16/07/2018

Under Gemini (by Rosamunde Pilcher)

I’m very much enjoying re-reading my books by Rosamunde Pilcher (interspersed with others). Although I list 64 favourite authors at the side of this blog, with links to books I have read and reviewed by them, Rosamunde Pilcher would rank amongst my top ten. Before she retired she wrote short stories, medium length novels and lengthy sagas, and I have loved them all.

I last read ‘Under Gemini’ in 2004, but had almost entirely forgotten what it was about, other than identical twins who meet as adults, unaware until that point that the other existed. So I was slightly surprised that the first chapter was about a middle-aged woman called Isobel, who kept house for her wealthy but poorly mother, known to all as Tuppy. Tuppy has just got over a nasty bout of pneumonia, and although she seems to be recovering, she’s 77 and taking a while to get better. Hugh, the family doctor, seems to be concerned and Isobel assumes that the outlook is dire.

Tuppy’s greatest wish is to see her grandson Antony and his fiancĂ©e Rose. Tuppy and her household are in the highlands of Scotland, and Antony works in Edinburgh. But Rose - we gather - has been in the United States with her mother, and although Antony thinks she’s back in London, she’s remarkably difficult to contact.

The second chapter then switches to a beach in Cornwall. Flora has just been swimming with her father and is feeling sad that she is soon to move to London. He would love her to stay longer, but she needs to move on with her life, to find a job and to live independently. So she says her farewells and travels up to London; only then to we learn that the offer of temporary accommodation from a friend has fallen through. She has no idea what she will do…

The unexpected meeting, mentioned in the blurb on the back, happens soon afterwards with quick recognition, and rather mixed feelings. An unlikely coincidence, but I don't have a problem with that. And then one of the pair flies to Greece… leaving her twin to agree to what seems like an innocent (if somewhat outrageous) deception, for the sake of Tuppy, who is assumed to be dying.

Most of the book takes place in Tuppy’s home, with quite a cast of characters, both family and staff, as well as some local friends. Pilcher has such a gift of characterisation that I had no problem remember who was whom - indeed, any slight confusion might have been deliberate, as Flora herself is a tad bewildered, pretending to be someone she has only met once. As she soon learns, she and her twin are very different in character.

I may have recalled some of the events subconsciously; or it may have been clever writing that meant I was very wary on Flora’s behalf when she went on a supposedly innocent dinner date. Yet I had forgotten all the details and the outcome. I had an inkling of who she would end up falling for - but that may have been because it followed the classic romantic device of an initial clash. It really didn’t matter. I was drawn into the storyline and the people, and could scarcely put the book down.

First published in 1976, the novel feels like a product of that era, set firmly in the upper middle classes. All the main characters are friendly towards the staff, eating with them at times, helping them when asked. Yet there’s very much a sense of separation and entitlement. Tuppy can ‘organise’ a party by employing people to cook, and expecting her housekeeper and his husband to manage the rooms and furniture. Boarding school was the norm for children of about eight and upwards. It’s not a world I’m part of, but like Georgette Heyer’s regency romances, it transports me to a different way of life, in a different era, albeit only forty years ago.

I wish I knew how the author manages, with just a few words, to create such distinct and three-dimensional people. Even the minor ones, if a tad typecast, are not caricatured. The nurse, with a face like a horse, is nonetheless kind-hearted, excellent in the sick room, and shows an unexpected talent at sewing.

Seven-year-old Jason is a typically enthusiastic boy who loves outdoor activities and is devoted to his uncle Antony, but he’s also quite sensitive and quick on the uptake. Flora is a wonderful character, full of doubts and confusions, but basically extremely likeable. And Tuppy is autocratic and controlling - but also lovable and full of nostalgia.

There were places where I smiled, and felt warmed. There were more than a couple of scenes which brought a few tears to my eyes. And when I finally put the book down, after an all-too-short concluding chapter, I felt a tinge of regret that I had to say goodbye to these delightful people until - in another ten years or so - I pick it up to read again.

Very highly recommended to anyone who enjoys women’s fiction.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

15/07/2018

Eight Cousins (by Louisa M Alcott)

Having recently re-read Louisa M Alcott’s classic series that begins with ‘Little Women’, I decided to re-read some of her other books too. I last read ‘Eight Cousins’ shortly after I acquired it back in 2009, and that was the first time in probably thirty years. I vaguely remembered that it was about a girl called Rose who had seven male cousins, but nothing much else.

