20 Books of Summer

At the beginning of the summer I joined Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer Challenge which ran from June 1st until September 1st, 2020.

I revised my original my list on 19 July because after reading six of the books on my original list I began reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, a book that was NOT on my original list and I realised that as it has 853 pages there was no way I could read the rest of the books before 1 September.

Although I read 20 books during the period, only 13 of them are books from my list – they are:

  1. The Deep by Alma Katsu 3*
  2. How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister 2*
  3. The Mist by Ragnar Jonasson 4*
  4. Maigret’s Holiday by Georges Simenon 5*
  5. Deadheads by Reginald Hill 5*
  6. Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz 5*
  7. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton 4* – review to follow
  8. The Power-House by John Buchan 5*
  9. How to Kill a Cat by W J Burley 5* – review to follow
  10. Thin Air by Michelle Paver 4* – review to follow
  11. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert 4*
  12. A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry 5*
  13. Mortmain Hall by Martin Edward 4*

So, I still have 7 books left to read and I hope to read them soon :

  1. The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott
  2. Bilgewater by Jane Gardam
  3. The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin
  4. The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe
  5. Giant’s Breath by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
  6. A Moment of Silence by Anna Dean
  7. The Dry by Jane Harper

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry

Faber and Faber Ltd/ 19 March 2020/ 256 pages/ Kindle edition/ 5*

Three years ago I read Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End which has to be one of the best books I’ve read, so I began reading A Thousand Moons with great anticipation of a good read. I wasn’t disappointed and I loved it. It continues the story of Thomas McNulty and John Cole, and Winona, the young Indian girl they had adopted. It really helps if you have read Days Without End first to understand the characters’ history and relationships and how they got to this stage in their lives.

Winona is a young Lakota orphan adopted by former soldiers Thomas McNulty and John Cole.
Living with Thomas and John on the farm they work in 1870s Tennessee, she is educated and loved, forging a life for herself beyond the violence and dispossession of her past. But the fragile harmony of her unlikely family unit, in the aftermath of the Civil War, is soon threatened by a further traumatic event, one which Winona struggles to confront, let alone understand.

They are living and working on a farm owned by Lige Magan in Tennessee, about seven miles from a little town called Paris. It is now the 1870s, some years after the end of the Civil War, but the town was still full of rough Union soldiers and vagabonds on every little byway. Dark skin and black hair were enough to get you beaten up – and it wasn’t a crime to beat an Indian. Life wasn’t any better for the other two workers on the farm, black ex-slaves, Rosalee Bouguereau and her brother, Tennyson. These are dangerous times not just in the town but also in the woods outside the town from Zach Petrie’s gang of ‘nightriders’.

Winona remembers little of her early life, beyond seeing in the back of her mind a ‘blackened painting’ of blood and screaming, bayonets, bullets, fire and death. But their lives are full of love at the farm; Winona is loved as a daughter by Thomas and John, who are themselves lovers. She works for lawyer Briscoe as his clerk and ventures into town for supplies, which was where she met Jas Jonski, a young man who declares he wants to marry her. At first she hopes that she might very much like to marry Jas. But, then things go disastrously wrong. First racism rears its ugly head as Jas is white and the Paris townspeople began to talk. As his employer said he thought Jas had gone mad or wicked in some way – ‘to want to go marrying something closer to a monkey than a man’ was how he put it.

And then came the dreadful day when Winona was brutally attacked so badly that she shook for two weeks and something deep within her was shaking a long time after. She can’t remember at first what had actually happened to her, except that she was plied with ‘distillery whiskey’, nor who had carried out the assault. But all the signs pointed to Jas Jonski. Then Tennyson Bouguereau was also attacked, and their peaceful happy life was shattered. Winona set out for revenge. And in so doing she began to remember more about her early life and about her mother, a strong Lakota woman, full of courage and pride.

‘A thousand moons’ was her mother’s deepest measure of time. To her time was ‘a kind of hoop or a circle not a long string and if you walked far enough she said you could find the people still living in the long ago’ – ‘a thousand years all at once’. As she sets off on her quest it is the thought of her mother’s courage that enabled Winona to find her own courage – the ‘courage of a thousand years’.

