‘One of those rare gems that comes to the reviewer out of the blue . . . enough twists to shame a cobra . . . the story fairly rips along, defying the reader to put the book down . . . Christine Poulson should be heralded as the fine entrant to the world of crime fiction she most certainly is.’ [Stage Fright]


Sheer bliss: Prunella Scales and Wives and Daughters

513jz+bO0kL._AC_US218_I haven’t been sleeping well these last six months or so – and I won’t need to tell readers of my blog why that is. I don’t usually have a problem getting to sleep, but I often find myself awake at four or five am. That is when audiobooks are such a godsend. I prefer books that I already know – doesn’t much matter then if I drop off and miss a bit – and I prefer them unabridged. And of course it is of paramount importance that the voice is right for that particular novel.

I’ve been enjoying the work of four wonderful actors.  It goes without saying that David Suchet is perfect for Murder on the Orient Express, but Hugh Fraser is pretty damn good as a reader of other Christie novels, such as The Hollow and Nemesis. Ian Carmichael couldn’t be better in the dramatisations of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Wimsey books, reprising the role he played so well on TV. But the absolute queen of the audiobook is for me Prunella Scales, first with Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford, and then with Wives and Daughters. This last in particular has just been sheer bliss and toward the end I was listening to it even when I didn’t have insomnia. Her characterisation is so perfect, her understanding of the nuances of the novel so complete – and what a marvellous novel it is, full of insight into human weakness, but full of compassion too. I could listen to her forever.

If there are other listeners to audiobooks out there, I would really welcome suggestions for other good readers – particularly of the classics or of golden age crime fiction. Please let me know your favourites.

What I Did on My Holidays

Or, rather, what I read on my holidays. I really enjoyed Kate Ellis’s PLAYING WITH BONES, one of her Joe Plantagenet series, let in a lightly fictionalised York. There is an element of the supernatural in these and it was satisfyingly creepy! And as we were in northern France I took with me Adrian Magson’s DEATH ON THE MARAIS, set in Picardy, which turned out to be a thoroughly good read.

We visited Tunbridge Wells first and I picked up a copy of Richard Cobb’s STILL LIFE in Hall’s, one of my favourite second-hand book-shops. Richard Cobb is best known as a historian of modern France, but this is an account of his childhood in Tunbridge Wells between the wars and is a fascinating piece of social history. I read it when it first came out twenty years ago and enjoyed it all over again.

The other books I’ve been revisiting are Molly Hughes’s four autobiographical books, beginning with A LONDON CHILD OF THE 1870S and ending with A LONDON FAMILY BETWEEN THE WARS. They are hugely enjoyable, a window on a world very different from today, and though I really wouldn’t want to have been a woman then, I couldn’t help feeling a bit envious – mostly perhaps of the writer’s optimism and high spirits.

Oh, and I mustn’t forget CRANFORD, and the Father Brown stories, re-readings both. Chesterton’s stories are certainly ingenious puzzles, but at their best they are much more than that. ‘The Queer Feet’ and ‘The Strange Crime of John Boulnois’ are among my favourites.

A Coda: I got home to find an email from Ra Page at Comma Press telling me that LITMUS (the short story collection that I blogged about a while ago) had got a rave review from THE INDEPENDENT (‘Works brilliantly… ingenious… unfailingly interesting’) and had been chosen as a BOOK OF THE WEEK. The NEW SCIENTIST liked it too: ‘Exquisite… delectable.’ Wow!