Checkmate to Murder

It was a late start this morning because I couldn’t get up until I had finished this brilliant murder mystery!

On one of those wet, pitch-black, pea-soup foggy nights in London the artist Bruce Manaton is in his studio painting the actor André Delaunier in brilliant scarlet Cardinal’s robes while their friends Robert Cavenish and Ian Mackellon play chess and Bruce’s sister Rosanne Manaton makes supper in the kitchen. Into this bohemian den bursts the local Special Constable Lewis Varraby – Albert Folliner, the old miser at number 25 has been found dead, shot in the head, in his bed, a pistol lying next to him and his nephew Neil, (of the Canadian Army), standing over him.

Detective Chief Inspector Macdonald, is called in to arrest the young soldier but with Inspectors Jenkins and Reeves he can see that all is not how it seems

that’s all nice and plain, but I reckon this is a frame-up. It wasn’t just chance I walked in on the old man’s corpse and got copped before I’d time to think. I’m the cat that burns its paws on someone else’s chestnuts, and I don’t like it. You see, I didn’t do it.’

Continue reading “Checkmate to Murder”

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.

Continue reading “The Far Cry”

Frenchman’s Creek

In the court of Charles II, Lady Dona St Columb bored and fed up with her superficial world, is involved in every scandal. Beautiful, careless, insolent and deliberately indifferent she aims to shock. But secretly she’s disgusted with herself and so sets out with her children and their nurse for Navron, the isolated Cornish Estate that belongs to her husband.

Free from her drunken sop of a husband and his grisly friends, she runs barefoot through the grass with flowers in her disheveled ringlets and basks in the peace.

But not for long. She sees a sail on the horizon and hears from Lord Godolphin, a local landowner that there are pirates about, led by an elusive Frenchman.

Continue reading “Frenchman’s Creek”

Death Makes A Prophet

Welworth Garden City is a rarefied little town with a plethora of litter baskets and flowering shrubs, and absolutely no bill-boards or pubs. Among its elite it boasts a high percentage of vegetarians, non-smokers and non-drinkers and is the home of the Children of Osiris, usually referred to as the Cult of Coo or Cooism. Founded by Eustace Mildmann, and originally based on the mythology of Ancient Egypt, it has adapted and modernised to include any number of dogmas, until now in 1947, it finds itself ‘an obliging religion because one could find in it pretty well anything one looked for.’

Eustace the High Prophet is a dreamy, softly spoken widower who lives with his son Terence in the mockest of mock-Tudor mansions on Almond Avenue and Peta Penpeti a man with the manners of ‘a French count’ is Prophet-in-Waiting. There are six High Priests of the Inmost Temple but the force behind the movement and the financial prop is the Hon. Alicia Hagge-Smith who manages to increase the numbers from a select few to several thousand. Banded together by a common faith maybe but one that conceals emerging jealousies, intrigue and hostility.

Continue reading “Death Makes A Prophet”

Fell Murder

Cradled in the valley of the River Lune, the tiny village of Garthmere is set amongst a ‘chequered carpet of farm land’, fields of pale gold, the fells clothed in heather dipping into the Yorkshire Dales and in the distance the blue hills of the Lake District. Above the village where the sun captures the old stone of the farm buildings is medieval Garthmere Hall where the Garth family have lived for centuries. Old irascible Robert Garth, his daughter Marion, Charles recently back from Malaya and Malcolm a would be poet are helped on the farm by Elizabeth Meldon their land girl; the only member of the family missing is Richard who left for Canada 25 years ago and hasn’t been back since – or has he?

Continue reading “Fell Murder”

Murder By Matchlight

I love new year, a clean sheet, an empty page, resolutions and good intentions, the possibility of a whole new me (again). And this year there’s been an added bonus because under the Christmas tree was a British Library Crime Classic. I’ve been looking forward to reading this series for ages, but slow reader that I am, have never found the right sized reading moment. But to start this year I (thankfully) threw down my classics challenge and caution and instead picked up Murder By Matchlight.

It’s a Thursday evening in London in 1945, the city is pitch dark under the blackout and John Ward ‘a lazy good-for-nothing son of a gun’ is murdered in Regent’s Park. But has the murderer been seen? Lovelorn Bruce Mallaig on a stroll through the park witnesses a ghastly face in the glow of a match. . .

Continue reading “Murder By Matchlight”

The Outsider

Written in the first person Monsieur Meursault a Parisian living in Algiers lets us into his very ordinary life. He lives in an apartment where his neighbours include Raymond who brutally assaults his mistress and Salamano a widower who lives with his dog. His girlfriend Marie stays over sometimes. He goes to work, drinks wine, smokes a lot, swims and endures the heat.

‘My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.’ This first line captures Meursault’s state of anomie brilliantly, however ordinary his life this is no ordinary character and I was hooked immediately by his simple straightforward prose.

Continue reading “The Outsider”

If This Is A Man

if this is a manOn December 13th 1943 at the age of 24 Primo Levi, a chemist from Turin was captured by the Fascist militia and giving his status as an ‘Italian citizen of Jewish race’ was taken via the detention camp at Fossoli to Auschwitz. Of the 650 who arrived the children, the old men and most of the women were ‘swallowed up by the night’.  Ninety six men and twenty nine women entered the camps of Monowitz-Buna and Birkenau. The rest were sent to the gas chamber, only 3 made the return journey home. The story of his journey home is told in The Truce.

Continue reading “If This Is A Man”