I just love everything about this book, so beautifully written, rendering the way the characters speak so that I could hear them, and describing the landscape so poetically and lyrically that the scenes unfolded before my eyes; and the characters too, all real people from the American West of the 1870s, as though I was there in their midst. It would make a superb film.

Sebastian Barry

Photo credit: ©Alan Betson, The Irish Times

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His novels and plays have won, among other awards, the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize, the Costa Book of the Year award, the Irish Book Awards Best Novel, the Independent Booksellers Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He also had two consecutive novels, A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008), shortlisted for the MAN Booker Prize. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.

My thanks to Faber and Faber Ltd for my copy of this book, via NetGalley.

My Friday Post: Giant’s Bread by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Giant’s Bread is by Agatha Christie, writing as Mary Westmacott. It’s one of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list. She wrote six novels under this pseudonym – Giant’s Bread was the first one, published in 1930. In the same year she also published The Mysterious Mr Quin and, Murder at the Vicarage – Miss Marple’s first book. 

It begins with a Prologue:

It was the opening night of London’s new National Opera House and consequentially an occasion. Royalty was there. The Press were there. The fashionable were there in large quantities. Even the musical, by hook or by crook, had managed to be there – mostly very high up in the final tier of seats under the roof.

They were there to see the performance of a new musical composition called Giant’s Bread.

And chapter one begins:

There were only three people of real importance in Vernon’s world: Nurse, God and Mr Green

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Poor Myra, She’d had a rotten deal on the whole. A fine looking creature, but he’d married her really for the sake of Abbots Puissants – and she had married him for love. That was the root of the whole trouble.

Blurb from Goodreads:

Vernon Deyre is a sensitive and brilliant musician, even a genius, tormented and driven by forces even he didn’t understand. His sheltered childhood in the home he loves has not prepared Vernon for the harsh reality of his adult years, and in order to write the great masterpiece of his life, he has to make a crucial decision with no time left to count the cost. But there is a high price to be paid for his talent, especially by his family and the two women in his lifee – the one he loves and the one who loves him.

