I’m not sure I’ve got my head screwed back on yet after the break, but I realise that the number of books I’ve read but not spoken about is growing ever larger. So let’s do a little catching up.
Weeks ago now, I read Anna Quindlen’s Still Life With Breadcrumbs, and it was absolutely charming. Rebecca Winter is a photographer whose reputation has faded after a series of pictures of everyday domestic disorder made her rich and famous. Now the money’s gone, and her marriage is long over, and she is facing a daily struggle with balancing her finances. Both of her parents need expensive care – particularly her mother, lost to dementia, with whom she has never had a good relationship. So to pay the bills, Rebecca moves out of her nice apartment in New York and into a rustic cabin in a rural location out of the city. Here she makes friends with Sarah, the garrulous owner of an English-style tea shop, and with Jim Bates, the local roofer and all-round handyman. The comforting thing about a novel that opens with its protagonist in a miserable situation is that you can be pretty sure of a turnaround in the forthcoming pages. And indeed this is a story about second chances and the possibility of finding happiness that is more durable and fitting than the old happiness that has been lost. I did so enjoy this; it’s well-written and intelligent and as comforting as cocoa. It also provided an intriguing comparison of the woman artist to the Siri Hustvedt novel, The Blazing World, that I was reading at the time (and am, ahem, still reading), but more on that another time.
Then I read Elizabeth Daly’s Murders in Volume 2, another Henry Gamadge outing. This begins with Gamadge being called upon by the old aristocrats of New York to solve another initially perplexing mystery. This one involves a wealthy elderly man and the beautiful young woman who claims to be a revenant from his family’s past. Now whereas you might think, aha, this is going to be a Brat Farrar-style mystery, all about whether the young woman is who she says she is, Daly doesn’t take it in that direction. It isn’t long at all before the elderly gent is dead and the young woman has scarpered. And whilst Gamadge realises this will inevitably be a case of cherchez la femme, he has the elderly aristocrat’s difficult and demanding family on his hands and a lot more of the puzzle to solve, particularly when a second body turns up. I just love this series of books. Gamadge is so smart and urbane, but also kind, decent and self-effacing; he is a dear heart. And it’s entertaining to watch him dancing around the extreme and often absurd sensitivities of his well to-do clients. Although these novels are set in the 40s, they feel as if they belonged in the turn of the century, as the cast is made up of the sort of people who would have featured in Edith Wharton novels and are now the dying remnants of their era. But I especially like how clever the solutions to the murders are; Daly was apparently Agatha Christie’s favourite writer, and you can see why.
Sticking with the old reprint murder theme, I then read The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude. I do wish the covers of these books weren’t quite so appealling, as the stories I’ve read so far have been entertaining but average. I read the one about Death on the Cherwell, which was Enid Blyton with dead bodies, and now this one is… what? Sort of Dixon of Dock Green in the 1930s. The story focuses on an unusual family arrangement – a couple of brothers who live together at Chalklands Farm where the wife of one brother is suspected of being in love with the other one. It’s unmarried John Rother who goes missing one summer evening, leaving his abandoned car behind in a place he wasn’t supposed to be travelling past. In no time at all, the police have decided he’s been done away with, his body dismembered and fed into the lime kilns that provide part of the farm income. The dismembering is discussed endlessly. And of course suspicion falls on the remaining, married brother, the nervy and uptight William. There’s a certain deep-rooted innocence to this murder mystery, which takes familiar plot lines through familiar hoops in a way that was undoubtedly thrilling to an audience in 1930, but which feels just a bit too… familiar to the 21st century reader. I guessed the ending, for instance, which is rare as I’m very gullible when it comes to murder mysteries and willingly take misdirection. But it was charming in its way, and trotted along very neatly and is definitely the sort of book designed to accompany a head cold.
Okay, I have other books to go but this is probably as good a place as any to stop, with Angela Thirkell’s The Brandons and spy writer Charles Cumming ahead of me. I’ll pick up where I left off later in the week. And dear blogging friends, I apologise sincerely for not having replied to comments yet on my past couple of posts. Comments are bloggers’ cat nip, as you know, and I love and appreciate them all. But I’ve been having a bit of a holiday and am not yet caught up. I will, though, for sure.