Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Somebody at the Door is one of the British Library Crime Classics, originally published in 1943. It’s set in 1942 and it gives a vivid picture of what life was like in wartime England. There is an interesting introduction by Martin Edwards.

In January 1942, Henry Grayling is on the 6.12 train from Euston, travelling home to Croxburn from work in London. There’s a fuel shortage so there are less trains than usual and the carriages are crowded – Grayling views all his fellow passengers with dislike and suspicion as he clutches his attache case, containing £120 pounds close to his chest.

He sits next to a young man, Evetts, who works for the same company and is smoking a foul smelling pipe, and on his other side is the Vicar of Croxburn, both of whom he knows. He also recognises Ransom, a corporal in the Home Guard platoon in which he, Grayling is a second lieutenant. The other occupants of the carriage are a fair young man with a club foot, a refugee doctor, a fat middle aged woman and her teenage daughter, and two young working men in overalls. Most of the passengers are suffering from colds, coughing and sneezing and Grayling has to hold his handkerchief in front of his nose. He is relieved to leave the train when it eventually pulls into the station at Croxburn. However, when Grayling arrived home he is seriously ill and dies later that evening.

An autopsy reveals that he had died of mustard gas poisoning and Inspector Holly finds that there are too many suspects; Grayling was an extremely unlikable person. The rest of the book reads like a collection of short stories as Holly investigates Grayling’s fellow passengers. Their stories are detailed and at times I felt they were too long and slowed the book down too much, but they are interesting in themselves. I particularly like the German refugee’s story, casting light on what life was like in Germany just before and at the onset of the war.

I did enjoy the book, the characters stand out as real people and also reflect Postgate’s own likes and dislikes. Martin Edwards’ introduction gives the background to Postgate’s writing – he was an atheist and a one-time Communist. His stories reveal the corruption in local government at that period, and the attitudes of the British government in the lead up to the war. The murder mystery is really secondary to the suspects’ stories, which makes the book more a reflection of the period, which Postgate does really well, than crime fiction. However, the murder mystery is well plotted, giving me plenty to unravel and it was only in the final section that I guessed who had killed Grayling.

  • Kindle Edition
  • File Size : 3089 KB
  • Print Length : 239 pages
  • Publisher : British Library Publishing (10 Oct. 2017)
  • Source: Prime Reading Library

The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley

Mystery of Princess Louise

Vintage Books | 2014 | 416 pages | Paperback | library book | 4.5*

This is another catching up post. I finished reading The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley during lockdown on 21 April, but didn’t feel like reviewing it that time. It’s a library book and as the library is still closed it has been renewed automatically for me.

Princess Louise was Victoria’s sixth child – her fourth daughter, born on 18th March 1848. It was an agonising and terrifying birth in a year of revolution and rebellion, a time when royal families throughout Europe were being deposed and in Britain the working classes were agitating for higher pay, better working conditions and more legal rights.

There is so much detail about her life in this book, packed with intrigues, scandals and secrets.

Blurb:

What was so dangerous about Queen Victoria’s artistic tempestuous sixth child, Princess Louise?

When Lucinda Hawksley started to investigate, often thwarted by inexplicable secrecy, she discovered a fascinating woman, modern before her time, whose story has been shielded from public view for years.

Louise was a sculptor and painter, friend to the Pre-Raphaelites and a keen member of the Aesthetic movement. The most feisty of the Victorian princesses, she kicked against her mother’s controlling nature and remained fiercely loyal to her brothers – especially the sickly Leopold and the much-maligned Bertie. She sought out other unconventional women, including Josephine Butler and George Eliot, and campaigned for education and health reform and for the rights of women. She battled with her indomitable mother for permission to practice the ‘masculine’ art of sculpture and go to art college – and in doing so became the first British princess to attend a public school.

The rumours of Louise’s colourful love life persist even today, with hints of love affairs dating as far back as her teenage years, and notable scandals included entanglements with her sculpting tutor Joseph Edgar Boehm and possibly even her sister Princess Beatrice’s handsome husband, Liko. True to rebellious form, she refused all royal suitors and became the first member of the royal family to marry a commoner since the sixteenth century.

My thoughts:

I knew nothing about Princess Louise. She had a difficult childhood, disliked and bullied by her mother and she often rebelled against the restrictions of life as a princess. She had an unhappy marriage to John Campbell, the Marquess of Lorne, later the 9th Duke of Argyll, a homosexual, and went with him to Canada in 1882 when he was appointed as Governor-General. Her relationship with Canada became a love-hate one, but began and ended with Canadian adoration.

