Tag Archives: Margery Allingham

Series – to abandon or not to abandon

That is the question.

As has become clear over the Bloody Scotland weekend, there are series everywhere. Not only do the long – and medium – established writers have series. The debut authors are also planning several books. Even the unpublished ones pitching their first novel, spoke of series.

If you are free to read whatever you like, whenever you can, with no blog commitments, you can probably keep up with lots of series.

I no longer know what to do. I tend to wait and see what happens. Because I can’t actually make the decision. It has to be made for me. I will – temporarily – abandon a series of books I love, if there is something else, equally loveable out there. Maybe something that is noisier when looking for attention.

And that first abandoning was never intentional. It just happened. It’s not you; it’s me.

In the last maybe fifteen years I have read and thoroughly enjoyed the crime novels by Kate Ellis and Stephen Booth. I read every one up to a certain point. I read about Mma Ramotswe. I read these usually in the right order, moving backwards to catch the odd earlier book, and then waited in real time for the next one to be published. It seemed like a long wait, until it wasn’t so bad, and then until the next two books were here and I didn’t know how to fit them in.

I discovered Sara Paretsky, whose books I still read when a new one comes along, and slowly reading the older ones.

Among my new people, as you know, are James Oswald and Vaseem Khan. I don’t know how long I can keep going. I want to. But I wanted to with the others as well.

With Sophie Hannah I grew too scared to continue, so that was an easier decison to make. And thankfully we have the new Poirots.

Or there is Harry Potter, but we knew how many books to expect. Knew there would be an end. As we did with Skulduggery Pleasant, at least until Derek Landy decided to keep going a bit longer. With Lockwood you might not have known for certain, but unless something changed, the characters would eventually be unable to do what they did because of their [lack of] years.

Which books do you keep? Will I ever reread the abandoned series? Will I restart one day? Which ones will I regret once I have ditched my copies? When we moved, we parted with about half our Dorothy Sayers. That seemed OK. Many of Agatha Christie’s books I’ve never owned as I borrowed them from the library.

And then I looked at my shelves for inspiration, and considered Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Those books I read slowly over a long time, and I don’t claim to have read all. But the thought that I might get rid of the books made me want to cry. They are staying. Campion is like a crazy older brother, and Alleyn some benevolent uncle. Yes, I know I have now bypassed them in age, as far as most of the stories are concerned.

So what to do about those just starting out? Not read at all, just in case? Read one and be hooked? Have nervous breakdown?

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London Book Fair

I made my London Book Fair debut this week. You already know why I was in London, and I happened to have an afternoon that needed filling with something, and it seemed silly not to test the waters at Kensington Olympia now, rather than travel to London specially for it, without knowing whether it’d be for me, or not.

Because that’s what I’d been told; that it’s not for the likes of me. Didn’t matter how many nice and supportive people said the opposite, when it was one person’s comment that stayed in my mind. Because I believe it was said on the basis that bloggers are wee little things who like reading books and reviewing them. Nothing about the bigger picture, or meeting up with book people in general.

In the end I didn’t see many people I knew at all. Partly because I’d not planned ahead – which I will do next time – either as regards arranging to meet, or to check what talk will be on where and when.

Mary Hoffman at London Book Fair

As I arrived I could hear a voice that sounded like it belonged to Mary Hoffman, and it did. And there she was, at Author HQ, talking to an audience about Author Collectives. I saw her briefly afterwards, lovely red hair and – I swear, purple lipstick – as she and husband Stephen Barber ran for something or other, hands full.

I wandered round the Children’s Publishing area upstairs, and with hindsight I understand it wasn’t merely full of people and companies I know, because it was mainly children’s publishers only, not the ones who do everything. So I saw Usborne’s sweet little ‘house,’ and I saw Andersen, with an active Klaus Flugge chatting to someone in the corner.

