Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times – October the 11th

I’m still Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times, do join in if you feel the urge! Last week I was actually travelling – and buying books, so I didn’t get around to doing this. This meme was hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness but I’m gathering the blogposts at the moment.

Books Again

This week the bookshelf is in the main guest bedroom again. It’s inhabited mainly by crime fiction, Ngaio Marsh (not a favourite,) Gladys Mitchell who is okayish in parts but I can’t understand why she made her detective Mrs Bradley so ghastly, Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver is much more likeable in fact I think I prefer her to Miss Marple – is that blasphemy?

The Alfred Hitchcock book Murder Racquet is a collection of short stories and amazingly I haven’t heard of any of the authors which might be why I haven’t got around to reading it.

I love Louise Penny’s Three Pines books but I usually borrow them from the library, I can’t remember why I felt the need to buy Still Life.

Landed Gently by Alan Hunter is unread, I don’t think I’ve read any of his books but this one is apparently a whodunit in the classic tradition and even has a floor plan at the front, published in 1957 it sounds right up my street.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, not vintage crime but I love the film and enjoyed the book too although it is a wee bit different.

Are you bookshelf travelling this week?

A Bluestocking Knits

A Son of the Rock

Bitter Tea and Mystery

The 1930 Club


I’m taking part in The 1930 Club which is hosted by Simon of Stuck in a Book and Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and so I’m reading Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley which is 613 pages long so I doubt if I’ll be reading any others. I’ve been busy with visitors until now so I’ll be glad to immerse myself in reading this week.

As it happens I’ve read a lot of books that were published in 1930 in the past and the links will take you to the ones I’ve previously blogged about.

Alice and Thomas and Jane by Enid Bagnold

Not So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith

The Weatherhouse by Nan Shepherd

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie by Jean Rhys

Miss Mole by E.H. Young

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop by Gladys Mitchell

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Morning Tide by Neil M. Gunn

The Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield

Murder in the Snow by Gladys Mitchell

Murder in the Snow cover

Murder in the Snow by Gladys Mitchell was first published in 1950 and then it had the title of Groaning Spinney. My copy is a reprint by Vintage and its cover was illustrated by Laurence Whiteley. It’s very much in the British Library Crime Classics mould.

It’s almost Christmas and Mrs Bradley is in demand, she has an invitation to attend a conference of educational psychologists in Stockholm, it’s very tempting but she has also been invited to spend the festive season in the Cotswolds where Jonathan her nephew by marriage has invited her to stay in the manor house that he and his young wife have just bought.

The manor house has quite a lot of land attached to it and the locals believe that the area is haunted. It isn’t long before some of the locals receive anonymous letters. Mrs Bradley is just the person to get to the bottom of it. The atmosphere is enhanced by a fall of snow which seems to muffle sounds and add to the eeriness. It isn’t long before a body is discovered, hanging over what was known as the ghost gate. The doctor thinks it’s death by natural causes but others aren’t so sure.

The body count increases and of course Mrs Bradley sorts it all out. I still don’t like Mrs Bradley at all, for some reason Gladys Mitchell wrote her as being positively scary looking, reptilian with yellow skin and claw-like hands and her personality isn’t much better.

However I did like the mystery part of this book, for me anyway it wasn’t at all predictable.

Christmas books – vintage crime

Murder in the Snow cover

Can you believe that there are some houses in my neighbourhood that are already decorated for Christmas? Crazy! Nowadays it takes me a while to get into the Christmas spirit, some years I never manage it at all but I find that reading some Christmas themed books usually helps. This year I’ve only got two such books to read, I might have to resort to the library for some more.

Anyway for me murder mysteries and Christmas go together like fish and chips so I’m giving Gladys Mitchell another go. I’ve read quite a few of her books in the past but I’m not really enamoured of her detective – Mrs Bradley. The mystery to me is why she made her detective so unlikeable. I’ll be reading her Murder in the Snow which was first published in 1950 and has an attractive Christmasy cover.