Young Nell Vereker had always loved Vernon, loved him with a consuming passion that was alien to the proper social world in which she lived. But when Vernon sought solace in the arms of Jane Harding, a stranger and enigmatically beautiful older woman, Nell felt she could endure no greater pain. But Fate had only begun to work its dark mischief on this curious romantic triangle — for before their destinies were sealed, one would live, one would die, and one would return from the grave to be damned…

~~~

Mary was Agatha’s second name and Westmacott the name of some distant relatives. She succeeded in keeping her identity as Mary Westmacott unknown for nearly twenty years and the books, much to her pleasure, were modestly successful.

Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards

a perfect crime

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards is the sequel to Gallows Court. Both books are set in 1930 in London and reflect Martin Edwards’ fascination with that period in history and his love of Golden Age detective fiction.

1930. A chilling encounter on London’s Necropolis Railway leads to murder and a man escapes the gallows after a witness gives sensational evidence. After this string of strange, fatal events, journalist Jacob Flint discovers that he has been framed for murder. To save himself, he flees to Mortmain Hall, a remote estate on the northern coast. There, an eccentric female criminologist hosts a gathering of eclectic people who have all escaped miscarriages of cruel justice. This strange group puts Jacob a little on edge, but they may be his only hope to clear his name.

When a body is found beneath the cliffs near the house, it seems this gathering might be an ingenious plot to get away with murder. Are these eccentrics victims or are they orchestrators of the great deception? Jacob must now set out to uncover the labyrinthine of secrets within Mortmain Hall, alongside Rachel Savernake, woman whose relentless quest for the truth might just bring down the British establishment…

This is one of those books that I find difficult to review – it is complex with several plot lines. So, I’m going to be brief. It begins most unusually with an Epilogue in which Rachel Savernake is talking to a dying man about a ‘perfect crime’ and asks him what had happened at Mortmain Hall. Then chapter one begins with this strange statement, ‘The ghost climbed out of a hackney carriage‘ and I was hooked. Rachel followed the ‘ghost’ as he entered a funeral train run by the London Necropolis Company for privileged first-class passengers. What was going on?

The novel moves on to a scene in the Old Bailey where Jacob Flint, a journalist is watching the trial of Clive Daneskin, accused of murder. After the trial he meets Leonora Dobell, a mysterious woman. Then the book gets very detailed, as more murder cases were described at length and I couldn’t see, at first, how they were connected, or how Mortmain Hall came into the story. But then I thought about the Epilogue and I realised that this is a book about ‘a perfect crime’, so I persevered and eventually it all became much clearer.

And there is further clarification when you reach the end of the book where the Epilogue, in its right place, is continued, followed by a chapter called Cluefinder, in which Martin Edwards lists 30 clues in the narrative, in the tradition of the Golden Age detective novels. Mortmain Hall is not a quick read because it is so detailed, but I did enjoy it.

Mortmain Hall was first published in the UK by Head of Zeus in April 2020 and is scheduled to be published in the US by Poisoned Pen Press on 20 September 2020. My thanks to Poisoned Press and NetGalley for a review copy.

The Power-House by John Buchan

As usual I am behind with writing book reviews, but whilst it is still relatively fresh in my mind I’m going to begin catching up with the latest book I read. It’s only short – 108 pages – and I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

John Buchan’s The Power-House, was written in 1913 when it was serialised in Blackwood’s Magazine and then published in book form in 1916. In her Introduction to the Polygon Books edition Stella Rimington described it as:

Pure essence of Buchan – a demonstration of his magical power to weave a tale out of no materials but the threads and colours of his imagination. It does, however, possess a theme – John Bunyan’s idea, in Pilgrim’s Progress, of men of goodwill and courage struggling with an intelligent, evil power at the root of all the world’s troubles and confessions. (page vii)

The narrator is Edward Leithen, a barrister and MP. His friend and fellow MP Tommy Deloraine tells him is off to Moscow to track down one of their Oxford contemporaries, Charles Pitt-Heron, who had disappeared without letting his wife where he was going. He told her he’d be home for luncheon, but never came back. Whilst Tommy goes off in pursuit of Pitt-Heron, Leithen stays in London, but soon his curiosity draws him into the mystery, because, as he tells himself, ‘every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.’ And so, having collected a few items of information merely by accident and coincidence, he finds the connecting link between them in the person of Andrew Lumley, a wealthy Englishman. Lumley, an elderly man, with menacing, pale eyes, hidden behind his tinted glasses is the key to the whole mystery.

