Reading Bingo 2018

reading-bingo-small

This is my  third year of playing the Reading Bingo Card.  I like it because during the year I don’t look for books to fill in the card – I just read what I want to read and then see whether the books I’ve read will match the squares. I also like it because it is an excellent way of looking back at the books I’ve read and reminding me of how much I enjoyed them.

Here is my completed card for 2018:

A Book With More Than 500 pages.

Victoria: A Life

Victoria: A Life by A N Wilson – 656 pages. It took me three months to read this biography and I learned so much and enjoyed it immensely. Victoria was 81 when she died and had been Queen for nearly 64 years, from 1837 to 1901. She’d had 9 children and was grandmother of 42. It’s detailed, well researched and illustrated, with copious notes, an extensive bibliography and an index. He portrays Victoria both as a woman, a wife and a mother as well as a queen, set against the backdrop of the political scene in Britain and Europe.

A Forgotten Classic 

Bats in the Belfry (British Library Crime Classics)

The British Library series of crime classics presents forgotten classics many of which have been out of print since before the Second War. I’ve read several of them, including Bats in the Belfry by E C R Lorac, a pen name of Edith Caroline Rivett who was a prolific writer of crime fiction from the 1930s to the 1950s. It was first published in 1937 and I think it is one of the better Golden Age Mysteries that I’ve read. It’s set in London in the 1930s, full of descriptive writing, painting vivid pictures of the streets of London and in particular the spooky, Gothic tower in which a corpse is discovered, ‘headless and handless’.

A Book That Became a Movie 

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck 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. The book became a movie in 1940 directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda.

A Book Published This Year

Turning for Home by Barney Norris was published in January this year. It’s a novel of  love and loss, grief and guilt. Every year, Robert’s family come together at a rambling old house to celebrate his birthday. Aunts, uncles, distant cousins – it has been a milestone in their lives for decades. But this year Robert doesn’t want to be reminded of what has happened since they last met.

A Book with a Number in the Title

The Three Evangelists (Three Evangelists, #1)

The Three Evangelists by Fred Vargas, quirky crime fiction, with eccentric characters and an intricate plot.  The three title characters are thirty-something historians, Mathias, Marc and Lucien, all down on their luck. Together with Marc’s uncle and godfather, Armand Vandoosler, an ex-policeman, they have just moved into a house next door to retired opera singer Sophia Siméonidis and her husband Pierre. When a tree unexpectedly appears in Sophia’s garden she asks for their help in digging around the tree to see if something has been buried there.

A Book Written by Someone Under Thirty

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin (Maigret #10)

The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin by Georges Simenon, is one of the early Maigret books published in 1931 when Simenon was 28. Set in Liege in Belgium, a corpse is found in the Botanical Gardens in a large laundry basket in the middle of a lawn.

A Book With Non-Human Characters 

The Toymakers

The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale –  a wonderful book about Papa Jack’s Emporium in London, a toyshop extraordinaire. The toys it sells aren’t ordinary toys – they seem alive, from patchwork dogs, to flying pegasi, Russian dolls that climb out of one another, runnerless rocking horses, whales that devour ships, fire-breathing dragons and many others to the toy soldiers that wage war on each other.

A Funny Book

Three Men in a Boat

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. When Jerome began writing this book he intended it to be a serious travel book about the Thames, its scenery and history, but, as he wrote, it turned into a funny book. The Thames remains at the centre of the book but it is also full of anecdotes about the events that happened to him and his friends whilst out on the river, interspersed with passages about the scenery and history. It’s a gentle, witty book that kept me entertained all the way through

A Book By A Female Author 

I’m spoilt for choice in this category, with lots of female authors to choose from. In the end I’ve picked No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister, one of the 5* books I’ve read this year. It plunges straight into a trial as Martha sits in the courtroom listening to expert witnesses being questioned and cross-examined about the death of her baby, Layla, just eight weeks old. Her sister Becky is accused of murdering her. She found Layla dead in her cot and denies killing her. It looked like a cot death – until the postmortem showed otherwise – and the police are convinced it was murder.

A Book With A Mystery

Watching You

I could have chosen any one of the many crime fiction novels I’ve read this year, but I’ve picked Watching You by Lisa Jewell, crime fiction that keeps you guessing about everything right from the first page – someone was murdered, but who was it and why, and just who was the killer? Full of suspense and drama, it is only right at the end of the book that all becomes clear. I loved it.

A Book With A One Word Title

Munich

Munich by Robert Harris is a novel about the 1938 Munich Conference, a mix of fact and fiction. Harris uses two fictional characters, Hugh Legat as one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries and Paul Hartmann, a German diplomat and a member of the anti-Hitler resistance to tell his story.

A Book of Short Stories

Foreign Bodies

Foreign Bodies edited by Martin Edwards. A collection of 15 stories, vintage crime fiction in translation, written by authors from Hungary, Japan, Denmark, India, Germany, Mexico, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia and France.  Martin Edwards has prefaced each one with a brief biographical note. Authors include – Arthur Conan Doyle, G K Chesterton, Michael Innes, Margery Allingham and Dorothy L Sayers.

