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.

Continue reading “Murder is Easy”

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.

Continue reading “Between The Woods And The Water”

Two Classic Crime Minis

Not the civilised world of dusty academics or even the cosy world of packages and parcels tied up with string, this is the underbelly of the book trade, where bookshop runners grasp for a particular edition leading to seedy underhand wheeling and dealing that isn’t afraid of theft or even murder.

Bookman Micheal Fisk is celebrating the acquisition of Keats’ own, signed copy of Endymion, staggering home he’s helped by Police Sergeant Jack Wigan, walking his beat (it’s 1956). The two strike up a conversation which leads to friendship and Wigan starting his own book collection. When Fisk is found murdered, the C.I.D call in Sergeant Wigan as someone who knows their way around the book world.

I really enjoyed this one. Lots of characters that were a bit rough around the edges, and some that were just plain rough but all knew a rare edition when they saw it and often remembered exactly where and when. But will they tell? It’s a world of sinister jealousy with its own unwritten collector’s code that the likeable and straightforward Wigan walks in too but he’ll have to race against the clock to catch the murderer.

Death Of A Bookseller (1956), by Bernard J. Farmer is an exciting and thrilling bibliomystery; but Farmer was also a knowledgable bibliophile and former policeman and that lends it an air of authority; not just in the quantity of book lore and bookish detail that’s included but also in the unflappable compassion and sense of justice that Wigan portrays. Definitely an author to look out for.

Continue reading “Two Classic Crime Minis”

Frost in May

This is the story of 4 years in the life of Fernanda ‘Nanda’ Grey. It opens in 1908 when Nanda is 9 years old and being taken by her father to her new school. Lippington is a convent school of the order of The Five Wounds and home to girls of old European, wealthy Catholic families. Nanda is singled out from the beginning for being middle class and the daughter of a ‘convert’. The school is on the outskirts of London but could be anywhere, ‘catholicism isn’t a religion, it’s a nationality’ says one of the older girls and a Lippington girl is a Child of the Five Wounds for the rest of her life.

The cold, clear atmosphere is described through Nanda’s eyes. The school commands absolute authority, every child is under constant observation, not allowed to walk about in two’s or form close friendships.

‘Some of that severity which to the world seems harshness is bound up in the school rule which you are privileged to follow . . . We work today to turn out, not accomplished young women, nor agreeable wives, but soldiers of Christ, accustomed to hardship and ridicule and ingratitude.’

Continue reading “Frost in May”


I’ve saved my favourite ’til last, I’ve had some great reads on my 10 books of Summer list but this is my dearest because it’s about freedom, love and gardens.

Jennifer Dodge has been looking after her widowed father, an eminent author for 12 years, working as his secretary as well as general housekeeper He dislikes her because she doesn’t look like one of his ‘consumptively thin’ heroines and he hates being shut up with a spinster daughter – despite the fact that he is the reason. Selfish to his core he has never thought of anyone else’s thoughts, needs or desires and Jen spends her days cautious and on guard. Until he announces he’s going to be married and Jennifer realises what this means for her – freedom.

As soon as she can, with the help of her small legacy from her mother, she sets out on an August day to look at two cottages for rent that she’s found in The Churchgoer. Setting out from London and Gower Street to the hot dry countryside of Sussex, she feels alive. After years spent in a house where fresh air was kept out and all her movements were watched, her body and spirit relax and dissolve into happiness. She’s open to adventure and determined to prove that she can live well and comfortably on her £100 a year.

Continue reading “Father”

Much Dithering

First published in 1938, this is just lovely. The Ditherings, Much and Little are villages known for their peacefulness. Kept firmly in the past by the Honourable Mrs. Augusta Renshawe, there isn’t even a petrol pump and that’s the way the villagers like it. Our heroine is Jocelyn, a mild mannered 25 year old who has lived with her aunt in Much Dithering all her life. Tutored as a child with Augusta’s son Lancelot, the two fall into marriage at their families request and just get on with their lives hardly noticing any difference to their routines. Lancelot keeps up with his stamp collection and rare tulips and Jocelyn can be counted on to deliver the parish magazine and play the piano at social gatherings. Even when Lancelot dies, Jocelyn’s life doesn’t change. Her small circle includes the vicar’s wife, her aunt and her mother in law, and the grumpy old Colonel Tidmarsh who they’ve decided she should marry.

