The 1951 Club

the 1951 club

I’ve read and blogged about quite a few books that were published in 1951 in recent years, so if you’re interested in my thoughts on them click on the titles.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch

The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau

Cork on the Water by Macdonald Hastings

The Catherine Wheel by Patricia Wentworth

The Duke’s Daughter by Angela Thirkell

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols

Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer

School for Love by Olivia Manning

Of course 1951 was an important year in Britain as we had The Festival of Britain which went on for most of the year – or at least until the general election when Churchill became PM again and he saw the whole thing as being Socialist so he shut it all down – spoilsport!

But apparently the Festival was a life-saver for the people who had by then been suffering under austerity for years and years what with the war and even worse rationing post-war. It cheered people up no end to see the bright colours and modern designs, and was a great opportunity for artists, designers and makers.

Before I started blogging I read and enjoyed Festival at Farbridge by J.B. Priestley which was published in 1951 and has local events featuring the festival.

I blogged about the festival some years ago and if you’re interested you can see that post here.

Josephine Tey A Life by Jennifer Morag Henderson

 Josephine Tey A Life cover

Josephine Tey A Life by Jennifer Morag Henderson was published in 2015 and I borrowed it from the library. I was really surprised when I saw how thick the book is, it’s 426 pages including the index and I did wonder how somebody had managed to write so much about a writer who was famously secretive about her life. I thought maybe a cache of until now unknown information had come to light somehow but apparently not.

In fact by the end of the book I didn’t really know much more about Tey than I had before I set out to read it. Henderson writes a lot of pages about Tey’s father’s business and how it grew, not really something of great interest but it pads out pages I suppose and it’s information easily gained through local council records.

There’s an awful lot of speculation about possible World War 1 romances, Henderson seems determined to give Tey a tragic romantic history but really there is no evidence that any man was any more than a friend with an interest in poetry. It would seem that while Tey was in Inverness (most of her life) she kept herself to herself. Her family seem to have had a bit of a chip on their shoulder about the family being in trade, the father was a successful fruiterer and they seem to have thought that they were rather looked down on by some sections of the community. But the three daughters in the family were sent to a private school and I can just imagine the locals thinking that the local board school was good enough for most of them, why not for the Tey family. It inevitably sets you apart if your children aren’t sent to the ordinary local school.

Tey was one of those Scottish people who couldn’t wait to get out of Scotland and she suffered from an inherited snobbishness which must have made life in a small Highland town such as Inverness a real pain for her. She sought to anglicise herself in that mistaken belief that some people had/have that ‘English’ meant superior. She was proud of having English ancestors, when most people would probably have hidden that fact.

The sad fact is that for most of Josephine Tey’s life she was stuck in a town that she didn’t like much with no friends there and having to run after her elderly authoritarian father, while her two younger sisters left Inverness for England and stayed down there. She must just have lived for the times that she managed to get away down south to stay with friends or visit publishers.

This book is more interesting for the information about Tey’s way of writing and the background to her books and the plays written under the name of Gordon Daviot. I think it’s fair to say that Tey had rather an immature attitude to her work and was quite willing to cut off her nose to spite her face when it came to her relationship with the BBC. She was very precious about her writing talent – too precious maybe.

If you enjoy Tey’s writing you’ll definitely want to read this book although for my liking there is far too much emphasis on her extended family, particularly when you consider that they could not be described as being a close family. I didn’t really need to know that Tey’s father Colin had an ostentatious gravestone put up at his parents’ grave – a sure sign of a guilty conscience, he was ashamed of them and their Gaelic heritage and seems to have kept his own children away from them. What a shame for all concerned.

