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Alien - reading

Long time no see!

Well, it's high time I resurrected my book blog here. It's a permanent account and it's going to waste and there are loads of good books to talk about, so I'll start by pasting three short mystery type book reviews from my other book blog on Blogspot. Under the cut, brief reviews of books by Dorothy L. Sayers, Mary Stewart and Rex Stout.

First up, The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers.


Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet, Bunter, run their car into a ditch, in a snow-storm, somewhere in The Fens of East Anglia. They walk to the nearest village and get taken in by the local vicar and his wife. Wimsey is a bit of a church bell-ringer it turns out and gets roped in to ring for a marathon, all night, bell-ringing session. The car is recovered and off they go, only to be called back some weeks later. The body of a man has been found in the grave of a local woman, only recently buried. No one knows who he is and the hope is that Wimsey can untangle the mystery. It seems it might be connected with the theft of a valuable necklace several years ago which brought financial ruin on the people who live in the local 'big house'. The woman whose grave had been used to hide the body belonged to this family. Two men had been caught and tried for the theft but the necklace had never been recovered. The case is incredibly complicated, bell-ringing and bell-ringers seem to be crucial to the case and Wimsey even has to travel to France to unravel this extremely tangled web.

I just thought this was absolutely brilliant. I don't know enough about Lord Peter Wimsey (having only read three of the books so far) to judge properly but it seemed to me that he was more serious in this book than in the others. Less of a twit, if that makes sense. I don't know why that should be and of course it could just be that my impression is wrong. Whatever, this really was a terrific read, very full of detail about bell-ringing, very much a picture of village life before the war I suspect, and spot-on with its setting and atmosphere of The Fens. I haven't been there in the winter but can well imagine it would feel that isolated and insular. The writing is spectacularly good, this is one of the big surprises I've had about Sayers and her books: her writing is every bit as superb as any classic author you care to name. I'm so glad I still have a number of these Peter Wimsey books left to read and feel I ought to slow down a bit or I'll end up gobbling them all up at once!

Next up, Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart.


The death of her father brings Bryony Ashley back to her ancestral home, Ashley Court. She will not inherit the run-down small stately home, it will go to eldest of her three cousins as the estate is entailed through the male line of the family. Bryony grew up with her three cousins, twins Emory and James and younger cousin, Francis. She believes she has a telepathic connection with one of them but has no idea which. In fact she has grown up with his voice in her head and whoever it is is now part of her. But all is not right at Ashley Court. There is some question in her mind about her father's accidental death in Germany. His last words were written down and provide a cryptic message to her which she feels she must solve. Her cousins, the twins, are acting strangely too, creeping around in the church at night and making her feel slightly menaced. What's going on? Bryony desperately needs to solve her father's mysterious riddle but this will bring her into conflict with her family and possibly lose her the thing she holds most dear, the voice of her lover in her head.

This is one of those books that comes into the 'OK' category. I didn't dislike it, but neither did I love it. To be honest I found it a wee bit dated, very much of its time period which is the mid-1970s, and at that time it seems some authors were still writing about 'naice gels' getting themselves into a spot of bother. It was well written, no doubt about that, and the mystery - what the cryptic message was all about, whether her cousins are Bryony's friends or enemies, and the identity of the voice in her head - was quite fun and enjoyable. I have a feeling Mary Stewart wrote better books than this, in fact I know she has as I've read her Merlin trilogy and loved them. I have several more to try and suspect I may find them a bit more to my taste than this.

Lastly, Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout.


A woman comes to see Nero Wolfe to ask him to find her missing brother. It seems the brother might have been involved in some kind of criminal activity from which he hoped to make a lot of money. Another man dies on a golf-course the victim of a bizarre kind of murder by poisoning. Are the deaths connected? Wolfe thinks so and sends his young employee, Archie, to investigate. The case takes Archie among the well-to-do families in Westchester county, New York, and the whole thing turns out to be very convoluted indeed.

