The Lake District Murder

The Sussex Downs Murder is the BLCC listed on my 10 Books of Summer challenge, but the sea side bookshop I was in only had this one on its shelves, so I stayed with Meredith but on his home patch of Keswick in the Lake District and in 1935 while he’s still a lowly Inspector.

The setting is lovely and having read a couple of other Meredith mysteries it was interesting to see where he came from. The small towns are filled with amiable shop keepers, burly farmers and friendly bank managers and everybody, no matter how criminal carries a dinner basket. His son Tony is an eager to help seventeen year old and his wife worries over the amount of work he does. It’s all very domestic.

But trouble arrives from the south (!). There’s a particularly grizzly suicide in a garage on a lonely stretch of road, and as the investigation gets under way one puzzle just leads to another, and was it suicide after all or could it have been murder? There seems to be a shadier side to these normally quiet coastal towns. But Meredith, on his first solo investigation, puts the whodunit on hold and even the whydunit as he sets out to prove the howdunit.

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Calamity in Kent

In the peaceful seaside town of Broadgate, an impossible crime occurs. The operator of the cliff railway locks the empty carriage one evening; when he returns to work next morning, a dead body is locked inside – a man who has been stabbed in the back.

Luckily, Jimmy London, newspaper reporter, is convalescing in the seaside town and meets Aloysius Bender the lift operator, just after he has discovered the body. The police are called and along with the local constabulary comes Inspector Shelley of Scotland Yard, whose staying in the area with his friend the Chief Constable. Jimmy London and Inspector Shelley have worked together before and distrustful of the local dunderheads decide to team up together to solve the mystery.

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Maurice

Set at the beginning of the twentieth century, Maurice follows Maurice Hall through his school days and adolescents, to his time as an undergraduate at Cambridge and into early adulthood. It follows his loneliness and confusion, his sexual awakening and acceptance of his homosexuality and his eventual happiness.

Forster wrote Maurice in 1913 directly after a visit to Milthorpe, the home of Edward Carpenter (who I did a brief post on here) and his ‘comrade’ George Merrill. He calls Carpenter his ‘saviour’ and Milthorpe a ‘shrine’ and says that they ‘combined to make a profound impression on me and to touch a creative spring. . . The general plan, the three characters, the happy ending for two of them, all rushed into my pen.’ I think this is important because I found Maurice the most intensely personal book I think I’ve ever read.

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Summer

‘It was the beginning of a June afternoon. The springlike transparent sky shed a rain of silver sunshine on the roofs of the village, and on the pastures and larchwoods surrounding it.’

Seventeen year old Charity Royall lives with her adoptive father in the small town of North Dormer in New England. Born into a community of outlaws who live in the surrounding mountains, Lawyer Royall brought her down into the valley town when she was five years old and named her Charity ‘to keep alive in her a becoming sense of her dependence’. She knows she’s lucky but she feels stifled by the quietness of the town and increasingly disturbed by the behaviour of her guardian. So she takes a job in the library to save money for her escape, when suddenly one day the library door opens and Lucius Harney a young architect from New York arrives and sparks begin to fly.

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The Female Man

Four women in four intersecting time lines. Jeannine is a 29 year old librarian living with her cat in 1969 but the Great Depression is still going on, hers is still a world where her goal is to marry and have a home; Janet is a police-officer from the future utopian planet of Whileaway, where only women have survived a plague and Joanna is the author Joanna Russ, a fired up angry feminist in 1969.

When Janet arrives on Broadway at two o’clock in the afternoon in her underwear she becomes an instant celebrity and Joanna who is fascinated by her goes to a parade given in her honour – picked out of the crowd she gets into Janet’s car. Sitting in the back seat is Jeannine, having been found at a Chinese new year festival, terrified she puts her hands over her ears repeating to herself ‘I’m not here, I’m not here’ but she is there and then the three find themselves on Whileaway.

And then Jael arrives, the shadowy dark side of the future. She comes from a future where the battle between the sexes has divided into two armed camps – Womanland and Manland. Manland constructs its own women from weakling men and Womenland has pretty mindless men who are wired into their high tech houses, objectified males. A ‘rosy, wholesome, single-minded assassin’ it’s she who has got them together because she needs their help to win the war.

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A Film For May: Don’t Look Now

John and Laura are in Venice a city they’ve visited before to try and escape the pain of their young daughters death. One lunchtime they become aware of a couple of elderly women watching them intently. They find out that one of the women has second sight and can see their daughter. As Laura becomes increasingly friendly with the sisters, John becomes increasingly worried.

When a telephone call comes through from their son’s school in England saying that he is ill, Laura takes the first flight to be with him leaving John to follow with the car the next day. But going along the Grand Canal he notices a vaporetto going back to Venice and on board are the elderly sisters and Laura.

He returns to Venice, but Laura is nowhere to be found and John finds himself getting caught up in a train of strange and violent events.

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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.

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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.

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Seize the Day

New York 1956. Wilhelm Adler a 44 year old living temporarily in the Hotel Gloriana is on his way to breakfast with his father, a permanant resident of the hotel that is home too many elderly retirees. As the elevator sank and sank and the great carpet billowed and the curtains drape like sails, Wilhelm can sense that this is a day like no other. ‘The waters of the earth are going to roll over me.’

Told in the third person by an omniscient narrator and through Wilhem’s own thoughts and flashbacks, Bellow deftly interweaves pathos and humour to track Wilhelm’s fall from a respectable middle management lifestyle. He’s been fired from his job, is separated from his wife and children and is now on the brink of financial disaster, this is his day of reckoning before he drowns in despair.

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The House of Mirth

New York 1905. Lily Bart is unfathomably beautiful. Elegant and graceful she’s welcomed at all the fashionable parties. but while she’s from a good family, her father was ‘ruined’ and now an orphan she must live with her aunt who gives her just enough pocket money to keep up appearances but doesn’t quite cover the expenses of her social calendar. At 29 Lily knows the only answer is to marry well.

The society in which Lily moves is an aristocracy that owes as much to European culture as to wealth, a society that mirrors the world of Edith Wharton’s. And it’s through Lily’s eyes and experience that Wharton sets out to satirise the world in which she felt so trapped. The tight knit group of friends that form Lily’s set, are governed by rules. The year is divided between town and country with weekend house parties de rigueur. Husbands provide the money and their wives adorn and delight, with an edge of malicious indifference.

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