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review 2019-01-06 23:54
The Bachelor by Stella Gibbons
The Bachelor - Stella Gibbons

I had planned to read this one for a 1944 club on my blog but ran out of time. This is my second Gibbons, and I have not yet read her most celebrated work Cold Comfort Farm - the first one I read was called Nightingale Wood, which I read a couple of years ago.

I think I liked this one a tiny bit better than Nightingale Wood, although it has some of the same issues that I stumbled on in that one. It's set during WWII, so the characters are on the homefront during the active fighting, but they scarcely seem to notice that there is a war on. There is some talk about the blackout, and a bit during a barrage, and a couple of the characters have war work that they are engaged in, but for the most part the three main character's lives go on much as they do during peacetime. I'm not sure if this is an accurate depiction of the way that money can smooth all of the rough edges off the world, even during WWII, or if it is a bit of wishful thinking on the part of Gibbons. I tend to think the latter.

It is a bit of a romance, although not in the genre sense, with the characters coupling off all over the place. My issue with The Bachelor is that I found only one of the pairings even remotely appealing or plausible. Gibbons writes flawed characters, which isn't a problem for me, but also writes characters who need a swift kick in the ass. The only characters I particularly liked were Betty and Alicia, and I actively disliked Vartouhi and Constance and found them unconvincing. Richard and Kenneth (the titular bachelor, btw) were pleasant enough, if a bit wet.

The writing is a pleasure to read, however, and the descriptions of Sunglade, the home where most of the "action" takes place, are beautiful. I will definitely read more Gibbons, because no matter my issues with her novels, they are worth reading.
 

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review 2018-10-16 23:57
Sparkling Cyanide or Remembered Death
Sparkling Cyanide - Agatha Christie

This was my first book for the 1944 club, hosted by Kaggsy at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon at Stuck in a Book.

 

1944 was quite a year for Agatha Christie. She published Towards Zero and Sparkling Cyanide, as well as Death Comes As The End and Absent in the Spring under her romance nom de plume, Mary Westamacott. Interestingly, none of these books involved either of her main two sleuths, Hercule Poirot or Jane Marple. Towards Zero is a Superintendent Battle book, Death Comes as the End is her sole foray into historical fiction, and Absent in the Spring is one of six romance novels that have been mostly lost to the sands of time – by which I mean they are available, but largely ignored.

 

Sparkling Cyanide was a reread for me – my first experience with the book was an audiobook on a trip with my family, which everyone enjoyed. This time around, I read the Pocket Book edition which I picked up for $3.00 at a bookstore in Newport, Oregon, which has, sadly, permanently closed. It was one of those lovely bookstores which has a cat, a fireplace, and teetering piles of books in which treasures are often buried.

 

While I do love both Poirot, with his leetle grey cells, and Jane Marple in her fuzzy cardigans, I am also a huge fan of both Superintendent Battle and Colonel Race, as I have probably mentioned before. Sparkling Cyanide is a fantastic example of Agatha Christie’s skills in plotting and misdirection, and is the fourth in the Colonel Race series.

 

The plot begins with Rosemary, the empty-headed, pretty and very, very rich, young woman who has died of cyanide poisoning at a birthday party at the Luxembourg in London, surrounded by her husband, George Barton, her sister, Iris, her husband’s terrifyingly efficient secretary Ruth, Stephen and Alexandra Farraday, a Member of Parliament who is also her secret lover and his wife,and Anthony Browne, another of Rosemary’s erstwhile lovers. The death is ruled a suicide due to depression after influenza. About six months later, however, George begins to receive poison pen letters claiming that Rosemary’s death was no suicide.

 

It was murder.

 

The middle, longest section of the book deals with the six suspects. Each of them is given his/her own chapter and narrative where Christie lays out their motives. Rosemary was one of those careless, beautiful women who’ve long profited from being lovely, who breaks things and people simply because she can’t conceive that they might have needs that are different from her own. Everyone had motive to murder her, and her death almost universally profited her friends and family. Iris inherited her wealth, George was the cuckolded husband, Alexandra the cuckolded and devoted wife to Stephen, Stephen fears the truth of the affair being revealed, Ruth is in love with George, and Anthony is a cipher.

