20 Books of Summer 2017 update

I’m doing quite well with my 20 Books of Summer 2017 list this year although I had meant to do a bit of a half-way roundup before now. I have veered slightly from the list for various reasons, but I’m still hopeful of finding my copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet before September. I did a fatal tidy up before some visitors arrived and now that book is lost in the stacks which is very annoying as before that I knew exactly where it was – on the floor!

1. London Match by Len Deighton
2. I Claudius by Robert Graves
3. Highland River by Neil M. Gunn
4. The Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell
5. The Dove of Venus by Olivia Manning
6. City of the Mind by Penelope Lively
7. The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons
8. Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts
9. This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart
10. Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham
11. Claudius the God by Robert Graves
12. Pied Piper by Nevil Shute
13. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
14. Katherine Wentworth by D.E. Stevenson
15. The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall Smith
16. A Memorial Service by J.I.M. Stewart
17. The Madonna of the Astrolabe by J.I.M. Stewart
18. Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott
19. High Rising by Angela Thirkell
20. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham

Flowers for the Judge cover

Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham was first published in 1936 and I must say that I loved it. I think that Albert Campion’s character really improved in this one, in some of the earlier books he’s just too sketchy for my liking. It always seems to be Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke (1952) that people cite as Allingham’s best book but I wasn’t so impressed with that one.

Allingham dedicated this book to her publishers, presumably because the setting is a firm of publishers called Barnabas which has been going for generations and is now run by cousins. It’s a very conservative, old fashioned firm although years ago one of the directors had disappeared into thin air.

Twenty years on another director disappears although it’s some days before the alarm is raised by anyone. Paul is a bit of a strange person, married to Gina a much younger woman, an American, it’s a bit of a mystery why they married at all. The youngest partner is in love with Gina although she is completely oblivious of this fact. Campion gets involved in the mystery and with some twists and turns everything is satisfyingly sorted out.

Fogs were frequent menaces in cities in the UK at the time this book was written and Allingham describes one when she has a character saying:

‘As an American, Gina, you have a thrill coming to you. We are on the eve of a real old London particular, with flares in the streets, bus-conductors on foot leading their drivers over the pavements into plate glass windows, and blind beggars guiding city magnates across the roads for a small fee.

The title of the book comes from an old custom – judges carried a posy of flowers into the court to ward off gaol fever and nasty smells. You can read about it here. Obviously it was still being done in 1936 – at the Old Bailey anyway.

Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham

Death of a Ghost cover

Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham was first published in 1934 and it’s the sixth Albert Campion murder mystery, so fairly early in his career and for me that’s the problem with this book. As he matured Allingham wrote Campion as a much more interesting character than he was in his early days, he’s just too shadowy and one dimensional, I much prefer the older married Campion.

John Lafcadio was a great artist and he decided that to keep his name going as long as possible after his death he would paint several pictures to be unveiled after his death – one a year, beginning ten years after his death. I have to say that that is a great idea.

It’s the eighth unveiling of one of those paintings, so eighteen years after his death, and there are lots of famous people at the party, suddenly the lights go out – a shilling is needed for the electricity meter, and there’s a murder!

So begins Campion’s investigation, aided by Stanislaus Oates, but for me there’s just not enough of Campion and it’s all a bit predictable.

Murder Under the Christmas Tree – short stories

 Murder Under the Christmas Tree cover

Murder Under the Christmas Tree is a compilation of short stories by well known authors, all set around about Christmas – as you would expect.

The first story is The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers. I’m quite a fan of Sayers but I have to admit that I was a wee bit disappointed with this one as I guessed the solution fairly quickly.

The other contributers are Ian Rankin, Margery Allingham, Arthur Conan Doyle, Val McDermid, Ellis Peters, Edmund Crispin, G.K. Chesterton, Carter Dickson and Ngaio Marsh. The sleuths include Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, Cadfael, Father Brown, Rebus and others you will recognise.

It’s quite a collection of authors and I’m sure there’s something for everyone here, well everyone who enjoys a good murder around the festive season – as I do!

I read this book for the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge.

Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham

Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham which is called in the US – The Sabotage Murder Mystery – was first published in 1941. After reading an article in the Guardian recently about the book I decided I had to read it soon, so I resorted to the internet to get it fast, rather than doing my usual patient mooching in secondhand bookshops and trusting to serendipity that it would turn up soon.

Prior to reading the Guardian article I had always read that Allingham’s best book was The Tiger in the Smoke, so I was very surprised when Traitor’s Purse was mentioned as being so good, but I must say that I agree completely, especially as the book cleared up a puzzle for me.

I had always been perplexed by the character of Allingham’s sleuth, Albert Campion. I haven’t been reading her books in order and it seemed obvious to me that the older Campion had matured into a much more interesting human being. To put it bluntly the young Campion always seemed to me to be more than a bit of a wet willie. In Traitor’s Purse Campion has more or less the same opinion of himself as I had.

Campion wakes up in a hospital bed, unable to remember anything, not even his own name. He overhears a conversation which implies that he is a murderer and will be hanged, so he wastes no time and escapes from the hospital. Outside he bumps into Amanda and some other people who have no idea that he has lost his memory, but they seem to expect Campion to be in charge. There’s an important thing which they expect him to do, but Campion is clueless as to what it is.

When he catches sight of himself in a mirror he’s surprised by how old he looks as he seems at least ten years older than he thought he was. (Which of us hasn’t had that experience!) But worst of all is that he has assumed that Amanada is his wife, so it’s a horrible shock when he discovers that he is only engaged to her and he has been engaged to her for 8 years.

What sort of man is he he wonders? Who would leave Amanda dangling like that all that time? He doesn’t like the personality which seems to be his. It’s all very well being a gentleman but it doesn’t have to be combined with stupidity.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I’m presuming that Allingham realised that she needed to make Campion a much stronger character than she had made him before. He needed a knock on the head to give him a different outlook on life, and that’s exactly what she gave him. Written at the beginning of the war and at a time when things weren’t exactly going well for the allies this is more of a spy thriller than a murder mystery and fittingly John Le Carre was an admirer of her writing.

You can read the Guardian article about Allingham and Traitor’s Purse here.

Recent Book Purchases

Recent Book Purchases

On our recent road trip down to England I bought quite a few books – surprise surprise I hear you say.

1. Film-Lovers’ Annual – 1934
2. The Derbyshire Dales by Norman Price
3. The Better Part by Annie S. Swan
4. Traitor’s Purse by Margery Allingham
5. Murder Among Friends by Elizabeth Ferrars
6. Love Among the Ruins by Angela Thirkell
7. The Provincial Lady In America by E.M. Delafield
8. Appointment with Venus by Jerrard Tickell
9. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
10. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

I’m only sorry that I didn’t buy even more books as I saw two old Batsford travel books and I actually thought I had bought one Batsfprd book but I’ve just realised that the Derbyshire Dales book was actually published by Warne. I’m now regretting not buying Batsford’s England and Scottish Borders. Oh well, hopefully they’ll turn up at another time and place.

I bought the Dean’s Film-Lovers Annual from 1934 for the photos in it, some of very famous film stars such as Bogart and Edward G. Robinson and an awful lot that I had never heard of so I’ll be googling them. There are interesting photos of film sets too and a photo of Harold Lloyd’s sitting-room showing bookcases full of books. I’d love to be able to see what they are.

Margery Allingham by AS Byatt

I thought you might be interested in reading this article by AS Byatt which was published in yesterday’s Guardian review. Although I’ve read quite a lot of Allingham’s books, I haven’t read Traitor’s Purse. Byatt is obviously a big fan of Allingham, as was John Le Carre apparently.

This week’s Review seems to be reminding me of how many books and authors I haven’t read. You might be interested in this article by Erika Johansen in which she celebrated life’s fighters. Ten uncompromising female protagonists – I haven’t read any of the books in which these females appear.

I’m always going to avoid reading Gone with the Wind and Stephen King, but I wonder if I’m missing something in not having read the others. Although I read children’s classics, I can’t see myself reading Harry Potter somehow.

