Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Common or Garden Crime

This is a sort of update post, since it's about a book I reviewed in February last year on Goodreads, and which I've just been re-reading. Here's what I had to say then:

I was attracted by the epithet "the Irish Angela Thirkell" but to be honest I didn't see much that was Thirkellish except the village setting. I did enjoy it though, it's an excellent, if short, example of the cosiest kind of crime - in fact, it reminds me much more of Hazel Holt's Sheila Malory books, though they, of course, are more recent. And I didn't warm to Lucy Bex as immediately as I did to Mrs Malory, although her interference in a murder investigation is very polite - you couldn't quite imagine her coming into conflict with the police in the way many amateur sleuths do. Any of Thirkell's characters in a similar position would have been much more high-handed!

There are four mysteries by Sheila Pim, I think, all centred around horticulture, which is a nice element for the gardeners amongst us. They were reissued by Rue Morgue, and it appears only to be possible to get them from the US, which is maddening, since I shall have to have them all (oh, the agonies of being completist!).

Two things of note: one is the WWII setting, which makes the books particularly interesting, as it's an insight into a place and period we don't often find. Although the Irish were neutral in the war, there is much talk of the young men going off to fight in England: "We're very Anglo", someone says elsewhere. The other is that the author makes clear that the reader has all the information required to solve the crime - no dirty tricks, à la Christie, here.

With a re-read, I've changed my mind about several things - firstly, it is much more Thirkellish than I originally thought - indeed, there are some gloriously Mrs T-type moments:
As generally happens with vague engagements that one makes out of civility, in the hope of not having to keep them, there was no getting out of the inquest, and it was held at a very inconvenient time. Miss FitzEustace telephoned that afternoon to say that it was to be in the schoolhouse next morning (this being the school holidays), and would Lucy meet her in the Main Street at ten to? Lucy had to go out leaving bedrooms undone behind her, and with dinner still on her mind. But she was not one to fail in a promise, and the two ladies arrived punctually together.
        The Schoolhouse, an old-fashioned building, with an ecclesiastical touch about  its doors and windows, seemed quite an appropriate place for such solemnities, though there were inconveniences about the seating accommodation. A chair and table for the Coroner were placed on the teacher's dais, and the Clerk had a larger table on the floor in front, but for everybody else there were only desk benches designed for under fourteens. Two rows of these were turned sideways for the jury.
        The two lades sat down modestly at the bottom of the class, and Lucy went on thinking about dinner, while exchanging occasional comments with Miss FitzEustace, who looked round her with curiosity.
I can just imagine Mrs T writing that, it shares all her ability to paint a vivid picture with a few deft strokes. I suppose, too, that, much of the similarity between the two authors comes from the quiet humour that underlies the writing (and occasionally breaks out into something sharper, though Pim is gentler with all her characters) - that "modestly" in the last paragraph conveys so much information about how the two women regard themselves in the unusual setting of the inquest. This event continues with some delightful detail about the awkwardness of the getting in and out of the desks (for younger readers, these desks were built as a unit with seat and table attached to each other, and they date from a time when under-fourteens were on the small side, being under-nourished).

The patterns of Clonmeen life will be familiar to all Thirkellites - the daily round of doing the beds while the maid does "the rough", arranging dinner, scratch lunches for the lady whose menfolk are all out during the day, dropping in to tea with the neighbours, or not, if you're being considerate about their rations, dressing for dinner... Lucy's nephew Ivor is in the RAF, but conveniently returns on leave to add his own thoughts to Lucy's musings on the murder investigation. I really liked Lucy on second reading, and her preoccupied brother, Linnaeus, and I'm rather sorry that all Pim's detective novels seem to be standalones, so I shan't meet them again.

With the apparent, and very sad, demise of the publisher, Rue Morgue Press, I can only hope that someone else will pick up these books - they deserve a British audience. Meanwhile, I hope the remaining three will make their way safely to me from the US, as I'm looking forward to them very much.


  1. These are wonderful books! I have all of them and have read them all. Rue Morgue books are the best and it's so sad they went out of business. I pick them up used on Amazon. Can you get them that way there? Or Abe Books or Book Depository?

    1. I am hoping that they will be coming from the US, Peggy Ann, and yes, it's so sad about Rue Morgue, they were publishing one of my favourite writers. I'd better start snapping those titles up too, before they disappear.

  2. Drat, that sounds just my cup of tea. What a pity they're not widely available, I'll have to go on a treasure hunt!

    1. I think you would really enjoy them, Nicola.