Sunday Retrospective ~ December 16th

Do you ever hit one of those patches when whatever the book you pick up it just doesn’t seem to hit the spot? That’s what this week has been like for me.  With some books I haven’t even got past the first few pages, others I have regretfully put to one side after a few chapters and then there has been one that I have stuck with and will finish, but I’m not certain that I will read any more in the series.

I think I am finally going to have to call time on my attempts to read anything from the British Library Crime Classics imprint.  While I was in the library at the early part of the week I picked up a copy of Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case determined that this time I would see the book through to the end.  The premise concerns a murder that the police have failed to solve and to which the members of a club devoted to amateur sleuths then undertake to offer their own solutions. I got halfway through the first proffered solution, decided that I didn’t want to spend any more time with a group of (as it seemed to me) self-satisfied Smart Alecs bound to do better than the poor lower class policeman and took the book back.

OK, I know that much of what I was objecting to is part and parcel of the convention  within the restraints of which the authors were working, but that didn’t make it any the more palatable.  And, although I seem to be having difficulty finding them at the moment, there are too many books out there waiting to be read for me to spend time with a series that just doesn’t do it for me.

A book that I have almost finished and will complete this evening, even though it has been a bit of a slog, is Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, the first of James Runcie’s Granchester Mysteries.  I seem to remember trying to get into this when it first came out and failing miserably.  This time, although I feel that Runcie is trying to mimic many of the conventions that annoy me in the British Library collection, I have managed to get within striking distance of the end.  Perhaps it wins out in contrast with the Berkeley.  The book is set in the 1950s and part of what irritates me is the fact that much of what it depicts is a series of stereotypes of the period.  I know about the fifties; I was there.  If you want a more accurate portrayal of the time while sticking with the crime genre then I suggest that you try Laura Wilson’s Ted Stratton novels, which move from the war years through the following decade. They ring much more true.  This has a feeling of Downton Abbey about it: the past recollected and distorted through rosy tinted glasses.  I was also put off by the fact that it isn’t just one straight through narrative, but a series of stories, linked by the slowly developing relationship of Sidney and Amanda Kendall.  However, I’ve stuck with it, partly because I hadn’t got anything else immediately to hand but also because halfway through Sidney is given a black Labrador puppy.  I am a sucker for puppies of any sort and for Labs in particular. The occasional mention of Dickens and his exploits has kept me going.  Whether or not I shall continue with the rest of the series is another matter.  Does anyone know if the subsequent books are just one story?  If they are also a series of shorts then I don’t think I shall bother.

Of course, part of this dry spell is of my own making.  I have several books that I am hoarding for the Christmas period, including the new Tana French, The Wych Elm, the second in Mike Craven’s Avison Fluke series and forthcoming books by both James Oswald and Kate London. Come Boxing Day I shall shut up shop for the rest of the week and simply wallow in the latest offerings of four of my favourite authors.  At least there is something to look forward to.

15 thoughts on “Sunday Retrospective ~ December 16th

  1. Rohan Maitzen December 16, 2018 / 8:22 pm

    Dry spells are so discouraging! But they always end when you find the right book.

    I’m not much for ‘crime classics’ either: you have a fair point about the conventions but they aren’t the conventions that I find most interesting. I’ve been feeling the same way about noir or hard-boiled novels. They seem too mannered to me, and also usually too nasty, which I get is part of the point but I still don’t want to spend time in that space.

    Wallowing in favorite authors sounds lovely! Enjoy, and best wishes for 2019.


    • Café Society December 16, 2018 / 8:29 pm

      I don’t read many noir or hard-boiled novels either and when I think about why it is probably for the reasons you mention. Interestingly, mannered is exactly the word I would use about the crime classics. Thank you for your good wishes. The Bears and I hope 2019 brings you a better year than you seem to have had in 2018.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kat December 16, 2018 / 11:05 pm

    Oh, dear, the covers of the British Library series are gorgeous. My favorite was Freeman Wills Crofts’ *Antidote to Venom, *because I liked the zoo setting*, but most *of them go out of my head the minute I finish them. I have a copy of *The Poisoned Chocolates*, and it sounds as though it is far from the best.

    I do hope you get out of the slump! My mistake has been reading some of the “Best of the Year” books. It’s not that they’re bad, but they’re not great, and I feel that I’m wasting my time. However, critics read so many mediocre new books that they’re grateful for anything reasonably well-written, or at least that’s my theory.

