Monday, November 2, 2020

Reading Summary, October 2020

In October, I finished ten books. That total is a bit misleading because two of them were nonfiction books that I had been reading off and on for a good while. But still, each of those had about 150 pages left that I read during this month, so they count. The third nonfiction book I read was started in early September and finished in late October. 

All of the mysteries I read were published before 1985, so no recent fiction reads this month. Three of the novels were published either in 1955 or 1956.

And these are the books I read in October...

Nonfiction / Biography

Ross Macdonald: A Biography (1999) by Tom Nolan

Ross Macdonald, pseudonym of Ken Millar, was the author of the highly regarded Lew Archer detective series. Ken Millar was born in northern California, spent his childhood in Ontario, Canada, and met his wife Margaret Millar while going to college in Canada. The couple moved to Santa Barbara in 1946 and were living there when Ken died in 1983. He was a very interesting man, and this biography was very well done. The emphasis is on his personal life although there is some evaluation of his writing. This was my favorite read of the month.

Nonfiction / Mystery reference

The Golden Age of Murder (2015) by Martin Edwards

This book looks in depth at mystery authors who were members of the Detection Club in the UK, in the years leading up to World War II. A lot of the focus is on the founding members of the club: Dorothy Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, and Agatha Christie. This very informative and readable book won these two awards: the Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction (2015) and the Edgar Award for Best Critical/Biographical (2016)

Nonfiction / Books about Books 

The Book of Forgotten Authors (2017) by Christopher Fowler

Before publishing this book, Christopher Fowler wrote a column called Forgotten Authors in a British newspaper. He has been interested in finding out about such authors for many years. I found some authors in this book that I did not consider forgotten, some authors I did not think would appeal to me anyway, and many authors that might deserve checking out. Regardless, each of the authors was interesting to read about. Fowler's essays are entertaining and opinionated, and this was a book well worth reading. 

Crime Fiction

The Keys of My Prison (1956) by Frances Shelley Wees

This is a vintage mystery by a Canadian author, set in Toronto, Canada. It is domestic suspense and the author has been compared favorably to Margaret Millar. It was a very good read and not at all what I expected. My thoughts on the book are here.

Shooting in the Dark (1984) by Carolyn Hougan

This story takes place during the Iran hostage situation, and at the time of the coronation of Queen Beatrix in the Netherlands, in late April 1980. Claire Brooks is getting ready to go to the dentist when her husband announces that he is leaving her. To get away from it all, she takes a quick trip to Amsterdam, not realizing that the city will be overrun with people celebrating the new queen's coronation. She meets a reporter and they both get caught in an inept plot relating to Iran and the Shah. The situation is similar to the plots of Eric Ambler's spy fiction; Claire is the amateur unwittingly caught in a dangerous situation that she is not prepared for. I enjoyed reading this fast-paced story.

Sky High (1955) by Michael Gilbert

The US title of this book is Country House Burglar, and both titles are very apt. I knew I was going to like this story when it starts out with a church choir practice. It is mostly set in a small village in the UK, where everyone seems to  be ex-military. A seemingly harmless man is killed when the house he lives in is blown up. Another investigation involves a number of country houses in the area that have been burgled when the owners were away. A lovely story with excellent characters.

Poirot Loses a Client (1937) by Agatha Christie

This is the 16th Hercule Poirot mystery and was also published as Dumb Witness. An elderly woman is concerned about a fall on the stairs and writes a letter to Poirot. He doesn't get it until two months later, but when he visits the woman, he finds she died shortly after she wrote the letter. Her death was ruled natural, but Poirot decides to investigate. Hastings narrates, which I consider a plus.

An Overdose of Death (1940) by Agatha Christie

Another Poirot mystery, #22 in the series, and published three years after Poirot Loses a Client. This was originally published as One, Two, Buckle My Shoe in the UK, and has another alternate title in the US, The Patriotic Murders. Hercule Poirot visits his dentist, and shortly after he has left the office, the dentist dies, apparently a suicide. Inspector Japp investigates but he leans towards accepting that the death is a suicide. Poirot thinks the case is not that simple.

Poison in the Pen (1955) by Patricia Wentworth

This is the 29th book out of 32 in the Miss Silver series. Our elderly heroine takes on an undercover assignment in this book. Actually she uses her real name but pretends to be taking a holiday at Willow Cottage in Tilling Green, staying with Miss Wayne, the town gossip. Detective Inspector Frank Abbott of Scotland Yard has asked Miss Silver to quietly investigate a case of poison pen letters that may have led to the death of a young woman.

