He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr

He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr was my Classics Club Spin book for August. It was first published in 1946. Carr (1906 – 1977) was an American writer who also wrote under the pseudonym of Carter Dickson and Carr Dickson. In 1936 he was elected to the Detection Club in London. He Who Whispers is one of his ‘locked room’  mysteries/impossible crimes, featuring Dr Gideon Fell, an amateur sleuth.

He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr

I really didn’t know what to expect so I was pleased to find that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s well written, set in 1945 just after the end of the Second World War when Miles Hammond is finding it hard to getting used to peacetime. London is still showing the scars of the war and he feels that his life is unreal. He has been discharged from the Army after being in hospital suffering from diesel-oil poisoning.

Then, gasping out to the end like a gauleiter swallowing poison, the war is over. You come out of hospital – a little shakily, your discharge papers in your pocket – into a London still pinched by shortages; a London of long queues, erratic buses, dry pubs; a London where they turn on the street-lights and immediately turn them off again to save fuel; but a place free at last from the intolerable weight of threats.

People didn’t celebrate that victory hysterically, as for some reason or other the newspapers liked to make out. What the newsreels showed was only a bubble on the huge surface of the town. Like himself, Miles Hammond thought, most people were a little apathetic because they could not yet think of it as real. (page 6)

His friend, Dr Gideon Fell, has invited him to dinner as a guest at the Murder Club, their first meeting in five years, where the speaker is Professor Rigaud. But when he arrives he finds none of the members of the Club have turned up. The only other people there are the Professor, and a beautiful blonde called Barbara Morell. Rigaud, however, tells them the story he had prepared for the Club – a tale of an impossible murder on the top of a ruined tower, that had once been part of a French chateau burnt down by the Hugeunots in the 16th century, and a mysterious woman, Miss Fay Seton.

The body of Howard Brooke was found lying on the parapet of the tower by two children between 10 minutes to 4 and 5 minutes past 4. He had been stabbed through his body with a sword-stick and yet the evidence showed conclusively that during this time not a living soul came near him. Rigaud points out the difficulties of scaling the wall of the tower, leading Miles to suspect he is alluding to ‘some sort of supernatural being that could float in the air‘ – in other words, a vampire.

Now, six years later Miles, Rigaud and Barbara together with Dr Fell set about trying to solve the mystery. I was fascinated by Dr Fell, supposedly based upon G. K. Chesterton (author of the Father Brown stories), in his appearance and personality. He’s immensely tall and fat, with a big mop of grey-streaked hair, and wearing a long, dark cape. He strides along ‘with a rolling motion like an emperor, and the sound of his throat-clearing preceded him like a war-cry‘.

I thought the characterisation was excellent and there is a great sense of location. The book is full of tension and there is a real sense of approaching danger and disaster as the characters struggle to uncover the truth. It is only due to Dr Fell’s ingenuity that their fears are calmed and he produces a rational explanation and reveals the truth. I too was puzzled and the book had kept me guessing right to the end. Even then when I knew what had happened I was so involved with the characters that  I was left wondering –  what happened next? 

Now, I’m keen to read more of John Dickson Carr’s books. There are a lot of them – see the list at Fantastic Fiction.

  • Paperback: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books in association with H.Hamilton (1953)
  • Source: I bought my copy
  • Rating: 4*

Classics Club Spin

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin. The Club has four new moderators – Brona, Deb, Kay and Margaret (not me). And I’m pleased to see they are carrying on with the Classics Club Spin!

The Spin rules:

  •  List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
  • Number them from 1 to 20.
  • On Wednesday 1st August, the Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by 31st August, 2018.

This is my list:

All Quiet on the Western FrontAppleby's EndBirdsongClouds of Witness: Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery…The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin (Maigret #10)

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  2. Appleby’s End by Michael Innes
  3. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
  4. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers
  5. The Dancer at the Gai Moulin by Georges Simenon

Far From the Madding CrowdGreenmantle (Richard Hannay, #2)Gulliver's TravelsHe Who Whispers (Dr. Gideon Fell, #16)Love in the Time of Cholera

6. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
7. Greenmantle by John Buchan
8. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
9. He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr
10.Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Man in the Queue (Inspector Alan Grant, #1)Oliver TwistParade's EndThe Return of the NativeThe Riddle of the Third Mile (Inspector Morse, #6)

11.The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey
12.Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
13.Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
14.The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
15.The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter

Ruling Passion (Dalziel & Pascoe, #3)The Shadow PuppetThe Saint-Fiacre Affair (Maigret, #13)Sweet ThursdayThree Men in a Boat (Three Men, #1)

16.Ruling Passion by Reginald Hill
17.The Shadow Puppet by Georges Simenon
18.The Saint- Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon
19.Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
20.Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

It shouldn’t matter which one comes up as I do want to read these books – but I’d like it to be one of the shorter books!

