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.

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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.

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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.

Librarything
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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.

Librarything
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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.

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book log: 73) Dick Francis — Reflex

Jockey Philip Nore isn’t too impressed when a young solicitor turns up at the weighing room, asking him to go and see his estranged grandmother. They’re estranged because his grandmother threw his mother out of the house when she became pregnant. Nore doesn’t know who his father is, hasn’t seen his mother in years and has good reason to believe that she’s dead, and was brought up by a succession of his mother’s friends who were asked to look after him for a few days that turned into a few months. He lost the one set of involuntary foster parents who wanted to keep him. So he’s more than a little bitter on the subject of family. Only being told that his grandmother is dying persuades him to go and see her — only to find that she isn’t dying just yet, and that she wants him to find a sister he never knew he had.

Another mystery drops into his lap when one of his friends suffers a series of misfortunes. Steve’s father dies in a car accident, his mother is burgled and then attacked. George Millace was a professional sports photographer, and it becomes clear to Nore that Millace had photographed more than horses. Nore’s haphazard upbringing has equipped him to dig up the dirt someone thought they’d buried along with Millace, because Nore’s best loved foster parents were also professional photographers, and Nore knows darkroom techniques inside out.

Nore slowly works his way through George Millace’s legacy, uncovering a network of corruption and blackmail — and getting too close to the final truth for somebody’s comfort.

It’s a beautifully constructed thriller, with the first strand intertwining with the second to provide the final resolution, even though there’s no direct link between them. And as ever with Francis’s novels, it’s an enthralling story of a man discovering himself and what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

http://www.librarything.com/work/42926

book log July 2012

67) Francis Durbridge — Tim Frazer Gets The Message [audiobook]

Abridged on 2 CDs and read by Anthony Head. Another case for engineer turned spy Tim Frazer. British intelligence agent Miss Thackery was last heard of in Asia, so why has she turned up dead in the Welsh countryside? And is her murder linked with the disappearance of a German scientist who was working at the British government? Another enjoyable 1960s espionage novel, splendidly read by Anthony Head.

http://www.librarything.com/work/12339476

68) Mary Stewart — The Moonspinners

1960s romantic suspense. A young woman working at the British Embassy goes to Crete for an Easter break with her cousin, and walks into a cover-up of a murder and a witness in hiding. The mystery is not in whodunnit, but why. An excellent romantic suspense with a vivid sense of place.

http://www.librarything.com/work/26721/

69) Dick Francis — Flying Finish

Lord Henry Grey holds down an ordinary office job, to the horror of his family who think that he should solve the family financial problems by the traditional method of marrying an heiress in search of a title — or as he calls it, prostituting himself. He hasn’t told his family about his other activities — amateur jockey, and semi-amateur pilot. When he shifts jobs into working for a bloodstock shipping agent, nobody thinks he’ll stick to it. But Grey not only sticks with the job, he inconveniences other people by doing so, and by being bright enough to notice that there’s something very odd going on.

Another solid suspense novel from Francis, as ever tied into the world of horse-racing, and with a good romance sub-plot.

http://www.librarything.com/work/71205

69) Paul Doherty — Corpse Candle

Thirteenth of the medieval mystery series starring Sir Hugh Corbett, Keeper of the King’s Seal. I’m not familiar with the series and this one’s a long way into the run, but I found that Doherty does a good job of introducing his characters to new readers. Corbett is sent by the King to investigate the death of Abbot Stephen of St Martin’s-in-the-fields, an abbey in a remote area plagued by bandits. It’s a locked room murder mystery that leaves Corbett initially baffled, but then he finds himself with more murders to investigate, providing both more clues and an incentive to find the killer fast. Very enjoyable, and I’d like to read more of the series.

http://www.librarything.com/work/532013

70) PD James — Cover Her Face [audiobook]

Full cast dramatisation from BBc Radio 4 of the first Adam Dalgliesh mystery, on two CDs. Very well done, and with the original novel being fairly short, this one doesn’t have to leave out large chunks of the book, even if if it is still abridged.

http://www.librarything.com/work/14341

71) Mary Stewart — This Rough Magic

Another romantic suspense from Stewart, this one set on Corfu and themed around Shakespeare’s Tempest. I enjoyed it a lot, but felt that the heroine was rather more blatantly collecting plot coupons than in some of Stewart’s books.

http://www.librarything.com/work/25998

book log 62) Dick Francis — For Kicks

Danny Roke has made a success out of running a stud farm in Australia. He’s devoted to the stud, because he’s devoted to the younger siblings he’s raised since their parents died, and the stud brings money and stability. What it doesn’t bring is a sense that this is what he wants the rest of his life to be. When the Earl of October arrives one day and offers him enough money to keep the stud running without him, he’s intrigued enough to take the job offered — going undercover as a stablehand to investigate a suspected racehorse doping racket in English racing.

Danny knows going in that the job could be dangerous. Fatal, even. But he finds enough to convince him that there *is* a racket, and he’s determined to get to the bottom of it, if only to prove to himself that he can do the job.

It’s a wonderful piece of writing, with solid characterisation and a well-plotted mystery. Highly enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

http://www.librarything.com/work/42762