book log: John, Duke of Bedford — How to Run a Stately Home

Rather than doing my book log in strict chronological order, I’m going to go straight to some recent reads while I can still remember them. I ordered this one a couple of weeks ago on the strength of Stevie Carroll’s comment about it last month, and now I wish to share the love.

Back in 1955, the then Duke of Bedford was one of the first members of the aristocracy to open his stately home to the public as a means of raising funds to cover the running costs. He published this book in 1971, ostensibly as a “how to” manual for his (literal) peers who might be considering doing the same.

It is, in fact, packed full of genuine and useful advice for the would-be stately home entrepreneur, or indeed anyone in a service or tourism business. It’s also a highly entertaining read for the public at large. The duke was a sharp observer of human behaviour and had a bone-dry sense of humour. He combined this with what reads as a genuine appreciation of and gratitude for his customers, and a delight in sharing his possessions with other people who enjoyed them.

The book was written in collaboration with George Mikes of “How to be an alien” fame. It’s hard to tell exactly what blend of ghost-writing, co-writing and editing was going on here, but the duke was certainly capable of writing well on his own account, as he’d had a career as a journalist. It’s clear that the general observations and much of the humour came from the duke — and that the two men shared a wryly funny view of the foibles of the English. The original hardback edition is set off with illustrations by ffolkes, including a rather splendid colour illustration on the dustjacket.

It’s a short book, only 125 pages, but it had me smiling on nearly every page, and left me feeling that I would have liked to meet the duke. Very much recommended if you like this sort of book.

It’s long since out of print, but readily available online at reading copy price.

hardback at Amazon UK
paperback at Amazon UK
Amazon US

new Inspector Singh is out in the UK

Forgot to mention this when my copy arrived — the latest Inspector Singh book, A Calamitous Chinese Killing, was released in the UK a couple of weeks ago. I’ve not read it yet, but only because I’ve still got a backlog of stuff to review properly. Available in paperback and Kindle format now at at Amazon UK, for pre-order at Amazon US, and in epub at Kobo. The UK ebook edition is 3.99, so pretty cheaply priced.

book log February 2013

It’s the return of the book log! Not a particularly detailed book log, since it’s a long time since February… But here are such thoughts as I can remember about what I read way back then.

5) Gladys Mitchell — Tom Brown’s Body

Another mystery for Mrs Bradley to solve. This one involves the murder of a junior master at a boy’s school. Mr Conway was unpopular with both boys and teachers alike, for a variety of reasons. A lot of fun, with some sharp social observation. It was first published in 1949, which has some bearing on one of the minor plot threads. One of the boys is Jewish, and subject to anti-Semitic bullying. He does engage in some stereotypical behaviour, but Mitchell, through her lead character, observes that the behaviour is in response to the bullying and not the other way around. I get the impression from this and other books that Mitchell had a low opinion of racists.

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

6) Fiona Glass — Gleams of a remoter World

LGBT paranormal mystery, where the mystery is long in the past, and the investigator is a ghost hunter. There’s a romance sub-plot, but the emphasis here is on the mystery. I can’t write a sensible review of this one because I’ve left it so long, but I stayed up far too late to finish it, and it will be no hardship to read it again at some point in order to review it properly. You can find the blurb and the first chapter on the book’s page at at the publisher’s website.

at amazon UK
at Amazon US

7) Dick Francis – Under Orders

Another entertaining thriller set in the world of horse racing. This one features jockey turned private detective Sid Halley, pursuing leads in the murky world of online betting.

at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

8) Mary Stewart — Thornyhold

Romantic suspense novel from Mary Stewart, published in 1988, but set in the 1940s and 1950s. Young Geillis, known as Jilly has had a quietly miserable childhood, followed by leaving university early to look after her newly widowed father. Her future as a jobless spinster with no savings and no inheritance to speak of might have been bleak after his death, save for her older cousin and namesake leaving her Thornyhold — Cousin Geillis’s woodland cottage.

Jilly finds that her cousin has left her enough money to live on if she’s careful, together with all of Thornyhold’s contents. Those contents include the still room — and Cousin Geillis’s reputation as a witch. There is nothing but good in that reputation, but Jilly is still drawn into strange occurrences, some of which have an obvious rational explanation but which still leave her unsettled.

She’s even more unsettled when she meets a handsome neighbour — and then life becomes very odd indeed…

Highly enjoyable period romantic suspense, with well-drawn characters and just a touch of magic left even when the explanations are done. Definitely one I’ll enjoy re-reading.

at Amazon UK
at AmazonUS

9) Agatha Christie — The Secret Adversary

First of the Tommy and Tuppence books. It’s shortly after the end of the Great War, and a pair of bright young things are finding peacetime both rather boring and rather financially restrictive. They decide to advertise themselves as “The young Adventurers”, in the hope of finding a job. There follow many adventures in pursuit of a missing document, served with a large helping of fun and an even larger helping of red herrings. The politics are somewhat eyebrow-raising, but a reflection of the time when the book was written. I didn’t find this as appealing as the Marple and Poirot stories, but it was a pleasant enough way to spend a few hours. It’s still in print, but also now out of copyright in some countries and thus available on various public domain sites.

at Amazon UK