Tag Archives: Ngaio Marsh

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 Even the unpublished ones pitching their first novel, spoke of series.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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St George and me

And we’re off. Not this very minute, if you’re an early reader. But barring horrific delays and mishaps and calamities, this is the day.

Does it seem like an un-English thing to move out of the country on St George’s day? ‘snot intentional.

It’s World Book Day. The real WBD, I mean. So I suppose it makes sense that a Bookwitch moves around in the world, a little.

Shakespeare kicked the bucket on this date, and when I looked it up, lots more people as well. Not Cervantes, for some obscure reason. I had laboured under the impression that he and William died on the same day, but Don Quijote’s creator has shifted to a day earlier. Oh, well.

Some were even born on April 23rd. Ngaio Marsh. Halldór Laxness.

Oh look, there’s the dragon..!!!

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.

Shame about the name

Didn’t cotton on to the why, when I read a few weeks ago that Jacob and Isabella were the most popular names last year. Thick, that’s what I am. School Friend produced a little Isabella over twenty years ago, so I just thought it was a nice name. And they may have been vampirically inspired (or should that be werewoofically?), but they are real names.

Cullen on the other hand follows the US tradition, recent though it may be, of giving surnames as first names. In the UK you get that by going to public school, which of course is private when you’re elsewhere, so that is also confusing. Your name is Edward, but they call you Cullen.

I was relieved to read a blog touching on this phenomenon a while ago. Jeff Cohen on Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room was musing on this new idea of surnaming children. I had thought it was an older and deeper thing, that I just didn’t get. I’m glad to hear Jeff doesn’t get it either.

And whether your new baby is called Edward or Cullen, if you live in an English speaking country it’s at least a name that makes sense, and you and others can pronounce it properly.

At primary school I was in a class with Cary. That may look perfectly all right to you. But this was 45 years ago and his surname was Gustafsson, which doesn’t ring so well, unlike Grant. Also, it was pronounced ‘Kerri’ and since this was in southern Sweden the ‘r’ is a throaty one.

A girl I encountered at work in the late 1970s was a Loretta. You can tell where her mother got her inspiration from. She just didn’t look like a Loretta at all. That name must have been a burden. But then there are social connotations that come with names, and they are different for every place.

Offspring narrowly avoided the names Hamish and Troy. Hamish after all Scottish Hamishes, and Troy after Ngaoi Marsh’s Mrs Allingham. (Yes. I know.) As for myself I would dearly have loved being a Georgina. You can tell how original my mind used to be. That would have been a dreadful mouthful in’ the old country’.

In place of Cary and Georgina they now call their babies Kevin. Or Kewin, for a ‘really English’ way of spelling. That would be ‘Queue in’ then? It’s a well known fact that ‘v’ turns into a ‘w’ in English.

And School Friend’s baby? She became Pizzabella to my little Hamish. We quite like it like that.

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.

Cosy crime

Just as I was saying earlier about liking cosy Christmas books, I like my crime cosy. This is possibly a contradiction in terms, as crime isn’t supposed to be terribly nice. But I suspect the British can’t imagine quite how fond us foreigners are of sweet little murders in romantic English settings.

It’s almost become something to look down on, but there really isn’t anything wrong with cosy crime. It doesn’t all have to be Miss Marple. I spent years enjoying Margery Allingham’s lovable Campion. And when Alleyn isn’t gallivanting around New Zealand, he’s very cosy too.

I could go on and on.

Then there’s the opposite of cosy, and these days that’s often Nordic crime. I know that crime readers in the Nordic countries obviously like their own, but what’s amusing to observe is the English speaking world’s fascination for stark Scandinavian brutality and unhappiness. It makes me shudder and want to run to Miss Marple for a nice cup of tea.

I do quite like the Scandinavian stuff in the shape of films or television series. I often recommend Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Beck, and as a family we really enjoy the Danish series Mordkommissionen.

I can no longer stand Midsomer Murders, but foreign audiences love it. They don’t realise that the poor village cleaner can’t afford that charming country cottage, and think that’s how we all live. I know this, because even I used to be deluded like that. It didn’t help that my first few encounters with English families could have come straight out of the BBC. You live and learn…

Even the new ghastly Marple is charming and cosy. Foyle’s War is cosy.

Weird how we’re so taken with each other’s kind of crime. I have, belatedly, ordered a copy of Stieg Larsson’s first book, soon out in English. Everyone has read it. Adele Geras loved it. So I’ll see if I can squeeze in the 500 pages somewhere.