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. :-)