Tag Archives: England

*** The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley

 

Flavia de Luce returns with The Golden Tresses of the Dead, which starts with a macabre discovery in her sister’s wedding cake and ends with suspicious evangelizing nuns. Dogger, the shell-shocked gardener, has become her partner in her official private investigation venture and serves as a wonderful foil and mentor.

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*** The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

The Bookshop is a delightful, albeit sad story of a widow who, having opened a surprisingly successful bookshop in a small town in the 50’s, finds herself driven out of business and indeed out of town by the vengeful local gentry. The book describes the minute intrigues of a small town where everyone knows everyone else, and changes are not welcome. It also exposes the surprisingly strong class differences and how they play out. And of course it reminds us of a time not so long ago when a small town could function in utter isolation, controlled by antiquated rules and social structures.

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*** Fall of Angels by Barbara Cleverly

Fall of Angels opens dramatically, with a young female trumpet player falling spectacularly (and suspiciously) to a bruised but happily non-dead state. Inspector Redfyre is on the premises, lured by a free ticket his aunt gave him. So he starts investigating, and in due course more young women turn up dead in 1920s Cambridge (England), prompting panic and a renewed urgency to the investigation, which seems to yield many secrets but not many tangible clues.

The plot is satisfyingly twisted but what made the book for me were the many comments about the effects of WWI, rules of etiquette, the misogynistic practices of the university (no degrees for women!), and early feminist efforts. The story brings to mind Gaudy Night, but in a more modern and utterly enjoyable form.

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* Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

The heroine of Everything Under grew up on a houseboat with an unstable and likely mentally ill mother who eventually abandoned her. Decades later, her mother reappears and she revisits her surprisingly hazy memories, including what I found to be a very tiresome retelling of the Oedipus story, drowning in fog and rain.

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** Curtain by Agatha Christie

Curtain is Hercule Poirot’s last case–and indeed he dies at the end. He has returned to the vast English country house where he solved his first murder and has identified a guest as not just a killer, but a serial killer, with cunning powers over others. Since proving the accusations will be nigh impossible, he makes it his mission to prevent the next death, at great risk to himself.

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** The Husband Hunters by Anne de Courcy

Part history, part society pages, The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married into the British Aristocracy describes dozens of young American women whose family’s lack of pedigree marooned them from fashionable society in New York but whose wealth was eminently attractive to impoverished British aristocrats. After marrying, their titles opened them, and their parents, a place in the surprisingly closed New York high society, which their mothers knew very well, and had worked to achieve, sometimes at the expense of the daughters.

It was not all fun and games. They often discovered that the wonderful castles of their new husbands were unheated hovels when it came to modern conveniences, and staffed by servants that nursed contempt for their naivete, while their new husbands were very free with their marital vows.

The book sometimes veers into a gossip column (and after a few chapters some of the women start to blend together) but it draws an interesting portrait of two elites in need of each other.

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*** The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place is the latest Flavia De Luce mystery, in which she finds a corpse and proceeds to identify both the murderer and a wrongly-convicted one. The usual chemistry high jinks abound, accompanied here by copious literary quotes, maybe a little too precious? But fun, as fun as a book with a murdered young man could pretend to be.

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