Just as Hannay in Buchan’s later novel, The Thirty-nine Steps, meets the villain Von Schwabing in the library of his country house, so Leithen meets Lumley in his gentleman’s country house, High Ashes, in his library. The two men dine together and then settle themselves in armchairs to smoke cigars and proceed to talk about many things. Leithen is perplexed by him and his speculations on the nature of civilisation, and of power.

I was struck by these thoughts: Lumley states that civilisation is a conspiracy to which Leithen responds that it is in the interests ‘of all the best brains in the world to keep up the conspiracy.‘ To which Lumley replies:

Do we really get the all the best brains working on the side of the compact? Take the business of Government. When all is said, we are ruled by amateurs and the second-rate. The methods of our departments would bring any private firm to bankruptcy. The methods of Parliament – pardon me – would disgrace any board of directors. Our rulers pretend to buy expert knowledge, but they never pay the price of it that a business man would pay, and if they get it they have not the courage to use it. (pages 33 -34)

Lumley continues in this vein and concludes that what is needed is some sort of Power-House to start the ‘age of miracles‘. Leithen is unsettled, to say the least, by his talk and his ‘eerie persuasiveness’.

From an somewhat slow start and a middle consisting mainly of conversation, the novel then picks up pace dramatically. Just as in The Thirty-nine Steps when Hannay goes on the run, fearing for his life, over the moors, so Leithen, in danger of his life, flees his pursuers through the streets of London, as he is lured in deserted buildings, taxis and a decidedly dodgy restaurant. He realises how thin the protection of civilisation is and how there were dozens of ways of spiriting him out of ‘this gay, bustling world‘, alone in a crowd with no one to help him, only his own wits.

Buchan tells a good story, even if I had little idea what the Power-House really was. It’s an international anarchist network, but who they were, what they were actually after, or how they hoped to achieve their ends was never clear to me. But I really enjoyed this book. As Stella Rimington says it has an ‘intoxicating blend of madness with scents of home and countryside.’ And

… the thinness of the crust of civilisation, whatever that may be these days, is as relevant in our time as it was when Buchan was writing in the early war-torn years of the twentieth century. (page xi)

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert, first published in 1950, was his fourth Inspector Hazelrigg novel. It’s the first one I’ve read, although I have read two of his other books. There is an excellent introduction by Martin Edwards, which gives details of Gilbert’s career as a a solicitor and as a mystery writer. He wrote 30 novels and 185 short stories, as well as work for radio, television and stage.

As the title tells you Smallbone is dead. He was one of the trustees of the Ichabod Stokes Trust together with Abel Horniman, the senior partner of a London law firm, Horniman, Birley and Craine. After the recent death of Abel, whilst looking for the deeds relating to the Trust, Marcus Smallbone’s body was discovered in the Trust’s deed box, a large, hermetically sealed box.

Inspector Hazelrigg runs the police investigation. It’s obviously an inside job and with the help of Henry Bohun, a newcomer to the firm, the police investigate each of the suspects until by process of elimination the culprit is identified. Of course it’s not that straight forward, as each person’s motive, opportunity and alibi is considered and there are a number of red herrings that did baffle me a little. There is rather too much detail about the finances of the firm for my liking, but apart from that the book moves along swiftly.

The setting in the solicitors’ office after the end of the Second World War is well done and reflects the differences between the male professionals and the female admin staff with their intrigues, rivalries and flirtations. I think Bohun is the most interesting character, although they are all individually distinguishable. Bohun is not just new to the firm, but also a newly qualified solicitor. He has para-insomnia and never gets a full night’s sleep, averaging about ninety minutes a night. It doesn’t make him feel tired, but means he has lots of time to help Inspector Hazelrigg and still carry out his job, as well as doing a good deal of reading, walking the streets and even working as a night watchman. It’s written with a light touch and a sense of humour and I enjoyed it very much.

Now, I’d like to read more of Gilbert’s work, maybe starting with some of his short stories as Bohun appeared in nine short stories and also in a six-part radio thriller and Hazelrigg featured in nineteen short stories as well as in six novels.

Michael Gilbert

Michael Gilbert (1912-2006) wrote thrillers, police procedurals and espionage novels that rank among the highest and most varied achievements of British crime writing in the second half of the twentieth century. A founding member of the Crime Writers’ Association, Gilbert was for many years partner in a London law firm and drew on his knowledge of the law in writing his most acclaimed novel. For more information about Michael Gilbert see this article by Martin Edwards.

Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 5145 KB
Print Length: 236 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0755119193
Publisher: British Library Publishing (22 Jan. 2019)
Source: I bought it

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

A labyrinth of clues. A mystery novel hiding a deadly secret. A killer with a fiendish plot: a brilliantly intricate and original thriller from the bestselling author of Magpie Murders

