This week, I’m going to be spending time with quirky English detectives or at least, quirky English people doing detective work. I’ll be with Lord Peter Wimsey in 1930s England as he solves a mystery in a church in a small village, meeting George Smiley as he looks into the suicide of a colleague in 1960s London and going on a mission to modern-day Zurich with the remarkable Beatrice Stubbs to hunt for an assassin of the rich and corrupt.
I’m hoping for a week of entertaining reading, with a few surprises along the way.
‘Call For The Dead’ by John le Carré (1961)
A little while ago, I read ‘A Murder Of Quality’, the second of John le Carré’s George Smiley books and was delighted to find that it was an engaging mystery fuelled by hatred and compassion. Hatred for minor public schools in post-war England and compassion for the people who staffed and attended them. I promised myself I would spend more time with the self-effacing but resolute George Smiley, so I’m going back a step to John le Carré’s debut novel. At 160 pages, it’s a short book, more of a novella really. It shows Smiley doing the things that he’s best known for: refusing to let something go and quietly but determinedly digging out buried truths.
‘Call For The Dead’ was published in 1961, the year the Russians erected the Berlin Wall. John le Carré was in Berlin at the time. For him, the Cold War was a reality that was likely to stretch well into the future. It intrigues me that he chose to write about a man from his father’s generation. Someone who had been through the war and come out the other side unconvinced that victory had been achieved and then been side-lined and told he was too old and too worn to be active in the service.
I’m keen to meet this first incarnation of George Smiley and watch him navigate his way through lies and conspiracies, not to protect his nation but because he had liked Samuel Fennan, and Fennan’s death from an apparent suicide didn’t feel right.
‘The Nine Tailors’ by Dorothy L. Sayers (1934)
‘Nine Tailors’ is the book I keep being told is the best Lord Peter Wimsey book so, when I saw that it had been selected as this month’s side read for the ‘Appointment With Agatha’ group on GoodReads, I decided to give it a try.
I’m curious to see if I’ll find Wimsey engaging when there’s no Harriet Vine around to balance/motivate him. The setting, an English village in the snow, sounds promising and Sayers should know her way around the Anglican Church and its denizens pretty well. I hoping for something colourful and witty but with a real puzzle at its heart.
‘Behind Closed Doors’ by JJ Marsh (2012)
I took a risk and bought the first three Beatrice Stubbs books in an omnibus edition. JJ Marsh is a new author to me but her background appeals. We’ve spent time in a lot of the same places, including living in Switzerland and I’m intrigued to see how she brings those places to life.
‘Behind Closed Doors’ is set in Zurich, a city I know well, so it will give me a chance to see how well JJ Marsh captures it. I’m also keen to see how she builds Beatrice Stubbs’ character. Beatrice is bipolar, clever, collaborative and relentless. I’ve been told that part of the strength of the series is the honest and realistic way Marsh describes how a bipolar person succeeds at a high profile job.
The other thing that appeals about the premise of ‘Behind Closed Doors’ is that it’s about someone killing off the rich and corrupt. It’s always good to have something to cheer for in a book.
I’m hoping that this book will engage me and leave me hungry for the rest of the books in the series.