“PETER (frowns): You know, Harriet, this is one of those exasperatingly simple cases. I mean, it’s not like those ones where the great financier is stabbed in the library –
HARRIET: I know! And thousands of people stampede in and out of the French window all night, armed with motives and sharp instruments –
PETER: And the corpse turns out to be his own twin bother returned from the Fiji Islands and disguised as himself. That sort of thing is comparatively easy. But here’s a dead man in a locked house and a perfectly plain suspect, with means, motive, and opportunity, and all the evidence pat – with the trifling exception of the proof.”
Lord Peter Wimsey’s final full-length murder investigation first saw the light of day as a play – like the subsequent novel, titled Busman’s Honeymoon – co-written with Dorothy L. Sayers’s friend from her Somerville College, Muriel St. Clare Byrne. Although it enjoyed a successful run after its November 1936 Birmingham and December London 1936 premieres, the play’s success was transferred entirely onto the novel of the same name published the following year, and the playscript was never reprinted after its initial 1937 Gollancz first edition. It took another half century, the acquisition of the original manuscript and a wealth of associated papers by the Marion E. Wade Collection at Kent State University’s Wheaton College, and the express (and narrowly limited) consent by Sayers’s son Anthony Fleming for the play to be republished, along with the drawing room comedy Love All (in manuscript, alternatively titled Cat’s Cradle), which Sayers wrote together with another Somerville College friend, Marjorie Barber.
In the novel Busman’s Honeymoon, Sayers elaborates on the plot and the themes addressed in the play, but she remains faithful to the stage version in every respect, entire lines of dialogue are taken from there, and the play of course distills down the basic structure of the action, merging the demands of dramatic sequencing and those of a detective story scrupulously based on the fair play rule according to which, in the authors’ words, “every clue must be shown at the same time to the public and to the detective”. The detective is not to have any secret knowledge or other advantage over the audience (nor vice versa), and comparing their play’s structure to that of “a Three-part Fugue, moving contrapuntually to an ordered resolution”, the playwrights continue to explain in the authors’ note:
“It was necessary to invent a technique to express this formula, since the novelist’s approach by argument and explanation is clearly unsuited to the stage. For the First Act, in which most of the major clues are introduced, the method chosen is that of visual presentation. The clues as to Means are displayed, silently but conspicuously, down-stage, while at the same time the animated discussion of trivialities up-stage holds the ear and divides the attention of the audience. The producer’s task is thus to play, as it were, two independent tunes concurrently, concentrating upon inessentials in order to disguise, without concealing, the essentials of the plot-structure.
In the Second Act, the method, while still contrapuntal, is slightly varied. While the inquiry is ostensibly directed to Motive, the information actually conveyed to the audience chiefly concerns Opportunity, or the lack of it. Here, Superintendent Kirk’s unwavering canto fermo is contrasted with the freely moving descant played by Peter, who hovers continually above the action, sometimes in concord and sometimes in passing discord with the set theme. The producer may note the visual symbolism, whereby Kirk remains throughout firmly planted in his chair, while Peter wanders about the stage, darting in upon the problem from all angles.
In Act III, Scene 1, which for the purposes of the plot establishes Motive, the attention is held by yet another theme. This, introduced in the First Act and kept moving by occasional passages in Act II, here emerges into prominence. The human and emotional aspects of the situation, as it affects the private lives of the characters concerned, become the main source of interest. An effort is here made to do for the detective play what has already been achieved for the detective novel – that is, to combine it with the comedy of manners, and so bring it back into the main line of English dramatic tradition. In this scene, the masks are dropped all round: [along farcical-comedy and tragi-comedy lines by others and] along romantic-comedy lines by Peter and Harriet, the complete sincerity of whose emotion is the touchstone by which all the rest of the action must be tested.
In the final scene, both the disguised and the ostensible clues extracted from the previous scenes are presented and a fresh in a visual reconstruction to solve the problem on purely theatrical lines; and at the same time the emotional elements are brought into harmony.”
In a lengthy introduction, the book’s editor, Alzina Stone Dale, elaborates on the genesis and various birthing stages of the play, and the book’s no less than four appendices reproduce significant additional materials; including the authors’ stern warning to producers as to the truly lethal risks of the murder method employed here, coupled with several-pages-long minute instructions how Peter’s reconstruction of the crime at the end of the play should be faked, so as to avoid actually endangering anyone on stage (first and foremost the actor playing the murderer, who ends up caught in and unmasked by his own trap in the reconstruction).
Another appendix reproduces Sayers’s handwritten notes on the major characters:
“PETER will be 45 next birthday; & though his small bones, whippy figure & fair colouring give him a deceptive appearance of youth, his face, in its rare moments of repose is beginning to show the marks set there by time & experience. At first sight one would say that the lines of brow & chin ran back rather alarmingly; but this, too, is largely an illusion, due to the dominance of the high, beaked nose which is, one feels, a tradition handed down from the Norman Conquest or thereabouts & somewhat exaggerated in the transmission. The steadiness of the grey eyes & long, humorous mouth is reassuring, & there is certainly no lack of physical health or vitality; yet the acuteness of the facial angle, the silvery pallor of hair & skin, the slight droop of the eyelids, the sensitive and restless hands, & above all a certain nervous tautness of gesture & carriage – these signs perhaps convey a warning that the family blood will not stand very much more this kind of thing, & that in marrying a commoner he has shown no more than a proper consideration for posterity. His social poise is inborn; but his emotional balance appears to be rather a matter of discipline applied partly from within & partly by training and circumstance; his outbursts of inconsequent gaiety are the compensation for the exercise of a rigid control in other directions. A natural sweetness of disposition, allied to a freakish sense of humour & assisted by a highly-civilized upbringing, makes him easy enough to get on with, but to get within his guard is difficult. The light, high, over-bred voice is his own; but the drawl, like the monocle, is part of the comedian’s make-up which he can & does put off when he is in earnest. […] Nor does he hold any surprises for Bunter, who has known him from his teeth to his toe-nails for twenty years. How far Bunter has it in him to surprise Peter is a matter for infinite conjecture.
