All British All the Time and a Giveaway!
In honor of my 10th post I think I’ll do a giveaway! Harper Publishing sent me two beautiful posters of the Elegy for Eddie cover. I’m going to be terribly greedy and keep one, but I will give the other away and share the love. To enter the giveaway, just post a comment below. I’ll chose a winner at random on Sunday, April 22.
My next three books are all about the British Isles. I will admit, I am an anglophone. I love Brit-lit, tea, and the Queen. I inherited this from my father who thought the only thing better than British was 18th century French. He had two framed letters from Buckingham Palace in his entryway and a map of the Underground in his bathroom. I made my first trip to the British Isles when I was 5. I got a Cabbage Patch Kid doll and a cape. I still have the doll. The cape, I imagine, when the way of outgrown clothes and was passed down the extended family line.
I haven’t had the means to travel out of the country lately, but I do love a good British novel. Now, I’ll be honest here, one of these three novels is not written by a Brit. This was shocking to me too, but I’ve come to realize that it’s ok. I can read books set in Great Britain, but written by Americans. It’s not shameful as long as they’re well written, which this one is…
13.The Confessionby Charles Todd
The Confession is our American culprit. Charles Todd is actually an American mother/son writing team. They write mystery novels set in the World War I period. This happens to be a time that I am completely obsessed with, so I’ll forgive them their lack of firsthand Britishness. The Todd team, henceforth to be refered to just as Charles Todd, currently write two series. My favorite is the Bess Crawford series. Bess is a nurse during WWI and her penchant for investigation dovetails nicely with her desire to help those she encounters.
This book is in the longer Ian Rutledge series. Rutledge was an officer in the war and now serves as a Scotland Yard inspector. What sets Rutledge apart from the many other war veterans of fiction is his severe shell shock. During the war Rutledge was forced to convene a firing squad and execute his sergeant, Hamish McLeod, for refusing an order during battle. Rutledge’s shell shock takes the form of Hamish’s ghost. He never leaves Rutledge in peace, but acts as part conscience, part confidant, part torment. Despite, or perhaps because of Hamish’s presence, Rutledge manages his investigations with keen insight into human nature and a dogged determination to bring criminals to justice.
The Confession centers around an incident wherein a man, calling himself Wyatt Russell confesses to the murder of his cousin. Rutledge cannot hold Russell because the alleged murder occurred five years earlier, in the height of WWI. There is no body or any other corroborating evidence. Rutledge has no choice but to let the man go and poke around on his own. He begins to suspect that Wyatt Russell is not the man’s real name, however, before long the man is the victim of murder himself. Several strange things begin to surface about Wyatt Russell and his family. Russell’s mother is a presumed suicide. Russell and his cousin, the putative victim, are both listed as deserters from WWI. Something happened at River’s Edge years ago and someone is still willing to kill to keep it quiet.
Alan Bennett wrote An Uncommon Reader, which is a charming novella about what happens when Queen Elizabeth discovers a mobile library on the grounds of Buckingham Palace and checks out a book. It was a very fast read and I quite liked it. So, I thought that even though the subject matter of his next book was somewhat more unconventional I’d give it a shot. If nothing else, I could read it in an afternoon.
Sadly, I did not enjoy Smut nearly as much. It wasn’t the subject matter. I read torrid romance novels with abandon. But this book was just… awkward. The first story, The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson, is about a widow of a certain age. She has a rather unusual job acting as a hypothetical patient for medical students. One of the patients rents a room with her boyfriend in Mrs. Donaldson’s house, but they’re always late with the rent. Eventually, they work out an arrangement.
The second story, The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes, centers around a very proper, very annoying matriarch. Her husband keeps his private life on the internet and her son keeps his private life in a variety of clubs for gay men. Both men try to shield Mrs. Forbes from anything that might discompose her. Graham eventually marries a woman his mother does not approve of. He cares about her, but by this time is being blackmailed by one of his previous paramours. The whole story is about people hiding things from one another for no terribly good reason.
I didn’t feel much of an attachment to the characters in either story. I suppose, in retrospect, there wasn’t much of an emotional attachment to the protagonist of An Uncommon Reader, but since she is a queen I suppose I wasn’t expecting there to be. However, when I’m delving into the foibles of middle-class Britain I would hope to like or sympathize with the people whose lives I am observing. But I didn’t. It was only a couple of hours of my time, but I rather wish I’d stopped with the first book.
15. Elegy for Eddie by Jacquelin Winspear
Elegy for Eddie is the ninth installment in the Maisie Dobbs series. The year is 1933 and Maisie is once more in London. She is approached by several old friends of her father’s who want to hire her. Eddie Pettit, a young man from Maisie’s old neighborhood, has died in an industrial accident. But the costermongers and Eddie’s mother aren’t satisfied with that explanation. All of the factory workers have been forbidden to discuss the incident on pain of losing their jobs. Maisie remembers Eddie fondly as a kind, gentle young man with an almost magical way with horses. The idea that someone might deliberately have harmed him is repellant to her. However, the case quickly proves much more dangerous than Maisie suspected. Maisie’s assistant Billy is severely injured while asking questions about the accident. Maisie herself is warned away by her paramour when her investigation leads toward prominent men and state secrets.
I was very happy that this book was a return to Maisie in London dealing with a very personal problem. I enjoyed A Lesson in Secrets, with it’s flavor of espionage, but I wouldn’t want the series as a whole to trend in that direction. I like Maisie to be herself, to walk around and talk to people openly. I also like that Maisie is having to take stock of herself in this book. She can see very clearly when it comes to other people, but her own life is in quite a muddle. She begins to sort some of that out in Elegy for Eddie.
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