Books, life the universe

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Mr Toppit

I've been reading Mr Toppit by Charles Elton. This is a beautifully produced book and the description made it sound far better than it was. Yes I know that, in a sense, is the purpose of the blurb. The book is mainly narrated by Luke Hayman - the son of Arthur Hayman - who wrote 5 books known as the Hayseed Chronicles. They became famous after his death and the story concerns how the author's family dealt with the fame and fortune which ensued.

Luke himself is not a terribly interesting person and he spends most of his time complaining he can't escape from his alter ego Luke Hayseed. The book starts off with Arthur's death in his 60s as a result of stepping into the road in Soho in front of a lorry. This event seems purely designed to introduce the American TV and radio presenter Laurie who recognises him and goes with him to the hospital. She then becomes a fixture in the family which consists of Martha Hayman - Arthur's widow, Luke himself and his sister Rachel and Lila who drew the illustrations for the original books. Rachel is in and out of psychiatric hospitals most of the time and seems to have been affected by the books even though she does not feature in them - possibly because she doesn't feature in them.

Who is Mr Toppit is the question which seems to occupy the minds of all the characters as he is the mystery at the heart of the Hayseed chronicles. But it is never really answered - unless I missed it completely! My favourite character is Alma - Laurie's elderly mother who is suffering from dementia. I'm afraid the book just didn't do it for me though a lot of people seem to love it.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

More blood sweat and tea

No this is not a description of my own life - apart from the sweat as it was too hot for me last night. I stayed up late to finish reading More Blood, More Sweat and Another Cup of Tea by Tom Reynolds about his life in the London Ambulance Service. His writing style is plain, simple and almost conversational - showing its blog origins. All of life is here - the good the bad and the ugly.

There are incidents which will make you angry and those which will make you sad as well as the laugh out loud funny episodes. To me this is better than the documentaries which follow ambulance crews. Probably because the imagination is powerful and will supply a scene far more vividly than television can. I found it fascinating reading.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Nice gesture

I was surprised to receive a bouquet of flowers yesterday. They were from my last line manager but two. She'd already sent me a card saying she was sorry she hadn't managed to get over to the office I was working in to see me before I left. Considering she stopped being my manager this time last year that was a really nice thought. I was touched. So here's a public thank you, Helen, as well as the private one.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Cold update and books

I thought I was a lot better on Tuesday but yesterday I felt dreadful when I got up and improved during the day. Today I'm at the snuffly yukky stage though I feel reasonably all right. My energy levels aren't what they normally are but that is hardly surprising.

Books currently being read - The First Rumpole Omnibus by John Mortimer - because I felt the need for some comfort reading. I'm also still reading A S Byatt's The Children's Book and I've started The Pursuit of Perfect by Tal Ben-Shahar which is about perfectionism. I'm not a perfectionist myself but have come across a lot of them in my life so it makes interesting reading.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Wdding Party

The Wedding Party by Sophie King is one of a recent crop of chick lit whose title contains the word wedding. It seems as though the job of wedding planner is flavour of the month. This book is written from the point of view of several different characters - which was a little confusing at times.

Becky - magazine journalist - who thinks everyone should drop what they're doing and help her so that she can work her horrendously long hours. Geoff - her father who is marrying Monique who no one seems to like. Janie - wedding planner - who gets the sack for being incompetent and sets up her own wedding and funeral planning business with her elderly landlady Marjorie. Some of the best scenes in the book involve these two. In my opinion the most realistic character in the book was the vicar Mel who is struggling with putting her Christian faith into practice. The book also features Helen - Becky's divorced mother.

I found the ending of the book a little too neat and contrived with all the loose plot strands tied in a bow. I found Becky incredibly annoying and Helen a little unbelievable. Geoff was a little too good to be true. Mel whose job brings her into contact with all the other characters was well drawn and had much more depth than the others. Her Archdeacon - Tom - was also a fascinating person. Overall a good read but perhaps not up there with the best.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

A cold

I have a cold! I thought yesterday it was the dust from the paper I was shredding making me sneeze but it is definitely a cold! I've had this happen before where I've not had time off work for ages it seems as though the moment I relax my immune system packs its bags and goes on holiday too.

