The 1951 Club

the 1951 club

I’ve read and blogged about quite a few books that were published in 1951 in recent years, so if you’re interested in my thoughts on them click on the titles.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch

The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau

Cork on the Water by Macdonald Hastings

The Catherine Wheel by Patricia Wentworth

The Duke’s Daughter by Angela Thirkell

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols

Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer

School for Love by Olivia Manning

Of course 1951 was an important year in Britain as we had The Festival of Britain which went on for most of the year – or at least until the general election when Churchill became PM again and he saw the whole thing as being Socialist so he shut it all down – spoilsport!

But apparently the Festival was a life-saver for the people who had by then been suffering under austerity for years and years what with the war and even worse rationing post-war. It cheered people up no end to see the bright colours and modern designs, and was a great opportunity for artists, designers and makers.

Before I started blogging I read and enjoyed Festival at Farbridge by J.B. Priestley which was published in 1951 and has local events featuring the festival.

I blogged about the festival some years ago and if you’re interested you can see that post here.

The Gazebo by Patricia Wentworth

The Gazebo cover

The Gazebo by Patricia Wentworth was first published in 1958 and my copy was published that year and even has the dust jacket – what a find!

I really enjoyed this one although the murder does take quite a while to take place. Althea Graham is a woman in her mid twenties and she is at her ghastly mother’s beck and call all day every day. Her mother is supremely self-centred and is determined to keep her daughter at home running around after her mother who has a ‘heart attack’ every time it looks like she might not get her way about something.

Five years previously Althea had been all set to get married but her mother had put a stop to it. Now her ex-fiance is back, but it looks like life is never going to be easy for them, with murder and mystery blighting their future.

Luckily Althea is able to contact Miss Silver, they are connected loosely through an old friend. She’s the equivalent of the cavalry riding to your aid! AND she does it all whilst knitting a pink vest for a baby girl.

The Listening Eye by Patricia Wentworth

The Listening Eye cover

The Listening Eye by Patricia Wentworth is a Miss Silver mystery and it was first published in 1957.

Miss Paulina Paine is 57 years old and she has been stone deaf ever since a bomb fell very close to her during the war. Paulina taught herself lip-reading very successfully and she hopes it isn’t obvious to people that she is deaf.

However, one of her lodgers is an artist and he has painted her portrait which is being exhibited in a gallery. The artist has titled the portrait The Listener and Paulina has to admit to herself that he has captured an expression on her face that she recognises.

Whilst at the exhibition Paulina lip reads a man who is standing quite far away from her, he thinks that his conversation will be private, never suspecting that a lip-reader was ‘eavesdropping’ on him.

Paulina is aghast at what he has said and quickly leaves the gallery, but when a gallery worker mentions to the man that Paulina is a marvellous lip-reader it puts Paulina’s life at risk. She has inadvertently obtained dangerous information.

As it happens Paulina has a loose connection with Miss Silver and she goes to ask her advice on what she has ‘overheard’. So begins Miss Silver’s involvement in the investigation.

As ever I don’t want to say too much about this one as I don’t want to spoil it for any possible readers, but it’s a good mystery and Miss Silver sorts it all out, whilst knitting a pale blue shawl, multi tasking with class.

Two Vintage Crime Books

I have been getting quite a bit of reading done, despite the DIY obviously taking up a lot of time. I read The Brading Collection by Patricia Wentworth, it was first published in 1952 and is a Miss Silver thriller.

Lewis Brading is a wealthy man who has amassed a large collection of famous jewellery. Famous in that the pieces have often played a part in history, such as the wearer having been murdered whilst wearing a brooch, or there is a supposed curse on something.

Brading has been quite happy to acquire the pieces nefariously over the years and perhaps that it why he is so worried about his collection being stolen. Brading has a secretary, James Moberley and he doesn’t trust him, but at the same time he seems to be stopping Moberley from leaving his job. Miss Silver declines to help Brading but circumstances soon change and Miss Silver ends up investigating. I enjoyed this one and am becoming more attached to Miss Silver with each book I read.

Tom Brown’s Body by Gladys Mitchell was first published in 1949. The setting is a boarding school called Spey College. The schoolboys play a large part in the book, they seem to be quite out of control and two of them leave their rooms and go jaunting about during the night on bikes, planning to go to watch a dog race. They get completely lost in the darkness and eventually find a cottage with lights on, but they see one of their masters through the window and are worried that he has recognised them.

Meanwhile Mrs Bradley has been looking into her family tree and has discovered that one of her ancestresses was a witch in the 17th century. An expert on such things has told Mrs Bradley that there is an old white witch who may be in possession of Mrs Bradley’s relative’s ancient spell book.

Of course the modern day witch is living near the boarding school and when one of the schoolmasters is murdered Miss Bradley gets involved. There’s no scarcity of suspects as Mr Conway – the victim, is such a nasty character, there are plenty of people who would have been glad to be rid of him.

