Category Archives: Books

Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers

Have His Carcase, first published in 1932, is another brilliant book – completely different from the last book I wrote about (see my previous post) but just as fascinating and absorbing. It’s crime fiction from the **Golden Age (see the note below), that is between the First and Second World Wars, and is the second of Dorothy L Sayer’s books featuring Harriet Vane, a crime fiction writer, and the seventh featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. They first met in Strong Poison, in which Harriet was on trial charged with the murder of her former lover.

In Have His Carcase Harriet is on a walking holiday when she comes across a dead man, his throat cut from ear to ear, lying on the top of a rock, called locally the Flat-Iron, on a deserted beach. Fortunately she has her camera with her and takes several photos, which come in very useful as by the time that she can alert the police the body has been washed out to sea. It appears that he committed suicide. Wimsey arrives soon after and he and Harriet they set out first of all to identify the body and then to prove that it was murder.

It is an example of the puzzle type of crime fiction – incredibly complicated and seemingly impossible to solve. It involves numerous characters who are not who they first appear, complete with alibis, disguises and false trails. Sayers, helpfully included a schedule of things that Harriet and Wimsey noted about the victim and the suspects, which I found useful as this is a long novel that took me several days to read; with so much information I just couldn’t remember it all as I read the book.

It all hinges on the timing of the discovery of the body and the movement of the tides. As in The Nine Tailors (and in fact in all the books by Dorothy L Sayers that I’ve read) there is a lot of detail, all of which is essential to the plot; detail about the body, how it was found, how the throat was cut , and what the blood was like when Harriet found the body. In the hands of another writer this could have been too graphic for me, but I had no difficulty reading such detail at all!

Also added into the mix are Bolsheviks, rumours of aristocratic connections, spies and a secret code to be deciphered. There are jealous lovers, itinerant hairdressers, a schoolteacher with Communist sympathies, taciturn locals, an antagonistic future son-in-law and  gigolos and dagos. (Written in the early 1930s this is not a politically correct novel.)

An underlying theme is the relationship between Harriet and Wimsey as he is constantly proposing marriage and she rejects him each time. Although at one point, as they walked along the beach together in search of clues, it did look briefly that her resolve was weakening:

She suddenly saw Wimsey in a new light. She knew him to be intelligent, clean, courteous, wealthy, well-read, amusing and enamoured, but he had not so far produced in her that crushing sense of utter inferiority which leads to prostration and hero-worship. But she now realised that there was, after all, something godlike about him. (pages 213-4)

and then she came to her senses and laughed. Earlier she had noted his physique as they inspected the Flat-Iron in the sea:

‘And he strips better than I should have expected,’ she admitted candidly to herself. ‘Better shoulders than I realised, and, thank Heaven, calves to his legs,’ (page 104)

Here are some more of my favourite quotations:

I question this first one!:

To be tried for murder is a fairly good advertisement for a writer of detective fiction. (page 1)

and on seeing what appears to be a man asleep Harriet says:

Now, if I had any luck, he’d be a corpse, and I should report him and get my name in the papers. That would be something like publicity. “Well-known Woman Detective-Writer Finds Mystery Corpse on Lonely Shore.” But these things never happy to authors. (page 7)

Well, she got her wish.

Next, here is Wimsey remarking on his use of quotations, which he does throughout the book:

I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking. (page 58)

and Wimsey to Harriet after she apologised for being ‘a rotten dancer':

Darling if you danced like an elderly elephant with arthritis, I would dance the sun and moon into the sea with you. I have waited a thousand years to see you dance in that frock. (page 157)

I loved the complexity, the details, and the various solutions Wimsey and Harriet considered. It kept me guessing throughout the book right from the start – just who was the victim, even when he was identified there was more to it, who murdered him, why was he murdered and above all just how and when was he murdered. It’s brilliant!

**Note: I must get a copy of Martin Edwards’ new book The Golden Age of Murderinvestigating how Agatha Christie and colleagues in the Detection Club transformed crime fiction, writing books casting new light on unsolved murders whilst hiding clues to their authors’ darkest secrets.

