Death by Sheer Torture, by Robert Barnard

May 29, 2007 at 6:18 pm (Book review, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural, Travel)

I have the great good fortune to be going on a Smithonian tour in September entitled, “Mystery Lover’s England and Scotland.” Last year, a similarly themed tour, “Classic Mystery Lover’s England,” took us to Torquay on the South Devon coast, then to Dartmouth, Dartmoor, Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds, the Welsh border country, Oxford, and London. That trip was so fabulous – we had tea at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford with Colin Dexter! – that my husband and I decided to re-up, as it were, for this fall’s offering. The details concerning these trips are too numerous to go into at the moment, but I will say that one of the main reason we’re going again is that the trip is going to be run by the same incredibly dynamic and knowledgeable trio of women who ran the first one. If you’d like further information, here’s the link:

The list of recommended reading has been one of the special pleasures of these journeys. (These lists are available on the Smithsonian Journeys website.) On the list we just received, I was delighted to see an early title by Robert Barnard. Barnard is one of those highly respected veteran authors of crime fiction who are not nearly as well known in this country as they ought to be. I have read and enjoyed Barnard’s books for years, though I had never read any in the Perry Trethowan series, of which Death by Sheer Torture is the first. Turns out, the library owns but one copy of this gem, a poor beaten up little thing in library binding. I was in luck, since, like so many early numbers in worthy series by good writers, it’s out of print. The larger publishing houses, alas, seem more interested in snagging the next Da Vinci Code style blockbuster. By the way. if you have not read New Yorker writer Anthony Lane’s piece on Dan Brown’s magnum opus and the film made from it, you should:


[Robert Barnard receives the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain in 2003.]

Written in 1982, Death by Sheer Torture is in the mode of the classic English country house mystery. Scotland Yard enlists the help of their own Inspector Perry Trethowan when his father is murdered at the family’s estate, Harpenden House, in Northumberland. While Perry himself cannot head up the investigation, he can act as a spy, interacting with family members in a way that the “officials” on the case would not be able to do. Perry’s family is a trip; there’s no love lost on either side. In fact, it had been years since he had seen or spoken to his father. I admit that I was dismayed when I first began reading this book; I felt that the family was being painted in strokes so broad as to suggest caricature rather than characterization. That irritation receded, however, as Barnard’s sparkling, literate prose and witty dialogue gradually won me over. In the end, I found it an altogether delightful read.

Adddendum Number One: How to obtain out-of-print mysteries:

1. Try your local public library. If they don’t own the book you’re looking for, they may be able to get it for you via interlibrary loan.

2. Try a used bookstore in your area. Better yet, try a mystery bookstore, if you’re lucky enough to have one that’s relatively close by. Here in the Baltimore/Washington area, we had several up until a few years ago. We now are down to one: the venerable Mystery Loves Company in Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood. Sometimes even if such stores sell mainly new books, they’ll still be able to help you locate an older title.

3. Buy online. You can do this on some of the websites of mystery bookstores. If that doesn’t work for you, try a more general site like ABE Books ( ) or Amazon. A good online site for purchasing used mysteries is Grave Matters .

Addendum Number Two: All hail the small publishing houses! There are several that are working hard to bring out quality mystery and crime fiction. Two of my favorites are Poisoned Pen Press ( ) and Soho Crime ( ).

Permalink 5 Comments

Discussible (and eminently readable!) police procedurals

May 27, 2007 at 12:49 pm (Book clubs, Mystery fiction, The British police procedural)


I don’t always consider police procedurals to be the best choices for discussions, but there are several exceptions. (Actually there turn out to be quite a few exceptions!). Last year I re-read A CERTAIN JUSTICE by P.D. James, in the process gaining a fresh appreciation of that novel. Not only is it only beautifully written, but it’s ideal for discussion as well. My favorites in Ruth Rendell’s Wexford series are NO MORE DYING THEN and SIMISOLA. The latter concerns racial strife and economic unrest in Kingsmarkham, Rendell’s invented English city. DYING is a 30-year-old novel that still, in my view, has an immediate impact. It centers on Mike Burden, Wexford’s second-in-command. Burden, who has recently lost a wife he adored, is a very conservative, somewhat rigid person who is called in to investigate a missing child case. The life being lived by this child’s single mother embodies everything Burden disapproves of in the way of social pathologies, but when they are repeatedly thrown together in the course of the investigation, forces neither of them can control come into play and take over, precipitating a crisis in Burden’s professional life and in his personal life as well.

