read it that Wentworth was of Scottish extraction although that might not have been obvious to non-Scots, however there are lots of Scottish surnames in her background. I also noticed at least twice the use of the Scots word dreep.

One thing that annoyed me though was that she used the word waked a lot when woken would have been much more literate, waked is just wrong.

Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer by M.C. Beaton

I decided to read Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer by M.C. Beaton as a bit of a tribute because the author died on the 30th of December, coincidentally the same date my mother died, but 20 years later. Yes that did make our Millenium celebrations a bit of a damp squib.

Anyway – the book. This one was published in 2018 and it’s the second last book in the Agatha Raisin series which I must admit I had given up on as they had become too samey for me, I hadn’t read any since 2013. They are definitely light and frothy reads, very much tongue in cheek I would say.

In this one the Cotswold village of Thirk Magna is about to be visited by the very handsome local bishop and the bell-ringers are planning a special welcoming peal of bells in his honour. The bell-ringers are a mixed bunch of people including a couple of eccentric twin sisters, a lawyer, a vicar’s wife and a teacher, but Agatha is interested in the place because a local heiress had disappeared some years ago and she thinks she can solve the mystery which had baffled the police. It isn’t long though before the bodies begin to pile up and Agatha herself is targeted.

Entertainment Weekly
says: ‘Agatha is like Miss Marple with a drink problem, a pack-a-day habit and major man lust.’

And The Telegraph said: It’s said of Agatha Christie that she’s given more pleasure in bed than any other woman, but M.C. Beaton is matching her as a prolific purveyor of cosy whodunits perfect for pre-lights-out reading.

But there are more serious aspects in these books with a vicar’s wife who is stuck in an abusive marriage and of course having no way out apart from making herself homeless.

I suspect that as the Agatha Raisin books are so popular Little,Brown will continue with them being written by someone else in M.C. Beaton’s style.

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott

Eight Cousins cover

I loved reading the Louisa May Alcott books that most girls read when they were 10 or so, when I was that age anyway. I’m not sure how popular they are with youngsters nowadays, but back then I was under the impression that she had only written, Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys. So when I saw some bloggers mentioning Eight Cousins over the years I thought it was one I’d like to get a hold of, but I never did trip over a copy in a secondhand bookshop. I only resort to the internet for books in desperation.

So how lucky was I that my blogpal Jennifer @ Holds Upon Happiness sent me a copy in a parcel of books that she sent me as an unnecessary but much appreciated thank you, especially given the price of postage nowadays?

Anyway, to the book. Eight Cousins was first published in the US in 1875. As in most children’s novels down the ages both of Rose Campbell’s parents are dead and she’s sent to live at the ‘Aunt Hill’ with six aunts and seven boy cousins. As you can imagine Rose is very despondent at the recent loss of her father, and her new home consisting of so many elderly aunts unused to girls isn’t really what she needs to comfort her. The aunts in turn feel that Rose isn’t like any other child they’ve known and they feel like they have been given the care of “a very low-spirited butterfly”.

Even being allowed to poke into all the rooms, cupboards and chests in the old mansion hasn’t perked Rose up at all. The invitation to Phebe another girl Rose’s age to come and play with her has been a failure, just as well really as Phebe seemed to be a bad influence.

Just when everyone was beginning to worry about Rose’s health and one aunt was predicting her early death, Rose is saved by her Uncle Alec’s attention and being able to romp around and have fun with her seven boy cousins. But when Rose regains her health and strength it’s the turn of her character for some attention from Alec, and although Rose has been left comfortably off with the death of her father Alec suggests that Rose might do worse than to study the art of housekeeping, a womanly accomplishment that no girl should be without.

So begins Rose’s domestic education with each aunt teaching her the ins and outs of their own accomplishments. It’s not exactly what Rose had hoped to be learning but the tasks set by the aunts and the time they spend with Rose are sources of pleasure for all concerned. Her male cousins make sure that Rose has plenty of fun which some of the more snooty members of their society might not approve of and in turn Rose has a hand in improving her cousins.

Eight Cousins is 145 years old now and was aimed at young girls who are now long dead, but really the exploits of the children in the book are there to show right from wrong morally – which doesn’t change. I think this sort of book is what taught me to be a decent human being, well a mixture of that and Scottish Calvinism, although looking around I suspect that being a decent human being doesn’t have much cachet nowadays!

Thanks Jenny!

Mindful thoughts for GARDENERS by Clea Danaan

 Mindful thoughts for GARDENERS cover

Mindful thoughts for GARDENERS by Clea Danaan was one of the books that I got for my birthday back in June and it’s only 159 small pages long. It seemed like a good one to read while it’s not really possible to get any actual gardening done.

