It’s always hard to know which books to pack when space is at a premium. Recent holidays have been spent in Northern France so it has just been a matter of slinging a bag of books in the boot of the car. But this time we were going to China so there was a real danger that I might run out of reading matter if I didn’t plan carefully. My husband is easy to cater for: he is not a fast reader so my World’s Classics editon of Trollope’s THE PRIME MINISTER kept him happily occupied right through the fortnight, but I needed more than that, much more. In the end I decided to take mostly paperbacks – some new, some from the Oxfam shop – that I could discard as I read them so as to leave space for presents and souvenirs on the return journey. I took five crime novels, two of which I won’t name as, though readable, I wouldn’t recommend them, but the other three, all by authors I hadn’t read before, were crackers and I’ll be looking out for these writers again.
The first was DEAD OF WINTER by P. J. Parrish. There was something piquant about reading this book, set in a small lake-side community in the middle of winter in Michigan while we were sweltering in subtropical heat. I thought it was first-rate: good characters, nicely drawn setting, and intriguing mystery.
The next, R. J. Ellory’s THE ANNIVERSARY MAN, was in a category all its own. There sometimes comes a time for me on a trip like this, when I start to suffer from sensory overload, too many new sights, too much to take in, and I need to have some time out. When that point came I let my indefatigable husband and daughter head off on their own, while I ordered a bowl of noodles and wonton from room service and settled down with R. J. Ellory. This novel really was electifying – not perfect – but I don’t remember being so gripped by a crime writer new to me since I picked up someone’s discarded copy of Michael Connolly’s THE CONCRETE BLONDE in a hotel in Greece years ago.
The last novel, which I kept for the long flight from Shanghai to Helsinki, was Anne Zouroudi’s THE MESSENGER OF ATHENS, a complete contrast. This is the first in a series set in Greece and though at first I found it a little hard to get into by the end I was loving it. Full of atmosphere and wonderful characters, it’s beautifully written and offers pleasures of a quieter kind.
As well as crime novels, I also read Balsac’s EUGENIE GRANDET, the current choice of my book group, and re-read Willa Cather’s THE PROFESSOR’S HOUSE. I timed it just about right, finishing my last paperback on the plane. As back-up I had World’s Classics editions of EMMA and THE LAST CHRONICLE OF BARSETSHIRE. After all, what we had been stranded by an ash cloud – or, as very nearly did happen, grounded by a typhoon?
And now here I am back in dank, dark, rainy Derbyshire with jetlag and a blocked up ear. Still, as Raymond Brigg’s Father Christmas says, I had a blooming good holiday and at least there is no danger of running out of things to read.
I’m always anxious when I go on holiday that I might run out of things to read – or take the wrong books. Two occasions spring to mind. One was a trip to Italy when I fell ill in Urbino and had only the Nonesuch Byron to read. Nothing wrong with it as such – far from it – but a good thriller would have been more like it. The other time was at an airport in Greece when our flight was delayed and I discovered that Amanda Cross was not my favourite crime writer. I’ve been careful since then to make sure that I keep something very absorbing in reserve for emergencies. Careful planning is essential when you’re flying, but when you’re driving to France as we did this year, it’s possible to pack a bag full of books, and I did.
I took and read:
Sue Grafton, M FOR MALICE – excellent, one of her best
Andrea Camilleri, AUGUST HEAT – as usual, a treat
Raymond Chandler, THE LONG GOODBYE
Patricia Highsmith, THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY
(these last two is preparation for a paper that I was planning for the St Hilda’s crime fiction conference, the Chandler repaid rereading, the Highsmith didn’t)
Brad Gooch, FLANNERY: A LIFE OF FLANNERY O’CONNOR
Hakan Nesser, THE MIND’S EYE – a fine addition to Swedish crime fiction
Colin Cotterill, ANARCHY AND OLD DOGS – to be honest I might have read this before I went away, but it’s so good I’m going to mention it anyway.
I took and didn’t read:
Jane Austen, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Richard Cobb, PARIS AND ELSEWHERE
Jeffrey Deaver, A GARDEN OF BEASTS
Elliott Patterson, THE SKULL MANTRA
Alan Furst, THE FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT
Francis Spufford, I MAY BE SOME TIME: ICE AND THE ENGLISH IMAGINATION