Random House Cornerstone| 20 August 2020| 400 pages| Review copy| 5*

Moonflower Murders is a follow up novel to Magpie Murders. It has the same format – that of a book within the book. Although I don’t think you have to read Magpie Murders first as this stands well on its own merits, I think it would help to know the background and some of the characters if you do.

Susan Ryeland, the main character, has retired as a publisher and is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend, Andreas. Their hotel is in debt, they’re in danger of going bankrupt and she is missing her literary life in London. So, when Lawrence and Pauline Trehearn, the owners of an hotel, Branlow Hall in Suffolk visit her and ask if she would investigate the disappearance of their daughter Cecily from their hotel for a fee, she decides to go – and at the same time visit London.

Before she had disappeared Cecily had read Alan Conway’s murder mystery, Atticus Pund Takes the Case, based on a murder that happened at Brownlow Hall eight years earlier. At that time, the evidence against Stefan, the general maintenance man was overwhelming and he was convicted. Cecily was convinced that there was something in the novel that proved Stefan wasn’t responsible for the crime. Unfortunately she hadn’t told anyone what had convinced her. The Trehearnes had read the book, but they couldn’t see any connection, although there are similarities – the characters are clearly based on the people at Brownlow Hall, with the same or similar names.

Susan had published Conway’s books, but thought that if he had indeed discovered that an innocent man was in prison he would have gone straight to the police and not turned it into a novel. But investigating Cecily’s disappearance, she re-reads his book and examines the evidence relating to the murder of eight years ago.

Moonflower Murders combines elements of vintage-style golden age crime novels with word-play, cryptic clues and anagrams. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to work it all out. it – Anthony Horowitz’s style of writing suits me – so easy to read, I whizzed through it, no doubt missing all the intricacies and clues along the way. But it is such an enjoyable way to read – no need to puzzle about the structure, or who is who as the characters all come across as individual people. Of course it’s not a straightforward mystery and along the way I was easily distracted by the red herrings. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to work it all out.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publishers Cornerstone for an ARC.

20 Books of Summer 2020: Update

I’m taking part in 20 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. You simply list twenty books (there are also ten and fifteen book options) and read them during the summer months, ending on 1 September.

So far I have read 6 of the books I originally listed. After I began reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, which was not on my original list, I realised that as it has 853 pages there was no way I could read the rest of the books on my list before 1 September. So, I have revised my list – and I make no apologies for the fact that I have chosen books that are short rather than long. Well, The Luminaries is nearly as long as three 300 page length books!

  1. The Deep by Alma Katsu
  2. How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister
  3. The Mist by Ragnar Jonasson
  4. Maigret’s Holiday by Georges Simenon
  5. Deadheads by Reginald Hill
  6. Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz – finished – review to follow
  7. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
  8. The Power House by John Buchan
  9. The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott
  10. Bilgewater by Jane Gardam
  11. How to Kill a Cat by W J Burley
  12. Thin Air by Michelle Paver
  13. The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin
  14. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
  15. The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe
  16. A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry
  17. Giant’s Breath by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
  18. A Moment of Silence by Anna Dean
  19. Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards
  20. The Dry by Jane Harper

There is always the possibility that I’ll swap some books later on … I am constantly bombarded by books yelling at me to read them.

Maigret’s Holiday by Georges Simenon

I am way behind with writing about the books I’ve read, so I thought it’s best to start catching up by writing about the last book I finished, whilst it is still relatively fresh in my mind.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Maigret’s Holiday, translated by Ros Schwartz, is one of Penguin Classics’ new translations of the entire series of Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels. This edition was published 4 February 2016. It was first published in French as Les Vacances de Maigret in 1948 (the 28th book in the series) and has previously been published in translations as No Vacation for Maigret and A Summer Holiday.

