The Serpent’s Back by Ian Rankin

Description: 18th century black comedy set in the seething Old Town of Edinburgh, where the resourceful if low-born Mr Cullender (caddie, manservant and general dogsbody) goes in search of a double murderer.

Ian Rankin’s play stars Alexander Morton as Cully, Richard Greenwood as Gisborne and Wendy Seager as the Lady.

Crime writer Ian Rankin is best known for his Inspector Rebus novels. He’s one of the most widely-read crime novelist in the UK, with many of his novels translated into numerous languages

A tale of Jacobites, murder, poetry, and the construction of Edinburgh New Town.

The Two Brothers by Honoré de Balzac

bookshelves: published-1842, spring-2015, e-book, gutenberg-project, group-read, france, series, classic, ipad

Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Dagny
Read from May 07 to 28, 2015
Produced by John Bickers, and Dagny, and David Widger
Translator: Katharine Prescott Wormeley

Missing from the Gutenberg frontpage is the original title: La Rabouilleuse

Plot summary from wiki: The action of the novel is divided between Paris and Issoudun. Agathe Rouget, who was born in Issoudun, is sent to be raised by her maternal relatives, the Descoings in Paris by her father Doctor Rouget. She suspects (wrongly) that he is not her true father. There she marries a man named Bridau, and they have two sons, Philippe, and Joseph. Monsieur Bridau dies relatively young, Philippe, who is the eldest and his mother’s favourite, becomes a soldier in Napoleon’s armies, and Joseph becomes an artist. Philippe, the elder son is shown to be a courageous soldier, but is also a heavy drinker and gambler. He resigns from the army after the Bourbon Restoration out of loyalty to Napoleon. Joseph is a dedicated artist, and the more loyal son, but his mother does not understand his artistic vocation.

Looks delish!

Opening: In 1792 the townspeople of Issoudun enjoyed the services of a physician named Rouget, whom they held to be a man of consummate malignity. Were we to believe certain bold tongues, he made his wife extremely unhappy, although she was the most beautiful woman of the neighborhood. Perhaps, indeed, she was rather silly. But the prying of friends, the slander of enemies, and the gossip of acquaintances, had never succeeded in laying bare the interior of that household. Doctor Rouget was a man of whom we say in common parlance, “He is not pleasant to deal with.” Consequently, during his lifetime, his townsmen kept silence about him and treated him civilly. His wife, a demoiselle Descoings, feeble in health during her girlhood (which was said to be a reason why the doctor married her), gave birth to a son, and also to a daughter who arrived, unexpectedly, ten years after her brother, and whose birth took the husband, doctor though he were, by surprise. This late-comer was named Agathe.

Inclement weather and the soothing sound of both washer and drier in action meant I hunkered down under the settee quilt with my ipad to finish off this tale. Another great character observation by the rough diamond pen of Balzac.

Checking up on the title was something of an eye-opener:

‘La Rabouilleuse’ is the nickname of Flore Brazier used behind her back by the people of Issoudun. Max takes offence when some of his friends use it in conversation. Adamson translates the term as “the Fisherwoman”. From the French Wiki of this page, it appears that it is a regional word for someone who stirs up the water in a river, more easily to catch fish such as crayfish. “(En français régional, une personne qui agite et trouble l’eau pour effrayer les écrevisses et les pêcher plus facilement)”. The nickname is a reference to the job that she did as a young girl when helping her uncle to fish for crayfish, before becoming a servant to the Rouget household. The English title of the book therefore moves the focus from her to the two brothers. – wiki

I once mentioned to Dagny that embarking on Balzac will only happen once Zola was complete, yet I don’t seem to be doing too badly at 3.5* average per book:

3* Cousin Bette
3* The Unknown Masterpiece
4* The Mysterious Mansion
2* Honorine
TR Pere Goriot
TR Eugénie Grandet

Dragon Hunter: Roy Chapman Andrews & the Central Asiatic Expeditions

Description: Archaeology. Lavishly illustrated with original photographs from the expeditions—is a thrilling page—turner, an epic search for fossils cloaked in a sweeping historical narrative.

Opening: “I was born to be an explorer. There never was any decision to make. I couldn’t do anything else and be happy… The desire to see new places, to discover new facts – the curiosity of life always has been a restless driving force in me.”

The interest for me was seeing how the careers of Younghusband, Larsen, Hedin and Andrews crossed to a backdrop of history containing the Russo-Japanese war, Pu-yi (The Last Emperor), WW1, communist take over of Outer Mongolia. All this without me even mentioning the main purpose of the book, namely the dinosaurs.

