Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

I picked this one out from a pile of Penguin vintage crime books in the second-hand book shop in St Andrews. It’s certainly worthwhile reading it if you like crime books. Having said that, when I was about half-way through it I found myself turning the book round to have a look at the cover again. Sure enough, it is a Penguin Classic Crime publication, but the crime is a long time a-coming.
I prefer crime stories to be of the “Good lord! There’s a dead man in my bath!” variety, within the first few pages.

Miss Pym Disposes was first published in 1946 and it’s set in Leys Physical Training College for young women. I always find that settings like that remind me of boarding school books, I half expected Darrel from Malory Towers to be there with her hockey stick.

Anyway, Miss Lucy Pym has been invited to Leys to give a psychology lecture and it is so successful that she’s invited to stay on for a few weeks. Not being one of the staff or a student and being welcomed by them all, Lucy has the opportunity to get to know them all better than would normally have been the case. She uses her knowledge of psychology but things aren’t always what they seem to be, and that is the moral of the story really. Well that and the fact that when a teacher has ‘favourites’ it can have dire consequences.

This book reminded me so much of The Small Room by May Sarton which was published in 1961 and is about plagiarism and favouritism. I think if I had been Josephine Tey I wouldn’t have been happy about it at all. But Tey died in 1952 and nobody seems to have noticed the similarities.

Tey even has the word ‘brilliant’ bandied about to describe various students. In The Small Room ‘brilliant’ is used to describe the student who has plagiarised. However, thankfully Tey has one character who points out that they only have one student who is ‘brilliant’ and in fact she shouldn’t be at the college but should be studying medicine, if only her parents could have afforded it.

I know that if you read lots of books you obviously find similarities in storylines but this just jumps out at you. I think that Miss Pym Disposes is the better book though, it’s a pity that people just think of The Franchise Affair when they think of Josephine Tey.

The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett

It was Susanne who recommended this one for the CPR Book Group which is a place for neglected authors or books. The only books by Arnold Bennett which I had previously read were all set in The Potteries and this one is completely different from them, as far as I can remember anyway because I think I was a teenager when I read them, which wasn’t yesterday! I don’t know how widely read his books are nowadays, I certainly haven’t come across many people reading them but this one is certainly worth reading.

I really enjoyed this book which was first published in 1902 but my copy is a 1954 Penguin, orange. It could just as well have been in their green vintage crime livery because that is what it is.

The Grand Babylon Hotel in London is the sort of discreet but oppulent place that if you have to ask the price – you can’t afford it. The American multi millionaire Theodore Racksole is staying there with his daughter Nella and he isn’t pleased by the way the head waiter, Jules is looking down his nose at them. On the spur of the moment Theodore decides to buy the prestigious hotel, at least then he’ll be able to get the steak and bottle of Bass which he wants.

Things aren’t what they seem to be and it isn’t long before Theodore and Nella realise that there are nefarious goings on behind the facade of quiet classiness.

This was originally published as a serial and Bennett wrote the 15 installments in 15 days and sold it for £100. It was described as the most original, amusing and thrilling serial written in a decade.

Arnold Bennett lived at the Savoy Hotel in London and it was the chef there who came up with the dish which became known as Omelette Arnold Bennett because he was so fond of it. You can see Sophie Dahl whipping one up if you’re interested.

There aren’t many people who have had dishes named after them. The only others that I can think of at the moment are Peach Melba and Melba toast, named after the opera singer Dame Nelly Melba and Pavlova after Anna. Eggs Benedict too, Lemuel Benedict was an American stockbroker. There must be others though.

The Flight of the Falcon by Daphne du Maurier

Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge 2010

This book was first published in 1965 and although I enjoyed it,
I don’t think it is anywhere near as good as du Maurier’s earlier work. At 272 pages, it is a very quick read. I must admit that I am not a fast reader as I take the view that as someone has gone to the bother of writing every word, it is only fair that I should read them all and not skim. It is well written and I found that it hadn’t really dated that much.

It is the story of a holiday courier called Armino Fabbio who conducts coach parties of tourists from Genoa to Rome. When a male tourist propositions the young and handsome Armino and slips a 10,000 lire note into his hand, Armino decides to get rid of the money by passing it on to an old lady who is slumped on the cathedral steps.

Unfortunately, she is murdered soon after and Armino decides that the safest thing for him is to get away from the area and he ends up back in the town where he had grown up, having left it as a young boy at the end of the war.

Since then his home town of Ruffano has enlarged due to the local university expanding, with as many as 5,000 students residing there or nearby.

Nobody recognizes the adult Armino and he takes a job in the university library, becoming involved with the students and staff and discovering that there is a disturbing rivalry between the Arts and Economics faculties, creating an atmosphere of menace.

He lives in fear of being traced to Ruffano by the police, especially when he discovers that the murder victim was his childhood nanny.

The book finishes with a spectacular festival which the students take part in and draws to what was for me an unexpected conclusion.

I don’t think I would read this one again though. It’s certainly not in the Rebecca league.