I enjoyed this one but not as much as The Brading Collection. I’m not drawn to Miss Bradley as a character and as ever I’m left wondering why Mitchell made her so unappealing. She is described as being lizard-like or sometimes yellow skinned with claw-like nails. The actual mystery is quite good though.

I read these two for the Reading My Own Damn Books Challenge. Two down,, but who knows how many still to read – not me anyway!

The Catherine-Wheel by Patricia Wentworth

 The Catherine-Wheel cover

The Catherine-Wheel by Patrcia Wentworth was first published in 1951 and it’s a Miss Silver mystery.

Jacob Taverner is getting on in years and despite the fact that he resembles a tramp in looks he is in fact rather well off. He has no children of his own and his family is not a close one as a generation ago there had been a big family split over money, with the result that the cousins are all strangers to each other. Jacob decides to put an advert in a newspaper asking for descendants of his grandfather to come forward, and several do.

It’s arranged that they will all meet up in an old inn called The Catherine-Wheel which had been owned by Taverners in the past, in fact it still is owned by Jacob, he had leased it out over the years and the lease had recently run out. The inn had been a well known haunt of smugglers in the past and it seems that Jacob is hoping to glean information from his cousins about the location of a secret passage. He’s hoping that their grandparents will have talked to them about it.

Jacob’s advert has drawn the interest of the police and they manage to place Miss Silver in the inn as a guest, if there’s anything shady going on she’ll sniff it out. Sure enough it’s not too long before a murder is committed and Miss Silver is in her element solving the puzzle before the detectives do. Of course she manages to blithely sort it all out whilst knitting a blue dress and matching knickers for her two year old great niece Josephine.

This was a good mystery which kept me guessing. For some reason Wentworth has Miss Silver coughing before she spoke, in fact there were so many ‘Miss Silver coughed’s in the book that I began to wish that someone would give her some Benylin or Covonia, or better still honey and lemon.

All of the men in this book are ghastly in some way, bullying, domineering control freaks who seem to think that it’s their business to order the womenfolk around, be they wives, cousins or sisters. If I had been Miss Silver I would definitely have been thinking – thank goodness I never bothered to get married.

Library Books

You might know that I’ve been doing an awful lot of library borrowing in recent months. Sixteen local libraries (Fife) are under threat of closure and I and lots of other people have been doing a bit of campaigning to try to get at least some of the libraries a reprieve. I’m concentrating on Glenwood, Markinch and Falkland as those are the ones nearest me. I’ve been to all three of them this week and my library haul is:

1. The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir
2. Smut by Alan Bennett
3. The Catherine Wheel by Patricia Wentworth
4. A Particular Eye for Villainy by Ann Granger
5. Snare of the Hunter by Helen MacInnes
6. Peter Wimsey Investigates the Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh
7. Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers by Alexander McCall Smith
8. Scotland’s Hidden History by Ian Armit

Jack has also borrowed books:-
First World War Poems chosen by Andrew Motion,
The Fires of Autumn by Irene Nemirovsky
21st Century Science Fiction edited by David G Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden
and The Untouchables by John Banville (which he actually has a copy of but not read yet and only borrowed to boost the numbers.)

I haven’t read anything by Ann Granger before but the librarian likes her writing, nor have I read anything by Alan Bennett, but I’ve enjoyed his work on TV. Scotland’s Hidden History by Ian Armit is the only non-fiction book and it’s about the many Neolithic tombs, stone circles, brochs, hillforts, standing stones, Viking graves and such which are scattered all over Scotland.

I intend to read them all, it seems like cheating to take books out of the libraries and not read them – just to put the reader statistics up – but at this rate I’ll definitely have to stop buying books as my own unread books just keep piling up!

Have you read any of these book and if so what did you think of them?

PS. If you want to see photographs of the Falls of Dochart which we visited with Peggy and Evee in May then hop over to Jack’s blog.

The Silent Pool by Patricia Wentworth

The Silent Pool cover

The Silent Pool by Patricia Wentworth was first published in 1956 and it’s one of the many books which Peggy brought me from the US.
It’s a Miss Silver mystery and of course she’s never far from her knitting needles and wool. In fact I’ve come to realise that Miss Silver’s knitting fulfills the same function as Mr Harding’s cello in Trollope’s Barchester books, it’s a way of relaxing and de-stressing, an aid to concentrating on a problem.

Miss Silver is visited by a retired actress Adriana Ford, she suspects that someone in her household is trying to murder her. Adriana suffers from ill health and she has several members of her extended family living with her. They all rely on Adriana for a roof over their head, she’s financing all of them and they know that she has left them money in her will. It seems that one or more of them want to get their hands on the money sooner rather than later.

This was an enjoyable mystery and I didn’t guess who the culprit was. There are a fair few ghastly characters in the book, which can sometimes be a problem for me as I have no real wish to spend my time with people I really don’t like. It was saved by a couple of really likeable characters though. I’ll be reading more by Patricia Wentworth in the future.