As with others by this author, the book was written as contemporary fiction in the late 19th century. It’s set in small town USA, somewhere near a beach but the exact location doesn’t much matter. We meet Rose, aged thirteen and recently orphaned, after an experimental period living with her two great aunts who have the unlikely sounding names of Peace and Plenty. She has been away at school but didn’t like it at all.

What’s slightly mystifying is that she has not yet met her seven cousins, and is convinced she doesn’t like boys at all. Yet once she has met them, and decided they’re not so bad after all, she spends almost all her time with one or more of them as they all live nearby. In addition to the great aunts, Rose has four aunts. Jessie is her favourite; her husband is at sea, and she has four sons: Archie, who is sixteen, and three younger boys.

Then there’s Aunt Jane, who is quite strict although married to the friendly Uncle Mac. They have two sons: the bookworm, another Mac, and the dandy Steve. Aunt Clara is keen on fashion, and has one son, Charlie. Then there’s Myra, who is convinced Rose (and everyone else) is fading away, and wants them to take pills and potions and lie indoors. Myra is widowed and lost her only daughter some years ago.

All the aunts have different ideas about what should happen to Rose, and how she should be brought up. But she has been left to the guardianship of Alec, her late father’s brother. Rose meets Alec for the first time shortly after the book begins, and he proposes a year’s ‘experiment’ whereby he encourages her towards outdoor pursuits, nourishing food (without any of Myra’s medications) and a low-key relaxed (if formal, at times) education at home. It’s clear that the author is on her hobby-horse with this book, which would have been quite radical in its day. Alec, who is a doctor, is very outspoken against some of the fads of the era, particularly corsets. And, naturally enough, Rose benefits strongly from his advice.

Each chapter outlines a different incident in Rose’s life, mostly involving her cousins, although she also befriends Phebe, the kitchen maid. The author is also quite outspoken against the injustices of poverty, and Phebe’s lack of education; while still seeing quite a distinct difference between the gentry and servant classes.
Even then a moral is drawn as Phebe is thankful for all she has, while Rose tends to get bored, and complains about what she doesn’t have.

There’s a great deal of inherent sexism too, alongside the author’s attempts to show that Rose is every bit as intelligent and courageous as the boys, if not more so at times. We see her making a big sacrifice in one chapter, and several small ones when her cousins fall into scrapes, or are sick in any way. We also see her gentle influence on her cousins and the households where she lives or stays. Rose is almost too good to be true, but is so full of genuine doubts and questions, and so loving that she is quite an endearing character.

Inevitably the style of writing is old-fashioned, along with some of the principles and values; yet it remains an enjoyable book, interesting from the social history point of view, and in better understanding the attitudes of the times. The aunts are all slightly charactured, other than Jessie, but that doesn’t matter; despite their foibles, each one has her endearing side, and they all genuinely care about Rose.

Originally written for teenagers, this would probably appeal to children (mostly girls) over the age of about eight or nine who are fluently reading. It would make a good bedtime read-aloud book too, as each chapter is complete in itself. Many teens would find it too date or moralistic, but there are some good principles involved, and I love the way that family ties and loyalties are seen as supreme. I skimmed a few descriptive sections here and there, but on the whole liked it very much. There were one or two places which I found very moving.

There’s not all that much story; it’s mostly incidents over the course of Alec’s experimental year, but Louisa M Alcott does that kind of thing well, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes her style of writing, or books of this era.

Regularly republished in paperback, often found second-hand, and available in Kindle and other e-book form too.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

13/07/2018

The House of New Beginnings (by Lucy Diamond)

I have liked the books I’ve read by Lucy Diamond so far, and in a bid to acquire more modern women’s fiction, I put a couple more of her books on my wishlist last year. I was given ‘The House of New Beginnings’ last Christmas, and have just finished reading it.

The novel is about several diverse women who all happen to live in the same block of flats in Brighton. The first one we meet is Georgie, who has just arrived and is waiting for her boyfriend. They come from Yorkshire, but he has been given a six-month contract to work in Brighton, and she has decided to come too. She seems to take their relationship rather more seriously than he does, and is quite excited about the thought of getting to know a new town.

