Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer

Because we were away in the Lake District it took me much longer than usual to read this book. I usually like to read detective fiction in 3 or 4 big chunks over a couple of days, but this must have taken me about a week in dribs and drabs. Because of that I only gave it 3 on Goodreads but I suspect it would have been a 4 if I had been able to read it as normal.

First published in 1951 and set in London, two similar murders are committed in the same house just two days apart, as you would expect given the book title. The house belongs to Mrs Haddington, a ghastly social climbing sort of a woman with a spoiled little madam of a teenage daughter, named Cynthia.

There are several possibilities as to the culprit or culprits and Chief Inspector Hemingway and Inspector Grant have the job of investigating the crime. Grant is of course Scottish and as he has just come back from a holiday in Inverness his speech is more Scottish than it would be normally, in fact he speaks quite a lot of Gaelic phrases, thus proving that Heyer went to the trouble of learning more Gaelic than I have. But then I’m a Lowlander and I know nothing much beyond sgian dubh.

Anyway, it kept me guessing to the end which is always a plus and there is the usual witty dialogue which Heyer is so good at writing, especially between the love interest which she always has to have, even in her murder mysteries.

Bones Under the Beach Hut by Simon Brett

This was a random choice from one of those paperback carousel things at the library and I’ve never read anything by Simon Brett before, but I just wanted to read something up to date for a change and I noticed that it says on the cover:
‘Murder most enjoyable’ Colin Dexter.
But it wasn’t really, enjoyable that is, well not for me anyway.

It’s set in West Sussex in a coastal village called Smaltings which likes to think it’s a class above the rest of the seaside holiday resorts.

Carole Seddon has moved there and is expecting a visit from her daughter and granddaughter. Carole decides to rent a beach hut so that her toddler granddaughter can get the most out of her bucket and spade holiday, but Carole almost immediately realises that the hut is damaged, in fact someone has tried to light a fire underneath it and the subsequent inspection uncovers bones. Carole and her best friend Jude start their own investigation.

It wasn’t until I got this book home that I realised that the actual title gives away a large part of the storyline, and I just think that that is daft, it’s much better surely to discover that bones are found under a beach hut as the story unfolds. But that’s a minor gripe. I wasn’t at all keen on the character of Carole. Simon Brett goes to great trouble to describe her (over and over again) as being very shy and timid but when she’s making her own inquiries into the mystery she’s really not at all shy and retiring, in fact she’s aggressive and badgering. Her character was just not real to me, unless she was meant to have a split personality, or looking at it frivolously – she was a Gemini (twins)! In fact for me there weren’t any likeable characters at all, and far too many really obnoxious ones whom I would rather not be in the company of.

I also think that I had a problem with it because the amateur sleuths are two women of a certain age and it reminded me of that TV programme called Rosemary and Thyme. Normally I love detective TV stuff but that one is just one too many marshmallows in the marshmallow genre of programmes, well okay two marshmallows.

So I don’t think I’ll be reading any more by Simon Brett for a while, but at least I know what sort of thing he writes now.

Agatha Raisin As the Pig Turns

This book was just published in 2011 but unfortunately I didn’t bother to check the publication date before I borrowed it from the library. So I read it way out of sequence and it would seem that I’ve missed quite a lot of important events in the life of Agatha. For one thing she’s now divorced – and I missed the marriage!

The biggest change though is that she has now set up her own private detective agency and is employing several people of varied ages and backgrounds so that they can be deployed in situations where they are most likely to be of use.

Apart from those differences I also felt that this book was quite a bit darker than the previous ones which I’ve read, the original murder was nastier, but having said that I still did enjoy it as MC Beaton doesn’t go in for supplying you with the gory details, which I’d really rather avoid.

For me the plot of this one wasn’t as predictable either, which is another plus. Agatha Raisin is a very human character, completely aware of her own flaws but she also has a conscience and she’s particularly worried that her habit of meddling in other people’s private lives (for their own good as far as she is concerned) could have dire consequences – but will she mend her ways? I doubt it and I hope not – because then she wouldn’t be Agatha – would she?

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!

The Case of the Constant Suicides by John Dickson Carr

I was thrilled when my blogpal Peggy Ann sent me this book all the way from the US, it was very naughty of her though and we have resolved not to be so mad in the future, the postal services of the US and UK have become so wildly expensive recently. Books and printed paper are supposed to be a cheaper rate too!