The scandals arose about whether she had had an illegitimate child and her long term love affair with the sculptor Joseph Boehm. The mystery is still unresolved as Louise’s files in the Royal Archives are closed and her husband’s family archives are inaccessible.

Lucinda Hawksley writes:

I discovered that it was not only information about Princess Louise that had been hidden away, but information about a vast number of people who had played a role in her life, including royal servants and her art tutors. A great many items about these people that one would expect to be in other collections have been absorbed into the Royal Collection. … Over the decades, there has been some very careful sanitising of Princess Louise’s reputation and a whitewashing of her life, her achievements and her personality. (page 3)

I was amazed at her achievements, not only her artistic ability in both painting and sculpture, but also her charitable activities, raising money for hospitals, schools and other causes, such as the Gentlewomen’s Employment Association. She supported general suffrage and equal rights for both genders. She was fascinated by the social reformer Josephine Butler, who campaigned for the abolition of slavery, fed the homeless and worked with prostitutes and single mothers. Louise wanted to help Josephine in her campaign to reform the Contagious Diseases Act but Victoria and most of the rest of her family were outraged and she was forced not to take part. Louise was unconventional, generous and charming to people she liked.

It’s not a book to read quickly, as despite the lack of records, it is very detailed. There is an index and a bibliography, as well as several photographs. In this post I have simply skimmed the surface of all the stories about her, many of them simply amazing. I came away with the impression that she was ahead of her times. She was a forceful personality:

She was renowned by the public for her good looks, her unusual artistic dress sense and her sense of humour. Most importantly, Louise was also known for her compassion and her many ‘good works’. … She was regularly described as ‘captivating’, ‘charming’ and ‘clever’. people felt able to approach her, members of the public wrote letters to her, or begged for her help with charitable of political causes. … she spoke openly and controversially about subjects that other people shrank from and she was not above criticising the monarch. (page 11)

Louise died in 1939 at her home in Kensington Palace. Her last rebellious action was to leave instructions for her cremation – it was a very divisive issue, many were firmly against the idea. Her wishes were respected and a private cremation was carried out and the urn containing her ashes was transported to the Albert Memorial Chapel in Windsor, where her funeral was held. The next day they were interred in the Royal Burial Ground behind the family mausoleum at Frogmore in the Windsor Home Park. She had no legitimate children and the boy that it was claimed she had given up for adoption died in 1907. So it seems unlikely that the truth will ever be known unless the records are released.

My Friday Post: A Body in the Bath House by Lindsey Davis

Book Beginnings Button

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.

A body in the bath house

A Body in the Bath House by Lindsey Davis is one of my current library loans. It’s historical crime fiction, a Marcus Didius Falco novel, an ‘informer with a nose for trouble’.

 

But for Rhea Favonia, we might have lived there.

‘There’s a smell! There’s a horrible smell. I’m not going in there!’

I didn’t need to be an informer to know we were stuck. When a four-year-old girl reckons she has detected something nasty, you just give in and look for it.

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:

‘Imagine Britain as a rough triangle.’ Helena had a letter in her hand, so well studied she hardly referred to it. ‘We are going to the middle of the long south coast. Elsewhere there are high chalk cliffs, but this area has a gentle coastline with safe anchorages in inlets. There are some streams and marshland but also wooded places for hunting and enough good farming land to attract settlers. The tribes have come down from their hillforts peacefully here. Noviomagus Regnensis – the New Market of the Kingdom Tribes – is a small town on the modern model.’

Noviomagus Regnensis was the Roman town which is today called Chichester, in the modern English county of West Sussex.

Blurb

AD 75. As a passion for home improvement sweeps through the Roman Empire, Falco struggles to deal with a pair of terrible bath-house contractors who have been causing him misery for months. Far away in Britain, King Togidubnus of the Atrebates tribe is planning his own makeover. His huge new residence (known to us as Fishbourne Palace) will be spectacular – but the sensational refurbishment is beset by ‘accidents’. The frugal Emperor Vespasian is paying for all this; he wants someone to investigate.

