Short Stories on Sunday

Today I’ve read one of the short stories from Agatha Christie’s collection Miss Marple and Mystery .

IMG_20180513_095855842.jpg

This collection contains 55 stories, 20 of them featuring Miss Marple. I’ve read some of these in other short story collections but there are still many I haven’t read. There is an Short Story Chronology in the Appendix with a table aiming to present all Agatha Christie’s short stories published between 1923 and 1971, listed in order of traced first publication date.

Counting how many there are in total is a difficult task – some stories that first appeared in weekly or monthly magazines were later  re-worked and became chapters in a larger work, some in Partners in Crime were sub-divided into smaller chapters, 13 were re-worked into the episodic novel, The Big Four, and some were rewritten so substantially that they appear separately in different books!

The Lonely God has also been published as an e-book. It was first published in the Royal Magazine in July 1926.

This is an unusual story from Agatha Christie. It’s a love story about two lonely people who meet in the British Museum. Frank is forty, recently returned to England after spending 30 years in Burma. He has no friends and feels he is out of touch with the times, having spent so long abroad. He wanders around aimlessly and strolls into the British Museum one day to look at the Asian curiosities. There he spots a little grey stone idol, a pathetic little figure sitting hopelessly in isolation, elbows on his knees and his head in his hands; ‘a lonely god in a strange country.’

One day he finds a young woman in front of the ‘lonely god‘. Although dressed shabbily she is obviously a poverty stricken lady, fallen on hard times. They are both fascinated by the little stone god and gradually begin a conversation. And then they have tea together in an ABC shop near the Museum. Frank is in love. But when he goes to the see the lonely god again she doesn’t come – and he has no idea where she lives, or even know her name, because she wouldn’t tell him, wanting them to be just ‘two lonely people, who’ve come together and. made friends. It makes it so much more wonderful – and different.’ Frank is heartbroken. Will he ever find her again?

I really enjoyed this little story. As I said not crime fiction, but just a touching little romance that appealed to me. Agatha Christie, however described it in her Autobiography as ‘ regrettably sentimental‘. She had written it after reading The City of Beautiful Nonsense. (Autobiography page 198 in my paperback copy). I had to look up that book. It’s by Ernest Temple Thurston, published in 1909 and described as a ‘sentimental novel’. It is a tale of two cities: mainly about the life of the shabby genteel in Edwardian London, but also in Venice.

Short Stories on Sunday

Today I’ve read one of the short stories from Agatha Christie’s collection Miss Marple and Mystery .

IMG_20180513_095855842.jpg

This collection contains 55 stories, 20 of them featuring Miss Marple. I’ve read some of these in other short story collections but there are still many I haven’t read. There is an Short Story Chronology in the Appendix with a table aiming to present all Agatha Christie’s short stories published between 1923 and 1971, listed in order of traced first publication date.

Counting how many there are in total is a difficult task – some stories that first appeared in weekly or monthly magazines were later  re-worked and became chapters in a larger work, some in Partners in Crime were sub-divided into smaller chapters, 13 were re-worked into the episodic novel, The Big Four, and some were rewritten so substantially that they appear separately in different books!

Manx Gold has also been published as an e-book. It was first published in the Manchester Daily Dispatch between 23-28 May 1930, and as a booklet distributed throughout the island, as a treasure hunt to promote tourism in the Isle of Man. She received a fee of £65 (in today’s money over £4,000!)

Cousins, who are engaged, Fenella and Juan are left an intriguing puzzle by their uncle who lived in the Isle of Man – to find four ‘ treasure chests’, not gold ingots or coins, but actually snuff boxes. In addition there are two more relatives also search for the ‘gold’.

I thought it sounded good, but I have to say that I was rather disappointed by the slightness of this short story. Their uncle has left cryptic clues leading to the ‘chests’ and a couple of sketch maps to guide them to the treasure. But I had no idea what the clues mean and could only read Fenella’s exclamations when they work it out and find the little snuff boxes. Oh, there is also a murder – one of the other relatives is bashed on the head by the other one and left to die.

It’s quite an entertaining little story, but I much prefer Agatha Christie’s full length books.

Don’t Look Now and other Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier

I love Du Maurier’s books and her short stories are much better than others I’ve read. My copy of Don’t Look Now and Other Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier is a Virago Modern Classic. The other short stories in this collection are Not After Midnight, A Border-Line Case, The Way of the Cross and The Breakthrough, making this a collection of stories of suspense, mystery and slow, creeping horror.