HARRIET is 30 years old, tall, strongly-made & vigorous in speech, movement & colouring. She has dark hair & eyes & a skin like honey; her face has more character than beauty, but the older she grows the handsomer she will become. […] Past unhappiness has matured but not tamed her; she has not learnt, & never will learn, self-discipline as Peter has learnt it. What she has got & what he loves her for, is an immense intellectual sincerity. She will commit endless errors of judgment & hold to them in the face of any emotional attack; but if her reason can be persuaded, she will admit the error freely & without rancor. It is evident that she will never be happy unless her passions & her reason can march side by side; & she is lucky to have found a man honest and unselfish enough to refrain from using her heart as a weapon against her conscience. Indeed, in this respect he is the more vulnerable, & it is her honesty that will prevent him from turning the same weapon against himself. The fact that they both have the same educational background is probably a considerable factor in the establishment of a common understanding; & though you might think that they are the last people who should ever have married one another, Oxford will in the end be justified of her children.”
The 1980s' version of Harriet and Peter: Harriet Walter and Edward Petherbridge -- in the small screen adaptation of Gaudy Night
HARRIET: Oh, my dear: What is happening to us? What has become of our peace?
PETER: Broken! That’s what violence does. Once it starts, it catches us all – sooner or later.
HARRIET: Is there no escape?
PETER: Only by running away … (Pause) … Perhaps it might be better for us to run. If I finish this job, someone is going to hang. I have no right to drag you into this mess … Oh, my dear, don’t upset yourself so. (He goes up to her.) If you say the word, we will go right away. We’ll leave the whole damnable business ... and never meddle again.
HARRIET: Do you really mean that?
PETER: Of course I mean it. I have said so. (His tone is that of a beaten man. He crosses and sits on arm of chair by table L.)
HARRIET: Peter, you are mad. Never dare to suggest such a thing. Whatever marriage is, it isn’t that.
PETER: Isn’t what, Harriet?
HARRIET: Letting your affection corrupt your judgment. What kind of life could we have if I knew that you had become less than yourself by marrying me?
PETER: My dear girl, most women would consider it a triumph.
HARRIET: I know. (Gets up and comes down-stage.) I’ve heard them. ‘My husband would do anything for me.’ … It’s degrading. No human being ought to have such power over another.
PETER: It’s a very real power, Harriet.
HARRIET (decidedly): Then we won’t use it. If we disagree, we’ll fight it out like gentlemen. But we won’t stand for matrimonial blackmail.”
Busman’s Honeymoon, Act III, Scene 1
I just love that dialogue (which is contained both in the play and in the novel). It’s what epitomizes Peter and Harriet to me – and it just might explain, too, why Sayers didn’t finish a single further novel featuring them but, rather, only gave us glimpses at their married life in a couple of short stories. Because really, what else is there left to be said after this?
So far Booklikes has run very fast for me today, which made me suspicious. So I tried to check up on the domain and due to certain circumstances, I ended up on another page than the one Themis-Athena has mentioned previously.
The good news is, double checked by Themis-Athena and found on at least two different sites:
If you are still active on BL and if you are in our backup GR group, please head over there and post in the new thread, titled "Please check in!"
I am trying to get a head count together and make sure that I have exchanged current contact information for anyone who wants to keep in touch.
This weekend's "let's-forget-the-pandemic" buddy read wasn't the first time I read Josephine Tey's setting-the-record-straight-about-Richard III novel, The Daughter of Time, but it was the first time that I did so by reading it together with her play on the same subject (written under the name Gordon Daviot), Dickon, and that combined reading changed my perspective on the novel yet again: not significantly, but in what I see as Tey's impetus in writing it.
To begin with, maybe I should call Dickon "her other play" on the subject, as I think Sorry kids, no feet nailed it when she said in a comment on one of Tannat's status updates that The Daughter of Time "read(s) like a play without actually being a play". It actually is a play, with only one stage setting -- Grant's hotel room --, deliberately confining him (who becomes the audience's voice and brain) to that setting, depriving him of any and all other, and perhaps more conventional forms of entertainment right in the first chapter -- not without a few wry sidelines on the state of the literary art and industry of the day --, and thus neatly focusing his, and hence the reader's, attention on that one single thing remaining and apt enough to tease his brain: an investigation into an unsolved mystery of the past. And of course, that hoary old chestnut, the fate of "the Princes in the Tower", will never do -- the investigation soon takes a completely different direction when Grant decides (very much like Ms. Tey herself, obviously) that Richard III's face and his reputation simply don't synch, and just how his name ended up on the list of history's greatest villains must thus urgently be looked into (and set right).
Dubious, overrated, and dated starting point ("face reading") aside, the real importance of Tey's book lies, of course, in the profound shattering of the reputation that Richard III had had until then, ever since he lost his life at Bosworth and the Tudors had the control of what history would eventually make of the reign of the last York Plantagenet king. There had been previous attempts to set the record straight both in the 18th and the 19th century, but it arguably took Tey's deliberate choice of presenting the issue in the guise of a (well-researched) mass-marketed novel, in tandem with a stage play, to bring so much public attention to the matter that even well-known historic scholars could no longer ignore it -- and the debate has been alive and well ever since. (Even the presentation at the Bosworth visitor center is now painstakingly neutral in its overall approach, though some of the exhibit's texts still clearly betray an anti-Ricardian bias.)