It’s due to be published on 7 May.

Dacre’s War by Rosemary Goring

Dacre’s War is compelling reading, a  thoroughly absorbing and beautifully written novel set in the Scottish and English Borders and London between 1523 – 1525 some ten years after the events described in Rosemary Goring’s earlier book, After Flodden. I wondered as I began reading whether it could equal After Flodden, a book I loved when I read it two years ago – it did. I think it even surpasses it.

I loved Dacre’s War and keen as I was to read to the end I didn’t want to leave the characters. Once again I was swept away by the story, re-living the scenes through Rosemary Goring’s vivid descriptions and the drama of the characters’ lives, people who came to life in the pages of this book.

Dacre’s War describes how Adam Crozier, the head of his clan, plots to take revenge on Lord Thomas Dacre, the Warden General of the English Marches and the Keeper of Carlisle, who had brought about the death of Adam’s father. Ten years after the Battle of Flodden, Dacre is the most powerful man in the north of England, but the Marches are a constant battlefield, dangerously out of control, and a hotbed of thieves and killers in thrall to the Warden. Without him Henry VIII believes the situation would be much worse.

It is against this background that Crozier forms an alliance with Dacre’s enemies, both English and Scots to inform Henry of Dacre’s crimes and bring about his downfall.

There are some remarkable scenes in this book, and amongst them are the scenes in the Star Chamber where Dacre is brought to answer the charges against him in front of Cardinal Wolsey and his imprisonment in the Fleet Prison. I felt as though I was there, watching, breathing the same air – not a pleasant experience. Similarly with Crozier, I could visualise his home, Crozier’s Keep, sense the tension and fear as his wife, Louise, is left at home, pregnant and in danger of losing the baby.

There is so much packed in this book, political intrigue, personal conflict and vengeance, and spies, manipulators and double crossers abound. It is impossible to write more without revealing the plot and the eventual ending. It’s a brilliant book.

Dacre’s War is due to be published in June 2015. My copy is a pre-publication review copy courtesy of www.lovereading.co.uk.

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Polygon (16 June 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846973112
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846973116

Rosemary Goring was born in Dunbar and studied social and economic history at the University of St Andrews; and, after graduation, worked at W&R Chambers as a reference editor. Rosemary was the literary editor of Scotland on Sunday, followed by a brief spell as editor of Life & Work, the Church of Scotland’s magazine, before returning to newspapers as literary editor of the Herald, and later also of the Sunday Herald. In 2007 she published Scotland: The Autobiography: 2000 Years of Scottish History By Those Who Saw it Happen, which has since been published in America and Russia.

Reading Challenges: Read Scotland, Historical Fiction Challenge.

Stacking the Shelves

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

This week I borrowed these books from the library:

Ragnarok

Ragnarok by A S Byatt – I first came across this book a few years ago on a book blog (not sure now which one) and thought it looked interesting.

Blurb:

Recently evacuated to the British countryside and with World War Two raging around her, one young girl is struggling to make sense of her life. She is given a book of ancient Norse legends and her inner and outer worlds are transformed…

The Ragnarok myth, otherwise known as the Twilight of the Gods, plays out the endgame of Norse mythology. It is the myth in which the gods Odin, Freya and Thor die, the sun and moon are swallowed by the wolf Fenrir, and the serpent Jörmungandr eats her own tale as she crushes the world and the seas boil with poison. This epic struggle provided the fitting climax to Wagner’s Ring Cycle; Byatt has taken this remarkable finale and used it as the underpinning of a highly personal and politically charged retelling.

Dry Bones that Dream by Peter Robinson, the 7th Inspector Banks book. I’m reading these books totally out of order, just as I find them.

Blurb:

It was 2.47am when Chief Inspector Alan Banks arrived at the barn and saw the body of Keith Rothwell for the first time. Only hours earlier two masked men had walked the mild-mannered accountant out of his farmhouse and clinically blasted him with a shotgun.

Clearly this is a professional hit – but Keith was hardly the sort of person to make deadly enemies. Or was he? For the police investigation soon raises more questions than answers. And who, exactly, is Robert Calvert?