Next we meet Rosa, working as sous chef for a grumpy boss in a local hotel. It quickly becomes clear that she gave up a much more glamorous job due to relationship stresses, and her story unfolds gradually through the course of the book. Rosa is clearly a very good cook, and loves to bake cakes and other goodies for friends… but her current job involves chopping onions and being shouted at, so is not very inspiring. As Rosa returns to the flat one afternoon, she sees another resident, Jo, being taken out by ambulance. She agrees to keep an eye on Jo’s teenage daughter Bea.

Then there’s Charlotte, who we met briefly in a slightly cryptic prologue that didn’t really add much to the book. Charlotte is grieving the loss of her baby daughter; again, we don’t learn much about this until later in the book. Charlotte works in an estate agent’s office, where she tries to maintain a low profile. She’s not particularly enamoured with her work or her colleagues, but is evidently good at what she does.

Finally there’s Margot, an elegant and elderly Frenchwoman who lives on the top floor. Unlike the younger women, she has lived in this flat for a long time. She’s had quite a past, too, and is extremely sociable.

Gradually, through varying circumstances, these women get to know each other and to develop tentative friendships. There are some potential romances, mostly fairly low-key, which all develop in satisfactory ways, and I quite liked the scenes involving the teenage Bea. She’s extremely moody at first, worried about her mother and very angry with her absent father. But Rosa, helped by her baking, manages to break through some of her teenage angst.

So - overall, an interesting storyline, and a positive outcome. I wish there hadn’t been so much bad language and ‘adult’ activity mentioned (though the author does, at least, avoid any intimate details). But my biggest struggle with the book is that Rosa, Jo, Charlotte and Georgie all seem remarkably similar in personality. They have different backgrounds, and different abilities, but their conversational styles and general behaviours are difficult to distinguish.

Margot, being older and French, is more typecast, and rarely leaves her flat anyway. But if I picked up the book when I was tired, and started reading a chapter about one of the four younger women, I sometimes had to go back to an earlier chapter to remind me which one it was about. They laugh at the same things, have the same ethics and morals, and pretty much the same personalities, though Georgie is more extraverted than the others. I didn’t feel a strong attachment to any of them, so although I was interested in how the various subplots developed, I didn’t feel any particular interest in any of the characters, other than perhaps Bea.

Still, it was a pleasant light read, recommended in a low-key way to anyone who likes modern women’s fiction (sometimes called 'chick-lit'). It could be good to take on holiday or read at the beach.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

11/07/2018

Finding Church (by Wayne Jacobsen)

I have kept an eye out for books by Wayne Jacobsen since reading, many years ago, the book ‘So you don’t want to go to church anymore?’. That book, a fictionalised account of people becoming unhappy with their structured mega-church and discovering a more relational way of following Jesus, was quite a landmark in the lives of many.

I have appreciated a couple of other books by this author, and have just finished reading ‘Finding Church’, which has the subtitle ‘What if there really is something more?’ I haven’t been following Wayne Jacobens’s blog or Facebook page and wondered if it was going to be a book encouraging people to re-join established congregations. There are many books which do that, agreeing that the institutional church is far from perfect, but citing many advantages or benefits to belonging to a local congregation.

However, this book does not do that. Not that the author is anti-church in any way, and he acknowledges that in many cases a church congregation can provide a good environment for many people, either for short periods or long-term. New believers can be taught basics, and make some useful friendships through a local congregation. People can explore and use their gifts, and many Christians enjoy singing as a way of worshipping God, something which is easier to do in a group than on one’s own.

Nevertheless, there are thousands of people who have become dissatisfied with local congregations for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes these reasons may be critical or negative, with or without validity. Many local church groups become rule-bound, requiring Sunday morning attendance in order to be ‘part’ of the local expression of the body. They usually follow a set format, whether formal liturgy or a ‘worship time’ and ‘teaching time’, with little room for individuality. This suits some people, but we are all different - and when a congregation is made up of all ages, many nationalities, and many educational and cultural levels, it’s impossible for any talk or style of music to be relevant to everyone.

