I’m an introvert. My head is a noisy place. There are lots of voices in here and they often disagree. Usually, reading quiets them all as we slip into the story before us but not always. Sometimes, Ant, the name I give to my inner pedant, becomes distractingly vocal while I read.
This happened today when I started “Murder At Half Moon Gate” by Andrea Penrose. This is the second book in a series of Regency detective stories starring the Lord Wrexford, a disreputable and allegedly cold-hearted man of science and Charlotte Sloane, a widow living off her wits pseudonymously as the infamous Quill, a satirical cartoonist feared by high-society.
“Murder at Half Moon Gate” follows on from “Murder on Black Swan Lane”, a book I enjoyed for its brio and audacity but where the word choices irritated me like sand in a sock.
Overall, the first book had been fun, so I settled down to read the next. Sadly, Ant, my inner pedant, sat down with me and kept pestering me as I read.
The book opened with a spooky olde-London-in-the-fog-at-night scene. It starts like this:
” A thick mist had crept in from the river. It skirled around the man’s legs…”
“Nonsense,” Ant spat. “A skirl is a noise made by playing the bagpipes. What kind of mist does that?”
“I know,” I replied. “She used it last time. We looked it up, remember? She means swirled, I think.”
“You looked it up,” Ant said. “I already knew. If she means swirled, she should say swirled. Writers should say what they mean and mean what they say.”
“Don’t be so smug,” I chided. “Now hush and let me get into this spooky prologue.”
The second paragraph was a single sentence:
“A shiver of gooseflesh snaked down his spine.”
“Shiver is a verb, not a noun,” he said. “It involves shaking, not snaking. Gooseflesh happens when the hairs on your skin stand. Does this man have a particularly hairy spine?”
Ant can be a real pain sometimes. This was supposed to be the scary bit so I didn’t encourage him by replying.
Then we reached the bit where the man, lost in the twisting back streets of London starts to see how dark it’s become and we read:
“A glance up showed only a weak dribbling of moonlight playing hide and seek within the overhanging roofs.”
Even I paused at that. I looked at Ant, raised an eyebrow and waited. He bounced with gleeful annoyance.
“How does moonlight dribble?” he said. “What makes dribbling weak? If it IS weak, how does it play hide and seek? And another thing, how can he see the moonlight playing hide and seek if it’s playing WITHIN the overhanging roofs?
I calmed Ant down long enough to get through the murder and to the first sight of each of the main characters. The meeting with Wrexford was a little dull but Ant is quite dull himself, so he didn’t notice. The update from Charlotte Sloane didn’t go so well. Ant pounced when Charlotte reflected that:
“Her art was now bringing in a handsome salary from Fores’s print shop.
“No, it’s not,” Ant said, contemptuously. “It’s bringing in a handsome salary from Fores’ print shop.” Ant spelt Fores’ so I wouldn’t miss his point and then pounded it home by saying “You’d think an educated woman. who reads Latin and Greek would know that the last S was unnecessary.”
Neither Ant nor I read Latin or Greek and I wondered briefly whether he or perhaps we were jealous of Charlotte.
Sadly the next line was:
“And along with the unexpected windfall she’d…
“Now she’s starting sentences with AND,” Ant said, scornfully. “Who does that?”
“You do,” I said. “Only a few minutes ago, you started a sentence with ‘And another thing.'”
Ant paused, wrinkled his brow and then, with a straight-face that gave no hint at self-mockery, said. “I was talking. She was writing. Writing is held to a higher standard.”
Finally, Charlotte repeated a phrase that had earned Ant’s ire in the first book:
“Beggars can’t be choosy.”
Unfortunately, she then added:
“She silenced her misgivings with an old English adage.”
“Hah!” Ant said. “This time there’s no room for doubt. The old English adage is ‘beggars can’t be choosers’. Choosy is an American word and only came into being in the 1860s.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“I looked it up in the Online Etymological Dictionary.”
“Of course you did,” I said, setting the book aside with a sigh.
“What are you doing?” Ant asked.
“I’m adding the book to my DNF pile.”
“You can’t do that,” Ant said. “I want to know how Wrexford and Sloane are going to solve the murder in the skirling fog.”
“Ok,” I said, picking up the book, “but only if you sit quietly while I read”.
I doubt Ant will manage that but there’s more to reading that pedantry. Even Ant knows that.