A Cargo of Eagles by Margery Allingham

First published in 1968, this is the book which Margery Allingham was writing when she died, her husband, Youngman Carter used her notes to finish it. For me this is a disappointing book on several fronts. Firstly it’s set in the 1960s and involves rival gangs of youngsters in Essex, the sort of thing which was still going on in the 1970s when I lived there for a few years, then it was rockers and skinheads who arranged mass fights at seaside resorts such as Clacton-on-sea. Somehow that all seems very un-Allingham like to me. As always, I prefer the 1930s, 40s and even 50s.

Campion and Lugg are both getting on by this time of course and for that reason it seems quite sad, they’re past their prime by a long way.

I wasn’t really enamoured of any of the other characters, even the romantic interest in the shape of a young American student Mortimer Kelsey and an English lady doctor was very tepid. Gosh I can’t even remember her name and I’ve already taken the book back to the library.

In fact if I had read the blurb on the back prior to borrowing the book I would probably have put it back on the shelf. I have a habit of inadvertently reading the last books of authors. The same thing happened to me when I read a Hornblower book (C.S. Forester) – and when I got to the end it just said that that was as far as it went as the author had died. Serves me right for not reading them in order!

It all makes me think that Allingham must hardly have started the book when she died and her husband just decided to press on regardless, presumably as it had already been accepted by the publisher.

Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham

This one was first published in 1933, so quite early in the character of Campion, I think he improved with maturity. This might be because when Allingham started writing these books she was parodying Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey, so she had to go that bit further along the silly ass aristocratic road, and has Campion with a secretive background, close to royalty I’m sure, well his name is Albert!

Anyway, this one is more of an adventure story rather than murder mystery and for me it was quite convoluted, or maybe it’s just that my head isn’t quite geared up to anything that I have to think much about at the moment. In parts it reminded me of John Buchan’s books.

The small Balkan state of Averna was apparently gifted to the Huntingforest family by Richard I but over the years has been forgotten about. The European political situation means that Averna could become strategically important, so the British Government sends Campion to the village of Pontisbright in Suffolk to search for proof of ownership which is reputed to be hidden there.

I particularly enjoyed the characters of the Fitton family, happily more than a wee bit on the eccentric side and Amanda in particular being feisty and refreshingly ungirly, especially for 1933 and of course she has flame-coloured hair, no wonder Campion is smitten.

Library Sale Haul

books

Last Saturday my local library had another booksale. The last couple of sales I was really lucky to get some good history books but no such luck this time, in fact the selection of non-fiction was poor so I didn’t buy any.

I did end up buying plenty more fiction though, and honestly I need more books like a hole in the head but we can’t pass up a library booksale as we would be wondering what gems we had missed out on.

So my haul was:

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D.James. I know that a lot of people have been disappointed with this book but I like P.D. James and I thought that at a cost of 50p I’d give it a go anyway.

Frederica by Georgette Heyer. I really prefer Heyer’s murder mysteries but I’m reading her regency romances too, although I already have about half a dozen unread ones in my pile.

Problem at Pollensa Bay by Agatha Christie. This is a collection of her short stories which I think will be interesting.

Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham. This is an Albert Campion book from 1933, my favourite crime fiction era.

Death of a Valentine by M.C.Beaton. I’ve just realised that this is a Hamish Macbeth murder mystery and I’ve only tried one of those and I gave up on it fairly early on, oh well, I might give it a go anyway.

Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death by M.C.Beaton. Sometimes Agatha is exactly what I want to read, daft but somehow comforting.

The Kellys of Kelvingrove by Margaret Thomson Davis. I don’t think I’ve read anything by this author before, if I ever did it was way back in the mists of time. My mother was a fan of her books though, it was the title which caught my eye as the Kelvingrove/Glasgow Uni area of Glasgow is our old stamping ground and it’s also set in the 1970s which is exactly when we were there.

The Complete Borrowers by Mary Norton.
I bought this to give to a young friend of ours. I have a hardback copy but I loce children’s classics and I don’t want to part with my own copy, hope she likes this one too.

So those should keep me busy over the coming winter along with my ever growing pile, and I bought more today in Edinburgh, but I’ll tell you about them another time.

As ever, Jack bought far fewer books. He came away with: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell. and

The Infinities by John Banville. Looking at the blurb I might give these ones a go sometime too.