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Search tags: 1920s-and-1930s
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review 2016-11-09 18:47
Hunting Shadows
Hunting Shadows - Charles Todd

Hunting Shadows is one of Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge mysteries - Rutledge returned from the Western Front to his pre-war job at Scotland Yard in 1919 with a secret - he suffers not only from shell shock and claustrophobia (from being buried alive), but also has a dead Scot named "Hamish" living in his head.

 

By this point in the series it is the summer of 1920, and there have been two murders in the fen country of Cambridgeshire which mystify the local authorities, and they have called in Scotland Yard.  First a guest at a society wedding in the medieval cathedral town of Ely was killed by a rifle shot, and then a solicitor standing for office was murdered, in the same fashion, while making a campaign speech in his rural constituency.  There was a witness to the second crime, but after the local constable and her neighbors mocked her account of seeing a "monster," she has clammed up completely.

 

Scotland Yard sends in Inspector Rutledge, who finds he must discover the facts of past events to find the truth of those in the present.  And it's like finding a needle in a haystack, or "hunting shadows" in a fen country fog.

 

I found this mystery well constructed, and the setting, reminiscent of Dorothy Sellers' Nine Taylors, well done.  However, the cover, though getting the suggestion of fog right, suggests a "pea-souper" in London, rather than the actual rural and small-town setting that makes up the majority of the book.

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review 2016-03-23 18:03
The Murder of Mary Russell
The Murder of Mary Russell: A novel of suspense featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes - Laurie R. King

My ARC courtesy of Random House/Net Galley - much thanks!  My opinions are my own.

 

The Murder of Mary Russell - well, it's a title to get your attention, isn't it?  But perhaps this novel might more fairly be described as "The Backstory of Mrs. Hudson."  Because she didn't walk into 221 Baker St. in 1880 without a past, which takes up at least half of this book.

 

We open with Mary Russell answering the door to find a man who claims to be "Samuel Hudson," Mrs. Hudson's son, come to visit her all the way from Australia.  Mary is instantly on guard, though she can't entirely say why.

 

Later that day, Mrs. Hudson comes home to find Mary missing, her heirloom china broken, much blood on the floor, and Mary's throwing knife impaled in the side of the wall.

 

And then we get the history of Mrs. Hudson, from her parents meeting in the 1850s onward.  It is only in the second half of the novel that we are mostly back in 1925.

 

I'd recommend refreshing one's memory of the story "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott," from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, as it comes up here, and in important ways.

 

It was an interesting novel, though not quite the one I was expecting.  And it may be the novel in this series with the least Mary Russell in it.  It kept my attention, however.  I'll be interested to see where this series goes from here.

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review 2016-03-07 22:57
The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings
The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams - Philip Zaleski,Carol Zaleski

This is an interesting study of the Inklings, a group of friends (all male: women were not wanted, even their dearest female friends, such as Dorothy L. Sayers) from the Oxford area, who from the early 1930s to the end of the 40s met on Tuesday mornings, for a drink and a smoke at the pub known as "the bird and baby" (The Eagle and Child), and  on Thursday evenings, mostly at C.S. Lewis' place, to read each other their active work.

 

The most prominent take up the most space here.  C.S. Lewis must be worth nearly half, J.R.R. Tolkien about a third, and the remainder mostly occupied by Owen Barfield and Charles Williams.  Lewis' older brother, "Warnie" Lewis, also a member, gets a good amount of space due largely to his family status.  Other members, such as Hugo Dyson, Dr. Robert Havard, and so forth, come and go.

 

The requirement for an Inkling?  Never set down in the rules (as far as anyone knows), but generally a member had to be male, Christian (*very* broadly speaking), actively writing or researching (whether professionally or otherwise; the "otherwise" included army officers, doctors, and lawyers), and probably a fan of either fantasy or the literature of northern Europe.  Works read out at Inkling meetings ranged from children's literature such as The Hobbit to novels for adults (The Lord of the Rings or Out of the Silent Planet, for example), and non-fiction (The Magnificent Century, and other volumes of Warnie's history of the France of Louis XIV, for example).  Not all of them loved all the work read to them; Hugo Dyson loathed The Lord of the Rings and his reaction to seeing Tolkien arrive with a large manuscript under his arm was to scream "Not more *@#&)&% Elves!"  (He would finally succeed in getting The Lord of the Rings banned as a meeting topic.)