I read the first story Don’t Look Now (52 pages) a few years ago. It’s a supernatural tale about a couple, John and Laura who have come to Venice to recover after their young daughter’s death. They encounter two old women who claim to have second sight and find themselves caught up in a train of increasingly strange and violent events, involving hallucinations, mistaken identity and a murderer.

I read the other four stories this month. They explore deep fears and longings, secrets and desires. In Not After Midnight (48 pages) a lonely teacher, Timothy Grey, investigates a mysterious American couple, the Stolls, whilst on holiday on the Greek island of Crete. The couple invite him to visit their chalet, with the warning ‘not before midnight’. What he discovers involves a jar or rhyton, shaped into the form of a head resembling Stoll, with dancing satyrs. The story gradually became more and more ambiguous and mysterious – I wondered just what was real and what was imaginary.

In A Border-Line Case (65 pages) a young woman confronts her father’s past after he died. She wants to know more about his early life. He was ex-British Army and she goes to Ireland to search for the man who used to be his friend. When she finds him, she falls in love with him and then discovers something that shocks her completely. This is very intense story.

In The Way of the Cross ( 67 pages) there’s a party of pilgrims who meet disaster in Jerusalem. This is a strange story about seven people from a cruise ship as they follow the Via Dolorosa and each experience their own humiliation, each one meeting the fate they most dread.

The Breakthrough (43 pages) is the oddest and most menacing story of this collection. It is set on the windswept coast of rural Suffolk in an isolated laboratory. It’s about a scientist, experimenting with the idea that when people die there is an untapped source of energy, as their ‘soul’, for want of a better word, leaves their body. He attempts to harness the power of the mind to the most chilling effect, by releasing this energy from a young man, dying of leukaemia, into the mind of a child of ‘sub-standard intelligence’.

I enjoyed these stories – or are they novellas? The longer length means these stories have more depth, characterisation and substance than the shorter stories. I find them more satisfying – and the ambiguity and supernatural elements in these makes them especially thought-provoking. Some are better than others and the one I enjoyed the most is Not After Midnight.

Measure of Malice: Scientific Detection Stories edited by Martin Edwards

The Measure of Malice edited by Martin Edwards is one of the more enjoyable short story collections that I’ve read. It contains 14 stories in which scientific/technological methods are used in the detection of crime. There is an excellent introduction by Martin Edwards with information about the authors, five of whom were doctors, two were engineers and one was an academic chemist.

As always with short story collections some stories are better than others. I’m highlighting a few of the better ones here:

The Boscombe Valley Mystery by A Conan Doyle was originally published in the Strand Magazine in October 1891, and is the first short story to feature Inspector Lestrade. It’s a solid story, solved by Sherlock Holmes by inspecting and analysing the footprints and signs at the scene of the crime.

The Horror of Studley Grange by L T Meade and Clifford Halifax (1894), from Stories for the Diary of a Doctor, originally published in the Strand Magazine. I enjoyed this one although it was pretty easy to predict. Ostensibly a ghost story, the solution involves the use of a laryngoscope.

After Death the Doctor by J J Connington, a Scottish professor of chemistry. This one was first published in 1934, involving a contemporary scientific gadget. The doctor in question is Doctor Shefford who together with Sergeant Longridge, investigate the murder of old Barnaby Leadburn, found dead with his throat cut.

The next two are the ones I enjoyed the most:

The Broken Toad by H C Bailey, first published in 1934, featuring the surgeon and Home Office Consultant, Reggie Fortune as he considers the death of a police constable from poisoning. I enjoyed all the detailed complications and Bailey’s literary mannered style of storytelling.

In the Teeth of the Evidence by Dorothy L Sayers, first published in 1939, about forensic dentistry, which starts as Lord Peter Wimsey is sitting in his dentist’s chair. The police had just visited the surgery, wanting to see his predecessor’s records to identify the victim of a burnt out garage. An upper right incisor crown and the filling in a molar provided the clues to his death. Gory if you actually visualise what is involved!

  • Publisher : Poisoned Pen Press (4 Feb. 2020)
  • Language: : English
  • Paperback : 336 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1492699624
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1492699620
  • Source: The Poisoned Pen Press via NetGalley
  • My Rating: 3.5*

Short Stories on Sunday

Over several years I’ve been reading my way through Agatha Christie’s books and short stories. I’ve read all her detective/mystery novels and some of her short story collections. In an attempt to read more of the short stories I’ve decided to read some each Sunday, beginning with the stories collected in Miss Marple and Mystery.

