Reviews

‘absorbing second mystery . . . stunning resolution.’ [Stage Fright]

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Desert Island Crime Fiction

I’m off to Crimefest – see crimefest.com – on Thursday where I am moderating a panel on the Contemporary Cosy. This has set me thinking about my all-time favourite crime novels and I’ve drawn up a desert island selection of eight classic crime novels or collections of stories that I’d be very happy to read again. In the spirit of Desert Island Discs, that venerable radio programme, I have assumed that the complete works of Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie are already on the island. So here goes.

1. Frederic Brown, The Night of the Jabberwock. I have mentioned this fantastic novel (in very sense of the word) before. Superbly plotted, funny, and touching.
2. Sjöwall and Wahlöö, The Laughing Policeman. I also very much like The Fire Engine that Disappeared, but this is perhaps the better novel.
3. Dorothy L Sawyers, The Nine Taylors. Need more be said?
4. G. K. Chesterton, The Complete Father Brown. Similarly.
5. George Simenon, Maigret’s Christmas. Again hard to choose one among so many, so I’d go for this splendid collection of short stories.
6. Josephine Tey, Miss Pym Disposes. Many times re-read and never fails to enthrall. I love the character of Miss Pym and the atmosphere of the teacher training college is so vividly evoked.
7. Rennie Airth, River of Darkness. This is a relatively recent novel (2004) which might not be a classic yet, but deserves to become one. Set in the 1920s the trauma of World War I casts its shadow over both killer and detective. Gripping, scary, and full of humanity.
8. Michael Gilbert. Always good value, so not easy to pick out one. Among the later works, I like The Final Throw, but in the end I’ll plump for Smallbone Deceased, one of the earliest and a true classic.

It’s been fun choosing. What would you choose (you needn’t pick eight)?

Fourteen degrees below zero . . .

. . . was the temperature outside our back door yesterday morning. Yesterday I wore a thermal vest, a cotton t-shirt, a woollen jumper, a cashmere cardigan and a big Swedish sweater, a hat, and a scarf and that was INDOORS. Outside I look like an extra for DOCTOR ZHIVAGO. Ordinary activities take so much longer. The school run which normally takes 15-20 minutes takes an hour if I have to walk instead, slowed down by icy pavements. Of course I know this is nothing compared with winters in Canada and Sweden and North America, but it so rarely happens here that we haven’t invested either personally or as a country in the equipment to deal with it.
We were only completely cut-off for two days, then the trains started running. But we’ve only had one postal delivery in a week, still no milk. We’re lucky to have such good neighbours. Last week shortly after my husband had sadly poured the last of the milk into his tea, one of our friends rang to offer us a pint. About an hour later the door bell rang and it was our next door neighbour with a bottle of milk and another neighbour had left one on the doorstep.
Still, this is meant to be a blog about reading, so I’ll tell you that I’ve finished THE NINE TAILORS, which I read slowly and with relish, only skipping the tedious stuff about the cypher. Like so many of the best crime novels it is about so much more than a crime and that’s why it can be read again and again. I love the depiction of the Fenland community with its wonderful church and splendid vicar. It has one of the best endings in crime fiction, and all in all has been great comfort reading. Otherwise my reading time has been devoted to the first draft of a friend’s novel and the latest edition of CADS (Crime and Detective Stories) the periodical that I’ve mentioned before. We’ve watched an entertaining film noir, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, directed by Fritz Lang and starring Edward G Robinson as a mild-mannered academic whose life goes suddenly and horrifically awry – and several episodes of HOMICIDE. We’ve reached the last series, alas.
Now I’m hovering on the brink (so to speak) of THE DRAINING LAKE by Arnaldar Indridason – I very much enjoyed VOICES – or maybe another Dorothy L Sawyers.
And by the way that chocolate cake made without eggs and with cooking oil (a mixture of sunflower oil and rapeseed oil because that was what I happened to have) instead of butter turned out absolutely fine. More like a pudding than a cake, perhaps, but it all got eaten, no problem.