But then a new family arrive, parvenus they can be up to no good, and Jocelyn’s mother, Ermyntrude Lascelles, who ‘despised her daughter for her lack of initiative and fondness for good works’, but needs a bed now that her husband has died and low and behold the rich young man she’s got her eye on has given his address as . . . Dithering Place!

Continue reading “Much Dithering”

The Murder At The Vicarage

First published in 1930, this is the first Miss Marple mystery and is narrated by Leonard Clement the rather meek clergyman of St. Mary Meade who lives with his much younger racier wife, Griselda and 16 year old nephew Dennis.

Through him we get to know the local characters. Colonel Protheroe, the pompous curmudgeon who lives at Old Hall with his second wife Anne, ‘a remarkably handsome women in a rather unusual style’ and his daughter Lettice, a wraith-like creature in a yellow beret; Dr. Haydock and the gossipy cats, as Griselda calls them. When the cats meet for tea and scandal, Leonard seats himself between Miss Marple and Miss Wetherby and introduces us to Miss Marple:

‘Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle appealing manner – Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is much the more dangerous.’

Into this quiet village comes an archeologist, Dr. Stone and his secretary, Miss Cram. The enigmatic Mrs Lestrange and Lawrence Redding, a young artist who paints Lettice in her bathing dress and causes a sensation. And then Leonard comes home one day to find Colonel Protheroe dead in his study. Enter Inspector Slack and Colonel Melchett and everything’s in place for a classic whodunnit.

Continue reading “The Murder At The Vicarage”

Princes In The Land

If Summerwater shows that families have no idea what each other is thinking in 2021 then Princes in the Land shows that they didn’t in 1938 either! Patricia and Hugh Lindsey and their three children, August, Giles and Nicola are the family, living in Oxford where Hugh is now a Professor of Poetry.

When the book opens, Patricia is going with her sister Angela and their unbearably snobbish mother, Blanche, to live with Lord Waveney, their paternal grandfather, on his estate. It’s a life of privilege and Pat grows into a tall, thoroughbred countrywomen. She’s the favourite of her grandfather but disliked by her mother for her unruly behaviour, muddy knees and aversion too balls and dresses. Her marriage to Hugh, the son of a builder, and according to Blanche ‘not really a gentleman’ takes her to Glasgow and a new way of life with three children. Stoically she cancels her subscription to Horse and Hound and substitutes it for Women and Home,

But when the children are older, there comes the move to Oxford and for Pat a return to country living, horses and dogs. Life is just as she wants it and her children grow up to love the pony club (Nicola), girls who wear pearls (August) and writing poetry (Giles). But as August wryly observes ‘It’s one’s parents’ attitude that forces one to tell lies . . .

Continue reading “Princes In The Land”

The Cornish Coast Murder

Another fun mystery from John Bude and I see from the introduction that The Cornish Coast Murder is the debut novel from Ernest Carpenter Elmore writing under his crime novelist pseudonym.

It begins with a really good idea for a book club. The vicar, the Reverend Dodd meets his friend, Dr. Pendrill in his comfortable home near Boscawen, a village ‘clustered about a sandy, rock-strewn cove’. After sherry and an excellent dinner the two bachelors settle in front of the fire with their coffee and open a crate containing six crime novels that has arrived from the library

They each take three novels to read and then swap with each other a few days later before repackaging and returning to the library. They’ve carried on with this ritual for years, each vicariously living the life of a crime buster until an actual murder actually happens in their own quiet village one stormy night and they get to put their ideas into practice.

Continue reading “The Cornish Coast Murder”

A Time Of Gifts

In 1933, 18 year old Patrick Leigh Fermor decides to leave London and England and set out on foot across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, living as a tramp or pilgrim.

Written in 1977, A Time of Gifts tells the first part of his journey from the Hook of Holland to the middle Danube. Starting with his original diaries and notebooks he expounds on the history of Europe, through its artists and music, architecture, languages and dialects and the movement of its tribes and sects.

Able and willing to talk to anybody and sleep wherever he could, it’s his encounters with other people that I enjoyed the most. There are lots of barn floors covered in hay and a blanket for the night, sent on his way with a cheery wave and a thick slice of black bread and butter and drunken evenings in bars and on boats with the locals. Or my favourite, Konrad, who he meets in the Salvation Army hostel in Vienna, when he notices him reading Titus Andronicus and for a while they become as tight as (almost) thieves! But he also has a letter of introduction to a Baron in Munich who then goes on to write letters to his friends across Europe, so that every so often Paddy has a bath and a dressed up night on the town. And we get the wonderful contrast caught in lines like:

Continue reading “A Time Of Gifts”