Andersen Press at London Book Fair

The next event at Author HQ was hopeful authors pitching their books to agents, which I only stayed briefly for. Eavesdropped a bit on another talk on non-author based books, which had a big and attentive audience, which is why I stayed on the sidelines.

Author pitch at London Book Fair

What I wish I could have caught, but was too late for, were events with Daniel Hahn, something else on children’s publishing until 2020, and the star turn of the day, Judith Kerr in conversation with Nicolette Jones. (I did run into Nicolette at the Barbican in the evening, so found out it had been good, that Judith had trended on Twitter – and that she had had to ask what this meant – and that she had refused the wheelchair laid on by her publishers on account of her recent hip operation, but Judith preferred to walk next to the wheelchair…)

FCB tea

I understand that by the third afternoon the LBF would be quieter, and it was certainly nothing like it is in Gothenburg, say, where you can’t move for people. I was offered the opportunity of winning a Kindle or an iPad, and for some reason I declined this… Maybe I could have won?

Had a cup of tea from what I will now think of as Frank Cottrell Boyce’s little moneyspinner; the FCB Artisan Espresso Bar. (It’s probably got nothing at all to do with Frank.)

Walking foot at London Book Fair

I happen to know that a reasonable number of people I know were there on Thursday. It’s just that I didn’t know where. Or when. As I said, I could have found out, had I not left it until the last moment to decide to go. I witnessed a girl carrying her head in her hand, and there was a padded foot walking about with its minder. Which was nice.

Kensington Olympia

The glass topped building of Olympia is beautiful, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it empty one day, the better to appreciate it. I walked up a purple staircase, and decided it was so tall that I’d get the lift down… There were men pushing those big trolleys around that you see in films, where they hide the corpses. Here I suspect it was mainly rubbish, and not lots of dead bodies.

Speaking of which, I glanced at some of the LBF publications lying around and learned that there is a new Albert Campion being published, not written by Margery Allingham. And I don’t know what I think of that…

Traitor’s Purse

A S Byatt has a lot to answer for. I’ve now come across several reviews of Margery Allingham’s Traitor’s Purse, where the reviewer only read the book after her article in the Guardian last year.

Personally, I wanted to remind myself of the plot, so went to our Allingham shelf to reacquaint myself with the book, only to discover we didn’t have a copy. Hence its appearance on my Christmas wish list, and because it was the only item on the list issued to the Resident IT Consultant, I wasn’t massively surprised to receive a copy. Which, had been my plan all along. [Don’t give them a choice.]

Margery Allingham, Traitor's Purse

It’s been years since I read Margery Allingham’s Campion books. I loved them, and I rather loved him as well, being much more fun than Lord Peter Wimsey. And I obviously would have loved to be Lady Amanda; the girl who decided she was going to marry him.

In Traitor’s Purse, set in 1941, Campion has had a knock on the head and doesn’t even remember her, or his manservant Lugg, or who he himself is, let alone what he’s supposed to be doing. (Saving the country is what.)

Being a man, he doesn’t start asking useful questions like ‘Who am I?’ but sets about quietly grappling with each thing as it comes along. He makes the mistake of thinking Amanda is his wife, and his private fears about maybe losing her are wonderfully described. You take a girl for granted for years and…

This is a great detective trying to solve a puzzle in the dark. He works out who is good and who is bad, and almost what the problem is, but hasn’t got a clue what to do.

After this long away from Campion’s world, I noticed the social aspects much more. But it’s a marvellous story and the writing is as good as ever, and you have to overlook the fact that occasionally the upper classes are portrayed as more reliable than the rest of us. It’s the way it was.

But behind it all is the usual humour and courage and an exciting plot. ‘Good lord, he could climb like a cat!’ This is a handy discovery when you are forced to flee over the rooftops. Most of us will already know whether a route like that is likely to be successful, but Campion hasn’t got any idea of what he can and can’t do. He just knows he has to try.

My thanks to A S Byatt. I hadn’t read this one, and I’m so glad I did. Might be time to return to more old diamonds.

