A Bitter Feast opens in a dreamy Cotswolds mansion for a comfortable weekend featuring a gourmet lunch prepared by the local pub owner, whose Michelin-starred pedigree makes for much more ambitious fare that can be expected in a standard pub. But deaths accumulate in the small village and soon it’s clear that the chef’s past has literally come back to haunt her, and the guests have to shift to their usual detective work. I particularly enjoyed two delightful portraits of a teenager and a chid that find a bond.
Tag Archives: United Kingdom
How to Treat People: A Nurse’s Notes is an earnest account of a British nurse’s worklife, intertwined with an account of her father’s medical journey. The overall effect is a little too workmanlike. My favorite parts of the books are when she describes the exquisite are and efforts deployed by her and other nurses to communicate with difficult, resistant patients, gently convincing them to submit to the treatments. There are many difficult patients out there!
A Life of My Own is a memoir by a writer who specializes in biographies, so it’s an opportunity to observe a professional at work. She includes plenty of personal commentary on her own life, from her fractured childhood between divorced parents, at a time when it was a matter of shame, and during WWII to boot, to her own difficult marriage, and moving accounts of her children, living and dead, and an especially poignant portrait of a son who was born with spina bifida. Her professional life, although very successful in the end, was tough at first, when she could not find a professional job despite her Cambridge degrees. Society has made some progress since then, it seems.
I feel guilty to have spent a couple of hours with Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret because, well, is a minor Royal worth that kind of attention? Not to mention one that is arrogant, self-centered, and plain rude, including to those who consider themselves her friends. That said, the biography is entertainingly written in 99 loosely connected chapters, some quite short, others more developed. It all feels like reading a gossip magazine, if they came in 400-page versions, and it makes a wonderful argument for getting rid of monarchy as a system.
Putting aside Margaret’s flaws, she might have had an interesting career as a social media influencer. Instead, she seems to have wasted her life swanning around town, drinking too much, and choosing the wrong guys.
The Hollow gathers rich people in a fancy country house, where one of them is sadly shot to death with one of the many firearms the owner collects. Since the slain man has a wife, a mistress, and a jealous ex-mistress, and the owner’s wife has shown to be an accurate sharpshooter, the possibilities are many and Hercule Poirot will untangle the mess, using his usual techniques of deduction and very few modern scientific techniques. Set in a completely outdated setting and set of manners, the story may be as remarkable for its atmosphere as its (rather incredible) denouement.
Manon Bradshaw returns in Persons Unknown, in theory confined to cold cases but caught in a murder mystery because her adopted son is a prime suspect, and she must get him out of the youth home where he is utterly miserable. The murder ends up being an incredibly complicated international intrigue, but the family connections to it are complicated and dark. A wonderful portrait of a working mom.
Freya is a luxuriously long story, starting immediately after WWII in England, of an interesting woman who forges a career and lives an inspiringly independent life. But if you look a little deeper you may find, as I did, that it often feels like a careful recitation of historical research rather than a free-flowing novel, and that the resolute independence of the heroine is a little forced, anachronistic even. Fun, but not more.
Need You Dead starts with a dead woman in a bathtub. Her husband is the perfect suspect since he has had several encounters with the police for spouse abuse, but she also has a duplicitous lover and is in a battle with a violent would-be buyer of her car. As the detective investigates, he is himself dealing with the unexpected arrival of a long-lost son into his new marriage, providing an ample back story. If you can see past the repetitive, rapid-fire sentences and the unfortunate psycho-babble around the son’s arrival, you will surely enjoy the twisted plot.
The Summer Before The War is packaged as a vintage novel, with the local gentry in a small town controlling much of the institutions and everyone else barely getting by. But it is, in fact, a modern novel with a feminist twist, embodied in a brainy Latin teacher and her protector, an influential older woman who is working behind the scenes to open opportunities to women. Despite the sometimes awkward juxtaposition of the traditional style of the novel and the dogged feminist themes, it’s an engrossing story with some wonderful scenes, most starring the mayor and especially his ambitious and terminally conventional wife. Enjoy!
(Also read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by the same author.)
I’m going to say that Thing We Have In Common is a mystery, since it contains a crime, and a serious one, the disappearance of a teenager, but the focus is on one of her classmates, a fat, friendless, and bullied classmate who is fascinated by the popular girl and convinced that a mysterious man is watching her and may bring her harm. The action is mostly in the girl’s mind, with short interactions with her mother and stepfather — and eventually the police. The peculiar logic of teenagers is perfectly captured, all the way to the disturbing, unsettled ending.