I also highly recommend Rendell’s non-Wexford books. An outstanding example of these is A JUDGEMENT IN STONE. This novel opens with one of the most famous sentences in contemporary crime fiction: “Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.” Having given the game away in the first sentence, Rendell proceeds to fill in the blanks by evoking such feelings of dread and intimations of catastrophe that there were times when I wanted to put the book away completely – even though I couldn’t bear to stop reading it! (There are two film versions of this novel: Judgment in Stone, made in 1986 and featuring Rita Tushingham, and a French film, La Ceremonie, made in 1995, with Jacqueline Bisset.)


Under the pseudonym Barbara Vine, Rendell writes psychological suspense stories that unfold at a more leisurely pace than do her other novels. There isn’t a book in this group that I’ve read that I haven’t enjoyed, but I am in particular awe of THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER’S BOY because it contains the most devastating depiction of a disastrous, pain-filled marriage that I have encountered since reading Portrait of a Lady by The Master himself!

rendell.jpg jamespd.jpg

Ruth Rendell and P.D. James


I am also a great fan of Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe series. These books just keep getting better and better. Hill is possessed of the rapier-like wit so prized by readers of Colin Dexter’s Morse novels. ON BEULAH HEIGHT was especially notable for its magical use of a children’s story woven into the larger story; ultimately, missing and endangered children become a metaphor for the universal loss we all experience at some time in our lives. (“Man must endure his going hence, Even as his coming hither”). Peter Robinson’s Alan Banks novels also keep improving with each new entry into the series. In Banks, Robinson has created an enormously likeable hero with all too human failings. I’ve read every one in the series. For discussion, you might try IN A DRY SEASON, or PIECE OF MY HEART.

reg-hill.jpg robinson-piece.jpg

Reginald Hill; Piece of My Heart by Peter Robinson


I greatly enjoy the Barnaby and Troy procedurals written by Caroline Graham. Those of you have watched the Midsomer Murders DVD’s are already familiar with these characters. Graham makes cunning use of her traditional English village settings, allowing the moral rot beneath the congenial facade to emerge, gradually and inevitably, with hugely entertaining results. I’ve read several of these books; the one I like best is GHOST IN THE MACHINE, which does, I think, have discussion potential.


Two relative new names in this subgenre are Olive Etchells and Martin Edwards. Etchells sets her mysteries in evocative, atmospheric Cornwall; Edwards sets his in equally evocative and atmospheric Cumbria (better known in this country as the Lake District). I love both these series!

martin-edwards.jpg martha-grimes.jpg caroline-graham.jpg etchells-corner.jpg

Martin Edwards; Martha Grimes; Caroline Graham; No Corners for the Devil by Olive Etchells

Also, Martha Grimes appears to be back on top of her game with her two recent Richard Jury novels, THE OLD WINE SHADES and DUST. The latter, with its evocation of Henry James and Lamb House, would be a good one for a book group to tackle.

The most comprehensive list I’ve found of British police procedurals is on the indispensable Stop! You’re Killing Me ( Click on “Job Index” on the left hand side of the page; then, click on “Cops-UK.”

Permalink 1 Comment

Russian painting

May 24, 2007 at 1:22 am (Art, books, Russophilia)

peternicolai.jpgIn his jumbo candy box of an art history (752 pages!), Paul Johnson assigns a brief chapter to the art of Russia. This chapter is entitled, “The Belated Arrival and Sombre Glories of Russian Art.” Johnson opens by observing that this art has not penetrated Western culture to anywhere near the extent that Russian writing and music have done. He then provides a whirlwind tour, highlighting greats such as Vasily Surikov, Isaak Levitan, Ivan Shishkin, and Ilya Repin. Of these, I would guess that Repin is the best – possible the only – known name among Western art lovers, due chiefly to his stunning portraits of Tolstoy. The few paintings that are reproduced in this book convinced me that I wanted to see and know more of this art. I managed to acquire a book entitled: Russia: The Land, the People: Russian Painting, 1850-1910. (Published in 1986, this book has several contributors; apparently the “official” author is the “Ministry of Culture Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” Remember them?)

The works I particular love are the portraits and the landscapes. Isaak Levitan is especially famous for the latter and is considered by some some to be Russia’s greatest artist. Born in Lithuania, Levitan was Jewish and suffered the inevitable depradations visited upon those of his faith, at that time and in that country. Johnson states bluntly: “Levitan had no reason to love Russia or the Russians , but he did.”

