Christmas books

I was lucky and got a few books as Christmas gifts.

Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith
A Horseman Riding By by R.F. Delderfield
English Garden Flowers by William Robinson (a lovely old gardening book)
The Oaken Heart by Margery Allingham
Murder in the Snow by Gladys Mitchell

I also got Pawn in Frankincese by Dorothy Dunnett – but that one didn’t make it into my photo.

Books for Christmas 2017

I intend to read The Oaken Heart soon, it’s the story of Margery Allingham’s village in wartime Britain.

At the moment I’m reading Long Summer Day, the first book in the Delderfield trilogy.
I’ve already finished reading Portrait of a Murderer but haven’t written about it yet.
The old gardening book will be one for dipping into from time to time I think.

This year I really want to concentrate on reading my own books, but no doubt that desperately alluring site – Fife libraries catalogue will lure me into temptation at some point!

Crimson Snow edited by Martin Edwards

Crimson Snow cover

Crimson Snow winter mysteries is a collection of vintage crime short stories edited by Martin Edwards. Reading this book gave me an opportunity to read a lot of vintage crime authors that I hadn’t read before.

The contributors are: Fergus Hume, Edgar Wallace, Margery Allingham, S.C. Roberts, Victor Gunn, Christopher Bush, Ianthe Jerrold, Macdonald Hastings, Julian Symons, Michael Gilbert and Josephine Bell.

Most of the stories are fairly short but the one by Victor Gunn is about seventy pages long so it’s really a novella and I don’t know if it’s because that one is longer – but I think it’s my favourite story. I’ll definitely be looking for more books by Victor Gunn anyway. I’ve seen a lot of his books on my travels but had no idea what they would be like and didn’t give them a go. No doubt now I won’t see any of his books in shops for yonks. That’s what happened to me with Dornford Yates, he was all over the place until Valerie said some of his books were good – and now they’ve disappeared after me being just about haunted by them previously.

I enjoyed this collection of short stories which are all set around winter/Christmas celebrations although the stories that I liked least were the ones by authors that I’ve read most. Margery Allingham and Macdonald Hastings disappointed me, maybe I just expected too much of them.

Published by British Library Crime Classics of course and the cover is taken from a vintage St Moritz travel poster. There’s a wee biography of each writer on the page before their story begins, which was interesting but I would have liked it if they had also added the date the story was originally published and which magazine it first appeared in. That’s me nit-picking though. This was perfect Christmas bedtime reading, why is murder and Christmas such a good combination?!

The 1968 Club

1968

At the moment I’m reading A Small Town in Germany by Len Deighton for the 1968 Club which has been organised by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. This week came around far too quickly for me, I had intended to read a few books for it, but here are a few that I’ve read previously.

A Cargo of Eagles by Margery Allingham

Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith

The Public Image by Muriel Spark

Mount Vernon Love Story by Mary Higgins Clark

Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols

The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes

It’s an eclectic mix I think you’ll agree. I hope to have A Small Town in Germany finished soon.

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.