I hadn’t read anything by John Dickson Carr before, he was an American so I was more than a wee bit surprised to discover that this book is set mainly in Scotland. It begins at Euston station in London however, where Alan Campbell, a young professor of history, is catching the sleeper train to Glasgow, something I’ve done often myself. There has been a mix up with the booking and he ends up having to share with a young woman, Kathryn Campbell, and it transpires that they are both travelling to Castle Shira in the Western Highlands, having been invited there by yet another Campbell. Alan and Kathryn had met before, but only through a newspaper’s letters page where they had an acrimonious correspondence.

Angus Campbell, to whom they’re both distantly related, had fallen to his death a few weeks before and there is some doubt as to whether it was suicide or murder. It’s a ‘locked room’ mystery and I really enjoyed it. Dickson Carr wrote it with a good balance of mystery, romance and humour, so I’ll definitely be looking out for more of his books. He also managed to capture ‘Scotland’ which is a surprise really, apparently he was married to an English woman but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she had been Scottish, I’ve often seen that mistake, with Josephine Tey being described as English, she is probably ‘birling’ in her grave!

Anyway, he obviously knew Scotland well and managed to write in dialect which is something which isn’t easy to do. This book was first published in 1941. I’ll definitely be looking out for more of his books. Thanks again Peggy.

If you want to have a look at the part of Scotland the book is set in – have a look here, Argyle and Bute.

The Lighthouse by P.D. James

This was the last book which I read in 2011 and it was first published in 2005 and was a purchase from the library book sale, at only 50p for a hardback I just couldn’t resist it. I first read P.D.James books in the 1980s and of course lots of them have been adapted for TV but I rarely watch them because I’m not all that keen on the actor who plays Commander Adam Dalgliesh, but he was the actor that P.D. James wanted to play the part. I think she must have been doing what quite a few authors do – write themselves the perfect partner. As Dorothy L. Sayers did with Lord Peter Wimsey.

The Lighthouse is a classic detective story really, set on Combe Island which is an imaginary island off the Cornish coast. So when a murder occurs there’s a limit to the number of possible culprits. All very Agatha Christie-ish so far, but I must say that I think P.D. James’s writing is superior to Christie’s. Her descriptions are quite poetic and I have to say she is really good at ‘painting’ the scenery, which is just what I like. This is generally done through the eyes of Dalgleish as he is a poet when he is not detecting.

Combe Island has been owned by the same family for hundreds of years but in recent times it is being used as a place where the high fliers of the world can go to de-stress in an atmosphere of peace and safety. So when one of the inhabitants is found dead Dalgleish and his team consisting of Detective Inspector Kate Miskin and Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith are helicoptered in to investigate.

I enjoyed this book even if it wasn’t twisty-turny enough for my liking and although I wasn’t even trying to think about it it suddenly flashed into my head who the culprit was really early on in the book. I can’t make up my mind how I feel about that, it’s a bit of a toss up really. On one hand it’s annoying that I suspected the correct person all the way through but then in some way I feel quite chuffed that I got it right. Anyway, it’s definitely worth reading if you like detective stories.

A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil by Christopher Brookmyre

This book was published in 2006 and I think it’s the third or fourth book which I’ve read by Christopher Brookmyre. He’s a Scottish author who writes about the nitty gritty side of the west of Scotland. He can be very funny but most of this one is written in very broad ‘Glaswegian’, it does have a glossary but I think it would be quite a difficult read for a lot of people.

This is another investigation for Karen who is now a detective inspector and the murder victim was at school with her, as was the chief suspect. I think that the storyline itself is good but all the grot that goes along with it is a bit too much. Plus this one has a lot about football matches in it and although I don’t skim read usually I must admit that I ended up doing that at the football bits because all the descriptions of matches meant nothing to me.

It’s a trip back to school and the school playground with all the nastiness and cruelty that that entails. The language throughout is very ‘blue’ and it’s set in a Roman Catholic atmosphere, alien to me as I went to a state school or Proddy school, as the RCs wrongly call them.

But apart from the religious bits the biggest difference seems to have been that in those days of getting the belt/tawse as a punishment, there seems to have been a maximum of 4 strokes – 2 on each hand. At my school they could give you 6 maximum and all on the same hand! The belt was a heavy leather strap with ‘tongues’ at the end, usually two, sometimes three.