IMG_20180513_095855842.jpgThis collection contains 55 stories, 20 of them featuring Miss Marple. There is an Short Story Chronology in the Appendix with a table aiming to present all Agatha Christie’s short stories published between 1923 and 1971, listed in order of traced first publication date. Counting how many there are in total is a difficult task – some stories that first appeared in weekly or monthly magazines were later  re-worked and became chapters in a larger work, some in Partners in Crime were sub-divided into smaller chapters, 13 were re-worked into the episodic novel, The Big Four, and some were rewritten so substantially that they appear separately in different books!

I’ve read some of these in other short story collections but there are still many I haven’t read.

The Girl in the Train is one I haven’t read before. It was first published in Grand Magazine in February 1924 and was adapted as one of the Agatha Christie Hour drama series for by Thames Television in 1982 as part of their ten-part programme. It’s a very short story that also appears in The Listerdale Mystery collection of short stories.

George Rowland is the heir to his Uncle William’s wealth but is left without a job or a home when William throws him out on his heel. On a whim George Rowland decides to catch a train down to Rowland’s Castle, a village which happens to bear his name. A beautiful girl bursts into his compartment, frantically begging to be hidden.  She gives him a package saying it is the key to everything and he is to guard it with his life. Jumping out of the train at the first stop she tells him to follow the little man with a small dark beard getting on the train. His life changes dramatically as he follows her instructions.

It’s a bit of nonsense really, in the same vein as Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence stories. A quick easy read, but entertaining nevertheless and possibly the first of books entitled The Girl … 

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.

Blood on the Tracks: Railway Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards (British Library Crime Classics)

I’ve said before that I’m not a big fan of short stories, often finding them disappointing. So I’m glad to say that I enjoyed this anthology edited by Martin Edwards: Blood on the Tracks: Railway Mysteries. Some stories, of course, are better than others.

Blood on the tracks

There are fifteen railway themed stories in the collection and an introduction on classic railway mysteries by Martin Edwards. He has also prefaced each story with a brief biographical note, which I found useful as some of the authors were new to me. I read the collection slowly over a few months, which I find is the best way to approach a short story collection.

Train travel provides several scenarios for a mystery – the restriction of space on trains, with or without a corridor, means that there are a limited number of suspects and they can also provide an ideal place for a ‘locked room’ crime or an ‘impossible crime’ story. This collection also includes a couple of crimes with a supernatural element.

The mysteries are presented in roughly chronological order from 1898 up to  the 1950s. The ones I enjoyed the most are by R Austin Freeman, Roy Vickers, Dorothy L Sayers, F Tennyson Jesse and Freeman Crofts Willis.

  1. The Man with the Watches by Arthur Conan Doyle featuring an un-named sleuth, ‘a well-known criminal investigator’, about a man shot through his heart on the London to Manchester train. He had no ticket on him but had six valuable gold watches in his possession. This was first published in The Strand Magazine in 1898.
  2. The Mystery of Felwyn Tunnel by L T Meade and Robert Eustace. This was also first published in 1898 in which a signalman is found dead at the mouth of the tunnel. When another man dies in in the same place it looks as though something very strange is the cause of their deaths.
  3. How He Cut His Stick by Matthias McDonnell Bodkin. In this story Lady Detective Dora Myrl investigates the theft of £5,000 in gold and notes from a locked railway carriage.
  4. The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway (1901) by Baroness Orczy, featuring the Old Man in the Corner, an ‘armchair detective’ as he sits in a teashop and tells journalist Polly Burton the solution to the murder of a young woman on the Underground, whilst he fiddles with a piece of string.
  5. The Affair of the Corridor Express by Victor L Whitechurch featuring the railway detective Thorpe Hazell. He investigates the kidnapping of the son of a millionaire.
  6. The Case of Oscar Brodski by R Austin Freeman, an ‘inverted’ detective story, in which the reader knows everything, whereas the detective knows nothing and it all hinges on the significance of trivial details, including fragments of glass, biscuit crumbs, a piece of string and threads of fabric.
  7. The Eighth Lamp by Roy Vickers – an underground mystery about switching off the station lamps after the last train had gone down the line, with a rather spooky supernatural ending.
  8. The Knight’s Cross Signal Problem by Ernest Bramah, in a steam engine crashes into a light train, killing twenty seven people and injuring forty plus. The cause of the accident is a mix up with the signals. I think this is one of the less successful stories for me.
  9. The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face (1928) by Dorothy L Sayers (a Lord Peter Wimsey story), . The body of a man is found on a lonely beach, his face slashed, and with no means of identification. Wimsey’s discussion of the crime with his fellow passengers as they travel into London, helps D I Winterbottom to solve the mystery – a most intriguing story.
  10. The Railway Carriage by F Tennyson Jesse (1931) – this is possibly my favourite story in the collection. It’s a supernatural mystery in which Solange Fontaine, a female sleuth with a ‘feeling for evil’ features meets two passengers on a train. Both the elderly woman, dressed in shabby black and the insignificant-looking man in a grey felt hat seem to be locked in their own thoughts and she feels very ill at ease. Then the train crashes. An excellent story.
  11. Mystery of the Slip-Coach by Sapper (1933), the creator of ‘Bulldog’ Drummond – an example of an ‘impossible crime’ in which the clue of a raw egg supplies the solution to the murder – I wasn’t convinced by this story.
  12. The Level Crossing by Freeman Crofts Willis ( 1933) in which a man is found dead, lying near an unmanned railway crossing. A mystery that shows the effects of unforeseen circumstances even on a well planned murder.
  13. The Adventure of the First-class Carriage by Ronald Knox (1947) a Sherlock Holmes pastiche with an ‘impossible crime’ scenario.
  14. Murder on the 7.16 by Michael Innes, a John Appleby mystery in which he investigates a murder in a railway carriage on trestles, not on wheels, as it is part of a film set.
  15. The Coulman Handicap by Michael Gilbert (1950s). I found this rather confusing as the police follow a woman passing on stolen goods as she uses the Underground to give them the slip. I think this is possibly the one story in the collection that failed to hold my interest.