A soupçon shy of 4*

The Blue Tiger, also know as the Maltese Tiger, is, as the name would suggest, a blue tiger that has historically been reported mainly in the Fujian area of China

The Flaming Cliffs of the Gobi desert discovered by Dr. Roy Chapman Andrews in 1923.

Complicit by Nicci French

bookshelves: spring-2015, tbr-busting-2015, e-book, nutty-nuut

Read from May 24 to 27, 2015
Description: Bonnie Graham is standing in a room belonging to a friend. At her feet is a corpse, straddled in a spreading pool of blood. The questions are numerous: who is responsible for the dead body on the floor? What does she, Bonnie, have to do with it? And what is her next course of action? This opening premise gives some idea of just how quickly (and comprehensively) Nicci French is able to transfix the reader. It is this combination of a shocking situation and the ill-advised, often self-destructive actions of the duo’s protagonists which the authors pull off in book after book; we may disapprove of what French’s characters do in their extreme situations, but it’s impossible not to identify with them. Bonnie is a music teacher, rehearsing through a sweltering summer in London with a band that is scheduled to play at a wedding. Any pleasure the experience might have afforded is to evaporate as bitter internecine divisions within the band make themselves felt, and sexual involvements move in particularly murderous directions.

Baseline three here, my least favourite so far.

3* Killing Me Softly
4* Beneath the Skin
3* Catch Me When I Fall
CR Complicit
OH Land of the Living (oops – I’d forgotten about this one)

Diamond Solitaire by Peter Lovesey

Read by……………… Simon Prebble
Total Runtime……… 10 Hours 46 Mins

Description: Stripped of his Police rank, ex-detective Diamond is working as a Harrods’ rent-a-cop, until a young Japanese girl is found hiding in the store during his watch and he receives another pink slip. With time free, he investigates the identity of the youngster, now named Naomi, who remains silent and unclaimed. When she is abducted, Diamond traces her to New York and Japan where a Sumo wrestler agrees to bankroll the ex-copper’s highly unofficial investigation. Lovesey’s grip on the plot never loosens as Diamond, with gentle humor, bluffs his way past authorities by feigning a clout he no longer possesses. At the beginning of the book, a drug company is rocked by both the death of its president and an explosion at an Italian chemical plant. The ensuing corporate power struggle suggests to ever-observant organized crime factions that a buck might be made, and a murder is arranged. How this fits into the moving tale of the mute girl who draws diamonds on paper to symbolize her new friend is clarified only near the conclusion. It’s a powerful moment in a book that, without gimmickry or cross-genre splicing, delivers superb, unashamedly traditional crime writing.

No part of this story is the least part realistic which meant total immersion was impossible. That is not to say Diamond Solitaire was a total waste of time, there were redeeming sections, however overall, this wasn’t my cup of tea.

On an up-note, Prebble makes Diamond sound like Hoskins.

3* The Last Detective (Peter Diamond, #1)
2* Diamond Solitaire (Peter Diamond #2)
3* Bloodhounds (Peter Diamond, #4)
3* Diamond Dust (Peter Diamond, #7)

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith

Description: Oliver Goldsmith’s hugely successful novel of 1766 remained for generations one of the most highly regarded and beloved works of eighteenth-century fiction. It depicts the fall and rise of the Primrose family, presided over by the benevolent vicar, the narrator of a fairy-tale plot of impersonation and deception, the abduction of a beautiful heroine and the machinations of an aristocratic villain. By turns comic and sentimental, the novel’s popularity owes much to its recognizable depiction of domestic life and loving family relationships.

An interesting section in Boswell’s biography of Samuel Johnson makes me wish to read this book and here it is:

William Powell Frith: Measuring Heights, 1863 (A scene from Chapter 16: Olivia Primrose and Squire Thornhill standing back to back)

Opening: The description of the family of Wakefield; in which a kindred likeness prevails as well of minds as of persons.

I was ever of opinion, that the honest man who married and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single, and only talked of population. From this motive, I had scarce taken orders a year before I began to think seriously of matrimony, and chose my wife as she did her wedding gown, not for a fine glossy surfaces but such qualities as would wear well. To do her justice, she was a good-natured notable woman; and as for breeding, there were few country ladies who could shew more. She could read any English book without much spelling, but for pickling, preserving, and cookery, none could excel her. She prided herself also upon being an excellent contriver in house-keeping; tho’ I could never find that we grew richer with all her contrivances. However, we loved each other tenderly, and our fondness encreased as we grew old.

What a refreshing change of pace this was; a sentimental read that failed to descend into dreaded mawkishness. The Primrose’s family fortunes were a white knuckle ride tempered by stiff upper lip and the moral high ground.

