Posts Tagged With: Mystery

Courage to Change: Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

Brat Farrar 2

“If a book leaves you exactly where it found you, thinking and feeling nothing you hadn’t felt or thought before, you are no different for having read it. The criterion for a memorable book is the hope of rereading it some day and a passion to share the book with someone else.” Glady Hunt, Honey for a Woman’s Heart

So many wonderful books would be hidden from our knowledge without the enthusiastic recommendation of a dear friend or relative. A novel that has remained on my personal “Top Ten” list for over twenty years came from just that source. Years ago, Margaret Turner, in her eighties and legally blind, passed on to me a tattered anthology of mystery novels by Josephine Tey. Brat Farrar was my favorite. First published in 1949 and set in rural England, it is a mystery without the standard corpse on the hearthrug and polite police inspector. Instead, it is a masterpiece of deep themes, clearly defined characters, and building suspense.

The main character, Brat Farrar, is a young man with many flaws and a “checkered” past. As the story starts, Brat agrees to pose as the heir to a fortune for personal financial gain. Clearly, this is an immoral choice. Yet, all through the story, I felt a kinship with him. His motivation gets challenged early on in his deception. He experiences “a faint queasiness, a sort of spiritual indigestion” (p. 121) that leads to profound change during the course of the novel. This is definitely not one of those books with static characters who never learn or grow. Instead, I find inspiration that we, too, are able to be transformed.

Also, Tey interweaves a beautiful theme about our need to belong throughout the story. Brat, an orphan, is motivated by this visceral human impulse: “No one else had taken his hand in just that way. Casual — no, not possessive… Belonging. It had something to do with belonging. The hand had taken him for granted because he belonged. It was the unthinking friendliness of a woman to one of her family. Was it because he had never ‘belonged’ before that made that commonplace gesture into a benediction?” (p. 158)

This mystery novel is chock-full of charming, intricate characters: the rector, George Peck, is described as being ugly, but possessing great kindness and wisdom: “One of George Peck’s charms was that he listened to what was said to him.” (p. 202), Aunt Bee holds the family together and shows Brat undeserved kindness. Then there is Simon, Brat’s rival for the family fortune and Eleanor, the “sister” who is Brat’s dream girl . The plot twists, turns and culminates in a riveting denouement.

Elizabeth MacIntosh

Elizabeth MacIntosh aka Josephine Tey

My proof that I love this novel is that I have read it four times! Josephine Tey, is one of the pen names for Elizabeth MacKintosh who, sadly, died at an early age. Thankfully, most of her novels are still in print, though, alas, sometimes not available at the local library.  The following are the novels written under the name Josephine Tey, some starring Inspector Grant:  Brat Farrar, A Shilling for Candles, To Love and Be Wise, The Man in the Queue, A Daughter of Time, The Singing Sands, Miss Pym Disposes, and The Franchise Affair.  The author also wrote plays under the nom de plume Gordon Daviot.

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Categories: British novels, Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Crossing Cultures: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

“The quality of the idea, the skill of the plot, the depth of the characterization, the distinctive style of the author – that’s the best I can do by way of defining a good book.  When you find one, you recognize it.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for A Child’s Heart

One of the primary reasons I read fiction and go to the movies is so that I can travel.  Vicariously of course.  I used to actually go to foreign places: Brasil, Honduras, Israel, to name a few.  Now I am bound to American soil with many responsibilities so I “go places” through books and film.  Recently, one of my favorite literary trips has been to Botswana, Africa.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a series set in this southern African country and first published in 2007.  The first book in the series, entitled The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency starts a wonderful journey into the fascinating world of memorable and humorous characters.

The series is fairly slow-paced, avoids gruesome descriptions of murders, and does not thrill with conspiracies and thwarting “take-over-the-world” type villains.  However, it is appealing because it takes the reader deep into the world of cultural Botswana.

Bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, born in Zimbabwe and a law professor in Scotland,  worked for a time in the setting where he helped set up a law school at the University of Botswana.

Though not necessarily a series only for women, the main character, Precious Ramotswe, is a middle-aged woman who opens a detective agency because “a woman sees more than a man sees”.  In her own words, Mma Ramotswe claims: “It is my duty to help…. my brothers and sisters…solve the mysteries in their lives.  That is what I am called to do.” (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, p. 4)

One of the cultural treasures I received from these stories is how Mma Ramotswe and her rich cast of supporting characters show the universal need for kindness and courtesy in human relationships.  My teenage daughters and I greet each other in the morning now with the customary Batswanan words: “Have you slept well, Mma?” a greeting that is used whatever time of day a stranger, acquaintance or friend is encountered.