In many cases, people leave their local church congregations because they feel that there should be something different. They long for ways of connecting with others that don’t rely on sitting in rows on a Sunday morning. This book is, in a nutshell, about finding the Church - by which the author means the Body of Christ worldwide - by following Jesus directly, being open to the leading of the Spirit, and forming friendships with those around us.

The author mentions that the house church movement, and home groups within larger congregations, can be useful ways of connecting and forming stronger relationships than is possible in a once-a-week congregational setting. But he notes with sadness that they, too, often become rule-bound and institutionalised, perhaps expecting too high a degree of accountability, or extensive funding, or formulating rules which are seen as more important than loving God and our neighbours.

The writing is well-organised, carefully structured, and refers regularly to Scripture in context. The author shares some of his own experiences, both positive and negative, and his gradual acceptance of the idea that it’s fine not to belong to any local congregation. He examines many objections, including a chapter with specific questions and some answers, and he also sets out what he proposes - and is beginning to find in his own life and ministry.

Jacobsen is very keen not to be prescriptive. To produce a set of strict guidelines or objectives would create yet another rule-bound movement that would miss the point entirely. So he lays out his arguments, in the early part of the book, focussing on what he calls the ‘new creation’, where we are not bound by the laws or structures which were in place before Jesus.

He also suggests some principles, or values, to encourage people to move forward. So, for instance, there is a chapter called ‘Order without Control’, and another on ‘Authority without Hierarchy’. They form very general guidelines explaining how these Biblical precepts can be kept, without deteriorating into man-made requirements.

Personally, I found this book extremely encouraging. Much of what the author said resonated strongly with me - perhaps because I’ve been asking questions of this nature for some years. I have to admit I found some sections of the book a tad dry, perhaps too obvious; yet he had to write in a lot of detail to cover as many possible objections as he could. Others might disagree strongly with the principles in the book, and that’s okay; we’re all at different stages.

I hope it will, at least, help others to understand how it’s possible to be a follower of Jesus without belonging to any specific congregation. I hope it might also help those within traditional or modern church settings, who want something more, to see ways of reaching out into the community, and of building loving relationships with other believers during the week.

I recommend this very highly to anyone interested in these issues. Available fairly inexpensively for the Kindle as well as in paperback form.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

10/07/2018

The Moon by Night (by Madeleine L'Engle)

A couple of years ago I decided to re-read through the works of several authors whose books I have enjoyed, in a somewhat structured way. I realised that although I had very much liked the few books I had previously read by Madeleine L’Engle, there were a surprising number which I had never read. Our collection was somewhat eclectic, and my adult son removed the ones that were his - but I’ve managed to acquire most of the ones we were missing from charity and thrift shops.

‘The Moon by Night’ is the second book in the Austin family series intended for young teenagers. I read ‘Meet the Austins’ almost exactly a year ago, and then made the chronological mistake of reading ‘The Young Unicorns’ earlier this year, not realising that it was the third in the series. Not that it particularly matters. Even ardent fans of L’Engle’s writing do not always agree on the best order to read the books, and each one stands alone anyway.

‘The Moon by Night’, as with the first novel, is narrated by Vicky Austin. She’s almost fifteen when this book opens, and thinking about the future. We don’t know, at first, why she is so concerned and what is going to change, but quickly learn that her uncle is getting married to her mother’s best friend. Vicky has been dreaming by the sea and is almost late for the wedding…

The bulk of the book, however, features the family travelling around the US and parts of Canada on a lengthy camping holiday. Vicky has an older brother, John, who is soon to go to university. Her younger sister Suzy is determined to be a doctor, and they also have a much younger brother, Rob. There’s a fair amount of family interaction, with minor squabbles here and there, and a lot of love from the parents who, on the whole, are quite relaxed.

Two young men are introduced in the book, both of them interested in Vicky, and very different in personalities. Vicky herself learns a lot about herself and what matters to her over the course of the book, and that’s really the main theme. There are many incidents at different campgrounds including interactions with pleasant (and unpleasant) people, as well as close encounters with a variety of wild-life.

