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Wednesday March 31, 2021

Books in March

  • The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman [Read by Lesley Manville]
    BOM-TheThursdayMurderClub.jpg Along with the rest of the world (it seems), I cannot praise this book enough. It was an absolute delight from the very opening sentences. It has to be said that this was probably very much enhanced by having Lesley Manville as the reader, but even so the characterisation is truly glorious. To know that this is Osman's first novel makes it all the more amazing. At the end of this audio version may-I-call-you-Richard is interviewed by Marian Keyes, and although it's a bit sycophantic, and very much a mutual admiration society, her excessive praise and not to mention envy is clearly sincere.
    In all, this is a lovely book, and although Richard, (along with his publicist and agent I am sure) has made his reputation as a very popular presenter work overtime in publicising this book, it really it highly creditable. I am really looking forward to (hopefully listening to) the next one - at the same time now slightly nervous as to whether he can live up to his own standards.
  • I could not help but compare the title of this book (even not knowing the story or setting) to Agatha Christie's Tuesday Night Club, which she used as a device to present some short stories featuring Miss Marple and others. Each week the group tell tales of mystery, always solved by the female amateur detective from the comfort of her armchair.

  • Winter by Ali Smith [Read by Melody Grove ]
    BOM-Winter.jpg Another wonderful book from Ali Smith, which somehow manages to be wonderful as it evolves from page to page as well as overall. It teeters on the surreal but is founded very much in politics of today, (refugee crisis), as well as the past (Greenham Common*) which in turn informs today.
    Of course, it was again poignantly sad but while I have read (much more) deeply sad books before, this one actually made me cry. I think the author has been really clever with this because it affected me in a very interesting way - you grow to love a character and it is implied the character is lost in a national disaster - which is then "poignantly sad". But suddenly it came to me that real people had died in that national disaster - which was surely to goodness much worse than the possible demise of a fictional character who is in any case a little ethereal. It wasn't that I had not known this before but it made me feel it in a different way - it went somehow beyond empathy.
    Don't get the wrong idea, though; this is not a grim book, and I have not described the story - which can be viewed in terms of literary references (the Guardian has a perfect review comparing it to Dickens' Christmas Carol - which may be why I liked it so much - who knows?). In all it's a lot about love, and joy - a tale of redemption - "luminously beautiful".
    [* I've never been very politically aware so the information about the women camped at Greenham Common - that I admired but also pretty well ignored at the time - was very interesting to me].

  • 12:30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Croft BOM-1230FromCroydon.jpg
    One of my bumper collection of Christmas retro mysteries. This author was a well-known member of the Detection Club and much respected by his fellow members. He is known for his great attention to technical details (background in engineering) shoring up water tight cases for his protagonist Inspector French.
    However, I really did not find this book to be much fun for me - and this was entirely due to the fact that it was not at all a whodunnit. Mystery/crime novels where the baddie is revealed early on - or written from their point of view - are not my favourite at the best of times. Here the story is about a very detailed crime, all meticulously planned out, and which, of course, begins to unravel. Once the unraveling is underway, you find that from an objective point of view the murderer appeared quite suspicious to observers all along.
  • A point of interest for me personally, is that in 1953, for what were the last few years of his life, the author moved to Worthing. Many people retired to the south coast in those days - the bungalows in my home village were chock full of ex-civil servants, ex-bank managers, and spinster sisters of a certain age, tending their immaculate gardens and hedges, and enjoying the relatively clement weather in their declining years. [This retirement destination was gradually replaced by Spain during the 1970s, leaving these coastal towns looking sad and a bit down at heel, with the little bungalows' handkerchief front gardens, formerly so cherished, now concreted over to allow parking for cars. ].

  • The Honjin Murders by Yokomizo Seishi BOM-1230FromCroydon.jpg
    Another rather original choice among my Christmas presents. It was a very good mystery, and well explained for a non-Japanese reader. I'm not sure if this is due to the translator or the author. It may have been necessary to explain the historical context to Japanese readers, but the book was published in 1946, so I was slightly surprised at that. However the author does excuse himself for making several references to famous Western crime "golden age" authors, and also to other locked room mysteries. In fact one of the characters has a huge collection of such mysteries.
    This translation was published in 2019 to much praise, but despite his obvious fame in Japan (with a literary prize named in his honour), I can find only one other book by this author published in English, with another due for publication this year. However they are all with different translators, so I can only hope they will prove to be as good as this one.

