Thinking about this blog, I realised it is a very long time since I actually wrote something and how lazy I have ended up being about it. So, to remedy that somewhat I decided to just write a quick review of what I’ve been reading this week. I don’t think this is something I will end up doing every week but might just do every so often.
So this week I read two books, a fair bit of a third (and also started but only just, a fourth, which I’m not really counting)—all by British authors, two published in the late 1920s–early 1930s, one forty years later, in 1970,—one a detective story, one a comic novel, and one which was a bit of both.
Adèle and Co, my first read this week is the fifth in the “Berry” series of books by Dornford Yates—part comic, part detective. Yates was a chance discovery when my mother found a (somewhat battered) copy of Berry and Co in a pile of second hand books and bought it for me. I read and loved it and since have read all in the series I could find (some are in public domain available through Project Gutenberg and other sites). The Berry books are essentially the adventures of the Pleydells— Major Bertram “Berry” Pleydell, his wife Daphne, Daphne’s brother Boy (who is the narrator of the series), and their cousins Jill and Jonathan “Jonah” Mansell. Later Jill is married to Piers, Duke of Padua, and Boy to Adèle, both joining the group. In Adèle and Co, the Pleydells are in France. Boy wakes up suddenly one day to find that all of them and an acquaintance Casca de Palk have been drugged and the three ladies, Daphne, Jill, and Adèle have been robbed of all their jewels (including the Padua pearls) by their supper guests, the Plazas. They decide to go after the crooks and recover the loot themselves—and it must be done before the jewels leave France, else all will be lost. The rest of the book is spent with them travelling across France, tracking the thieves. This requires some espionage, a bit of acting, even disguises (Berry and Boy in dresses, among them), and a little help from some interesting characters including a former thief, and fate. This was a pretty enjoyable read with Berry making one laugh as usual both with his talk and letters (only one in this one). Compared to the earlier books in the series, particularly Berry and Co and Jonah and Co, this didn’t make me burst out laughing as often, but it was great fun nonetheless with plenty of laughs along the way.
What I also enjoy about Yates’ books, particularly Berry and Co is his beautiful descriptions of nature, and of cities for that matter. Of the former for instance, he writes
As was fitting, St. George’s Day dawned fair and cloudless. Her passionate weeping of the day before dismissed, April was smiling—shyly at first, as if uncertain that her recent waywardness had been forgiven, and by and by so bravely that all the sweet o’ the year rose up out of the snowy orchards, dewy and odorous, danced in the gleaming meadows and hung, glowing and breathless, in every swaying nursery that Spring had once more built upon the patient trees. (Dornford Yates: Berry and Co (1920))
Adèle and Co has some of these as well,
Three miles away, across a valley, the white-walled inn lay safe in a little dell on the slope of a hill. This, then, rose, fresh and green, about three of its sides, while the fourth stood back from a road and, beyond this, a placid stream, spanning which I could see two bridges of old, grey stone. The valley was plainly rich—square upon square of wheat and maize and pasture, and sleepy barns and miniature yokes of oxen and bottles of hay tied up in squares of sackcloth which tiny figures were bearing upon their backs. Straggling schools of toy cows argued the course of lanes which we could not see, and orderly ranks of poplars were painting neighbouring meadows with regular stripes of shadow, clear-cut and soft and vivid as the grass they clothed. For the sun was going down upon this Canaan, and, since it ran east and west, all the valley was flooded with golden light. This gave it a fabulous air, remembering famous pictures and pastorals singing of husbandry and content, and though I later saw it at every hour of the day and never failed to find it grateful, I think it was fairest at sundown when the breeze of the day had fallen and the shadows were long. (Dornford Yates: Adèle and Co (1931))
The gentle glow of the candles upon the cloth was lending the parlour a comfort not always found in the salon ablaze with electric light. Behind Berry, the open window made a black square of darkness and ushered the cool, night air. Without, though I could not see it, a jolly orchard sloped to a hanging wood, and there some owl was crying to point a peace which once was a feature of the country, but now, before the drive of progress, is fast becoming extinct. This was absolute: and after the burden and heat of the restless day, made us a medicine rarer than any wine. (Dornford Yates: Adèle and Co (1931))
His descriptions not only bring what is described alive around one, they also make one feel the sense of peace that nature brings—truly beautiful.
Then, I read next Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth, the first of her Miss Silver series of books. This was a group read with the Reading the Detectives group on Goodreads. Miss Silver is a retired governess turned detective and this was the book in which she made her first appearance and also my introduction to her. The story begins with Charles Moray returning to England, after spending four years travelling abroad, his heart having been broken when his fiancée Margaret called off their engagement without any explanation whatsoever. He comes back to his house to discover a gang having a secret meeting there, and overhears them conspiring to do away with a young girl Margot Standing. The head of the gang wears a grey mask and the members are identified only by numbers. But to his shock, Margaret appears to be part of the gang. So instead of going to the police, he starts to look into the matter himself and also goes for help to Miss Silver who he hears of from his friend, and who has helped several ladies out of scrapes in the past. In the meantime, Charles and Margaret also come across Margot and take her to Margaret’s home trying to keep her safe.
The mystery itself was fun but felt in many parts like a teen (Nancy Drew) mystery with overheard secrets, masked men, and secret drawers in desks—there is also a rescue at the end, with our hero and heroine finding themselves locked away in a secret hideaway in a basement. But there are a fair number of surprises along the way, some secrets that one manages to guess and some that one doesn’t. Charles and Margaret are likeable characters but Margot Standing is rather a baby though she is eighteen and manages to get on one’s nerves every so often.
Miss Silver herself, we see very little of. Charles checks in with her often and finds she is almost always abreast with everything that’s happening, even one step ahead of him at times and there is no point trying to keep things from her, which he does try to do initially, probably to “protect” Margaret. But we don’t really get to see how Miss Silver does her work. She seems slightly like Miss Marple, though not as old and lacy and fluffy, and definitely far more active since we know she’s been on the scene many times even though our hero may not have seen her. Still for a Miss Silver book, we don’t see enough of her—something like Miss Marple in The Moving Finger, where she only comes in towards the end. Perhaps one does get to see more of her in later books in the series, which has thirty-two. Despite this I enjoyed the book quite a bit.
Next I picked up Howard’s End, also a group read but realised some pages in that I wasn’t quite in a mood then to read something that well, needed one to use one’s brains. So instead, out came The Girl in Blue. There’s nothing like Wodehouse when one wants to relax. The one is about Jerry West a cartoonist, who goes on jury duty and falls for Jane Hunnicut. He even asks her out to dinner but doesn’t remember to ask her name, not even when he runs into hr a second time. But there is a bit of a problem, he is already engaged to the beautiful but domineering Vera Upshaw who is pressuring him to get his inheritance, which his father has locked him out of until he’s thirty. On the other side, is his uncle and trustee, Willoughby Scrope who is elated after purchasing a Gainsborough miniature but finds due to a little misunderstanding and a rather daft (or perhaps, hard of hearing) office boy, that the miniature has been pinched. He is sure that the culprit is Bernadette “Barney” Claybourne, who he has helped send to his brother Crispin’s country house since she has been known in the past to shoplift. Crispin himself is facing money troubles and the broker’s man is placed in his house, so he can’t do much to escape him. Is the Gainsborough recovered? Does Jerry get his fortune and marry the girl of his dreams? Are Crispin’s problems solved? I’ll have to read on to find out but I KNOW there’s plenty of fun ahead, just like it’s been so far.
My reviews of Adèle and Co and Grey Mask are at goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1519297708?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1 and https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1936269822?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1.