One of the fascinating things about keeping a record of what I’ve been reading is seeing the patterns which emerge. This month nearly every single novel I read had a historical setting, and half of them were murder mysteries. I’ve always loved a good murder mystery, particularly if it is set in the past. I do not, however, usually read three of them back to back!
Here’s what I’ve read this month:
Astor Place Vintage – Stephanie Lehmann
This is a really charming, funny book that moves deftly from modern-day New York to the same city streets in 1907.
Amanda loves old things – especially shoes and clothes – which she hunts down for herself and for her vintage clothes store, Astor Place Vintage. One day she discovers a diary from 1907, sewn into an ancient fur muff. Reading the diary, she finds herself drawn into the life of Olive Westcott, a young lady who lived in New York City one hundred years ago.
Both narrative threads are really interesting and engaging, and the lives of the two women touch in interesting and unexpected ways. Both are young woman trying to forge their own way, and both have various romantic intrigues that add an extra sparkle to the novel.
Death Comes as Epiphany – Sharan Newman
I’ve always had a soft spot for a medieval murder mystery, thanks no doubt to all the Cadfael books I read as a teenager. Sharan Newman is a new author for me (always a risk), but I enjoyed this very much and am planning to get the next in the series.
The story revolves around Catherine LeVendeur, a headstrong and clever young woman who has been sent to the Convent of the Paraclete, famous for its abbess, the fabled Heloise. When a manuscript created by the convent disappears, Heloise asks Catherien for help in searching it out. For Heloise is afraid that the manuscript will be used to harm her one-time lover, Peter Abelard.
The story rolls along swiftly, with lots of interesting historical details, and a really lovely understated romance. Sharan Newman is a medieval scholar, but her knowledge of the period is never allowed to slow down the plot.
Death on Blackheath – Anne Perry
I always enjoy the work of Anne Perry, who writes atmospheric and psychologically acute murder mysteries set in Victorian Britain. This is No 29 in her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery series – an impressive number! I’ve not read them all, but one day I will sit down and read them all again, back to back, in order, because the growth and change in her major characters is so much an important part of the overarching series narrative.
This one involves a missing housemaid, the corpses of horribly mutilated women appearing on the heath, and espionage. A brilliant historical murder mystery (but if you haven’t read any other of these, start with Book 1, The Cater Street Hangman.
Elegy for Eddie – Jacqueline Winspear
Elegy for Eddie is the latest in Jacqueline Winspear’s elegant series of murder mysteries set in 1930s Britain. The books are serious and rather dark in tone, and a great deal of time is spent on the ruminations of the central character, Maisie Dobbs, a lower-class girl who has dragged herself up through the efforts of her own intelligence. At times I wish Jacqueline Winspear would give us more romance, more action, more humour, more sparkle! However, the books are very readable, nonetheless, and the London setting is most atmospheric.
The Aviator’s Wife - Melanie Benjamin
The Lindberghs were incredibly famous in their day, both for their feats of flying, and for the kidnap and murder of their first child. This beautifully written novel reimagines the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh from the time of her first encounter with the handsome but controlling aviator Charles Lindbergh to his death. It deals with his infatuation with the Nazis, the terrible months following their boy’s kidnap, and the writing of Anne’s own book, ‘Gift from the Sea’,
which I remember reading as a teenager. The Aviator’s Wife
is a really moving and powerful novel about one woman’s extraordinary life – I strongly recommend it.
Meanwhile, much of my reading time continues to be taken up with research on Hitler and Nazi Germany, for the new novel I hope to start writing soon. In fear of boring you, I won’t list every book I’ve read … only the best and most interesting.
Road to the Wolf’s Lair: German Resistance to Hitler - Theodore S Hamerow
This book is an in-depth examination of the men behind the ill-fated Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler, and the events which drove them to take such a drastic and dangerous path. It does assume the reader is well acquainted with the story, so should perhaps be read in conjunction with the famous classic account by Allen Welsh Dulles, Germany’s Underground: The Anti-Nazi Resistance. Dulles was OSS chief in Bern, Switzerland, during World War II and was acquainted with many people in the German Resistance.
In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin – Erik Larson
This is an utterly brilliant and beautifully written account of the life of the American Ambassador and his family in Germany in 1933. William E. Dodd was a mild-mannered history professor, with two Bright Young Things as children. On his appointment and subsequent arrival in Berlin, the Dodd family was at first entranced by the new Germany – everything was so clean, so pretty, so efficient, so well-ordered – and Adolf Hitler and his followers were so full of energy and conviction. Gradually, though, their view of Germany darkened. Dodd became convinced that Hitler planned war, but nobody listened to him. In fact, they thought he was a fool. One of the really illuminating things about this book is the way it shows the slow, gradual, and ultimately horrifying realisation of the depths of Hitler’s depravity. Most people in the world really had no way of knowing what was going on … until it was too late.
I, Pierre Seal: Deported Homosexual – Pierre Seal
I’ve been reading a lot of memoirs from people who lived through the Second World War, but this is one of the most gut-wrenching I’ve encountered. Pierre was a normal teenage boy just discovering his own sexuality when the Germans invaded his homeland of Alsace-Lorraine. He and other young homosexuals were rounded up, tortured, raped, and sent to a concentration camp. The account of the murder of Pierre’s young lover is just horrifying, and the psychological damage it caused Pierre for the rest of his life moved me to tears. The atrocities committed against homosexuals in Hitler’s Third Reich are not widely known, though there has been a movement in recent years to give voice to those that were deported and killed. A chilling read.
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