Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Last Houseparty: Peter Dickinson

Peter Dickinson has written over fifty books for adults and children. Many of his books for adults are mysteries. His first book, Skin Deep (aka The Glass-sided Ants' Nest) featured Detective Inspector James Pibble of Scotland Yard and won the 1968 CWA Gold Dagger. The second book in the series, A Pride of Heroes, published the following year, also won a Gold Dagger. Much of his fiction for children is science fiction or fantasy.

The James Pibble series was only six books, published between 1968 and 1979. The remaining mysteries written by Dickinson are stand-alone novels.

The Last Houseparty, published in 1982, moves back and forth between the early 1980's and 1937 and 1940. At times this can be disorienting, but I enjoy that type of structure in a novel. The story is about an aristocratic family which has fallen on hard times and most of it is set at a grand English estate owned by Lord Snailwood. The description of both time periods is well done. I would not describe the characters as likeable, but they are interesting. The characters in Dickinson's books are often strange.

Peter Dickinson is one of my favorite authors. I haven't read a book by him in quite a while, and I was looking forward to this one. I enjoyed it all the way until the end. And then I was disappointed. But don't let me scare you off. This is what Ruth Rendell had to say about this book (from Peter Dickinson's website):
The Last Houseparty is so subtly done and so cunningly constructed that I felt I wanted to read it twice in order to get the full satisfying joy of it, I could have read it a third time immediately afterwards without hardship. He sets new standards in the mystery field that will be hard to live up to.”
Do I recommend reading books by Peter Dickinson? Yes, emphatically. His prose is beautiful. His stories are intriguing. My favorite book by Dickinson is King & Joker, an alternate history set in an England where George V's elder brother did not die but lived to become King Victor I, and is later succeeded by his grandson, King Victor II. The story is told from the point of view of his teenage daughter, Princess Louise.

Do I recommend reading The Last Houseparty? Yes, with reservations. The subject matter is related to an unpleasant crime, against a child. Some readers don't want to read about that type of crime. It is not dwelled upon and I did not find it disturbing. The ending was somewhat unsatisfactory to me.  I don't regret reading it myself, but I don't want to push this book on unsuspecting readers.


11 comments:

  1. I am always surprised at the breadth of your reading Tracy. This is another author that I've not heard of and I feel that I should have, especially reading the Ruth Rendell recommendations. I'll look out for him thanks.

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  2. Tracy - Sarah is right; you've really got an impressive depth and breadth to your reading. I need to explore Dickison's work. Thanks :-)

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  3. Sarah and Margot, Thanks. Dickinson is a wonderful writer and so many different types of books to choose from. I hope you do try his books.

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  4. Really enjoyed this review, thanks TracyK. I read a book by Dikinson decades ago (DEATH OF A UNICORN I think) and did like it so would like to read more though I'm glad you wanred about the subject matter as I think I might have a problm with that.

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    1. Yes, I definitely would not recommend this to someone who has never read Dickinson. However, it has made me eager to read more from my library.

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  5. Thanks! I know Dickerson from his work with Robin McKinley but did not know he writes mysteries. Hope my library has some.

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    1. My pleasure. I would like to try his fantasy or sci fi books, even if they are children's books or young adult.

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  6. Tracy, I hadn't heard of this writer before now, so many thanks. I'd certainly like to read Dickinson's books for his "beautiful prose" though I might skip this one on account of the subject-matter even if it is subtly done.

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    1. I hope you are able to try one of his books. I think you would like his writing.

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  7. The Poison Oracle is my favorite of Dickinson' books. It's just plain strange and sheer genius in plotting. Only The Daffodil Affair by Michael Innes can compare to it in terms of the utterly surreal. I have a copy of The Last Houseparty but it got buried in a box somewhere. Still haven't read it. The blurb by Rendell was the reason I bought it (at a book sale for a buck!). I'll have to go dig it out and use it as part of the "read a book reviewed by another blogger" part of the Challenge.

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    1. I do have The Poison Oracle and had heard it was very strange. With your recommendation, I will move it up on my list of Dickinson's books to read.

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