The Madonna of the Astrolabe by J.I.M. Stewart

The Madonna of the Astrolabe cover

The Madonna of the Astrolabe by J.I.M. Stewart ( aka Michael Innes) was first published in 1977 and it’s the fourth book in his A Staircase in Surrey quintet. The setting is an Oxford college, the fictional Surrey and the books follow the characters who had first met as students there. Some have never left there as they’ve stayed on and become dons.

The college tower which Duncan Patullo’s famous artist father had so admired that he decided it was the only college for his son to attend – is in a serious condition. It had been recently blasted clean, and it’s thought that that has contributed to the damage.

A large amount of money is needed to maintain the college tower and when a very old painting is discovered it seems that their problems are over – or are they?

Duncan Patullo’s nymphomaniac ex-wife has turned up in Oxford, in the past she’s been more than partial to men much younger than herself, so a male college is a dream location for her, but she’s a potential embarrassment for Duncan, particularly as she has hung on to his surname after he divorced her.

I’m really enjoying this journey back to 1970s academical Oxford. I just have one more book of this series to read and I’ll be sad when it comes to an end.

In case you don’t know Patullo is one of those more unusual Scottish surnames, at first glance people often think it’s Italian I think.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge and 20 Books of Summer 2017.

20 Books of Summer 2017 update

I’m doing quite well with my 20 Books of Summer 2017 list this year although I had meant to do a bit of a half-way roundup before now. I have veered slightly from the list for various reasons, but I’m still hopeful of finding my copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet before September. I did a fatal tidy up before some visitors arrived and now that book is lost in the stacks which is very annoying as before that I knew exactly where it was – on the floor!

1. London Match by Len Deighton
2. I Claudius by Robert Graves
3. Highland River by Neil M. Gunn
4. The Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell
5. The Dove of Venus by Olivia Manning
6. City of the Mind by Penelope Lively
7. The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons
8. Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts
9. This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart
10. Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham
11. Claudius the God by Robert Graves
12. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute
13. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
14. Katherine Wentworth by D.E. Stevenson
15. The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall Smith
16. A Memorial Service by J.I.M. Stewart
17. The Madonna of the Astrolabe by J.I.M. Stewart
18. Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott
19. High Rising by Angela Thirkell
20. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

A Memorial Service by J.I.M. Stewart

A Memorial Service cover

A Memorial Service is the third book in the A Staircase in Surrey quintet and it continues the story of Duncan Pattullo who is now middle-aged and a successful playwright, but he has been given a fellowship at his old Oxford college, Surrey. Now he is living on the ground floor of his old student college staircase, involved in the lives of the students. His old friend Tony Mumford’s son Ivo has the room above his and Ivo is trouble, especially as Tony is now a member of the British cabinet and doesn’t see why Ivo should have to pass exams and generally stick to the rules. To make matters worse Ivo’s outrageous grandfather Cedric may be able to stop a large amount of money being allocated to the college so it’ll be sensible to keep in his good books – but that’s easier said than done.

I enjoyed being back in Oxford and although J.I.M. Stewart obviously liked his readers to know that he himself was a fellow of a prestigious college, he enjoys using unusual words, in fact the previous owner of my copy of this book had written the words he had to look up in the back of the book, but usually it is quite obvious by the context what the word means. I looked up maieutic which means helping birth – especially of thoughts.

I enjoyed reading this article containing anecdotes about Stewart from The Oxford Times. Mind you at no point is it mentioned that Stewart/Innes was actually Scottish.

I read this one for the 20 Books of Summer 2017 and The Read Scotland 2017 Challenge.

The Gaudy by J.I.M. Stewart

The Gaudy cover

The Gaudy by J.I.M. Stewart was first published in 1974 and it’s the first book in his A Staircase in Surrey quintet.

J.I.M. Stewart is of course better known as the crime fiction writer Michael Innes, but the books he wrote under the name of Stewart are supposedly more literary, he certainly sprinkles them with quotes and Latin anyway, but that isn’t too distracting. The author was also an academic working as a lecturer at Oxford as well as other universities and in these books he uses that experience and background for his settings.

The Gaudy is the annual re-union dinner at an Oxford college and the Scottish playwright Duncan Patullo has never been to one before in the 20 or so years since he graduated. Nor has he met up with any of his old friends in that time. Duncan has been busy carving his successful career over those years. He has decided to attend The Gaudy this year and has been allocated his old room in college.

Meeting up with old friends is a bit of an eye-opener as the one who was girl mad and what would nowadays be called a ‘serial shagger’ is now a bishop and has a very low opinion of the morals of the students nowadays! Another friend has just been appointed to the cabinet in government, the least likely friend seems to be a spook in the secret service.

There are still some students around as there are re-sits going on for those who failed their exams. The story involves quite a bit of snobbery with the usual differences between the state school educated students and those who were sent to posh schools at great expense. There’s definitely a them and us thing going on between the students and this ends up in disaster for one of them.

I enjoyed this book but not nearly as much as I remember enjoying the next one in the series, The Young Patullo, which I read back in the 1970s. I never did get my hands on The Gaudy back then so I can’t compare my feelings on that one.

The Financial Times said: ‘Wit, acute observation, clever plotting …. As a gallery of characters it leaves nothing to be desired.’

If you are thinking that Patullo is a strange surname – it is actually an old Scottish surname although you could be forgiven for thinking it must be Italian or something.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge – my second book for that challenge.

My Christmas Books

books 1

I’m thankful to be able to say that most of the gifts I got at Christmas were either books or book related, in fact I got so many I think I’ll be doing two posts on my haul.

I went a bit Dorothy Dunnett mad and decided to collect her Niccolo series, I hope I enjoy them.

As it gets towards Christmas I just tell Jack to wrap up any books that I buy in second-hand bookshops, most of the time I forget what the books are by the time it comes to unwrapping them at Christmas so it’s still a surprise, the kind I like. I really don’t enjoy real surprises as sometimes they turn into real shocks!

The Gaudy by J.I.M. Stewart
The Young Patullo by J.I.M. Stewart
The Madonna of the Astrolabe by J.I.M. Stewart
Papa La-Bas by John Dickson Carr
Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden
Mary Poppins in the Park by P.L. Travers
Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
Words of Mercury by Patrick Leigh Fermor

and by Dorothy Dunnett:

Niccolo Rising
The Spring of the Ram
Gemini
The Unicorn Hunt

I didn’t read the Mary Poppins books as a child and after enjoying the film Saving Mr Banks at Christmas about P.L Travers’s relationship with Walt Disney and the making of Mary Poppins I thought it was about time I rectified that and luckily I found an old copy in St Andrews.

This year I plan to concentrate on reading my own books!

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.