Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey

Anyone who knows me would not accuse me of doting on a king. ‘Royalist’ is not the term that comes to mine when people think of me. It may therefore come as a surprise that I found this book by Josephine Tey so compelling a read. I think it must be the historian in me. I just like a good ‘review of the evidence’ and evaluation.

The Daughter of Time looks at the way history has remembered King Richard III, and investigates the justification for this. This task is performed by a policeman who is whiling away his time recovering in hospital.

The blurb says:
Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III that bears no resemblance to the Wicked Uncle of history. Could such a sensitive, noble face actually belong to one of the world’s most heinous villains – a venomous hunchback to may have killed his brother’s children to make his crown secure? Or could Richard have been the victim, turned into a monster by the usurpers of England’s throne? Grant determines to find out once and for all, with the help of the British Museum and an American scholar, what kind of man Richard Plantagenet  really was and who killed the Princes in the Tower.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Death and the Alma Mater - G. M. Malliet

Death and the Alma Mater

- by G. M. Malliet

This book was bought for me as a gift, to fuel my mystery book addiction. I liked the Cambridge references; it being a favourite place of mine. It was full of rowing, river and the usual 'Master', 'Dean' and 'Burser'

The story did feel a little familiar, with comparisons to the Morse series set in Oxford, and with P.D. James' Adam Dalgliesh as the central detective character, also a strong character and clever type, pining over his love life.

I always like stories which come accompanied with diagrams to allow you to imagine the scene, so this book did not disappoint in that respect. However, I was a little lost imagining a college that had it's boat house so close to the main college. I cannot really imagine where the fictional college of St Michael's could 'fit' into Cambridge.

I found that I guessed 'whodunnit' but was waiting for a twist. I didn't really find the twist in the story was shocking enough, which left me somewhat wanting.

There was a mix of characters in the book, with a femme fatale, aristocratic horsey type, resentful teenager, American dot com millionaire, quiet but successful banker, pious academic, proud master, and scatty Reverend.

The storyline kept pace and there were some nice descriptions of the characters. I have a feeling that as I have been reading a lot of Gladys Mitchell recently I have found more ordered books less complicated a read. Mitchell's works are often cluttered with side stories and items that are deliberately pointed out as if they have great importance but are then not referred to again.

All in all a fun read with some great local connections. :)

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Dangerous Liaisons

When I started reading this book I felt sympathetic towards the Marquise de Merteuil; she was acting in a way to readdress the power between genders. Society forced women to act with reserve and great virtue and 'make a good match in marriage' if they wanted to be accepted. Men, like Valmont and Prevan, could have love affairs and escape with a reputation that may be marked but they would still be accepted in society, however, the women they bed would be ruined, forced to hide themselves from the public snubs.

I read the Marquise de Merteuil's letters and thought that although she may be a touch harsh in her judgements, it was perhaps, understandable how her upbringing had caused that. As the book progressed, it becomes more apparent how cruel the Marquise can be. Not only does she have no sympathies for her fellow women, she also torments her past-lover and confident, the Vicomte de Valmont. In the end she pushes people too far and realises the consequences. I wonder if, when this happens, she remembers writing to Valmont:

If my revenge misses the mark, I agree to taking the consequences. Thus, I am quite prepared for you to try everything you can: I even invite you to do so, and promise not to be annoyed when you succeed, if you succeed. I am so easy on this score, that I shall press the point no further. Let us talk of other things.

Blogging Break

Oops! I have not been blogging for a while. Although I have been remiss in my blogging, I have still been keeping up my reading. I will work on typing up my back catalogue until I get up to speed. :)

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Rising of the Moon - Gladys Mitchell

I began to be assailed by doubts... we had no proof that [they]intended to kill us. I was still in a state of suspended panic, but the fairy-gold logic of childhood was reasserting itself, with ultimate hope of victory, in my mind.
The Rising of the Moon has become one of my favourite Mrs. Bradley novels. I had the added novelty of reading this over the Easter period, when the series of murders begins! The story is written as a first person narrative of Master Simon Innes. Mrs Bradley does not enter the story until part way through, which means that a lot of the detective work is carried out by Simon and Keith Innes (13 and 11 years old respectively), brothers who find themselves involved in a mysterious case of serial murders in their small village. The first murder takes place at the Circus, much to the dismay of the boys:

"Heared about the Ripper?" asked Fred. "There won't be any circus this afternoon."

Up to that time it was the most terrible news I had ever heard, for we were too young to have been told outright about the deaths of our parents. We had found that news out gradually, and by putting two and two together; but this was a bolt from the blue.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The Pastor of Vejlbye - Steen Steensen Blicher

Illustration by Povl Christensen (1909 - 1977)
I wanted to read this short-story as part of my mission to read more early mystery literature. The Pastor of Vejlbye was published in 1829 and subtitled 'A Crime Story'. It is often referred to as one of the first mystery novels. 

I enjoyed the story and found myself wanting to intervene to help certain characters. It was a good quick read and worth the trouble to find the book. I did not find it easy to get hold of an English translation of this short-story; I got it as part of a collection of short-stories in the end. If you don't want to struggle to get a physical copy of the book you can find a pdf version here.

The author, Steen Steensen Blicher, was one of Denmark's great Golden Age poets and short-story writers; he was much influenced by Scottish and English literature but never visited these countries.

The story is written in the form of a diary in two parts. The first part of the story is provided by Erik Sørensen, district sheriff, and the second part provided by the pastor of AAlsøe.

It is based upon (although does not follow exactly) a real event in 1626 when pastor Søren Qvist of Vejlbye (near Grenå) was sentenced to death, for the murder of his coachman in 1607, based on circumstantial evidence.

Searching for a body in the pastor's garden (Christensen)
Following the pastor's execution one of his sons investigates further into the events leading to his conviction. This leads to a new trial in 1634 when it is discovered that a number of the witnesses had committed perjury; both were then sentenced to death.

Blicher's short-story deviates from the authentic account of the case. He changes characters and adds a number of twists, including an interesting psychological aspect in respect to Søren Qvist's personality and beliefs. I won't give away the twists or the ending in order to preserve the suspense. :)

Monday, 25 March 2013

The Woman in White continued...

Harper's Weekly, 31 December 1859, Vol.III, No.157, p.841.
Illustrations by John McLenan
Weekly Part 6.
The woman in white took me so long to read that I thought it deserved two posts (it's a substantial book). 

I really enjoyed the story. I thought that the story progression in the first epoch was rather slow so it took me a while to get into the book. It sets out lots of unanswered questions. You see the questions mounting and foresee the numerous permutations of possible distasters without clue to which one will really happen, and you start to think that you might not get any answers. However, in the second epoch there is a lot more action and the final epoch does satisfy your questions (whether the outcome is to your liking is another matter).

My favourite bit is Miss Halcombe’s diary. Marian is my favourite character in the book. She’s a wonderfully strong female character, especially for the period. Here are a few of my favourite lines relating to Marian: