I simply love these books and when the latest arrived through my letterbox a few weeks ago I squealed with delight.. Carol sends them to me from the USA and I am so grateful to her for doing so and when I saw the familiar name and the cover, I gave up my plans for the day and just sat down and read until it was done. This is the fourth in the series and by this time, if you are a aficionado like me, you know all about the background, the characters and the slowly unfolding story of India's birth and childhood.
India runs Lotus House and is one of London's most respected madams. She gave up practising the trade herself many years ago and now supervises her collection of 'bints' making sure they are fed well, kept under control and free from any nasty lurgy they might pass on to their high class clients. She is successful and intelligent and, since her first encounter with French, a spy who works for the British Government, has found that the running of Lotus House is a tad boring and so is eager for adventure. The fact that she and French have a mutual attraction, as yet unsatisfied, keeps her on tenterhooks and makes for a tension and frisson that she finds very stimulating.
India has been involved with Russian spies, foiled an assassination of Queen Victoria and spent time undercover in a gang of anarchists who are busy blowing up leading figures in the British government, so she now feels she is a pretty seasoned spy. In the latest title India Black and the Gentleman Thief, one of her customers, Colonel Francis Mayhew forwards a seemingly innocent shipping bill to India, an action she finds puzzling. Shortly after this three thugs beat down her door, steal the envelope and give her and French a nasty hiding. So of course India being India decides to find out what is going on as she doesn't take kindly to this kind of behaviour. And then they find Colonel Mayhew has been killed and in an extremely unpleasant manner....
I love these books and I love the wit and the style with which they are written. India is a lovely character, full of common sense and pretty formidable, but warm and affectionate as well though she takes care to keep this hidden.
"I despise wasting time unless I'm choosing how to do it. That is to say, lolling in front of a fire on a misty autumn day with a decanter of brandy at hand is a perfectly acceptable way to pass the hours, as is imbibing a flute of champagne on a warm summer's evening. But standing hunched in a shop entrance endeavouring to blend into the woodwork is hard going......I confess to daydreaming a bit, planning a quiet evening with French......when I felt the object of my thoughts stiffen beside me. I do not mean that in the biblical sense....."
And now the good, the very very good news. The India Black books are being published in the UK by Titan and the first two titles India Black and India Black and the Widow of Windsor are now available with more to follow. Please, I beg you, give yourself a treat and buy them. If you like a rattling good yarn, Victorian smog and dangerous corners, a luscious heroine and a dashing handsome protagonist then these are for you. As I have already said, I love the author's style, full of wit and panache, never a dull moment in the entire series.
Already looking forward to the next one.
Here is a link to my review of these two books when I was lucky enough to be sent them back in 2012. My view have not changed!
It was last weekend and I have been trying to write about it ever since but time gallops by. Anyway here we go.
Very handy having a daughter and family living in the City, all off on hols so when I asked if I could stay for the weekend, delighted says she, keep an eye on the house. So after seeing them off on Friday morning at the crack of dawn, surveying the chaos left behind (Florence managed to tip a bowl of Rice Krispies all over the kitchen floor, no milk, so definitely snap crackle and pop) and then having a strong coffee, I tidied up and cleaned and changed beds and awaited the arrival of a good friend who was coming to share the weekend with me.
We spent most of Friday lolling around and then on Saturday went to Marylebone and visited Daunts which I think is one of the most wonderful bookshops, ever. At the back of the shop books about countries all over the world are put next to biographies and histories of same country, so in Spain you will find a book about the Spanish Inquisition cheek by jowl to a guide to Malaga; Germany a book about the Kaiser next to a guide to sailing down the Rhine. You get the drift .....
Place was heaving and trade was brisk which was good to see. I have attended a couple of book launches here as well and cannot think of a better ambiance to hold such an event.
Lunch, collapse, rest aching feet and then off to seek out The Heartbreak Gallery which I had read about a week or so ago when somebody mentioned it on Face Book. Totally new to me and we walked round in circles trying to find it, both clutching our Smart phones with google maps etc and still got lost. All very well telling you where it is but only if you know where you are if you see what I mean.
Asked a friendly guy out walking his poodle where we were and he set us right and off we hied and found it, in Bulstrode Street. Gallery is owned by Jack Vettriano and is the home for his paintings, or a few at a time anyway. Loved them all and what struck me most about them, with hardly any exception, was the air of loneliness emanating from nearly all of them. Do check out this gallery next time you are in town it is worth a look.
Had thought of going to the Wallace Collection as well but by then we were both shattered so back to Mile End, feet up for evening, shepherd's pie and bed....
Next day went to the Museum of Childhood which is just a ten minute walk away at Bethnal Green. Simply packed with children all having a good time dressing up, building things with Lego, taking part in activities but boy was it hot in there. Spoke to somebody about it and it seems the underfloor heating should have been off. It wasn't and had feet like grilled lamb chops in five mins. We cut the visit short as it really was so uncomfortable but so nostalgic to see all the toys my girls played with, My Little Pony and other such delights....