In The Daughter of Time, Tey presents the Tudors' campaign of blackening Richard III's name as only one, though a particularly grivous example of what she calls Tonypandy, for the town that was the focal point of the 1910-11 Welsh Miners' strike, and which has since become a subject of a similarly furious historic dispute: to Tey, "Tonypandy" is a summary term signifying any and all instances of falsified historic and political propaganda. Yet, as her play Dickon shows, it's ultimately not "Tonypandy" at large that she is interested in but very much Richard III himself, in whom (and in whose features) she takes an enormous interest, reflected in Grant's comments and thoughts on his portrait in The Daughter of Time, as much as in her own passionate advocacy, both in the play and in the novel.
In fact, the play neatly distills the "Dickon" content of the novel down to its essentials and presents the events in question in their own, proper historical setting; refuting -- scene by scene -- Shakespeare's portrayal of the same events in his Richard III (or Tudor propaganda Exhibit A, as Tey saw it). And in one, perhaps the most endearing scene of the play, she has her Richard III do exactly what she expected of historians, and what Grant's American "woolly lamb" research assistant does in the novel: Tease out the minutiae of daily life from the records left behind; obtain your information straight from the source, instead of relying on hearsay accounts written only after the fact. "All the stuff of Middleham is here. All that I have missed", Richard tells his wife Anne when she wonders how he can possibly be so fascinated with their Yorkshire home's account books, even though she faithfully reports on everything that is going on while he is in London with his brother, the King. "But you don't tell me that Betsy has been shod, that there is a new lock on the little east gate, that the dairy window was broken, that Kemp has had a boil on his neck," he answers. "That is Middleham. If I cannot live it, I can at least look at the picture."
Some of the things that Tey considered Tudor propaganda have since been proven true; e.g., the discovery of Richard III's skeleton in that infamous Leicester parking lot has revealed that he really did have a spinal deformity and would thus have presented as a hunchback -- so the Tudors didn't need to lie about everything; they could also exploit features that their contemporaries would have been familiar with. And other things, we will probably never know -- personally I doubt whether, even if the remains of the "Princes in the Tower" were now found, too (against all odds), centuries after their disappearance, that discovery would do much to clarify who engineered their disappearance and apparent murder (unless other instances would throw additional light on the issue at the same time). But ultimately this is about more than the fates of Edward IV's sons; it's about truth in the historical record, about unbiased research, and about the value of primary (= direct) vs. secondary (= indirect) evidence / hearsay.
And whereas a reader interested in the period now may come to her (play-disguised-as-a-)novel (and her (other) play) with quite a different perspective on Richard III, his victorious rival Henry VII, and the period as such, the splash that her writing made upon its first publication can still be heard to this day. For that in and of itself, her decision to take the issue out of the academic debate and into the realm of popular fiction can't be applauded loudly enough.
Bosworth: the battlefield today.
The Leicester parking lot where Richard III's remains were found.
Commemorative / explanatory plaque on a wall near the parking lot gates ...
... and an out-take of the above image: Richard III's skeleton
The parking lot is down a narrow alley from Leiceseter Cathedral
The Tomb in Leicester Cathedral
The gold-decorated chancel of Leicester Cathedral right behind the altar, where Richard's tomb is located
The coffin in which Richard's bones were carried into the cathedral for reburial (the cloth is hand-embroidered)
Tower of London: The round building center/left is the Bloody Tower, where King Edward IV's sons, today known simply as "the Princes in the Tower," are believed to have been held.
Bloody Tower: Exhibition on the disappearance of "the Princes in the Tower."
(All photos mine.)
"The murder -- if it was murder -- of a man like Lord Comstock was an event of world-wide importance. The newspapers controlled by the millionaire journalist exerted an influence out of all proportion to their real value. Inspired by Comstock himself, they claimed at frequent intervals to be the real arbiters of the nation's destiny at home and abroad. Governments might come and go, each with its own considered policy. The Comstock Press patronized, ignored, or attacked them, as suited Lord Comstock's whim at the moment. His policy was fixed and invariable.
This may seem an astounding statement to those who remember how swiftly and how frequently the Daily Bugle changed its editorial opinions. But Lord Comstock's policy was not concerned with the welfare of the State, or of anyone else but himself, for that matter. It was devoted with unswerving purpose to one single aim, the increase in value of his advertisement pages. The surest way to do this was to increase circulation, to bamboozle the public into buying the organs of the Comstock Press. And nobody knew better than Lord Comstock that the surest way of luring the public was by a stunt, the more extravagant the better.
Stunts therefore followed one another with bewildering rapidity. Of those running at the moment, two had attracted special attention. To be successful, stunts must attack something or somebody, preferably so well established that it or he has become part of the ordinary person's accepted scheme of things. [...]
One antagonist at a time, even so formidable an antagonist as Christianity, could not satisfy the restless spirit of Lord Comstock. He sought another and found it in the Metropolitan Police, his choice being influenced mainly by the implicit faith which that institution most justly inspired. Scotland Yard was the principal object of the invective of the Comstock Press. It was inefficient, ill-conducted, and corrupt. It must be reformed, root and branch. The crime experts of the Comstock Press, men who knew how to use their brains, were worth the whole of the C.I.D. and its elaborate machinery, which imposed so heavy and useless a burden upon the tax-payer.
Now and then it happened that a crime was committed, and no arrest followed. This was the opportunity of the Comstock Press. Without the slightest regard for the merits of the case, and safe in the knowledge that a Government Department cannot reply, the Daily Bugle, and its evening contemporary, the Evening Clarion, unloosed a flood of vituperation upon the C.I.D., from the Assistant Commissioner himself to his humblest subordinate. [...]
In fact, the shadow of Lord Comstock lay heavily on both men, as they sat in the oppressive warmth of the June afternoon. It was as though his invisible presence lurked in the corner of the room, masterful, contemptuous, poisoning the air with the taint of falsehood."
