Book choice for October 2010

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House [suggested by Claire Jolly]

front cover

It is a summer's night in 1860. In an elegant detached Georgian house in the village of Road, Wiltshire, all is quiet. Behind shuttered windows the Kent family lies sound asleep. About an hour after midnight a dog barks: the Kents' Newfoundland is known for reacting noisily to the slightest provocation.

The family wakes the next morning to a horrific discovery: an unimaginably gruesome murder has taken place in their home. The household reverberates with shock, not least because the guilty party is almost certainly still among them.

If the above intro, taken from the book's own website, sounds familiar, it should. It could be the plot of any number of murder mysteries, horror films and spoofs made or written in the last hundred years. The difference being, THIS one was the first.

Perhaps one of the most celebrated books the club has ever selected, as well as having its own website as above (although strangely NOT its own Wikipedia page), there is a review on the Guardian pages by Ian Rankin and it appears ITV has recently commissioned a drama based on the story.

You can even listen to the author discussing her book on YouTube.

About the Author

Kate Summerscale, in contrast to her work, does have a Wikipedia page, but that's about as much biographical information as there is. Scant.

 

Shortlisted for this month

Book selectors can bring one, two or three books for selection, although it's usual to bring three. This month, Claire's other suggestions were:

The Moonstone

The Moonstone

(First selected in March 2010)

T S Eliot called The Moonstone "the first, the longest and the best of modern English detective novels". It's hard not to agree. The Moonstone, an enormous diamond of religious significance, is vilely plundered by a British soldier during the taking of Seringapatam in 1799. The Moonstone is brought back to England and, eventually, given to the prim, beautiful and wilful heiress, Rachel Verinder, on her birthday in 1848. And it goes missing the very same night. Rachel's family and friends are keen to recover the lost stone and to identify the thief and thus call upon the services of Sergeant Cuff, the most celebrated and successful detective that Scotland Yard can offer. Yet Rachel is strangely reluctant to assist in the investigation, and the professional sleuth is not the only one searching for the stone and for answers. Three juggling Indians accompanied by a clairvoyant young boy, a ruthless London money lender and an amiable philanthropist all seem to have their own interests in recovering the stone, while others including Rachel and a reformed thief turned servant girl, seem at least as anxious to conceal certain facts surrounding its disappearance. The stage is thus set for a gripping detective story full of twists and turns and unexpected developments, all centred on the Verinder's country house in Yorkshire.

Written in a semi- epistolary style, with several of the major characters telling the parts of the story with which they were most concerned from their own perspective, Collins' novel has strong gothic overtones and much in common with the `big-house' novels written earlier in the century and serves as a bridge with the swelter of English detective fiction which was to follow. It is long, but you hardly notice as Collins whisks his mystery from India to Yorkshire, to London, to Brighton and back to Yorkshire. Elegant prose reminiscent of yet lighter than Dickens encapsulates an enchanting mystery with magical, even fantastical overtones, and presents a series of warm, engaging, if somewhat stereotypical characters: who can forgot the admirable Gabriel Betteredge, with his mystic faith in the powers of Robinson Crusoe to provide answers to daily difficulties, or the misunderstood Erza Jennings, with his face so much older than his body and his two-tone hair?

A sheer delight to read, like so much detective fiction, it does not demand to be taken seriously, yet for the careful reader, there are on offer deeper strains of tension over class, over Empire, and over religious differences and good and evil, which one might more readily associate with the post-war literature of a cosmopolitan diaspora.[review from Amazon by Rivercassini]

There's also a Wikipedia page.

About the Author

Wilkie Collins was born on 8 January 1824 and died on 23 September 1889. In those 65 years he wrote 30 novels, more than 60 short stories, at least 14 plays, and more than 100 non-fiction pieces. A close friend of Charles Dickens from their meeting in March 1851 until Dickens's death in June 1870, Collins was one of the best known, best loved, and, for a time, best paid of Victorian fiction writers. But after his death, his reputation declined as Dickens's bloomed. Now, Collins is being given more critical and popular attention than he has for fifty years. Most of his books are in print - and all are now in e-text - he is studied widely, and new film, television and radio versions of some of his books have been made. All his known letters have been published. And new book length studies of his work or life appear frequently. But there is still much to be discovered about this superstar of Victorian fiction.

The above is taken from this website and, as always, there's a Wikipedia entry.

Murder Must Advertise

Murder Must Advertise

Lord Peter Wimsey is one of the greatest of all fictional detectives and 'Murder Must Advertise' presents us with one of his most intriguing mysteries. Set in the confines of 1930's advertising agency, Pyms Publicity. Lord Peter is called in to investigate the death of copywriter Victor Dean.

Not only is the story first rate, with all the expected twists and turns, but the atmosphere of the agency drawn from Sayers' own experience is vividly real. Sayers was arguably the most complex of the pre war 'Queens of Crime' and this book certainly works on a number of levels. For those who are unfamiliar with either Sayers or Wimsey, this book makes an excellent introduction, and demonstrates why their popularity has persisted. [Robert Kelly, writing on amazon]

Check out the novel on Wikipedia and there's also a movie.

About the Author

The Dorothy L. Sayers website has a wealth of information including an extensive biography, which begins:

Dorothy Leigh Sayers was born at Oxford on 13th June 1893, the only child of the Rev. Henry Sayers, of Anglo-Irish descent. Her father was at the time headmaster of Christ Church Cathedral School, and she was born in the headmaster's house. She was brought up at Bluntisham Rectory, Cambridgeshire, and went to the Godolphin School, Salisbury, where she won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford. In 1915 she graduated with first class honours in modern languages. Disliking the routine and seclusion of academic life she joined Blackwell's, the Oxford publishers, worked with her Oxford friend Eric Whelpton at L'École des Roches in Normandy, and from 1922 until 1929 served as copywriter at the London advertising firm of Bensons.

In 1923 she published her first novel, Whose Body, which introduced Lord Peter Wimsey, her hero for fourteen volumes of novels and short stories. She also wrote four other novels in collaboration and two serial stories for broadcasting. Writing full time she rose to be the doyen of crime writers and in due course president of the Detection Club

See also her Wikipedia page.

 

Previous Months' Book Choices

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