Six in Six 2019 edition


I’m a bit late with this but I’ve decided to join in with Jo at The Book Jotters Six in Six, you can read about it here.

You look over the first six months of the year and choose six books in six different categories. So here goes!

Six Historical Fiction books

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
Dunstan by Conn Iggulden
The Steps to the Empty Throne by Nigel Tranter
Stormbird by Conn Iggulden
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

Six books for children (of all ages)

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P.L. Travers
The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden
Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson
Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery

Six non-fiction books

The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel
To the River by Olivia Laing
Jane Austen’s England by Maggie Lane
Independence by Alasdair Gray
Off in a Boat by Neil Gunn
A Capital View by Alyssa Popiel

Six books by Scottish authors

The Chronicles of Carlingford by Mrs Oliphant
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh
Homespun by Annie S. Swan
Gone are the Leaves by Anne Donovan
A Time of Love and Tartan by Alexander McCall Smith

Six crime fiction books

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull
Murder with Malice by Nicholas Blake
Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh
Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards
The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor
The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons

Six classics

Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope
Riceyman Steps by Arnold Bennett
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Transformation by Mary Shelley
The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

This has been a good exercise for me. I knew that I had been reading more historical fiction than usual over the last six months, but hadn’t really thought that my crime fiction reading had tailed off quite so much. I intend to put that right over what is left of 2019.

Are any of these books favourites of yours?

Going It Alone by Michael Innes

Michael Innes was a Scottish author who also wrote under the name of J.I.M. Stewart, which was his real name but as Going It Alone is a mystery it’s a Michael Innes book. It’s ages since I read any of the Stewart books and I hope to rectify that soon but from memory this book seemed more like those ones than his usual Innes books.

Maybe it was just because the storyline involves a family and there is no detective involved, just an uncle who helps his nephew when he gets mixed up with unsavoury characters which results in attempted murder, blackmail, kidnapping and robbery.

The uncle, Gilbert Averell, isn’t exactly completely innocent himself as he’s living in France as a tax exile from England and has entered Britain using a friend’s passport to avoid having to stump up more cash to the treasury.

It was first published in 1980 and is an enjoyable bit of light reading. Michael Innes had an incredibly long career as an author, over 50 years, and he usually manages to squeeze a bit of humour into his books too.

Crime by Ferdinand von Schirach

This is one of the books which I got from my last trip to my library. Sadly I’ve given up on reading it, it’s a compilation of short stories and I think short stories are especially good for bedtime reading but these ones just didn’t fit the bill.

I think they’re really well written and translated from the original German but the author is a criminal lawyer and as you would expect he has had a lot of experience of the things that most of us are lucky enough to avoid in life. Murder, torture and general mayhem abound.

I’m not against the odd wee bit of mayhem now and again but I really don’t feel like it at the moment. It’s not conducive to a good night’s sleep either, I just didn’t enjoy trying to get to sleep whilst having torture on my mind. I know – silly me!

The Field of Blood by Denise Mina on BBC

I really enjoyed watching the adaptation of Denise Mina’s book The Field of Blood which was on TV on Sunday and Monday evenings. I haven’t read the book so I don’t know how faithful it was to the storyline but it did have a great cast of actors, have a look here.

It was set in Glasgow in 1982 and everything was so recognisably of that time, it was quite nostalgic really. Paddy Meehan’s home brought it all back, white pyrex dishes and all – now very collectable btw!

Has anybody read the book? I read Denise Mina’s Still Midnight recently and although I love crime fiction (but not the gory type) and Glasgow so the book should have been an all round winner for me, somehow it failed to hit the spot. It didn’t have that sense of place which for me is the signature of Scottish writers, very weird when you consider what a strong character the city of Glasgow has.

Can anybody recommend a Denise Mina book which I should try reading?

Still Midnight by Denise Mina

Still Midnight cover

This is one of the books which I picked up on my last visit to the library. I’d been meaning to read something by Denise Mina for years but this one didn’t live up to my expectation so I’ll leave it a while before trying another one, just in case this one is not as good as the others.

It’s a crime novel set in Glasgow but it doesn’t have the feeling of Glasgow the way a book by Ian Rankin or Alexander McCall Smith exudes the atmosphere of Edinburgh. University Avenue which I’ve frequented for 35 years or so was unrecognisable. Apparently the students are all tall and tanned!!

There’s nothing much in the way of humour, no smart ‘patter’ between characters and in fact there are very few characters who are even mildly likeable and that always makes it very difficult to enjoy a book. You could say that I have no right to expect humour in a crime novel but sans humour – it just isn’t Glasgow. Christopher Brookmyre manages to do it in his crime novels, although he sometimes takes it a wee bit too far.

It’s the story of the Anwar family who have a small corner shop and when the father is kidnapped a ransom of £2,000,000 is demanded, but they don’t have anything like that kind of money.

I saw the ‘twist’ in the story from a long way off. The blurb has Val McDermid (another Scottish crime writer) saying ‘Denise Mina is set to carve a niche for herself as the Crown Princess of Crime.’ Which I thought was the funniest part of the book, I suppose Val sees herself as the Queen of Crime then!

An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson

An Expert in Murder cover

Recently I’ve been buying and reading quite a few books by Josephine Tey so when I saw that Jo at The Book Jotter was reading this book featuring Tey as a character I thought I would see what it was like.

There have been quite a few books published which have been written in the style of 1930s crime novels but I’m not sure if this one was meant to fall into that category.

It begins in a classic vintage crime way with a train journey, the quickest way to get that 1930s ambience. Tey who has had great success with a play in London’s west end is travelling from Scotland to London and falls into conversation with a young woman, Elspeth, who is a big fan of the theatre.

That’s as far as I’m going with the story because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I think it’s a good read if you’re into crime but I think I would have enjoyed it even more if Nicola Upson hadn’t woven the story around Tey’s life. For me it almosts seems like cheating when it’s a work of fiction which has sort of hi-jacked a real person and I’m not really keen on the idea. I can see why it would appeal to a publisher though as a sort of gimmick. I just didn’t think it was necessary.

I thought the twists and turns of the story were very good and that should have been enough. It reminded me a lot of Dorothy Sayers’s Strong Poison in parts especially her Harriet Vane, which is no bad thing I suppose.

Being a bit of a nit-picker there were a few things which annoyed me which other people probably wouldn’t have picked up on. One was a character’s use of the phrase, ‘Tell me about it,’ in that modern way which I don’t recall ever hearing anyone use before the 1980s. There was quite a bit of use of the F word, which really doesn’t bother me at all but it doesn’t fit in with vintage crime and it jarred with me for that reason. I know it would have been used in reality. Lastly, at one point Elspeth’s mother takes her large hat off and puts it on the floor!! It’s supposed to be the 1930s when women didn’t remove their hats at all unless they were sitting in their own home and they would definitely never put one on the floor. I told you I was nit-picking.