Wednesday, 17 December 2008
November's book summary
• Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham - reread
• Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
• St Mungo's Robin by Pat McIntosh
• The Silent Killer by Hazel Holt
• Chorister's Cake by William Mayne - reread
• The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards
• Street of the Five Moons by Elizabeth Peters
• Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
• What Katy Did Next by Susan Coolidge
• The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
• Scuba Dancing by Nicola Slade
• Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh
• Anne of Windy Willows by L.M. Montgomery
• Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
• Sweet Danger by Margery Allingham - reread
The murder theme continued throughout November, with more Allingham re-reads and a Ngaio Marsh. After a comment on, I think, Life Must Be Filled Up, I was watching to see on what page Alleyn finally turned up in Opening Night: it was page 108. Once he was there he was quite forceful, and it was a good story, I thought, with the young heroine arriving in England from New Zealand penniless because she's been robbed on the ship. Determined not to take advantage of her connections, but to make her way in her own merit, she finds herself forced to take a job as a dresser, but on the opening night of a new play, a murder takes place. The theatrical detail, as always with Marsh, is meticulously done, and made me nostalgic for the days of repertory in provincial theatres: though I only observed them from a child's point of view, it was a world I was thoroughly at home in, and loved. My mother might be persuaded to rediscover Marsh for this one, although she doesn't normally read novels.
St Mungo's Robin was a new discovery. Not the first in the series, which might have been a disadvantage, but I don't think that was the reason for my disoriented feeling at the beginning; the problem, I believe, was the host of new characters introduced within a very few pages, most of whom had similar names (the inhabitants of a Scottish almshouse, they were all called Maister Something); also the author frequently fails to attribute direct speech for long passages when several people are speaking at once. This very effectively gives the impression of babble, but leaves the reader somewhat adrift at times, because the main characters don't necessarily have distinctive enough voices. Some speech should be distinguishable by different dialect (for instance, one old man is from Aberdeen, and everyone complains that they can't understand him). I had a feeling that non-Scottish readers might find too much of the dialogue incomprehensible – however, McIntosh deals with this well, usually offering the translation of a "new" word within a line or two. The 1493 setting is Dorothy Dunnett territory (that is, the Niccolo series) – McIntosh isn't up to Dunnett's standard in research or plotting, but now that there is no more from that splendid storyteller, McIntosh will more than do. I'm now reading the first in the series, The Harper's Quine, and for those readers who share my love of cosy crime, I urge you to give them a try (the fully-certified Geranium Cat translation service is available to anyone who gets stuck; a "quine", by the way, is a young woman).
Thanks to Bookmooch I have managed to acquire all six of L.M. Montgomery's Anne books, so that I embarked on a real binge, and am nearly ready to write about them for the Second Canadian Book Challenge. Thanks to a chance comment in someone else's blog (I'm sorry, I've forgotten whose), I learnt that there is now a "prequel", written by Canadian author Budge Wilson. Before Green Gables tells the story of Anne's life before she sails into the lives of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, and promises to explain how, despite her neglected state, she discovered the world of words and imagination. That should take my score in the challenge from 0 to 7 in one fell swoop!