  • Troubled Waters by Gillian Galbraith [Read by Lesley Mackie ] BOM-TroubledWaters.jpg
    I was able to listen to the final Alice Rice mystery rather than reading it. I'm not sure the author meant this to be the "final" one, but Alice does buy a country cottage outside of Edinburgh, probably mirroring what the author herself chose to do, and expressing her own feelings about it. In an interview, the author admitted she was unlikely to return to Alice as she was now too out of touch with modern police procedures.
    The author's personal website is a bit neglected and could do with an update. Although this book was published in 2014, her latest book The End of The Line in 2019 is a really excellent novel, and apparently, since lockdown, where ebook lending has increased 146%*, the first Alice book, Blood in the Water, was the top most-loaned adult ebook.
    [* That was probably all me...]

  • The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie [Read by Stephanie Cole] BOM-TheBodyInTheLibrary.jpg
    I thought that since I know these stories so well - watching repeats of the various TV productions of them frequently enough to be embarrassing to admit to - that it would be a good book to listen to while drifting off to sleep. However, I probably last read the books when I was about 11 or 12 years old and was really surprised and delighted at how good the actual written work is. (I know I should not be - millions of fans over the years attest to that surely...). I was also surprised at how faithfully the TV adaptations followed the book - large sections, if not all, of the dialogue being lifted straight from the page. Of course, Christie is well-known for her excellence with dialogue (as opposed to prose, I believe) so this should be no surprise - but it was nonetheless. Many of the stories are quite a bit altered in the TV versions - most particularly in Agatha Christe's Marple. [...and particularly one feature of this story, though strangely that alteration does not fundamentally alter it very much; in fact I rather liked it - it made one much more sad for the murderer... but I digress...].
    Add to all this that Stephanie Cole is a lovely reader. She has a wonderfully gentle voice - totally suited not just to the Marple character but the tone of the whole book.

  • The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie [Read by Joan Hickson]
    BOM-TheMurderAtTheVicarage.jpg I was so delighted with The Body in the Library that I rushed ahead to listen to this one - the first Marple book - and was bitterly disappointed. Not read by Stephanie Cole but Joan Hickson - who could not, in my opinion, be bettered in playing the TV character in Miss Marple, but who is strangely not really a very good reader. I can see why she would have seemed an obvious choice but a narrator needs different skills from an actor. In fact they made two glaring errors in choosing Hickson for this. The first, which Stephanie Cole would not have solved, is that this book (a surprise to me) is written in the first person from the point of view of the vicar... who knew? (everyone except me I suspect) - so obviously it should be voiced by a male narrator - no?. Secondly, in choosing an actress whose very voice is that of Miss Marple, it meant that every time she said "I", you immediately linked it to being things Marple did, which seemed momentarily slightly incongruous, before you reminded yourself that this was in fact the vicar speaking.
    I have to say the library inaccurately labelled this book as being narrated by Richard E Grant - and I found there is in fact a version by him which is much preferable (I listened to a sample). In fact the - again unexpected for me - pleasure of this book is the dry wit expressed by the vicar with his acute (unspoken) observations of his parishioners and which is well suited to Grant. One thing I would also note here is, that it is, I understand, notoriously difficult to adapt first person narratives (especially diarists) to the screen; in the case of this story, the TV adaptations are excellent, very faithful to the spirit of the book, and feature the vicar in much the way the book did - however you do lose much of that wry humour that book-vicar expresses only in his own thoughts.

  • BlackwaterBBCR4.jpg Blackwater
    Radio series written for reading by several voices across ten 15 minute episodes, it tells the story of Zoe who reappears in her home town rather dramatically after 10 years on the same day as her supposed murderer is released from prison. Consternation all round. Even worse she is unable to explain where she has been all this time.
    It's a very professionally produced polished thriller with a very credible plot - full of tension and drama. Written by Claire McGowan, produced by Celia De Wolff, and stars Clare Dunne (Zoe), Richard Clements (Steve), Aston Kelly (Paul), Sean Kearns (Phil), and Roisin Gallagher (Danny).

Posted by Christina at 10:15 AM. Category: Books of the Month

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