Six Degrees of Separation: from Sanditon to The Lambs of London

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Sanditon

This month the chain begins with December 7, 2019), we’ll begin with Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript, Sanditon. I read this a few years ago and enjoyed it very much.  It’s the last fiction that Jane Austen wrote, beginning it in January 1817, the year she died. She was ill and the subject of health is one of its themes, but not in a serious or gloomy way. It has a lively, bright and humorous tone, with three of the characters being hypochondriacs, wonderfully satirised by Jane Austen.

My first thought was to link to The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel. But I’ve already used it in an earlier Six Degrees post and I don’t like to use the same book twice in these posts, so my first link is to Castle Dor, which Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch had started to write  but had set aside unfinished before his death. His daughter asked Daphne du Maurier to finish it. It retells of the legend of the tragic lovers, Tristan and Isolde, transplanted in time and place to the early 1840s in Cornwall. 

The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart also retells a legend, that of King Arthur and Merlin. It’s the third book of the Arthurian Saga, a book of myth and legend and about the conflict between good and evil.

My third link is King Arthur in King Arthur’s Bones by the Medieval Murderers, a group of five authors, all members of the Crime Writers’ Association. The book consists of five stories with a prologue and an epilogue tracing the mystery of Arthur’s remains. The legend is that King Arthur is not dead, but sleeping with his knights ready to return to defend his country in a time of great danger. One of the stories is set in the 17th century involving William Shakespeare’s brother Edmund who discovered a long thigh bone and a murder in the Tower of London in one of the compartments of the Lion Tower where the king kept lions and tigers. 

Another of Shakespeare’s brothers, Richard, appears in Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell. It’s 1595 and the players are rehearsing a new play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Richard is longing to play a male role, but so far has only been given female roles. There is little brotherly love between the brothers and Richard is tempted to leave the Lord Chamberlain’s Men when Langley, the producer at the Swan in Southwark offers him a job, providing he will steal two of William’s new plays.

This brings me to Peter Ackroyd’s Biography of Shakespeare.  It is full of detail about the theatrical world, how the actors worked, about their patrons and managers, how Shakespeare interacted with other writers, and how his work was received by the public and the monarchy.

And so to my final link, another book by Peter Ackroyd, The Lambs of London, historical fiction based loosely on the lives of Mary and Charles Lamb. It also is a link to Shakespeare as Mary buys  a book from William Ireland, an antiquarian, a book that it is said once belonged to Shakespeare.

My chain is linked by unfinished books, books about legends, Tristan and Isolde and King Arthur, about Shakespeare and his brothers and books by Peter Ackroyd. It includes both crime and historical fiction and a biography.

Next month ( 4 January 2020), we’ll begin with Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, a book I’ve never heard of before. 

My Friday Post: Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody

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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.

Murder in the afternoon

Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody is the 3rd Kate Shackleton Mystery. It begins with a Prologue dated Saturday 12 May 1923 Great Applewick:

Harriet held the cloth-covered basin in her thin hands, feeling the warmth.

followed by Chapter One dated Monday at Pipistrelle Lodge, Headingly:

The railway carriage lurched, flinging me forward. Bolts of lightning  struck as the carriage toppled. Gasping, I grabbed for something to hold onto. The screech of brakes jerked me awake. I opened my eyes to find myself in bed, the journey from Kings’ Cross to Leeds completed hours ago, and safely.

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

30879-friday2b56These 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:

‘Won’t you at least cordon off the mason’s hut, in case this does turn out to be a murder enquiry?’

Blurb:

Dead one minute …

Young Harriet and her brother Austin have always been scared of the quarry where their stonemason father works. So when they find him dead on the cold ground, they scarper quick smart and look for some help.

Alive the next …

When help arrives, the quarry is deserted and there is no sign of the body. Were the children mistaken? Is their father not dead? Did he simply get up and run away?