I rarely get a chance to chat about books I have read with actual friends instead of blog friends. But as it happens Eric had just read this one and we were of the same opinion, it didn’t tell us much more than we already knew about Tey. Eric mentioned that as Tey was obviously a lesbian he can’t understand why Henderson should be so determined to avoid that fact. I have to say that I agree completely. Tey did have lesbian friends and when propositioned by one of them she rebuffed her. But I would say that the reason for rebuffing her was probably because the woman was the partner of Tey’s friend and had a reputation as a philanderer, causing her partner grief. Tey would have to have been a fairly despicable person to have an affair with her friend’s partner. Tey at the time was fond of wearing masculine clothes, including shirts and ties as well as mannish jackets (see the book cover) – enough said. However Tey was of a religious bent so it’s probably something that she struggled with. It certainly goes a long way to explaining why Tey had such a horror of publicity and journalists.

As it happens I am also the daughter of a fruiterer and if I had ever become famous I would have found it bizarre if anyone had shown any interest in where my father’s shop was, or his relationships with his extended family. If you’re a fan of Tey’s writing though you will definitely want to read this book.

There’s a short introduction by Val McDermid.

I read this one as part of the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

Read Scotland 2014

Have you signed up for Peggy Ann’s Read Scotland 2014 Challenge yet? If not then have a wee think about doing it as I’m sure you could read at least 3 or 4 books which would qualify for it without even realising. For instance did you realise that Ian Fleming would fall into the category of Scottish author, and almost all of the children’s classic authors were Scottish or of Scottish descent. Now that Jack has actually retired he is going to do this challenge, his first ever, he should have much more time for reading now, have a look at his post about it here. We will both be doing the Ben Nevis which is 13 books but we’ll end up doing far more than that I’m sure. In fact I think I might manage a purely mythical Jings, crivens and help ma boab category, and if you’ve ever read Oor Wullie you’ll know that those are all words which are used to mean flabbergasted, astonished, for goodness sake! Because I plan to read about 50 books for this challenge.

To begin with I’m reading Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe over the month of January, doing it in four chunks and writing about it each week. Join in with me if you think you’re hard enough! Judith are you still up for it?

At the same time I intend to read Lanark by Alasdair Grey as a respite from Ivanhoe. Lanark was voted the second best Scottish book recently, the first was Irvine Walsh’s Trainspotting but I don’t fancy that one at all. Below is a list of some of the Scottish fiction authors that I’ll definitely be reading during 2014, I’ll be adding more though. Books with a Scottish setting are also eligible for the challenge. Have a look at the Scottish Books Trust for more inspiration.

Iain Banks
William Boyd
John Buchan
Andrew Crumey
Alasdair Grey
A.L. Kennedy
Dennis Mackail
Compton Mackenzie
Allan Massie
James Oswald
Rosamund Pilcher
James Runcie
A.D. Scott
Walter Scott
Mary Stewart
Jessica Stirling
Josephine Tey
Alison Thirkell
Angela Thirkell

If I read just one by all of these writers then I’ll have bagged Ben Nevis and then some, but I still have my non fiction books to look through and list, it looks like 2014 is going to be a very Scottish (parochial) year for me!

Oh and I’ll be writing about some of the many children’s classics which are suitable for this challenge. You’re never too old for a good children’s book. Remember that you don’t have to have a blog to take part in this challenge.

Thanks for setting this up Peggy Ann.

The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart

The Ivy Tree is Mary Stewart’s version of Josephine Tey’s vintage crime book Brat Farrar. I read that one last year and really liked it so I was a bit dubious about reading the Stewart take on the same sort of storyline.

It’s set in a farm in Northumberland in the north of England, Roman Wall country. The elderly owner is failing fast and there’s doubt as to who the property will be passed on to after his heir, his 18 year old grand-daughter Annabel, walked out after a row eight years previously, never to be seen or heard of again.

His great-nephew, Con, is desperate to get his hands on the farm and when one day he sees Annabel’s double, a young stranger from Canada, he and his half-sister Lisa cook up a plan to secure the farm with the help of the doppelganger.

Initially I thought it was a wee bit of a cheek on Mary Stewart’s part to so blatantly nick Josephine Tey’s idea but she mentions her several times in The Ivy Tree and I like to think of Stewart reading Brat Farrar and saying to herself “I could do better than that” – and she did!

There were unexpected twists and turns right to the end of The Ivy Tree, and you can’t say fairer than that.