So back to house with papers and lounged around and chilled. Roasted a chicken with leeks and peppers and carrots in honey, more lounging about and then retired with cup of cocoa.
Next morning leave house immaculate and ready for the wanderers return and we both went our separate ways and back home. Drive home easy peasy, unlike the one from Ealing on Mothering Sunday, when North Circular so busy and crowded I missed my turn off and ended up heading to Dagenham and had to go through Ilford on a busy Sunday afternoon....
Once the family are permanently in their new house in Ealing, only another three months to go, then I will be able to go and stay there as well and explore all around the area and use it as a base. Daughter has already said so. I note when I drive there that I go past places that I have never heard of or visited.
Back from London and alert and fresh this morning after a good night's sleep in my own bed, bliss, I awake to see sun shining and blue skies and all well. I am meeting a friend for coffee this morning but before I get dressed and sorted and dry the hair and slap on some slap, I simply have to tell you about a marvellous new online book magazine Shiny New Books.
Four well known and brill bloggers (Litlove, Harriet Devine, Gaskella, Stuck in a Book) have all got together to produce a brand new website Shiny New Books. It is the kind of website, magazine, booky thingy that is just precisely what I have been looking for. Bloggers whose opinions I respect and whose writing I admire and who I read regularly if only to show up how many subtleties and meanings I have missed in my reviews. To learn and to laugh.
Apart from anything else, this site is a model of what a website should be. Clear colours, a model of clarity and simplicity to navigate and packed with goodies. Please do check it out and sign up for the newsletter. I have already done so.
Seems over 6,000 hits on its first day 'live' which was yesterday.
Congratulations to the Fab Four and long may ye reign.
Grandchildren, bad back, gardening, bad back, out and about, bad back and this has been my lot over the last month and only just emerging from feeling pretty dire.
So I need to get a grip and to catch up on books read though most of the time I have been lying flat on my back unable to hold onto books for too long, and watching cricket instead and rejoicing in England's abject performance which was entirely predictible and thoroughly deserved. But I won't go there....
The Lake District Murder and the Cornish Coast Murder - John Bude. These books are part of the British Library reprints of unknown and undiscovered murder mysteries written in the thirties. However, these are light years away from Dame Agatha or DL Sayers and Wimsey, Ngaio Marsh and Roderick Alleyn and other luminaries of that era, all of which I adore. This is more matter of fact, more solid police work and no flights of fancy so if this is not your cup of tea, look away now.
A body is found in an isolated garage and Inspector Meredith is called in to what seems a straightforward suicide. Seasoned mystery readers will now that of course this is not so and as the investigation continues it seems that every clue or question leads to another puzzle. The dead man was leaving the country, keeping this very much to himself. Why was he going? Was he trying to escape from his involvement in organised crime and to start a new life with his fiance?
This mystery is set in the Lake District, an area I have visited and, while I do not know it well, I recognise the place names, locations and of course the description of the wonderful landscape. However, the author focusses on a small location and its surroundings, its minutiae and details and this is what makes this book so absorbing. No flash cars charging around the countryside, no frills, no furbelows. If he wants to see his boss, Meredith hops on a bus or a train. If he is keeping an eye on somebody and needs transport it is a motorcycle with a side car. No squealing breaks, no sirens, no shouts of Go Go Go from him.
The uncovering of the racket is worked out by the most meticulous calculations of petrol lorries, their loads, their deliveries, capacity etc and at one stage I was reminded of D L Sayers, contrary to what I have said above, when all this is considered and mulled over. I thought of the code to be cracked in Have his Carcase and the details of the bell ringing in The Nine Tailors. The calculations were all Greek to me but I hugely admired the precision and the skill with which it was done. Same here.
Inspector Meredith is a good soul. He works hard, he goes home for his lunch, he has high tea, a lively son and a wife who is not fond of his profession but he gets things done. He may not be as glamorous as Wimsey or Alleyn who, let's face it, would be a pain to meet in real life, but I liked him.
A satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable read. I now have The Cornish Coast Murder lined up.
If I have one caveat it would be that John Bude is over fond of the use of exclamation marks.....other than that, a great find and more please from the British Library.
"You should be dubbed Sir Guy on the spot for outstanding service to all Mapp and Lucia lovers".
This was a quote from an earlier post on these marvellous books by Guy Fraser-Sampson and it was with great pride and delight I saw that this quote had been used to head up the press release for Au Reservoir. I deem that a honour and am thrilled to bits.
Last year Guy came to the first Felixstowe Book Festival and gave a simply hilarious and entertaining talk on the Benson menage who all sound as barking mad and as eccentric as the characters created in the Mapp and Lucia books. I had the pleasure of introducing this talk and when I admitted that I had only discovered E F Benson and Tilling a few years ago, there was an audible gasp of horror and disbelief by certain members of the audience. My reply was 'Yes, I know...' as I simply cannot understand how I left it so long to become acquainted with these glorious books.