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

  • Paperback: 358 pages
  • Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press (3 July 2018) in association with the British Library
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1464209693
  • ISBN-13: 978-1464209697
  • My rating: 3*

Library Loans

Here are some of my current library books

Lib bks July 2019

  • Dolly by Susan Hill, sub-titled ‘A Ghost Story’, a novella set in the Fens where two young cousins, Leonora and Edward spend a summer at Iyot Lock, a large decaying house, with their ageing aunt.  I’ll be writing more about this book soon.
  • Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear, a Maisie Dobbs novel. This is no. 12 in the series (I’m not reading them in order). This one is set in 1938 when Molly travels into the heart of Nazi Germany.
  • The Trip to Jerusalem: an Elizabethan Mystery by Edward Marston, the 3rd book in the Nicholas Bracewell series about a troupe of players travelling England – not  to Jerusalem but to an ancient inn called The Trip to Jerusalem – whilst the Black Plague rages.
  • The Last Dance and other stories by Victoria Hislop. Ten stories set in Greece, described on the book cover as ‘bittersweet tales of love and loyalty, of separation and reconciliation’. I’ve recently enjoyed reading her latest book, Those Who Are Loved, also set in Greece, so my eye was drawn to this book.

The library van used to visit here once a fortnight, but now it only comes once a month. I hope it continues coming, but I fear that its days are numbered, so I make sure I use it whilst I still can.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Blurb:

Immortalised by Audrey Hepburn’s sparkling performance in the 1961 film of the same name, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is Truman Capote’s timeless portrait of tragicomic cultural icon Holly Golightly, published in Penguin Modern Classics.

It’s New York in the 1940s, where the martinis flow from cocktail hour till breakfast at Tiffany’s. And nice girls don’t, except, of course, for Holly Golightly: glittering socialite traveller, generally upwards, sometimes sideways and once in a while – down. Pursued by to Salvatore ‘Sally’ Tomato, the Mafia sugar-daddy doing life in Sing Sing and ‘Rusty’ Trawler, the blue-chinned, cuff-shooting millionaire man about women about town, Holly is a fragile eyeful of tawny hair and turned-up nose, a heart-breaker, a perplexer, a traveller, a tease. She is irrepressibly ‘top banana in the shock department’, and one of the shining flowers of American fiction.

My thoughts:

I’ve never seen the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, a high-priced escort looking for a rich man to marry, but I understand that it’s only loosely based on the novella and is set in the 1960s rather than the 1940s.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a quick read and very entertaining. The narrator is not named, although Holly Golightly calls him ‘Fred’ after her brother. He’s a writer and at the beginning of the book he is reminiscing about Holly with Joe Bell, who ran a bar around the corner on Lexington Avenue. They hadn’t seen or heard from Holly  for over two years. She used to live in the apartment below Fred’s in a brownstone in the East Seventies in New York. Her past is almost as unknown as her present whereabouts.