Free SquareTime is a Killer

For this square I’ve chosen a book in translation. It’s Time is a Killer by Michel Bussi, translated from the French by Shaun Whiteside. Every summer Clotilde, her brother, Nicolas and her parents, Paul and Palma Idrissi visit Paul’s parents in Corsica. In 1989 Paul, Palma and Nicolas are killed in a car crash. Twenty seven years later Clotilde returns. Her grandparents are still alive but are reluctant to talk about the accident and the locals seem to resent her presence. As Clotilde delves into her memories she begins to realise that the past is not quite as she thought it was.

A Book Set On A Different Continent

Force of Nature

Force of Nature by Jane Harper – I loved this book, set in the fictional Giralang Ranges in Australia, seeing the Mirror Falls roaring down from a cliff edge into the pool fifteen metres below, the eucalyptus trees and the dense bush, and the breathtaking views of rolling hills and valleys as the gum trees give way,  with the sun hanging low in the distance. But this is the story of a team-building event that went badly wrong when Alice went missing and a search party is sent out into the bush to find her.

A Book of Non Fiction

Painting as a Pastime

Painting as a Pastime by Winston Churchill – a wonderful book, I loved it. He wrote about the pleasure he discovered in a heightened sense of observation and also about the need for a change to rest and strengthen the mind that painting provided – ‘Whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the picture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the mental screen. They pass out into shadow and darkness.’

The First Book By a Favourite Author

After You'd Gone

After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell – her debut novel. The main character, Alice is in a coma after being in road accident, which may or may not have been a suicide attempt. She has been grieving the death of her husband, John.

A Book You Heard About On Line

A Perfectly Good Man

Many of the books I read these days are books I’ve heard about on line. I’ve chosen A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale because when I wrote about Notes From an Exhibition Café Society recommended it. The ‘perfectly good man‘ is Barnaby Johnson, a parish priest, a man who always tries to do the right thing, but he doesn’t always manage it. It’s a beautifully written book about faith and the loss of faith, about love and cruelty and deception, about ordinary life and about everyday tragedies, and also sublime moments.

A Best Selling Book

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

Tombland by C J Sansom, the 7th book in his Shardlake series. Another 5* book! It’s 1549, Edward VI is king, England is ruled by the Duke of Somerset as Lord Protector and rebellion is spreading throughout the land. Matthew Shardlake is asked to investigate the murder of Edith Boleyn, the wife of John Boleyn – a distant Norfolk relation of Elizabeth’s mother Anne Boleyn.  Then he and his assistants get caught up in the rebellion against the landowners’ enclosures of the common land as thousands of peasants led by Robert Kett establish a vast camp outside Norwich.

A Book Based On A True Story

The Hunger

The Hunger by Alma Katsu, one of the 5* books I’ve read this year. It’s historical fiction based on the true story of the Donner Party, a group of pioneers, people who were looking for a better life in the American West. They formed a wagon train under the leadership of George Donner and James Reed making their way west to California in 1846. Alma Katsu’s book interweaves fact with fiction and with hints of the supernatural and Indian myths it becomes a thrilling, spine tingling horrific tale.

A Book At The Bottom of Your To Be Read Pile

The Tenderness of Wolves

The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney –  I’ve had this book since 2007. It’s set in Canada in 1867 beginning in a small place called Dove River on the north shore of Georgian Bay where Mr and Mrs Ross were the first people to settle. The setting is beautiful and as I read I felt as though I was in the wilds of Canada. It’s complex book with many characters  and many sub-plots as the search for the murderer of the French-Canadian trapper, Laurent Jammet.

A Book Your Friend Loves

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match

Wedlock by Wendy Moore is a book recommended by a friend, who thought it was very good. She was quite right and I loved this biography of Mary Eleanor Bowes, who was one of Britain’s richest young heiresses in 18th century Britain. Her first husband was the Count of Strathmore – the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, was a direct descendant of their marriage. Her second marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney was an absolute disaster. He was brutally cruel and treated her with such violence, humiliation, deception and kidnap, that she lived in fear for her life.

A Book that Scares You

The Craftsman

The Craftsman by Sharon Bolton. This is one of her standalone books. They are all really scary, creepy books and I was inescapably drawn into this chilling and terrifying story with the horrors of being buried alive clearly described. It is a remarkably powerful book, full of tension and fear about coffin-maker Larry Glassbrook, a serial child killer who buried his victims alive.

A Book That Is More Then Ten Years Old

Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie,  writing as Mary Westmacott, first published in 1944. I was thoroughly absorbed in the story of Joan Scudamore.  It is set in Mesopotamia (corresponding to today’s Iraq, mostly, but also parts of modern-day Iran, Syria and Turkey) in a railway rest-house at Tel Abu Hamid on the Turkish border, where Joan is stranded, delayed by floods. She occupies the time with reading and then by thinking about herself. Gradually she relives her past, all the time with a growing feeling of unease and anxiety that she is not the person she thought she was.

