The important bit!
Book Group 4 – Reading for pleasure has now closed. It is replaced by a new group: Vintage Books.
(For all books, there is a review – please see the links at the bottom of the page or the Book Index)
List for July
Jenny Colgan: The bookshop on the shore
H E Bates: The triple echo
Mikhail Bulgakov: A young doctor’s notebook
Mavis Cheek: Truth to tell
Valerio Varesi: River of shadows. (A Commissario Soneri mystery)
Marco Vichi: Death in August
S J Bennett: The Windsor knot
List for June
Maeve Binchy: Scarlet Feather
Susie Hodge: The Short Story of Women Artists
Julian Gloag: Our Mother’s House
Antonio Manzini: Black Run; A Cold Death; Out of Season; Spring Cleaning
Luke Arnold: The Last Smile in Sunder City; Dead Man in a Ditch
Carol Hedges: Diamonds and dust
David Field: Interviewing the Dead
Rosanne Dingli: Death in Malta
List for May
Kate Mosse: The Taxidermist’s daughter
Peter Doggett: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: The Biography
E. C. Tubb: The Winds of Gath; Derai (and about 31 other books)
Gyles Brandreth: Philip – the Last Portrait
Douglas Adams: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Maria Grace: The Dragons of Kellynch
Laurie R King: The Beekeeper’s Apprentice
John Stewart Collis: The Worm Forgives the Plough: – Following the Plough; – Down to Earth
List for April
C. J. Sansom: Sovereign
Walter Tevis: The Man Who fell to Earth
Mary Shelley: Frankenstein
Philip K Dick: A Scanner Darkly
Kevin Wignall: Those Who Disappeared
Guy Gavriel Kay: A Song For Arbonne
List for March
George Bellairs: He’d Rather Be Dead
Mike Herron: Slow Horses
Graham Greene: Our Man in Havana
Halldor Laxness: Independent People
List for February
Keith Waterhouse: Billy Liar
Georgette Heyer: A Civil Contract
Stieg Larsson: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl Who Played With Fire
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest
Rudyard Kipling: Just So Stories
John Grisham: The Confession
Stefan Hertmans: War and Turpentine
Virginia Nicholson: Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes – The Story of Women in the 1950s
List for January
Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the wind
Linda Rutledge: West with giraffes
Harvey Edgington and Lauren Taylor: National Trust on screen
RD Wingfield: Frost at Christmas
A touch of Frost
A killing Frost
Håkan Nesser: The secret life of Mr Roos
Joanne Harris: Blackberry wine
As we are ‘non-traditional’ and discuss different books we have read, it has been easier for us to keep in touch over the last year. Group members email me with their reviews, I collate them into one document and email it out to everyone. I have now also started submitting the reviews to the website for anyone to browse. January will be slightly different in that, having had a month off, I have written a brief account of the British Library Crime Classics – new publications of crime novels from the 1930s through to about the 1960s – which have long been out of print.
British Library Crime Classics
With Book Group 4 having a break from reviews in December, I thought I would fill the space by talking about The British Library Crime Classics with a brief review of a few authors.
The 1920s and 1930s are known as the Golden Age of crime writing and many authors such as Agatha Christie and G.K. Chesterton became very popular. The introduction in the 1930s of the cheap paperback made it easier for ordinary people to buy books – and made many crime writers very well off.
In 1930 a group of these authors formed The Detection Club, and G.K. Chesterton was the first president. They would meet up for dinners and help each other with their writing. As well as Chesterton and Christie, other writers include Dorothy L. Sayers, Freeman Wills Crofts, Baroness Emma Orczy, and Ronald Knox. The latter even drew up a list of ‘Ten Commandments’ – rules of the game of making up a story.
The genre continued in popularity until after WW2 and into at least the 1960s. The works of most of these authors, however, were out of print for decades until the British Library decided to re-print some – and found them a runaway success.
Some writers used the classic murder mystery themes such as the Locked Room or the Country House Party, but others found their own style. What they don’t have is lots of action, violence and a detective with a tortured personal life – all the things I, personally, hate about modern crime stories! I would put them firmly in the category of enjoyable, unpretentious, light reading. The downside is that, like many old novels, they sometimes reflect attitudes of the time – casual racism, xenophobia and class distinction.
G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown is well-known from the popular TV series (although I, for one, have never read the books so have no idea how close the series is to the books!). The series (if not the books) combines a village setting and a murder mystery with a gentle humour.
The novels of George Bellairs are also set in villages, and he too brings a slight humour to his stories, but his detective – Inspector Littlejohn of Scotland Yard – travels around the country. In ‘The Dead Shall Be Raised’ he is called upon to solve a 30-year old mystery when the body of a man thought to be a murderer is discovered – and he too had been murdered!
E.C.R. Lorac’s books are generally darker, often with an element of sadness. She was very good at scene-setting and often keeps you guessing to the end. ‘Fire in the Thatch’ is set on Exmoor and is the story of a man, injured during the War, trying to build a new life in the country.
Joseph Jefferson Farjeon’s novels tend more towards adventures – people being caught up in difficult situations. In ‘Mystery in White’, when a train is brought to a halt by heavy snow on Christmas Eve, some of the passengers disembark and take shelter in a deserted house – and a murderer strikes!
Raymond Postgate’s ‘Verdict of Twelve’ is unusual in that it is – as the name suggests – about a trial, but, rather than focus solely on the accused and the alleged crime, he writes about some of the jurors and how their own experiences might affect how they view the case. It also has a clever ‘was she or was she not guilty’ ending.
Mavis Doriel Hay only wrote three crime novels before turning to her main interest – rural crafts – but her ‘Murder Underground’, about the murder of woman at Belsize Park Station, is also different in that the police are just in the background. The story revolves around the gossip and speculation about the murder by the victim’s family and associates.
Peter Shaffer’s detective is the eccentric Mr. Verity – a large, bearded gentleman with a tendency to ride rough-shod over the local constabulary. He is another writer who manages to combine humour with crime. ‘The Woman in the Wardrobe’ is a ‘locked room’ murder mystery, with the added complication of a woman bound and gagged in the wardrobe. Peter Shaffer later became a notable playwright, responsible for classics such as ‘Equus’ and ‘Amadeus’. His brother, Anthony, co-write the equally famous ‘Wicker Man’.
There are now nearly 100 novels by more than 25 authors that have been re-printed but there are more being published. Full details of them can be found on the British Library website:
We have a different approach from that of the traditional book group. Instead of everyone reading and commenting on the same book, each group member talks about a book they have read and enjoyed (or not), so that others can decide whether or not they too would like to read it. In this way we have more freedom to explore a wider range of authors and genres.