Within the glossary Brookmyre states that the belt/tawse was outlawed in the 1980s less on humanitarian grounds than upon the belated realisation that the weans were having competitions to see who could get the most lashes.

In fact corporal punishment was banned in Scottish schools by the European Union. One Fife mother (not me) took the education authority to the European Court because she was outraged that her son had got the belt. The children weren’t all that happy about it at the time because most of them preferred to get the punishment over with quickly, rather than having to do detention or write lines or whatever. Ah we’re never happy are we!

The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham

The Tiger in the Smoke features Margery Allingham’s detective Albert Campion. Published in 1952 Campion is now married to a red-head, Amanda, and she seems to have managed to improve him no end. He’s middle-aged now and isn’t as insipid as he was in his earlier years.

Campion’s cousin Meg was widowed at the age of 20 when her husband had been killed in the war. It’s now five years later and Meg has just announced her engagement to Geoffrey Levett, but she has been sent a blurred photograph in the post and it purports to be a recent photo of her supposedly dead husband.

Then Geoffrey disappears and Campion, who isn’t too sure of Geoffrey’s character thinks that he might be involved in the whole thing. But what’s it all about?

Indeed! Read the book, if you’re into vintage crime you’ll really enjoy it. This is the best Margery Allingham book which I’ve read so far, much better than her earlier ones, perfect bedtime or holiday reading.

At 288 pages it seemed to be finished very quickly, this was a bit of a filler and doesn’t feature in my 2011 reading list. Now it’s time to start The Claverings – which is on the list.

South Bridge, Edinburgh, and Books

It’s been ages since I had a mooch around a bookshop because there wasn’t any point in doing it due to the fact that I’m not supposed to be buying books until I whittle away at my unread book piles. But today, despite the horrible rain we just felt the need to get out of the house for a while and as I have loads of books that I really want to track down I thought – Edinburgh, Perth or St Andrews?

There’s flooding around the Perth area so we thought it best to give that a miss and as the weather forecast said that the rain was going to clear up in the afternoon around the Edinburgh area – we plumped for capital punishment!

The forecast was wrong and it rained all day plus it was very windy so we were buffeted going over the Forth Road Bridge – not nice. We decided to go to the South Bridge area for a change instead of our usual Stockbridge haunts. It wasn’t very successful, we must have been in about 7 book shops and charity shops and my haul was:

Behold, Here’s Poison – Georgette Heyer.
Duplicate Death – Georgette Heyer.
The Empty House – Rosamunde Pilcher.
Can You Forgive Her? – Anthony Trollope.

and my husband bought :
Ordinary Thunderstorms – William Boyd.

I’d been looking for Can You Forgive Her? because I wanted to read The Palliser series, and I thought that I’d better buy the Heyers in case I don’t see them again for ages. I really like Heyer’s detective novels because they’re very witty too, quite an unusual combination I think, and I’m on a Rosamunde Pilcher kick at the moment, this one is very short at only 182 pages, very unusual for her.

I was looking for books by Angela Thirkell, D.E. Stevenson, Janet Sandison, E.M. Delafield, Jane Duncan – all very retro but I haven’t read them before and much to my amazement they are being read now, I have to see what I’ve been missing!

Now that I’ve tried the shops and been unsuccessful I can order some on-line with an unblemished conscience because I always like to give my custom to small bookshops when I can. Plus it’s nice to have a poke around lots of books but none of the Edinburgh shops are anything like as good or crazy as Voltaire and Rousseau in Glasgow. It looks like you couldn’t possibly find anything you want amongst the piles, but I always do. Must get back there again soon.

After parking the car we had to walk past this hairdresser’s to get to the bookshops today. This place intrigues me because it’s such a throw-back to the 50s. It looks like nothing has ever been changed since then and I’ve never seen it open. What sort of hairdresser is closed on a Saturday afternoon? I know that you always think of Edinburgh for history and Glasgow for style, but I think they’ve taken this a bit far here. Who would use a place like this?

For all I know it might be a fantastic resource for the ladies of Edinburgh of a certain type. Stout tweed skirts, Fair-Isle jumpers and Lisle stockings. Not forgetting the blue rinses.

Anyone for a shampoo and set?!