To my delight book #13 was published in April 2012, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection. It was just as wonderful as the previous twelve. Now I am on the library waiting list for the most recent titles in the series The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (2013) and The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe (2014).

A film adaptation, directed by Anthony Minghella, and produced by the Weinstein Company, premiered on HBO in March 2009.  I am frustrated that nothing more has been produced, since this first effort was excellent!

Jill Scott as Mma Ramotse

A quick disclaimer: It is undeniable that we have different tastes in fiction.  That means some of my readers will not like what I like.  The books recommended today address some weightier social ills and unlovely personal life choices, but all within a context of characters who, I believe, leave us with a true residue of goodness and inspiration.

For more information about Alexander McCall Smith

Categories: British novels, Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Mystery, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Tasteful Mystery: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

“Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie, who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?” William King, The Art of Cookery (1708)

Yet again I am a latecomer to the party.  I am just now tasting the delights of the mystery series by Canadian author Alan Bradley starring Flavia de Luce – an 11-year prodigy who solves crimes ahead of highly intelligent Inspector Hewitt. 

But I am getting ahead of myself.  I want to indulge in a personal comment before telling you about this series: I have entered my fifth decade and want to say that I now firmly believe the old adage: “It’s never too late”.  So arriving late to the party is just fine, as long as I enjoy it when I get there!  (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the first in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, was first published in 2009, so I am just four years late).  

Immediately acclaimed, book one won a long string of awards, including the Debut Dagger Award of the British Crimewriter’s Association and the Agatha Award for Best First Novel.       

“Character is king” and Alan Bradley has created royalty in Flavia de Luce, who is a wonderful, charming, uncannily intelligent, motherless child.  Her influence has just begun and I must thank Uncle Mike Stanley for telling me about her, and Phyllis at my local library for insisting that I listen to the audio version of the book narrated splendidly by Jayne Entwistle.

An excerpt from the series website sets the scene: “Alan Bradley plants the story deep into the setting of 1950s England, with a portrait of an eccentric home life that is all too wickedly familiar. The story’s twists are supported by the time and place as well as the unusual interests of the characters which range from stamp-collecting to making poisons all of which are highly researched and ingeniously incorporated.” http://www.flaviadeluce.com/the-sweetness-at-the-bottom-of-the-pie/

Alan Bradley

I would rather not divulge the book’s plot, but, instead, rave about its characterization, turns of phrase, and wonderful conclusion.  I thoroughly enjoyed the unlikely pairing of a precocious eleven-year-old and a middle-aged British police inspector.  Author Alan Bradley has a masterful grasp of the English language and uses it to both amuse and draw in the reader to his time and place:

 “Except for a handkerchief-sized scrap of grass at one side, Miss Mountjoy’s willow filled the fenced-in yard.  Even on the doorstep I could feel the dampness of the place: the tree’s languid branches formed a green bell jar through which little light seemed to penetrate, giving me the odd sensation of being under water.” (p. 136)

 Also, the ending is incredibly satisfying – resolving the mystery and stirring the heart.

My teen daughters and I listened to the book on our car rides this fall and found that Flavia appealed to all of us, although some of the gruesome aspects of the murder and the creepy murderer made it a definite PG-13/TV 14 rating in our opinion.  (That, and Flavia’s propensity to exclaim: “Damnation!” “Damn it to hell” , etc. throughout the story) This book series is found in the adult mystery section of my library.

I declare our plan to catch up with the Flavia fan club by reading the other five novels in the series: The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Speaking From Among the Bones, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches.

If you are already a fan of the series, I would love to hear from you, just don’t spoil anything I have yet to experience! Flavia Fan club website: http://flaviafanclub.ning.com

Also, I discovered that great discussion questions are available on

http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/1008-sweetness-at-the-bottom-of-the-pie-bradley?start=3

My friend Wendy has this to say about this series: “I knew you would love it! This is one of the only series that we pre-order instead of waiting for the library to have. That is the advantage of being late to the party, you don’t have to wait for the next book! Isn’t Flavia fun?! I love all the church, hymn and history references, I love the way she talks to and treats her bike, Gladys, like a horse. “I put my feet up on the handlebars and gave Gladys her head. As we shot down the hill…” and “Leaving Gladys to graze in a bicycle stand…” (I had a green schwinn before I got my own horse, I remember…). And through all her thrilling fantastic adventures, there is something about her motherless childhood that rings so true.”
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Categories: Humorous, Mystery, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Courage to Change: Brat Farrar by Josphine Tey

If a book leaves you exactly where it found you, thinking and feeling nothing you hadn’t felt or thought before, you are no different for having read it.  The criterion for a memorable book is the hope of rereading it some day and a passion to share the book with someone else.” Glady Hunt, Honey for a Woman’s Heart

So many wonderful books would be hidden from our knowledge without the enthusiastic recommendation of a dear friend or relative.  A novel that has remained on my personal “Top Ten” list for over twenty years came from just that source.  Years ago, Margaret Turner, in her eighties and legally blind, passed on to me a tattered anthology of mystery novels by Josephine Tey.  Brat Farrar was my favorite. First published in 1949 and set in rural England, it is a mystery without the standard corpse on the hearthrug and polite police inspector.  Instead, it is a masterpiece of deep themes, clearly defined characters, and building suspense.

