Reviews

‘a delightful amateur sleuth novel with a well balanced mix of domestic and academic life and a strong sense of place.’ [Stage Fright]

- EUROCRIME.CO.UK

The charm of the unexpected

On holiday in France a couple of weeks ago we were strolling around the lovely little town of Le Crotoy on the Bay of the Somme, when we came across this: a redundant phone box that had become a book exchange. There was nothing that tempted me, but it was nice to see a copy of an Ellis Peters’s novel there, especially as I was planning to be in Shrewsbury the following week and that is the town most associated with her and her books.

There is a particular pleasure in finding books in unexpected places. Last summer I spent a happy quarter of an hour browsing among the books offered for sale just inside the English Church on Lake Como. That time I came away with a copy of an Ed McBain novel and a Pan edition from 1966 of Victor Canning’s The Scorpio Letters. (Victor Canning has been having a bit of a moment over on Moira’s splendid blog, ClothesinBooks.com.) I discovered Elizabeth Taylor when I picked up a copy of A View of the Harbour in Austin’s second-hand furniture emporium on Peckham (long since closed): I had gone to buy a wardrobe, which I did, but I also came with a new author. My copy of Michael Gilbert’s Fear to Tread came from the second-hand book shop at Killerton, a wonderful National Trust garden in Devon, that we used often to visit when my mother-in-law was alive and our daughter was small. It is freighted with precious memories. So is my copy of Christie’s Murder on the Links, picked up at another NT house, Standen, on a rare trip out with just my husband, the year before he died.

What unexpected find sticks in your memory?

 

8 Comments

  1. Margot Kinberg
    April 22, 2018

    What great little discoveries you’ve made, Christine! And in such unexpected places, too, as you say. It sounds as though you enjoyed your holiday, too, and that makes it all even better. It reminds me of the time I was browsing in a small secondhand bookshop, and found a first edition of Ellery Queen’s The Dutch Shoe Mystery. It had some damage, so not worth much in terms of money, perhaps. But what a find (for me) in terms of unexpected!

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      April 22, 2018

      It is like finding treasure to come across a book like the Ellery Queen, isn’t it, Margot? There are rewards in being unable to walk past a book shop, especially a second-hand book shop. And, thank you, yes, I had a lovely holiday.

      Reply
  2. Alex
    April 22, 2018

    Oh, I love these kind of discoveries. Secondhand book shops are alive and well here, in Quebec City. They seem to thrive here, in our French-speaking province. What’s great is the number of books in English I always manage to find. And yes, they are usually of an age.

    We also have little box cubby holes filled with free books people can take, and or swap. I must post a photo or two on my blog.

    Unusual finds have been a barn in Massachusetts that was filled with boxes of old books. I would have loved to have spent several days going through them all, but came away with a couple of classics whose titles I forget now.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      April 23, 2018

      Yes, do post a photo of a cubby hole on your blog. I didn’t manage to see any second-hand bookshops when I was there – not that I could have carried any more books home so it was just as well!

      Reply
  3. moira@clothesinbooks
    April 24, 2018

    I do this much less now, but I used to be forever picking up books in unexpected places. Often when I look at one of my older detective books I have a memory of finding it in a tray or shelf for pennies in some small town in England. I also quite like abandoning books I’ve finished on holiday, hoping someone will find them, and perhaps be puzzled why something very English will end up in an obscure place.
    I recently gave a talk on Agatha Christie locally, and took along a few books. I said the first one I had read was Why Didn’t They Ask Evans, and brought along my copy. I actually hadn’t realized till that moment that it was the very copy I read all those years ago, and it had a little secondhand price sticker from a shop where the family had been holidaying: a remote part of the very Western edge of Ireland. I think my brother and I bought it jointly and read it one after the other – starting me on a lifelong trail.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      May 2, 2018

      What a lovely story, Moira! I have books like this: a copy of My Family and Other Animals bought in Derby market with my best friend Pauline, when we were 16. It’s terribly tattered but I could never throw it out. I also like to abandon books in foreign places as well as discovering them.

      Reply
  4. Susan D
    May 1, 2018

    Some years ago, I was staying in a hotel in Halifax on business. In the lounge I found a shelf of books, including Ex LIbris by Anne Fadiman, donated, apparently, by The Globe and Mail. I was so charmed by the essays in this book, I decided first to steal it (go on, they’ll never miss it), but then chose to ask at the desk if I could have it.

    Yes, absolutely, I could.

    Reply
    • Christine Poulson
      May 2, 2018

      Ah, hotel books . . . What treasures can be found and Ex Libris is certainly one. In fact I think I have blogged about that book as I was charmed by it, too. My own feeling is that it is probably OK to take a book as long as you leave one in its place, but it’s a slightly grey area and you did the right thing!

      Reply

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