Falco has a new baby, a new house, and he hates Britain. But his feud with Anacrites the Chief Spy has now reached a dangerous level, so with his own pressing reasons to leave Rome in a hurry, he accepts the task. A thousand miles from home, he starts restoring order to the chaotic building site and realises that someone with murderous intentions is now after him…

~~~

Fishbourne Roman Palace is in the village of Fishbourne, Chichester in West Sussex. The palace is the largest residential Roman building discovered in Britain, dated 75 AD, around thirty years after the Roman conquest of Britain.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Library Loans 27 February 2020

The mobile library van visit was this week and I borrowed these books:

Library bks Feb 2020

The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley, subtitled Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter. On the back cover it says that this is ‘packed with intrigues, scandals and secrets’. I know very little about Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s sixth child, so I’m keen to find out about her. From the opening page I’ve already found out she was a friend to artists, such as Dante Rossetti, James Whistler and John Millais and that she was a sculptor.

Caught Out in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho. I’ve read two of her books before. This is the seventh book in her Rose Trevelyan series of mysteries, in which she sees four year old Beth Jones being carried away from the beach at Marazion by someone she assumes is her father. But her mother insists he is a stranger.

A Body in the Bath House by Lindsey Davis the 13th book in her Marcus Didio Falco series of historical crime fiction mysteries. It’s set in Rome and Britain in AD 75. Falco is Britain and he hates it. A thousand miles from home he realises someone with murderous intentions is after him.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley. A while ago I kept seeing reviews of this book and wondered about reading it, so when I saw it on the library van shelves I decided to see what it’s like for myself. It’s a murder mystery set in a remote hunting lodge in the Scottish wilderness where old friends gather for New Year. The description makes me wonder if it is like In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware about a group of friends who spend a weekend in a remote cottage and everything goes wrong. I’m not sure I’ll like it …

I think I’ll start with The Mystery of Princess Louise – a friend borrowed it before me and said it’s very good, but first I’ll have to finish The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox, his latest instalment in the Detective Aidan Waits series.

My Friday Post: The Ghost of Lily Painter by Caitlin Davies

Book Beginnings Button

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.

The Ghost of Lily Painter is by Caitlin Davies and I want to read it because it looks good, a blend of fact and fiction based on true events. I also want to read it as I’ve recently read Happy Old Me by Hunter Davies and he mentions in it that his daughter, Caitlin, is an author (like his wife Margaret Forster), with ten books published. I love Margaret Forster’s books, so I thought I’d see what her daughter’s books are like.

The Ghost of Lily Painter

It is a bitter winter’s evening and the little girl is in her bedroom standing confidently before her mirror. The mirror is affixed to the wall at such a height that she has to tiptoe herself up to see her body entirely, but then, how dramatically she tilts her head. How regally she nods at her reflection as she pulls at the wispy black feathers of the wrap that hangs loosely around her shoulders.

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:

I didn’t know she still had this lizard. Ben gave it to her from the inside of his Christmas cracker last year. It’s a tiny cheap thing, green and yellow with a rubbery stickiness, but she’s kept it all this time and here she is talking to it like it’s precious. She won’t talk to me about her day, but she will tell a little green lizard.

Blurb

The first time Annie Sweet sees 43 Stanley Road, the house is so perfect she almost feels as though it has chosen her. But with her husband seeming more distant, and her daughter wrapped up in her friends and new school, Annie is increasingly left alone to mull over the past.

She soon becomes consumed by the house and everyone who has lived there before her, especially a young music hall singer called Lily Painter, whose sparkling performances were the talk of London. As Annie delves further into the past she unravels the case of two notorious baby farmers, who cruelly preyed on vulnerable unmarried mothers. And until she solves the mystery at the heart of the scandal, the ghost of Lily Painter will never be able to rest.

Basing her story on true events, Caitlin Davies skilfully blends fact and fiction to bring to life part of our sinister past. Spanning an entire century, from the journals of an Edwardian police inspector to a doomed wartime love affair, The Ghost of Lily Painter is a gripping and poignant novel.

~~~

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Library Loans 24 January 2020

I regularly borrow books from the library, although I haven’t written about them for a few months. These are the ones I have on loan at the moment:

Lib loans Jan 2020

The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble. This novel was on the mobile library van shelves and caught my eye because I’ve enjoyed the other books by her that I’ve read. Anna is a child of special, unknowable qualities. She is happy, always willing to smile at the world around her, but she also presents profound challenges. For her mother Jess, still in her early 20s, her arrival will prove life-transforming.

Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn, non-fiction about Henry VII. I reserved this after FictionFan recommended it, describing it as: ‘very detailed but well written and not too academic in tone‘. Hilary Mantel is quoted on the cover: ‘Compelling … Fascinating‘. With two such recommendations how could I resist reading it? So I was delighted to find the library has a copy.

