#FridayReads 2022-05-20 – Large Print Librarybooks Week – ‘Blood Precious’, ‘Bavarian Sunset’ and ‘The Red House Mystery’

I joined my local library recently, after learning that they offer a wide selection of audiobooks and ebooks. When I explained to the librarian that my eyesight was no longer good enough to read paperbacks, she recommended that I take a look at their Large Print collection. After the briefest of browses, I understood that I’d wandered far from the books I normally read. Apart from the Agatha Christie books (all of which seem to be available in Large Print), I didn’t recognise the authors or the titles. Yet I knew someone valued them enough to arrange to have Large Print editions published, so I picked up a few and was pleasantly surprised at what I found.

So, I’m devoting this week to three intriguing Large Print books. They have nothing in common except the size of their text. One is about an eighty-year-old woman who is frustrated because keeps having to delay her suicide plan. One is a slightly garish 1990s British thriller of the hard-boiled variety. One is a golden-age locked room mystery which is remarkable mainly because it was written by the author of Winnie-the-Pooh.

‘Blood Precious’ by Sara Banerji (2007)

The first few pages of ‘Blood Precious’ piqued my curiosity. At eighty, the main character is fifteen years older than me but I can already feel myself developing the prickly, impatient abhorrence of sentimentality that Lady Arabella Cunningham-Smythe displays. Her husband is dead. She is old and alone and sees no reason to stay that way. Suicide is the most logical course of action but like many logical courses of action, it’s easier to conceive than to propagate. For example, there is the problem of the suicide note. As the novel opens, Arabella has just started her fifteenth attempt with the words ‘Well, that was that’ which even she recognises as not being up to the job.

That caught my interest. What got me to take the book home was the description of her next attempt:

I began my letter again. ‘As you can see, I have killed myself.’ Stupid. Of course they were going to see. I tore up that one too. Something simple maybe. ‘Farewell’. No. no. Ridiculously archaic. ‘Bye bye, daughters’; ‘Tootleloo, kith and kin’; ‘I set off on a mysterious journey.’ Perhaps a long essay was the right thing. The problem was that I had never written a letter like this before and, of course, considering its substance, never would again. I even considered abandoning my principles and employing slop and sentimentality, two things I abhor

I knew I wanted to spend some time with this woman and see where her will and circumstances took her.

‘Bavarian Sunset’ by James Pattinson (1993)

James Pattison wrote more than 100 novels and yet, when I googled him, google assumed that he was a typo and that I really wanted to know ‘James Patterson’. How quickly the world forgets.

I’m not expecting great literature here but I’m hoping for a good story told by someone who can speak first hand to both the 1945 and the 1993 timeline of the story. The story opens in 1945 with a rape which is not made any less grim because it takes place off-stage. The language is not exploitative but it’s also not at all emotional. The title of the chapter is ‘Fortunes of War’. Personally, I hope the revenge sought is successful, slow and commensurate.

I’m curious to see how this fits in with an ex-Detective Constable turned Private Detective, who was born after the war ended and has no personal stake in the outcome and no knowledge of the context.

‘The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne (1922)

This was the only book I was already aware of. I read a review of this recently and the idea of A. A. Milne having written a locked room mystery struck me as so unexpected that I had already decided to find a copy, so when I saw a Large Print version in the catalogue, I couldn’t resist reserving it.

So far, I’ve only read Milne’s introduction, written for a new edition, four years after the book was first published, and it’s already made me smile. In it, he explains how his editor hadn’t wanted Milne, a well-known writer of humorous pieces for ‘Punch’ to write a detective story. Two years later, after the book had done well, he didn’t want him, a writer of detective novels, to write a children’s book. I guess publishing never changes. Milne, who loved detective stories, shares his views on how such a story should be assessed. He sees romance as an intrusion and forensics as too easy and prefers his sleuths to be amateurs, employing nothing more than ‘the light of cool inductive reasoning and the logic of stern remorseless facts.’ He proposes that:

…the detective must have no more special knowledge than the average reader. The reader must be made to feel that, if he too had used the light of cool inductive reasoning and the logic of stern remorseless facts (as, Heaven bless us, we are quite capable of doing) then he too would fixed the guilt.

Having defined the sleuth, he goes on to address the questions of having a Watson. He says:

And now, what about a Watson? Are we to have a Watson? We are. Death to the author who keeps his unravelling for the last chapter, making all the other chapters but prologue to a five-minute drama. This is no way to write a story. Let us know from chapter to chapter what the detective is thinking. For this he must watsonise or soliloquize; the one is merely a dialogue form of the other, and, by that, more readable. A Watson then, but not of necessity a fool of a Watson, A little slow, let him be as so many of us are, but friendly, human, likeable…

Clearly ‘The Red House Mystery’ was an indulgence for A. A. Milne. I expect he’s going to have a lot of fun with it and that I’ll be enjoying it alongside him.

2 thoughts on “#FridayReads 2022-05-20 – Large Print Librarybooks Week – ‘Blood Precious’, ‘Bavarian Sunset’ and ‘The Red House Mystery’

    • Thank you. I was surprised by how much satisfaction I got from holding a real book in my hands again. Reading from my Kindle is fine and I’m glad to have the option but I’ve been reminded that the physical presence of a book, its weight, its smell, it level of wear, contributes to it’s identity and helps lodge it more firmly in my memory.


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