Plus ça change ... Replace "Comstock" by "Murdoch" and "Scotland Yard" by "the NHS" or "the criminal justice system", and you could still write the same words, every last one of them, today.
Tracking courtesy of Charlie and Sunny, as always, of course!
SPACES AND DICE ROLLS
1. Author is a woman -- Patricia Wentworth: Pilgrim's Rest (finished April 1, 2020)
2. Genre: mystery
3. Set in the twentieth century
4. Published in 2019
5. Published in 2018
6. Title has a color word in it
7. Author's last name begins with the letters A, B, C, or D -- Margery Allingham: Sweet Danger (finished April 2, 2020)
8. Author's last name begins with the letters E, F, G, or H.
9. Author's last name begins with the letters H, I, J, or K
10. Author's last name begins with the letters L, M, N or O
11. Author's last name begins with the letters P, Q, R, or S
12. Author's last name begins with the letters T, U, V, W, X, Y, or Z
13. Author is a man
14. Author is dead
15. Genre: romance
16. Genre: fantasy -- Marie Brennan: A Natural History of Dragons (finished April 6, 2020)
17. Genre: horror
18. Set in a school
19. Set in the UK
20. Set in a country that is not your country of residence
21. Set in Europe -- Joy Ellis: The Patient Man (finished April 7, 2020)
22. Set in Asia
23. Set in Australia/Oceania
24. Set in Africa
25. Snake - go back to 5
26. Part of a series that is more than 5 books long
27. Set during WWI or WWII
28. Written between 1900 and 1999
29. Someone travels by plane
30. Someone travels by train
31. Road trip -- Ellis Peters: A Morbid Taste for Bones (finished April 8, 2020)
32. Genre: thriller
33. Set in North America
34. Snake - go back to 1
35. Has been adapted as a movie
36. Set in Central or South America
37. Has won an award
38. Newest release by a favorite author
39. A reread -- Ngaio Marsh: Enter a Murderer (finished April 9, 2020)
40. Characters involved in the entertainment industry
41. Characters involved in politics
42. Characters involved in sports/sports industry
43. Characters involved in the law
44. Characters involved in cooking/baking
43. Characters involved in medicine
44. Characters involved in science/technology
45. A book that has been on your tbr for more than one year
46. A book that has been on your tbr for more than two years
47. Snake - go back to 19
48. A book you acquired in February, 2019.
49. Recommended by a friend -- Ngaio Marsh: A Man Lay Dead, plus Death on the Air and Other Stories (both books finished April 10, 2020)
(Rereading the first Roderick Alleyn mystery in honor of the friend who introduced me to them many years ago. -- ETA: Tagged on Marsh's short stories when I noticed that the audio of A Man Lay Dead runs just short of 5 hours 30 minutes.)
50. Has a domestic animal on the cover
51. Has a wild animal on the cover
52. Has a tree or flower on the cover
53. Has something that can be used as a weapon on the cover -- Ngaio Marsh: Scales of Justice (finished April 11, 2020)
(I used the present weekend buddy read for this one, as my print edition has fishing tackle on its cover -- hook, line and all.)
54. Is more than 400 pages long
55. Is more than 500 pages long
56. Was published more than 100 years ago
57. Was published more than 50 years ago
58. Was published more than 25 years ago
59. Was published more than 10 years ago
60. Was published last year
61. Cover is more than 50% red -- Anne Perry: Defend and Betray (finished April 16, 2020)
(Go figure, I could have used the audio version of Scales of Justice fo rthis one as well ...)
62. Cover is more than 50% green
63. Cover is more than 50% blue
64. Cover is more than 50% yellow
65. Snake - go back to 52
66. Part of a series that is more than 10 books long -- Ngaio Marsh: When in Rome (finished April 17, 2020)
(Nothing like Alleyn in Italy as a palate cleanser after the train wreck that Perry's book turned out ot be.)
67. Set in a city with a population of greater than 5 million people (link)
68. Something related to weddings on the cover
69. Something related to travel on the cover
70. Something related to fall/autumn on the cover
71. Involves the beach/ocean/lake
72. Involves the mountains/forests -- Charles Portis: True Grit (finished April 18, 2020)
(I checked -- their trip takes them through the mountains, at least part of the way.)
73. Categorized as YA
74. Categorized as Middle Grade
75. Set in a fantasy world
76. Set in a world with magic
77. Has a "food" word in the title
78. Set in a small town (fictional or real)
79. Main character is a woman -- Sara Paretsky: Indemnity Only (finished April 21, 2020)
(Somehow I never got around to the first V.I. Warshawski novel. Now just may be the moment to make up for that.)
80. Main character is a man
81. Ghost story
82. Genre: urban fantasy
83. Genre: cozy mystery
84. Genre: police procedural -- Lee Goldberg: Lost Hills (finished April 22, 2020)
85. Written by an author who has published more than 10 books
86. Author's debut book
87. Snake - go back to 57
88. Comic/graphic novel
89. Published between 2000 and 2017
90. A new-to-you author
91. Snake - go back to 61
92. Reread of a childhood favorite
93. Author's first/last initial same as yours (real or BL handle)
95. Memoir -- Anne Fadiman: Confessions of a Common Reader (finished April 22, 2020)
and Rafik Schami: Murmeln meiner Kindheit (My Childhood's Marbles) (finished April 23, 2020) (since Fadiman's book falls just a bit short of the game's minimum requirements).
96. From your favorite genre
97. Title starts with any of the letters in SNAKE
98. Title starts with any of the letters in LADDERS
99. Snake - go back to 69
100. Let BL pick it for you: post 4 choices and read the one that gets the most votes!
Poll posted separately -- BL community pick:
Val McDermid: Broken Ground (finished April 27, 2020).
