A Flute in Mayferry Street by Eileen Dunlop

A Flute in Mayferry Street by Scottish author Eileen Dunlop was first published in 1976.

Marion and Colin Ramsay live with their mother in a Georgian house in Edinburgh’s New Town, their father is dead and life is difficult, there’s never enough money.  The house they live in has been in the Ramsay family for generations and their mother doesn’t really know too much about the history of the house. Everything in the house had belonged originally to the previous Ramsays.  Marion has left school, she had an accident and damaged her spine and is now paralysed. The doctors had been hopeful that given time her damaged nerves would mend, but it has been a few years now and she’s giving up hope and is sinking into a depression.  She has also become scared of being in the house on her own as she keeps hearing someone playing what sounds like a flute – in the empty house. She won’t go out in her wheelchair and her only friends are the lodgers, a young couple whose rent helps with the family budget.

The housework is proving to be never ending for Mrs Ramsay and she asks Colin to dust and sort through the books in the bookcase, it’s full of things that have just been stuck on the shelves too, and shouldn’t be there. Marion helps too and that’s when she finds an intersting letter dated 1914.  This leads to a bit of a treasure hunt although they don’t know what they’re looking for.  Marion is interested in life again.

The blurb on the back says:

A Flute in Mayferry Street has all the ingredients of a classic ghost story, mixed with the harsh realities of a life set apart, and its implications for those around. An inspiring tale of the magic of dreams and the power of the supernatural.

I really enjoyed it.

 

Natasha’s Will by Joan Lingard

Natasha’s Will by Joan Lingard was first published in 2020. It was a Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ Pick of the Year. I must admit that I’ve never heard of that group. It’s a very quick read at just 166 pages.

This is a dual time and place setting. It begins in contemporary Scotland where Natasha has just recently died. She had been over 90 and had been cared for in her own home by family friends of generations’ standing.  Natasha had started life in St Petersburg where she had a very privileged life – until the revolution in 1917. After a lot of difficulty danger and disasters Natasha and her mother had managed to make their way out of Russia and eventually ended up in Scotland, along with Eugenie, a friend who marries a Scot.

Years later it’s Eugenie’s family that look after Natasha in her own home until she dies. Natasha had always said that she was going to leave the family her house, but her will can’t be found anywhere, and it’s thought that she didn’t actually get around to writing it. It’s a disaster for the family, especially when Natasha’s official next of kin turns up to claim his inheritance. This was a good read with plenty of tension although I was pretty sure  that everything would turn out right in the end.

As ever it’s a plus when you know the locations and I was happy to be able to recognise St Petersburg as well as Scotland. I didn’t know anything about this book when I saw it in a charity bookshop in Edinburgh, but I’ve started to collect Lingard’s books whenever I see them, which isn’t that often, even in her hometown of Edinburgh.

 

A Use of Riches by J.I.M. Stewart – 20 Books of Summer 2023

A Use of Riches by J.I.M. Stewart was first published in 1957.  He also wrote under the name of Michael Innes, those books quite often feature the world of art, as does this one.

Rupert Craine is arranging his will. He’s a very wealthy banker, his hobby is collecting expensive art and he’s married to a much younger woman who had been a young widow. She has two sons by her first husband, aged 10 and 12. Their father had been a very successful artist and his work is much sought after, he had been killed in WW2. Rupert and Jill have two much younger children together.

Life is good, until a telegram arrives from Italy, it seems that the first husband is still alive. Rupert and Jill go to Italy to deal with it, thinking there must have been a mistake.

This was quite a good read, but it was slightly spoiled by the personality of Rupert which is stiff upper lipish. He seems like a bit of a cold fish (as was said about Soames Forsyte)  although a distinct improvement on the first husband! He just seems like an unlikely character to me.

This was one of my 20 Books of Summer 2023.

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson is set in 1926 London and it begins with a large crowd gathering outside Holloway prison which (Ma) Nellie Coker is just about to be released from. She’s something of a celebrity, the matriarch of a large family business as she owns a string of nightclubs, all catering for different types of clientele. Her six adult children have arrived in their two Bentleys to whisk her away, but not before the press photographers have snapped their mother.

Chief Inspector John Frobisher of Scotland Yard is also among the crowd. He has been sent to Bow Street Station to shake them up, it’s thought that there’s a lot of corruption in that police station. He’s not the usual type of police inspector, he’s keen on books and might take to writing himself.

It looks like Nellie hasn’t fared well in prison, it’s the first time she had ever been there and she’s no spring chicken. Some gangsters intended to take advantage of the situation and move in on her business. There’s also a corrupt policeman making a nuisance of himself and some of Nellie’s children are less than supportive.

