A – Z of TBRs: G, H and I

I have been neglecting my TBRs this year and have been reading mainly new books and library books.So here is the third instalment of my A – Z of TBRs, a series of posts in which I take a fresh look at some of my TBRs to inspire me to read more of them by the end of the year. These TBRs are all physical books – I’ve not included e-books.

I’m enjoying searching my shelves – finding books I’d forgotten were there (the disadvantage of shelving books behind others).

a-z tbrs ghi P1020304

 

G is for The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendella book I’ve had for just over a year. When a new house is being built a long buried secret is uncovered – a tin box is found in an earthen tunnel. It contained two skeletal hands, one male and one female.

Their garden was not beautiful. It had no flowering trees, no roses, no perfumed herbs. Tunnels, they called it at first. The word ‘qanat’, an impossible word, was found by Daphne Jones and adopted by the rest of them. It meant, apparently, a subterranean passage for carrying water in some oriental language. They liked it because it started with a q without a u. Their scholteachers had taught them that no word could ever start with a q unless it was followed by u, so Daphne’s idea appealed to them and the tunnels became qanats. In time to come the qanats became their secret garden. (pages 14 -15)

HHamlet, Revenge! by Michael Innes (on my TBR shelves since May 2015). This is a green Vintage Penguin, first published in 1937, and in this edition in 1961, about a murder planned to take place in the middle of a private performance of Hamlet.

It had begun as a family frolic. And now, although it would not be publicly reported, the dramatic critics were coming down as if to an important festival. Professors were coming to shake learned respectable bald heads over a fellow-scholar’s conception of an Elizabethan stage. Aged royalty  was coming to be politely bewildered. Most alarming of all, ‘everybody’ was coming – for the purpose no doubt, of being where ‘everybody’ was. And even if it was a select and serious everybody – a known set before whom a Lord Chancellor might mime without misgiving – it was still a crowd, and its actions were unpredictable. (page 28)

IThe Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, a book I’ve had for just over 10 years! It won the Man Booker Prize in 2006. This is set in India, in a dilapidated mansion high in the Himalayas, the home of three people each dreaming of another time – a retired judge, Sai, his granddaughter and a cook.

In Kalimpong, high in the northeastern Himalayas where they lived – the retired judge and his cook, Sai and Mutt – there was a report of new dissatisfaction in the hills, gathering insurgency, men and guns. It was the Indian Nepalese this time, fed up with being treated like the minority in a place where they were the majority. They wanted their own country, or at least their own state, in which to manage their own affairs. Here, where India blurred into Bhutan and Sikkim, and the army did pull-ups and push-ups, maintaining the tanks with khaki paint in case the Chinese grew hungry for more territory than Tibet, it had always been a messy map. The papers sounded resigned. A great amount of warring, betraying, bartering had occurred; between Nepal, England, Tibet, India, Sikkim, Bhutan; Darjeeling stolen from here, Kalimpong plucked from there – despite, ah, despite the mist charging down like a dragon, dissolving, undoing, making ridiculous the drawing of border. (page 9)

What do you think? Do you fancy any of them? 

One reason I haven’t read these books yet is that they’re all in such a small font!

Death at the President’s Lodging by Michael Innes: a Book Review

This is the first Inspector Appleby mystery by Michael Innes. What struck me most about Death at the President’s Lodging is that it is essentially a ‘locked room’ mystery. Dr Umpleby, the unpopular president of St Anthony’s College (a fictional college similar to an Oxford college)  is found in his study, shot through the head.