("I might have gone to my grave without ever knowing about Lucia or Miss Mapp. It is not a risk anyone should take lightly" Auberon Waugh said this. Just think it could have happened to me)
Well, I now am and so grateful for Guy Fraser-Sampson extending the genre with his witty, spiky and marvellous stories about Mapp, Lucia, Georgie, The Wyses, Diva etc etc. I love them all and this latest, Au Reservoir, is as enjoyably hilarious as all the others.
We are now in post-war Tilling and the Mapp-Lucia rivalry is still as lethal as ever. Lucia is now fabulously rich, let us face it, sounds as if she was a war profiteer and is simply rolling in it. She wishes to become a Dame and starts to put her feelers out amongst high profile friends to see if this can be achieved. Georgie's friendship with Olga Bracely is still going strong and a suggestion that a donation to the upgrading of the opera house might help in this regard, leads to Georgie becoming more and more involved with the world of the arts.
Meanwhile, in Tilling, Lucia is being challenged by Mapp regarding her 'friendship' with Noel Coward and her promise to ask him to open the summer fete. The reader knows that Elizabeth is right, that Lucia has exaggerated her friendship with The Master (in fact he thinks she is a dreadful woman) and should be exposed as a fibber, but we also know that somehow she will win out and trounce Mapp once again. I do try to feel sorry for Mapp as she never wins, but she is so eaten up with jealousy and spite that I fail to do so, even though I acknowledge that Lucia can be pretty intolerable at times. Yet, somehow, I sense a vulnerability in Lucia that I do not find in Mapp and I find I am so fond of her despite her awfulness and her snobbery.
What can I say about Au Reservoir except that I think it is simply wonderful, I loved every word, reduced me to laughter and to tears, and that if Benson could read this author's books on the residents of Tilling, he would shake Guy heartily by the hand and congratulate him. He might even invite him for dinner and 'un po di mu'.
However, and there is a however, this is the last Mapp and Lucia book form this author. He says they are very difficult to write and I am sure they are, but oh I do wish he would continue to produce one a year for ever. I am so disappointed that this is the end of his foray into the maelstrom that is Tilling. In fact, so disappointed am I that I feel like rescinding my request for his knighthood.
Thank you for all the pleasure and fun Guy. It has been a privilege to read this trilogy.
I will be in London today with my lovely family and darling granddaughters. Kathryn will be joining us through the wonders of Skype and Helen's in laws, Hugh and Felicity will be there as well. Should be a good day and as James and Hugh are musicians and there is a piano in the house, perhaps there will be music.
Back on Tuesday as I am attending the book launch of the latest Guy Fraser-Sampson foray into Tilling life with Mapp and Lucia 'Au Reservoir' and looking forward to it very much.
So sun is shining and flowers are blooming and a happy weekend to all.
I have blogged about Ada Leverson before and she keeps popping up where I least expect it which is rather nice. In case you know nothing about her, she was a great friend of Oscar Wilde and stood by him through thin and thick which makes me like her very much, and she is a simply delightful writer. Links to my posts abut her are at the foot of this post.
Love's Shadow forms the first part of the trilogy The Little Otleys reviewed by me earlier, here and was reprinted a few years ago by Bloomsbury. It has now been published again, which I am delighted about, by Mike Walmer who contacted me a few months ago to ask if I would be interested in reviewing some of his books. As they are just the kind of books I love a swift Yes Please was sent back and here are the two I have read so far.
Love's Shadow repaid a second reading and re-introduced me to Bruce and Edith, the Little Otleys mentioned above. An extraordinary and pompous young man it is a mystery to me how she sticks him. My original review of this book is here. I can only say that if you read and enjoy this book, which I am sure you will, you need to then read the other two in the trilogy which are pure gold.
The Twelfth Hour is set in the time of the long and golden Edwardian summer when all was beautiful and leisured and young ladies in glamorous gowns seemed to drift around London charming and falling in love with mustachioed young men and the war seemed far away. We meet Felicity, Sylvie and Savile Crofton all in the centre of the melee. Savile is only sixteen and yet seems to exhibit a world weary attitude far in advance of his years. Find him a slight oddity have to admit.
Felicity is married to Lord Chetwode, the man of her dreams, but he seems to be a dull old stick and more interested in horses and antiques than her and she begins to feel neglected. She starts half hearted flirtations but knows that they will never go anywhere "When Felicity came back from the St James Theatre than night she thought that she was a little in love with Bertie Wilton. But she knew she wasn't"
Sylvia, the younger sister is in love with Frank Woodville the penniless secretary of a Greek millionaire, Mr Ridonaki who her father wants her to marry. Mr Ridonaki pursues her relentlessly despite the fact she makes it clear she will never love him.
I found this a rather odd little book and not quite sure in which direction it was going. It was published in 1907 and was Ada Leverson's first book. Very brittle and amusing, light and frothy but not a huge amount of substance. Love's Shadow and the rest of the Otley trilogy show her off at her best and I rather regard The Twelfth Hour as a test piece, dipping the toe in the water to see how it would go.
Delighted to see Ada Leverson being brought back into the light. So many wonderful authors of this time that we never hear of and my discovery of this author was sheer serendipity and led me to more reading.