Running Girl

Running Girl by Simon Mason will be on my best of 2014 books. Just thought I’d give you an early heads up, saving you the eleven month wait.

It is also – obviously – the book I was referring to on Saturday. There really is not enough crime in fiction for teenagers. Thrillers, yes. Other kinds of adventure, yes. Crime for younger readers, yes. Despite reading the not terribly enticing blurb for Running Girl, I didn’t expect what I got. From the first chapter I was almost weeping with delight, if that is possible.

Simon Mason, Running Girl

16-year-old Chloe goes missing before being found dead. DI Raminder Singh does a reasonably good job of detecting (at least he wants to find the murderer, rather than just pleasing his chief with a quick solution), but he would have got nowhere were it not for Garvie Smith, a school friend of Chloe’s.

Garvie is a nightmare. Easy enough to love in a book, if you are the reader, but in real life he’d be the end of you. Think Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock, and make him a black 16-year-old living on an estate, hanging out in the park, drinking and smoking (and not just tobacco) with his mates, and driving his single mother demented with worry.

Add to this an intellect very much above normal, a disinclination to attend school, let alone revise for the upcoming GCSEs (I’m not surprised, seeing how Simon has scheduled a Maths exam for the Spring Bank Holiday Monday…). He is rude, but with such charm you can’t help but like him (if you’re a reader), and his intelligence shines through. Most of the time. He is only 16, after all.

DI Singh was wise to give in – eventually – and listen to what Garvie had to say about Chloe. Garvie finds clues merely by sitting back and thinking logical thoughts. Let’s not mention his rather hands-on detecting.

I won’t tell you how it goes, except that my first instinct as to who dunnit was correct. But since it was a long and fun journey getting to the end, that’s neither here nor there.

Did I say I loved it?

(PS More crime for teens, please!)

Young and hot, or perhaps not

Mary Hoffman went on a book tour to America last week, leaving us – her blog readers – with some exciting men to think about. I bet she did that on purpose.

She writes about some very attractive young men in her own books, and I trust Mary has done a lot of research to make our reading experience the best ever. But I am too old for her boys. I simply cannot lust after a teenager. Even setting propriety aside I find I can’t. I need older men.

Like the ones I was too young for when I was a teenager. Except in those days there wasn’t much in the way of teen books, so a girl had to lust after grown older men, or not lust at all. Lord Peter Wimsey is one such example mentioned by Mary. (And don’t tell anyone, but I did like him.)

That’s life. Nothing is ever right.

So, in those days I liked the Scarlet Pimpernel (even without Leslie Howard), and I adored Steven Howard in MM Kaye’s Death in Cyprus and Richard Byron in Mary Stewart’s Madam Will You Talk. Various Alistair MacLean heroes, and Carl Zlinter from Nevil Shute’s The Far Country. (Go on, ridicule me!)

If there were any boys, I have forgotten them, which means they can’t have been all that special.

More recently I have liked Margery Allingham’s Campion, Mr Knightley, and Robert Stephens’s voice as Aragorn in the radio version of Lord of the Rings. There aren’t all that many attractive men in modern children’s or YA books, but there is Lupin. And from an old classic we have Daddy Longlegs.

If I absolutely have to find young men in current fiction they won’t be vampires. Not even faeries (sorry, Seth McGregor). I liked Wes in Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever, and Sanchez in Ribblestrop by Andy Mulligan is quite a boy. And now that I think about it, the Cathys (Cassidy and Hopkins) do lovely young ones.

Abby and Ducky

Men on the screen, however, have got easier with age. The ten-year-old me knew it was wrong to be in love with Ilya Kuryakin, 23 years my senior. But he was so cute! And this being a lasting kind of passion, it was David McCallum who got me started on NCIS. He is still very good looking for a man approaching 80. And it was at NCIS I found Very Special Agent Gibbs, a man of the right age. At last. I reckon he is a modern Mr Knightley.