A sinister disappearing act …

It seem like another unusual case requiring the expertise of Kate Shackleton. But for Kate this is one case where surprising family ties makes it her most dangerous yet – and delicate – yet …

~~~

I’ enjoyed the first two Kate Shackleton Mysteries, set in Yorkshire in the early 1920s and two of the later books as well. There are 11 in the series, plus Kate Shackleton’s First Case and the 12th book coming in October 2020.

Have you read any of these books? Do let me know.

The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories edited by Martin Edwards (British Library Crime Classics)

Here is another collection of short stories from the Golden Age of Murder edited by Martin Edwards: The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories.

Christmas Card Crime

Poisoned Pen Press, in association with the British Library|1 October 2019|Print length 240 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*

There are eleven stories all set during the Christmas season in this collection and an introduction by Martin Edwards. In it he points out the differences between a short story and a novel. It’s not just the length, but it is also the fact that in a short story there is little space to develop the characters in depth or for lengthy descriptions, so ‘every word must be made to earn its keep‘. He has also prefaced each story with a biographical note, which I found useful as some of the authors were new to me.

The mysteries range in date of publication from 1909 up to 1965. I’ve read stories by some of the authors before, such as Baroness Orczy, John Dixon Carr, Ronald Knox, E C R Lorac, John Bude and Julian Symons, but others were new to me. The ones I enjoyed the most are:

The Motive  Ronald Knox. This story first appeared in The London Illustrated News in November 1937 and is about an attempted murder in a smart hotel on the English Riviera, by a character named ‘Westmacott’ (a pen name used by Agatha Christie).. On Christmas Day after a party the guests decided to play a version of ‘blind man’s buff’ in the swimming pool, which didn’t go as planned.

Another version of ‘blind man’s buff‘, this time called ‘blind man’s bluff‘, is played in the next story also with disastrous consequences.

Blind Man’s Hood by John Dickson Carr writing as Carter Dickson. This first appeared in the Christmas edition of The Sketch in 1937 and is a story inspired by the unsolved Peasonhall murder case of 1902. It is a strange tale about a young couple arriving to spend Christmas with friends, only to find the house empty – except that is for a young woman carrying a white bag, who tells them about a game of ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’ that went very wrong, years ago. It’s a variation on a locked room mystery, with a touch of the supernatural.

Crime at Lark Cottage by John Bingham – this first appeared in the 1954 Christmas Number of The London Illustrated News. Bingham was the 7th Earl of Clanmorris, a journalist who was recruited into MI5, where he worked with David Cornwell, who later wrote spy novels under the name of John Le Carré. This story and the next are my two favourites in the book. It is the story of an escaped convict and an isolated country cottage occupied by a young woman and her little daughter one snowy Christmas. Very atmospheric and tense with an unexpected ending. I’d like to read more of John Bingham’s work.

‘Twixt the Cup and the Lip by Julian Symons – this first appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in January 1965). Longer than the other stories in this collection it is the tale of Mr Rossiter Payne, a meticulous bookseller who plans a perfect robbery – to steal the jewels, that had once belonged to the Russian royal family, on display in a London department store at Christmas. But Mr Payne had made an uncharacteristic error …

Overall, I enjoyed reading this collection, with a mix of excellent short stories and some that I thought  were too short and had disappointing or predictable endings.

My thanks to the publishers for my review copy via NetGalley.

Top Ten Tuesday: Holiday Reading

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week’s topic: is Books you love reading during the holiday season. Here are some Christmas themed books I’ve read in the past and one I want to read this year.

  1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, I often re-read this around Christmas time. This was the first Dickens I read. My Great Aunt gave me this for Christmas one year when I was a child and I’ve loved it ever since.
  2. The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries:The Most Complete Collection of Yuletide Whodunits Ever Assembled edited by Otto Penzler is a big book of 647 pages – so I have an e-book version and dip into into it each Christmas.
  3. A Maigret Christmas by Georges Simenon –  the Inspector receives two unexpected visitors on Christmas Day.
  4. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie – Christmas Eve with the Lee family and Poirot.
  5. The Christmas Train by David Baldacci – part detective story, part disaster movie, part romance.
  6. The Santa Klaus Murder  by Gladys Mitchell, a classic locked room murder mystery.
  7. The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder is a good book to read during Advent.
  8. A Feast for Advent Delia offers help in escaping for a few minutes each day to contemplate the meaning of Christmas, providing a journey through Advent, illustrated with photographs.
  9. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham. This is not the usual Grisham legal thriller, but a very funny little book about the horrors, commercialisation and expense of Christmas.
  10. Snow on the Cobbles by Maggie Sullivan – to read. Christmas on Coronation Street at the end of  the Second World War.

 

D H Lawrence: The Life Of An Outsider by John Worthen

D H Lawrence

Penguin Books|2006|518 pages|5*

In April I began reading  D. H. Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen, a biography. It is one of my TBRs as I bought it in 2008 when I visited D H Lawrence’s birthplace at Eastwood, 8 miles from Nottingham.

He was born in 1885 in a row of miners’ houses, a two up, two down redbrick house. The adjoining end terrace house is now a museum and shop (where I bought the book).

I find writing about biographies difficult. This book, in particular, is hard to summarise. I read the book slowly in short sections, reading it most days. It’s a detailed portrait of his life from his birth in 1885 in Eastwood in Nottinghamshire to his death at the age of 44 in 1930. An ‘outsider’, he always felt he didn’t fit in or belong either with his family, or his work colleagues, or the literary elite of the times.

By 1908 writing had become a necessity to him – writing poetry, but he was too insecure to send any of it to a publisher. At that time he was working in Croydon as an elementary teacher. He began writing his first novel, which by October 1910 he was calling ‘Paul Morel‘ . It later became ‘Sons and Lovers.’  It was in 1912 that he first met Frieda Weekley, whom he later married. She was then married to Ernest Weekley, a Nottingham University professor of modern languages.