So I intend to do nothing today apart from cooking a meal. The dust can wait. I have plenty of time to deal with it.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

New dishwasher and shredding and books

The new dishwasher finally arrived yesterday and we managed between us to install it today. Aren't kitchen floors disgusting under appliances which aren't usually moved? The dishwasher itself was cheaper because it had some dents in the sides - but once it's between two cupboards you can't see them. Of course no one would pay full price for it but as we only paid about half the price it was selling for anywhere else we're quite happy.

I spent a couple of hours this morning feeding all the paper which has accumulated over about six months through the shredder. In future I shall do it little and often as I hate doing it when it's built up like that.

I am currently reading Judith Cutler's The Food Detective a crime story which is a little out of the ordinary. Josie Welford - widow of a much wanted criminal mastermind has bought a pub in a small West Country village. She wants to turn it into a top class restaurant. In the meantime she finds herself sent to Coventry by the locals because she changes her meat supplier. Josie is trying to work out what's happened to the local vet and precisely what Nick Thomas - a former policeman who put her late husband away - is up to. Nick has retired from the force and is now a food standards inspector. Josie is a shade reminiscent of Simon Brett's Mrs Pargeter and I enjoyed that series.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Well I've finally done it!

This was my last day at work - well, half day to be precise as I came home at lunch time. We had the usual slightly sick making presentation in front of the whole office - 10 of us who were in today. As I remarked it always seems like hearing the eulogy at your own funeral!

I got to chose a present from my employer up to a certain cost and chose a Parker fountain pen and roller ball and a leather bound notebook which were duly presented to me. My colleagues got me some book tokens which I shall enjoy spending at some point.

I had to hand all my office stuff back including my ID card of course and my manager has to make sure I've not walked off with the photocopier or office pens etc and that I don't owe any time on my flexi time account. In fact my employer hasn't yet paid me for the 10 days leave I gave up so they owe me at the moment!

I do feel relaxed now I have to say even though there is still a fair amount of sorting out to do as regards finances and making sure they pay my pension when they're supposed to and that the tax is right etc etc. What fun!

This is the start of a whole new life.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Late Season

Christobel Kent's Late Season is every bit as good as her previous novels. very atmospheric with two mysteries at its core. A group of English people rent an out of the way Italian farmhouse for a late holiday. Meanwhile Italian Anna and her adult son Paolo have reached a crisis point at Anna's isolated house a few kilometres away.

The holidaymakers are mourning a friend who would normally have been with them and her presence looms large. Paolo is trying to persuade Anna to tell him about his dead father. The explanation of both these mysteries will leave everyone changed. You can almost taste, smell and see Italy when you read this book and the writing is unobtrusive and understated. A joy to read and cheaper than a holiday in Italy!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

2 days to go . . .

Sorry but I can't think of anything to write today so you get a count down instead. It's truly amazing how many people have asked me if I'm going to get another job. Well, no, I've retired because I want to spend time doing what I want to do. If I'd wanted to carry on working I'd have stayed where I am since I can earn more there than anywhere else is likely to pay me in this area.

I suppose it's difficult for me to understand as I've never really felt the need to get out at any cost. I don't think I've ever hated my job like many people seem to. I've never been in it just for the money and job satisfaction has always been important to me. There have been times in the last 32.75 years when it has been hard going and also times when I've been desperately unhappy. But I always knew things would improve given time and patience.

Perhaps I've been lucky? But I also think a lot of it is down to me. I've always been good at finding enjoyment in little things and satisfaction in a job well done - even if I didn't particularly like that task. These two things will carry you through a great deal of life's problems - which sounds a shade pompous but it is how I think so it's staying!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Three working days to go . . .

People have started to remind me how long it is now! I actually filled in the exit questionnaire today because I got bored. It's all multiple choice so I didn't get to say what I really think unfortunately. Reading the instructions about leaving I get the chance to tell my manager on the last day why I've chosen to go - could be interesting.

Someone else left today and has walked straight into another job. She has a daughter with cerebral palsy and has been volunteering with a charity connected with this. A paid job came up, she applied and got it so she's a happy bunny. Her gamble of volunteering to go paid off. I think once I go there'll be thirteen people in the office . . .

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Murder in House

I stayed up late last night to finish Veronica Heley's latest Ellie Quicke mystery - Murder in House. This is a darker mystery than usual but still just as gripping as the rest of the series. Ellie has a terrible cold and would rather wrap up warm and stay inside when new husband Thomas asks her to talk to Ursula who is staging a sit in at a church. Ursula asks Ellie to look into a murder which has been treated as an accident and to find her fried Mia who has disappeared.

