The Old Bank House by Angela Thirkell

This book was first published in 1949 so we’re still in the middle of food shortages and rationing despite the fact that the war has been over for three years. Food is often a topic of conversation but the inhabitants of Edgewood still seem to manage to do quite a lot of entertaining. For me, as this was my ‘book at bedtime’ it was quite confusing at times. I think Angela Thirkell is an author who quite uniquely has several characters in her books with the same names or variations on the theme, so it can be confusing, specially if you’re tired. She was being really too true to life as at the time she was writing it was common for new babies to be called after a favourite relative or friend, as everyone in my family was. I could really have been doing with a list of characters and their connection to other characters at the beginning because it was almost as bad as War and Peace, some characters are known by three names or titles, depending on who is with them at the time and it was a wee while before I had them all straight in my head again. It doesn’t help that I’m reading the books out of order as I haven’t managed to find them all yet.

I did enjoy the book though, technically it might not be the best writing style, at times she rambles like crazy but it all adds to the charm. Thirkell shamelessly nicks ideas and even dialogue from the classics, you could play a game with it all – spot the quote – but after all, there’s nothing new under the sun!

As ever, there are people to be paired off but I think the most important part of the book is the acceptance of Sam Adams as a force for good in the town. He may not have been one of their sort and frankly a bit common on the outside but he learns fast and beneath all his loud bluster there lives a sensitive and kind soul.

In fact I find just about all of the characters to be recognisable, which makes me wonder if anyone recognised themselves in these books as it seems clear that Thirkell must have used her friends, family and neighbours as copy. There are so many bits in this book which I’ve heard people say or said myself, or felt. One person says when his mother dies that it’s strange being on the front line now, a feeling that we all have I’m sure when we are ‘orphaned’ no matter what age we are.

Mr Macpherson, Martin’s land agent features in this book, speaking broad Scots which Thirkell manages to write very well, and that isn’t an easy thing to do. However she did have the advantage of a Scottish father and presumably grandparents too. Her first husband must have been of Scottish descent too, being a McInnes. The author Colin McInnes was her son. In fact it’s quite a surprise to me that Angela Thirkell isn’t claimed as a Scottish author herself. Oh all right, I’ll claim her as a Scot anyway.

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage by M.C. Beaton

I borrowed this book from the library and it’s the first Agatha Raisin book I’ve read, I’ve wanted to start at the beginning of the series since Jo at The Book Jotter has been enjoying reading the books. Unfortunately this one is fifth in the series but I decided to read it anyway. These books are set in the Cotswolds, and as there are quite a few mentions of towns which we visited during our recent road trip, it did add to the reading experience, it’s nice to be able to picture the actual locations.

I enjoyed this one, I think you could call it a good book for a bad day. There’s nothing at all intellectualy stimulating about it which makes it perfect for taking your mind off things or reading on a journey or hanging about in a queue, good holiday reading too. It only took a couple of hours to get through.

Agatha Raisin is getting married to James Lacey, her next door neighbour, and she is keeping her fingers crossed that her previous husband is dead, otherwise she’ll be committing bigamy. As you can imagine – things don’t go well and murder and mayhem ensue. It’s a bit daft really, what I call ‘marshmallow reading’ but sometimes that’s just what you need.

I had heard a bit of the first book in this series on BBC Radio 4 Extra one night when I was doing the dishes. From what I heard then, Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death seemed to have had more humour in it. I think that the books might turn out to be a bit samey but I’ll definitely read a few more of them, I can’t see myself ploughing therough all M.C. Beaton’s output though, they’re churned out at quite a rate.

One thing did strike me as funny, which wasn’t supposed to be amusing. M.C. Beaton was a wee bit economical with the commas early on in the book, page 7 to be exact, where this is written:

Such men as James Lacey were for other women, county women with solid county backgrounds, women in tweeds with dogs who could turn out cakes and jam for church fetes with one hand tied behind their backs.

I had to read it again as it didn’t make sense – who’s doing the baking – the women or the dogs? Surely if dogs they should have a paw tied behind their back!

Then I realised it was just the lack of a comma or two which caused the confusion. Sad really because I did have a vision of a dog doing the baking and jam making, and do admit, it would have been funnier!

Anyway I want a dog like that, especially for baking the things that I’d still be marked F for Fail on, like scones and bread, but I’m thinking it would have to be a poodle because they don’t cast hairs!

Beatrice Goes To Brighton by M.C. Beaton

I had no idea that M.C. Beaton was a Scot, never mind a fellow Glaswegian until very recently, about five minutes ago actually. I haven’t even seen Hamish McBeth on TV, she wrote those books too. I’ve been meaning to start reading her Agatha Raisin/crime series but I want to start it from the beginning and I haven’t got a hold of the first one yet. So when I saw Beatrice Goes To Brighton in the library I thought I might as well give it a go, even although romance is not my favourite thing.

If you’re looking for holiday/bedtime reading or just something which you don’t have to concentrate on too much then this is the perfect choice. Good light reading and a bit of a laugh now and again. The funniest bits for me were when the characters get all romantic – a la Mills and Boon, it reminded me of when I used to work in a library and to cheer ourselves up in the morning, just before we unlocked the door to let in the public, we used to take turns at opening a Mills and Boon and reading the very last page out loud – in a very plummy voice. Such fun!

In this one Miss Pym, who has had some success as a romantic matchmaker in the past is travelling to Brighton by stage-coach and comes into contact with the 28 year old Lady Beatrice who has recently become a widow, much to her relief. Beatrice had been married off to an older man who was a gambler and boozer, unfortunately it took him 10 years to slowly drink himself to death, by which time he had gone through most of his money.

It wasn’t long before Beatrice’s parents were trying to marry her off again to the ghastly Sir Geoffrey. Can Miss Pym help Beatrice?

Thanks again to Jo at The Book Jotter for pointing me in M.C. Beaton’s direction.