    I’m reserving Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Ferber’s comical early short stories for Christmas. There are three volumes about Emma McChesney, the top saleswoman for a petticoat company, Roast Beef, Medium, Personality Plus, and Emma McChesney & Company. Very enjoyable, and free at Project Gutenberg.


    • Café Society December 17, 2018 / 12:38 pm

      I’m not really a fan of the short story. But if I find I’m running out of material over a holiday that in the UK now seems to stretch over the best part of two weeks, then I shall look out for McChesney. You’re so right about the amount of dross critics must have to read. I hadn’t thought about that. Maybe I shall not come back as a book reviewer in my next life after all.


  3. FictionFan December 17, 2018 / 1:30 am

    What a pity about the Crime Classics – I’ve been loving them! The policeman in The Poisoned Chocolates Case isn’t really shown as stupid – in fact, there’s quite a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff about the amateur detective not being as smart as he thinks he is. Have you tried any of the ones with a policeman as protagonist? I’ve thoroughly enjoyed ECR Lorac’s Inspector MacDonald mysteries, and also Gil North’s Sergeant Cluff.


    • Café Society December 17, 2018 / 12:38 pm

      Cluff rings a bell, but I think it may be from a television manifestation. Did they make a series?


      • FictionFan December 17, 2018 / 11:42 pm

        I’m not sure – maybe back in the 60s when the books were coming out?


      • Café Society December 18, 2018 / 8:44 am

        Yes, I checked FF. Apparently there were nineteen episodes made in the mid 60s, some of which, unfortunately, have been lost.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. heavenali December 17, 2018 / 7:31 am

    Sorry you have hit a reading slump, I have been forced into reading very slowly due to tiredness and a busy couple of weeks. That frustrates me but I am looking forward to some relaxing time over the Christmas period. I hope you enjoy your new books, it is lovely to have books you have saved to look forward to.


    • Café Society December 17, 2018 / 12:40 pm

      This time of the year in school is always so hectic; it becomes almost impossible to enjoy your own Christmas when it eventually comes round. I hope you manage to get a real break with plenty of books to keep you going.


  5. Margaret December 17, 2018 / 9:35 am

    I often hit a dry patch too – usually after reading a book I loved – it’s most frustrating trying book after book and not finding the right one.

    I haven’t read any of Anthony Berkeley’s books, but I’ve found some of the crime classics rather strange – such as Michael Innes’ books, apart from Death at the President’s Lodging, a ‘locked room’ puzzle, which I did like. I echo FictionFan about ECR Lorac’s books – I did enjoy The Bats in the Belfry. I’ve also tried one of the Sydney Chambers books, borrowed from the library. I returned it without finishing it, I can’t remember the title but it followed the same pattern of a series of short stories. The TV series didn’t make me want to read any of them either.

    Many thanks for your Christmas ecard – what a lovely bear! I hope you and the Bears enjoy your Christmas. It sounds ideal, being able to wallow in books!


    • Café Society December 17, 2018 / 12:44 pm

      I’m so glad you liked the card. The bear is adorable, isn’t he? Having had two recommendations for the Lorca, if I see any of his books in the library I will give the series one more go. I was pondering the other day why it is that I enjoy Allingham so much but can’t seem to get on with her contemporaries. I suppose the answer is that the reason she is so much better known is probably because she is simply better. Thanks for the tip about the other Chambers books. If they are all short stories then I don’t think I shall bother with any more.


  6. Helen December 17, 2018 / 8:59 pm

    It’s frustrating when you hit a dry spell like that. It doesn’t happen to me very often, but when it does I usually turn to favourite authors or re-reads to try to get out of it. At least you seem to have some good books lined up for the Christmas period.

    I wish I was better at abandoning books I don’t like, rather than struggling through to the end. I’ve read four of the British Library Crime Classics (I’ve just finished a Christmas themed one) and enjoyed them all, but maybe I’ve just been lucky with my choices so far. It’s a shame about the Anthony Berkeley, but there’s no point in continuing with books that you can tell just aren’t for you.


    • Café Society December 17, 2018 / 9:05 pm

      Part of the trouble with the Crime Classics is that they look so darned enticing, Helen. I always feel as if I should be enjoying them. I do have a rule of thumb about abandoning books, though. It is the one I used with the children when I was teaching. I have to be able to say why I don’t like the book. No abandoning just on a whim.


  7. mlegan December 23, 2018 / 2:16 pm

    The covers of the British Crime Classics are very alluring. I just finished a Christmas-themed one that was ok, but I wouldn’t call it a classic. I am also saving Tana French for the right moment.


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