Ellie can't see how she can solve the problems - or even whether she wants to. But she does as Ursula asks and returns her engagement ring to her former fiance who behaves in an extremely strange fashion and Ellie's curiosity is aroused. She quickly tracks Mia down and finds the mystery is even more complicated and unpleasant than it first appeared. It also involves an exceedingly nasty local business man who is putting pressure on Ellie's cousin Roy to come up with a large sum of money.

There are some brilliant scenes involving Ellie's ruthless daughter Diana with Ellie increasingly getting the upper hand. All the usual characters appear including son-in-law Stuart, cousin Roy and wife Felicity, Ellie's friends Kate and Armand and ageing housekeeper Rose. The climax of the book is perfect and shows Ursula to be a more complex character than at first appeared. The dialogue throughout the book is full of humour and humanity and Thomas is shown at his best. There are some marvellous minor characters as well.

I love this series though some might find it too tame. There is bad language only by implication and there is an emphasis on the human virtues and a belief in God but the books are not pious and Ellie is never a saint in human form. She doesn't always behave well and is all the more believable and likable for this. This story involves rape, murder muggings and attempts by a pillar of the community to bribe and cheat his way through life. So the nastier aspects of human behaviour are not glossed over they are merely not described in excessive detail - leaving it to the reader's imagination. I loved it and think it is one of the best in this series.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Very Valentine

I've just finished reading Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani. It was all right for a light read but I found Valentine herself an irritating person. She spent too much time complaining the good things of life passed her by instead of actually doing something about her situation.

The background to the book was interesting as it was about shoe making. I learned a lot about shoe making that I didn't know before. Valentine is part of a vociferous Italian American family and lives and works with her 80 year old grandmother designing and making bespoke wedding shoes - a niche market if ever there was one. The business has financial problems and needs to expand but Valentine does not appear to do anything about this.

Valentines meets and falls for Roman - another Italian American - who has set up a new restaurant. They seem unable to find time to spend together even though Valentine spends a lot of time complaining this is Roman's fault rather than hers. She seems as though she wants a relationship on her own terms and is not prepared to compromise at all. The other women in the story seem to be totally obsessed with clothes and plastic surgery and trying to keep their men folk happy - which is the opposite to Valentine. Overall a good book but it was a shame about the main character.

Friday, 15 May 2009


Is it me or are Lupins going out of fashion? Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was married we had a huge flower bed full of long established Lupins of all sorts of colours. I've always liked them because I think they look gorgeous in flower and quite decorative even when not.

I was only reminded of them today because I was standing waiting for the Doctors' surgery to open this afternoon to collect a prescription and was staring at the garden of the house next door - as you do - and they had three Lupin plants just about to flower. This reminded me I haven't seen any others for ages.
Lupins, Hollyhocks and Delphiniums have always been among my favourite flowers and it seems a pity if these mainstays of English cottage gardens are dying out.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Night Following

The Night Following by Morag Joss is a beautifully produced book and a clever and intriguing idea but . . . . It didn't quite do it for me partly because I did not like the main character.

The main narrator finds out her husband is having an affair. As a result she is not giving driving her husband's car her full attention and kills a cyclist. Ruth was a retired teacher married to Arthur. Arthur's letters to the dead Ruth make up another part of the book and these I did find fascinating. It is suggested to him they would be good therapy for him. The first few letters are brief and a bit irritable because he doesn't see how they will help but gradually he starts to recall forgotten aspects of their marriage.

The third part of the book is a story Ruth was writing when she died which at first seems to have no relevance to the rest of the book though on deeper inspection it does link up with it in some quite subtle ways. Yes, the book is well written but the main narrator's actions seem incomprehensible and she is not a likable character. She starts to stalk Arthur and eventually starts doing housework for him. He seems to think she is his dead wife returned to him though he never talks to her and avoids her when she's in the house.

This narrator is never named and for some unfathomable reason never tracked down by the police even though she was driving a yellow Saab convertible - whose paint the police would have had no trouble matching to fragments on the victim. As I could not swallow the scenario of the accident I suppose I was put off the book from the start.