The other Christmas themed book I have is called Silent Nights, a collection of Christmas mysteries which is edited by Martin Edwards. The contributors are:

Arthur Conan Doyle
Ralph Plummer
Raymund Allen
G.K. Chesterton
Edgar Wallace
H.C. Bailey
J.Jefferson Farjeon
Dorothy L. Sayers
Margery Allingham
Ethel Lina White
Marjorie Bowen
Joseph Shearing
Nicholas Blake
Edmund Crispin
Leo Bruce

I have read The Necklace of Pearls, the Dorothy Sayers short story, before and wasn’t all that impressed with it. I hope the others are better.

Christmas books

I was lucky and got a few books as Christmas gifts.

Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith
A Horseman Riding By by R.F. Delderfield
English Garden Flowers by William Robinson (a lovely old gardening book)
The Oaken Heart by Margery Allingham
Murder in the Snow by Gladys Mitchell

I also got Pawn in Frankincese by Dorothy Dunnett – but that one didn’t make it into my photo.

Books for Christmas 2017

I intend to read The Oaken Heart soon, it’s the story of Margery Allingham’s village in wartime Britain.

At the moment I’m reading Long Summer Day, the first book in the Delderfield trilogy.
I’ve already finished reading Portrait of a Murderer but haven’t written about it yet.
The old gardening book will be one for dipping into from time to time I think.

This year I really want to concentrate on reading my own books, but no doubt that desperately alluring site – Fife libraries catalogue will lure me into temptation at some point!

Two Vintage Crime Books

I have been getting quite a bit of reading done, despite the DIY obviously taking up a lot of time. I read The Brading Collection by Patricia Wentworth, it was first published in 1952 and is a Miss Silver thriller.

Lewis Brading is a wealthy man who has amassed a large collection of famous jewellery. Famous in that the pieces have often played a part in history, such as the wearer having been murdered whilst wearing a brooch, or there is a supposed curse on something.

Brading has been quite happy to acquire the pieces nefariously over the years and perhaps that it why he is so worried about his collection being stolen. Brading has a secretary, James Moberley and he doesn’t trust him, but at the same time he seems to be stopping Moberley from leaving his job. Miss Silver declines to help Brading but circumstances soon change and Miss Silver ends up investigating. I enjoyed this one and am becoming more attached to Miss Silver with each book I read.

Tom Brown’s Body by Gladys Mitchell was first published in 1949. The setting is a boarding school called Spey College. The schoolboys play a large part in the book, they seem to be quite out of control and two of them leave their rooms and go jaunting about during the night on bikes, planning to go to watch a dog race. They get completely lost in the darkness and eventually find a cottage with lights on, but they see one of their masters through the window and are worried that he has recognised them.

Meanwhile Mrs Bradley has been looking into her family tree and has discovered that one of her ancestresses was a witch in the 17th century. An expert on such things has told Mrs Bradley that there is an old white witch who may be in possession of Mrs Bradley’s relative’s ancient spell book.

Of course the modern day witch is living near the boarding school and when one of the schoolmasters is murdered Miss Bradley gets involved. There’s no scarcity of suspects as Mr Conway – the victim, is such a nasty character, there are plenty of people who would have been glad to be rid of him.

I enjoyed this one but not as much as The Brading Collection. I’m not drawn to Miss Bradley as a character and as ever I’m left wondering why Mitchell made her so unappealing. She is described as being lizard-like or sometimes yellow skinned with claw-like nails. The actual mystery is quite good though.

I read these two for the Reading My Own Damn Books Challenge. Two down,, but who knows how many still to read – not me anyway!

The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop by Gladys Mitchell

The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop by Gladys Mitchell was first published in 1930 and it’s the second book in which Mrs Bradley is the sleuth. She’s a particularly unappealing elderly lady with yellow skin and fingers like claws who has a horrible habit of addressing people younger than her as ‘child’. Under those circumstances I find it amazing that she didn’t become a murder victim herself.

But it’s a man’s body which has been discovered hanging up on meat hooks in a butcher’s shop, having been cut up into joints. However the head is missing.

Rupert Sethleigh, the owner of the local manor house is also missing, supposedly having suddenly left for America, but that seems unlikely. Sethleigh is not popular in the neighbourhood and it turns out that he’s a blackmailing moneylender with lots of potential enemies. Is he the murder victim?