She’s a free spirit, charming and carefree, but craves attention. She has a cat, plays the guitar and likes to live as though she’s about to leave – all her belongings still in suitcases and crates – and has a great many friends who she entertains with numerous parties. She gets the ‘mean reds’, days when she’s afraid, expecting something bad is going to happen, but she doesn’t know what. On days like that she gets in a taxi and goes to Tiffany’s which calms her down and where nothing bad could happen to her, but not for the diamonds. She doesn’t ‘give a hoot’ about diamonds and thinks it’s ‘tacky to wear them before you’re forty’.

Her life is a mass of contradictions, one character describes her as a ‘phony,’ but a ‘real phony’ with crazy ideas and always on the move. She’s involved with a Mafia gangster, Sally Tomato, who she visits in jail every Thursday. But her life is really a mystery and not all is as it appears on the surface, longing for something wonderful to happen.

There’s a lot packed into this novella of 100 pages. There are also three short stories at the end of the book in the remaining pages – and these are a delight. I think these are among the best short stories that I’ve read!

There’s House of Flowers about a young woman called Ottilie, who makes the best of her life, first as a prostitute and then as the wife of Royal, a young man who takes her to live in a house in the mountains, a house of flowers with wisteria on the roof, vines over the windows and lilies blooming at the door. But all is not as idyllic as it seems in this beautiful and exotic setting.

A Diamond Guitar is set in a prison farm, a story of unrequited love when a new prisoner arrives bringing with him a guitar studded with glass diamonds. The third story is maybe my favourite, A Christmas Memory, about a young boy, Buddy and his cousin who is sixty or so years older than him. It’s a heart-warming story with a poignant ending.

I loved Capote’s writing – it’s lively, richly descriptive with sparkling dialogue, and his ability to conjure up characters with depth in a few paragraphs is impressive, to say the least.

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (27 April 2000) – originally published in 1958
  • Source: Library Book
  • My Rating: 5*

Challenges: The Virtual Mount TBR Challenge

Six Degrees of Separation: from The Arsonist to The Ashes 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.

The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire

This month the chain begins with The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper, a book I haven’t read. In fact, it isn’t to be published in the UK until May 2019. It’s non fiction about the scorching February day in 2009 that became known as Black Saturday, when a man lit two fires in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.  It is also the story of fire in Australia, and of a community that owed its existence to that very element.

My chain begins by using the word ‘Saturday‘ as the link. It’s Saturday by Ian McEwan which follows one day in the life of a neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne as his life takes an unexpected turn of events. A minor car accident brings him into confrontation with Baxter, a man on the edge of violence.

Also following the life of one person in one day is Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, in which Clarissa Dalloway is preoccupied with the last-minute details of party she is to give that evening. Elsewhere in London, Septimus Smith is suffering from shell-shock and on the brink of madness. Mrs Dalloway first appeared in Virginia Woolf’s short story, Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street published in The Dial magazine in 1923.

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie was also published in 1923, her second book featuring Hercule Poirot. She had the idea for the book after reading newspaper reports of a murder in France, in which masked men had broken into a house, killed the owner and left his wife bound and gagged. From these facts she then invented her plot, setting the book in the fictional French town of Merlinville next to a golf course and overlooking the sea.

SaturdayMrs DallowayThe Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot, #2)The Chalk Circle ManTitus GroanThe Ashes of London (Marwood and Lovett, #1)

The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas is also set in France, her first book featuring Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. Strange blue chalk circles start appearing on the pavements of Paris and increasingly bizarre objects are found within them, including the body of a woman with her throat savagely cut. Like Poirot, Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is a detective who works on intuition.

Vargas’s books are full of eccentric characters as is Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake, the first of his Gormenghast books.  It begins with the birth of Titus, soon to be the 77th Earl of Gormenghast. His father, Lord Sepulchrave has endured despair and then madness after his beloved library was burnt down and Steerpike, a disrespectful youth, has clawed his way out of the castle’s kitchen to a position of some power, by manipulation and deceit.

This brings me full circle to a book about fire, or rather the aftermath of a fire in The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor as people set about rebuilding London after the Great Fire had reduced a large part of it to ashes and rubble. Interwoven with a murder mystery, and the hunt for the regicides responsible for the execution of Charles I, it brings home the reality of being homeless – a refugee in your own country. I could hear the noise of the fire, smell the smoke and almost feel the heat and the pain of the victims of the fire.

So, the last link in my chain takes it back to the start of the chain, but to the results of a fire started by accident rather than arson. This month my chain has travelled from Australia to the United Kingdom, via France and the fantasy world of Gormenghast, connected by names, dates of publication, settings and eccentric characters.

Next month (April 6, 2019), the chain will begin with Ali Smith’s award-winning novel, How to be Both.