Wow, six months into this blog and the world still isn’t looking normal, with the R-rate between 1.1 and 1.4 and local restrictions in place in many areas of the UK. The testing system is failing again (offering people in Northern Ireland a test in rural Essex is definitely not a mark of success), and advice from the government is inconsistent around keeping bubbles open or closed. Apparently you can go on an organised grouse shoot with 30 people but your kids can’t socialise outside school with a group of children they have spent the day inside a classroom with.
Anyway. This is not a political blog so I’ll mooch on back to the things that make me happy, like books.
Crime fiction is one of the world’s best selling genres and there’s a host of theories as to why this might be. Exploring human nature, sensational crimes, the tension and excitement as the protagonist come closer to the perpetrator and inevitably finds themselves in danger, our need for justice and the triumph of good over evil. Or is it – as Dorothy L. Sayers wrote in 1934 – that “Death seems to provide the minds of the Anglo-Saxon race with a greater fund of innocent enjoyment than any other single subject.” Whatever – a good detective novel sucks you in, keeps you on the edge of your seat and wide awake till the last page. Our heroes always have to break the rules a bit to get the job done, too. Don’t we all want to be a bit maverick sometimes?
“Commander, I always used to consider that you had a definite anti-authoritarian streak in you.”
“It seems that you have managed to retain this even though you are authority.”
“That’s practically zen.”
Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay
This week’s reading (and listening) list has all been male detectives – not planned, just what’s been coming up as I finish one book and choose something new from the virtual shelf of shame on my Kindle. I wrote a while ago about my love for girl detectives, so it’s really only fair that the boys get a look in too.
My first experience with Nancy Drew’s male counterparts was – of course! – Franklin W. Dixon’s Hardy Boys series. While I was never as fond of these as I was of Nancy and her girlfriends, I did pick them up from the library when I saw them. As I got older and was allowed freer range on the parental bookshelves, I read my way through John D.MacDonald’s Travis McGee books (starting with The Deep Blue Good-By). Luckily both my parents appreciate a good crime novel, so I had a lot of choice! So here, in no particular order, are some of my favourite ‘boy’ detectives – let me know who I’ve missed.
- Marcus Didius Falco – by Lindsey Davis. Set in Ancient Rome, these are well-researched and funny.
- Sam Vimes – Terry Pratchett. Discworld again (Not sorry. All human (and human-adjacent) life is here).
- Inspector Lynley (and Sgt. Barbara Havers as his common-as-muck sidekick) – by Elizabeth George. Posh but resisting it. Touched by tragedy. The first one I read was Playing for the Ashes and then I hunted down the rest.
- Richard Jury (and posh sidekick Melrose Plant) – Martha Grimes. A few of the later ones got a bit existential but they’re back on track now.
- Harry Bosch – Michael Connelly. I have my friend Elaine to thank for this, as she gave me Angels Flight when she’d finished it and off I went to the library for the rest. What would we do without libraries?
- Dave Robicheaux – James Lee Burke. Wonderfully flawed antihero here, beautifully written and set in a very atmospheric Louisiana.
- Nick Travers – Ace Atkins. Also set in the American south. A blues detective!
- Stephens and Mephisto – Elly Griffiths. Set in Brighton, a policeman and a stage magician. Elly Griffitths’ female creation – Ruth Galloway – was in my last list, and her YA novels are shaping up nicely too.
- Dr Siri Paiboun – Colin Cotterill. Set in 1970s Laos, Dr Siri is the chief coroner, occasionally possessed.
- Inspector Singh – Shamini Flint. Set in Singapore.
- Alex Delaware – Jonathan Kellerman. Consultant psychologist to the LAPD, helping his friend Milo Sturgis.
- Lord Peter Wimsey – Dorothy L. Sayers. Witty and very of its time – Sayers described him as a cross between Bertie Wooster and Fred Astaire.
- Myron Bolitar – Harlan Coben. A sports agent with a posh (but psychopathic) sidekick.
- Elvis Cole and Joe Pike – Robert Crais. Elvis cracks wise, Joe is the strong and silent type. Very strong, very silent.
- John Rebus – Ian Rankin. Possibly the ultimate maverick cop. Atmospheric Edinburgh this time – I do love it when the landscape/cityscape almost becomes a character in its own right.
- Commissaire Adamsberg – Fred Vargas. Honourable mention for her Three Evangelists series, too.