RULES OF THE GAME:
Everyone starts on 1. There are two alternative ways to move forward.
1. Read a book that fits the description on the space number as listed below and you can roll two dice to move forward more quickly.
2. However, if you can't find a book to fit the square, don't worry about it. You can read any book, and roll one dice on random.org. This is to ensure that if a reader cannot find a book to fill the square, no one gets bogged down and can't move on.
All books must be at least 200 pages long. Short stories count, so long as you read enough of them from a collection to equal 200 pages.
You do not need to hit space 100 with an exact roll. In order to win, you must complete space 100 as written.
ADDITIONS TO THE RULES
When you start on square 1, you need to read a book before you can roll. If your book fills the square, you get to roll two dice. If your book doesn't not fit the square, roll one dice only.
With respect to the ladder squares: You must read a book in order to climb the ladder. Once you finish the book for the ladder square, climb the ladder to the ending square. If you read a book that fits the ending square, roll two dice to move on, otherwise, roll one dice.
For audiobook substitutions, either check the print book to determine if it is more than 200 pages long, or any audiobook that is a minimum of 5 hours & 30 minutes qualifies.
So what happened at the end there, Val? Why that infernal rush? Did you suddenly become aware that you were on your way towards producing a minor brick, or did your publisher tell you to cut it short? There we were, sailing nicely along in the usual 4-stars-or-higher bracket into which this series typically falls for me, and then you first give us an arrest that couldn't be a greater possible anticlimax, taking into account all that's at stake there, and, literally as an aside, almost everything else that had been threatening to come crashing down on Karen's head is tied up super-squeaky-clean in no more than a few puny words as well?? Fie.
Also -- and I do realize this one is down to me, but nevertheless it does add to my aggravation -- can we please be done with Karen's new superior officer sooner rather than later? I've had my own share of run-ins with this type of person way beyond anything I'm willing to take anymore (it also doesn't help that I've recently seen -- and am currently seeing again -- shenanigans of a different, but equally infuriating kind); so the prospect that of all Karen's problems that were still unresolved in the next-to-last chapter, this of all things is the one issue remaining unresolved, makes me not particularly rush to get the next book, whenever it's going to be published. I seriously do NOT want to meet this person again. And unlike poor Karen, I have the freedom to opt out here; which I may very well end up doing, unless someone tells me that the supervisor in question is getting her long-overdue comeuppance and Karen is rid of her by the end of the next book at the very latest.
Finally, just curious: What's your fascination with dead bodies surfacing from the depth of a peat bog? This has to be at least the second, if not third book where that sort of thing is happening ...
Well, it turns out RL kept me busy for much longer yesterday than I'd anticipated, so I really only got back to this book today.
That said, I truly enjoyed it -- even the fact that the murderer turned out to be the most obvious suspect, in the end, didn't bother me half as much as it had in An English Murder.(show spoiler)
The more books I read by Hare, the more I find I'm coming to him less for a fiendishly-constructed mystery -- none of the three books I've read so far was exactly that -- but for his wry humor and incisive observation of people and society. As for Mike, his technique of cutting from one scene to another, chapter by chapter, works well for me; much better than a linear narrative. I (too) could have done with some of the two investigators' speculations on motive, means and opportunity -- particularly at a moment where, as a reader, you had to have been sleepwalking through the book not to have clued in to the solution, at least in its very broad outlines -- but by and large, this was yet another enjoyable read, and I'm definitely looking forward to continuing to explore Hare's fiction.
Aaand we're off to our next forget-the-pandemic weekend read! A corpse has been discovered as a surplus-to-inventory item, and the arrival of Inspector Mallett is imminent.
If I didn't know otherwise, I'd never believe that this was Hare's first published book -- the writing is incredibly assured and has the same gently mocking tone as in the two other books by Hare I've read so far. No wonder he would later (in Tragedy at Law) introduce a character like Francis Pettigrew -- having met Mr. Pettigrew in that book, Hare's narrative tone in all of his books makes me think I might at least have caught a glimpse of the author himself there, though he'd probably be the first to (rightly) protest that one should beware of equating the (any) author with one of their characters.
RL will be interfering with my reading pleasure for the next several hours, but I'm hoping to be back and joining the good inspector soon!
Looks like we have a winner! So, Val McDermid's fifth Karen Pirie book it is ...
I am really glad that every book I listed collected votes, though (and it was a close race between the two top contenders for quite a while) -- needless to say, I intend to get to all of them, sooner rather than later.
NOTE: Clicking on the image will take you to the actual poll. To avoid double counting, please use only the polling site to vote (i.e., don't also tell me in your comments which books you're voting for). Thank you!
To see the results, click HERE.
... for Jennifer('s Books), Moonlight Reader, Portable Magic, and every other fan of the Midsomer Murders series ... or of the English "litscape" at large.
In their comments on Mike Finn's review of Ngaio Marsh's Scales of Justice, MR and PM said that England, to them, is more litscape than landscape, and Mike responded that to a certain extent, all Englands are fictional. It's perhaps not surprising, then, that so many producers of screen adaptations of English literature fashion the "look" of the books they are adapting from what Britain really does have to offer in terms of period visuals and other locations associated with the book(s) being adapted. In exactly this way, too, the creators of the Midsomer Murders TV series have fashioned an idealized version of Caroline Graham's fictional Midsomer County out ot the very real villages and towns of the so-called "Home Counties" to the south and west of London, particularly in Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire.
I've been trying to make bits and pieces of the English (or rather, British) "litscape" part of my visits to the UK for a number of years now. At the beginning of my 2017 trip, armed with several excellent guidebooks and garnished with the full range of the typical English summer weather (from blazing heat to torrential showers and everything in between), I took a couple of days to tour the area. I initially thought of sharing some of the photos from that visit chiefly with Jennifer, to say thank you for her many beautiful arts posts (particularly in recent weeks) and because we're both fans of the series and have been chatting about it lately, but MR's and PM's comments -- and MR's suggestion of an "English litscape" reading project -- made me think that maybe others would enjoy them as well.