It was a clever idea and even though the letters from Arthur to Ruth were convincing I could not like this book. I think the author made a mistake by not naming the narrator and by making her actions so incomprehensible. Her background would have led one to assume she would have called the police immediately even if she was upset about her husband's affair. The book is very well written but I could not swallow the event on which the whole thing hinges.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

What Hetty Did

What Hetty Did by J L Carr is a gorgeously unclassifiable book. Hetty - real name Ethel - runs away from home in the Fens when she hears she is adopted. The news comes completely out of the blue just after Hetty has taken her A levels and hopes to get into Cambridge and after a fearsome row with her adoptive father. Her adoptive mother gives her an aquamarine brooch which was the only thing her biological mother left with her and tells her she was adopted in Birmingham.

Hetty decides she'll seek out her real mother having found her adoptive parents distinctly lacking and runs away to Birmingham. Here she is fortunate enough to find a temporary home with Rose who runs a boarding house - home to an eccentric collection of misfits. A job teaching at an inner city comprehensive is short lived as is a job cleaning grave stones. Hetty keeps in touch with her best friend Polly - also known as Mariana - and one of her teachers through whom she learns she has done well in her A levels.

But Hetty's aim is to find her biological mother and to find out why she was given up for adoption. The story of how she develops a wider view of life and becomes friends with people she would never normally have met makes a charming read. There are some marvellous one liners and some priceless incidents. J L Carr is, in my opinion, an underrated author and I shall be looking out for his other books.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

An excellent book about writing

Lynne Hackles' Writing from Life: How to Turn your Personal Experience into Profitable Prose is one of the best books I've read about writing. It's about using your own experiences to write fiction and non-fiction and how even trivial experiences can be turned into articles or stories which can make you money.

It's a case of thinking laterally and adding and subtracting bits and pieces. If your washing machine breaks down and you have to wait ages for it to be repaired turn your angst into a short story or an article for a magazine about how to complain successfully. The author describes how she makes use of snippets from other people's conversations, overheard remarks, childhood experiences - your own or your children's - teachers, jobs you've had however mundane and unpleasant or sad events.

I loved it and it certainly got me thinking of loads of things to write about both fiction and non fiction. It would be of use to both experienced and beginning writers.

Monday, 11 May 2009

The Black Monastery

I was attracted by the title of The Black Monastery by Stav Sherez. Unfortunately the book did not live up to its blurb. Wooden and unconvincing characters and overdone graphic descriptions - not just of the bodies of murder victims - but also of the more unpleasant bodily functions. Saying someone turned away for a moment is sufficient for the reader to get the idea that someone is being sick without the technicolour adjectives.

In its favour was the plot - which was convoluted - though the solution was relatively simple and staring you in the face in the end. I could not believe in the character of Kitty - a best selling crime novelist - who suddenly changed from very flaky to a resourceful and sensible person without any warning. Nikos - the detective in the story seemed more three dimensional.

I felt the Greek Island setting was not seen to its advantage and the author was too keen on linking weather and surroundings to the depressing aspects of the plot. Kitty and her friend Jason were after all on holiday but they don't seem to have appreciated the hot weather, the blue sea and the beaches. The sun 'burnt', the sea dazzled unpleasantly and no one went for a swim to take their minds off what was going on.

I think this author's future books may be worth reading but I would not recommend this one - it left an unpleasant taste for me.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

More children's books

I was reading some posts on an Amazon forum today about favourite children's books and was reminded of the Chalet School stories by Elinor M Brent Dyer and the Abbey School stories by Elise J Oxenham. I think I read pretty well all of both series though I no longer have the books after various purges of my totally out of control book collection.

Of the two series I think my favourite was the Abbey School series with all those queens dressed in their hand made robes. If I can't sleep I sometimes try and recall all the queens and what their particular flowers were. It must be about 40 years since I read them! I think somewhere on the internet there is a complete list of them which I must try and find.

The Abbey School seemed to exist in a time warp but the Chalet School did reflect the world a bit more as it was, with some books being set during the last war. But it was still a charmed life with money in most cases being no object and all those huge families including sets of twins and triplets.

What I think was paramount in both these series was the very definite division between right and wrong which would probably be regarded as old fashioned today. Children were children and discouraged from behaving like adults. It is still possible to obtain many of the books in both these series second hand - some of them at huge cost.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Another reading choice

I've just started reading Adrianna Trigiani's Very Valentine. I've noticed this author's books before but as I don't always find books set in the USA to be my sort of thing I've not tried them. At first I thought it was going to be too sentimental and girly for me but I've read nearly 100 pages and I'm interested in the characters.