The Last Ragged Breath by Julia Keller, the 4th book in her Bell Elkin’s mystery series set in West Virginia. I haven’t read any of her books before but I was reading about her latest book on Kay’s Reading Life and found this book on the shelves when I went to the library yesterday. Royce Dillard doesn’t remember much about the day his parents-and one hundred and twenty-three other souls-died in the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster. But now Dillard, who lives off the grid with only a passel of dogs for company, is fighting for his life one more time: He’s on trial for murder.

Happy Old Me:How to Live a Long Life and Really Enjoy It by Hunter Davies. This is another book I reserved. Davies is the editor of The John Lennon Letters (which I’m currently reading) and the author of Wainwright: The Biography (which my husband is currently reading and I want to read it too). This is his third autobiographical book, described on the book sleeve as ‘part memoir, part self-help … a moving, uplifting and often amusing account of one year in Hunter Davies’ life, navigating bereavement and finding hope for the future.‘ I’m currently reading it and so far (up to chapter 4) I’m loving it.

I love libraries and have used them all my life (well from the age of 3). At the moment the library service is carrying out a survey about our use of the libraries, how often we borrow books etc, etc  – and especially about our use of the mobile library service, and I fear that cutbacks may follow, so I make sure I use the libraries whilst I still can.

A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh: Mini Review

A Lovely Way to Burn

John Murray|2004|358 pages|Hardback| Library book|4*

I’ve read a few of Louise Welsh’s books and enjoyed each one so when I saw this on the library shelves I borrowed it. I agree with Val McDermid’s description of it on the back cover: ‘a terrifying journey into the possible, this is dystopia for today. Feral, frightening and fascinating, A Lovely Way to Burn gripped and chilled me in equal measure.

Once I started reading I just didn’t want to stop. I was gripped as Stevie Flint, a presenter on a TV show, Shop TV, finds her boyfriend, surgeon Simon Sharkey, lying dead in his apartment. At first it appeared that he had died of natural causes and then that he had killed himself. But he had left a hidden note for her with instructions to deliver his laptop to Malcolm Rhea, a colleague at St Thomas’s Hospital. Under no circumstances was she to take it to the police or to entrust it anyone except Rhea. Stevie is determined to find out what happened to him. Her search takes her into the most dangerous situations.

It is a horrifying vision of what could happen when a new and unidentified virus, known as ‘the sweats’ sweeps the globe. London quickly descends into chaos – supermarkets are looted, roads are gridlocked as people try to flee the infection, then society just crumbles as people look out only for themselves, rioting and eventually succumbing to the mysterious illness and dying. 

After quite a leisurely start the pace picks up, and the tension rises rapidly before reaching a nightmare scenario as decay and disintegration set in. It’s a mix of murder mystery and a surreal and frightening story of a plague. This is the first in Louise Welsh’s Plague Trilogy, but it is complete in itself. I have the second book, Death is a Welcome Guest and it looks as though it has a new set of characters – I’m looking forward to reading it!

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards has been on my radar since it was published last year. And I’ve read plenty of reviews full of praise for it, so my  expectations were high as I began reading, especially as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of his other books that I’ve read, particularly his Lake District murder mysteries. Gallows Court, set in 1930s London, is a change of direction for Martin Edwards, born out of his fascination with that period in history and his love of Golden Age detective fiction. It is the first in a series; the next book, due out in March next year, is to be Mortmain Hall, a sequel to Gallows Court. 

Gallows Court

Blurb (Amazon):

London, 1930.
A headless corpse; an apparent suicide in a locked room; a man burned alive during an illusionist’s show in front of thousands of people. Scotland Yard is baffled by the sequence of ghastly murders unfolding across the city and at the centre of it all is mysterious heiress Rachel Savernake. Daughter of a grand judge, Rachel is as glamorous as she is elusive.

Jacob Flint, a tenacious young journalist eager to cover the gruesome crimes, is drawn into Rachel’s glittering world of wealth and power. But as the body count continues to rise, Jacob is convinced Rachel is harbouring a dark secret and he soon becomes part of a dangerous game that could leave him dancing at the end of the hangman’s rope if he pursues the truth.

My thoughts:

I think this must be the twistiest book I’ve read – there are twists and turns galore, my head was spinning as I read the first 100 pages. I had to stop when I realised that apart from Rachel and Jacob I had little idea of who anybody was, what they were doing and how they interacted. There are so many characters and the story is told in short sections moving rapidly from scene to scene and from one viewpoint to another. I had to go right back to the beginning – start again and this time concentrate much more on who was who and what they were up to.