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

‘… in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.’

The Grapes of Wrath

Shocking and controversial when it was first published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic remains his undisputed masterpiece.

Set against the background of dust bowl Oklahoma and Californian migrant life, it tells of the Joad family, who, like thousands of others, are forced to travel West in search of the promised land. Their story is one of false hopes, thwarted desires and broken dreams, yet out of their suffering Steinbeck created a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision; an eloquent tribute to the endurance and dignity of the human spirit. (Amazon)

I loved The Grapes of Wrath. It’s a book that totally surprised me by how much I loved it and I’m sure that whatever I write about it will not do it justice – my post merely skims the surface of this brilliant book. My copy has an Introduction by Robert DeMott, who is an American author, scholar, and editor best known for his influential scholarship on John Steinbeck and in it he writes that The Grapes of Wrath is the greatest of Steinbeck’s seventeen novels.

Steinbeck’s aggressive mixture of native philosophy, common sense politics, blue-collar radicalism, working class characters, folk wisdom, and home-spun literary form – all set to a rhythmic style and nervy, raw dialect – qualified the novel as the ‘American book” he set out to write. (page 1)

Cannery Row was the first of Steinbeck’s novels that I read and I thought then that Steinbeck’s style is perfect for me. With both books I felt that I was there in the thick of everything he described. His writing conjures up such vivid pictures and together with his use of dialect I really felt I was there in America in the 1930s travelling with the Joad family on their epic journey from Oklahoma to California. What a long, hard journey with such high hopes of a better life and what a tragedy when they arrived to find their dreams were shattered, their illusions destroyed and their hopes denied.

I liked the structure of the book with chapters advancing the story of the Joad family’s journey interspersed with general chapters about the current situation in the country giving snapshots of living conditions. But it’s the landscape and the characters (so many of them) together that made such an impression on me. I liked all the details Steinbeck gives, for example how everything, no matter how small has meaning and memories attached, how to decide what to leave and what to take as the Joads packed up to leave their home. Their belongings and their land is their whole being:

How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past? No. Leave it. Burn it. They sat and looked at it and burned it into their memories. How’ll it be not to know what land’s outside the door? How if you wake up in the night and know—and know the willow tree’s not there? Can you live without the willow tree? Well, no, you can’t. The willow tree is you. The pain on that mattress there—that dreadful pain—that’s you. (page 93)

Throughout the book, Steinbeck shows the inhumanity of man to man and also the dignity and compassion, the essential goodness and perseverance of individuals against such appalling conditions and inhumane treatment. Inevitably, I found myself comparing it to the situation today with the influx of migrants and refugees and the problems of illegal immigrants.