The Second Book In A Series

Bump in the Night (Flaxborough Chronicles, #2)

Bump in the Night by Colin Watson, the second book in his Flaxborough series. It’s crime fiction full of wordplay, innuendo, practical jokes and murder. Inspector Purbright investigates a series of explosions, culminating in the death of the local haulage contractor.

A Book With A Blue Cover

The Burning Chambers

 The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse, the first in a new trilogy set in Languedoc in the south-west of France. It’s set in 1562 during the French Wars of Religion, centred on the Joubert family, Catholics living in Carcassonne and Piet Reydon, one of the Huguenot leaders.  Bernard Joubert, a bookseller had been imprisoned accused of being a traitor and a heretic, and Pietis on a dangerous mission in Carcassone to further the Huguenot cause. He finds his life is in danger from the priest Vidal.

Foreign Bodies (British Library Crime Classics) edited by Martin Edwards

Poisoned Pen Press|6 March  2018 |288 pages|e-book |Review copy|3*

This edition, published in association with the British Library, has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

There are fifteen stories in this collection of vintage crime fiction in translation,  written by authors from Hungary, Japan, Denmark, India, Germany, Mexico, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia and France. Some are detective stories in the same tradition of  Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, or in the same style as Agatha Christie; there are ‘locked room’ mysteries and stories mixing mystery and horror. Martin Edwards has prefaced each one with a brief biographical note, which I found useful as, unsurprisingly, the authors were all new to me, with the exception of Anton Chekhov (although I haven’t read any of his works).

Edwards presents the stories in approximately the chronological order of their publication from 1883 to 1960 and notes that these authors were writing in the same styles at much the same time as Agatha Christie and other Golden Age crime fiction writers.

When I began reading I was disappointed as I didn’t enjoy the first few stories. Short story collections are often a mixed bag and some stories are better than others, so after putting the book aside for a while I carried on reading. Some are very short and are predictable and really easy to see where they will end, but others are much more satisfying.

The ones that appealed to me the most are (in the order I read them):

The Spider (1930) by Koga Saburo who founded the Mystery Writers of Japan in 1947. His work was very popular in Japan and he wrote in the traditionalist style, favouring the puzzle element of a mystery. Edwards writes that it ‘is a pleasing fusion of macabre fiction and the classic detective puzzle‘, which explains why I like it. It’s set in a bizarre laboratory in a nine metre high round tower in which a professor is carrying out research on spiders. One night another professor visited him and fell to his death from the tower having been bitten by a poisonous spider. The circumstances of his death, however are not at all straightforward and are most ingenious. Probably my favourite story.

Murder a la Carte (1931) by Jean-Toussaint Samat, born in the Camargue, a journalist and writer of crime and adventure novels. This story is about a case of poisoning, but poisoning with a difference. A guest at a dinner party explains how to get away with murder – by using a non-poisonous substance. It’s one of the shorter stories that I did find satisfying.

The Venom of the Tarantula (1933) by Sharadindu Bandyopadhya from Bengal, educated in Calcutta, whose crime writing is similar to that of Arthur Conan Doyle. A writer called Ajit  and detective Byomkesh Bakshi join forces to investigate what is an apparently ‘impossible crime’ featuring an ingenious poisoning.  Nandadulalbabu is a hypochondriac who is writing fiction using black and red ink. He is addicted to venomous ‘spider juice’, extracted from tarantulas. His family have prevented him from getting the juice but somehow he is able to trick them and is still  getting his fix. Although I was able to work out the solution it’s still a satisfying and interesting story.

The Mystery of the Green Room (1936) by Pierre Véry from France. This story is dedicated to the memory of Gaston Leroux, and plays on the events in his story, The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1907), which I haven’t readanother ‘locked room’ whodunnit.  I enjoyed this one , particularly where the private investigator points out to the detective the similarities between the yellow room mystery to this one, the green room mystery – this is an ‘open-room’ mystery as opposed to a ‘locked-room’ puzzle.

John Flanders, born in Ghent was one of the pen-names of Jean-Raymond-Marie De Kremer. He wrote imaginative and fantastical stories and Kippers, originally written in Flemish is one of his many short stories. It’s one of the shortest stories in the book and entertained me in a very different way – it is not a puzzle or even really a mystery story, but is focused on one of Flanders’ fictional preoccupations with food and drink and as the title indicates it is a story about

Kippers, delectable, salmony kippers, smoky as a chimney, dripping with fat, one for each of us, of course, the real thing.

Even Bertie the cabin boy got one.

A sinister tale about a shipwrecked crew on a desert island that ends in horror.

My thanks to the publishers, Poisoned Pen Press, for my review copy via NetGalley.