Jacob Flint is constant throughout, but Rachel Savernack is not. I was never sure about her, what to think of her, or who she really was because it’s obvious that there is more to her than first meets the eye. The pressure never lets up – there is always tension and suspicion about who is telling the truth, and who is not who they appear to be. You just cannot believe anything as it’s full of illusions and tricks to baffle and mislead. Towards the end the fog lifted and I began to suspect the truth. It is certainly a challenging book and if you enjoy an intricately plotted murder mystery with plenty of suspense and intrigue then this is the book for you.

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Head of Zeus (6 Sept. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1788546075
  • ISBN-13: 978-1788546072
  • Source: Library book
  • Martin Edwards website.
  • My rating: 4*

Reading challenge: The Virtual Mount TBR

The Riviera Set by Mary S Lovell

Riviera Set

Little, Brown Book Group|November 2016|448 pages|Library book|3.5 rounded up to 4 on Goodreads*

When I read Cath’s review of The Riviera Set: 1920 – 1960: The Golden Years of Glamour and Excess on her blog Read Warbler I thought it sounded fascinating, so I reserved a copy at the library. I has taken me almost a month to read it, but I did enjoy it.

Mary S Lovell explains in her Introduction that this is ‘less of a biography, more the story of a house and those who peopled it between the years 1930 and 1960.‘ The book begins with Maxine Elliott, telling of her early life  – she was an American, born Jessica Dermot in Rockland, Maine in 1868. She was a most remarkable woman who became an actress, famed for her beauty and her pure speaking voice. She came over to England, had successfully entered the Edwardian social scene in 1899 and after divorcing her husband, actor Nat Goodwin in 1908 she established herself at Hartsbourne, a country house in Hertfordshire. During the First World War she bought a barge and fitted it out as a first-aid clinic and soup kitchen to help with the war relief effort, bringing food and medical supplies to thousands of displaced people in Belgium. Many of the people who socialised at Hartsbourne flocked to visit her there. 

And then in 1930 she commissioned the architect Barry Dierks to build  the Chateau de l’Horizon on the land she had bought on a narrow stretch of rocks with a small promontory between Cannes and Juan-les-Pins. This is the part of the book I enjoyed the most, first of all about Maxine herself, then the description of the construction of the Chateaux and the years that Maxine owned it and lived there. Maxine really came into her own there as a superb hostess.

chateau de l'horizon

Regular visitors included Winston Churchill, Cole Porter, Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham among many others – famous actors and actresses as well as members of the aristocracy and politicians. I was interested in Clementine Churchill’s reaction to the Riviera set – she disapproved of their behaviour and often didn’t accompany him on his visits.  She also disapproved of Winston’s gambling at the Casino. Then there were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who lived nearby before the Second World War – the picture painted of them is not flattering – and there was much talk about how to address Wallis and whether the women should curtsy to her. By the time the War approached Maxine had lost her sparkle, suffering from ill health and she died in March 1940.

And after her death nothing was the same – and my interest in the book began to wane. The Chateau was bought by Aly Khan, the Aga Khan’s heir presumptive at the time. There is quite a lot about his time there, his womanising, his marriage to Rita Hayworth and the social scene of the post-war period up to 1960. Nevertheless it is a fascinating and entertaining book about a pampered, luxurious and decadent world.

Reading challenge: Virtual Mount TBR as it is a library book.

My Friday Post: Gallows Court by Martin Edwards

Book Beginnings Button

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.

I’ve just started Gallows Court by Martin Edwards, the first in a series set in 1930s London.

Gallows Court

‘Jacob Flint is watching the house again.’ The housekeeper’s voice rose. ‘Do you think he knows about …?’

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:

‘I told you last night not to threaten me, Mr Flint. You should heed my advice. There are worse fates than the misfortune that befell Thomas Betts.’

Blurb:

London, 1930.
A headless corpse; an apparent suicide in a locked room; a man burned alive during an illusionist’s show in front of thousands of people. Scotland Yard is baffled by the sequence of ghastly murders unfolding across the city and at the centre of it all is mysterious heiress Rachel Savernake. Daughter of a grand judge, Rachel is as glamorous as she is elusive.

Jacob Flint, a tenacious young journalist eager to cover the gruesome crimes, is drawn into Rachel’s glittering world of wealth and power. But as the body count continues to rise, Jacob is convinced Rachel is harbouring a dark secret and he soon becomes part of a dangerous game that could leave him dancing at the end of the hangman’s rope if he pursues the truth.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

I have high expectations of this book as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of Martin Edwards’s books that I’ve read, particularly his Lake District murder mysteries. Gallows Court has been on my radar since it was published last year so it’s time I read it, especially as now I see that his next book, due out in March next year, is to be Mortmain Hall, a sequel to Gallows Court.