Carrying in my handbag - The Scorpio Letters by Victor Canning. I had never heard of him before, but found several of his books in my father's extensive collection. He wrote lovely, jolly, old-fashioned thrillers that are perfect handbag material. By the look of it he was enormously prolific and I look forward to reading more of his books. The hero is flowed but handsome and brave, the heroine is sassy and beautiful, the villains are proper villains, dashing but evil and villainous. They romp all over Europe. Sometimes they (both sides) use guns, sometimes blunt instruments, sometimes drugs. At one point the hero and heroine monster a villain with - cats! He is violently allergic and he cracks under the pressure of wheezing. No cats were harmed in the making of this scene. The heroine is easily as capable as the hero and saves him on several occasions. What's not to like!
I recently finished Bloodless Shadow by Victoria Blake. This was picked up at the church fete, and I haven't been able to find her other books in the normal bookstores I have been to since reading it. This is a pain because I want to read the others in the series! It is the first of several about a private eye called Sam (as in Samantha) Falconer, who lives in London and has strong ties to Oxford, the book being set between the two. It is rather cliched in many ways - she has a tortuous family background, unlucky in love, weird eccentricities, she's not Inspector Morse by any means but you get the picture. But it is engagingly written and, if it makes me want to read the rest of them, it is obviously not too cliched to be beyond redemption. The title is rather meaningless in the context of the story, but it's a good title. I know Oxford pretty well, and it's always nice to read about places that you instantly recognise. I also know the part of London she lives in slightly - I never lived there but did spend the best part of week there in a hotel and recognise most of the places mentioned. It was the sort of whodunnit where the whodunnit was rather secondary to just enjoying the story.
Then I read Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel. I know I mentioned Hilary Mantel in a blog post relatively recently. And this was one of the books I mentioned in my Book Meme as being in my to-read pile. Well, I read it. And it blew me away! I knew I liked the author but this has made me want to search out each and every one of her other books and read them, stat. It is the BLACKEST of black comedies, indeed it truls is beyond black. It's about a medium, and her career, and her assistant, and her childhood, and the pack of fiends who follow her around. You never know whether to laugh, cry, or hide your head under a pillow when you are reading it. (Which would make it hard to read, obviously, but might protect you from the fiends). You are left wondering, at the end, what the hell happened! And you WILL look over your shoulder every time you hear an odd noise for a while. Love that woman.
Now I am alternating between two books which are quite capable of being read bit at a time.
I've borrowed the newly released Australian Ghost Stories by James Doig from the library. It contains, well, ghost stories obviously, dating from 1867 to 1909. James Doig has an enviable life. He trawls through old magazines and literary collections from nineteenth and early twentieth century Australian literature, and publishes anthologies. OK, he has a day job too, as an archivist. Lucky bastard. Why can't I do that? I have also read his Australian Gothic collection. Quite recently. Recently enough to know that some of the stories in this latest collection were also in that one. Can't he find enough good ones? Or does he hope no-one will notice. If you were that passionate about the reading material you would want to own both collections anyway, so I think he should have not had crossovers! That aside, it's a good collection. I;m halfway through it. It includes authors such as Mary Fortune, Marcus Clarke, Ernest Favenc and Rosa Praed. (Look them up yourselves!) Of the half that I have read so far, (6 stories - one was very long, there are actually 17 stories but I read half the actual book last night) 3 have been in other collections, though I am not sure whether they were his or not - but I have read them before. The other three contain two of the best ghost stories I have ever read - The White Maniac : A Doctor's Tale by Mary Fortune, and The Mystery of Major Molyneaux by Marcus Clarke. I look forward to the others.
The other book is On the Home Front " Melbourne in Wartime 1939-1945 (second edition) by Kate Darian-Smith . (The fact that it is the second edition is relevant, it was revised with extra material). This should be a wonderful book - imagine all the richness of the social history of the home during the war. But it is tedious. George referred to it as like reading a laundry list, and he's right. OK, it is a PhD thesis turned into a book, and they rarely turn out well. But it COULD have been turned into a real page-turner. It is dull, dull, dull. And there are no pictures. As Alice said, what is the point of a book without pictures? I have to own up to something here. I shared a final year class with the author in 1983. She obviously worked harder than me, and was brainier than me, 'cos I got a god-awful degree and she is a professor and a PhD and all that. I wanted to be an academic, I just wasn't smart enough or prepared to work hard enough! But I am damn sure I could have turned this material into a better book. Humph.
I am going to spend a fair bit of the month reading the Millennium Trilogy (the girl with the dragon tattoo and the other things). I;m looking forward to them!