First of the Inspector Hemingway series of mysteries. Another of Heyer’s tales of murder amongst the wealthy in 1930s England, this one is seen primarily through the eyes of Mary, the younger cousin and ward of Wally Carter, a man who has married an extremely wealthy and somewhat vulgar widow. Ermyntrude was an actress before she married her first husband, and is inclined to histrionics at home, but is also a kind and generous woman who has offered Mary a permanent home and a position as her secretary. Mary is genuinely fond of “Auntie Erm”, and thus has little patience with Wally’s domestic misdemeanours, which include spending Erm’s money on gambling, drinking, dodgy business deals, and as it turns out, another woman.
There’s a large cast of characters, and a good third of the book is taken up with introducing them to the reader before Wally is shot dead in broad daylight in front of witnesses — but without anyone seeing the shooter. As usual, the characters are stock stereotypes who are brought to vivid and entertaining life by Heyer’s careful characterisation and witty dialogue, and there’s a thoroughly enjoyable story to be had out of watching the characters interacting even before we get down to the murder mystery itself. There are plenty of good suspects, and plenty of red herrings, and mixed in amongst them enough genuine clues to play fair to those who want to play the game. Great fun.
And because I was in the mood this morning for something that reflected on war but was a little less traumatising than All Quiet On The Western Front, I went and re-read Sam the Storyteller’s novel-length Torchwood fanfic story Your Face Is Turned. Torchwood’s not shy about the price of war, and neither is this story, but it has a rather happier ending. Previously reviewed on April 12 this year.
Your Face Is Turned.
I chose to start re-reading this particular book on November 11 this year, and having finished it the next day, to post my log entry on Remembrance Sunday, for reasons which will be be clear if you know anything about the book at all. This is the fictionalised memoir of the Great War, based on Remarque’s own experiences as a German Army conscript stationed on the Western Front.
My own copy is a battered cloth-bound copy from the year of first publication, though from the twentieth print run some six months after its first publication in English translation. I bought it in, I think, 1988, because I had heard a little about it and wanted to read it for myself, and so when I ran across a cheap copy in a second-hand bookshop I picked it up. And was devastated by it. At school I had studied the Great War, and the lead-up to it, starting with the intricate balance-of-power treaty jigsaw created by Bismarck and its later unravelling. I had watched in respectful silence the old men at remembrance parades. But this book took the war out of the realm of history, and made it real in a way I’d never encountered before. It gave voice to the ordinary soldier at the Front, without taking sides. It was all here — the harsh conditions, the need to dehumanise the enemy simply to be able to cope with the killing, the sense of dislocation felt by soldiers returning from the front line to their homes far from the battlefield, the uncomprehending jingoism by those at home who had never seen battle.
The book was banned by the Nazis, and no wonder. It was a threat to their mythology, and a vivid undermining of their glorification of war for the Fatherland. The relevance of its message has not diminished down the years. War is neither glorious nor romantic, and the comradeship of soldiers is bought at a very high price indeed. And yet bleak as it often is, there are many moments of high humour in the book. Remarque was a skilled writer, and knew very well how to contrast the horror with the moments of emotional peace and even joy that could be found in quiet times in the trenches. This is an emotionally wrenching read, but very much worth the time.
Fourth in the Hamish Macbeth mystery series. I’ve read the first two, and skipped the third because the shop didn’t have it when I picked up 1, 2, 4 and 5. I have no intention of looking for the third, because this is the last of the series I’ll bother reading.
As with the other books, this has the lazy, amiable village policeman having to deal with murder coming to his otherwise sleepy village. In this case, Hamish spots Trixie Thomas as a potential murder victim fairly on, thanks to her behaviour. Trixie is the perfect housewife, who is so competent that she has time to run her new bed and breakfast business, scrounge up furniture from the locals to furnish her b&b that just happens to fetch a nice penny at the antiques auctions back in the big city, and take the other housewives in the village in hand — frequently to the chagrin of their husbands, who liked life better before healthy diets, lack of smoking, and the taking up of causes came to the village. Hamish is not in the least bit surprised when she’s found dead of poison.