The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

School for Love cover

This book was first published in 1929 and it’s another Inspector Alan Grant mystery. I read Tey’s Daughter of Time recently and I thought that it was really good but I liked this one even more. It just absolutely hit the right spot for me at the moment. It’s also far better than The Franchise Affair which always seems to be the one which people are recommended to read.

It’s set in London to begin with and a man has been knifed in the back whilst he was standing in a theatre queue. There’s such a crush that he is dead for some time before he falls down as the crowd had kept his body upright. Nobody else in the queue had noticed anything unusual and the body has nothing on it which would help to identify it.

Bit by bit Inspector Grant uncovers his identity and the action switches to the Highlands of Scotland and a man-hunt which is every bit as good as any written by John Buchan.

This kept me guessing all the way to the end and I can’t say that about all mysteries. So if you enjoy vintage crime books you should definitely give this one a go.

The only other thing that I have to say is that the word Dago is used prolifically throughout The Man in the Queue – describing a man of dark Mediterranean appearance. In 1929 this was regarded as normal I suppose but its definitely un-PC now. Mind you I did read somewhere that Spanish/Italian people didn’t regard the word Dago as derogatory as it’s a corruption of the name Diego and so as far as they are concerned it’s just the same as being called Jimmy. I don’t know if that’s true or not though.

Josephine Tey was of course a Scottish writer and not English as I read recently on another blog. She was born in Inverness and taught in various schools in Scotland and England but moved back to the Highlands to look after her father and continued to write there.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

I’m trying to work my way through all of the Scottish writer Josephine Tey’s books and this is one which I’d been looking forward to getting a hold of as so many people seem to have enjoyed it. And I’m another one.

Detective Alan Grant is going mad with boredom, stuck in a hospital bed flat on his back with only the cracks in the ceiling to scrutinise. Embarrassingly, he had fallen through a trapdoor whilst chasing a criminal and had badly broken his leg.

When his actress friend Marta tries to think of ways which he can entertain himself she suggests that he could try to solve a historical mystery and she later brings him a sheaf of prints of historical portraits to whet his appetite. Grant thinks that he is good at ‘reading’ people’s personalities from their faces and it’s the portrait of Richard III which intrigues him. It doesn’t look like the face of a man who would have his small nephews murdered.

Grant decides that that is the mystery which he is going to look into and after he exhausts the text books which he is given it’s his young American visitor, a student called Brent Carradine who helps him to get further with his research.

As I said, I enjoyed this one which was quite different from her other books and considering that Grant is immobilised throughout the book he still manages to be an interesting character.

It is obvious to us all that history is written by the winners so any historical accounts have to be taken bearing that in mind. Tey gives quite a few examples of this and in particular she complains that the Scottish covenanters have been given a bit of a white-wash job over the years. She says that none of them were put to death despite the fact that everyone thinks that they were. She says that they were guilty of sedition as if that is something really heinous. But sedition is just talking against the government! Hands up anyone who has done that in the past – yes all of us, if we have half a brain!

Tey also glosses over the fact that being transported (sent to the penal colonies in Australia) was more or less a death sentence. Many of the prisoners died on the voyage and most of the others died of fevers shortly after getting to Australia.

One of my ancestors was transported to Australia for- yes you guessed it – sedition, and he only survived 7 months there. So it’s just as well that he and his wife exchanged mourning rings before he left. They knew that they would never see each other again.

Anyway, if you like vintage crime, you’ll probably enjoy The Daughter of Time which was first published in 1951.

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

I picked this one out from a pile of Penguin vintage crime books in the second-hand book shop in St Andrews. It’s certainly worthwhile reading it if you like crime books. Having said that, when I was about half-way through it I found myself turning the book round to have a look at the cover again. Sure enough, it is a Penguin Classic Crime publication, but the crime is a long time a-coming.
I prefer crime stories to be of the “Good lord! There’s a dead man in my bath!” variety, within the first few pages.

