Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Steeped in Blood and Mystery

I think there really must be something in the water … It’s not cholera (although as I seem to be stuck in a Victorian universe quite a bit of the time this could always be a possibility) but it is certainly something as equally dangerous – at least to the characters.

Murder, mystery, mayhem and intrigue have been my themes over the past few weeks, and I’ve really got stuck into a world where death, and violent death at that, is the order of the day.

I’ve been having a bit of a Christie-athon recently, as they are great to read, and also, if I put my mind to it, I can read two in a day – always helpful for getting nearer to my 100 books in a year target. But I’ve also been browsing the shelves of bookshops, and have been picking up a lot of new things, all of which have at least one thing in common – there is a mystery to be solved.

It started with The Ingenious Edgar Jones, set in Oxford at the time the museum of natural history and Pitt Rivers were being built. Into the calm Victorian world, Edgar Jones is thrust, who seems intent on creating as much mischief as he can, for the pure reason that he feels he has been born to do great things with iron. What is more, he does, but he has been born before his time, and his greatness does not fit with the structure that the University brings. His greatness causes his family to fall, and in the end he soars away to begin a new life, who knows where.

From there, I went back in history a little in my bookish time machine, and found myself in the company of Alexander Pope in The Scandal of the Season. In the world of Queen Anne, I found myself in the company of flirtatious women, a rather human poet and some men in the middle of plots and intrigue. I quite like this period of history, where one would assume that everyone was on their best behaviour, but in actual fact were indulging in affairs left, right and centre and the monarchy was in danger of being overthrown in favour of the return of the Catholic James II – all highly interesting, and the plot was kept firmly driven forward by the character of Alexander Pope, who although you would expect him to have a firm central role, seemed to be more of an onlooker. His poem ‘The Rape of the Lock’ is what comes out of the scandal, and it’s an interesting take on where a poet gets his inspiration.

Back into the time machine once again, and I travel back to the Victorian era, and this time find myself in a house where the most shocking events have taken place, and where the notion that ‘an English man’s home is his castle’ have been utterly destroyed. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher is the history of a murder of a small boy at Road Hill House, and the surrounding case, led by London detective Jonathon Whicher. The book is an interesting case history of a murder of one of the younger children in what seems to be a typically conventional household, coupled with various parallels in fiction of the day. The Woman in White was being serialised at the time of the murder and is used to show how detectives were portrayed at the time, and needless to state, I have now bought my own copy. It’s in this book that the mystery and intrigue make big appearances, for that careful Victorian world is very carefully destroyed by the solution of the murder, which isn’t solved for years after and indeed makes one wonder about the sanctity of the family.

Another book that makes one wonder is The Resurectionist. For anyone with a particularly weak stomach, I make this warning – this book goes into great detail. You could hardly expect it to do less, seeing as it’s all about body snatching and anatomy, but the first person narrative is perhaps a little too close for comfort. It’s also got a really confusing twist, and out of the books I’ve read, it’s not one that I particularly recommend.

From grisly death to ghost stories, and I am proud to say I have finally read The Woman in Black. It’s coming to Oxford shortly and I wanted to have read it before seeing it. I love it. I’ve not read any of Susan Hill’s before and I loved this. I read it in one sitting, in a suitably dark pub and felt the goose pimples prickle at certain times. It’s so well written and atmospheric!

Of course, Agatha has been dropping in now and then to make her mark, and I think I’ve found my second favourite Marple in Nemesis (my favourite is A Murder is Announced), and Poirot has made his presence known both on and off the page (three new David Suchet Poirot’s make me doubly sure that everyone has taken a big drink of water laced with murder recently).

I’ve got more to keep me going too! I shall return anon and let you know my thoughts of The Widow’s Secret, Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders and The Girl in the Blue Dress. In the meantime, be careful what you drink!


GQ said...

I blame the weather...

I agree that The Resurrectionist was disappointing to say the least - the ending felt like another book had been stuck on the end! Bad form. :D

oxford-reader said...

It's really odd to say the least. But I'm loving 'The Girl in the Blue Dress' where the first person is working quite well, so that's good!

GeraniumCat said...

I love someone who admits to reading two books in a day "if I put my mind to it". I'm going to have to note down all these titles (I've read the Susan Hill, but so many years ago I can't remember anything about it).

oxford-reader said...

It only happens on weekends now unfortunately! And that means my novel doesn't get a look in!
Do look the books up - it's been a really fun reading experience!

Darlene said...

I saw The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre in Covent Garden last Fall. The second act had people jumping in their seats and yes, there was even some screaming. And that was just my husband!

oxford-reader said...

Ooh, thanks for the tip! I'm going to see it in a couple of weeks!!!

Teresa said...

Ooh--I've been meaning to read The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher since I first heard about it. It sounds great! And now I think I'll have to add The Woman in Black to my TBR pile. I very nearly went to see the play when I made my annual pilgrimage to London last year, but Brief Encounter was calling my name when I went to the TKTS booth.

oxford-reader said...

Yes, I was tempted to see Brief Encounter, but didn't actually make it. Eileen Atkins in 'The Sea' took over, which was wonderful.

Have booked tickets for the touring production for next friday though and am very much looking forward to it!