11:00 PM 18 JUNE 2017
8/13 of the series of mysteries involving Chief Inspector Morse and I was looking forward to this book, safe in the knowledge that it had secured for Colin Dexter the CWA Gold Dagger, for ‘Best Crime Novel of the Year’ (1989). Certainly the storyline was something of a departure, in that Morse deploys his formidable cerebral resources to solve a murder reportedly committed in 1859 and for which two men were hanged. Moreover, for the most part, Morse is hospitalised for treatment of a perforated ulcer and yet, this enables his faculties to be given full rein, albeit he also enlists the help of DS Lewis and a visitor who works at the Bodleian Library to undertake the leg work.
The John Radcliffe Hospital proves a fertile territory for Morse to fantasize about the nursing fraternity and flirt with several women ensnared by his blue eyes, though youthful nurses and faltering health do also bring the Chief Inspector uncomfortably before the realization that he is getting older, with a diminishing future.
The book is shorter than most in the series, but the pace of the story is well maintained and the crime took place on the Oxford Canal, when narrow-boats remained crucial to the lifeblood of commerce, giving the plot an additional curiosity value. The fact that two boatmen had also been found guilty of the murder of Joanna Franks, an attractive passenger on the Pickford & Co.’s express (or ‘fly’), non-stop boat-ride to London and been sentenced to death, while a third was subject to transportation, simply added to a frisson of suspense. As Morse sought to critique the original investigation at a distance of more than 150 years, the reader bears witness to a consummate puzzle-solver, revelling in the mental challenge! This may be the most vulnerable that we have seen Morse so far and yet, in this tale, he is also at his most perceptive and most likable.
9:04 PM 14 APRIL 2017
“A Year in Provence” won the British Book Awards’ “Best Travel Book of the Year” in 1989 and without wishing to be disparaging, it is utterly charming! Month-by-month Peter Mayle describes his gradual assimilation into a new life in southern France and though not without challenges, the lifestyle retains enough of an idyllic quality as to be appealing to many a reader.
For example, the twelve months begins with a New Year’s Eve six course lunch with pink champagne. Typically, Brits have been enviously familiar with the obsession with food, which looms large in French culture, from the virtues of olive oil to the daily purchase of bread – vive la difference! More recently, of course, we are arguably catching up, but regular references to the importance of food and drink and the superior Gallic appreciation of all things gastronomical, does lend the book a sumptuous feel. Still, this is simply garnish for descriptions of the local characters and landscapes Mayle encounters, which form the main course of his book.
Just the idea of a farmhouse with six acres located between the medieval villages of Menerbes and Bonnieux seems exotic, “at the end of a dirt track through cherry trees and vines”. And though the author recounts the unexpected difficulties with the climate and getting a series of tradesmen to deliver on the promised renovations, the Spring “evenings of corrugated pink skies…” seem fair compensation for the fact that the swimming pool isn’t for all-year-round use!
However, for me, the highlight of the book is undoubtedly the rather genteel descriptions of a host of local people, with whom Mayle develops a seemingly genuine affinity and who in turn, appear to accept the Englishman seeking to share in their slice of the ‘better life’. Indeed, the incessant visitors from home almost became intruders, inhibiting Mr & Mrs Mayle’s desire to luxuriate in their new home and be seamlessly absorbed into the community.
The lasting impression is that our neighbour’s grass is inevitably greener, though it wouldn’t necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea. C’est la vie!
2:16 PM 24 SEPTEMBER 2016
I was honoured to be given the opportunity to give this book, as part of the World Book Night 2012. This was my first choice and enabled me to wax lyrical about this deceptively simple story, which explores in detail the reflections and experiences of a butler, Stevens, as he contemplates his life in service and the relevance of a life spent in service at a time of profound social change. Empathetically written, Ishiguro’s prose is a sheer delight and his attention to detail and fine emotional expression is quite touching. Certainly not a thriller, yet I feel the intentionally pedestrian pace merely accentuates the absolute quality of the writing. A truly exceptional read!