Papa La-Bas by John Dickson Carr

The  Homicidal Colonel cover

Papa La-Bas by John Dickson Carr was published in 1969. The setting is 1858 New Orleans, it’s an unstable time as people can feel the probability of civil war in the near future. The story involves voodoo which is apparently called Papa La-Bas in New Orleans and isn’t always a force for evil, it can be used for good too.

There’s murder, romance, American southern gentility and for me it didn’t half drag, but I struggled on to the end, probably because there was a likeable Scotsman in it. As I recall John Dickson Carr was of Scottish extraction.

I did have a bit of a laugh at one point though as a character says: “I won’t ask about the state of the banking business. I won’t even ask whether any widows and orphans have been swindled today.” So nothing changes.

I’d read a couple of his historical mysteries before this one and quite enjoyed them, but for me the best thing about this book was the cover, I like the look of those US paddle steamers. I blame Mark Twain!

My Blog’s Name in TBR Books

I’ve never done this meme before but lots of the blogs that I enjoy frequenting have been doing it including Margaret at BooksPlease and I decided to join in. The idea is that you choose book titles from your TBR pile which begin with the letters of your blog name. So, here goes – sixteen of them. I intend to read them before the end of this year.

TBR Books

PPapa-la-bas by John Dickson Carr

IIf This Is a Man by Primo Levi

NNicolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett

IIf Not Now, When by Primo Levi

NNot So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith

GGuest in the House by Philip MacDonald

FFor the Sake of the School by Angela Brazil

OOld Hall-New Hall by Michael Innes

RReputation for a Song by Edward Grierson

TTroy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy

HHow Late It Was – How Late by James Kelman

EEdinburgh by Robert Louis Stevenson

WWinter by Len Deighton

EEverything You Need by A.L. Kennedy

SSpiderweb by Penelope Lively

TTrooper to the Southern Cross by Angela Thirkell

Have you read any of these books and if so where should I begin?

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
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!

Vintage Crime x 3

For me vintage crime is perfect for holiday reading so I have three to write about which I read when we were in the Netherlands.

The first one is The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr, it was first published in 1935 and features Dr Fell as the detective. This one was a real puzzler which kept me guessing. It’s a murder mystery which is described in the blurb as an eerie thriller, full of impossible crimes cleverly planned – and I agree with that.

The second one is A Family Affair by Michael Innes, which was first published in 1969. I didn’t enjoy this one quite so much. It begins at Sir John Appleby’s son Bobby’s Oxford College’s dining club. An after dinner anecdote piques Appleby’s interest. He’s left wondering if there’s an elaborate scammer going around in the art world, depriving people of their treasures. Innes did enjoy using the art world as a setting for his stories, especially in the 1960s and 70s but they aren’t always the strongest of storylines.

The third book is Woman Slaughter by Elizabeth Ferrars, it was published in 1989 and it was given to me by a friend who said that he couldn’t get beyond page 55. He had read earlier books by Ferrars and enjoyed them so I was wondering how I would feel about it. I have to say that it’s a real shame that my friend didn’t read on for another 15 pages or so because that was when it all began to kick off and I really enjoyed it.

It begins with the death of an elderly man, the victim of a hit and run accident. He was a neighbour of Virginia Freer, and Virginia’s estranged husband Felix thinks he might have witnessed the accident. Felix doesn’t want to get involved so decides not to tell the police what he saw, but he is tempted to dabble in their investigation and he unwittingly makes things much worse. This is another one which kept me guessing.

Fire, Burn by John Dickson Carr

Fire, Burn is one of John Dickson Carr’s historical crime/mystery books. I did enjoy it.

It begins in the 20th century, the 1950s – but as Detective Inspector John Cheviot travels in a taxi to Scotland Yard he suddenly realises that he is in a horse drawn carriage and by the time he gets out of it he has been transported back to 1829, to the beginnings of the police service and the Bow Street Runners.

Bizarrely, everybody at Old Scotland Yard seem to know exactly who he is, and Cheviot can recognise the historical figures he meets there. When a murder takes place at a dance that Cheviot was attending he gets to work to solve the case.

This book was first published in 1957 and I think Dickson Carr must have enjoyed writing it as it combines murder mystery with history, which was obviously something which he took a real interest in.

At the end of the book there are a few pages headed Notes for the Curious. The second part of which is called Manners, Customs, Speech. He writes about a diary entry of a woman called Clarissa Trant, in 1829 she used the phrase Tell that to the Marines – with her own italics and meaning as we do now that, the thing which she has written about is not at all believable.

