10% Report: Reading The 20th Century

I’m ten years into my century, and so I think it’s time to take stock.

The first ten years were always going to be the easiest, with the risk of picking up a book and finding it dated from a year already covered at it’s lowest.

But that isn’t to say there haven’t been clashes: I ordered Scenes of Childhood by Sylvia Townsend Warner and Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon from the library only to find that they were both published in 1981.

And there have been a few other occasions when I’ve found a book, gone to add it to my spreadsheet, and found that there was another book already in the space I had intended it to fill.

My first ten books are tilted towards the end of the century. I knew I’d have most difficulty with the later years, and so whenever I’ve seen an oldish book on the library shelves or around the house I’ve picked it up.

The eighties and nineties are shaping up well, but the decade I’m really struggling with is the seventies. Suggestions would be most welcome!

But I’m rambling, so here are the books:

1910 – The City of Beautiful Nonsense by E Temple Thurston

“The City of Beautiful Nonsense is a wonderful love story. It is terribly sentimental, and rather old fashioned but, if you can accept those things with an open heart, it can take you on a wonderful emotional journey.”

 1929 – The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

“An audacious murder, in the middle of a queue of people, all pressing forward, eager to see the final performance of popular musical. The investigation fell to Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard. A detective without the gimmicks, or idiosyncracies of many of his contemporaries, but with a great deal of intelligence and charm, I soon suspected that his creator was a little in love with him … quite understandably …”

1936 – Monogram by Gladys Bronwyn Stern

“I found that what I had was not a coventional autobiography. That, given a free hand by her publishers, the author had decided to do something a little different. She explains, with both erudition and charm, that, while a conventional biography that plots a straight line through a line can be a wonderful thing, it is sometimes more interesting to do something else. To set down three stakes, to run a rope around then to make a triangle, and then to see what is to be found inside that triangle. And that’s just what she does.”

1960 – The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks

“I was engrossed by Jane’s story. She was real, and I understood her, I cared about what might happen to her, and so it was wonderful to watch her coping with everything that life through at her, with new and old relationships, with her advancing pregnancy.”

 1969 – The Play Room by Olivia Manning

“It looked very promising: a coming of age story set in an English seaside town in the swinging sixties. Laura was fifteen, and she dreamed of leaving home for the bright lights of London. She wanted to leave her dull, lower middle class family behind. Her strict mother, her unassuming father, her irksome younger brother.”

1981 – Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon

“‘Still Missing’ was a difficult book to read. It had to be. It was right that I felt terribly unsettled, and it was right that I was forced to consider my own feelings about what was happening. I could do that because the characters, their stories, their relationships, were all perfectly drawn. There were moments when things happened that didn’t feel right. But they were right; answers can’t always be neat and tidy, and politically correct.”

 1983 – The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

“I have read The Woman in Black before, but it was so long ago that I have forgotten the details, save that it was very good and extremely unsettling. And so a re-read, before seeing the film, seemed to be in order. It  is a ghost story built on classic lines: with an isolated house, a bleak landscape, wild weather, ghostly figures, inexplicable events.”

1984 – Mother Love by Domini Taylor

“But maybe Helena wasn’t as fragile as she seemed. Maybe she was disturbed. Maybe she would do anything to serve her own interests … A single, horrible revelation demonstrated that Helena was very dangerous and very clever. I saw that, but nobody else did.”

1994 – Pippa Passes by Rumer Godden

“Pippa Fane was seventeen years old, and the youngest and newest member of the Company of the Midlands Cities Ballet. And she was travelling abroad on tour for the first time. The first engagement of the tour was in Venice. Pippa was captivated. By the city, by the people, by the food … everything! “

1999 – Buried in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho

“Janie Bolitho captured my hometown, as it was back in 1999, absolutely perfectly. And she  created an engaging heroine, who I could quite happily believe is still living just a little further around the bay. Rose is a youngish widow who is gradually picking up the strands of a new life. She has good friends, she earns a living as a photographer, and she has taken up painting – always her first love but not the easiest way to earn a living – again.”

And now I must ponder the lovely book from 1963 that I am going to write about next, and carry on with the intriguing novel from 1946 that I have nearly finished , and …

Buried in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho

It’s very strange, reading a crime novel that’s set almost literally on my doorstep.

“Walking back along the promenade after a trip to the library, Rose stopped to watch the sea, standing a safe distance away from where it was sweeping up over the railings. It was a high tide, the water choppy but topped with a clear azure sky. Further down children screamed as they tried to dodge the spray but failed. A pair of herring gulls perched on the railing, their heads into the wind. They flew off, drifting into an air current until the dog that had run towards them scampered past, then they returned to the same piece of rail. “

That’s my library and my promenade, where a certain dog always runs to see off the gulls. Janie Bolitho captured my hometown, as it was back in 1999, absolutely perfectly.

And she  created an engaging heroine, who I could quite happily believe is still living just a little further around the bay.

Rose is a youngish widow who is gradually picking up the strands of a new life. She has good friends, she earns a living as a photographer, and she has taken up painting – always her first love but not the easiest way to earn a living – again.