Steinbeck’s first wife, Carol chose the novel’s title from Howe’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ –  Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord, He is trampling on the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored… , which in turn is taken from the Book of Revelation Ch14:19-20: ‘So the angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes, and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.'(NIV)

~~~

This book slots into the only reading challenge I’m doing this year – What’s in a Name 2018. It fits into the category of a book with a ‘fruit or vegetable‘ in the title. It is also one of my TBR books (a book I’ve owned prior to 1 January 2018) and also a book on my Classics Club list.

  • Format: Paperback
  • Print Length: 476 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics 2000 (first published 1939)
  • Source: A present
  • My Rating: 5*

WWW Wednesday: 13 June 2018

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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?

I’m currently reading:

The Grapes of WrathOn Beulah Height (Dalziel & Pascoe, #17)

I’m making good progress with The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and I’m still loving it.The Joads have arrived in California and it’s not what they expected – too many homeless, hungry people desperate for work being moved on from place to place. Steinbeck’s writing is detailed and richly descriptive. I feel as though I’m on the road with the characters.

I’m also reading On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill, crime fiction about missing children in a Yorkshire village. A little girl took her dog out for a walk early one morning and didn’t come home. Three little girls had disappeared 15 years earlier and their bodies were never found. I’ve read nearly half the book and as usual with Hill’s books I love the characterisation, the humour and his use of dialect. It’s the first of my 10 Books of Summer.

Recently finished: Come a Little Closer by Rachel Abbott – definitely creepy and disturbing. It’s the first book of hers I’ve read, but the seventh one she’s written. It reads well as a standalone. It’s described as a psychological thriller and the characters are certainly unstable, stressed and in complex and dangerous relationships. I gave it three stars on Goodreads – maybe that’s being generous, as I’m not at all sure I did ‘like’ it.

Come A Little Closer (DCI Tom Douglas #7)

Synopsis:

They will be coming soon. They come every night. 
  
Snow is falling softly as a young woman takes her last breath. 
  
Fifteen miles away, two women sit silently in a dark kitchen. They don’t speak, because there is nothing left to be said. 
  
Another woman boards a plane to escape the man who is trying to steal her life. But she will have to return, sooner or later. 
  
These strangers have one thing in common. They each made one bad choice – and now they have no choices left. Soon they won’t be strangers, they’ll be family… 
  
When DCI Tom Douglas is called to the cold, lonely scene of a suspicious death, he is baffled. Who is she? Where did she come from? How did she get there? 
  
How many more must die? Who is controlling them, and how can they be stopped?

I may write more about this book once I’ve sorted out my thoughts about it.

Reading next: Stalker by Lisa Stone, due to be published tomorrow 14 June.

Synopsis:

Someone is always watching…

Derek Flint is a loner. He lives with his mother and spends his
evenings watching his clients on the CCTV cameras he has installed inside their homes. He likes their companionship – even if it’s through a screen.

When a series of crimes hits Derek’s neighbourhood, DC Beth Mayes begins to suspect he’s involved. How does he know so much about the victims’ lives? Why won’t he let anyone into his office? And what is his mother hiding in that strange, lonely house?

As the crimes become more violent, Beth must race against the clock to find out who is behind the attacks. Will she uncover the truth in time? And is Derek more dangerous than even she has guessed?

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

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

The Inheritance

This week I’m featuring The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott, a book I’ll be reading in the next few days.

It begins:

In a green park, where troops of bright-eyed deer lay sleeping under drooping tees and a clear lake mirrored in its bosom the flowers that grew upon its edge, there stood Lord Hamilton’s stately home, half castle and half mansion. Here and there rose a gray old tower or ivy-covered arch, while the blooming gardens that lay around it and the light balconies added grace and beauty to the old decaying castle, making it a fair and pleasant home.

Synopsis:

Synopsis:

Here at last is the book “Jo” wrote. Generations of fans have longed to plumb that first romance, hinted at so captivatingly on the pages of “Little Women,” Alcott’s autobiographical classic. Now, after nearly one hundred fifty years spent among archived family documents, Louisa May Alcott’s debut novel finally reaches its eager public.

Set in an English country manor, the story follows the turbulent fortunes of Edith Adelon, an impoverished Italian orphan whose loyalty and beauty win her the patronage of wealthy friends until a jealous rival contrives to rob her of her position. In the locket around her neck, she carries a deep secret about her natural birthright. But an even greater truth lies hidden in Edith’s heart – her deep reverence for the kind and noble Lord Percy, the only friend who can save her from the deceitful, envious machinations of Lady Ida. Reminiscent of Jane Austen in its charms, this chaste but stirringly passionate novel affirms the conquering power of both love and courtesy. (Goodreads)

∼ ∼ 

The Inheritance was first published in 1997. The manuscript was found in the Houghton Library at Harvard University by two professors, Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy who were researching Alcott’s letters and journals.

What do you think – would you read on?

My Wednesday Post: 9 May 2018

There are two memes I take part in on Wednesdays:

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next.

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A similar meme,  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?

Currently reading: I have three books on the go at the moment,  – The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, from my TBR shelves.  I’m only up to chapter 3 so far but I’m enjoying his descriptive writing so much as Tom Joad returns to his family home in Oklahoma during a drought as a storm blew up and dust clouds covered everything. Tom, convicted of homicide has just been released from prison after serving four years of a seven year sentence.