One interesting aspect of Russian portraiture that I’ve noticed is that the artists seem more inclined than their Western counterparts to depict naked emotion on the faces of their subjects.

[Art: A New History by Paul Johnson was published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in 2003.]

The best site I have found for viewing Russian painting is

Some examples of Russian painting:

Top: Peter the Great Interrogating the Tsarevich Alexey, by Nicholas Ge


Russian life and history

repin_unexpected.jpg volga-boatmen.jpg repin-ivan.jpg surikov_streltsi.jpg cossacks1.jpg repintolstoy.jpg

Above, left to right:

They Did Not Expect Him, by Ilya Repin

Barge-Haulers on the Volga, by Repin

Tsar Ivan IV with the Body of His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581, by Repin

The Morning of the execution of the Streltsi, by Vasily Surikov

Zaprozhian Cossacks of the Ukraine Writing a Letter to the Turkish Sultan, by Repin

Photograph of Tolstoy and Repin



golden_autumn.jpg birches2.jpg ferns-levitan.jpg shishkin-winter.jpg

Above, left to right:

Golden Autumn, by Isaak Levitan

The Birch Grove, by Levitan

Footpath in the Forest, Ferns, by Levitan

Winter, by Ivan Shishkin



419px-ilya_efimovich_repin_1844-1930_-_portrait_of_leo_tolstoy_1887.jpg kiprensky_pushkin.jpg flavitsky_tarakanova.jpg repin-mussorgsky.jpg

Above, left to right:

Leo Tolstoy, by Ilya Repin

Portrait of Alexander Pushkin, by Orest Kiprensky

Princess Tarakanova, by Konstantin Flavitsky

Modest Mussorgsky, by Repin

Permalink 1 Comment

Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie

May 22, 2007 at 5:24 pm (Anglophilia, Book review, The British police procedural)

I recently read Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie, and while I enjoyed it in general, I had some reservations. First of all, at 400 pages, it was simply too long. The plot became attenuated, and it became increasingly difficult for the reader – this reader, anyhow – to stay invested in the murder investigation (two murders, actually). On the other hand, the leisurely pace allows for in depth character development, a quality that I know is prized by fans of this series of procedurals. Crombie’s prose is quite fine; she is exceptionally good at writing dialog. She limns adolescents in a completely convincing way. This is not an easy as the flood of young adult fiction currently on the market would have you believe.

Beside the appealing characters, the major element that this novel has going for it is the setting: Cheshire, England, the childhood home of series protagonist DCI Duncan Kincaid of New Scotland Yard. This is an area of “the old country” that I know nothing about; I had to consult a map to pin down its location.

There is much lore about canals and canal boats, also called narrow boats, that was genuinely fascinating. I was not aware, for instance, that there exists a means whereby these boats navigate from one side of a river to another while suspended more than a hundred feet above the river valley! The structure that allows them to perform this seemingly impossible feat is called the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct; it carried the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee. When I first read about this, I thought I could not possibly be understanding the set-up correctly. The aqueduct is rightly recognized as an engineering marvel.


England, to me, is like Dr. Who’s Tardis: it seems so much bigger on the inside than on the outside. How can such a tiny island be so full of treasures? Can one ever truly know them?

Permalink 6 Comments

Great Classic Mysteries To Discuss and Enjoy

May 22, 2007 at 1:04 am (Book clubs, Mystery fiction)

I have led lively discussions of two novels by Josephine Tey: BRAT FARRAR and THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR. The first, with its premise of a clever (and sinister) impersonation and its wonderful depiction of postwar English country life, is one of my all time favorites, and unlike most mysteries – indeed, unlike many novels in general! – it climaxes with a truly agonizing moral dilemma.

franchise-affair.jpg bratfarrar.jpg

I became interested in THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR as a result of a very bare-bones description of its plot. It went something like this (The following is actually from the CROWN CRIME COMPANION): “A young lawyer with a comfortable civil practice is suddenly asked to defend two women, a mother and a daughter, who have been accused by a teen-age girl of imprisoning her and abusing her over a period of two weeks.” I guess I was just plain intrigued by what seems to me a unique scenario for a crime novel. After I had read it and began looking for some commentary, I discovered that Tey had drawn her plot idea from two quite notorious historical crimes. The first involves one Elizabeth Brownrigg and her son and took place in the 1760’s. Elizabeth Brownrigg took in several young girls from the workhouse to be servants in her home. At first, she was kind to them, but gradually she began to show her true colors by beating them, starving them, and committing various other depredations, with the enthusiastic help of her son. (Her dullard of a husband simply stood by passively while all this was going on.) Eventually, one of her pathetic victims died of injuries inflicted on her, and the entire Brownrigg family was accused of murder. Only Elizabeth was convicted. On the day of her hanging, the executioner was forced to act quickly, as an angry mob stood ready to tear her limb from limb.