A new artist friend encouraged Rose to go back to painting with oils, and Rose decided that a crumbling mine shaft would be a good subject.

That’s why she was out alone in the country when she heard a scream.

Rose called the police, but they found nothing. DCI Jack Pearce accused her of wasting police time, but Rose was certain of what she heard.

The situation was uncomfortable. Rose and Jack were friends who might have become something more but she pulled back. And he didn’t.

Then there was a murder. A young artists’ model was found dead. Suspicion soon fell on the  ex-lover she wanted back. And on Rose, who had a friendship with him that could easily turn into something more.

A second body was found. In the mine shaft.

As the police investigated, and Rose tried to work out what had happened, it became clear that the community of artists had many secrets and jealousies.

This a simple and uncomplicated mystery, built on traditional lines and brought to life by interesting and eminently believable cast of characters.

It was lovely to drop back into Rose’s life for a while, and to see my hometown through her eyes.

Jane Bolitho once again caught Cornwall and the Cornish perfectly, and I can feel the love with which she wrote.

I have to say that this isn’t her strongest story.

I have no problem with the main plot strand. I worked out quite early on who the murderer must be, but the mystery was solid, I was happy to watch events unfold, and there was a nice little twist at the end.

But I did have a problem with the explanation of what happened at the mine shaft.  There was rather too much contrivance.

Without that I could have read an account of what happened in the local paper and believed it. Utterly.

I’m not rushing back to the library to pick up the next book in the series, but I will be reading it. Not so much for the mystery, but because I want to follow Rose’s life, and because I love seeing my world through her eyes.

“The drizzle was gentle on her face and misted her hair as she walked up Market Jew Street. At the top she turned into Chapel Street and was cheered by a lively conversation with Tim and Katherine who ran the bookshop where she called to collect the two hardback novels she had ordered as a Christmas present to herself .”

We still have that drizzle. And we still have that lovely bookshop …

Crime Fiction: The A to Z

When I set out on Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet I promised myself two things.

The first was that I would read nothing just for the sake of filling a slot, that I would only read books that I would have picked up sooner or later anyway.

I’ve managed that, though I did have to bend the rules a little for the difficult letter X and I had to throw in an emergency short story when the book I’d picked for letter Y let me down.

The second was that I would mix things up, and choose some familiar and some less familiar books.

And so my list is made up of:

  • Persephone books for H and X, and a classic short story by a Persephone author for G.
  •  A Virago Modern Classic, and a winner of the CWA Gold Dagger to boot,  for K.
  •  A wonderful anthology of new writers at W.
  •  Victorian crime for S and Victoriana for U. I would have liked to read more of both, but I ran out of time and letters.
  •  Crime fiction in translation at L and V.
  •  A Cornish book, set in very familiar countryside, at B.
  •  Agatha Christie re-reads at A and F. A for Agatha seemed to be the perfect place to start, and once I had re-read one book a number of others called me.
  •  Neglected woman authors, who were published in numbered green Penguins, at E, M, P and R. If I have learned one thing through the alphabet, it is always to look carefully at green Penguins as there are some real gems there.
  •  Male authors from the middle of the last century, who aren’t as lauded as some but really should be, at I, N and Q.
  •  A lovely range of contemporary crime fiction at C, D, J, O, T and Z.
  •  And that excellent, emergency short story at Y.

Mission accomplished, I think!

Here’s the A to Z in full.

A is for Agatha The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie
B is for Bolitho Framed in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho
C is for Crombie Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie
D is for Darkside Darkside by Belinda Bauer
E is for Ethel The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White
F is for Five Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
G is for Glaspell A Jury of her Peers by Susan Glaspell (short story)
H is for Holding The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
I is for Innes Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes
J is for Jane The Burning by Jane Casey
K is for Kelly The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly
L is for Läckberg
The Stone-Cutter by Camilla Läckberg
M is for Mary Death and the Pleasant Voices by Mary Fitt
N is for Not Not to be Taken by Anthony Berkley
O is for Other The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah
P is for Potts The Man with the Cane by Jean Potts
Q is for Question A Question of Proof by Nicholas Blake
R is for Roth Shadow of a Lady by Holly Roth
S is for Study A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan-Doyle
T is for Tyler The Herring in the Library (and others) by L C Tyler
U is for Unburied The Unburied by Charles Palliser
V is for Van der Vlugt Shadow Sister by Simone Van Der Vlugt
W is for Written Written in Blood: a Honno Anthology
X is for Expendable The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes
Y is for You You are a Gongedip by Sophie Hannah (short story)
Z is for Zouradi The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

And that really is the end of the alphabet.

So where does my crime fiction reading go now? Well, I have The Quarry by Johan Theorin, A Herring on the Nile by LC Tyler, Now You See Me by S J Bolton, and two books by Erin Kelly in my library pile. My own green Penguins and my Agatha Christie collection are calling too, Plus those authors I discovered, and rediscovered, along the way and want to read again. And recommendations I picked up from others along the way ….

No end of possibilities …

Crime Fiction Alphabet: B is for Bolitho

B just had to be for Bolitho – it’s such a local name. I live near lands owned by the Bolitho estate, and I was born in the Bolitho Maternity Hospital.