Maybe I'm getting more used to fiction with a USA background especially having read Candace Bushnell's One Fifth Avenue and found it to be way better than I'd assumed it would be. Obviously I must put aside my prejudices when searching for books to enjoy.

Friday, 8 May 2009

The Children's Book and others

I used to read anything A S Byatt wrote and was totally bowled over by her Booker prize winning Possession, but after that high point I found her writing lacked that certain something. I was very disappointed with Babel Tower and after that I didn't read any more by her. But I've decided I'll give her another chance and have bought The Children's Book as it sounds very much my sort of thing. I will report on it in future posts.

I've started - and nearly finished - The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama. It is excellent. Vaguely reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith in its gentle humour and old fashioned morality. It deals in an interesting way with those prickly subjects arranged marriage and religion and is set in India. Mr Ali is getting under his wife's feet now he has retired and he decides to set up a marriage bureau - for the rich. His wife has doubts about the new venture but is glad to have her kitchen back.

Soon he is so busy he needs to take on an assistant and Mrs Ali finds him a very nice young lady to help him. One of the charms of the book for me is that the main characters are good at recognising the evil in people without letting this blind them to the good. Mr Ali is an absolute gem. He discusses religion with anyone who tries to convert him in the street and his wife fears that one day someone will take exception to him drawing out the similarities in all religions.

The book is billed as the start of a series so I shall look forward to the next one.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

More books

I always have more than one book on the go at any one time and usually three or four so I am prone to finishing a whole batch at once and it looks as though I'm a super fast reader! I have finished two more in the last couple of days - Emma Darwin's A Secret Alchemy and Terry Reeve Spirit of the Fen.

A Secret Alchemy was interesting as it told the story of Edward IV and Richard III and the Princes in the Tower from the point of view of two of the much criticised Woodville family - Anthony and Elizabeth. Elizabeth Woodville was the indestructibly virtuous beauty with the silver gilt hair of Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time who married Edward IV. I found the two historical narratives interesting as it gave a different point of view. Because of the unpopularity of the Woodville family at the time, they rarely get a proper hearing. I was disappointed that Titulus Regius and Eleanor Butler were not mentioned as they were the key to the actions which imprisoned the two Princes in the Tower.

The third narrative strand was from the point of view of Una a history professor writing a book about the books which Anthony would have had access to at the start of the age of printing. I thought Una was interesting but her sections of the narrative were rushed and less convincing because of it. There were so many issues involved that none of them were treated at the length they deserved. I felt there was so much unfinished business in Una's life she needed a book to herself. It seemed almost at times as though the proposed book was just a useful way to bring the historical and modern together.

The style was excellent and the dialogue good and all three narrative styles were sufficiently different to hold their own but this was two books squashed together when I felt they should have been allowed to stand on their own two feet.

The second book - Terry Reeve's Spirit of the Fen was thought provoking and tragic. I was in tears while reading most of the last 70 pages. A building company puts forward a plan to build a new community on Bungay Fen. This is opposed vociferously by many local people who want to keep the area for recreational purposes. Naturally the controversy divides the town and blood will be shed before the poignant and appropriate end to the story.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Interesting book

I have just finished Jane Yardley's Dancing with Doctor Kildare and loved it. The cover does not do it justice because it says Mills & Boon to me not an intriguing novel involving some zany characters, dancing the Tango, the life and work of Sibelius, medical statistics and little known Russian/Finnish battles at the end of World War II. Though that list makes the book sound dull - which it isn't. Nina is reasonably happy with her life until her father - retired Church of England vicar, former resident of Finland, lover of the music of Sibelius and terminal hypochondriac - dies of a wholly unexpected heart attack.
Nina works with medical statistics but is also a musician and she discovers the manuscript, in her father's hand, of a symphony. Whether or not the score is the lost 8th symphony by Sibelius makes fascinating reading. Then there's the Tango part of the story which involves a visit to Argentina with Tango teacher Jussi - the son of an old friend of her father's - and a reunion with the former ballroom champions who are also the parents of her schoolfriend Lucia.
The characters are brilliantly drawn - Duane the camp computer expert, Jussi the glamorous Tango teacher and Nina's long distance boyfriend Richard who is the spitting image of Dr Kildare in the old TV series. There's also Christine, Nina's mother and her dreadful sister Susan who fortunately lives in South Africa.
This is a marvellous many layered well written book with some great dialogue - both funny and sad, masses of interesting background and some very valid points to make about ancestors and looking beyond the 'facts' you've always accepted as the truth. I thoroughly recommend it.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Swear words in books