 

Also getting a great deal of space (and perhaps naturally, considering the strength of their beliefs, as well as the background of the authors of this book) are their religious views.  Tolkien was a devout Catholic, and while loathing allegory (he said as much to anyone who asked), his world view was a large part of all his fiction.  C.S. Lewis started as an Atheist, and spent the second half of the 1920s arguing over Christianity in "The Great War" with Owen Barfield.  This ended with Lewis' conversion to "mere Christianity," and his long history as a Christian apologist.

 

It is hard for me to say which Inkling had the odder religious beliefs, Barfield or Charles Williams.  Barfield was an Anthroposophist, a believer in Atlantis, and a follower of Rudoph Steiner, a German mystic (formerly himself a follower of Madame Blavatsky).  He became an attorney, but continued to write books about the nature of poetry, word usage, and more mystical material, until he retired in the 1950s.  In the 1960s he found a second life as a lecturer and guru in the United States, and only died in the late 1990s.

 

If Barfield was the last to die, Charles Williams had been the first, in 1945.  He was also a mystic, but a Rosicrucian, and had a number of influences on, in particular, C.S. Lewis.  (If you've read That Hideous Strength, one reason it's such a strange novel is that there's a great deal of Charles Williams' influence in it.)  If anyone has heard of him these days, it's probably because of his friends, Lewis and Tolkien, and the book of essays they produced in his honor after his death, Essays Presented to Charles Williams, which includes important essays from both Lewis and Tolkien.

 

Tolkien comes across much as I would expect (I've read a decent amount about him in the past), but Lewis is the interesting and strange picture of, on the one hand, an extremely intelligent man, a fine scholar, and a good friend, but also, I regret to say, a sometime intellectual bully, a misogynist, and casual anti-Semite.  Barfield and Williams were utterly new territory to me.

 

Interesting and well worth reading.

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text 2015-11-01 20:32
U.S. Kindle Sale: Miscellaneous
Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's - Frederick L. Allen
Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen - Laurie Colwin
The Duke and I - Julia Quinn
Casino Royale - Ian Fleming
Edward III: The Perfect King - Ian Mortimer
The Making of the President 1960 (Harper Perennial Political Classics) - Theodore H. White

Currently $1.99: The Making of the President: 1960, by Theodore H. White.  Home Cooking, by Laurie Colwin.  Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s, by Frederick Lewis Allen.  The Duke and I, by Julia Quinn.

 

Currently $2.99: the James Bond novels, by Ian Fleming.  (It looked to me like all of them.)  Edward III: The Perfect King, by Ian Mortimer.

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review 2015-09-14 20:15
The Crime at Black Dudley
The Black Dudley Murder (Albert Campion Mystery #1) - Margery Allingham

The Crime at Black Dudley is the first Albert Campion mystery.  It came out in 1929, and is probably best compared to Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers novels of the same period.  (For Christie, this is the era before any Miss Marple, or most Poirot - think Partners in Crime, The Big Four, or The Secret of Chimneys.)  For this novel is a game of country house murder, "big crooks," and a detective  with an aristocratic imbecile facade.

 

Oddly, though, Albert Campion is not the main character of his own introduction story - he doesn't even appear in all of it, though he is indeed the most interesting character in the novel.  Our putative hero is the rather boring Dr. Abbershaw.  He might have been dashing in 1929 (I don't know, I wasn't there), but today he reads as a fairly earnest character, though at least I can say that he's more rounded than the rest of the cast.  The four ladies are either plucky, weepy, or insane (as needed), and the gentlemen are all correct and proper for their era and class.

 

Except Mr. Campion, which I suspect is one reason why there were many more Campion novels (some 25 or so), of which he was the actual principal character.  (Alas, no Lugg in this one.)

 

So: fun if you like murder mysteries 1920s style, or have read a Campion and are a completist (I know the tendency).  Not deep, in plot or in writing, but an amusing way to spend a couple of hours.

 

My copy courtesy of Bloomsbury and Net Galley - much thanks.

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