Monday, January 29, 2018

ALIAS GRACE - Margaret Atwood

Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, the wealthy Thomas Kinnear, and of Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress.  Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane.  Now serving a life sentence after a stint in Toronto's lunatic asylum, Grace herself claims to have no memory of the murders.

Dr. Simon Jordan, an up and coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace.  He listens to her story, from her families difficult passage out of Ireland into Canada, to her time as a maid in Thomas Kinnear's household.

Again just fantastic writing from Atwood.  The description of the trip by boat from Ireland to Canada is especially moving, you get lost in the writing. 

Life in the early 1800's was hard, it was especially hard if you were female, it was especially especially hard if you were a female child having to fend for yourself with a drunken father and younger siblings.

As the jacket blurb states the doctor takes Grace along her life line until she is brought to the day the murders take place when there is a revelation .There is much historical detail along the way concentrating on describing the lot of the poor. e.g Grace never had a bath until she was 13 years old.

The one part of the novel I didn't understand was a diversion where Dr. Jordan has an affair, I didn't see any need for this but I may have missed something.

The ending is a bit Dickensian as things "fall into place" but that's a nothing, I'm a huge Atwood fan and love anything she writes.

I see this has been made into a television series I hope it does the novel justice but doubt it because no TV can replicate the writing of someone who if there is justice will get the Nobel for Literature shortly.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


The sacred and profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder.

It follows, from the 1920's to the early 1040's, the life and romances of the protagonist Charles Ryder including his friendship with the Flytes, a family of wealthy English Catholics who live in a palatial mansion called Brideshead Castle.  Ryder has relationships with two of the family: Sebastian and Julia.  The novel explores themes including nostalgia for the age of the English aristocracy, Catholicism, and the nearly overt homosexuality of Sebastian Flytes's coterie at Oxford University.

Another reading, the seventh I think, of this great book.  Every time I read I think this is Waugh's best then I read Sword of Honour and say that's better but I love this.

This is a very simple book of relationships all of which unfortunately have Catholicism running in the background like a computer virus, it affects every action and decision made by all the characters and while all mostly follow their belief system it does not make for happy people.

For me Sebastian is forever Anthony Andrews who played him so well in the television adaptation in the early 1980's.

One of my favourite books, its always a go to when I can't settle on a book to read.  Waugh's brilliant and I never tire of reading him.

Monday, January 22, 2018


The Republican Government of Evalonia is facing its doom despite the efforts of its members.  The grave question is whether its fall will be accompanied by blood baths and murder.  The monarchists scheme for the return of Prince John; but first Juventus, the virile youth movement, has other plans.  

This story is the final adventure of Dickson McCunn and the Gorbals Diehards, Jaike and Dougal, and it tell how they, Alison Westwater, the Roylances, and not forgetting Randal Glynde and his circus manage to engineer Prince John's restoration.

This is good old fashioned adventure first published in 1925.  The above cast of characters through an amazing set of coincidence's manage to all be in the same place at the same time to battle several evil customers and cement their personal relationships.

This is really good fun, not great literature but enjoyable.  Buchan does get a bit carried away in his descriptiveness , lots of "crouching like a coiled lion" stuff but this is a minor criticism and doesn't detract from the narrative too much.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


In 1921 , The Attenbury Emeralds were stolen and Lord Peter Wimsey made headlines when he recovered them.

Now its 1951.  There is a new Lord Attenbury and a baffling new mystery about the emeralds - the most intricate and challenging case Lord Peter Wimsey has ever faced.

I'm not normally a fan of new authors taking over the creations of others, the Bond books spring to mind .

Paton Walsh firstly finished  Sayers unfinished book, Thrones , Dominations, and has now gone on and written three of her own.  This is the first one I've read and it is excellent.

This story features all the Sayers character's and she mimics her style well.

This book has a lot of Wimsey's wife, Harriet Vane, who has long been one of my favourite characters.

The story itself is a good one with lots of red herrings but is solvable with the clues to the murderer given very subtly but if attention is paid the reader will pick it up.

I'll now be looking for her other Wimsey books .  A nice read.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A STRANGER IN MY GRAVE - Margaret Millar

'We were walking along the beach below the cemetery , Prince and I, and suddenly Prince disappeared up the cliff.  I could hear him howling.  I whistled for him but he didn't come.  I went up the path after  him.  He was sitting beside a tombstone.  It had my name on it:
Daisy Fielding Harker.  Born November 13, 1930.  Killed December 2 , 1955...'

This is an exceptional story of broken people living in a seaside Californian town.  Daisy Harker sets out to find the story behind her grave stone because if shes not in it who is?

Its a mystery story and its a chiller.

I'm now of the opinion that Millar writes a better chiller than her husband did and he was superb.  If you see her books in second hand store grab them.

Monday, January 15, 2018


Sir Chrichton Davey is dead.  Under the sleeve of his smoking jacket among thje marks of the cocaine needles, is a red mark like the imprint of painted lips - the deadly Zayat Kiss.  The power of Fu Manchu is far reaching and only his arch enemy, Nayland Smith, and his trusted companion Dr Petrie, can combat this evil genius of the Orient.

Published in 1913 this is the first of thirteen Fu Manchu novels published which ran until the late 1950's.