I’m also reading Her Hidden Life by V S Alexander, a novel set in Germany during the Second World War, about the life of Magda, one of Hitler’s food tasters. See yesterday’s post for the opening paragraph and synopsis. I’m in chapter 6 at the moment when Magda sees photos taken by an SS officer at Auschwitz, that show that Hitler is lying about how the Reich is dealing with Jews and prisoners of war near the Eastern front.

The Summer Before the War

The third book I’m reading is The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson, about the  summer of 1914, set in Rye in East Sussex when spinster Beatrice Nash arrived to teach at the local grammar school. Her appointment was the result of Agatha Kent’s and Lady Emily Wheaton’s wish to have a female teacher as a Latin teacher. I’m in the middle of chapter 5 in which Beatrice is at Lady Emily’s annual garden party with the school governors, the Headmaster and staff and some of the local dignitaries. I’m finding it rather slow-going so far.

The last book I finished is Belinda Bauer’s latest book Snap, one of my NetGalley books. It’s crime fiction about Jack and his sisters and what happens to them after their mother is murdered. Belinda Bauer’s books are so original, full of tension and suspense. I’ll write more about it in a later post.

What do you think you’ll read next: I shall probably read The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott next, or if not next then by the end of the month as it’s the book chosen by my book group for our May meeting.

The Inheritance

Synopsis:

Written in 1849, when Louisa May Alcott was just seventeen years old, this is a captivating tale of Edith Adelon, an impoverished Italian orphan who innocently wields the charms of virtue, beauty, and loyalty to win her true birthright. Her inheritance, nothing less than the English estate on which she is a paid companion, is a secret locked in a long-lost letter. But Edith is loath to claim it _ for more important to her by far is the respect and affection of her wealthy patrons, and the love of a newfound friend, the kind and noble Lord Percy. This novel is Alcott writing under the influence of the gothic romances and sentimental novels of her day. The introduction considers early literary influences in the light of Alcott’s mature style

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

Six Degrees of Separation from The Poisonwood Bible to …

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.

This month the chain begins with The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, one of my favourite books. I’ve read it several times.

The Poisonwood Bible

Told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959, The Poisonwood Bible is the story of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

I bought The Poisonwood Bible in Gatwick airport bookshop just before boarding a plane to go on holiday. So my first link in the chain is to another book I bought in an another airport bookshop waiting to board another plane:

Fortune's Rocks

It’s Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve. I had never heard of Anita Shreve, but I liked the look of this book – and the fact that it’s a chunky book of nearly 600 pages, good to read on holiday. It’s set in the summer of 1899 when Olympia Biddeford and her parents are on holiday at the family’s vacation home in Fortune’s Rocks, a coastal resort in New Hampshire. She is fifteen years old and this is the story of her love affair with an older man.

When I looked at it today, I saw that it’s written in the present tense. Recently I’ve been writing about my dislike of the present tense – but I obviously haven’t always disliked it, because I remember really enjoying this book.

Wolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell, #1)

Another book written in the present tense that I loved is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, the story of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a blacksmith, and his political rise, set against the background of Henry VIII’s England and his struggle with the Pope over his desire to marry Anne Boleyn. Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, which takes me to my next link, another book set in the reign of Henry VIII –

Lamentation (Matthew Shardlake, #6)

Lamentation by C J Sansom set in 1546, the last year of Henry VIII’s life. Shardlake, a lawyer is asked by Queen Catherine (Parr) for help in discovering who has stolen her confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner. It evokes the people, the sights, smells and atmosphere of Henry’s last year and at the same time it’s an ingenious crime mystery, full of suspense and tension.

Barnaby Rudge

The next book also combines historical and crime fiction – Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens, set in 1780 at the time of the Gordon Riots.  It’s a story of mystery and suspense which begins with an unsolved double murder and goes on to involve conspiracy, blackmail, abduction and retribution.

Barnaby Rudge is a simple young man, living with his mother. His pet raven, Grip goes everywhere with him. He’s a most amazing bird who can mimic voices and seems to have more wits about him than Barnaby. Grip is based on Dickens’s own ravens, one of whom was also called Grip.

Ravens form the next link-

The Raven's Head

to The Raven’s Head by Karen Maitland, set in 1224 in France and England about Vincent, an apprentice librarian who stumbles upon a secret powerful enough to destroy his master. He attempts blackmail but when this fails Vincent goes on the run in possession of an intricately carved silver raven’s head. The plot revolves around the practice of alchemy – the search for a way to transform the base soul of man into pure incorruptible spirit, as well as the way to find the stone, elixir or tincture to turn base metals into precious metals.

And finally to the last link in this chain another book featuring alchemy –

Crucible (Alexander Seaton, #3)

Crucible by S G MacLean, the third of her Alexander Seaton books. Set in 1631 in Aberdeen Robert Sim, a librarian is killed. Alexander investigates his murder and finds, amongst the library books, works on alchemy and hermetics – the pursuit of ancient knowledge and the quest for ‘a secret, unifying knowledge, known to the ancients’ since lost to us. S G MacLean’s books are full of atmosphere. I think her style of writing suits me perfectly, the characters are just right, credible well-rounded people, and the plot moves along swiftly with no unnecessary digressions.

My chain this month has travelled from Africa to Scotland via America and England, and spans the years from the 13th century to the mid 20th century. It has followed a missionary and his family, a teenager in love with an older man, and looked in on power struggles in Tudor England, and the pursuit of the secret to turn metal into gold.

Links are: books I bought to read on holiday, books in the present tense, crime fiction and historical fiction (and a combination of these genres), ravens and alchemy.

Next month  (June 2, 2018), we’ll begin with  Malcolm Gladwell’s debut (and best seller), The Tipping Point, a book and author I’ve never come across before.