The blurb on the back says: Gardening is so much more than planting seeds and turning compost; it is a spiritually enriching activity that reconnects us to nature everyday. Mindful Thoughts for Gardeners sows a series of meditations about tending the earth, rooting each thought in a practice that can lift our souls, as well as the soil.

This is a very cute wee book with some pretty illustrations by Lehel Kovacs.

Mindfulness was all the rage a while ago, but I feel that I’m far too level headed to be attracted to such fads. I already knew about everything in this book regarding gardening and what it can do for your mental health and well-being.

However if you’re a bit of an airy fairy type then this might be the book for you. At one point the author mentions that her ten month old baby crawled out of the back door and a long way to the bottom of the garden, and she looked all over the house for her before finding her!! It’s safe to say that her mothering skills are less than ideal.

However there is a section (p 54) on how important it is to have houseplants to nurture, especially if you live in an apartment. There were drug deals going on in the neighbourhood but – ‘The pots of plants sitting proudly on the artificial grass-covered balcony brought a sense of normalcy and nature to our space.‘ I’m sure I’ve said it before but I can’t stand that word ‘normalcy’ the word should be normality. Yes I have a real prejudice there but we all have our quirks!

Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs

 Death of a Busybody cover

Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs is a book that I’ve had for some time and I just realised last week that for some reason I hadn’t read it, I usually read these British Library Crime Classics as soon as I get them. George Bellairs was the nom de plume of Harold Blundell a bank manager in Heywood, Rochdale.

Miss Tither lives in the village of Hilary Magna and she sees it as her duty to keep all the villagers on the straight and narrow. It’s presumed that she spends her time creeping around in the dark, keeking in at windows, gathering information on her neighbours, with a view to haranging them about any perceived misdemeanours, almost always of the sexual kind. Don’t go courting in the woods when she’s around as she’ll be demanding that you and your ‘click’ get married, and handing you a religious tract! As you can imagine she’s a very unpopular woman, so when she ends up dead, obviously murdered, there’s no obvious culprit.

Enter Inspector Littlejohn of Scotland Yard. He has been a bit of a countryman in the past and he understands the ways of a small village and the sometimes oddly matched couples. This book is a lot more than a simple murder mystery and for me it’s always a big plus that the original victim is so nasty as to be almost deserving of their end.

The book was first published in 1942 but there’s not an awful lot of the wartime ambience in it. In fact there is a very popular tearoom mentioned, a place where ‘ladies lunch’ and the descriptions of all the (unlikely) wonderful goodies available to eat there did make me think of those lists of almost certainly unobtainable edibles that pop up in many books of those rationed days, such as the Enid Blyton midnight feasts and the C.S. Lewis Narnia books with groaning tables full of food, and of course not forgetting someone selling their soul for some Turkish Delight! I suppose if you couldn’t obtain the goodies to eat the next best thing is to dream up that you can have them, wishful thinking.

Anyway, I enjoyed this one, and the cover which comes from a British Railways 1930s advert for Suffolk.

Suffolk

Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Mercy cover

When I read the blurb on the back of Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen I had real qualms about actually getting down to reading the book as it seemed like a nightmare to me – what do you think?

At first the prisoner scratches at the walls until her fingers bleed. But there is no escaping the room. With no way of measuring time, her days, weeks, months go unrecorded. She vows not to go mad. She will not give her captors the satisfaction. She will die first.

But I had requested it from the library, meaning to use it as part of the 2019 European Reading Challenge, and more importantly my blogpal had really enjoyed it – so I gritted my teeth and got stuck into it.

The action swings between 2002 when Merete Lynggaard a high profile politician disappears from a ferry, and 2007 when detective Carl Morck goes back to work after being involved in a traumatic case which involved the death of one of his colleagues and paralysis of another. Carl isn’t popular with his other colleagues and so he’s made head of a new department which is housed in the basement of police headquarters. Ostensibly Department Q has been set up to re-investigate cold cases, but it’s really just to keep Carl out of the way. He’s allocated another member of staff to help him, Assad is an Iraqi refugee who turns out to be a lot more useful than at first suspected.

The premise of this book was for me devilishly fiendish, but then I hate the thought of basements and the possibility of being stuck in one, but amazingly I really enjoyed the book and particularly the character of Assad, this is the first book in a series and I’ll be reading more of them, for one thing I want to know more about Assad’s background.

You can read what TracyK of Bitter Tea and Mystery thought of the book here. Mercy is published in the US under the title The Keeper of Lost Causes.