I’m taking a little break from blogging. Back in a couple of weeks or so.
. . . in the Bookshop. This annual event at Heffer’s Bookshop in Cambridge was held on 15 July. It’s always good to meet readers (so there IS someone out there after all!), to chat with old crime-writing friends, and make new friends. This year was no exception. On the train on the way home I thoroughly enjoyed reading a book by L. C. Tyler that I had just bought at Bodies. I had been meaning to read something by Len since meeting him at St Hilda’s last year, and I decided to start with his first, THE HERRING SELLER’S APPRENTICE. And it is a corker. Ethelred Tressider is a crime-writer whose career is going nowhere and it’s hard to say whether, Elsie, his chocolate-guzzling, author-despising agent is a help or a hindrance. Either way this unlikely couple enjoy a collaboration of sorts, when Ethelred’s ex-wife disappears and it seems he might be accused of her murder. Part mystery, part pastiche, and part, it turns out, a rather touching love story, it is great fun and very funny.
On a wholly different note, the other book I’m enjoying at the moment is THE PARIS REVIEW INTERVIEWS, VOL. 4. This covers a wide range of authors, some of whom I know and admire, E. B. White, Marilynne Robinson, but many more that I haven’t read. Some I’ll read on the basis of these interviews, mostly notably, so far, Paul Auster. I am so much impressed by what he says about getting older. ‘Little by little the people you love begin to die. By the age of fifty, most of us are haunted by ghosts. They live inside us and we spend as much time talking to the dead as to the living. It’s hard for a young person to understand this. It’s not that a twenty year old doesn’t know he is going to die, but it’s the loss of others that so profoundly affects an older person – and you can’t know what that accumulation of losses is going to do to you until you experience it yourself.’ This seems to me so penetrating and so true. And I like too his declaration that the novel will never die: it’s ‘the only place in the world where two strangers can meet on terms of absolute intimacy. The reader and writer make the book together. No other art can do that. No other art can capture the essential inwardness of human life.’ I agree. I’ll have to read Paul Auster. Recommendations, any one?
A few blogs ago I wrote about what we’d be watching now that Wallander and Dr Who have finished. We are pressing on with our American film noir season – enjoyed THIS GUN FOR HIRE based on a Graham Greene novel and starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake – but the other stand-bys are DVDs of HOMICIDE, for me one of the very best US crime series. I prefer it to THE WIRE.
The first series was shown in the early 1990s, but it really hasn’t dated. (It’s also terrifically good value – only £5 for the first series from Amazon).
Everything about it is good. Detective Frank Pembleton played by the wonderful Andre Braugher stands out. He is a brilliant and driven detective, but also a devoted husband and the interplay between his work and his home life is very well handled. But all the characters are well-developed and totally convincing and the acting is first-rate. The scripts are consistently excellent. I very much admire the audacity of some of the plot lines. Sometimes the detectives do not get their man and the viewer too is left dangling. In one episode that takes place on Christmas Eve not much happens.
It’s sometimes funny, often dark and unsettling, and always compelling. I love it.
David Kynaston’s history is a brick of a book, 697 pages long, plus notes and, though fascinating, it is not a quick read. I had it for only a limited time from the London Library so realised that I was going to have to take this seriously and devote all my reading time to it. I’ve finished it now and it was well worth the effort.
It is a period which I find particularly interesting. My parents were both born in 1926 so the fifties was the decade of their young adulthood and of their marriage, which was to end so suddenly and so prematurely with my father’s death in 1962. The severe housing shortage of the early fifites, which Kynaston describes, was something they knew all about: when they were first married, they rented a room in a family house and had to go through the grandmother’s room to get to the bathroom. And I think one of reasons for my father joining the police force was the possiblity of renting a police house.
What a decade it was: the discovery of DNA, the shameful hanging of Ruth Ellis, the coronation, the Suez crisis, rock ‘n roll and Elvis Presley. As a small child growing up in the country I wasn’t aware of course of the public events that Kynaston describes in this extraordinary book – though I was aware when I was a little bit older of the polio epidemics. One of my childhood fears was of ending up in an iron lung.
Kynaston draws on a very wide range of sources and some of the most interesting are private diaries and the records of Mass Observation. It is all here: rationing, slum clearance and the building of tower blocks, London smog, the growth of the NHS, the beginnings of the consumer society, LOOK BACK IN ANGER, and LUCKY JIM.
But it would be a mistake to feel nostaglic and for all my interest in the period I’m not. It was a very class-ridden society still. It was a time when discussion of sex or death or money was taboo and there was an awful lot that could not be talked about ‘in front of the chldren’.