Monday, June 28, 2010

The Rector's Daughter

This 1924 novel by F. M. Mayor was chosen by listeners to Radio 4 as a neglected classic in response to an appeal by OPEN BOOK and it is currently being serialized as A Book at Bed-Time. This got me thinking and I got my paperback copy - a Penguin Modern Classic - down from the shelf. It was a book that really spoke to me when I first read it in the 1980s (I see that I bought it in September, 1982 in Birmingham) and I re-read it several times. I think this was because I so much identified with the principle character even though she was different to me in so many ways. But in one respect I was like her. I was in my thirties, wasn't married, didn't have children and didn't know if I ever would - or how much I'd mind if I didn't. Maybe after my husband and children arrived and the question was settled, this wasn't a book I needed to go back to. And it occurs to me to wonder how much having children changes you as a reader. I don't just mean that you get to read some wonderful books that you didn't read in your own childhood (CHARLOTTE'S WEB, for example), or that you have so much less time for reading (the rest of Proust will have to wait until my old age), but that certain books just don't appeal to you anymore. This is the case with Iris Murdoch whose novels I used to devour and re-read frequently. Those books gave me so much pleasure and consolation. But now they are like friends that you don't have much in common with any more. In Murdoch's novels there aren't many children and I don't remember any babies. This is such a large part of life for so many people (including me) that I feel it as a lack in a novel of this sort (I don't mind in crime fiction. With their love affairs, their violently oscillating emotions and their lack of responsibilites for others, so many of her characters seem to belong to a phase of life that I've left behind. Having said that, I do still like her early novel, UNDER THE NET, which I still find very amusing.
As for F. M. Mayor, I have a feeling, flicking through THE RECTOR'S DAUGHTER, that I'd still find plenty here to engage me. Perhap it's time to revisit it.

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wallander and film noir

This blog is mostly about reading, and sometimes about writing, but I do watch DVDS and TV as well. I have tended though to watch less and less TV over the years. There is hardly anything I like these days, not even dramatizations of the classics. I prefer to hang on to my own idea of Emma, or the Reverend Slope, or the ladies of Cranford. (I sometimes make an exception for Dickens who I feel does transfer to the screen well: the David Lean GREAT EXPECTATIONS is wonderful). But essentially there have been only two regular dates with the TV in recent months: DOCTOR WHO, which we watch as a family, and WALLENDER. I was an early fan of Henning Mankell (Maigret meets Ingmar Bergman) and have loved this TV series as well. Truth to tell, I think Kenneth Branagh is closer to my idea of the angst-ridden Kurt Wallender, but the Swedish series works better as an ensemble with Swedish actors playing Swedish character and Krister Hendriksson does a fine job. The last in the series was aired on Saturday so that is the end of that Saturday night treat and we'll probably have to fall back on DVDS.
My husband and I both love film noir and we had a season of French classics a while ago, working our way through the films of Jean-Pierre Melville among others, and now we are watching a lot of American film noir. This is in its way almost as closely defined an art form as a sonnet or a sonata or a medieval romance. Raymond Chandler established the rules of the genre. The hero of course is a loner, tough and laconic and wise-cracking. He gets beaten up at least once. There nearly always is a scene in a night club where a beautiful woman in a slinky dress sings a sultry love-song in a husky voice. She is no good, but the hero falls in love with her anyway, and you know it's not going to end well. Last night, watching Humphrey Bogart in DEAD RECKONING after an unusually busy and sociable week-end I fell asleep for ten minutes in the middle and it didn't matter a bit. I had no trouble at all working out what must have happened in my absence and following it through to the end.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bodies in the Bookshop