I can’t say that I was enthralled with this book but it took me a while to get through it, just because I’ve been busy recently and it seemed to me to be a bit disjointed (no pun intended – or was it?) The blurb on the front from the Independent says ‘Superbly odd’ – it’s definitely that. On the other hand it does have a skull on the cover so if you’re that way inclined that’s a plus. One reason why I prefer vintage crime to contemporary crime fiction is that I find the modern book to be more grisly than I’m comfortable with but I found the idea of a murder victim’s limbs and torso hanging up on butcher’s hooks in a shop fairly horrible and quite extreme for something published in 1930.

The Saltmarsh Murders by Gladys Mitchell

This book was first published in 1932 and features Mrs Bradley as the detective, she isn’t the most appealing of characters which is probably why these books never reached the dizzy heights of Christie with the much cosier Miss Marple. In fact I’m sure Mrs Bradley is described as having yellow skin and claw-like nails and she screeches horribly. She’s a psychoanalyst and a devotee of Sigmund Freud. There are a fair few truly eccentric villagers and one fat cat financier who weighs up everyone, wealth-wise and when he hears that Mrs Bradley has been married and widowed twice he says: Gosh, got that amount of money has she? Well, it made me laugh.

The tale is told by Noel Wells, he’s a curate in a sleepy village called Saltmarsh. Noel has fallen for Daphne, who is the niece of Mr Coutts the vicar, he has the misfortune to be married to a ghastly woman who is obsessed with the love life of the villagers and spends her time spying on them and then raging and carping about their behaviour. When she discovers that her unmarried housemaid is pregnant she dismisses her and suspects her husband the vicar is the father.

It’s an enjoyble read, a good mystery with some humour too. Considering that this is a 1932 publication the morals of the villagers are really surprising as it seems to be the custom in the village to wait until the female gets pregnant before the marriage takes place, they find that to be a sensible way of going about life.

I know that we laugh nowadays saying that sex didn’t exist until the 1960s but really when I think back to the 1970s, in Scotland it was shocking for a girl to be pregnant before getting married and the few I knew of were forced by their parents to give their babies up for adoption. Changed days now as the kids are often the page boys and flower girls at the wedding – not that I’m complaining.

Death at the Opera by Gladys Mitchell

This book was first published in 1934 and it’s just the second book by Gladys Mitchell which I have read. As with the other one, Watson’s Choice, Mrs Bradley is the sleuth. The school is putting on a performance of The Mikado, with most of the parts being taken by the staff. The show is only going ahead because Miss Ferris has been generous enough to finance the whole thing, because of this she’s given the part of Katisha, much to the disgust of the P.E. teacher who wanted the part. In fact, it turns out that the shy and retiring Miss Ferris has accumulated quite a few people who aren’t exactly fans – oops that was nearly a pun!

I quite enjoyed the characters and plot, but Mrs Bradley herself really annoyed me because she called everybody ‘child’. Just imagine how much you would hate anyone who was like that in reality.

Gladys Mitchell herself was a teacher in a high school and she captures the atmosphere of a school, behind the scenes. Obviously things haven’t changed too much in the past 80 years since this book was written, staff-wise. At one point a member of staff begins to talk about a pupil and everybody in the staff room shouts SHOP – and she has to pay a fine of one shilling. I wish I had thought of that years ago – I would be very rich by now.

Library Books

My local library is out of action at the moment as it’s in the middle of major refurbishment. So for the last 15 months or so we’ve had to put up with a tiny library which they have opened in one of the many empty shops in the High Street, it’s not ideal but it’s better than nothing I suppose. But over the last week I’ve managed to visit two bigger libraries in different Fife towns and the selection was better, so I ended up borrowing:

Love All by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Death at the Opera by Gladys Mitchell
The Winter Ground by Catriona McPherson
Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson
The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

I think all of these books or authors have been recommended by other bloggers or commenters, which leads me to wonder how I chose my reading matter before the internet. I’m sure it was Margaret@BooksPlease who pointed me in the direction of Catriona McPherson and Andrew Taylor, but I’ve kicked off with Miss Buncle Married as I enjoyed Miss Buncle’s Book so much.

I also have five books on request so I’ll have to get down to more reading, just at the time when I’m also trying to buff my house and garden up. There aren’t enough hours in the day.