The Musgraves by D.E. Stevenson

 The Musgraves cover

The Musgraves by D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1960. Esther and Charles Musgrave have been married for 25 years but they’re not destined to add any more years to that tally as Charles is terminally ill. He was a widower when he married Esther and is much older than her. His 17 year old son Walter reacted badly to the marriage and took off in high dudgeon to make a life for himself, cutting off all contact with his father.

All that is in the past though and it’s Esther and their three daughters that are preying on Charles’s mind in his last days. Delia the eldest daughter has always been difficult, she has never quite got over not being an only child and having to share her parents with two younger sisters. She’s a needy and dissatisfied young woman and likes everybody to know it, with the result that the other members of the family are walking on eggshells when she’s around.

Meg the middle daughter is going to be married to Bernard soon, but her mother isn’t at all happy about the match. Charles is obviously keen to get Meg settled with a steady husband, looking to the future he knows that Bernard will be a help to his family when he’s no longer around to look after them. Esther doesn’t like Bernard and is really quite a hypocrite considering her far more mismatched but successful marriage with Charles.

Rose, the youngest daughter is packed off to school and with Charles’s death and Meg’s marriage Esther is living with just Delia in the much smaller house that they’ve had to move to when it became a financial necessity to move out of their large family home. Delia isn’t happy with the change in their circumstances, living in a large house with plenty of land around it had been important for her ego and she feels the downfall keenly. Esther is delighted with the new house though, it’s just Delia’s personality that is a problem.

I enjoyed this book about difficult family dynamics and clashing personalities. It’s often the middle child in a family who is supposedly the difficult one so I’m told, but I think that quite often the eldest child comes as such a shock to some mothers, especially if they are young mothers and are an only child themselves. I’ve certainly observed some young mothers treating their eldest as if they are a sibling that they never had and not their child. By the time they have a second child they’re ready to get into mothering mode so the relationship is very different. It’s harsh on the eldest child. Perhaps that was part of Delia’s problem.

Well, as Tolstoy said: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Although I prefer D.E. Stevenson’s books to have a Scottish setting (so parochial of me I know) I did enjoy this one.

Green Money by D.E. Stevenson

Green Money cover

Green Money by D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1939 but World War 2 doesn’t come into it apart from a very brief mention of Hitler. This one isn’t one of her best, it would seem that 1938/39 wasn’t a good time for Stevenson’s writing and given what was going on in the UK at the time that isn’t at all surprising.

George Ferrier is twenty-five years old and enjoying a holiday in London when he meets a man called Mr Green who had known his father years ago. It turns out that Mr Green is a wealthy widower with one daughter and he is in need of a third trustee to look after her best interests if he should die. He decides that George is the man he needs, the upshot of which is that not long after that George has the onerous duty thrust upon him when Mr Green dies suddenly.

The daughter Elma has been brought up in Victorian ways by a governess and when she gets a bit of freedom it goes to her head, she’s very pretty and has men flocking around her and she ends up in a dangerous situation, and George has the job of tracking her down. He discovers that the other two trustees are anything but trustworthy.

There are lots of other characters and George’s Irish mother Paddy gave the author the opportunity to write some dialogue in that style, there are moments of humour and the moral of this tale is that it’s more important to be honest and decent than clever.

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.