April was kind of a weird reading month for me. The three books I liked best were mysteries/thrillers, which is not normally my cup of tea. Actually, I probably should stop saying that because it has become clear to me over the past couple of years that as long as it is the right kind of mystery/thriller, I actually pretty much love them. It just needs to be somewhat old fashion, low to no blood, Europe helps, extra points for papers, archives, books, details, etc. You get the picture.
Here’s my month of April in order of most enjoyable to least enjoyable.
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey
People who like older mysteries are always telling me how much they like Josephine Tey and how good Brat Farrar is. Well they were right. Having this one under my belt I feel like Tey will be a resource for me in future. Kind of the antidote to Carlotto (see below).
Doctor Frigo by Eric Ambler
Ambler never disappoints. Published in 1974, this time Ambler’s perfect political thriller takes place in Central America rather than central Asia or central Europe. Ernesto (Dr. Frigo) is enlisted to help install the next leader of his country, who also happens to be a man who was responsible for killing Ernesto’s father some years previously.
The Goodbye Kiss by Massimo Carlotto
Except for the Europe part, Carlotto’s hardboiled crime novels don’t really fit the parameters I described above. And they are so damn sexist. The way he treats women is just appalling. I don’t know how a non-misogynist could write this kind of stuff. Having said that, I really enjoy reading Carlotto’s books. I just wish he didn’t have to be such an asshole.
A Day in Late September by Merle Miller
An American writer (or was he a painter? I forget, it’s been a month) is back in the US and hopes to take his teenage son back with him to Europe. But first he has to convince his ex-wife and her highly competent and wealthy husband. He also needs to convince his mistress that she needs to finally break with her husband. In doing so we are introduced to a reserved but secretly scandalous, 1950s, east coast social circle. It was my Merle Miller tweet that had Nancy Pearl tweeting me and even offer to send me a book. (You may recall she wrote about him in her first Book Lust volume.)
The Odd Angry Shot by William Nagle
A Vietnam War combat tale told from an Australian point of view. Nagle really makes you feel the heat and smell the stink.
Let Go My Hand by Edward Docx
A son, and eventually his two half brothers take their dying father to Switzerland where he wants to check out on his own terms. Road-trip, family drama, memoir. Good but not great.
A Pale View of the Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
I gave up this book a few years ago and only kept it because I liked the cover. I was set to send it on its way when I thought maybe I would give it a go. At first I was kind of enjoying it and couldn’t understand why I had given up on it previously. Overall it wasn’t bad, I just found it kind of boring. I think I may be done with Ishiguro. I liked The Remains of the Day as a film but found the novel a soporific. Never Let Me Go was interesting, the Buried Giant one doesn’t interest me much. It’s nice to let go of an author. Makes time for others.
Given your parameters for crime novels, I think you might like An English Murder by Cyril Hare. Written in the ’50s but extremely self-aware about Golden Age conventions and spends a lot of time winking at them. The opening scene involves a Czech scholar going through papers in an English country house just after the end of WWII, which ticks quite a few of your boxes!
Glad you liked the Tey. I think The Man in the Queue by her will also tick your mystery boxes.
I have yet to try Ishiguro’s back-catalog: jury is still out. But I agree, it is nice to let go of an author or a book and feel no compunction. It is very freeing!
You might also like Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. A police inspector is recovering from an injury (I think — it’s been a couple of years since I read it) and to amuse himself, decides to research whether Richard III actually killed his nephews in the Tower of London. Lots and lots of research. There is an excellent audio version narrated by Derek Jacobi.
And I am in agreement regarding Ishiguro. I’ve only made it through Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. I tried to read The Sleeping Giant recently for a book group, and could not get through 50 pages. It was a very weird sort of fable. I sort of wish Ishiguro would pick one genre and stick to it.
I second The Daughter of Time. It’s the only Tey I’ve read so far, but since then I pick up Tey when I run into her at used bookshops. Not sure why, but I’ve never been drawn to read Ishiguro (and to be honest, I’m not even sure if I saw the movie adaptation of Remains of the Day or just recall it being hugely popular).
So glad that you enjoyed Brat Farrar! The thing I most appreciate about Tey is her variety – none of her plots follow a pattern, like so many did in her day. The downside to Tey is that she died so very young, there aren’t many of hers to read. Miss Pym Disposes is another good one of hers, and like the others here, I enjoyed The Daughter of Time. (Although I think the premise of Daughter of Time would irritate you – solving a long unanswered historical mystery from a hospital bed.) She did write plays under another name, but I haven’t ever sought them out (I’d rather see a play than read a play).