Fer-de-Lance is the first book about Nero Wolfe and his sidekick, Archie. Wolfe is a very big man who never goes out and is deeply into the growing of orchids and the eating of good food. He's the brains behind the outfit and Archie, the story's narrator, really just follows instructions. It's an odd basis for a series of books with the main crime solver solving the crime by mental deduction and never going out to visit crime scenes; if he wants to question a suspect they have to be brought to him. This was another book that I neither loved nor hated. I can't say that any of the characters appealed to me that strongly and I never felt that involved in the plot, but am not sure why. I think possibly that when it comes to 1930s crime yarns I prefer British to American. It *was* all quite clever however and as it's a first book I'm happy give the series another chance and read more. It could be I'll like subsequent books more than this and I have several on my eReader to try.

Hmm, amazing how everything changes if you don't pay enough attention. Posting on LJ is now quite different. But luckily not difficult. I'll try to be a bit more of a regular poster here from now on. :-)


Mary Stewart was a favourite of mine when I was young, but I didn't think much of Touch Not the Cat. My mother has a set of three of her "nice gels in a spot of bother" books, and they are all much better. Madame, Will You Talk, Nine Coaches and My Brother Michael are all good.

ETA: Madame Will You Talk inspired in me a keen desire to visit the south of France someday - her descriptions of Avignon and the surrounding countryside are compelling

If I had to judge Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin by Fer-de-Lance, I wouldn't have bothered reading any more. They both improve a lot as Stout hit his stride in later years.

Edited at 2014-03-25 04:02 pm (UTC)
I think have those three Mary Stewarts on my Nook so will read those later in the year. Thanks for mentioning them.

It's also good to know that the Nero Wolfe books improve. I was going to read a few more anyway as first books can often be a bit so-so.
Hurrah - a read_warbler bookpost in my lj!

I'm a bit intrigued by The Nine Tailors, because I swear it sounds like a book I read a year or so ago, but I don't remember it being a Lord Peter Wimsey one - I thought I would have noticed that, because he's often mentioned in other stories I read... The thing is, I don't remember finishing the book either, I got sort of bogged down in it, even though I was quite interested in it being set in the Fens, cos that's just up the road... I'm going to have to look it out and see - or try again... *g*

I adored Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave books - I thought I'd read others of hers that I've liked to, but I've just glanced at a list and I don't recognise anything... and anything I do recognise I don't remember reading!
There was a book by Rosy Thornton set in the Fens that came out last year, or maybe it was 2012. Could it have been that? I didn't get beyond page 60 and it was a bit embarrassing as she'd sent it to me for free to read and review. Luckily she was very nice about it and I sent it on to someone else. Don't think it was you though...

Yes MS's Crystal Cave books were fantastic. I was smitten to death with those in my twenties... or maybe even before that, not sure when they came out.
No, not me for the Rosy Thornton book - and the blurb is very different to the book I'm thinking of. It must have been the Lord Peter Wimsey book, I remember the car breaking down and the bell-ringing and the murder... just nothing else!

Shame about the Rosy Thornton book though, I've been thinking I should try reading some of the novels set around here, see if they grab me any more than the city does... help the city grab me... *g*
No, I reckon I sent that one off to Canada. Rosy Thornton's writing is actually very good, I quite liked her book set in France, Tapestry of Love. Wasn't mad about the people in it but she got the setting and French atmosphere bang on. The problem with the Fens book was again that people in it drove me crazy - it was a mother with a really unpleasant teenage daughter and I couldn't understand why she put up with her. Got to a point where I just couldn't read another word. Which doesn't happen to me that often, not that violent a reaction.
Although I've not read any of them myself, my sister Nancy was an avid reader of mysteries, and most likely read all three of these — especially the Nero Wolfe book. Nero Wolfe was one of Nancy's favorites, and it was she who told me the "tradition" (fannish, I suppose) that Nero Wolfe was said to be Irene Adler's son by Sherlock Holmes... but Wolfe looked more like his "uncle," Mycroft Holmes, and had his disposition, too. It's a very amusing idea.
Yes, these are all quite known mysteries so I daresay your sister may have read them. But wow, that's an intriguing idea about Nero Wolfe's background. What a thought!
I have yet to find anything by Mary Stewart that's worth reading apart from her Merlin trilogy so I'll be very interested to see whether you come up with something. I recall my mother telling me, decades ago, that Stewart's books never quite fulfill their promise. That was my impression as well although I've often thought that I should try again. Several are at Open Library and I might take the plunge.

