Murder is Easy

For the ReadChristie2023 challenge, March was a month with a motive – Anger. I chose to read Murder is Easy because it’s completely new to me and I will say it was a good choice. A bit creepy, a bit of romance, suspense and humour in the quiet village of Wychwood-under-Ashe.

Luke Fitzwilliam is back in England from the Mayang Straits where he’s been working as a policeman. Sharing his first class railway carriage to London is an elderly lady. Lavinia Pinkerton chatters away telling him how unsettled she is by recent deaths in her village, she believes there’s a murderer about and is on her way to Scotland Yard because she suspects nice Dr Humbleby will be next. Luke humours her because she reminds him of his aunt but is inclined to dismiss her as dotty until a couple of days later he notices in the newspaper that not only is Dr. Humbleby dead but Miss Pinkerton was killed in a hit and run outside Scotland Yard.

Luckily Luke has a friend who’s cousin lives in Wychwood-under-Ashe and it’s arranged that Luke can go and stay with her, undercover as a cousin, writing a book on ancient folklore as he investigates.

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A Film For March: What’s Up Doc

What a perfect film for Spring, just bursting with joy and viv! Absent minded professor, Dr Howard Bannister (Ryan O’Neal) has travelled to San Francisco with his uptight fiancee Eunice (Madeline Kahn), for a musicologists conference where he hopes to get a research grant for his work on igneous rocks. Rocks he keeps in his plaid case, as the opening credits tell us:

‘Once upon a time, there was a plaid overnight case. . . ‘

or possibly 4 identical ones, all belonging to guests staying at the Hotel Bristol. Howard’s is full of igneous rocks, Mrs van Hoskins, a wealthy socialite, uses hers for jewels, ‘Mr. Smith’ has some secret government papers in his and the fourth belongs to Judy (Barbra Streisand), a university drop out who’s case is full of clothes and a dictionary. But Mr. Smith is being followed by Mr. Jones (trying to retrieve the documents); a bunch of thieves are after Mrs Van Hoskins’ jewels; and Judy, who is instantly smitten with Howard, follows him everywhere as she tries to insert herself into his life.

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Between The Woods And The Water

Its Easter 1934 and 19 year old Patrick Leigh Fermor is standing on a bridge looking over the Danube at the old town of Esztergom. Picking up at exactly the point where we left him in A Time Of Gifts, the first volume of his travels, this second volume follows him across the Great Hungarian Plain, Transylvania and Rumania on his way by foot to Constantinople.

Observation and conversation are his charm as he meticulously transcribes words phonetically into his notebook; finding connections between people, their culture and their language. The tribes of Europe, Dacians and Goths, Gepids and Lombards, the Huns and the Mongols, Magyars and Kabars; bears and wildcats, foxes and golden orioles, shepherds and woodsmen, innkeepers and rabbi’s; everyone and everything is fascinating to him. Friends he’s made along the way give him introductions to their friends so that he passes from travelling rough to Count to Baron and back again; sleeping in barns with animals or manor houses with libraries, he’s always open for conversation and game for anything.

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Paradise Lost

I’m finishing up my last few reviews from my first classics club list and this was my project read in 2019! I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to writing about it since my friend Liz and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it together. Like all good books it led to some brilliant discussions and to our reading Frankenstein, which I think is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Born in 1608 to a prosperous family John Milton was educated in Paris and Cambridge and was fluent in Latin, Greek and Hebrew as well as French and Italian. He visited Galileo in Florence in 1638 and saw the moon through his telescope and was a staunch supporter of Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians during the English civil war. But his life was marred by sorrow. In 1652 he became completely blind and his wife and daughter died followed by his son. He married again but another daughter died followed in 1658 by his second wife Katherine and Oliver Cromwell, which led to the disintegration of the republic. In 1660, when the crown was restored to Charles II Milton was imprisoned for treason.

In Paradise Lost Milton draws on all this experience. When he began writing in 1658 he was in deep mourning so that when he begins by saying that he’s going to ‘justify the ways of God to men.’ I think he must be trying to justify the ways of God to himself. Having to dictate the poem to his daughters and friends, he invokes the classic Greek tradition of conjuring the spirit of blind prophets Tiresias and Phineus and calls on Urania, muse of astronomy to inspire him. His epic poem is fabulously visual in its descriptions and language but also in its imagination, of Paradise and Pandaemonium and also at the wonders of space; ‘every star perhaps a world of destined habitation.’