The more Banks scratches the surface, the more he wonders what lies beneath the veneer of the apparently happy Rothwell family. And when his old sparring partner Detective Superintendent Richard Burgess arrives from Scotland Yard, the case takes yet another unexpected twist . . .

Poirot and Me by David Suchet – an absolute must read for me. David Suchet was Poirot!

From the book cover:

Through his television performance in TV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot, David Suchet has become inextricably linked with the ‘little Belgian’, a man whom he has grown to love dearly through an intimate relationship lasting more than twenty years. …

In Poirot and Me, he shares his many memories of creating this iconic television series and reflects on what the detective has meant to him over the years.

Also new this week is an advance proof copy of The Lost Garden by Katharine Swartz, due to be published in May:

Blurb:

Marin Ellis is in search of a new start after her father and his second wife die in a car accident, and at thirty-seven she is made guardian of her fifteen-year-old half-sister Rebecca. They leave Hampshire for the picturesque village of Goswell on the Cumbrian coast, and settle into Bower House on the edge of the church property. When a door to a walled garden captures Rebecca’s interest, Marin becomes determined to open it and discover what is hidden beneath the bramble inside. She enlists the help of local gardener Joss Fowler, and together the three of them begin to uncover the garden’s secrets.

I’d better get reading!

Anthony Trollope: Bicentenary

Today it is the bicentenary of Anthony Trollope’s birth on April 24th 1815. The Trollope Society is a great source of information about Trollope and his books and there are many events scheduled to celebrate his life and work.

I’ve read the first two books in his Chronicles of  Barchester series, which I enjoyed, so it’s time I got on with reading the next one, which is Doctor Thorne.

Writing about Doctor Thorne in his Autobiography, Trollope wrote that he believed it was the most popular book he had written, taking the sales as proof of comparative popularity. He, himself, thought it wasn’t good, although he said that it has a good plot, which to his own feeling ‘is the most insignificant part of a tale‘. He was surprised by the success of Doctor Thorne! I’m wondering what I will think …

The Last Girl by Jane Casey

I liked the first two Maeve Kerrigan books by Jane Casey, The Burning and The Reckoning and the third, The Last Girl is just as good. I liked it mainly because Maeve is such an interesting character, and the book is fast paced and well written, with a multi-layered plot.

Maeve, a detective constable, is the youngest member of the Met Murder Squad investigating the murders of Vita Kennford and her daughter, Laura, age 14.  Lydia , Laura’s twin sister had found their bodies. Philip her father had walked in on the killer, received a blow to the head and was unconscious.  There are no clues at the scene of the crime and as Lydia was outside swimming at the time she neither saw nor heard anything. Philip is a defence QC known for getting his clients off even if they are guilty and at first Maeve and her boss D I Josh Derwent concentrate their investigations on people who hold a grudge against him. Any one of them seems to have good cause to have taken revenge on his family.

Unlike the earlier books, The Last Girl is narrated throughout by Maeve, so we see the events unfolding entirely through her perspective. Much of the novel centres on the Kennfords and their relationships. They are not a happy family.  Philip is an unreliable husband, regularly  unfaithful, not the sort who liked to be tied down to one woman. He is estranged from Savannah, his daughter from his first marriage. She refuses to speak to him and  Lydia seems withdrawn, reluctant to speak to anyone. Maeve is sure they are all keeping secrets.

And there is a sub-plot that harks back to the second book, The Reckoning,  as the team is also investigating a number of gangland murders. Although this book does stand well on its own I think it helps if you read them in order particularly to follow the development of  Maeve’s relationship with her boyfriend, Rob, also a policeman, now working in a different section – things between them are not going very smoothly and Maeve is having doubts. Meanwhile her working relationships with Derwent and Superintendent Godley are beginning to change as Derwent, a male chauvinist shows his softer side and she challenges Godley’s methods.

Maeve has her suspicions about the culprit, but after a while I began to think she could be  on the wrong lines as I had my doubts about the truthfulness of one particular character. And then it was fairly easy to work out who the culprit was.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next one in the series, The Stranger You Know.