Ernest Gustave Girardot 1883

Charles Robert Leslie : A Scene from “The Vicar of Wakefield” (chapitre XI)

A Devil to Play: One Man’s Year-Long Quest to Master the Orchestra’s Most Difficult Instrument by Jasper Rees

bookshelves: published-2008, under-500-ratings, radio-4x, spring-2015

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from May 16 to 25, 2015

Description: In the days before his fortieth birthday, London-based journalist Jasper Rees trades his pen for a French horn that has been gathering dust in the attic for more than twenty-two years, and, on a lark, plays it at the annual festival of the British Horn Society.

Despite an embarrassingly poor performance, the experience inspires Rees to embark on a daunting, bizarre, and ultimately winning journey: to return to the festival in one year’s time and play a Mozart concerto—solo—to a large paying audience.

1/5: The author and journalist embarks on ‘One Man’s Struggle with the Orchestra’s Most Difficult Instrument.’ Read by Nicholas Boulton.

2/5: The scale of the ambition dawns on him

3/5: to America.

4/5: school days and a disasterous performance

5/5: the big performance

Rees seems to prefer looking backwards, rediscovering his Welsh roots, and revisiting his school day horn lessons.

2.5* Bred of Heaven: One man’s quest to reclaim his Welsh roots
2.5* A Devil to Play

Last Detective by Peter Lovesey

Read by……………… Simon Prebble
Total Runtime……… 11 Hours 28 Mins

Description: Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond is the last detective: a genuine gumshoe, committed to door-stopping and deduction rather than fancy computer gadgetry. So when the naked body of a woman is found floating in the weeds in a lake near Bath with no one willing to identify her, no marks and no murder weapon, his sleuthing abilities are tested to the limit. Struggling with a jigsaw puzzle of truant choirboys, teddy bears, a black Mercedes and Jane Austen memorabilia, Diamond persists even after the powers-that-be have decided there’s enough evidence to make a conviction.

The opening scene has a cat-walking elderly lady (I imagined Margaret Rutherford) knocking on a door late evening – she has something to report.

Diamond is aged forty-one in this first book; it is explained that he gave up rugby eight years ago, at the age of thirty-three.

That was gentle, twisty fun. Obviously I’m not going to become a total Peter Diamond fan because of my interest and support for the forensic sciences, however if all the episodes are up to this standard, it looks an enjoyable series.

Bath Football Club is one of the oldest clubs in existence, having been founded in 1865 by members of Lansdown Cricket Club in Bath (founded 1825) for ‘something to do in the winter’

3* The Last Detective (Peter Diamond, #1)
3* Bloodhounds (Peter Diamond, #4)
3* Diamond Dust (Peter Diamond, #7)

The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia by Samuel Johnson

bookshelves: spring-2015, radio-4, tbr-busting-2015, classic, afr-ethiopia, lit-richer, philosophy, bellybutton-mining, feckless-procrastination, moral-high-ground, published-1759, play-dramatisation

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from March 13, 2014 to May 25, 2015

Description: An intriguing, contemporary take on Samuel Johnson’s classic tale of an African prince in search of happiness.

A star cast is led by Ashley Zhangazha as Rasselas, Jeff Rawle as Samuel Johnson and Lucian Msamati – the RSC’s first black Iago – as the poet Imlac. Singer and actor Cynthia Erivo makes her BBC radio drama debut as Princess Nekayah.

Recorded on location at Dr Johnson’s House, 17 Gough Square, in the City of London – the very place where over 260 years ago, Johnson compiled his famous dictionary and then in January 1759, wrote his instant bestseller ‘Rasselas’ in a week, to pay for his mother’s funeral.

Acclaimed 18th century philosophy fuels a contemporary desert road trip in this inventive and playful adaptation by Jonathan Holloway. Period and modern collide in a satirical fantasy as Rasselas and his companions follow their quest for happiness and purpose to Cairo, where they encounter Arab Spring revolutionaries.

Jonathan Holloway’s drama also incorporates a compelling glimpse of Johnson himself – the lonely, 50-year-old celebrity and writer, in debt, in poor health, and missing his young Jamaican manservant, Francis Barber, who had run away to sea. Born a slave, Barber was freed at Johnson’s insistence and treated kindly by him.

Johnson had struggled through many years of poverty before moving to Gough Square and becoming a highly respected writer. ‘Rasselas’, his singular, progressive rumination on human happiness, is his only novel and his most popular work.

Samuel Johnson Jeff Rawle
Arthur Murphy Kevin Trainor
Princess Nekayah Cynthia Erivo
Prince Rasselas Ashley Zhangazha