I loved this one which I think has an authentic atmosphere of the post WW1 society with the Bright Young Things and their excesses, including drugs, but there’s also a more domestic thread with some runaway girls being sought by Frobisher and his undercover temporary sidekick.

In general I really love Atkinson’s writing – except for When Will There Be Good News? which was far too depressing for me.

My thanks to the publisher Random House UK and NetGalley who sent me a digital copy of the book for review.

Shrines of Gaiety is due to be published on the 27th of September 2022.

The Secret Scriptures by Sebastian Barry

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 2008, which is why I was reading it. I had no idea what it was about and I must admit that I was a wee bit disappointed when I realised that the setting is Ireland and features a female inmate of a mental hospital. It sounded like a depressing read to me, it’s not actually depressing but is very sad in parts and given the way women have been treated over the years there, that was inevitable, but the writing is very good.

Roseanne is thought to be almost 100 years old and has lived for most of her life in a mental hospital, but the hospital is due for demolition, that’s a bit of a worry for her as she has been writing her lifetime’s experiences down and has it all hidden under a loose floorboard in her room. How can she save it when the time comes for her to move?

Dr Grene is the psychiatrist who heads the hospital and he visits Roseanne just about every afternoon to chat to her, and has done for years. He’s intrigued by her case and fears that she might be one of those women incarcerated because she had upset her family or society in some way. He wonders if she should be moved to some sort of care in the community rather than into another mental hospital. He’s on a mission to find out what happened in her past, but her medical notes are unreadable because of the attentions of damp and mice.

Inevitably a priest was at the back of it all. The experiences of women in Ireland weren’t very different from those in parts of the Middle East now. I’m convinced that all religions were originally concocted to keep all women down.

Both strands of the book are told through their journals. Dr Grene’s wife has died recently, they had been estranged, and he’s to blame for that, so his conscience is bothering him. He writes about the early years of his marriage when they were so in love.

I’m sure that this observation from Dr Grene’s commonplace book is so true:

“There has never been a person in an old people’s home that hasn’t looked around dubiously at the other inhabitants. They are the old ones, they are the club that no one wants to join. But we are never old to ourselves. That is because at close of the day the ship we sail in is the soul, not the body.”

Dr Grene is an agnostic, but he still writes of the soul.

I would definitely read more books by this author, I believe this one is part of a McNulty Family series. Have any of you read them?

The Tontine Belle by Elisabeth Kyle

The Tontine Bell by the Scottish author Elisabeth Kyle was first published in 1951.

Jinny Errclestoun has been brought up in England in rather poverty stricken circumstances, but she has always been told of her family’s glory days in 18th century Glasgow when the tobacco business had made some families fabulously wealthy – including the Errclestouns. The American War had changed their circumstances completely though as The Tontine Belle had been fired on by rebels in Baltimore and had sunk. That led to the ruin of the Errclestouns.

When Jinny’s father dies she travels to Glasgow to see the only asset left to her, a damp ruin of a house which had been very grand in the 18th century but was now being used as bedsits for people who couldn’t afford somwhere decent to live. Jinny ends up living there herself with the one other thing that had been left to her by her father, a wooden model of The Tontine Belle.

There’s a bit of a mystery in this tale, but it didn’t go at all the way that I expected it to. However given what went on in Glasgow development-wise in the 1950s and 60s the plot is very much of its time and I enjoyed the way the character of Jinny developed. I’ve only read a few previous books by Elisabeth Kyle, but they had Edinburgh as their setting so it was enjoyable to be in the Glasgow of the 1950s.

The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting

 The Sixteen Trees of the Somme cover

Edvard is a young man living on his family farm in rural Norway, growing potatoes and farming sheep. He has been brought up by Sverre, his grandfather, as Edvard’s parents had died when he was only four years old. It’s all a bit of a mystery, Edvard can hardly remember his parents, but he knows that on the day they died he disappeared for four days and then turned up in a doctor’s surgery.

Edvard’s grandfather Sverre had been in World War 2 as had been his brother Einar, but they had chosen to fight on opposite sides, and the brothers had been completely estranged. When Sverre dies the local funeral director says that his coffin is all organised and has been waiting for him for years. It’s a very special coffin, art deco in design made using flame birch wood and had been sent to Sverre years before. Edvard knows that Einar had been in Shetland during the war and decides to go there to find out more about him. Eventually Edvard makes his way to the World War 1 battlefields and cemeteries as obviously the author did as he describes it all so well.

