The Watersplash by Patricia Wentworth

 The Watersplashcover

The Watersplash by Patricia Wentworth was first published in 1954 and it’s a Miss Silver mystery. Wentworth is so skilled at conjuring up the atmosphere of a small English village, and the way that so many of the inhabitants are linked to each other – by blood, marriage and extended family friendships. Throw in a local telephone system where everybody has a party line and can listen in to their neighbour’s conversations and a huge capacity for gossip as a way of brightening up what is generally a boringly quiet life and you have a good recipe for a mystery.

Edward Random has just returned home to Greenings after a five year absence during which time his father (the local squire) believed him to be dead. Edward’s father had changed his will in favour of his brother Arnold, so his nose was very much out of joint when he realised his nephew was still alive. Everyone expects Arnold to give up his inheritance to Edward, but he has no intention of doing that, in fact he won’t have anything to do with his nephew.

Rumours abound – what has Edward been up to during his five years of absence? When there’s a murder in the village Miss Silver is asked to investigate. Luckily she had already been invited to stay at Greenings by the daughter of an old friend and it’s not long before she’s getting submerged in everybody’s business.

Whilst she knits a succession of pale pink baby vests she gets to the bottom of it all satisfactorily. I had a fair idea who the perpetrator was but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment. I really think I prefer Miss Silver to Miss Marple. I believe the two characters were ‘born’ in the same year. Patricia Wentworth just seems to have been unfortunate that Agatha Christie’s books were much more of a commercial success. Maybe Patricia Wentworth should have indulged herself with some sort of adventure that was taken up by the tabloid newspapers the way Christie did!

The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes

 The Salzburg Connection cover

The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes was first published in 1968. I remember reading some books by the author way back in the 1970s but haven’t read any since then, after reading this one I’ll have to track down as many others as I can because this was a really great read with loads of twists and turns.

It’s set some twenty-one years after the end of World War 2 but there are Nazis still around, they’ve been searching for things that had been hidden by them at the end of the war. There’s a bit of a race on to track down and recover a metal box which it’s thought has been hidden in a lake called Finstersee which is surrounded by the Austrian alps. Several such boxes have been found over the years, the Russians would also like to get their hands on this one, although what it might contain is a mystery.

This is a Cold War setting with spies and double agents galore – a great read.

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge.

Helen MacInnes was born in Glasgow and went to Glasgow University where she got a degree in French and German before going on to get a diploma in librarianship at London. During her librarianship career she chose the books for libraries in Dunbartonshire, which happens to be where I worked in libraries, but she was there decades before my days there.

Her husband was a British agent for MI6 and no doubt his experiences helped to fuel her imagination for espionage. Her second book Assignment in Brittany (1942), was required reading for Allied intelligence agents who were being sent to work with the French resistance against the Nazis. Four of her books were made into films. Later in life she and her husband moved to the US.

Have you read any of her books?

No Resistance by Evelyn Anthony

No Resistance by Evelyn Anthony was first published in 1967, but at somepoint the title seems to have been changed to The Rendezvous, – so confusing. I remember way back in the 1970s I devoured these books which are mainly set in wartime, often spy stories. I had no idea that this was the first such book which Anthony had written, despite having had a lot of books published before this one, they were all historical fiction. I don’t recall ever reading any of those ones – have you?

In No Resistance a young female French resistance agent Terese Masson has been arrested by the Gestapo. She’s interrogated by Colonel Alfred Brunnerman who employs psychological techniques to get information, but she knows that eventually he will have to hand her over to the torturer, if Brunnerman’s techniques fail.

She’s terrified, but at the same time very attracted to Brunnerman. Years later Brunnerman and Masson meet up in America where they have both settled. Brunnerman has changed his name and nationality to dodge prosecution, as a Nazi originally and latterly to foil the Israeli execution squads which are tracking down ex-Nazis.

This is the type of romance full of suspense which I find to be very enjoyable.