More about that in a moment, but first I want to lament the passing of an old friend. Over the years I must have bought dozens of books from Galloway and Porter. They stocked remaindered books and were especially strong - from my point of view - on fiction, art history, cookery and guide books. But they also stocked the academic stuff that you'd expect to see in a university town like Cambridge. You saw the same staff in there year after year. I don't know how long it had been going, but many years, I think. Certainly it was open when I took up my job in Cambridge in 1990. When I was there a few weeks ago, was a notice saying that it was going into administration and then last week, I saw that it was empty and there was a notice on the door: 'Galloway and Porter is now closed forever.' I am sorry for the people who used to work there. And with the shop has gone a tiny bit of my life as a bibliophile.
However my very favourite Cambridge bookshop, Heffer's, is still going strong and on 15 July the incomparable Richard Reynolds. fiction-buyer extraordinaire, will be hosting the annual Bodies in the Bookshop. The format is the same every year. Forty or fifty crime-writers are invited to sign copies of their books and to chat with fans of crime fiction over a glass of wine. It is very friendly and informal and a lot of fun. This year's line up includes Don Bartlett, translator of the best-selling Norwegian writer, Jo Nesbo, Veronica Heley, Janet Neel, Sophie Hannah, Sheila Quigley, L. C. Tyler, and many, many more. I'll be there this year, signing copies of a new paperback edition of MURDER IS ACADEMIC, my first Cassandra James novel (published in the UK as DEAD LETTERS). This is the link to buy it on-line: And if you are interested in going to Bodies in the Bookshop, tickets at £5 are available from the Ground Floor Cash Desk at Heffers (01223-568568) or by contacting Richard Reynolds on 01223-568532 or by e-mail at
See you there?

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, June 07, 2010


'I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library' wrote Jorge Luis Borges. Me, too. A week or two ago I was in the London Library and it occurred to me that this is very nearly my favorite place on earth. Libraries have always been very special places to me. I wrote an article a few years ago on independent libraries which you can read elsewhere on my web-site. I've been a member of the London Library for, oh, twenty-six years? But my love of libraries goes back a lot further than that. The first library I remember visiting was in Helmsley, the little market town near Ampleforth, the village we lived in when I was a child. Every week my mother and brother and I would go in by bus and visit the library and I would choose a book. I would have been seven or eight and I was fascinated by Norse legends. Even then I was a fast reader, had soon read my book, and longed for the next one. Most of the books I actually owned had been my mother's when she was a child and at some point I catalogued them according to a simple system. Later on at Cleveland Grammar School I became School Librarian. The library there was a refuge for a girl who wasn't very sporty or very good at anything except English and History. It had some daring choices: I read Stan Barstow's A KIND OF LOVING there. There have been many libraries that I've loved over the years: the art library at the Barber Institute in Birmingham, the British Library (old and new), Dulwich Library, where I used to come out with armfuls of Collins Crime, Cambridge University Library . . .
Bookish girls, such as I was, are sometimes asked if they want to be a librarian when they grow up. It wasn't for me. I'm very grateful to all the librarians over years whose hard work has so much enriched my life. But in the end I'd rather be reading the books - and now and then writing one myself - than cataloguing them. And maybe that is why libraries are still for me magical places of adventure and escape.
(Thanks, Anca, for putting me onto the quotation from Jorge Luis Borges.)

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


CADS stands for a periodical called Crime and Detective Stories, 'an irregular magazine of comment and criticism about crime and detective stories,' to use the editor's own words. It arrives through my letter-box around twice a year and and as I never know when it is going to appear, it always comes as a pleasant surprise. There is nothing quite like it. It is not glossy, there are hardly any illustrations, and I love it. The current issue contains articles on Hilda Lawrence, Georgette Heyer, Sherlock Holmes and the bankers, crime stories featuring Christmas and the New Year, Anthony Gilbert (a favourite of my mother's) and much, much more. Ever heard of the crime thrillers of T. Arthur Plummer? Me neither until the current CADS. It is written by afficionados for afficionados. Contemporary crime fiction isn't neglected. There are reviews of new fiction, and once a year there is a round-up of the year's highlights, and there is an interview with a contemporary crime writer on the back page. But the emphasis is on writers of the past and no-one is too long-forgotten or obscure to be thought worthy of mention.
It has been going for twenty-five years, published and edited by Geoff Bradley, a true labour of love if ever there was one. I discovered a copy in Murder One bookshop a few years ago and wish I'd found it sooner. I've been a subscriber for around five years now and it couldn't be simpler. You join the mailing list and with the magazine comes a form for ordering the next issue which you send back with payment for the current one (only £5.75 including postage at present. It really is a bargain). Long may CADS - and Geoff - flourish. If you want your own copy write to him at 9 Vicarage Hill, South Benfleet, Essex, SS7 1PA.

Labels: , , , ,