 

Colonel Race makes a brief appearance in the book as a friend of George’s father, who has known George since boyhood. He has been off in exotic places, far away, staving off threats to the British empire and arrives back in London to learn that George, on the heels of the letters, has scheduled a reenactment of Rosemary’s birthday party on the anniversary of her death, a spectacularly dangerous and terrible idea.

 

The solution to Sparkling Cyanide, or Remembered Death as it was called in America, is ingenious. All of the clues are there, but they are nearly impossible to put together until the end, when the answer comes together. It’s Agatha at her most brilliant, and I highly recommend it for fans of golden age/classic mysteries as well as fans of Agatha Christie.

 
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review 2018-10-16 17:14
The Clock Strikes Twelve by Patricia Wentworth
The Clock Strikes Twelve - Patricia Wentworth

This is the 7th of the Miss Silver mysteries, which I read for the #1944 club on my blog. It is my favorite of the Miss Silver mysteries to date, better even than Latter End, which I also really liked. In fact, this is my sixth Patricia Wentworth - I've read fiveof the Miss Silvers (Grey Mask, Latter End, Poison in the Pen, The Eternity Ring, this one) and one stand-alone (The Dower House Mystery) - and it's my favorite of all of them. Grey Mask is still the weakest, and I wonder how many people have been put off Patricia Wentworth forever by reading that one first. Tragic, really.

 

For me, this was a near perfect Golden Age mystery. It had the closed circle, and the country house feel. The entire mystery takes place over a couple of days, from New Years Eve, where it all begins, to a few days later, when the mystery is solved and the murderer is revealed. We start with a brief interaction between James Paradine, patriarch of the family, and Elliot Wray, when James summons Elliot to the Paradine house over some stolen aircraft plans. He informs Elliot that one of the family has taken them, he knows who it is, and requires that Elliot remain in the home for the evening so he can put his plan into motion.

 

The plan is to announce at News Year Eve dinner that he knows that someone in the family has been disloyal, he is not going to expose them at dinner, but he will be in his study until midnight, and the guilty party must come and confess their misdeed to him or suffer the consequences. At the dinner we have all of the members of the Paradine family: Aunt Grace, the spinster sister, Phyllida, Grace's adopted daughter and Elliot's estranged wife, Elliot, Frank & Irene Ambrose (son of James's first wife & his spouse), Mark Paradine, the heir, Richard, a cousin, Lydia, Irene's sister and Andrew, the odd man out, who is a shirt-tail relative of some sort and is also James's secretary. The characterizations were really well-done. James himself is a bit of a Simeon Lee /Penhallow type patriarch, but he was much nicer than either of them. 

 

As a sometime romance reader, I've become convinced that Wentworth actually walks that line between romance and mystery better than any of the other golden age women - better, even, than Christie. She creates convincing romantic subplots that work with the mystery but don't subvert it. Heyer loses the mystery for the romance and Christie loses the romance for the mystery, but Wentworth balances them almost perfectly. The only issue with this is that it does make her mysteries a bit easier to solve, because the primary romantic coupling is pretty well removed from suspicion - part of the solution always involves moving the obstacle out of the way for their happiness.

 

I've definitely concluded at this point that it isn't necessary to read Miss Silver in order, and I would advocate for skipping Grey Mask altogether. I'm just pleased as punch that, since I've read about 90% of Christie's full length mysteries, and all of Sayers, that I have at least 50 more Wentworths before I've read them all.

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text 2018-10-16 01:05
Reading progress update: I've read 148 out of 315 pages.
The Clock Strikes Twelve - Patricia Wentworth

I am making a guess here. Don't look under the spoiler tag unless you have read it!

 

 

I don't think it is either Elliott or Phyllida, because Patricia Wentworth enjoys her matchmaking and putting marriages back together way too much. I am leaning against Mark & Lydia for much the same reason. 

 

I'm going to go with Aunt Grace, for reasons which I can't really explain. Maybe because she is angry at her brother for interfering and trying to get Elliott and Phyllida back together. 

(spoiler show)

 

 

We'll see!

 

Aaaah! I'm already second guessing myself!

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text 2018-10-16 00:44
Reading progress update: I've read 131 out of 315 pages.
The Clock Strikes Twelve - Patricia Wentworth

Miss Silver has arrived in the narrative!

 

MISS MAUD SILVER was shopping. Even in wartime, and with all the difficulty about coupons, children must be warmly clothed.

 

It's a very cheering moment when Maud shows up!

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