There are No Ghosts in the Soviet Union by Reginald Hill

There are no ghosts in the soviet union by Reginald Hill is a compilation of short stories, the first of which is the title story and could be described as being a novella. The collection features various different styles, the title story being set in the Soviet Union was one of my favourites and surprisingly I really enjoyed Hill’s continuation of Jane Austen’s Emma, Poor Emma. I’m usually not at all keen on Austen ‘rip offs’ but this one was entertaining and surprising. Reginald Hill’s tale takes us to 20 years or so after the marriage of Emma to her Mr Knightley, the marriage has not fared well as over the years Knightly has turned into a ghastly man, but Emma has learned a lot over the years and is driven to actions which would have shocked her younger self, and so survives in that very male dominated society.

I’m way behind with my book review writing, but Jack decided to read this book too. If you’re interested you can read Jack’s far more detailed thoughts on this short story collection here.

The Christmas Card Crime and other stories

 The Christmas Card Crime cover

The Christmas Card Crime and other stories is edited by Martin Edwards and is a British Library Crime Classic.

This compilation of eleven Christmas/winter themed vintage crime short stories is as you would expect a bit of a mixed bunch, but that means that there will surely be something to suit everyone. Each short story is preceded by a short biography of the author, which I found interesting.

For me it was the story from which the title of the book came which was most successful. The Christmas Card Crime was written by Donald Stuart. Some of the stories are sooo short, and I can’t help thinking that the author used up a good idea which could have been worked up into something a lot longer and for me more inetresting. I suppose that just means that I’m not a big fan of short stories, well not very short ones anyway.

The other authors featuring in this anthology are:

Baroness Orczy
Selwyn Jepson
Ronald Knox
Carter Dickson
Francis Durbridge
Cyril Hare
E.C.R. Lorac
John Bude
John Bingham
Julian Symons

The book cover is taken from a vintage travel poster.

Mont-Revard poster

SILENT NIGHTS Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards


I’ve been away for four days, travelling around in the north-east of England and seeing the sights, before we need a passport to visit England, but I didn’t see as many sights as I would have liked to – so I’ll be back to see the Roman sites next time. I didn’t get an awful lot of reading done while I was down there but I did finish …

SILENT NIGHTS Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards was published in 2015 and it’s a compilation of fifteen short stories which all have a Christmas theme. There’s a short biography of each of the writers before their contribution to the book begins, they were interesting and informative. I had no idea that Marjorie Bowen also wrote under the names Joseph Shearing, George R. Preedy, John Winch and Robert Paye. She has two stories in this collection.

I found Cambric Tea that she wrote as Marjorie Bowen to be quite chilling. A wealthy man believes that he is being poisoned by his much younger wife, but all is not as it seems.

She wrote The Chinese Apple under the name of Joseph Shearing. A successful woman has to travel to London from her home in Italy after her sister dies leaving a young daughter who may need some attention from her reluctant aunt. Returning to the family home is an ordeal for the aunt who had been living in Florence. London is dingy and dirty and the house holds bad memories for her, things go from bad to worse as she realises that there has been a murder in the house across the road.

I had already read The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers so didn’t bother re-reading it as I remember that I wasn’t too impressed by it, which is strange as I’m really quite a Sayers fan. I think in general though this is a really good collection. I don’t think much of the cover design though, which is surprisingly dull in my opinion, maybe there is a shortage of Christmas linked vintage designs. This cover was designed by Chris Andrews and isn’t one of his best book covers.

The Blue Carbunkle by Arthur Conan Doyle
Parlour Tricks by Ralph Plummer
A Happy Solution by Raymund Allen
The Flying Stars by G.K. Chesterton
Stuffing by Edgar Wallace
The Unknown Murderer by H.C. Bailey
The Absconding Treasurer by J.Jefferson Farjeon
The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Case is Altered by Margery Allingham
Waxworks by Ethel Lina White
Cambric Tea by Marjorie Bowen
The Chinese Apple by Joseph Shearing
A Problem in White by Nicholas Blake
The Name on the Window by Edmund Crispin
Beef for Christmas by Leo Bruce

Christmas Reads

To try to get me into the Christmas mood I’ll be reading some Christmas related books, sadly so far the only one that I have in the house unread is Silent Nights Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards and it’s a British Library Crime Classic. This is one that I didn’t get around to reading last year, but I’m half-way through it now and finding it to be a good read.