Miss Pym Disposes was first published in 1946 and it’s set in Leys Physical Training College for young women. I always find that settings like that remind me of boarding school books, I half expected Darrel from Malory Towers to be there with her hockey stick.

Anyway, Miss Lucy Pym has been invited to Leys to give a psychology lecture and it is so successful that she’s invited to stay on for a few weeks. Not being one of the staff or a student and being welcomed by them all, Lucy has the opportunity to get to know them all better than would normally have been the case. She uses her knowledge of psychology but things aren’t always what they seem to be, and that is the moral of the story really. Well that and the fact that when a teacher has ‘favourites’ it can have dire consequences.

This book reminded me so much of The Small Room by May Sarton which was published in 1961 and is about plagiarism and favouritism. I think if I had been Josephine Tey I wouldn’t have been happy about it at all. But Tey died in 1952 and nobody seems to have noticed the similarities.

Tey even has the word ‘brilliant’ bandied about to describe various students. In The Small Room ‘brilliant’ is used to describe the student who has plagiarised. However, thankfully Tey has one character who points out that they only have one student who is ‘brilliant’ and in fact she shouldn’t be at the college but should be studying medicine, if only her parents could have afforded it.

I know that if you read lots of books you obviously find similarities in storylines but this just jumps out at you. I think that Miss Pym Disposes is the better book though, it’s a pity that people just think of The Franchise Affair when they think of Josephine Tey.

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.

Book haul

You might know that I’ve been avoiding buying books recently, mainly because I’ve got so many unread books in my house. But last week I bought a few in Edinburgh and that sort of opened the floodgates.

As it was a lovely day today we took ourselves off to St Andrews and ended up (well actually we began) in the bookshops. This lot is the result.

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher
Love by Elizabeth von Arnim
The Courts of the Morning by John Buchan
Look to the Lady by Margery Allingham
Hamlet, Revenge! by Michael Innes
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey
Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey
Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

The book gods must have been hovering above me today. Only one Virago mind you but what a one, I love Elizabeth von Arnim. There weren’t any books by the authors that I was actually looking for, except for The Braddons by Angela Thirkell but I requested that one from the library so there wasn’t any point in buying it.

It’s just as well that I’ve got more time for reading now that we don’t have a house full of boys any more.

On to Dundee to try out Duncan’s local fish and chip shop which was very good. Then we had coffee towers from Fisher and Donaldson – so bang went the healthy diet. And bang went another Saturday too.

Well, if you’re going to fall off the wagon you might as well do it in style.

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

I read The Franchise Affair as part of the Flashback Challenge and the Thriller and Suspense Reading Challenge.

This book was first published in 1948 but I first read it in the early 1970s when I was a teenager. I borrowed it from the English department library at school. It was seen as being a vintage classic even then but I think they probably had it because Josephine Tey is a Scottish writer.

However, it is set in an English provincial town where Robert Blair is a lawyer dealing with wills and property conveyancing. When he gets a phone call from Marion Sharpe who is in need of a lawyer, he tries to pass her on to Ben Carley, the local criminal lawyer, but Marion perseveres and he ends up going to visit her.

Marion and her elderly mother have recently inherited a large, dilapidated house and the police have informed them of a complaint which has been made against them by a 15 year old girl, Betty Kane.

According to Betty Kane, the Sharpes had abducted her and kept her locked up, beating and witholding food from her until she agreed to do the housework for them. She says she was held prisoner for a month until a door was left unlocked and she was able to make her escape.

The police decide that there isn’t enough evidence to charge Marion and her mother, but the Ack Emma – a tabloid newspaper gets a hold of the story and the dregs of society decide that they are judge and jury, making life miserable for the Sharpes.

When the police decide to charge the Sharpes, Robert Blair despairs of being able to help them but he turns to sleuthing and with the help of others the full story begins to unfold.

I really enjoyed re-reading this book but I have a vague memory that I didn’t much like it the first time that I read it. Before then I had only read Agatha Christie mysteries and Tey is very different from her. In fact I think she is much better than Christie but I’ll have to read more of her books to be sure.

If you like vintage crime, this is one that you should definitely read.