Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

 With this new year I could begin with an overview of books read last year, or show the many book hauls there have been, but for now I'd like to mention this fine Victorian book read years ago, 'The Moonstone' by Wilkie Collins, a very famous story written in 1868 which has been referred to as the first real detective novel.  This is a rather intriguing tale with a mysterious atmosphere that keeps one engaged and wondering, and with some surprises at the end.  The reader ponders on why Rachel Verinder behaves in such a perplexing way, and are people really as they appear?  In the beginning, what are the suspicious Indian conjurors lurking around the house up to?  The chapters consist of narratives by various characters in the story, beginning with good old Gabriel Betteridge, the House-Steward, who continually reads and quotes from his favourite book, 'Robinson Crusoe'.

Like with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story of  'The Blue Carbuncle', a unique and highly desirable gem that has been the cause of murder and mayhem in its history, the Moonstone is also the object of desire for some who will stop at nothing to obtain it. 

"The Moonstone, a priceless yellow diamond, is looted from an Indian temple and maliciously bequeathed to Rachel Verinder.  On her eighteenth birthday, her friend and suitor Frankin Blake brings the gift to her.  That very night, it is stolen again.  No one is above suspicion, as the idiosyncratic Sergeant Cuff and Franklin piece together a puzzling series of events as mystifying as an opium dream and as deceptive as the nearby Shivering Sand."  Penguin Classics 1998 edition

There have also been various adaptations of this story: a 1930s film, the 1972 BBC television series  with Vivien Heilbron, Robin Ellis, Martin Jarvis, etc...;  the 1996 television film with Keeley Hawes, Greg Wise, Antony Sher, etc...-all worth watching, though the last two mentioned are the best. Apparently there is a new version of it as well, which I've not seen. 

Saturday, 9 December 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas

I've been to the cinema to see the utterly wonderful film 'The Man Who Invented Christmas', and am in Victorian mode (even more so after finishing the Christmas decorating the night before too). I recommend this film to everyone, a very fine story with excellent acting and such lavishly splendid sets and costumes, it was a treasure to watch and I didn't want it to end, it's beautiful. It is about Charles Dickens writing 'A Christmas Carol', with the fantastical device of each character coming to life as he creates them and gives them a name. It has happy bits, sad bits, funny bits, it's touching and fascinating and is a visual feast. Give yourself a treat and make sure to see it before Christmas, you will be so glad you did. It will make you want to don a paisley dressing gown and settle down by a crackling fire with an enormous Victorian novel and a hot mulled drink...

Monday, 30 October 2017

Spooky Books

This time of year, when it turns cooler and the nights draw in, is ideal for indulging in a bit of spooky reading.  Nothing too awful or gruesome, one just wants to that certain kind of atmosphere and a good story that perhaps sends a chill, but doesn't freeze the blood to ice!   So generally that means old tales (though there are modern writers such as Susan Hill, who fit in with the classics), such as classic ghost stories and stories of suspense, these tend to have everything you are looking for.  Modern settings and everything that comes with that do not do anything for me. 

M.R. James was a master of the ghost story and one can't go wrong in choosing him.

  An anthology of various authors in this genre is a good way to enjoy spooky tales too, as you can read through or pick and choose.   Despite not believing in ghosts, I enjoy reading ghostly tales and legends.

Two books I found this year on eerie Scottish tales:

Of course, with it being Halloween, 'Hallowe'en Party' by Agatha Christie, is ideal. 

Settle down comfortably and lose yourself in a thrilling tale or two, just be sure all the doors and windows are locked...