This Week in Books: 22 April 2015

My week in books

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now:

I‘ve just started to read Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers, the  second book featuring Harriet Vane. Harriet is on a walking holiday on her own and finds a dead body on the top of a rock on a deserted beach, ‘the corpse with the cut throat‘ as Lord Peter Wimsey describes it. As this was first published in 1932, Harriet was not only without a mobile phone, but also without access to a landline without walking miles to a village where she could phone the police from the village shop. It’s promising to be an excellent read.

I’m also still reading Nothing To Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes ( non fiction, a memoir, a meditation on death and the fear of dying) – in fact I’ve not read any more of this book than I had last week – blame not only reading other books but also the good weather and the garden, where I’ve spent too much time, not relaxing, but weeding, mowing and general tidying up.

Then:

I’ve finished both Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey and The Last Girl by Jane Casey – my reviews will  follow soon.

Next:

Next up I’ll probably be reading The Lost Garden by Katharine Swartz, an advance proof copy of the book from Lovereading due to be published in May – how can I resist a book that begins with a walled garden? I’ve always wanted a garden like that ever since I read The Secret Garden.

But then I could get drawn to a different book when the time comes!

 

Stacking the Shelves: April 18

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Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

These are the latest arrivals from the mobile library:

Vargas

Gently North West by Alan Hunter – I’ve read a couple of the Inspector Gently books and I really like the TV dramatisation of these books. (Coincidently the BBC are showing a trailer of the new series of Inspector Gently coming soon.) This book is a bit different as it’s set in Scotland where Gently is on holiday. Inevitably, his holiday is put on hold as he stalks a murderer in the mountains!

Harbour Street by Ann Cleeves – I’ve seen the TV version but not  read the book. This is the 6th Vera book. It’s set in the quiet Northumberland town of Mardle (filmed at Alnmouth) where DI Vera Stanhope is investigating the deaths of two women – but the residents of Harbour Street are reluctant to speak.

Bright Hair About The Bone by Barbara Cleverly – this is by a new-to-me author and I picked the book off the shelf as the title struck me as rather strange. It’s historical crime fiction set in France in 1926, where an ancient church is being excavated in Burgundy. Archaeologist Laetitia Talbot investigates the death of her godfather, Daniel Thorndon. I hope it’s as interesting as it appears.

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas. I’ve read a few of her Commissaire Adamsberg books. This one looks really interesting, set in a village far outside Adamsberg’s jurisdiction (like the Gently book!) he agrees to investigate the strange happenings in the village which is terrorised by wild rumours and ancient feuds.

Have you read any of these – and what books have you found this week?

This Week in Books: 15 April 2015

My week in books

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now:

I’m currently reading:

The Last Girl

  • The Last Girl by Jane Casey, the third Maeve Kerrigan book. The only witness to the murder of her mother and twin sister and the attack on her father is a teenager. Maeve’s first thought is that this is a domestic dispute gone bad.
  •  Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, a complete contrast to The Last Girl. There is only one thing Maud is sure about – her friend Elizabeth is missing and nobody seems to be taking her seriously. It’s going really well so far.
  • Nothing To Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes – non fiction, a memoir, a meditation on death and the fear of dying.

Then:

I’ve recently read (links are to my posts on the books):

Nora Webster

My thoughts: Set in the late 1960s in Wexford, Ireland this is a portrait of recently widowed Nora Webster. Unmoored by her sudden loss and the needs of her children Nora finds a strength within herself and through the discovery of music and the gift of friendship finds a way to live again. It’s a vivid portrait of a woman initially locked within her grief, claustrophobic and intensely personal, and focussing on daily life in all its boredom, frustration and triviality. A moving book.

Next:

As usual I’m undecided about what to read next. It will probably be Out of Africa by Karen Blixen, my spin result for the Classics Club Spin. But I also have my eye on Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers, another Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane book and Gray Mountain by John Grisham another of his legal thrillers although I see it has some bad reviews on Amazon. Both are books I’ve borrowed from the library.  I have a feeling I’ll pick Have His Carcase when the time comes.