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Such Friends: The Literary 1920’s, Vol 1 – 1920

In the first in the series Kathleen Dixon Donnelly takes a look back at the year 1920 and documents what was happening amongst the artists and writers of the time. Following 4 main groups:

William Butler Yeats and the Irish Literary Renaissance
Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group
Gertrude Stein and the Americans in Paris
Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table

but including other key writers, artists and patrons who were equally important in creating the atmosphere around them, this is a knowledgeable, fun and gossipy read!

Using snippets from diaries and letters, newspapers, magazines and telegrams we get the first reactions to This Side of Paradise, Yeats on his American lecture tours, opening nights at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Sylvia Beach meeting Joyce at a dinner party and this brilliant line from Dorothy Parker when house hunting

‘All I need is room enough to lay a hat and a few friends.’

And there are lots of photo’s, of people, advertisements, tickets and telegrams – just like a diary. I’ve only so far dipped into this volume but the next two are available and are definitely worth a read for anyone interested in the early 20th century. The name Such Friends comes from Yeats, The Municipal Gallery Revisited and is also the name of Kathleen’s blog.

‘Think where man’s glory most begins and ends,
and say my glory was I had such friends.’

Partners In Crime

The ReadChristie2023 prompt for February is a murder method – use of a blunt instrument, and Partners in Crime is the title they’ve chosen.

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford have been happily married for six years and Tuppence in particular is bored. But just as she’s yearning for excitement, Mr Carter (who works in government intelligence) arrives and asks them if they would be willing to take over the now defunct ‘Blunt’s International Detective Agency’ in London. They must pose as the owners and intercept any blue Russian letters that arrive as they search for a secret agent known as 16. But while they’re waiting for messages they can run the place as they wish, so ‘Blunt’s Brilliant Detectives! Any case solved in twenty-four hours!’  is born.

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Eugene Onegin

I think this is possibly the best reason for doing the Classics Club Challenge. I wanted to read some Russian lit and had included the obvious on my list when my husband David, suggested I add Eugene Onegin, saying it was where all Russian literature began. I wasn’t hopeful and asked my reading budding Liz to read it with me. Then I saw that A Russian Affair had created The Eugene Onegin Challenge in 2020 which began with an introduction to the book and brief character outlines. Things were looking up, Liz and I read the introductory post and then started reading, out loud taking a couple of stanzas each.

We were hooked and didn’t look at the posts again because we were scared of spoilers. We laughed a lot, there were cries of ‘nooooo’, we held our heads in our hands, we sighed in relief and gasped in surprise. Every week we closed our books and had to promise each other that we wouldn’t read ahead, we were gripped by suspense.

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A Film For February: Nights of Cabiria

Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) is the eternally optimistic prostitute walking along the Passeggiata Archeologica in Rome. As she witnesses humanity in all its guises, her indomitable spirit with its strange contradiction of innocence and street wisdom refuses to give up the hope of finding true love.

There’s the humility of the bag snatcher and the excitement of the movie star but it’s Cabiria’s self reliance that is her strength, her stubborn optimism never lets her down and Giulietta Masina’s physicality fabulously portrays this as she collapses when she’s beaten down only to get up and mambo with infectious joy. It’s this spirit that is so uplifting and offsets the tragedy with comedy and fun.

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Breakfast At Tiffany’s

Our narrator is sitting in Joe Bell’s bar reminiscing about the brownstone he lived in years back and Holly Golightly, the girl who lived in the apartment downstairs. Neither of them have seen her for years, in fact they haven’t seen each other for years but there’s a rumour she’s been seen in Africa so it’s time to meet up.

She had a cat and played guitar, she was flirtatious and kooky and when she danced she floated around ‘light as a scarf’. She ran messages for the mob every Thursday and held raucous parties filled with martini laughter and attended by New York’s glitterati, she suffered from ‘the mean reds’, not the blues worse than that, more like panic attacks and was always on the look out for somewhere safe to live, so that she could buy some furniture and give the cat a name. A place that made her feel safe like the inside of Tiffany’s with its quietness and kind men in their nice suits.

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‘Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.’

Oh Emma, I think at the moment you’re my favourite Austen heroine! If the opening line gives us an enviable young women then Jane Austen quickly shows another side of her life. Her mother died before she had a chance to know her, her sister has married and lives with her family in London and on the day the novel opens Miss Taylor, her governess for sixteen years, has left to be married. Emma has lost her companion and confident and sits in ‘mournful thought‘ as she contemplates life alone with her father.

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