I love that sort of thing, often when I read something – a word or phrase jumps out at me as being anachronistic, you know how quickly slang words go out of fashion and seem completely dated when people keep using them after their ‘use by date’. So I was amazed but pleased to see that ‘tell that to the Marines’ was being used way back in 1829. I really thought that it was an American 20th century phrase, mainly because I remember one of Alistair Cooke’s Letters from America featuring the phrase, apparently someone, I can’t remember who, had had their arm twisted by the Nazis during World War 2 and the upshot was that they had to do a propaganda broadcast on the radio. They ended it with words something like: Tell that to the army, tell that to the navy and above all – tell that to the Marines!! Luckily the Germans didn’t see through it.

Such a shame that P.G. Wodehouse didn’t think of doing something like that when he was coerced into making broadcasts in Germany, it would have saved him such a lot of trouble after the end of the war. But then, Wodehouse seems to have been so slow witted that he didn’t even realise that what he was doing was being of help to the Nazis.

Anyway, back to the book, as I said – it was an enjoyable read although that being ‘wheeched’ back in time thing via an ordinary mode of transport does seem a wee bit cliched, but maybe it didn’t in 1957. The last Woody Allen film I watched began in exactly the same way, but I enjoyed that too!

Book Sale at St Andrew’s and St George’s Edinburgh

We got up early on Saturday morning so that we wouldn’t be too late in getting to the book sale in St Andrew’s and St George’s Church in Edinburgh, the proceeds all go to Christian Aid. It was Linda from Edinburgh who reminded me of the sale, so a big thank you to Linda!

St Andrew's & St George's Church
By the time we got to the church it was really chucking it down with rain and the books outside the church all had plastic covers over them and everbody had packed into the church – it was heaving with folks and it made it very difficult to see the books, but I persevered, and we went our separate ways. I ran out of money, had to find Jack, found him in the crowd, waved madly, he didn’t see me, he went in the opposite direction, the woman at the stall seemed to think I was going to nick her books, but in the end it was all sorted out and the upshot was I spent a lot of money and Jack didn’t spend nearly as much, that’s usually the way of it. As you can see from the photo above, by the time we got upstairs the rain had stopped and the crowd had thinned.

I couldn’t resist taking this photo of the newly redecorated church, it has had a lot spent on it recently and the organ has been refurbished.
St Andrew's & St George's Edinburgh

It was the ceiling which really attracted me though, beautiful, but I’m glad I didn’t have to paint it. Internally the church is really lovely with pale wood, maybe golden oak and the pews all have blue velvet buttoned cushions, I’m sure in my young day that would have been seen as being un-Presbyterian and just too comfy for church-goers. How times
St Andrew's & St George'sChurch Edinburgh

Anyway, to the books, here they are.


The three in the middle are:
The House That Is Our Own by O. Douglas
The Provincial Lady in Wartime by E.M. Delafield
Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford. I’ve read it, but it was over 30 years ago I’m sure and was a library book.I want to read it again.

The other one which can’t be seen very well is:
We Are Still Married by Garrison Keillor. I’ve never read anything by him but I enjoy listening to him on Radio 4 extra on Sunday afternoons whilst cooking the dinner.

Two of the vintage crime Penguins I haven’t even heard of.

The Content Assignment by Holly Roth
Comes the Blind Fury by Douglas Rutherford

The third Penguin is Captain Cut-Throat by John Dickson Carr.

The Things We See is a Penguin book which just screams 1950s at you and is about design. It has some lovely photos and even the endpapers are 1950s design.

Civil To Strangers by Barbara Pym. I’ve read quite a lot of her books but most of them so long ago, I can’t remember if I’ve read this one or not. If so, it’s due a re-read.

Anna Buchan and O.Douglas by Wendy Forrester is a book which I’ve been looking for.

The Prince and the Pilgrim by Mary Stewart is one I’ve been meaning to buy for ages, it’s the last in her Merlin/Arthur series and I’m going to read it for the up and coming Mary Stewart readalong at Gudrun’s Tights.

Oasis of the North by Dawn MacLeod is about Inverewe Gardens in the north west of Scotland.

Scottish Highland Watercolours by Sutton Palmer is a collection of 16 watercolours of the Highlands, all very scenic.