The main character, Brat Farrar, is a young man with many flaws and a “checkered” past.  As the story starts, Brat agrees to pose as the heir to a fortune for personal financial gain.  Clearly, this is an immoral choice.  Yet, all through the story, I felt a kinship with him.  His motivation gets challenged early on in his deception.  He experiences “a faint queasiness, a sort of spiritual indigestion” (p. 121) that leads to profound change during the course of the novel.  This is definitely not one of those books with static characters who never learn or grow.  Instead, I find inspiration that we, too, are able to be transformed.

Also, Tey interweaves a beautiful theme about our need to belong throughout the story.  Brat, an orphan, is motivated by this visceral human impulse: “No one else had taken his hand in just that way.  Casual — no, not possessive… Belonging.  It had something to do with belonging.  The hand had taken him for granted because he belonged.  It was the unthinking friendliness of a woman to one of her family. Was it because he had never ‘belonged’ before that made that commonplace gesture into a benediction?” (p. 158)

This mystery novel is chock-full of charming, intricate characters: the rector, George Peck, is described as being ugly, but possessing great kindness and wisdom: “One of George Peck’s charms was that he listened to what was said to him.” (p.202),  Aunt Bee holds the family together and shows Brat undeserved kindness.  Then there is Simon, Brat’s rival for the family fortune! The plot twists, turns and culminates in a riveting denouement.

My proof that I love this novel is that I have read it four times!  Josephine Tey, is one of the pen names for Elizabeth MacKintosh who died at an early age and only published seven novels.  Thankfully, all of them are still in print.

My disclaimer: Early in the novel, Brat’s past is mentioned which includes allusions to sexual encounters.

Categories: British novels, Classics, Inspiration, Mystery, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

“The quality of the idea, the skill of the plot, the depth of the characterization, the distinctive style of the author – that’s the best I can do by way of defining a good book.  When you find one, you recognize it.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for A Child’s Heart

So what is the difference between review and recommend?  In this blog, I hope to do the latter; not try to analyze a long list of works of fiction for their merits, but tell the world about the books I already love and why I love them.  Have you ever loved a book so much that after reading it you wanted to buy everyone a copy, secretly place the book on  the welcome mats of special friends, just to give them joy?

You can pick up a true treasure, a series set in Botswana, Africa and first published in 2007.  The first book in the series, entitled The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency starts a wonderful journey into the fascinating world of memorable and humorous characters.  To my delight book #13 was published in April 2012, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection. It was just as wonderful as the previous twelve. Now I am on the library waiting list for the most recent title in the series The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon.

Though not necessarily a series only for women, the main character, Precious Ramotswe, is a middle-aged woman who opens a detective agency because “a woman sees more than a man sees”.  In her own words, Mma Ramotswe claims: “It is my duty to help…. my brothers and sisters…solve the mysteries in their lives.  That is what I am called to do.” (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, p. 4)

The series is fairly slow-paced, avoids gruesome descriptions of murders, and does not thrill with conspiracies and thwarting “take-over-the-world” type villains.  However, it is appealing because it takes the reader deep into the world of cultural Botswana.  Bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, born in Zimbabwe and a law professor in Scotland,  worked for a time in the setting where he helped set up a law school at the University of Botswana

Mma Precious Ramotswe and her rich cast of supporting characters show us the universal need for kindness and courtesy in human relationships.  My teenage daughters and I greet each other in the morning now with the customary Batswanan words: “Have you slept well, Mma?” a greeting that is used whatever time of day a stranger, acquaintance or friend is encountered.

A film adaptation, directed by Anthony Minghella, and produced by the Weinstein Company, premiered on HBO in March 2009.  I am frustrated that nothing more has been produced, since this first effort was excellent!

Jill Scott as Mma Ramotse

A quick disclaimer: It is undeniable that we have different tastes in fiction.  That means some of my readers will not like what I like.  The books recommended today address some weightier social ills and unlovely personal life choices, but all within a context of characters who, I believe, leave us with a true residue of goodness and inspiration.  “Take what you like and leave the rest” as they say in Al-Anon and Happy Reading!

Categories: British novels, Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Mystery, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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