The Girl in the Cellar by Patricia Wentworth

Patricia Wentworth began her Miss Silver series in 1928 and she wrote the final one The Girl in the Cellar in 1961 which was the last book which she wrote. As Wentworth was born way back in 1878 I calculate that she was 83 when she wrote the book, which probably accounts for it not being quite up to the standard of some of her earlier books.

Having said that I did still enjoy it. It begins with a young woman recovering consciousness on stone steps, she has no idea how she got there and is horrified to discover a dead body at the bottom of the stairs in what turns out to be a house cellar. She has no idea how she got there and doesn’t even know who she is, she has forgotten everything and her only clues to her life are in a handbag which she finds on the cellar steps.

Bewildered and shocked she makes her way out of the house and gets on a bus where she is noticed by Miss Silver who takes her for a nice cup of tea of course.

Miss Silver doesn’t appear all that much in the book, but she is still knitting, a pink shawl to begin with and at the end she is on to a football jersey. There are crazy coincidences but it’s still readable.

What struck me though was the difference between modern crime writers and the ones from the past. Ian Rankin set out to write a Rebus book every year and Rebus aged chronolgically as a real person would have. But the old writers tended to ignore such things, Miss Silver started off as an elderly retired governess in 1928 and by the time Wentworth was writing the last book in 1961 Miss Silver would have had to have been over 100, but she seemed always to be stuck at the same age. I suppose Wentworth must just have decided to write her that way, thinking about it though – Margery Allingham chose to begin with a young and seemingly wet behind the ears Campion and aged him into a more interesting maturity eventually. I think I prefer a character to develop over a series, but I don’t think Agatha Christie aged Miss Marple over the years, I suppose some characters are just best stuck in aspic.

The Chinese Shawl by Patricia Wentworth

The Chinese Shawl cover

The Chinese Shawl was first published in 1943, it’s a Miss Silver mystery and I must say that the more time I spend in the company of Miss Silver – the more I like her. In fact I really loved this book, possibly because I read it just after reading Gray’s Lanark which wasn’t exactly a relaxing read for me. There are times when vintage crime is the only thing which hits the spot.

Tanis Lyle is one of those women who should have ‘dangerous to men’ stamped on her forehead. Well that’s a wee bit unfair because she’s equally as damaging to women, especially those who have husbands or fiances. Tanis just loves to make other women’s men her slaves, gets as much as she can out of them then dumps them.

Tanis has been brought up by a much older cousin, Agnes, and they live in an old house called the Priory which has been in the family for generations, but they are only tenants as it is owned by Laura Fane, another cousin and she has been estranged from the family due to the fact that her parents had run off to get married when her father had been expected to marry his cousin Agnes. Cousin Agnes is determined to buy the Priory for Tanis and as Laura is going to be 21 soon and so able to make financial decisions on her own, Agnes intends to get her own way and twist Laura’s arm, so with that in view Laura is invited to the Priory which she hasn’t even seen before, although she owns it.

What a ghastly thought, marrying a cousin, but it used to be quite normal amongst the upper classes, to keep the money and property within the family. It explains a lot about the so-called upper classes!

Anyway, there’s a murder, and plenty of suspects. But as Miss Silver is one of the guests staying at the Priory it’s obvious that she’s going to get to the bottom of it. Not only does she solve the mystery but she does it whilst knitting two pink baby’s vests, two pairs of bootees (one pink, one blue) with an intricate design and towards the end she has a small pale blue jacket on her clicking needles. She’s some woman that Miss Silver!

The Clock Strikes Twelve by Patricia Wentworth

The Clock Strikes Twelve is a Miss Silver mystery, first published in 1945 but when the story begins it’s New Year’s Eve, 1940. The Paradine family has gathered at the family home for the celebrations. James Paradine, a widower and the head of his family, makes a speech to the effect that someone in the family has been disloyal, and some documents have gone missing.

He expects the culprit to visit him in his study before midnight.
But he doesn’t survive the night, and he must have been murdered by one of his relatives. Miss Silver is called in to investigate.

I enjoyed this one, it’s a typical big house whodunnit, and the various family members are well written, with their various dislikes and suspicions of each other.

On the surface, Miss Maud Silver seems so similar to Miss Marple that you would think that Agatha Christie would have had grounds for complaint because Miss Marple first appears in 1926 whereas Miss Silver comes to life in 1928. But although they are both elderly ladies, and spinsters who have a penchant for crime solving as well as knitting, they are in fact quite different.

Miss Silver is a retired governess who is very professional, unlike Miss Marple who is far more airy fairy in personality, whether actual or cultivated. Even Miss Silver’s knitting is more convincing, we are told that she is knitting a suit for young Roger, a three year old of her acquaintance, the colour of her wool and the design and she finishes the leggings just as the book comes to an end. As a knitter myself, I like to know what people are knitting, just as much as I enjoy hearing about the books that people are reading. Mind you, I like Miss Marple too.