So here are a few impressions from the real-life "Midsomer" villages when they're not busy pretending to be Midsomer villages. (Or, indeed, any other -- ostensibly -- quintessentially "English" bit of "screen litscape": Several of these locations will also look familiar to fans of Poirot, Miss Marple, Inspector Morse, Foyle's War, Doctor Who -- various incarnations of the Doctor --, The Vicar of Dibley, and a number of other British TV series or, indeed, big-screen movies.)
(Note: Due to the number of locations and photos, I've decided to split this up into three posts to make it load (a bit) faster.)
Little Missenden (Bucks.)
This is thought to be the spiritual home of Caroline Graham's Midsomer Murders, and it was also one of the filming locations for TV series's first episode (an adaptation of the first book), The Killings at Badger's Drift.
The Red Lion pub, which appears under its own name in the episode Destroying Angel and under two different aliases in Who Killed Cock Robin? and Talking to the Dead.
To Midsomer Murders fans, also known as Causton -- particularly so, the area around the market square, the Thames bridge, and of course the Corn Exchange, which features as the Causton Playhouse in Death of a Hollow Man, Strangler's Wood, Death's Shadow, and Death of a Stranger.
The Lee (Bucks.)
One of several villages that appeared in numerous episodes, including (in this case) The Killings at Badger's Drift, Death of a Hollow Man, Death's Shadow, Death ofa Stranger, Painted in Blood, and Death in a Chocolate Box.
The Cock and Rabbit pub, a frequent hangout of Barnaby and Troy in the early episodes (e.g., in Painted in Blood).
Littered with historic buildings, several of which have been turned into all manner of businesses in the series.
Barnaby meets Miss Richards in this tea house in the episode Blue Herrings. (In season 11, it became the Midsomer Constabulary.)
The old rectory became the office of Max Jennings's secretary Barbara in Written in Blood.
The church featured in the episodes Four Funerals and a Wedding, and Ghosts of Christmas Past.
Little Marlow (Bucks.)
Little Marlow became the village of Morton Fendle in Faithful Unto Death; among the buildings featured in addition to several cottages are the village church and the Queen's Head pub. Some of the cottages also reappear in Ring Out Your Dead, Tainted Fruit, and Sauce for the Goose.
Nether Winchendon (Bucks.)
Nether Winchendon House -- and grounds -- became the Lodge of the Golden Windhorse in Death in Disguise, as well as Lynton Pargeter's Home ("The Priory") in Talking to the Dead, and the grounds also featured in Garden of Death.
The parish church made an appearance in Things That Go Bump in the Night.
A village that has won several "best kept village" awards and thus, practically a born setting for the fictional Midsomer County.
Barnaby and Troy set up their incident room in the village hall in Death of a Stranger. In Death and Dreams, it becomes the band's headquarters; in Bad Tidings it is the location of the "Spanish evening" at the beginning of the episode.
The traditional shop-plus-post office is featured in Death of a Stranger, as well as in Talking to the Dead, where it becomes a spiritualist's shop named Paradorma.
Barnaby picks up Cully (arriving by coach) outside the Crown pub in Death in Disguise.
In Shot at Dawn, Barnaby visits the graves of Douglas Hammond and Thomas Hicks in the Cuddington church graveyard.
Littlewick Green (Berks.)
The village green and village hall (scoreboard and all) were used for the cricket scenes in Dead Man's Eleven. The Barnabys also go house hunting here in the same episode, and some of the cottages appeared again in A Talent for Life and The Animal Within.
Also featured in several Midsomer Murders episodes, most notably Blod Will Out (the church, post office and stores, and Stag and Huntsman pub); the pub also in Who Killed Cock Robin?, Down Among the Dean Men, and The Glitch.
The cloisters and refectory next to the church were used as Dr. Clive Warnford's house in Blue Herrings.
Joyce buys charcoal at the village shop in Midsomer Life.
Ye Olde Bell Hotel became the Magna Hotel in They Seek Him Here.
The Lions at Bledlow pub appears in multiple episodes under a variety of names, including in Dead Men's Eleven, King's Crystal, Blue Herrings, Dark Autumn, and The House in the Woods.
The Bledlow village church appears in Death's Shadow and Worm in the Bud.
Chenies Manor (Bucks.)
Edward Allardice's home in Judgement Day, Aspern Hall Museum in Beyond the Grave, and Malham Manor in Orchis Fatalis.
The town hall and several shops in the High Street can be seen in Judgement Day.
The Watlington Branch Library (near the war memorial), redesignated as Causton library, appears in the background of a meeting between Scott and Cully at "Midsomer Travel" in Orchis Fatalis.
Watlington church was used in Ring Out Your Dead.
According to one of my guides, "a lane leading off High Street" became Lower Warden in A Tale of Two Hamlets. Despite the scruffing up in the episode, I'm reasonably sure that this is it (albeit from slightly different perspectives), but in case it isn't, let's go with this one as a stand-in, shall we?
Long Crendon (Bucks.)
Another perpetual favorite of the Midsomer Murders production crew with multiple appearances throughout the series (and more being planned for the future), including:
The High Street, all the way downwards from the church and courthouse at the upper end (see first 3 photos). was used for part of the "Oak Apple Day" celebrations in Dead Letters, and also as a street setting in Death and Dreams; in addition, a number of individual cottages have been used as character residences in other episodes.
Never mind the use of a building in Watlington as Causton Library in Orchis Fatalis (see above), in Dead Letters the honors go to the Long Crendon library! (The interior -- unfortunately closed when I was visiting -- can be seen in Blood Wedding.)