It is August; Maigret and his wife are on holiday in the seaside town of Les Sables d’Olonne. On their first evening they’d eaten a huge dish of freshly caught mussels and they’d both been ill. Maigret quickly recovered but next day on the beach Madame Maigret complained of vague pains and their second night she developed a fever. Admitted to hospital the next day, she was still there nine days later after an emergency operation for acute appendicitis. When a young woman in room 15 in another ward died, Maigret was unable to resist investigating the circumstances of her death, especially as he had received an anonymous note that had been slipped into his pocket; the words irritated him:

For pity’s sake, ask to see the patient in room 15.

The young woman had died after being flung from a moving car. Of course, it is not a straightforward death and the mystery deepened with the disappearance of her brother.

Maigret visited his wife everyday for half an hour. But he was bored with his routine as he strolled around the resort, along the promenade, Le Remblai, feeling he couldn’t go and sit alone on the vast beach among all the mothers and their children. He wandered from stall to stall in the covered market and stopped at cafes and various favourite places for a glass of white wine or of Calvados. Each afternoon he went to the Brasserie du Remblai, overlooking the beach, where a group of important men, including the local chief inspector of police, Monsieur Mansuy, met to play bridge. Maigret sat and watched them play. And it is through Mansuy that Maigret learns about the local characters, which proves essential for him in solving the mystery.

I loved the way Simenon sets the scene. His writing is direct and lucid with just the right amount of description. I could imagine myself in Les Sables d’Olonne, walking on the narrow cobblestone streets and going into the hospital with its atmosphere that reminded Maigret of his childhood when he was a choirboy – ‘the purity of silence had a quality that cannot be found anywhere other than a convent.’ A hospital where the nurses were nuns.

Maigret relieved his boredom by investigating the mystery surrounding the patient in room 15. He gradually peeled back the layers and without him, no one would have had any idea what had really happened or why. Maigret worked methodically and thoroughly, as he tried to understand the locals and their reactions to the police. In the end he painstakingly visited the shops and cafes asking questions and realised that there was at least one other person in danger. But he knew nothing about that person, not even whether it was a man or a woman and he couldn’t guess their age or profession. As he got closer to the solution he became agitated, so much so that it seemed to him that he was no longer breathing, as he tried to avert a further tragedy.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is perfectly paced, building in intensity and complexity, over just 199 pages. A note about the author reveals that Simenon acknowledged that he and his fictional detective shared an important characteristic:

My motto, to the extent that I have one, has been noted often enough, and I’ve always conformed to it. It’s the one I’ve given to old Maigret, who resembles me in certain points … ‘understand and judge not.’

I think that is exactly what Maigret does in this book.

Deadheads by Reginald Hill

5 Stars

Deadheads is the 7th Dalziel and Pascoe novel first published in 1983 and by then Reginald Hill was really getting into his stride and showing his versatility as this book is not a bit like his earlier books. There are deaths, of course, but are they murders? Each one could just as easily be from natural causes or accidents. You think you know from the first chapter who the culprit could be, but I wasn’t really sure – and even by the end I was still wondering if I was right. The police investigation is run mainly by Pascoe and to a certain extent by his wife, Ellie, whilst Dalziel is occupied with other matters, only involved as the mystery draws towards its end.

Blurb

Patrick Aldermann inherits the splendid Rosemount House and gardens on the death of his aunt, and there he is able to indulge his horticultural passions without restraint.

When his boss, Dick Elgood, suggests that Aldermann is a murderer, then retracts the accusation, Peter Pascoe’s detecting instincts are aroused. How did an underachieving accountant make his way to the top of the company so quickly? And why do so many of his colleagues keep dropping dead?

Meanwhile, when not fielding politically incorrect insults from Superintendent Dalziel, Police Cadet Singh—Mid-Yorkshire’s first Asian copper—has dug up some very interesting information about Aldermann’s beautiful wife, Daphne, who’s now firm friends with one Ellie Pascoe…

It’s important to read the first chapter of Deadheads by Reginald Hill very carefully. At first I didn’t, but as I read on I began to think I’d misread it, so I went back to it – and then I understood its significance. It’s a short chapter that sets the theme for the book. Each chapter is named after a particular rose followed by a description of that rose and the first one is called Mischief, a hybrid tea, in which old Mrs Florence Aldermann instructs her great nephew, eleven year old Patrick, how to deadhead roses and explains why it is necessary.

The blurb outlines the plot and to write much more would, I think, mean I’d be giving away too many spoilers. I found the whole book fascinating, written with humour and social commentary on the issues of racism, homosexualty, feminism and marital infidelity. The plot is well executed and Hill’s descriptive writing is, as usual superb, both in terms of the setting and the development of the characters. And I especially liked the ambiguity of the plot and the circularity of the book – ending as it began with Patrick in his rose garden, pruning roses.