The crime was at once intriguing and bizarre, efficient and theatrical. It was efficient because nobody knew who had committed it. And it was theatrical because of a macabre and necessary act of fantasy with which the criminal, it was quickly rumoured, had accompanied his deed. (page 1)

Inspector Appleby from Scotland Yard is in charge of the investigation, helped by Inspector Dodd from the local police force. They provide an interesting contrast, both in appearance, age and methods. Appleby is an intellectual, contemplative, preferring to study human nature rather than rely on the use of finger prints and material evidence. Dodd is reliant on routine and although untrained and unspecialised is shrewd and thorough. They know each other and make a good pair. This passage sums up their working relationship:

And now Dodd for all his fifteen stone and an uncommon tiredness (he had been working on the case since early morning), sprang up with decent cordiality to welcome his colleague. ‘The detective arrives,’ he said with a deep chuckle when greetings had been exchanged, ‘and the village policeman hands over the body with all the misunderstood clues to date.’ (page 5)

What follows is an extremely convoluted and complex investigation of the strange crime. Without the plan at the beginning of the book I would have been lost. The college is divided into different areas and each area is locked each evening, shutting it off from the outside world and shutting one part of the college off from the rest. Dodd describes it as a ‘submarine within a submarine’. The questions are how did the murderer get in and out, who had keys, and why was Umpleby murdered?

Appleby and Dodd interview the Fellows of the College, each of whom it seems at first could have had reason to murder Umpleby. Who is telling the truth? I couldn’t tell and there are innumerable clues to mystify both the police and the reader. Appleby watches and listens, recognising that he is not going to get a quick result in such a complicated case. Of course, in the end he works it all out. He gathers together the Fellows and calls on a number of them to give their statements of the facts as they know them. They each suspect a different person as the culprit, but Appleby gradually eliminates the suspects to reveal the murderer.

It was masterly. It’s also a book that you can’t read quickly. It requires concentration. There is little action, much description and a lot of analysis. I enjoyed it very much, but after reading it I felt my brain needed a little rest.

I also wrote about Michael Innes in my Crime Fiction Alphabet series of posts – I is for Innes.

Crime Fiction Alphabet: I is for Innes

Michael Innes is the pseudonym of John Innes Mackintosh Stewart (1906 – 1994), a British scholar and novelist, and is my choice to illustrate the letter I in Kerrie’s Crime Fiction Alphabet.

He was born near Edinburgh, the son of a Scottish professor, and attended Edinburgh Academy, then Oriel College, Oxford where he won the Matthew Arnold Memorial Prize in 1939 and honours in English. He was a Lecturer, then a Professor in English at different universities, finishing his academic career in 1973 as a Student (Fellow) at Christ Church Oxford.

He published many novels, and short stories as well as books of criticism and essays under his own name, including biographical works on Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy. Writing as Michael Innes he wrote many crime novels, the first being Death at the President’s Lodging, written in 1934 during his sea voyage to Australia. It was the first of his 29 books about his Scotland Yard detective, John Appleby, published in the UK in 1936, and in the USA in 1937 as Seven Suspects, to avoid readers thinking it dealt with the US President.

In an essay written in 1964 Innes described his writing methods – during the academic year he wrote for two hours before breakfast. He thought that reading detective stories was addictive (I have to agree with that!) and that he managed to escape the compulsion to read them by writing his own mysteries (maybe I should try that). He thought in depth characterisation wasn’t right in detective stories and he avoided having real problems or feelings intrude on his characters. He regarded crime fiction solely as escapist literature.

I’m currently reading Death at the President’s Lodging – a used Penguin Books edition published in 1958, one of the green and white crime fiction books.

It’s set in a fictional English college, St Anthony’s (much like an Oxford college) where the President of the college has been murdered, his head swathed in a black academic gown, a human skull beside his body and surrounding it, little piles of human bones.

As I would expect from a professor of English, Innes’s writing is intellectual, detailed, formal and scattered with frequent literary allusions and quotations.  The plot is complex and in the nature of a puzzle. There are plenty of characters, the suspects being the dons of the college. As well as Appleby there are the local police, headed up by Inspector Dodd, who acts as a foil to Appleby’s intellectual approach to the murder. I’ll write more about the book when I’ve finished it.

For a list of Michael Innes’s work see Wikipedia.