This was a great read which also involves a couple of young women, one in Norway and one on Shetland, so there’s a bit of romance of a sort, but mainly it’s a mystery, very well written, and it was translated from Norwegian by Paul Russell Garrett, he made a great job of it.

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart was first published in 1997.

The setting is Argyll in Scotland and Sunderland, County Durham in the north-east of England. Kate Herrick is a young widow, having lost her husband who had been in the RAF during World War 2 – one of ‘the few’. Unexpectedly she has been left fairly well-off by him, but she’s working in a plant nursery in County Durham, just for something to do really, but she loves the work.

However Kate’s Granny has moved north to Scotland and has decided to stay there for good, she has asked Kate to clear up Rose Cottage which is the house that Granny had lived in. The house is on the Brandon estate where Granny had been a cook for years, and as Kate had lost both her parents as a child she had lived there with her Granny. Kate has instructions as to which furniture and household goods should be packed for Scotland, but she doesn’t expect it will take her long.

Kate’s a wee bit worried about going back to what had been her childhood home as not everyone had been friendly as she was growing up there, since her mother had been unmarried and her father a mystery. Kate had had to put up with some nastiness from strait-laced people, but she’s surprised by how welcome she has been made to feel on her return – time has changed things it seems.

This is an entertaining light read, not in the same league as the author’s earlier books but still with an element of romance, mystery and suspense in it, which she was so well known for. It was the last book that Mary Stewart had published and she was over 80 by then, she was 98 when she died.

I found it to be a bit of a strange experience reading this one as there were so many elements in it which echoed the experiences of a friend of mine from Sunderland who splits her time between Sunderland and Scotland – and she even has a pet tortoise just as one of the characters in the book has!

Although Mary Stewart is generally seen as being a Scottish author, she was actually born in the north-east of England, but moved to Scotland when she married a Scottish soldier and settled down in Edinburgh with him. I imagine she enjoyed her imaginary jaunt back in time to her roots geographical via writing this book.

Appleby’s Answer by Michael Innes – 20 Books of Summer 2021

Appleby's Answer cover

Appleby’s Answer by the Scottish author Michael Innes was published by Gollancz in 1973 so I suppose that means it’s vintage crime now although that seems a bit strange to me, however in some ways the book seems even older than that. It begins with Miss Pringle sharing a railway compartment with a strange man. Miss Pringle is a crime writer with a penchant for ecclesiastical settings and she’s travelling to London to attend a dinner with a group of fellow crime writers.

Captain Bulkington is the other traveller and strangely he’s reading a copy of one of her books, when he recognises her from the photo on the dust jacket the two get into conversation. Bulkington has a private school, a crammer which coaches young men to pass the entrance exam for top drawer universities. It’s a business that he has taken up since retiring from the army, but he has a proposition for Miss Pringle. He wants to collaborate with her in writing a book and invites her to stay at his establishment, but Miss Pringle has her suspicions about him and just agrees to correspond with him instead.

However she decides to travel to Bulkington’s village to do a bit of detective work and discovers that there are only two students enrolled in the crammer, and neither of them seem to be university material. It seems that Bulkington has some sort of hold over them.

Appleby and his wife have travelled to the same Wiltshire village to visit friends and so become embroiled in the affair.

This isn’t a murder mystery but is an entertaining read with quite a lot of humour thrown in. My copy of the book is an old Gollancz one and I couldn’t help thinking of Diana Athill who would have been working as an editor there when this one was published, I don’t think she mentions Michael Innes in any of her books though. This was one of my 20 Books of Summer.

Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

I would probably never have picked up this book if it hadn’t been that favourite book bloggers enjoyed it so much. Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer was first published in 2013.

Patrick has Asperger’s Syndrome and he only got into university because they have a quota to fill, they need a percentage of ‘disabled’ students and he fits the bill. Patrick isn’t interested in becoming a doctor, he just wants to do anatomy. He had witnessed a bad car crash earlier and is somewhat obsessed with death. His father had died when Patrick was a youngster and no doubt that experience has affected him. His mother is completely stressed out by him.

Patrick stands out as being very different from the other students, he takes everything literally and really just doesn’t understand how people communicate and interact with each other. As part of their studies students are put into groups and given a cadaver to study, stripping it back bit by bit, looking for whatever had caused their death. In time they develop a relationship with the body which for them is anonymous, but they all give their cadavers a name.

Patrick is obsessed with bagging up and labelling everything during the course, and this leads to him having suspicions about the death – things just don’t add up as far as he is concerned.

This was a great read so I’ll definitely be reading more by the author. It has suspense, some humour, horror and quirky characters.