Saturday, 30 September 2017

September Reading: Getting Lost In Wonderful Vintage Fiction

September's reading for me this year was full of vintage fiction, mainly crime fiction; just getting a bit lost in stories after a rather stressful time around the middle of the month.   I finished John Bude's excellent, 'The Cornish Coast Murder' and then went on to 'Appleby's Answer' by the ever-witty Michael Innes (a most unusual mystery indeed).  Then onto the next three selections: 

Firstly there was 'Adele And Co.' from 1931 by Dornford Yates. Dornford Yates has become a favourite author of mine within the last two years, and this was his fourth book I've read, I'm collecting them. He was very popular in his time, but is not too well known these days. "Here is a superior blend of excitement, drama, danger, intrigue and nostalgia... When Jill, Duchess of Padua, had her priceless pearls stolen, along with Adele and Daphne's jewels (and Berry's cufflinks), Berry and Co. face an impossible task in their attempt to recover them-particularly when they discover that Auntie Emma, a ruthless professional criminal, hopes to beat them to it. Throwing caution to the wind, Berry, Jonah and Boy embark on a thrilling chase which takes them from Paris to the Pyrenees..." This is an amazing book with lots of humour (Berry is so very funny), following on from 'Berry and Co.' and 'Jonah and Co.'

After that incredible adventure, the next choice was 'The Club of Queer Trades' from 1905 by the great G.K. Chesterton, an incredibly entertaining and eccentric little book consisting of six short stories filled with mystery, humour, and intrigue. "Eccentric sleuth, Basil Grant is deftly portrayed by Chesterton: mystic, enigmatic and often considered mad by his brother Rupert-the over-zealous private-eye- and by Charles Swinburne, gullible narrator of the six tales... Like Chesterton's more famous hero, Father Brown, Basil Grant detects crime by intuitive rather than conventional means." I enjoyed this one tremendously and some bits were very funny, and I need to get many more G.K. Chesterton books; he was a writer of great wit and wisdom.

The third book of that particular week that I found hard to put down, was 'The Crime At Black Dudley' from 1929 by Margery Allingham, her first mystery to feature Albert Campion. This one concerns a house party of bright young things gathered in a remote, ancient house full of secret passages, who become trapped in the house by a gang of ruthless criminals. Try this if you are in the mood for a great vintage Golden Age crime classic. Vintage Books has republished Margery Allingham's books in an attractive softcover edition and, after buying three of them, I'd like to get them all in that edition.

It had been years since I'd read one of her books, and I enjoyed 'The Crime At Black Dudley so much that it was followed by another Margery Allingham one,  'Look To The Lady', which I'll finish reading in a day or so, another great one from a great mystery writer; and they are best read in order to get the most out of them.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Dorothy L. Sayers: The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries

Dorothy L. Sayers is of one of the greatest and most literate mystery writers of all time, prolific during the "Golden Age" of crime fiction along with Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and many more.  She created Lord Peter Wimsey, the famous aristocratic sleuth, and penned wonderful and highly intellectual mysteries that are popular to this day.  Being so familiar from having watched both excellent television adaptations with Ian Carmichael in the 1970s, and Edward Petherbridge in the late 1980s many times on television, video, and DVD, and reading some of the books many years ago before I had started keeping a reading record, I'm a bit muddled as to which ones I've actually read, and should probably just start from the beginning and carry on.

Featured here is my collection of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. I collected the large batch of secondhand paperbacks below many years ago, found a few and liked the cover design and artwork so much that the others in that edition were sought out.


A collection of all the Lord Peter Wimsey short stories:

A few titles in another edition, also with good cover design:

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Lothian Run by Mollie Hunter

'The Lothian Run' by Mollie Hunter was first published in 1970 and concerns the adventures of a young apprentice (by the name of Sandy Maxwell) in a lawyer's office in Edinburgh in 1736.  He is bored with his job and doesn't think he can stand it any longer, but his dull occupation soon changes when he gets involved in tracking down some dangerous smugglers when helping Deryck Gilmour, an officer of the Special Investigations branch of the Customs service.  There is spying, kidnapping, murder, mobs, Jacobites; plenty of intrigue and adventurous scrapes.   I enjoyed this lively historical fiction tale very much, found it hard to put down, and definitely recommend it.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Lillian Beckwith's Tales of Life On a Remote Hebridean Croft