- Kenzie (and Gennaro) – Dennis Lehane. Another beautifully drawn city – this time Boston. Accidental library discovery when I was making up my book numbers.
- Kinky Friedman – eponymous. Slightly mad, very funny.
- Leaphorn and Chee – Tony Hillerman created the characters and his daughter Anne has continued the series. Navajo mysteries, full of legend and landscape.
- The Vinyl Detective – Andrew Cartmel. We never find out his name.
- Easy Rawlins – Walter Mosley. A charity shop discovery when I picked up Blonde Faith
- Dirk Gently – Douglas Adams. Solving mysteries through the interconnectedness of all things.
- Last – but not least – Brother Cadfael – Ellis Peters. Medieval monk with a crusader past, set in Shrewsbury during the Anarchy (between King Stephen and Empress Matilda (or Maud))
I’ll stop there, I promise! The wonderful thing about books is that there will always be more people with the urge to write, there will always be friends to recommend new discoveries and – I hope – there will always be libraries.
Anybody want a peanut?
My family’s all-time favourite film (and book) is The Princess Bride. I know I have found kindred spirits when they can quote the film at length and they know what to say to the word ‘Inconceivable!’ We first saw it on VHS (yes, that long ago!) on Bonfire Night in the 1980s, before we went to Monmouth to see the fireworks, and it immediately took on favourite status. I think all of us have our own copies of the book and the film, and it was one of the first ‘proper’ films I sat down with my children to watch.
The book starts with the line “This is my favourite book in all the world, though I have never read it,” and author William Goldman maintains the conceit that it’s an abridged version of ‘S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure”. It’s got everything, it really has:
““He held up a book then. “I’m going to read it to you for relax.”
“Does it have any sports in it?”
“Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True Love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest Ladies. Snakes. Spiders… Pain. Death. Brave men. Cowardly men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
“Sounds okay,” I said and I kind of closed my eyes.”
It also has the greatest to-do list ever. On being invited to see Count Rugen torture our hero Westley, Prince Humperdinck tells us:
“Tyron. You know how much I love watching you work, but I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Guilder to blame for it. I’m swamped.”
So when this pattern turned up on the Snarky and Nerdy Cross Stitch group on Facebook I knew I had to make it – the designer shared it as a free PDF, bless her. I couldn’t find any of my black thread skeins anywhere, so ended up using perle cotton, but it looks OK.
I’m also working on a crochet dog for a small person’s birthday – its become a tradition for these two children to challenge me to make things, including a shark and Totoro. I haven’t made a dog before, but found this pattern on Ravelry. I’m using Stylecraft Alpaca DK from the stash, as it’s quite fluffy and tactile, so I hope she likes it!
This week’s last make has been a smaller version of the giant blanket for a friend’s daughter. She chose her own softshell fabric, in a pretty pink with a quirky umbrella print, and wanted it ‘between short and long’. I put kangaroo pockets on the inside and outside, and as there was fabric left over I whipped up a matching drawstring bag. Here it is being modelled by Thing 2, who’s a bit taller than the recipient.
The bishop-sleeved cardigan now has one front section and the back – the yarn is holding out so far!
Hello, hello…am I on mute?
Still working from home! It’s been a good week though with some interesting conversations, notably with the brilliant Bilkis from You Be You. We met first way back in March, shortly before lockdown, when we had an inspirational conversation about breaking down gender stereotypes and how we could work together in Bethnal Green. I do love meeting people whose default response is ‘how do we make this happen?’ rather than a ‘let’s think about it’. I felt really motivated after our Zoom chat!
The other thing in my mind this week is our Learning Collection, which is huge, unwieldy and – to be frank – occasionally terrifying. There are some beautiful objects in there but also boxes of dismembered dolls, damaged wax and porcelain dolls and more. I am terrified of masks and dolls, so I do like to know what’s in a box before I open it. We need to edit the collection to make it relevant to future learning, so I’m very keen to get back to site and start! Preferably before we go back into lockdown…
So that was week 26. Half a year. What’s the last quarter of 2020 going to bring?
(cover photo by Isla Falconer)
What I’ve been reading
Dark Sacred Night (Bosch and Ballard) – Michael Connelly
The Wedding Guest (Alex Delaware) – Jonathan Kellerman
Ode to a Banker (Falco series) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)