You're spot on about The Nine Tailors. I've read it only once but I thought that it was more literary than popular, a serious book. She was a better writer by then but it's not just that.
Don't count on it but I'll report back if I do. You never know!

I was actually quite shocked at exactly how literary Sayers' books are. And complicated. Have His Carcase lost me at times but it was just *so* good.
Hi there! Good to see you posting here again.

Mary Stewart was my favourite author back in the early 70's. My Mum gave me "The Ivy Tree" for my birthday in 1971. I still have it! Just found it in my book case. I really loved it, and bought all of her other books after that. I did like "Touch Not the Cat". Funnily enough I never bought the Merlin trilogy though, and when I borrowed it from the library, I wasn't all that impressed.

I think if I re-read them now, I'd find them dated and not as good as I did back then. Funny how tastes change as we get older.
Thank you!

Odd how people have different reading experiences. I adored the Merlin trilogy to the point almost of obsession. I was very romantic back then, LOL. Quite why I didn't try anything else by her I'm not sure. Instead I read Victoria Holt!

Sometimes I think it's best not to reread books we loved so long ago in case we find they haven't got the same magic. It's the reason I'm not going to reread the Merlin books.
I enjoyed the Nine Taylors, I've read all the Peter Wimsey books and I'm not certain when or if I ever thought him less or more of a twit! I do think the addition of Harriet Vale as his love interest and a very strong and independent woman in her own right made the books more interesting.

I can't for the life of me recall reading Touch Not the Cat but I do remember reading and loving Madame, Will You Talk, Nine Coaches and My Brother Michael. I've never read the Merlin trilogy.

Never read Rex Stout. I very much preferred, and still do, British and European crime thrillers to American in whatever period.
I was told, or it was suggested to me, that the Harriet Vane books were the best of LPW series and I should start reading them with Strong Poison, the book she first appears in. I don't usually do that, preferring to start at the beginning of a new series. But I did it in this case and have now read three, two with her and one without. All of a very high standard so I'm going to be very interested when I do eventually go and read the early books, to see if they are of the same standard.

I think those are the three MS books recced by someone else here, so those are clearly the ones to look out for.

I think I agree. I didn't really much care for the American, gangsterish type of dialogue in the Rex Stout, or it felt that way to me anyway. I'll try others though and see if they improve.
That's a coincidence! I was thinking about this journal the other day and came here for inspiration before I went to the library. (The Johnson book looked interesting but my library didn't have it.)

It's lovely to see your posts here.
I feel quite chuffed that you looked for bookish inspiration here. :-)

Thank you... I shall try to keep this journal up a bit better in future.
Ah, Nine Tailors! I bet murphybabe has read this one - I am sure we have discussed Dorothy Sayers books before. I think it may have been the first of hers that I read, and I remember being very startled at the... well, the writing, I suppose: the depth of the plot, the expectation that all her readers understood the occasional piece of French, and the quotations from literature which I didn't recognise. It really created an atmosphere for me, the Fens, the flatness, the force of the water, the cold and the flood. I skim-read and I found the plot too complicated for my young self, but I was fascinated by the bell-ringing, then and now!

I love your description of seventies 'naice gel' protagonist and plots. I think you are onto something there...
I was startled too at the intelligent writing, the way in which she treated her readers as though they were as bright as she was. I'm actually glad I didn't try these when I was young as I don't think I would have appreciated them as much as I do now. I was seriously knocked out by Have His carcase and all the code stuff.

LOL! It seems I've lost my 1970s taste for 'naice gel' yarns. I had quite a hard time identifying, to be honest.