Silent Nights

This collection of short stories features the writers below, some of whom I’ve never even heard of before.
Arthur Conan Doyle
Ralph Plummer
Raymund Allen
G.K. Chesterton
Edgar Wallace
H.C. Bailey
J.Jefferson Farjeon
Dorothy L. Sayers
Margery Allingham
Ethel Lina White
Marjorie Bowen
Joseph Shearing
Nicholas Blake
Edmund Crispin
Leo Bruce

The Courts of Idleness by Dornford Yates

The Courts of Idleness cover

The Courts of Idleness by Dornford Yates is a collection of short stories originally published in 1920 but my copy is a reprint from 2008. The author’s real name was William Mercer but he chose to use both his grandmothers’ maiden names as his pseudonym. Writing was obviously in his blood as his elder cousin was Hector Hugh Munro, better known as Saki.

I enjoyed these stories which are similar to Wodehouse in that the characters are ‘bright young things’ all such fun and silliness, but every now and again there’s a teeny reference to the men’s previous experiences as officers at the front during World War 1. To me they bubble with the near hysterical personality of survivors. It’s authentic too as Dornford Yates was a Second Lieutenant in the London Yeomanry.

There are five short stories which are mainly fun, interrupted by a wartime ‘Interlude’ which is anything but fun, then another six short stories of the amusing silliness, verging on the sort of thing that I remember from sketches in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The stories are linked as the characters travel from Madeira to Macedonia.

One story called As Rome Does begins: Solemnly we regarded the Colosseum. “Reminds me of the Albert Hall with the lid off,” said Berry. “But it does want doing up. Glad I haven’t got it on a full repairing lease.”

“Is anything sacred to you?” demanded Daphne.

“Yes” said her husband. “My appetite. That is why I venture for the second time to suggest that we should leave this relic of barbarity without delay, Besides, it revives painful memories.”

“When were you here before?” said Jonah.

“In a previous existence. Joan of Arc was by no means my first incarnation. In AD 77 I was a comic gladiator. Used to fight with gorgonzolas which had been previously maddened by having Schiller read to them in the original tongue. They used to call me ‘Sticking Plaster,’ because I was always coming off.”

The blurb on the back says: ‘Mr Yates can be recommended to anyone who thinks the British take themselves too seriously’ PUNCH.

I’ll read more by Dornford Yates whose books seemed to haunt me for a long time as there were shelves full of them wherever I went, but I knew nothing about him then – they all disappeared for ages before some surfaced again in my recent trip to Edinburgh bookshops with Jenny and Celia.

Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards

 Resorting to Murder cover

Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards is subtitled Holiday Mysteries and it’s a collection of short stories all of which take place at holiday locations of some sort. and of course it’s published by British Library Crime Classics.

The stories are:

The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot by Arthur Conan Doyle
A Schoolmaster Abroad by E.W. Hornung
Murder! by Arnold Bennett
The Murder on the Golf Links by M. McDonnell Bodkin
The Finger Stone by G.K. Chesterton
The Vanishing of Mrs Fraser by Basil Thomson
A Mystery of the Sand-Hills by R.Austin Freeman
The Hazel Ice by H.C. Bailey
Razor Edge by Anthony Berkeley
Holiday Task by Leo Bruce
A Posteriori by Helen Simpson
Where is Mr Manetot by Phyllis Bentley
The House of Screams by Gerald Findler
Cousin Once Removed by Michael Gilbert

This collection has quite a few stories by authors that I’ve never read before. I’ve never been a big fan of Sherlock Holmes and sure enough – The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot wasn’t a favourite of mine.

