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Autumn - leaves

A two book review

My reading's been really slow this month and has jumped around a bit in regards to subject, some fiction, some non-fiction etc. I think after storming through books all year I've become a bit jaded and am struggling to find books to catch my interest. I find when that happens it's best to go with the flow and do something else as my enthusiasm for books always returns fairly quickly. Anyway, two books today - A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby and Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers.

First up, a non-fiction offering, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by travel writer, Eric Newby. This is my book 34 for Bev's Mount TBR 2014 challenge.

Hindu



In 1956 Eric Newby decided to temporarily leave his job in the London fashion industry and go walking and climbing in the Hindu Kush, which is a mountain range that stretches from central Afghanistan to Northern Pakistan. He travels with a friend, Hugh Carless, a diplomat who is between posts, but close to taking up a position in Iraq or Iran (I can't remember which.) The two men are complete novices at climbing mountains so start by taking an intensive three day course in Wales, in which they learn not much more than the basics. They travel to Afghanistan, hire some help and off they go.

What follows is a very interesting tale of adventure and hardship: incredible hardship in fact. The two men really have no clue how challenging the terrain in that country is, how poor the indigenous peoples are, and how hard they will have to work just to walk to the mountains, let alone 'climb' said mountains. It's incredible they survived really, both men were walking skeltons by the end of it. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush is one of those iconic books that many travel writing fans cite as a 'must read'. I'm not sure I would go that far. I enjoyed it, the writing was excellent and there was plenty of humour. I also found fascinating that Afghanistan in the 1950s was reasonably accessible to foreigners, which it most certainly is not now of course. It was certainly a real history lesson. The only 'slight' drawback for me I suppose is that I couldn't believe how naive they were and how happy they seemed to put the lives of their native companions at risk. But there you go, things were different back then and this book illustrates that extremely well. Glad I've read this travel classic but would probably not read it again. Preferred Love and War in the Apennines.

Lastly, a vintage crime yarn, Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers. This is my book 21 for Bev's Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge and covers the category, 'A book with a lawyer, courtroom or judge'.

Witness


Lord Peter Wimsey's brother, Gerald, the Duke of Denver, is at a country retreat, Riddlesdale Lodge, in the North Riding of Yorkshire. He's there with his family - wife, sister, Mary, sister's new fiance, Denis Cathcart, and various friends and acquaintences. Lord Peter is holidaying in southern Europe but his valet, Bunter, reads about Gerald's arrest for murder in the paper, and the pair return to England. It seems a body was discovered in the conservatory of the lodge, at three in the morning. The dead man is Cathcart, Mary's fiance. Gerald discovered the body but claims he didn't comit the murder, even though he had argued badly with Cathcart earlier in the night. He has an alibi but won't say what it is. Peter, the policeman, Charles Parker, and Bunter, set about investigating the killing. It's a tangled web. Cathcart was not what he seemed, Mary is mixed up in the business somehow, and how is an isoloted farm, up on the moor, and its strange inhabitants connected to the crime? The case of course ends in the courthouse and it's not until then that the truth comes out.

I think this is my fourth Lord Peter Wimsey book, but the second that was actually written. I'm not reading them in order, I should be probably, but it hasn't worked out like that and as far as I can see it doesn't make too much difference. As with the other books in the series, Clouds of Witness was an absolute delight. Sayers' skill at plotting a crime yarn strikes me as second to none and she always treats the reader as an intelligent person, which is more than you can say about some modern writers.

One of the things I love most is the humour, Wimsey's dialogue is at times hilarious:

"Oh, come along old thing. Biggs is some celebrity, you know, and perfectly toppin' to look at, in a marbly kind of way. He'll tell you all about his canaries..."

This kind of thing kept me giggling all the way through.

The book is peopled with some great characters apart from Wimsey. His mother is a joy, I like the policeman, Parker, who clearly has A Thing for Mary, and the farm inhabitants up on the moor were a frightening but also hilarious crowd. Well drawn I thought. I wasn't so keen on the last quarter or so of the book which was courthouse based. But that's just me - I've never been keen on courtroom dramas. But I did think one particlaur scene where Wimsey and Bunter get lost on the moor was one of the most suspenseful scenes I've ever read anywhere.

So pleased that I have another ten Wimsey books to read. No idea which to read on my next outing, Gaudy Night seems to be universally popular but, for reasons known best to myself, I'm saving that for next years reading pile. Anyone got any other favourites?