Snowed In!

Posted on Dec 2, 2010 in Dorothy L Sawyers, Peg Bracken, snow | 2 Comments

For the first time ever in the fourteen years we are completely snowed in. Yesterday we woke to 16 inches of snow and it has gone on falling ever since off and on. In the past there has always the train to fall back on (that was how we got to our son’s wedding four years ago, when snow and a fallen tree blocked the way out of the village). But yesterday the trains stopped running. The school’s closed today for the third day running, but even if wasn’t, we couldn’t get there. There isn’t a village shop (it closed in the summer). Walking to the next, larger village is a last resort as the snow is over our wellies and anyway deliveries haven’t been getting through there either.
The milkman and postman are not getting through and the organic fruit and veg delivery people have rung to say they can’t make it tomorrow. However we are in no danger for running out of food for a while. True, we have no milk now, or eggs or cheese (except for Parmesan) and not much fruit and veg. However we have loads and loads of rice, pasta, olive oil, coffee and tea, because I buy them in bulk. Quite a lot of Parmesan, lentils, tins of red kidney beans and other pulses and enough flour for several loaves. Also a tin of sardines and one of corned beef. A joint of pork in the freezer. No cake, biscuits or chocolate. Yesterday we got a craving for something sweet so we broken into the Xmas cake that we made a fortnight ago. Might have been better if left to mature, but it’s very good all the same and there’s always too much at Xmas anyway. We’ve got plenty of wine and there is wood in the woodshed.
Thanks to my book-buying habit there is no shortage of things to read either. To be honest I probably have enough books to last for the rest of my life, what with ones I haven’t read and ones I’d be happy to re-read. It’s comfort reading at the moment. I am well into THE NINE TAILORS and am thoroughly enjoying it. And I’ve found a recipe in Peg Bracken’s THE I HATE TO COOK BOOK for a chocolate cake that uses cocoa and cooking oil instead of butter or margarine. So I might get my chocolate fix after all.

Let it snow . . .

Posted on Nov 30, 2010 in Dorothy L Sawyers, snow, William Maxwell | No Comments

I don’t usually blog about the weather, but it is the dominating fact of our lives at the moment. The snow arrived last Friday night and the threat of more stopped us going away at the week-end. It wasn’t too bad yesterday: my husband got his car out and our daughter got to school. But this morning we woke up and realised that we weren’t going anywhere. Six inches of snow had fallen on top of what was already there. The school was closed. My husband decided he had better work at home.
Before it happened I was groaning in anticipation of the sheer inconvenience and extra effort that would be involved, and yet I have to admit that there are compensations. As I look out of the window this afternoon it is snowing again and it is intensely beautiful. All I can see are trees and snow and the neighbour’s woodshed. The brillance of the light is invigorating. It could be Sweden or Finland. A while ago my daughter and I walked up our lane to the main road. Normally there are cars whizzing up and down. Today virtually all we saw was a gritter and snow plough. We walked up the middle of the road and drank in the silence.
Life is simplified. I can’t get to the shops unless I walk to the station and catch a train into Sheffield. So we’ll make to do with what we’ve got and that’s fine. The inconvenience really starts when the thaw begins and we have to go out to struggle along on icy pavements and roads. For now though ordinary life is suspended and there is pleasure to be had in drawing the curtains and throwing another log on the fire. And what is the ideal book for the snowbound reader to read in front of that fire? The book I have taken off the shelf is the Dorothy L. Sawyers classic, THE NINE TAILORS, which opens with Lord Peter Wimsey running his car into a snow drift. Time to re-read that, I think.
Before I finish, I said in a recent blog that I’d be reading some more William Maxwell and I have. SO LONG, SEE YOU TOMORROW is even better than TIME WILL DARKEN IT. Just wonderful.