The Tall Stranger by D.E. Stevenson

The Tall Stranger cover

The Tall Stranger by D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1957 and I was lucky enough to find this one in a second-hand bookshop in Kirkwall, Orkney.

I see D.E. Stevenson as being a sort of updated O.Douglas in her writing style and content, although not quite as ‘churchy’.

This one begins in London where the people are having to cope with a horrendous fog that has lingered for almost a week, but thankfully about half-way through the book the action moves to the clear air of the Scottish borders.

Barbie and Nell are great friends and flatmates. In some ways they’re quite different with Nell being happy running around with lots of different boyfriends and cheerfully accepting lots of gifts from them. She works as secretary for a doctor. Barbie is much more choosy about men friends, and at the beginning of the book she’s in hospital, seemingly having lost the will to live.

When she improves enough to be able to travel she goes to Scotland to stay with her Aunt Amalia/Lady Steyne who lives in a lovely old house called Underwoods. There she meets up with her step-cousin, someone she hasn’t seen for years, and at first Barbie is charmed by him.

This was a good read, D.E. Stevenson’s books have the reputation of being light comfort reads, but they also have a serious side. Barbie has a career that she loves and is very good at, she’s an interior decorator and the thought of giving that up to please a husband isn’t a pleasant one for her. Quite a modern concept for 1957 I think.

Also there’s a moment in this book when Barbie realises that she’s not at all happy with her discovery of an unexpected trait in her fiance’s character. It’s a shock and a game changer for her, she’s wise enough to have a complete re-think about her future. I’m sure that this is something that must have happened to a lot of people, and they have looked back and thought – that was the time when I should have taken steps to change things.

Not just a comfort read.

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet by M.C.Beaton

I’ve been on a bit of an Agatha Raisin binge recently and although I enjoyed this one I’m going to take a wee bit of a rest from M.C. Beaton for a while.

This is the second Agatha book, I’ve been reading them all out of order. At the beginning of this one Agatha has just got back from a holiday in the Bahamas where she went on the spur of the moment, right after she hears that it was James Lacey’s holiday destination. She’s usually shameless in her pursuit of James, but even Agatha was mortified when she realised that James had got wind of her intention to follow him and he had changed his plans at the last minute.

On Agatha’s return she finds that a new vet has set up business in her home village of Carsley. The women of the village are queuing up for his attentions, but there’s something strange about him, it isn’t long before Agatha is embroiled in murder yet again.

I had wondered how Agatha ended up with two cats, she started off with Hodge, he was named by James Lacey apparently and Agatha didn’t realise that Hodge was the name of Samuel Johnson’s cat. When she acquires another cat she names the new one Boswell. I had always wondered how the unliterary Agatha had ended up with a Hodge and Boswell. Mystery solved.

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M C Beaton

This is the first book in the Agatha Raisin series. I enjoyed reading Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage previously but I decided to read the whole series in order. No problem I thought as there are always a lot of M C Beaton books in the library, but the first one just wasn’t popping up.

So, when I spotted a copy in a charity shop I snapped it up. They were doing two paperbacks for a pound so I also bought Josephine Tey’s To Love and Be Wise, which means I now have all of her books.

Anyway, back to Agatha. This is an enjoyable light read, perfect for when you don’t want to have to concentrate on anything too deeply. The sort of book which you can read whilst waiting to hear your name being called at the doctor’s or when you’re on a train and keeping one eye cocked on the landscape so that you don’t go past your stop inadvertently.

Agatha has just sold her very successful PR business in London and has moved to an idyllic cottage in the Cotswolds. It has been her ambition to do this ever since she was a child, but it isn’t long before she’s wondering if she has done the right thing and is pining for London life. When she makes an effort to join in with the social events of the village she becomes embroiled in a murder.

All jolly good fun which I found especially enjoyable because all of the towns and villages mentioned had been visited by us on our last British road trip so I could envisage the scenery.