I was trying to recall what first put me on to the books of Lillian Beckwith many years ago, most likely it was by happening to find a library book once that captivated me.  Whatever it was, I'm glad I made their acquaintance and collected them (though am still missing some other titles outside of this series), as they are a joy to read and have much humour and warmth and are filled with completely down-to-earth characters and amusing mishaps.  Despite the hard work and sometimes hardship, there's something alluring about someone taking off to a remote island or countryside and being free and getting by on their own, or nearly on their own, though this usually involves being blessed with the help of others (which is always reciprocated in the small community-people care about each other and don't want others to go without or be neglected).  Taking off to an old stone cottage in the remote Hebrides in Scotland for a doctor-ordered rest is just what Lillian Beckwith did in the beginning of this series, with book number one, 'The Hills Is Lonely', first published in 1959. 

At the beginning, when reading the offers for lodgings, in reply to her advert posted in a paper, this first one from a certain Hebridean crofter was the start of her new life: 

Dear Madam,    Its just now I saw your advert when I got the book for the knitting pattern I wanted from my cousin Catriona.  I am sorry I did not write sooner if you are fixed up if you are not in any way fixed up I have a good good stone house and tiles and my brother Ruari who will wash down with lime twice every year. Ruari is married and lives just by.  She is not damp.  I live by myself and you could have the room that is not a kitchen and a bedroom reasonable.  I was in the kitchen of the lairds house till lately when he was changed God rest his soul the poor old gentleman that he was.  You would be very welcomed.  I have a cow also for milk and eggs and the minister at the manse will be referee if you wish such.   Yours affectionately, MORAG McDUGAN
P.S. She is not thatched. 

 She loved it so much that she decided to stay and buy her own croft.  Her rest cure was abandoned as she found herself drawn in to working harder than she ever had in her life, and getting very healthy in the pure island atmosphere! And so this series continued on.

Here I will feature the lovely art on the dust jackets (for seven of the books) by Douglas Hall, which perfectly suits the stories. 

'The Sea For Breakfast'

'The Loud Halo'

'A Rope- In Case'

'Lightly Poached'

'Beautiful Just!'

'Bruach Blend'

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Man Behind The Glass: A Victorian Gothic Tale by Greg Howes

I was recently kindly sent a copy of this 2014 original and fascinating story, 'The Man Behind The Glass' by Greg Howes, the author.  It is a unique book, I've never read anything like it. It is richly immersed in the atmospheres, sights, sounds, and (sometimes very unpleasant) scents of Victorian London.  His writing is highly descriptive to all the senses, the scenes are vividly brought to life, almost as if you are experiencing them yourself, a sensation that can be lacking in many modern tales.  The use of lavish descriptions are one of the elements that I love about Victorian writers, and Greg Howes does have a strong Victorian influence which shines through.  The novel keeps you intrigued throughout; one continually wonders where things are heading and what will be the outcome.  It is hard to put down, though I did slowly take my time to finish it, slowly digesting what had just happened.

I will leave the rest of this to the synopsis on the back of the book, as I couldn't sum it up any better:

"The Man Behind The Glass is based around a character called Septimus Blackwood, a Victorian photographer with a difference.  The tale is set in London's East End in the year 1860.  A mysterious Gothic adventure of a man's quest to capture life and cheat death through photography.  Septimus races against time to discover his family's long lost legacy buried deep amongst the forgotten rivers and cellars of old London.  Unbeknown to him a mysterious old woman looks on..."

"The story, along with its highly satirical characters escort the reader on an emotional journey into a world of intrigue, suspense and the supernatural.  Atmosphere seeps out of every gulley of this twisting and ever turbulent road; darkness and light, creation and calamity.  Encounter magical discoveries that will pick the pocket of your dreams for now and evermore."