The Eight Bells pub makes an appearance in A Tale of Two Hamlets.
A well was brought to the Westington village green as a prop for a body to be found in it in the episode Who Killed Cock Robin?, and to the extent that the "Oak Apple Day" celebrations in Dead Letters didn't take place in Long Crendon (see above), they were filmed here, too.
Dinton church was used for the wedding at the end of Who Killed Cock Robin?
The Chinnor terminus of the historic Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway became Holm Lane Junction in Death in a Chocolate Box.
The Haseleys (Little & Great) (Oxfordshire)
The owner of this large private residence in Little Haseley, which became Melvyn Stockard's house in Who Killed Cock Robin? and Noah Farrow's home in Midsomer Rhapsody, sometimes makes their grounds accessible to the public. I was in luck -- the gate was wide open when I visited; so I walked right in and took a look around ...
The wedding scenes in Midsomer Rhapsody were filmed in Great Haseley church, as was the postman's funeral in Dark Autumn.
Great Haseley village hall first morphed into an antique shop in Dark Autumn; then it was, in turn, the venue of the book signing event in The Fisher King and the photo exhibition in Picture of Innocence, and finally it was used as Midsomer Parva village hall in Blood Wedding.
Various cottages in both Great and Little Haseley were used as the homes of the inhabitants of Goodmans Land in Dark Autumn, as well as for character residences in Picture of Innocence, Midsomer Rhapsody, Hidden Depths, and Days of Misrule.
Turville became Midsomer Parva in the episode The Straw Woman, with many exterior shots -- notably those of the church -- filmed here, the village green being the place where the titular straw effigy was burned, one of the cottages serving as Liz Francis's home, and Turville school posing as the village hall.
The cottage used as Liz Francis's home (I think).
The Turville village scenery was also used for Murder on St. Malley's Day, with the local pub masquerading as the Chalk and Gown public house.
In Dark Autumn, Barnaby talks to Louise August in a field near the windmill above Turville, with the vilage itself appearing in the background. As the photos suggest, it was raining the proverbial cats and dogs when I visited, so I decided to curb my enthusiasm for replicating that exact view and instead contented myself with a view in the opposite direction, from the village towards the windmill ...
The village with the most classic Midsomer Murders "accoutrements" and hence, another "must" location choice for the makers of the series.
Warborough first appeared in Market for Murder, where we see Barnaby and Troy driving around the village green. The green was also used as the location of the "Midsomer Mallow in Bloom" open garden day in Bad Tidings (and Scott's first abode is in a cottage off the green; another cottage becomes the dolls' shop in that episode). The cottages along the green also make an appearance in other episodes, such as Left for Dead and Second Sight, and the cricket pavilion becomes the Badgers Drift village hall in The Great and the Good.
The Six Bells on the Green Inn appears under its own name in Bad Tidings and Left for Dead, and under a number of aliases in Second Sight, Sins of Commission, and The Great and the Good.
The village's most striking feature, its 17th century post mill, became Sarah Proudie's home in A Tale of Two Hamlets; and Sgt. Troy interviews Phil Harrison outside the mill while he is busily providing one of its sails with a new coat of paint.
The church and village green both feature in Four Funerals and a Wedding, with the green becoming the setting of the traditional "Skimmington Ride".
The Henley Bridge, regatta course, and generally much waterfront scenery can be seen in Dead in the Water when the Barnabys go to see the regatta (or try to, only to have a murderer spoil their and everybody else's fun).
Henley was a stand-in for Causton in Last Year's Model, with the town hall (left) becoming the courthouse. In Down Among the Dead Men, Barnaby and Jones visit a solicitor near the market square, and in The Black Book, the town hall became the auction rooms.
In Last Year's Model, Barnaby and Jones meet Pru Plunkett in the Argyll pub (above left), and Gabriel Machin's traditional butcher's shop further down the same street becomes Anton Thorneycrotf's Butchers in The Magician's Nephew.
Englefield House -- chiefly the patio and library -- was used as the house of Simon and Aloysius Wilmington in The Magician's Nephew. Aloysius also attends Englefield church in the same episode.
For reasons immediately obvious to any visitor, this is another favorite location of the makers of the Midsomer Murders series. In addition to the episodes mentioned in connection with specific places below, it also features in Things That Go Bump in the Night, Dead in the Water, and Dance With the Dead.
Dorchester Abbey makes a brief appearance in Four Funerals and a Wedding.
The Abbey Museum becomes the Midsomer Newton Museum in The House in the Woods.
The George Hotel (an authentic coaching inn built in 1495!) appears under the name The Feathers in The House in the Wood, and as The Maid in Splendour in the episode of that same name.
The White Hart Hotel (built in 1691) can be seen in the background in some episodes.
A charming market town (pronounced "Tame", incidentally) that was used a location in no less than ten episodes: Shot at Dawn, Midsomer Life, Picture of Innocence, The Maid in Splendour, Things That Go Bump in the Night, Dead in the Water, The House in the Woods, Vixen's Run, Blood Wedding, and Days of Misrule.
The area around the Cornmarket and adjacent streets provided many of the visuals of Luxton Deeping in Picture of Innocence, and it was also the location of the jeweller's shop in Dead in the Water, of Harriet Davis Estate Agents in The House in the Woods, of various cafés (both real and fictional) frequented by the detectives in these episodes, and the location of the infamous "kissing photo bomb scene" intended to incriminate / embarrass Barnaby in Picture of Innocence. -- For the same episode, the shop at the corner of Cornmarket Street (now a picture framing business) was mocked up as a photography store called Quikpix, supposedly located in Causton.
Thame town hall became the Causton Arts Centre in The Maid in Splendour and the mayor's office in Shot at Dawn. Joyce can be seen singing carols outside the building in Days of Misrule.