Dreamwalker: The Ballad of Sir Benfro Book 1

 

DreamwalkerI read  Dreamwalker: The Ballad of Sir Benfro by James Oswald on my Kindle.  It has since been published by Penguin as Dreamwalker by J D Oswald.

So far there are three books in the series and there will eventually be five books published by Penguin. See James Oswald’s website for more information.

Synopsis from Amazon UK:

In a small village, miles from the great cities of the Twin Kingdoms, a young boy called Errol tries to find his way in the world. He’s an outsider – he looks different from other children and has never known his father. No one, not even himself, has any knowledge of his true lineage.

Deep in the forest, Benfro, the young male dragon begins his training in the subtle arts. Like his mother, Morgwm the Green, he is destined to be a great Mage. No one could imagine that the future of all life in the Twin Kingdoms rests in the hands of these two unlikely heroes.

But it is a destiny that will change the lives of boy and dragon forever …

My view:

I enjoyed this book, inspired by Welsh folklore. It’s very readable, each time I picked it up I just wanted to carry on reading this magical tale of the young dragon, Benfro and the young boy, Errol, born on the same day. I was drawn into their fantasy world.

But I wasn’t prepared for the ending – when you get to the end of the book it is not the end – it’s only the end of the first instalment! The tension builds throughout the book as both Benfro and Errol approach their fourteenth birthdays, Benfro in the dragon community, learning their magical powers and Errol,growing up thinking his mother was the village healer and then taken from his home by Melyn, the Inquisitor to train to be one of the warrior priest. Then there is the wicked Princess Beaulah, who is keeping her father the king alive until she reaches her 21st birthday.

And as the tension built I was eager to find out how it would end, only to be faced with the words ‘To be continued in The Ballad of Sir Benfro -Volume Two‘. I was so frustrated, as it just came to a full stop after a catastrophic event, that I couldn’t really believe had happened – a real cliff-hanger! I wish I’d realised before so that I’d been prepared – it was a complete let-down. So, if you are going to read it be warned!

Dreamwalker is followed by The Rose Cord and The Golden Cage. J. D. Oswald is also the author of the Detective Inspector McLean series of crime novels under the name James Oswald. In his spare time James runs a 350-acre livestock farm in North East Fife, where he raises pedigree Highland Cattle and New Zealand Romney Sheep.

Read more about Dreamwalker on the Penguin website.

Reading ChallengesDreamwalker is the perfect choice for Once Upon a Time IX. As it’s been on my Kindle since 2012 it’s also perfect for the Mount To Be Read Challenge and as James Oswald lives in Scotland it fits into the Read Scotland Challenge too.

Blog Anniversary 12 April!

 

8 todayToday is the 8th anniversary of BooksPlease. Eight years ago I’d just left work and had more time to read and write about books, so I began this blog partly to help me remember what I’ve read and also to extend the pleasure of reading and to record what I thought about the books. And so ‘BooksPlease‘ was born.

I thought of calling my blog ‘Books Matter‘, or ‘Book Matters‘ but decided that it should be ‘BooksPlease‘ because they do and also because if somebody asked me what I wanted for my birthday or Christmas when I was a child I always said ‘ooh, books please!

Right from the start it’s been more than just a book blog and I’ve also written about art, pets, places I’ve visited, personal anecdotes or thoughts, cookery, walking, travels and holidays, and about crafts, such as knitting and cross-stitch – and well, anything else that interests or pleases me.

On the book front a recurring theme over the years has been ‘what to read next‘. Choosing what to read next is almost as pleasurable as actually reading  the books.

This is the first photo I posted showing a pile of some of the books I had waiting to be read in April 2007. It seems so long ago now!

Choosing books

I don’t always manage to read all the books I list as possibles but in this case, although it took me a while, over the years I have read these books (with one exception, The Sound of Paper by Julia Cameron, although I did start it –  my bookmark is still at page 61).

I really enjoy blogging  – the contact with other book bloggers, exchanging views on books and finding yet more books to read makes it even better. I love reading your comments and hope you’ll continue visiting and commenting on my blog – I really do appreciate it.