A Rope – In Case by Lillian Beckwith

A Rope - In Case cover

A Rope In Case by Lillian Beckwith was first published in 1968. The setting is Bruach, a village in the Scottish Hebrides. The author who was an English woman who moved to the Hebrides and then started writing about the community and many of her neighbours which is always a bit dangerous. ‘Miss Peckwitt’ – as the locals called her – was told. ‘Always carry a rope – in case’. And whether it was for repairing a fence, tying up a boat or securing the roof of the local taxi, there was no denying the wisdom of it. And Miss Peckwitt soon discovers that her rope is indeed an invaluable piece of kit.

Bruach was a welcoming village and in this book there’s a new villager called Miss Parry, she’s another English woman who has taken over the house of the two spinsters nicknamed ‘the pilgrims’. Miss Parry is a keen knitter and enthusiastically begins to knit clothes for the villagers, but she doesn’t use patterns and the results are always unwearable, but that doesn’t put her off. The socks she knits are just long tubes with no heels in them, none of them match and she claims that as they are for the orphans they don’t need heels. Miss Peckwitt makes the mistake of complaining about her lack of a decent bra and the difficulty of buying one from a catalogue so Miss Parry arrives with half a dozen home made bras, made from an assortment of unsuitable materials such as tartan and Harris tweed – I can feel the itch just writing about them!

This book, like her previous three is an amusing glimpse back to a way of life that doesn’t exist now, life and death as it was in a Hebridean village in the 1960s. With plenty of quirky inhabitants, there’s never a dull moment.

Lillian Beckwith wrote seven books with Hebridean settings, but she ended up moving back to England when some of her neighbours took umbrage at being used so blatantly as copy for her books. There’s no denying though that they’re good if you’re in need of a laugh and this week I’m definitely in need of a laugh!

Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death by M.C. Beaton

I’m just trying to clear up the books which I’ve been reading recently, making way for a clean start when 2014 comes around. I did enjoy this one more than some of the other Agatha Raisin books which I’ve read this year. I prefer the earlier ones, when Agatha was still a bit of an amateur sleuth. When she sets up her own detective agency they lose some of their charm for me. I think there are just too many uninteresting characters in the shape of her employees.

In this one a villager has decided to sell the water from her well to a company who will bottle it to sell as mineral water. Many of the other Carsely inhabitants are up in arms about it as you can imagine and as ever murder ensues.

Agatha is still pining for her neighbour James Lacey who as men go is a bit of a waste of space really, if only she would realise it!

Agatha Raisin Hiss and Hers by M.C. Beaton

At last Agatha seems to have got over her obsession with her ex-husband James Lacey, and she has transferred her affections to a local gardener, George Marston, who if I recall correctly from a previous book is an ex-soldier who has left one of his legs behind in Afghanistan.

George is playing hard to get though, in fact he’s going out of his way to avoid Agatha and in desperation she decides to throw a charity ball in the hope of at least being able to get a dance with him. When George doesn’t even bother to turn up to the ball, Agatha goes looking for him and isn’t happy with what she finds.

This one is a disaster for poor Agatha’s ego, but an enjoyable light read – again.

Agatha Raisin There Goes the Bride

Agatha Raisin There Goes the Bride cover

I’m on a bit of an Agatha Raisin kick at the moment, well they’re easy reading which is just what I want for now and there have been quite a few available to borrow at my library recently, sometimes I don’t see any there for ages.

Anyway, in this one Agatha has been invited to go to her ex-husband’s wedding, it’s the last thing she wants to do but she feels she has to show her face. It turns out that James Lacey, Agatha’s ex, is having second thoughts about his forthcoming marriage, he has just realised that his future in-laws are ghastly, but he feels it’s too late to call it off.

Another enjoyable romp, although this is the 20th book of the series and I’m not so keen on the later ones because Agatha has her own detective agency and several members of staff. I preferred it when she was more or less on her own and a complete amateur.

