Murder on a Winter’s Night

Short stories have been my discovery this year, and this collection of ten crime stories didn’t disappoint. Although most of them were set before 1960 a couple were more modern and I enjoyed the difference in attitudes towards the police. And not all were about murder, there was a good helping of burglary and double crossing too. Here’s just a quick thought about my favourites:

The longest story by far was The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention by Dorothy L Sayers (1928). Lord Peter Wimsey is staying with some friends the Frobisher-Pym’s in the country, and while there gets himself involved in village life as is only polite. There are late night rides along eerie lanes, a spot called ‘Dead Man’s Post’ where George Winter was ‘foully murthered’, sightings of the death coach and a headless horseman and the reading of a strange and macabre will that upsets the family at the big house. This was a lot of fun!

The New Catacomb by Arthur Conan Doyle (1898) is set in Rome, where two young archeologists discuss a catacomb that one of them has just uncovered. This was brilliant, one of those stories where you know almost straight away what’s going to happen but Conan Doyle builds up the tension, teasing the reader until we start to doubt ourselves – and then delivers!

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A Film For December: When a Women Ascends the Stairs

What an interesting, and thoroughly good, film this was to end the year. Written by Ryuzo Kikushima and directed by Mikio Naruse in 1960, it tells the story of Keiko, a young widow who works as a hostess in a bar in the Ginza district of Tokyo. It’s a contemplative and delicate study of a women facing the financial challenges posed by her family whilst maintaining her dignity.

`Her melodic, sombre voice-over guides us through the streets as everyday she walks up the stairs to the club with a heavy heart and the need for something to change. She could open her own bar, she could marry or easiest of all become the mistress of one of her wealthy customers. Or she could work in an office.

Bars in the daytime are like women without make up

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The Far Cry

I haven’t been to India and think the closest I’ve come to experiencing the colours, noise and vibrancy is through reading Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. The Far Cry reminded me of that novel in that it shows India as it is, (or at least how I think it is) there are no rose tinted glasses here, but it’s by an author who truly loves the country.

In her preface to the Persephone edition, Emma Smith (1923-2018) recalls arriving for the first time in India. It was September 1946 and she was 23 years old when she sailed out of Southampton. She was attached to a documentary film unit commissioned by the tea board to make educational films in Assam. Her title was assistant-director, which meant general dogsbody and the script writer was none other than Laurie Lee, then better known as a poet!

I went down the gangplank at Bombay, and India burst upon me with the force of an explosion.”

It’s this sense of innocence mixed with excitement that I think she captures so well in The Far Cry with her 14 year old protagonist Teresa Digby.

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