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.

The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham

The Fashion in Shrouds cover

The Fashion in Shrouds by Margery Allingham was first published in 1938 but my copy is a hardback reprint from 1940 and has 437 pages. It was so much more pleasant a reading experience compared with the vintage Penguin crime Allingham editions that I usually read.

I had a look at some reviews of this book on Goodreads and it comes in for quite a bit of flak from some readers for being misogynistic. I read it from a different angle and had a good laugh at a lot of it, which I’m sure was intended by Allingham. Quite often the ‘mysoginistic’ comments are made by other women and used to be called plain bitchy. Apart from anything else, this book features the lovely red headed and smart Amanda who eventually married Campion and in my opinion leads to him becoming a far more rounded character – she improved her man, just as many a good woman does I’m sure.

It also features Valentine, Albert Campion’s sister. She’s working as a designer in a London couturier’s, she’s talented and very well-connected, exactly what is needed to attract well-heeled clients to the business. When one of her special designs for Georgia Wells a famous actress is stolen it kicks off series of events that need Campion’s attention. Georgia Wells is one of those women that should come with DANGEROUS TO MEN stamped on her forehead. She enjoys the adoration of men and is more than happy to steal the men of her friends, particularly Val’s man – and rub their noses in it. You can just about hear Campion’s teeth grinding, and Georgia’s husband is none too pleased either.

Then there’s a string of murders, but fear not as Campion sorts it all out of course.

This did remind me of a storyline in The House of Elliot which was a series revolving around a fashion house in London owned by two sisters. I loved it when it was on TV in the 1980s but when I saw an episode of it not that long ago it seemed quite stilted and also ‘hammy’. Acting styles often change over the years I suppose.

Anyway, back to the book – it has put me in the mood to read more by Allingham and I’ll have to have a look and see what I still have of hers – unread.

Green Park Terrace by Isabel Cameron

Green Park Terrace cover

I haven’t been able to find out anything about Isabel Cameron but from her writing she was obviously Scottish. My copy of this book does have its dustjacket which has some information regarding her other books and the information that over 750,000 copies of Isabel Cameron’s books have been sold. And from the Glasgow Herald – “All Mrs Cameron’s work has that grace, humour and feeling that people love.”

Green Park Terrace by Isabel Cameron was published in 1949 but the setting is a town in Scotland during World War 2 and the Green Park which the terrace overlooks is rumoured to be taken over by the army, the Lovat Scouts to be precise. The news is not welcomed by Mrs Warren of No.1 Terrace Park, she thinks that the soldiers will be rowdy and drunken and will likely spend their time swearing and fighting. Her servant, a young woman from the Isle of Lewis is enthusiastic about the prospect though as you can imagine!

Each chapter deals with the attitudes of various neighbours at different Green Park Terrace house numbers. They’re a very mixed bunch, one house has been turned into a guest house. Another is inhabited by a very demanding woman who thinks she is an invalid and her poor downtrodden daughter. There’s a career woman in one house, determined that having a child isn’t going to change her life and her work in a frock shop, but when the nanny ends up in hospital everything begins to fall apart.

There’s many a mention of Lord Woolton who was appointed Minister of Food during the war, as ever, food and rationing feature. Actually I’ve made Woolton Pie and it wasn’t bad.

This is an enjoyable read and as it was published in 1949 it seems that writers, readers and publishers weren’t too keen to drop the subject of World War 2 on the home front. I suspect that a lot of people were hankering for ‘the good old days’ of war, when so many people, particularly women who had been kicking their heels and bored stiff at home found that they were happy and busy doing war work of some kind. The end of the war wasn’t welcomed by everyone.

I’d be interested to hear if any of you have read anything by Isabel Cameron

SILENT NIGHTS Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards

 SILENT NIGHTS   cover

I’ve been away for four days, travelling around in the north-east of England and seeing the sights, before we need a passport to visit England, but I didn’t see as many sights as I would have liked to – so I’ll be back to see the Roman sites next time. I didn’t get an awful lot of reading done while I was down there but I did finish …

SILENT NIGHTS Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards was published in 2015 and it’s a compilation of fifteen short stories which all have a Christmas theme. There’s a short biography of each of the writers before their contribution to the book begins, they were interesting and informative. I had no idea that Marjorie Bowen also wrote under the names Joseph Shearing, George R. Preedy, John Winch and Robert Paye. She has two stories in this collection.

I found Cambric Tea that she wrote as Marjorie Bowen to be quite chilling. A wealthy man believes that he is being poisoned by his much younger wife, but all is not as it seems.

She wrote The Chinese Apple under the name of Joseph Shearing. A successful woman has to travel to London from her home in Italy after her sister dies leaving a young daughter who may need some attention from her reluctant aunt. Returning to the family home is an ordeal for the aunt who had been living in Florence. London is dingy and dirty and the house holds bad memories for her, things go from bad to worse as she realises that there has been a murder in the house across the road.

I had already read The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers so didn’t bother re-reading it as I remember that I wasn’t too impressed by it, which is strange as I’m really quite a Sayers fan. I think in general though this is a really good collection. I don’t think much of the cover design though, which is surprisingly dull in my opinion, maybe there is a shortage of Christmas linked vintage designs. This cover was designed by Chris Andrews and isn’t one of his best book covers.

The Blue Carbunkle by Arthur Conan Doyle
Parlour Tricks by Ralph Plummer
A Happy Solution by Raymund Allen
The Flying Stars by G.K. Chesterton
Stuffing by Edgar Wallace
The Unknown Murderer by H.C. Bailey
The Absconding Treasurer by J.Jefferson Farjeon
The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Case is Altered by Margery Allingham
Waxworks by Ethel Lina White
Cambric Tea by Marjorie Bowen
The Chinese Apple by Joseph Shearing
A Problem in White by Nicholas Blake
The Name on the Window by Edmund Crispin
Beef for Christmas by Leo Bruce