The (Georgean) Spread Eagle Hotel, a local institution, appeared as the Morecroft Hotel in Midsomer Life.
Finally, the wholly underused pièce de résistance among all the Midsomer Murders locations: Waddesdon, an honest-to-God neo-Renaissance Loire-style castle plonked right into the middle of the English countryside in the late 1900s; turrets, external corkscrew staircase, alcoves and all, on the behest of one ... Baron Rothschild. (Though since 1957, the property has been administered by the National Trust.) The house and grounds were used in numerous big-screen movies -- you may most recently have seen the grounds stand in for those of what Lord Peter Wimsey calls "Buck House", i.e., Buckingham Palace, in The Queen -- but in Midsomer Murders, we only get an ever so brief glimpse of a single side wing turret and a bit of lawn in the background while the Barnabys are having lunch in the café, all in aid of the suggestion that they are vacationing in France, at the beginning of Death of a Stranger. I'm sure you'll forgive me if for once I was not interested at all in the actual filming location but, instead, spent all my time exploring the main attraction ...
The sort of online rabbit hole one is liable to fall down in lockdown times ...
There's a company named Spirit of Spice that specializes in "whole seed" spice mixes all coming in their own little mills: I've been a fan of theirs for quite a while, though so far I've been buying their products in stores, not directly from them. So when my stock of their garam masala mix went low and lower (during the lockdown of all times), I started to look for ways to replenish it ... it's heavenly with carrot and pumpkin soups, among other things, and has become an absolutely indispensible element of my cooking. -- In short order, I discovered they have an online store. The outcome of my foray through the rabbit hole thus opening up arrived today ... and I absolutely love it, from the "look" of the package to the contents (of course) and the nice handwritten thank you note from one of the two managers -- who had even included a large-size bonus item in the package.
And when I put it all onto my spice shelves, I noticed that the contents of my Spirit of Spice mix of Provençal herbs (no tomato soup without it, ever again!) is also beginning to run a bit low. Hmmm ...
Scales of Justice is a book from the middle segment of Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Alleyn series and a superb example of the "serpent [even] in Paradise" type of Golden Age mysteries. Marsh goes to great lengths to establish the book's seemingly idyllic rural setting, beginning with its name, Swevenings (which we learn translates as "dream(s)"), and introducing us to it through the eyes of the village nurse, who looks down on the village from a nearby hill and imagines it as a picture map, which she eventually really does persuade someone to draw for her, and which the book's print editions duly supply in turn.
Yet, we very soon learn that all is not well in the Garden of Eden, and what superficially only seems like a petty squabble among neighbors, such as they may occur in any village, soon turns out to be a harbinger of much greater evil. It doesn't take long to emerge that when the local squire -- a retired, formerly high-ranking diplomat -- dies (of natural causes), with what seems like a version of Pascal's wager and the word "Vic" on his lips, he is not, after all, belatedly asking for the local vicar to be called to administer the Last Rites. And by the time a murder does occur not too much later, the village air is brimming with suspects and motives aplenty.
But to me, the book's real significance doesn't lie in its reprisal of one of the Golden Age mystery formulas successfully established in the interwar years as such ("et in Arcadia ego"), complete with rural charms and plenty of quirky characters (and cats!), but, rather, in what it has to say about that Britain in the years immediately prior to WWII -- and when it says so. Scales of Justice was first published in 1955, just about a decade after the end of WWII; at a time when most of the world, and certainly Britain (and of course Germany) was still reeling from the effects of the war, and people were anything but willing to confront the causes of that war and take a close look at their own societies in the years leading up to it. (In fact, in Germany the 1950s are now infamous for having produced a whole barrage of overly idyllic, kitsch as kitsch can movies dripping with the cloying, simplistic sweetness of clichéd romance and perfect Alpine scenery straight from the front cover of a high gloss travel brochure -- all in response to the viewing public's desire to blunt out the memory of the war years and evade any reflection on how the Nazi regime and the catastrophe it wrought could ever have happened in the first place.) And while today we take it as a given that the Blackshirts and their ilk are a proper topic for discussion, in books and otherwise, I don't get the sense that this was a given in 1950s' fiction, particularly not in (ostensibly light) genre fiction such as this. Yet, here the topic is front and center: kudos to Ms. Marsh for having the guts to give it this sort of exposure at the time when she chose to do so, and also for not falling into the trap of an overly convenient solution to the mystery into the bargain.
Linguistically and as far as the characters are concerned, too, this is Marsh at the top of her game: Her (professionally trained) painter's eye makes it easy for her to create the Swevenings setting in the eyes of her readers' minds in turn, and her ear for dialogue and experience as a director on the classical (Shakespearean) stage allows her to establish character with just a few well-crafted strokes of her writer's pen. The book's imagery, from the setting, names ("Edie Puss" indeed ...), and the titular double-entendre (which is expressly referenced in the book) to the cunning old trout that seems to be at the heart of so much of the village squabble is always spot-on and frequently tongue in cheek. Alleyn -- for once only accompanied by Inspector ("Br'er") Fox, not also by his wife, painter Agatha Troy -- is in fine form and, thanks to his customary focus on the physical evidence and the timeline of events, quickly able to distinguish the material and the immaterial. My favorite characters are, of course, the representatives of the local feline element; in particular one Ms. Thomasina Twitchett. The book is not burdened by any of Marsh's shortcomings (such as anti-gay prejudice and a sorrowful lack of knowledge of organized crime, which didn't stop her from writing about it on occasion). Instead, it is a superb example of Marsh's writing at its best -- human society and behavior acutely observed and both incisively and empathetically rendered, balancing just the right amounts of humor, scorn and dispassionate analysis, and a crackingly fiendish mystery to go with it all.