The Fever Tree and Other Stories (1982) by Ruth Rendell

This collection contains 10 short stories and one novella. All of the stories are excellent. My review is here.


Cath said...

Ooooh, the Michael Gilbert sounds good, Tracy. I think I'll be reading more of his this month. I'm halfway through The Golden Age of Murder after taking a break. Hope to finish it this month and then, like you, I'll add it to my November total. One of these days I must try Patricia Wentworth.

TracyK said...

Cath, Sky High was very good, and makes me want to read more by him too.

The last 150 pages (or so) of The Golden Age of Murder was interesting especially because it approaches wartime and talks about how some of the writers were affected.

I really like Wentworth's Miss Silver books but many readers don't like them as well as other vintage mysteries. They are very variable. I think they provide a good picture of life at that time. I will be interested in what you think of them, if you try one.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, while I have read only a couple of Ross Macdonald novels, it'd still be interesting to read his biography and possibly delve into the mind of this fine crime-fiction writer. That and Christopher Fowler's "The Book of Forgotten Authors". So, basically, anything about books and writers would make it to my list too.

pattinase (abbott) said...

That was a great biography of Macdonald. I keep meaning to read his letters with Eudora Welty.

pattinase (abbott) said...


TracyK said...

Patti, I just started reading MEANWHILE THERE ARE LETTERS a couple of days ago. I had it on my Kindle. I may end up getting a paperback copy because I can only read the Kindle during the day and I do most of my reading at night.

I am enjoying reading it. I was already interested in reading some novels and stories by Welty, but now even more so.

Rick Robinson said...

Very nice month of reading, Tracy! I want to read the Macdonald bio.

My reading count is way down, and I haven't even been doing a very good job of keeping track. One book I read, just finished near the end of the month, was DEATH OF A BUSYBODY by George Bellairs, which I enjoyed. It features Inspector Littlejohn, Bellairs' series detective. I also just finished yesterday, so a November book, Martin Edwards' THE HISTORY OF CLASSIC CRIME IN 100 BOOKS. It will be no surprise when I say I enjoyed it a lot, and have added several books to my want list, in spite of my resolve to cut back (stop?) buying books.

It's election day and I'm very stressed. Maybe a golden age mystery will help. I hope.

TracyK said...

Prashant, I have only read 3 of the Lew Archer series by Macdonald. Reading his biography just motivated me to read more soon. His books were much more popular when he was alive than I was aware of. Very good reading, and for me there was the added bonus of reading about Santa Barbara at that time. He was very involved with environmental issues in the area.

TracyK said...

Rick, I sympathize with the problems with reading. I read a good bit in October but it was because I switched to older mysteries. I was reading a John le Carre book that I could not finish (and I have liked all the other books I read by him).

I am very stressed about the election too, but I am glad it is here finally.

Margot Kinberg said...

You've got such a nice list here, Tracy. I think it's been hard for a lot of us to concentrate on reading, what with the election in the U.S., the pandemic, and everything else. I'm glad you read The Golden Age of Murder; Martin Edwards is so knowledgeable, isn't he? And I would like to read that biography of Ross Macdonald. I don't know enough about him, and it sounds interesting!

TracyK said...

I am a little scattered today, Margot. I thought I had already replied. I will probably read through The Golden Age of Murder again someday, Margot. It is a lot to take in. The biography of Ross Macdonald is fascinating, I loved it.

Rick Robinson said...

Only a few hours until we (hopefully) have an early indication of how the election is going. Fingers crossed!

TracyK said...

Rick, It was disappointing to wake up to no real result in the election this morning, although that was what we have been led to expect for weeks now. Another day of numbly waiting to see what happens.

Clothes in Books said...

A great list, and I look forward to longer reviews of some of them.
I read a few Carolyn Hougan books a while back, not sure if this was one of them, but your description made me think I should look her up again - just the kind of books I like.

TracyK said...

I liked the Carolyn Hougan book a lot, Moira. I was afraid it would let me down at the end but it did not.

I am going to be reading a lot of Poirot novels because we are watching the Poirot episodes and I trying to keep up with reading the novels first. I am reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd now... and loving it so far.

col2910 said...

Looks like you had a decent month, Tracy. I like the look of the Rendell collection most.

TracyK said...

I enjoyed the Rendell short story collection a lot, Col. I hope to find other of her short story collections someday.