Here we are introduced to the Holmes and Watson like team ( nowhere near as clever )who go from ingenious murder scene to the next trying to apprehend the 'yellow peril'- Fu Manchu - the Chinese criminal genius.

The story is full of what is soundly racist language in this day and age and would be roundly condemned but it is of its time and once you get over this is a great little adventure tale.

Our daring duo escape time and again in the most spectacular and frankly impossible ways but as  the Irish Time states:  " Good reading and high class escapism".

I've managed to pick up four Omnibus's editions containing twelve of the thirteen novels and I'm looking forward to reading them over the next year.

From the fly leaf : Sax Rohmer was the pen name of Arthur Sarsfield Ward, who was born in Birmingham in 1866 of Irish parents.  For many years he lived in New York.  He worked as a journalist on Fleet Street before he made his name as the creator of the Dr Fu Manchu series.  He died in 1959. (ironically of  ' the Asian 'flu'.)

Friday, January 12, 2018

GAMBIT- Rex Stout

Nero Wolfe is grumpily engaged in burning page by page a reference book of which he disapproves when a young woman comes to offer him $22,000 for his services: the job - to prove the innocence of her father, held by the police for a murder which took place in a chess club, a crime he is all too obviously guilty of committing.

This is a locked room type mystery for Wolfe and side kick Archie Goodwin.  Its not one of the  brilliant ones but its a Stout so you know there will be excellent banter between Wolfe and Goodwin which is always enjoyable.

Even an average Stout is better than most so if you see them pick them up you will never be disappointed.

Stout is an interesting person apart from the 70 odd books he wrote.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

DEATH IN THE STOCKS - Georgette Heyer

Beneath a sky the colour of sapphires and the sinister moonlight, a gentleman in evening dress is discovered slumped in the stocks on the village green- he is dead.  Superintendent Hannasyde's consummate powers of detection and solicitor Giles Carrington's amateur sleuthing are tested to their limits as they grapple with the Vereker family - a group of outrageously eccentric and corrupt suspects.

The above blurb from the back of this book first published in 1935 held out some promise as a decent mystery, sadly not.  We get a very run of the mill murder mystery, pedestrian, and again the only thing that stopped this getting the bin treatment early on is Heyer writes good conversation and can be witty.

But if I want witty I listen to Billy Connolly so Heyer is going to get one more chance and if that's a fail I'm afraid she'll get by-passed on the shelves in future.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

UNNATURAL DEATH - Dorothy L. Sayers

'No sign of foul play' says Dr Carr after the post-mortem on Agatha Dawson.  The case is closed.  But Lord Peter Wimsey is not satisfied..

With no clues to work on, he begins his own investigation.  No clues, that is until the sudden senseless murder of Agatha's maid.

Who the killer is is apparent very early in this novel.  The author doesn't hide the fact because the story is more a 'howdunnit' and a 'whydunnit' rather than the usual 'whodunnit'.

From the Introduction by Minnette Walters:

Two themes predominate.  Casual racism and female homosexuality.  While neither is referred two in those terms, there's no doubting what Sayers was was writing about.  She leaves us with little sense that she any sympathy for the prevailing prejudice against blacks, even though she uses words and phrases that will have modern readers cringing, but her views on lesbians is less clear.  She refers to one partnership in and open, uncritical way while, about another, she uses Miss Climpson to voice what may have been her personal view.  ' I cannot help feeling that it's more natural- more proper, in a sense- for a man and a woman to be all in all to one another than for two persons of the same sex.'

This is a good read, Wimsey isn't too 'silly' and the crimes are multiple and nasty.

Friday, January 5, 2018

A GUN FOR SALE - Graham Greene

By assassinating a foreign Minister of War Raven improves the market for armaments.  He is paid in stolen notes.  Bent on revenge, he traces the parties involved to a Midland city, with the police on his heels.  In this tortuous double hunt the outlaw becomes the weapon of a kind of social justice.

Graham Greene is very rarely read for laughs and here he makes you feel very uncomfortable.  The 'killer' is a product of his environment something that is now being realized in society,this is particularly insightful seeing as this was written in 1936.

As always with Greene there is a sort of redemption for some characters at the end but as a blurb on this edition says: ".... a book which you may put down, but which you will not easily put out of your mind".

Reading Greene is never a waste of time.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

THE MOONSTONE- Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone, a yellow diamond looted from an Indian Temple and believed to bring bad luck to its owner, is bequeathed to Rachel Verinder on her eighteenth birthday.  That very night the priceless stone is stolen again, and when Sergeant Cuff is brought into investigate the crime, he soon realizes that no one in Rachel's household is above suspicion.  Hailed by T.S Elliot as 'the first, the longest, and best of the modern English detective novels', The Moonstone is a marvelously taut and intricate tale of mystery, in which facts and memory can prove treacherous and not everyone is as they first appear.

First published in serial form in 1868 this is outstanding.  Like "The Woman in White", I could not put it down as you want to have the mystery solved.

The story is told in journal form by several of the characters in the book so you get different opinions on events.  The author is honest and the reader is supplied with only the information that the investigators have throughout in solving the mystery.

In Sergeant Cuff we have an eccentric, know all investigator who would have to have been the predecessor of Sherlock Holmes plus this is full of marvelous writing.

The writing itself is doubly remarkable in that at the time of writing Collins had a excellent opium habit.

This is a 9/10.