I particularly liked the stories by R. Austin Freeman, Anthony Berkeley, Leo Bruce, Helen Simpson and Michael Gilbert.

The design for the cover of this book has been taken from a vintage railway poster for Colwyn Bay.

Transformation by Mary Shelley – 3 short stories

 Embers of War cover

Transformation by Mary Shelley is a quick read at only 101 pages. It contains three short stories by Mary Shelley. I had only read her Frankenstein before and I had put off reading that for years as I didn’t think it would be my kind of thing, but I was agreeably surprised by it.

Transformation, first written in 1831 is set mainly in in Genoa and it’s an account told by Guido who is a young man who had been promised to Juliet since childhood. But Guido had grown into a reckless spendthrift and over the years he has lost all of the land and property left to him by his father. Eventually Juliet’s father decides he doesn’t want his daughter to be married to Guido and Guido is sent away. It’s an enjoyable gothic morality tale.

The Mortal Immortal was first published in 1834 and as you would expect is about the pitfalls of living forever.

The Evil Eye was first published in 1830 and I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the others. The setting is Greece and Albania and features child abduction.

None of the stories are exactly ground breaking and wouldn’t even have been back when they were first published, but they’re still entertaining.

I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019.

Widdershins by Oliver Onions

Widdershins cover

Widdershins by Oliver Onions is a book of eight short stories which was published in 1911 and it’s a collection of ghost stories. Oliver Onions was born in Bradford, Yorkshire in 1873, and he had a very long writing career. I don’t read short story collections all that often but I’ve inadvertently read two in a row now, I was under the impression this was a novel to begin with.

Ghost stories aren’t really my thing but Onions was definitely a good writer. The first short story The Beckoning Fair One is 81 pages long so is really a novella, and that is the one that I liked least. A man moves into an old house which has been lying empty for years and he seems to be taken over by a jealous malevolent spirit. It was a bit odd to be honest, but that’s probably the way of all ghost stories. This is apparently one of his best known and compares well with The Turn of the Screw.

I felt that the other seven stories were more successful though so this ended up being a good read.

The others are titled:
The Accident
The Cigarette Case
Hic Jacet

I would like to know how the title of the book was decided but we’ll never know I suppose. Widdershins or Withershins as it is sometimes spelled is the Scottish word for anti-clockwise, although I believe that the word is also used in astronomy.

Commonplace by Christina Rossetti

Commonplace cover

Commonplace by Christina Rossetti is one of the books that I bought at the Christian Aid book sale in Edinburgh back in May. I must admit that until then I had thought that Christina only wrote poetry but this slim volume contains five of her short stories, although the first one is quite long at 60 pages. There’s a foreword by Andrew Motion.

I quite enjoyed the novella Commonplace, she was obviously influenced by Jane Austen and the problems that women had then. I think this one is the best.

The second one, called The Lost Titian, is her imagining the loss of a Titian painting.

The last three short stories I found to be too sentimental, maudlin and heavily saturated in Christian teachings – not my sort of thing at all.

I’ll give this book a 3 on Goodreads I think – and that’s me being quite generous.

Christmas at High Rising by Angela Thirkell

Christmas at High Rising cover

Christmas at High Rising by Angela Thirkell is a collection of her short stories which appeared in various magazines such as Cornhill Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar ranging in date from 1928 to 1942.

I was slightly disappointed with this collection because due to the title I had been under the impression that the stories were all Barsetshire related – but they aren’t. The ones that are mainly feature the Morlands and George Knox. Although Knox is a character that Thirkell was obviously having a bit of a laugh at as a typical know-it-all poser and bore, she generally takes him just a wee bit too far ending in him being a bit too tedious as far as I’m concerned.

The stories feature such things as a trip to a pantomime, an arty one involving people at a private view and some children who live in London with their parents and a nanny who is very much in control – compared with the mother anyway.

If you’re a fan of Thirkell you’ll probably want to read this book as we all tend to want to read whatever of hers is available – unless of course George Knox drives you round the bend!