Friday, 17 July 2015

Holiday Reading


Here is a book I picked up at a Sue Ryder shop.  It was outside in a box marked "two for £1". So old and rundown that it did not merit a place on the bookshelves inside. 
(The other one I bought for the £1 was a slim paperback of Shakespeare's sonnets, a substantial section of which is printed upside down.  Odd).
The book does not have a date inside it, either in the opening print credits or in the editor's introduction, so I did not know from which decade it hailed.  I guessed the 1930's.  It does smell. This reminds me of my friend, who won't buy a second-hand book on principle because they don't feel nice, and they smell.  I will admit it doesn't feel nice. 
I've since looked it up on Amazon and my guess was apparently correct, mid-1930's. 
I bought it because I had a great friend many years ago who enthused about Bentley's book "Trent's Last Case", much praised as a classic detective story. 
Further, I do love an old hardback, especially one from the 1930's.  And I do love a "dip-in and dip-out" type of book, which seems like ideal holiday reading.
The treasures within exceeded even my expectations.  There was a story by Ronald Knox, the uncle of Penelope Fitzgerald.  Penelope Fitzgerald made her name with a biography of all her uncles.  It is called "The Knox Brothers" and I bought it (of course) after reading the excellent biography of Penelope by Hermione Lee.  It's in a pile to come to later, in the winter I think.
I admit the detective story by Ronald Knox was not very good, but it is indicative of the snobbery and elitism of the 1930's, that if you were from the upper middle class, with an Oxbridge education, and preferably a man as well, you could get mediocre work published. 
Another story is by GDH and Margaret Cole, a husband and wife team of elite 1920's academics, who are more usually noted for their socialist economic theories.  I had no idea that they also wrote detective stories.  Again, it is not particularly brilliant, but sheds an interesting light on their otherwise austere public image.
The best story I have read so far in this collection is by Dorothy L Sayers, still a classic author in print and still being adapted for TV and other media after all these years. 
It is the only story which has so far made me want to read more by this author.  Oh, and one other thing, of course, is that Dorothy L Sayers was a contemporary of my great heroine, Vera Brittain.  They were students together at Oxford.
The common feature of the other selections I have read is that they are ALL set in one of three locations.  Either in an Oxford College or a gentleman's club or in the home of an eccentric old upper-middle-class gentleman.  This old gentleman invariably has a housekeeper or butler, lives alone and has been found dead, usually by the housekeeper/butler, who is immediately cast as a suspect.  Really it is a little bit tedious, and I stopped after reading four of these.  Another feature of the less well-written stories is that they make heavy weather of laying out the clues and the hindrances to discovery of the eventual murderer. 
It's interesting to note this as a stage in literary development, though, a curiosity, and a little light entertainment from time to time. 
The book is definitely holiday reading only, and I have put it aside for the time being. 

1 comment:

  1. I always find the mustiness of an old book appealing...for about 30 seconds. Then it spends a week by an open window to 'freshen up'!