Gibbs

So, for me it is No Thanks to ‘hot young men.’ I need them to be grey these days.

(Link here to an older post about pretty boys. I seem to have grown out of them.)

This is no vicarage

I think I get it now. This fascination for Nordic crime. People like Adèle Geras, who can’t have enough of the gritty crime from our cold and dark countries. And me, who shudders at the mere thought of some of the bleak grittiness.

I’m currently reading a much talked about Swedish crime novel, which can remain anonymous for the time being. Started it on Friday night and read solidly for an hour, or about 100 pages. Then I thought to myself that it was so unpleasant that I might as well give up and save myself the remaining 500 pages. Ghastly crime (I know they all are, really) and not a single likeable character.

Then for good measure I continued yesterday. It’s scary and off-putting and I still can’t stand the characters. I don’t like the Stockholm setting, because although I don’t live there, I feel I could do. In which case I do not want that sort of stuff happening on my home ground. I can see myself leading that kind of drab life and I feel vaguely sick.

But that’s what you like, isn’t it? If it’s grim and it’s grim in a different place, for people not living your kind of life, then it’s just ‘nice’ to watch from the safe distance of your armchair. While I can see myself there, I’m scared.

I used to have this theory that readers with ‘cosy’ British lives enjoy the murderous Ikea life style in the glow of the Aurora and all that. You’re safe in your semidetached lives. And I used to think that I adore cosy English crime because it’s different. Set in charming surroundings, with interestingly different characters, and totally unattainable.

Now though, I find crime like Stephen Booth’s – for instance – a little bit too close to home. But still quite enjoyable, as the Peak District is still a few miles down the road.

And isn’t that why we like Agatha Christie? Most of us can’t aspire to that kind of life (partly because it’s now in the past), and feel secure in the knowledge that we won’t be murdered in any mansions or vicarages anytime soon.

Having come to this brilliant conclusion I had to try and decide what type of crime writing I do like and feel comfortable with. Irish fantasy. Quite safe. V I Warshawski, safely far away in Chicago. Mma Ramotswe. Very far away. And yes, Stieg Larsson. Because for some reason I can’t see myself living in his settings. Anything with humour, really. Like Donna Moore’s mad capers. Not real. A reflection on society, but not my life.

I yearn for more Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham. Safe time, safe class. Yes, I want safe crime. Something that is unlikely to reach me.

At Brown’s Hotel

The young witch used to frequent Brown’s, much to the surprise of her elders and betters. It was the lure, which good old-fashioned English places and customs have for foreigners. It’s related to liking Midsomer Murders, which I last tried rubbishing in the company of my Swedish neighbours, only to be told how much they love it.

Well, Brown’s is supposed to have been the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s At Bertram’s Hotel, and the book was written in the hotel lounge. I used to go there for afternoon tea, which in the olden days cost about a fiver, and that felt a lot less then, than whatever the cost is today.

It was worth it purely for the show put on by the very professional waiters. A friend of mine couldn’t stop talking about how they could remove the table cloth, with a flourish, while things were still on the table. Pretty good entertainment that was.

I was reminded of this the other day in London. Not only was I in Mayfair, close to my old haunt in Albemarle Street, but the hotel where I talked to Budge Wilson the next day, made me think of Brown’s, too. Budge’s hotel didn’t come out well in comparison. I need to return to Brown’s to see for myself if the staff can still speak English, and if they know how to serve tea. Surely they must? But I think the chintz may be gone.

Foreigners need chintz, no matter what that famous flatpack furniture store says. We like the feeling of old criminal London, from the Victorian crime novels to the postwar smog that was so good to commit murder in.

Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart is good for atmosphere, and so is his New Cut Gang books. And there’s not just Agatha Christie, but Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers and others. Mother-of-Witch always said murder’s not very nice. She was right, of course, but as fiction in the right setting, it’s also very, well, comforting.