The other case concerns Elizabeth Canning, who, in 1753, disappeared following a visit to her aunt and uncle in Whitechapel. Four weeks later, she reappeared at her mother’s house, gaunt, dirty, dressed in rags, and speechless. When she could finally talk, she had an accusation ready: she claimed that three women had offered her new clothing if she would agree to go into service in what was apparently a brothel. When she refused, she claimed, the women stole the clothes she had on, shoved her into a hayloft, and imprisoned her for three weeks, barely feeding her enough to survive on. The two women were identified by Canning and tried for the crimes she had described. One was sentenced to hang, but was pardoned by the Lord Mayor. By doing this, he cast doubt on Canning’s story. Eventually sufficient doubt was cast so that she was tried and convicted for perjury. An interesting afterward to this story is that she was condemned to be deported to America. (Who knew this was being done? We know about Australia…) Since she still had her supporters, they saw to it that she was sent not via convict ship but on a regular transport and with money in her hands to boot. She settled in Wethersfield, Connecticut, and was soon married there. (Tey makes an oblique reference to the Canning case in Chapter Eight.)

Both criminal incidents I have just described involve innocent individuals deliberately made to suffer in order further the ends of others, who were not only far from innocent themselves, but – at least in the case of the Brownrigg mother and son – were downright evil. One distinguishing characteristic of Tey’s detective novels is that she tends to extend the range of the suffering of the victims beyond what is usually expected in such works. Most important, these trials of the innocent raise important questions concerning the nature of a world in which the innocents suffer so much and so regularly. A pat resolution, in which happiness is allocated to the innocent and just punishment inflicted on the guilty, is simply not possible in the fictional world inhabited by Tey’s characters, because it would fly in the face of the reality which she has so vividly and convincingly depicted throughout the novel.

FRANCHISE, it seems to me, is actually about a great many things. It is about the behavior of certain groups or classes of people who, when confronted by extraordinary circumstances, revert to behavior that could almost be characterized as primitive. I am thinking in particular of the likening of the Sharpe women to witches. (One also thinks of Shirley Jackson’s classic short story, “The Lottery.”) Among other things, this novel is about the extreme difficulty of truly knowing our fellow human beings. It is about resourcefulness and kindness emanating from unexpected places, and cruelty and condemnation coming from those same places. It is about that most admirable of qualities, courage. It is about the earning of admiration and respect, which can, in some cases, lead to love.

circular.jpg white-tie.jpg

Two other classics I’d like to recommend for discussion are THE CIRCULAR STAIRCASE by Mary Roberts Rinehart and DEATH IN A WHITE TIE by Ngaio Marsh. STAIRCASE is more psychological suspense than traditional mystery. Although it was written in 1908 (!!), it is still an entertaining read, working really well as a novel of manners in its depiction of America in the early years of the 20th century. WHITE TIE is set in the 1930’s in London during the “season;” it reminded me a bit of Jane Austen, what with all the jockeying for position by anxious mothers, young debutantes and would-be suitors. This novel is more literary than STAIRCASE, possessing more depth and breadth – not to mention length! – and reads beautifully, thanks to Dame Ngaio’s graceful prose.

strong-poison.jpg gaudy-night.jpg nine-tailors.jpg

I also had good luck with a discussion of STRONG POISON by Dorothy L. Sayers. This particular Lord Peter Wimsey novel has it all – a ripping good plot, lots of Sayers’s trademark wit, and a host of entertaining secondary characters. I especially loved Blindfold Bill, who was a thief until he was caught red handed by Lord Peter while trying to crack a safe. (He subsequently got religion, but continued to make his skills available to Lord Peter “in a good cause.”) Though I am exceedingly fond of POISON, I don’t consider it to be the masterpiece in the series. In my estimation, that honor is shared by GAUDY NIGHT and THE NINE TAILORS. Both would be good for discussion, but challenging, too. With its long exposition on the art (science?) of campanology, TAILORS can be difficult to get into. (Listening to the recorded book helps.) As for GAUDY, it’s 500 pages long in the paperback edition, but I was amazed when I read it for the first time a couple of years ago, at how contemporary it felt; Sayers tackles head on the question of whether a woman can have both a family and a satisfying intellectual or professional life, and still do justice to both.