Warpaint by Alicia Foster

Warpaint by Alicia Foster was first published in 2013. The setting is 1942, Bedfordshire where in a villa close to Bletchley Park there’s a small community of people who are working to compile Black propaganda to send to Germany, with the idea of demoralising the German population. Some of them draw cartoons of the Nazi leaders and others write letters which are sent to the parents of dead German soldiers, supposedly from their sons who are claiming to be alive and well and living in England, happily.

Sam and Vivienne are a husband and wife working in the Black villa, with Sam being the head of operations, Charles and Frido are the others in the team. Frido is a ‘good’ German who is top of the Nazi’s most wanted list and knows all of the top Nazis so his knowledge and talents are invaluable.

Meanwhile, in London The War Advisory Art Committee has been set up, there’s a small community of women artists who have been given commissions to draw and paint scenes which portray Britain in wartime and capture the atmosphere and reality. They must conjure up the bulldog spirit.

Sir Kenneth Clark (Director of the National Gallery) has been given the job of getting the women to come up with the goods but he has passed the task on to Aubrey Smith, a much younger and inexperienced pen-pusher. As the whole war art idea came from Churchill it’s obvious that Clark wants to avoid the responsibility of the job as he has been having trouble getting any work out of the women.

Like everyone else at that time, their lives are anything but normal and the reader is drawn into all the personal problems which have come about mainly because of the war.

This book was right up my street, I loved the wartime setting which is inevitably tragic as all those ‘few’ were scrambling for their planes and all too often not coming back, as Dame Laura Knight was capturing the moments on canvas. It’s a thriller with lots of twists to keep you turning the pages.

This book weaves a couple of actual people with fictional characters, not something which I’m terribly fond of but I think in this case it works well, despite the fact that I couldn’t stand Sir Kenneth Clark, especially after reading Alan Clark’s biography where it was a toss up as to which one was the most ghastly – father or son.

Warpaint is Alicia Foster’s first novel and is very well written. She has a Ph.D in art history and teaches art students.

Like all good books, this one piques your interest in the subject and urges you to go and do a bit of research of your own.

Below are a couple of Laura Knight’s wartime paintings.

Laura Knight artwork

You can see a lot more of her work here and here.

Dame Laura Knight became the official artist at the Trials of Nazi war criminals in Nuremburg.

A House of Many Rooms by Marius Gabriel

Occasionally I’m asked if I would like to review a particular book and I don’t often take up the chance as I have so many books of my own to get through but I was intrigued when I was asked to read some books by author Marius Gabriel, he’s a thriller and mystery writer and also writes romances under the name Madeleine Ker, Mills and Boons I believe, don’t knock them, a friend of mine says that as she has been married such a long time – M and B books are her only way of experiencing romance! I had never heard of him before but as he has written quite a lot of books over the years, I thought I would give this one a go.

Michael and Barbara Florio are a wealthy couple, although it’s really Barbara who holds the purse strings. Their marriage is falling apart, Barbara is on the booze and has become abusive and their two adopted daughters are caught in the middle of it all. Therese, the youngest, has a history of fire raising and when her biological mother reads about her troubles in a newspaper she determines to track her down.

This book had plenty of twists and turns in it and didn’t go the way which I was expecting at all. I had thought it was going to be a bit of a Thornbirds scenario but thankfully it wasn’t. I will be reading more by Marius Gabriel in the future.

The Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham

Time for some more vintage crime which for some strange reason is always a comfort read. Margery Allingham came from a family of writers and she started her writing career at the age of eight, but was nineteen when she had her first book published. This one was first published in 1930 and it’s the second book by Allingham featuring Albert Campion as the ‘detective’ and the character is developing nicely. I wasn’t sure about him to begin with but he’s growing on me. It was Allingham’s American publishers who were keen that she kept him as a character. I read somewhere that Campion was Allingham’s parody of the Dorothy Sayers aristocratic detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, who I think is a sort of love him or hate him character.

Anyway, the story begins on a ship which has sailed from New York and is bound for England. An American called Crowdy Lobbett is one of the passengers, along with his adult son and daughter. There have been several attempts on retired judge Crowdy Lobbet’s life recently which have ended up with his companions being the victim. There have been four people murdered in his house in the last month. He’s hoping to be able to escape from his enemies in England.