Once he had left Eastwood he travelled in search of a place where he could be himself, but despite staying in different places, with friends, in hotels and in rented accommodation he felt he was really unable to find a place of his own. The maps at the beginning of the book illustrate this with maps of Lawrence’s Eastwood, of the places he lived in England, in Italy and in America and Mexico. Part of his need to find a place of his own was purely physical – he suffered from tuberculosis and he was searching for a climate where he could breathe easily. His final months were full of pain and suffering and he died in Bandol, France on 2 March 1930.

Worthen writes in depth about Lawrence’s personal life, his relationship with his family and in particular with his mother, Lydia and then his wife, Frieda, as well as his numerous friends and acquaintances, because although he thought of himself as an outsider he needed his friends. Lawrence was prolific, writing novels, short stories, plays, poems, letters, essays, nonfiction books, travel literature, and so on, as well as producing numerous paintings (some of which were on display at his Birthplace Museum).

D H Lawrence photos

Worthen writes in great detail about his work, quoting from original sources, and tracing his development as a writer. There are 38 photographs, the first taken c.1886 of Lawrence as a baby in a pram to a photo of a clay head of him made in 1930 by Jo Davidson. I found it all fascinating, giving a portrait of a man often misunderstood by his contemporaries and criticised for being sexist, racist, a misogynist, a fascist and a colonialist. Worthen, however, writes:

He was in reality generous to women and men alike, and to all races and colours. He wrote wonderfully all his life about his experience of the natural world; he was more perceptive than almost any writer, before or since, about the effects of civilisation upon instinct and desire. He has constantly been attacked because his writing constantly thought things through in public. But it is, uncannily, as if Lawrence knew where both his contemporaries and those after him would be most sensitive and anxious, and concentrated his writing on those very subjects: sex, gender roles, the exercise of power. He intuitively worked his way into the concerns and anxieties of his contemporaries, though by doing so he also confirmed his alienation from his own age and (now) perhaps from ours. (pages xxv – xxvi)

I have read just a few of Lawrence’s novels – Women in Love, Sons and Lovers, The Virgin and the Gypsy, St Mawr, and The Man Who Died. I haven’t read Lady Chatterley’s Lover yet, but when I do I’ll look back at Worthern has to say about it.

About the author:

John Worthen  taught at universities in North America and Wales before becoming Professor of D. H. Lawrence Studies at the University of Nottingham, where he remains Emeritus Professor. His career as Lawrence’s biographer began in the 1980s, resulting in the first of a three-volume Cambridge biography – D. H. Lawrence: The Early Years 1885 – 1912. In 2001 Yale University Press brought out his group biography The Gang: Coleridge, the Wordsworth and the Hutchinsons in 1802. His newest biography is a life of the great German composer Robert Schumann, while he also plans to write a biography of Frieda von Richthofen, concentrating wholly on her life before she met D. H. Lawrence.

WWW Wednesday: 27 November 2019

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

a beautiful corpse

Currently I’m reading A Beautiful Corpse, crime fiction by Christi Daugherty, set in Savannah, Georgia. A beautiful law student has been killed and three men close to the victim are questioned. All of them claim to love her. All of them say they are innocent of her murder.  As journalist Harper McClain unravels a tangled story of obsession and jealousy, the killer turns his focus onto her. I’ve read over half the book and it is growing on me – I’m enjoying it more and more as I read on.

Watching the EnglishI’m also reading Watching the English by Kate Fox, a nonfiction book about the ‘Hidden Rules of English Behaviour’. I’ve only just started reading and so far it is really interesting as the author sets out her parameters and defines what she considers to be  ‘Englishness’ and why it is different from ‘Britishness’, which I think is a very tricky question and one that I have been puzzling over for years.

She refers in some instances to Jeremy Paxman (and I see from the index there are several references to him in this book) and she lists his book The English: A Portrait of a People, which I read about 5 years ago. I decided from reading his book that I didn’t really feel any clearer about what is is to be ‘English’ and it seemed there really is no such thing as ‘the English’ – we’re a mixture of all sorts, or as Paxman puts it, The English are a mongrel race‘. (page 59)

Furious hours

I’ve recently finished Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep, a nonfiction book about Willie Maxwell, an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird. I found this a fascinating book and posted my review yesterday

As for my next book I don’t know right now. I’m torn between wanting to read several, including A Pinch of Snuff by Reginald Hill, the 5th Dalziel and Pascoe novel, A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh, the 1st in her Plague Trilogy, Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (the last two as I’ve just finished reading Furious Hours).

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Nonfiction November: Week 5 New To My TBR

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I’ve been taking part in Nonfiction November 2019 again this year. It has now come to the end and this is the final topic!

The host this week is Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction who says ‘It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book’.

It certainly has been an amazing week in which I’ve read other book bloggers’ posts about many nonfiction books, most of them books that were completely new to me. These are just a few of the many that caught my imagination.

From Helen @She Reads Novels

  • The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale  – Victorian true crime
  • Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry by Arthur C. Wright – looks at the often-ignored images in the margins of the Tapestry and discusses what they add to our knowledge of the period.

From RennieWhat’s Nonfiction

From Kate @ Books Are My Favourite and Best

From Hopewell’s Library of Life

1947: Where Now Begins by Elizabeth Asbrink – a year that defined the modern world, intertwining historical events around the globe with key moments from the author’s personal history. I already have 1946: the Making of the Modern World by Victor Sebestyen, so it’ll be interesting to compare these books.

Many thanks to all the hosts of this year’s Nonfiction in November