Permalink 5 Comments


May 10, 2007 at 7:15 pm (Anglophilia)

I’ve always been interested in the literature and history of England, but lately that interest has broadened and deepened. This is due to two factors: in depth reading and traveling. In the fall of 2005, I toured Yorkshire with The National Trust for Historic Preservation; in the fall of 2006, my husband and I traveled to Devon, the Cotswolds, and London on a Smithsonian tour entitled “Classic Mystery Lovers’ England.” At the time of the Yorkshire trip, I had not been to England in twenty years; my 1985 trip was London based, with several brief excursions into the countryside.

To travel in Yorkshire, on the other hand, is to immerse yourself deeply in that countryside. Suddenly you find youself in a place both beautiful and ancient. Before I went, I spent some time on a website dedicated to the Dales and to the North York Moors ( – click on “views”). I gazed in amazement at the photos of what seemed to be a sort of pastoral paradise and thought to myself, Surely this place can not be so pristine, so otherworldly. Oh but it is, it is…

Of late I find myself making comparisons between Yorkshire and the Cotswolds, and to my surprise, the Cotswolds has (have?) a slight edge. This slight preference may be because of the beauty – spellbinding beauty, if I may say – of the Cotswold stone used in in so many of the older structures, or the churches, or the look of the villages, or the fact that one is rarely more than an hour and a half away from London. I cannot say for sure. On the other hand, I will not soon forget the Church of St. Mary in the tiny Yorkshire village of Lastingham. St. Mary’s Lastingham began as a monastery, founded in 654 AD by St Cedd , who was described by the Venerable Bede as “a wise, holy and honourable man.”. The existing church, which dates from 1078, had to be completely rebuilt because of the depredations of Viking marauders in the ninth and tenth centuries (great nuisances, those Vikings!). Of special interest is the crypt, which is the oldest part of the church. Although its construction dates from Norman times, various ancient carved stones within the crypt have been shown to be from the ninth and tenth centuries.


In his lovely little book on the villages of Yorkshire, Sir Bernard Ingham says this of Lastingham: “You walk with the history of two millennia in the rural peace of Lastingham. It is at once a humbling and uplifting place. A village truly of the saints.”

[Bernard Ingham’s Yorkshire Villages was published by Dalesman Publishing in 2001]

In England’s Thousand Best Churches, Simon Jenkins describes how, on his first visit to St. Mary’s Lastingham, it seemed as though “Solitude itself had crept inside the church, descended to the crypt and knelt to pray.” In conclusion, he states that “Lastingham has few furnishings of interest. It does not need them.”

[England’s Thousand Best Churches by Simon Jenkins was published by Penguin in 2000.]


Simon Jenkins

Permalink 3 Comments


May 8, 2007 at 8:12 pm (Book review, books, Music, Russophilia)


I have just finished reading Tchaikovsky: The Man and His Music, by British musicologist David Brown. It is hard for me to decide where to start discussing this book. I was thinking of titling this post, “The Book That Took Over My Life.” That might give you some idea of the affect it had on me.

Brown paints a portrait of a humane and decent man who also happened to be a genius. He was generous to a fault toward family members, friends, and sometimes even strangers, if he judged them worthy. He lived a life surrounded by relations, friends, and admirers and only found himself alone when he chose to be so.

As I read this book, I listened to the pieces Brown referred to; this provided a chronology of Tchaikovsky’s musical life. And what a life! The composer had the great good fortune to be appreciated, loved, and revered during his own lifetime, a boon which is not always granted to an artist. As for the other aspects of his life, Brown’s book reads like a Russian novel. Repressed (mostly, but not always) homosexual desires (Tchaikovsky himself; also his brother Modest), morphine addiction (Sasha, Tchaikovsky’s beloved sister), out-of-wedlock births (Sasha’s daughter Tanya), threats of suicide, actual suicide, inexplicable death – all make their appearance in this larger-than-life biography. Add to this Tchaikovsky’s mysterious and wealthy patroness Nadeshda von Meck – they exchanged innumerable letters but never actually met – and you have a true tale that outstrips fiction in many respects.

When I finished Tchaikovsky: The Man and His Music, I was moved to tears and felt that, with the composer’s death, something of incalculable value had passed from the world. And – I try to be neutral when it comes to people’s preferences – but I can’t imagine a life worth living without this glorious music in it!

[The above portrait of Tchaikovsky is by Nikolai Dmitrievich Kuznetsov. It is the only such portrait painted from life and currently hangs in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.]