I reviewed Daisy Garnett's Cooking Lessons on here in January this year. I gave it a three star review on Amazon because I did like the format, the illustrations were delicious and some of the recipes were simple enough to try if you'd got less than a day to make them. What bugged me about the whole thing was the gratuitous use of swear words and the patronising attitude of the author to us lesser mortals who do not have a high class Italian grocer just round the corner.

I don't like swearing in normal conversation and I see no reason to put it in a cookery book (pace Gordon Ramsay). I have no problems with it in fiction where it can be very effective. Some kind soul has referred to me as a 'prissy humbug' because I have criticised the medium rather than attending to the message. I'm with Marshall McLuan on that one - the medium IS the message. In this case I didn't feel the medium - i.e. the language - was appropriate to the message and therefore detracted from it. Any cookery book is not going to get very far with many readers if it patronises them which was my other criticism of the language used.

The object of this post is not to have everyone tell me I'm not a 'prissy humbug' - because I know I'm not! It's to raise a question about whether swear words -particularly Anglo Saxon origin 4 letter versions - are necessary in a practical book such as a cookery book. To me it detracts from the 'message' if there is a message in a cookery book but others may not agree.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Lack of inspiration

I've nothing to write about today - so I'm taking a day off - unless I think of something later.

Happy Bank Holiday weekend everyone

Saturday, 2 May 2009

People with a Purpose

People with a Purpose by Trevor Barnes is a nostalgic look at the Teach Yourself series of books which started in 1938 with Teach Yourself Cooking. I found it really interesting to read extracts from the earlier books as it gives you a flavour of the era in which they were published. The early ones were quite firm with their readers telling them what they should and should not do. As the twentieth century progressed they became more relaxed.

The 1930s and 1940s concentrated on practical every day subjects such as gardening, cooking, flying, woodwork and mothercraft. They were of course influenced by the austerity of the war years and their readers were urged to save money and resources as much as they could. The 1950s branched out a bit with languages and embroidery and various aspects of gardening and cooking.

It was in the later years of the century that you got books such as Teach Yourself Alcoholism - was this a good choice of title? Then there are subjects such as stress and depression which had not been touched on in the earlier years. Looking back it seems the titles reflected the interests of society at the time. All the books were written by enthusiasts in their fields as the prolific quotations demonstrate.

I had not appreciated the breadth of coverage of this series until I read the book and I found it fascinating reading. It shows the self help movement has a long history behind it. This is a gem of a book to read from cover to cover or dip into from time to time.

Friday, 1 May 2009


Sounds as though I could have been bitten by the Twilight saga bug! I'm referring to S J Bolton's latest book Awakening which I've just finished and very scary it was too. I now know more about snakes than I ever wanted to know including some exceedingly poisonous specimens. The story features Clara a vet who much prefers animals to people because they do not judge her scarred face.

Clara must face up to her demons and help to save the tiny village from a plague of poisonous and harmless snakes. Snakes appear without warning in people's houses and one man dies apparently from a snake bite - though this is only the first of several deaths. Clara is puzzled that no one will talk about the catastrophic fire which burnt down the village church and starts to ask questions of the elderly villagers. When one of them dies she is under suspicion herself though it soon becomes clear that someone dangerous has her in their sights and the past is very much still there in the present.

This is well written novel which portrays Clara's own prickly personality and extremely effectively along with the two contrasting men she is attracted to. I could certainly do with reading more about the interesting Assistant Chief Constable - Mark. As the ending has been left very open I hope both he and Clara will feature in a later book.

I've just started reading Terry Reeve's Spirit of the Fen - set in Bungay in Suffolk. A development company wants to buy a piece of common land - known as the fen - and build 2000 houses on it. Many people oppose the plans and things start to get ugly when the District Council vote for it to go ahead. As I used to live in Suffolk and at one time drove through the town twice a day I'm finding it interesting. It is fiction but the scenery is authentic and I can identify the places he writes about. I bought the book because of its title but I'm finding it interesting in its own right.