Strangely the in-laws in this book are named George and Olivia, which seems to be a combination of names which Beaton likes for ghastly characters as she used them for a completely different couple in the last book of hers which I read. I wonder if she was inspired by a real couple of her acquaintance with those names!

Dandy Gilver & a Bothersome Number of Corpses by Catriona McPherson

Most of this book is set in a girls school in the village of Portpatrick in Galloway in the south west border country of Scotland, not a place which I know well, the combination of the two settings meant that I didn’t enjoy this one as much as her other Dandy Gilver books.

Dandy is called by two of the Lipscott sisters whom she has known since she was a young thing, they need her help. The Lipscotts are an eccentric family and Dandy still fondly remembers the time she spent with them in the past.

When she hears that the youngest sister is working as a schoolteacher at a school which has a habit of ‘losing’ teachers, Dandy has to investigate.

I think that Catriona McPherson was smart to make Dandy an Englishwoman, married to a Scotsman and living mainly in Scotland as it gives her ample scope to comment on Scottish culture and traditions, but not in a snide way.

For instance: “I know that the leftover soup from a Scotswoman’s kitchen is not for the fainthearted, given its starting point of rib-sticking heft and the nature of the inevitable barley which works away long after the cooking is done, so that sometimes second- or (I have heard tell of it) third-day soup, can just as easily be eaten with a fork as with a spoon.”

That made me laugh as I always have a pot of home made soup on the go and Jack has been known to say ‘cut me a slice of soup please.’

Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham by MC Beaton

I’m not a fast reader as I read every word and comma but I started reading this one at bedtime last night and finished it this morning. As ever with Agatha Raisin, cat-loving grump that she is, it was an enjoyable romp, with Agatha being surprised by the reaction of some of the village women to an Evesham hairdresser. She sees fear on their faces and is told by some that they wouldn’t go near his salon, despite the fact that he is the best hairdresser in the town by far. Of course Agatha smells a rat and must get to the bottom of it.

In pursuit of the truth Agatha and her hair spend a lot of time being dyed, back-combed and such, so much so that I began to think that if there were a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Hair – I would definitely have reported her to it.

On the other hand – if I had been Agatha I would have expected to be awarded the George Cross for valour for being brave enough to frequent the various salons so often!

I got to the bottom of the mystery long before Agatha and company did but I think that that is part of the charm of the books and contributes to the popularity of them, people like to think they are smarter than the police and amateur detectives.

I’ll continue with the series now and again, just as I come across them in the library.

Beatrice Goes To Brighton by M.C. Beaton

I had no idea that M.C. Beaton was a Scot, never mind a fellow Glaswegian until very recently, about five minutes ago actually. I haven’t even seen Hamish McBeth on TV, she wrote those books too. I’ve been meaning to start reading her Agatha Raisin/crime series but I want to start it from the beginning and I haven’t got a hold of the first one yet. So when I saw Beatrice Goes To Brighton in the library I thought I might as well give it a go, even although romance is not my favourite thing.

If you’re looking for holiday/bedtime reading or just something which you don’t have to concentrate on too much then this is the perfect choice. Good light reading and a bit of a laugh now and again. The funniest bits for me were when the characters get all romantic – a la Mills and Boon, it reminded me of when I used to work in a library and to cheer ourselves up in the morning, just before we unlocked the door to let in the public, we used to take turns at opening a Mills and Boon and reading the very last page out loud – in a very plummy voice. Such fun!

In this one Miss Pym, who has had some success as a romantic matchmaker in the past is travelling to Brighton by stage-coach and comes into contact with the 28 year old Lady Beatrice who has recently become a widow, much to her relief. Beatrice had been married off to an older man who was a gambler and boozer, unfortunately it took him 10 years to slowly drink himself to death, by which time he had gone through most of his money.

It wasn’t long before Beatrice’s parents were trying to marry her off again to the ghastly Sir Geoffrey. Can Miss Pym help Beatrice?

Thanks again to Jo at The Book Jotter for pointing me in M.C. Beaton’s direction.