While it’s entertaining enough with some good set pieces and social observation, the characterisations are very thin and very stereotyped, a good many of the characters are not very likeable, and much of the humour is rather spiteful. And in this volume, it’s much more noticeable that the characters the author doesn’t like are predominantly women. I didn’t comment on this in my main posts on the first two books, but it came up in discussion on one of the blog posts that you can see that MC Beaton dislikes other women. As I said in that comment thread, it wasn’t that blatant in the first two I read, because a lot of her male characters are very unsympathetic as well. This is why I wasn’t sure if it was authorial snobbery or misogyny in “Cad” — it could well have been the author’s dislike of certain types of people, where gender wasn’t a factor in the types. But it’s gratingly obvious after my third one that the author is contemptuous of other women, and I don’t want to read any more of the books, even though I adored the tv series and do like some aspects of the books.
I bought this because it was by the same author as the Railway Detective series, which I’d found enjoyable at the “read once” level. This is the fourth in the Restoration series, a mystery series about architect Christopher Redmayne and constable Jonathan Bale, set in Restoration London in the years following the Great Fire of 1666. I haven’t previously read any in this series, but found that this worked well as a standalone, with enough backstory worked in to be able to follow who people were.
A naked corpse is found frozen into the sheet of ice that has covered the Thames, and the most obvious suspect is Christopher’s rake of a brother, who wakes up after a drunken night to find himself arrested and flung into Newgate. Christopher is convinced of his brother’s innocence, not just out of family loyalty but because he is only too aware of his brother’s vices — and violence is not among them. His friend Jonathan, on the other hand, is convinced of Henry’s guilt, and not just because the Puritan Jonathan disapproves of Henry’s lifestyle. The evidence at the scene is all too damning. But both men feel that justice will not be done unless the matter is properly investigated. And investigate they do, following parallel lines of enquiry and sharing their information. Along the way there’s some excellent world-building about the re-building of the world of London after the Great Fire. I don’t know the period well enough to say how accurate it is, but Marston has created an enjoyable picture of a culture that is both alien and familiar.
I think I like this one a little better than I did the Railway Detective series, possibly because rather than in spite of coming in part way through the series — there’s far less overt info-dumping in this one than in the first Railway Detective book I read. I’d be happy to read more of these, although I’m not going to rush out looking for them; in part because a quick look at the blurbs on the author’s website suggests there is very little character arc development through the series for the continuing characters and their lives outside the mystery-solving, something I found rather frustrating in the Railway Detective books.
Second of a series of romance novels about four brothers who are Scottish lords in Victorian Britain. I’d picked up the first one, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, because the reviews made it sound like the sort of romance I’d enjoy, rather than fling against the wall. I liked that book well enough to promptly order the next. Lady Isabella and Lord Mac were significant supporting characters in the first book, wherein they had been legally separated for two or three years, but were clearly still in love with each other. This book is the story of how they work towards a reconciliation, but also shows how and why they had ended up living apart. It can be read as a standalone, but I think will work better if read after the first book, as you will go in understanding some of the family backstory that explains why Mac behaves the way he does.
I don’t think this book is as strong as the first, but that was always going to be a difficult target to reach. I still thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to being able to read the next book in the quartet.
I had indeed forgotten one book when I posted a draft on Saturday, although at least I knew that I’d forgotten it. I’m going to simply list the books for now, as between the cold and the side-effects from the meds for something else, I’m going to run out of steam for the evening very shortly; I may or may not get back to them with notes or reviews next weekend.
Book 66) Reginald Hill – Midnight Fugue (logged with notes October 17)
Book 67) Georgette Heyer – A Blunt Instrument (logged with notes October 17)
Book 68) Arthur C Clarke – Dolphin Island (reviewed October 24)
Book 69) Alan E Nourse – Trouble on Titan
YA book published in 1954, which alas has had at least a light sprinkling of pixie dust from the sexism fairy.
Book 70) Arthur C Clarke – The Deep Range
SF novel for adults published in 1957, which has some broad similarities to the later Dolphin Island (at book 68)
Book 71) Paul Cook — The Alejandra Variations
SF novel for adults published in 1984
Book 72) Agatha Christie – The Blue Geranium, and other stories (audiobook)
More Miss Marple short stories read by Joan Hickson
Book 72) Dick Francis – Knockdown
Thanks, Green Knight, this was partly from you talking about his writing techniques. I decided to try one of his books since they were on offer in The Works, and now regret not buying more while they were in stock.
Book 73) Edward Marston – The Silver Locomotive
Sixth in the Railway Detective series. Good pulpy fun, and by the end there is finally some development in one of the character relationships, after six books’ worth of nothing happening.