Permalink 2 Comments

I Love a Mystery newsletter

May 4, 2007 at 12:07 pm (Mystery fiction)

I have to take a few minutes to rave about this site. Not only are the reviews insightful and well written, but the author photos are outstanding! If you click on the thumbnails, you get nice big pictures of some of your favorites. A special thanks to the webmaster from me for a photo I’ve never seen of one of my very favorite crime novelists, Reginald Hill.

Permalink 1 Comment

St. James Church, Chipping Campden, UK

May 2, 2007 at 5:38 pm (Anglophilia)

St. James Church, Chipping Campden, UK

This is the church of St. James in Chipping Campden, a village in the Cotswolds. When we returned from our “Classical Mystery Lover’s England” tour last fall, we selected this picture as wallpaper for our computer. Gradually it has taken on, for me, an iconic status. The grass is perfectly clipped. The time on the clock tower is frozen at 1:10. There are no people. The evergreens are a deep dark green. The honey-colored Cotswold stone seems to glow from within.

In short – timeless.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Chill Factor by Peter Turnbull

May 2, 2007 at 12:42 pm (Book review, books, The British police procedural)

Having recently fallen prey to a particularly sharp hunger for a British police procedural, I picked up CHILL FACTOR by Peter Turnbull. I was virtually certain I would enjoy it, and I did. Turnbull writes a good, brisk procedural; his books are short – usually 200 pages or less – and they pretty much follow the classic form of this sub-genre. Detective Chief Inspector George Hennessey and his ever-reliable and resourceful Detective Sargeant, Somerled Yellich, are called upon to investigate the bizarre death of Gary “Hammer” Sledge. The body, with no signs of any violence done to it, lies on the grass in a city park in York, in full view of passersby. In fact, it is not until one of those passersby passes by again several hours later and sees the body still lying in the park, in the exact same place and position as it was several hours earlier, that anyone realizes that what they are seeing is not someone asleep, but rather someone sleeping The Big Sleep!

The investigation takes many twists and turns before our intrepid duo solves the case. One thing I really like about mysteries this short is that there is not enough space for the plot to become hopelessly convoluted. Also, Turnbull writes excellent dialog, and some of the secondary characters in this book are quite memorable. I am thinking in particular of an insouciant teen-ager named Heather Lyall. She refers to her mother and father as Dumb and Mad respectively; that is, when she’s not calling them both “the relics.” Turnbull calls Heather one of life’s survivors; the reader has no doubt that this is true. This girl keeps pretty rough company, but she is always ready and able to give as good as she gets. I was especially intrigued when, upon being asked for another girl’s name, she informed the rather gobsmacked Yellich that said girl was “yclept Sylvia.” Had she studied Chaucer in school, one wonders? In fact, Heather was a product of Catholic schools – pity the poor nuns! She also has a thing for mnemonic devices; here are a few she tries out on Yellich:

“Scout Masters Hate Eating Onions” is for the Great Lakes: Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario.

“My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming People” is for the planets in the solar system.

There are loads more where they came from. Poor Yellich was fast approaching overload by the time the interview was over!

The somewhat disparaging Kirkus reviewer describes Hennessey and Yellich as “plodding.” I don’t agree at all; I positively enjoy the time spent in their company.Turnbull touches lightly on the rather poignant private life of both protagonists without turning the book into a soap opera. (Do I think there are crime writers who are guilty of this sin? Oh, yes!)

This series by Turnbull benefits greatly by its setting: York, the cathedral city that dates back to Roman times. At one point, someone inquires as to whether living in York is like living in a museum. For sure, this ancient place is a veritable treasure house. You roam the narrow streets of “the Shambles,” where many of the low structures (kept low by law, I’m told) date from the Middle Ages; then look up! You see the astonishing Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe, towering above everything. All passionate readers know the special joy of reading a book set in a place you happen to be in. I had that pleasure with regard to York in the fall of 2005. I don’t remember which book in this series I was reading at the time, but I do remember my delight in reading about “walking the walls” and heading into snickelways (narrow alleys between buildings) while I was actually doing those very things myself.

Turnbull has an older series, presumably discontinued, set in Glasgow. If and when I get to that Scottish city, I will surely have a book from that series tucked under my arm. Until then, I’ll stick with Hennessey and Yellich as they roam the streets – and snickelways! – of York, searching for clues and culprits.

[Remember to visit Stop! You’re Killing Me – – for up-to-date series information.]

Permalink 3 Comments