I could have bought a lot more books and this week I’ve been restraining myself from getting on a bus and going back for another look because I really didn’t get a chance to look at the many gardening and craft books which were on sale. But I think I’ll be good and resist the temptaion, particularly as there is another library book sale locally on Saturday. The George Street, Edinburgh book sale continues until the end of the week.

The Demoniacs by John Dickson Carr

The Demoniacs

I bought this book quite recently at a charity shop I think and I was quite disappointed when I realised that this is one of Dickson Carr‘s historical whodunnits, set in London in 1757. The 1930s/40s and 50s are really my favourite crime settings, it’s all those steam trains and Austin Healys that I love. It was first published in 1962.

But I thoroughly enjoyed The Demoniacs which is a great mixture of murder and romance. Jeffrey Wynne is a sort of under cover Bow Street Runner, he has already saved Peg Ralston, a beautiful young heiress from a fate worse than death in a so called high class French brothel. On getting Peg back to London Jeffrey discovers that she is in even worse danger there, can he come to her rescue again?

Dickson Carr uses real historical figures such as Laurence Sterne the author of Tristram Shandy, and John Fielding, the famous ‘blind beak’ who set up the Bow Street Runners.

The whole atmosphere feels right, Dickson Carr must have done a lot of reaearch about the period, the only thing which grated slightly was one minor character at the beginning who kept saying things like ‘split my bottom’ – it reminded me of the silly ass character in Blackadder played by Hugh Laurie.

Autumn Break Book Purchases

I came back home with very few books this time, slim pickings indeed. I didn’t see one Angela Thirkell book but I did buy:

Fire, Burn! by John Dickson Carr
A Thatched Roof by Beverley Nichols (sequel to Down the Garden Path)
and on the way home I bought a 1970s edition of Four Hedges by Clare Leighton.

The bookshop in York, just beside the Minster is one of those ones which sells a lot of prints too. I always find that quite sad because most of them have been ripped out of books. But I couldn’t help admiring some woodblock prints by Clare Leighton, I don’t recall ever seeing anything by her before, so when I picked up a book in an antiques centre at Powburn, Northumberland I was amazed to see that the book underneath was one by Clare Leighton with 88 illustrations by her. How lucky was that?! At only £5 it was definitely coming home with me. You can see some of her work here.

When I got home I looked her up and discovered that her brother was Roland Leighton, whom I always think of as O Roland – if you’ve read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth you’ll know that she was engaged to him but of course he died of his wounds in 1915. Four Hedges is subtitled A Gardener’s Chronicle and needless to say I won’t be breaking it up to hang any of it on my already overcrowded walls.

So that was it, just three books bought whilst in England but today we wandered down the High Street and I went into one charity shop and ended up buying:

The Demoniacs by John Dickson Carr
Watson’s Choice by Gladys Mitchell and
Taken By The Hand by O. Douglas

I’d better get down to some serious reading at the rate the TBR pile is growing, especially as two of the books which I had requested from the library have also turned up. I still haven’t got around to sorting through the photos I took whilst we were away. Maybe tomorrow!

Til Death Do Us Part by John Dickson Carr

This vintage crime book was first published in 1944 and it’s another ‘locked room’ mystery.

The successful thriller writer and playwright Dick Markham has just become engaged to Lesley Grant, a new inhabitant to the village, much to the disgust of many of the villagers who had expected him to marry their favourite, the local girl, Cynthia Drew, whom he’d been friendly with for some time.

The action begins at a village bazaar with the usual entertainments like a shooting-range, cricket match and fortune-teller’s tent. When Lesley shoots the fortune teller in an accident it isn’t long before rumours start to circulate that she isn’t who she claims to be and Dick doesn’t know what to believe.

The detective Dr Gideon Fell arrives to investigate the dastardly goings on in the village and things become even more perplexing before he manages to crack the case. I was kept guessing right to the end, what more can you ask for!

This book is part of the Black Dagger Crime series which is a joint effort between BBC audiobooks and the Crime Writers’ Association.

If you want to learn more about Dr Fell have a look here.

He reminds me a bit of Rex Stout, they both have a huge girth, find it difficult to get about and have more than a fondness for beer but I can’t help wondering why Dickson Carr gave him the name of Dr Fell. It’s a name which was first used in 1680 when it appears in a nursery rhyme, you can read about it here. But that article doesn’t even mention the Dickson Carr use of the name, although several other people seem to have used it.

There’s also a song by Juliet Turner which goes like this-

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.