Comments

I've heard of the first book before but had no idea why it was a classic. This is the first time I've had some idea what it's about. Thanks for that! I can see the discomfort it might raise if it is so much of its time.

Ah, Peter Wimsey. You are absolutely right: you can read them in any order. But if you are one for relationships, then perhaps you ought to read the four which include Harriet after you have read the others. I read them out of sequence but I think they probably do work better in order. Unfortunately, that means that Gaudy Night will have to wait a bit, as it's one of them. I can't remember: have you read any of the Harriet stories?

Of those which do not feature Harriet, the two I remember effortlessly are The Nine Tailors, which I am sure we have discussed, and The Documents In The Case. I remember that latter for the epistolary nature of it. Great stuff.

Well spotted on Carter and his thing for Mary, and I love Wimsey's mother (Dowager Duchess of Denver, is it?) too. Her letters are a delight at the start of Busman's Honeymoon, but again, that and Gaudy Night I would definitely save until the end.
I didn't mind it being of its time at all, I just thought the two men were mean-spirited. I compared them with Gerald Durrell's attitude to the natives he had dealings with in the 50s and found them wanting, sadly.

Yes, I seem to have split the Wimsey books into Harriet Vane and non-HV. The HVs I'm reading in order, the others not. Works for me. :-) Gaudy Night will be my next HV Wimsey as I've read Strong Poison and Have his Carcase. I've also read The Nine Tailors... loved it.

Oh, look forward to the letters in Busman's Holiday. I thought the DDofD was hilarious.

I'm very fond of Busman's Honeymoon and Murder Must Advertise

Don't rush to Five Red Herrings - seems to have been a kind of in-joke for Scottish friends. Never been able to get through it.
Very much looking forward to Busman's Holiday now as both you and moonlightmead have mentioned that.

Ah right, I'll bear the Five Red Herrings one in mind and not dash to get hold of it. Thanks.
Memory terrible as to what we've discussed, but I'm sure you know Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield. A Kindle bundle of all five books is 99 cents on Amazon US today, probably equivalent on UK, and various others free and cheap. Just stocked up on a few.
Yes, I've read the first Diary book and absolutely loved it. I own a Virago omnibus, tbh, so don't need the Kindle download.
I'm not sure which ones you've read but I'd recommend Murder Must Advertise.
That's two votes for Murder Must Advertise so I'll be sure to get that one soon. Thanks!
Oh, I like the sound of the Hindu Kush book - I shall add that to my pile... oh, and you've reminded me of my thoughts about reading books based off travelling the world too (are you still reading African books? I think of you every time I remind myself that Cry Beloved Country is waiting for me to read it for books1000!)

I've still only part-read what I realised was the Peter Wimsey book that was set in Norfolk, but I must look up those as well - they do seem to get good reviews! *g*
I've put the Hindu Kush book in the charity shop box so when you visit you can take that away with you. :-)

Yes, I'm still doing the African challenge but have been concentrating completely on RIP this past few weeks. I've decided to change it and give myself 5 years to do it instead of one. How I could have thought I could do that in one year heaven only knows.

The Wimsey books are a joy. Possibly you could start with another one... Clouds of Witness would be a good starting one, tbh.

Busy with halfterm and grandkids but will catch up with your doings on your LJ asap.
I'm so glad that you're enjoying the Lord Peter novels - they're my absolute favourites.
The earlier novels can be read out of sequence without too much trouble, but don't read Gaudy Night until you've read the preceding Harriet Vane novels: Strong Poison & Have His Carcase. Then Gaudy Night & then onto the others: Busman's Honeymoon, Thrones, Dominations (& the recent ones written by Jill Patton Walsh: Presumption of Death, The Attenbury Emeralds & The Late Scholar.)

(Pssst, btw - it's Charles Parker not Carter.)
I love them to bits, tbh, P.

I've read the first two HV books and Gaudy Night will be my next for books with her in. The others I'm not trying to read in order, which is quite unlike me. *g* I found Thrones and Dominations in a charity shop so was chuffed to bits about that. I assume the JPW ones are a good read too?

Thank you. I felt something was wrong with the name but I'd read it on my Nook and finding stuff again on there is not easy. I shall change it forthwith.
The JPW ones are very good. I wasn't quite as keen on The Attenbury Emeralds (more because of the way it was written with a lot of exposition about things that had happened in the past) but that's me being quite picky. It was still very entertaining, & The Late Scholar is excellent.
Oh, that's good to know. Thanks, P! :-)