And so for letter B in my Crime Fiction Alphabet I am writing about a local author – Janie Bolitho. She was born a few miles up the coast at Falmouth but she lived for many years, like me, on the Penzance seafront.

Last year I read Snapped in Cornwall, the first of seven mysteries featuring Rose Trevelyan, and I liked it more than enough to seek out the second mystery – Framed in Cornwall.

Rose still lives just a mile away from me, in the fishing port of Newlyn. She’s a photographer, a would-be artist, and a young widow. I could I think Briar and I might bump into rose when we walk along the seafront towards Newlyn. Yes, she’s believable,  and engaging too, so I always wanted to know what would happen to her, what she would find out, and I kept turning the pages.

Rose and Dorothy Pengelly were good friends, and Rose was horrified when she discovered her friend dead in her armchair. A sudden heart attack she thinks, or maybe a stroke. But the police say it was suicide. Rose will not, cannot believe it.

But what else could it be? Who would want to kill a harmless elderly widow?

Dorothy’s home was remote and so she didn’t see too many people.

Her younger son Martin, a simple soul, lived in an old abandoned caravan not far from his mother and visited her often. But her elder son Peter, who had a wife and children, lived not much further away and she hardly ever saw him.

Dorothy usually only ventured out as far as the village shop. The shopkeeper was friendly, but he had been distracted as the woman he lived with, who was the cornerstone of his life was seriously, terminally ill. But if she ever needed to go further she had a good friend and neighbour, Jobber Hicks, who would give her a lift.

A very well drawn, very well balanced cast.

But could one of them have killed Dorothy?

Or could Dorothy’s death have been connected with the man who came to visit her just days before she died?

Rose is determined to find out what really happened and, of course, in time, she uncovers the truth.

Framed in Cornwall is a good, solid traditional mystery. There’s just enough going on to keep it interesting, and the characters, their relationships, their behaviour all rang true. Cornwall and the Cornish captured beautifully.

A few small niggles – some quite unnecessary withholding of information that Rose knew from the reader, and an even more unnecessary woman in peril drama at the end – were more that offset by the things that Janie Bolitho got spot on.

Her plot was very well constructed, but what made it sing was that there was more here than just a mystery. There some intriguing developments in Rose’s life and, maybe best of all, there were well told, and quietly moving, emotional stories.

And all of those strands were balanced quite beautifully.

I’ll definitely pick up the third book in the series, to find out what happens in Rose’s life and to see just how she finds her way into another mystery.


The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

“Each week, beginning Monday 10 January 2011, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”

So next week, C is for … ?

Reading Cornwall: Past, Present and Future

Twelve months ago I set off on operation “Read Cornwall”, because there were so many wonderful books from and about my own particular corner of the world that I wanted to read and celebrate.

I set myself a target of twelve books a year, and I am pleased to say that I have done it and that I loved it.

I knew that I would, but I had to set the target so that I wouldn’t be distracted by other things.

Here are the books I read:

Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins in a restored Victorian edition was heaven, and a book that I could quite happily read over and over again.

Snapped in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho was a mystery built on classic lines, and it captured West Cornwall perfectly. A very solid start to a series.

Bell Farm by M R Barneby was a family tale, simple but very effective, and it painted wonderful pictures of the countryside and a seaside farming community.

Archelaus Hosken’ Dilemma by F J Warren was a little comic gem, cleverly constructed and a masterful piece of storytelling.

Love in the Sun and Paradise Creek by Leo Walmsley were my books of the year, telling stories and catching the magic of real lives absolutely perfectly.

Roots and Stars by C C Vyvyan was a memoir of fascinating twentieth century life. Lady Vyvyan was a writer, traveller and nature lover, and I was charmed. i’ll definitely be reading more of her work.

Sarah Strick by Randle Hurley was lovely collection of comical tales set in my hometown in the 1940s. I was charmed and I could quite believe that my grandparents had known these people.

Manna From Hades and A Colourful Mystery by Carola Dunn were cosy mysteries set in a rather idealised 1960s. That threw me for a while, I liked the cast and the stories (well the first story, the second was weak) and so I kept reading.

An Unsentimental Journey Through Cornwall by Mrs Craik was another wonderful Victorian travelogue. I loved the author and I loved seeing Cornwall through her observant and perceptive eyes.

The Burying Beetle by Ann Kelley was a gem. The day-to-day life of a twelve-year-old girl who is both seriously ill and wonderfully alive, perfectly observed and beautifully written.

I’m delighted with my dozen for 2010 and there will definitely be another dozen in 2011.

I’m going to tidy up my Cornish Reading page too, and, if anyone else is interesting in joining me, I might just set up a Cornish Reading blog. Let me know …

But back to the books. I already have three lined up:

Framed in Cornwall by Jane Bolitho is lined up for letter B in my crime fiction alphabet.

From East End to Lands End by Susan Soyinka is an account of the wartime evacuation of the pupils of the jews’ Free School in London to a Cornish fishing village. There is a wealth of detail and it is so engaging: a book for both head and heart.

The Bower Bird by Ann Kelley has already found its way home, because I so want to meet Gussie again.

And there are many, many more …