It’s a vain hope because there’s another attempt on Judge Lobbett’s life whilst on the ship and it’s Albert Campion who saves him. Marlowe Lobbett, the son, ends up asking Campion for help and when they get to England the Lobbett family rents an old country house and it isn’t long before Judge Lobbett disappears from it.

As usual, Albert Campion provides quite a bit of humour as he poses as an upper class twit, and his servant the ex-burglar Lugg adds to it too. There’s quite a bit of cockney in it which I sometimes had to read twice before I got the meaning of it but other than that it’s an enjoyable read.

The Singer not the Song by Audrey Erskine Lindop

I remembered that I really enjoyed reading a few of Lindop’s books way back in the 1970s and for that reason I decided to add her to the CPR Book Group list, which is a place for neglected authors and books which deserve to be better known than they are at present. It only seems to be myself and Anne Hayes who have any interest in Lindop’s books at the moment.

Unfortunately her books are quite difficult to get a hold of but I bought The Singer not the Song in an Edinburgh second-hand bookshop and it was one which I hadn’t read before. At first I was really disappointed when I realised that the book is set in Mexico and is about the Roman Catholic church, in fact I almost didn’t read it for that reason, but I’m glad that I persevered.

Firstly I have to say that my copy is from 1954 and the blurb on the cover is wrong when it says that it is set in the revolutionary period of the 1920s and 30s. It is definitely post World War II early 1950s and a bishop is interviewing priests for an appointment in Quantana to replace the elderly Father Gomez who hasn’t exactly stuck to his vows and has lost the respect of his parishioners.

Quantana is a small village in the mountains and is very cut off from the rest of society and the whole place has been taken over by Malo, a young bandit, and his sidekicks. Basically Malo – the Bad One – runs a protection racket in that if the villagers don’t pay him ‘tax’, nasty things are going to happen to them. Malo has an affinity with cats and he has the same habit of playing with his victims.

Father Keogh, a young priest from Ireland, is chosen for the difficult position. Just about the first thing he has to do is get Father Gomez out of the village alive as Gomez believes Malo will kill him.

The whole book becomes a fight for the lives and souls of the villagers as Malo is determined to keep his evil hold on them and tries to humiliate the priest. Father Keogh struggles against Malo for the good of the people who are all terrified of the bandit gang.

It doesn’t sound like much I suppose but it is a very good read and the book was made into a film in 1961. I had already finished the book when I realised this but strangely I had imagined Dirk Bogarde as Malo so maybe I did see it when I was knee high.

There seems to be virtually nothing on the internet about Audrey Erskine Lindop. Possibly her mother or grandmother was Scottish as Erskine is a Scottish surname and place name. She was married to a playwright called Leslie Dudley and I’ve discovered that at one point she lived in a place called Chagford in South Devon. I discovered that because someone is selling a letter from her on Ebay at the moment and you can just make out the address. Does anybody have any more information on this sadly neglected writer?

The Island of Sheep by John Buchan

The Island of Sheep cover

I hope to work my way through all of Buchan’s books so when I saw this one for sale in the library I snapped it up. It’s a continuation of Richard Hannay’s adventures, a good few years on from The Thirty-Nine Steps, and the now Sir Richard Hannay is married to Mary and they have a 14 year old son called Peter John.

He’s in a very comfortable rut and living a pleasant country- gentleman’s existence when the past pops up and Hannay finds himself embroiled in another adventure with his old friend Sandy, now Lord Clanroyden. Years before whilst on another jaunt in South Africa they had taken an oath to protect the explorer and prospector Haraldsen and his descendants, they hadn’t really taken it seriously at the time but when they discovered that Haraldsen’s son was being hunted down by a nasty set of characters, they feel obliged to go to his aid.

The action moves from Buchan’s beloved Scottish border country to the Norlands and The Island of Sheep (The Faroe Islands). Another enjoyable ‘Boys Own Storybook’ sort of a romp ensues.

I enjoyed this one even more than The Thirty-Nine Steps although towards the end it does feature a whaling ship and its crew, it was a surprise to me that it was sort of frowned upon, even in 1936 when the book was published.

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.