Some parts of the book felt to me like a brief travel guide - Vicky describes the landscapes of the different states they pass through, in some detail. This was interesting at first, but by about half-way through I started skimming or even skipping the car journeys, unless there was some conversation. The author was clearly familiar with the identifying features of each state, some of which rang true (we lived in the US for a couple of years and did some travelling camping ourselves a couple of times) so I assume it was all accurate.

But although Vicky occasionally stops short and says that anyone wanting to know more can read a travel book, I still found a tad too much detail about the geography of the US, and rather a lot, here and there, about natural history too. The author also gently demonstrates her anti-war agenda and her horror at what white Europeans did to the original Americans; I don’t have any problem with that, in theory, as I agree with her. But it felt a bit odd to be mentioned so many times in a novel.

I didn’t dislike it; I think it could make a very good read-aloud for children interested in American geography and landscapes, perhaps tracing the journey on a map. But equally it felt as if the informative side of the book was there to fill out a somewhat limited storyline.

Certainly worth reading by fans of Madeleine L’Engle. It makes a good sequel to ‘Meet the Austins’, as well as introducing a significant and intriguing character who reappears in some subsequent books (not just Austin ones). It also, for those who like continuity, covers the gap between the Austin family living in a very small town in the first book, and a flat in New York in the third book.

As with all L'Engle's books there's an underlying Christian theme, but it's quite low-key and not at all preachy. Vicky herself is not entirely sure about her faith but is quick to defend those who are.

My edition is a British one, in which some American words have been changed ('petrol' for 'gas', for instance) but others, such as 'station wagon', have not. I'm not sure why publishers bother to make this kind of change, as most British children are familiar with American words - but it wasn't too intrusive and I didn't really notice until well over half-way through.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

09/07/2018

Among Friends (by Alexandra Raife)

I’m very much enjoying re-reading Alexandra Raife’s novels, which I first read fifteen or more years ago. The one I have just finished is ‘Among Friends’. It’s about a woman called Louise, who is in her early thirties and trying to move forward after a devastating bereavement, two years earlier.

Louise decides that as her main experience in life involves caring for families, and (recently) for an elderly lady, she will join an agency that places short-term staff in service jobs. However, due to her personal background, she does not want to look after children, or even have any children in households where she’s placed.

This novel is the fifth in the author’s ‘Perthshire’ cycle, and, as with so many of her books, picks up on characters who featured in earlier novels. Cass, who was the main protagonist in ‘The Wedding Gift’, is the head and driving force of the employment agency whom Louise joins. Cass finds herself quite drawn to Louise, realising she’s a strong and very able person, but it takes awhile for her to learn exactly what happened in her past.

We follow Louise through her first four assignments: working for two decidedly cantankerous people, interspersed with much pleasanter environments. I’m not entirely sure what the purpose is for her stay with Aidan, a former actor who is very gregarous and touchy-feely, and whose sister Erica lives the life of a traveller, in a caravan.

However, her other more enjoyable assignment, at a house called Fallan, is the focus of much of the story as it progresses. Here she meets the disorganised (and promiscuous) Abby, the hard-working and often grumpy owner Hugh, and revolutionises the unhygienically dirty and disorganised kitchen area which has seen a series of unsatisfactory cooks. Hugh travels widely for his work, but brings parties back to Fallan either for business or for shooting game on his property. When he entertains, he needs extensive and high quality food, and Louise’s main role is to provide both day-to-day meals and provisions for the freezer.

It’s a journey of discovery for Louise, as she works through her limitations, and leaves her mark on almost everyone she meets. She’s a talented, loyal and honest person who seems to have few faults; she is, however, held back by the deep grief of her bereavements. In the course of the book she gradually faces some of her fears, ventures into new territory and takes on roles and challenges which she would not have thought possible.

Unusually for Raife’s books, there isn’t a romance as such; there are hints that there might be, but the ending leaves everything open. Louise begins to find some healing, and ways to move forwards, and I found it all very encouraging. In places it’s quite moving, and although it’s perhaps a tad slow to get going, I had entirely forgotten the plot and found it difficult to put down by the time I was half-way through.

‘Among Friends’ stands alone, but is all the more enjoyable for having read earlier books by this author. Other than Cass and her husband, few earlier characters are mentioned by name, and none have any significant part to play. But I like the feeling of returning to a familiar environment, and knowing that everyone I cared about in earlier novels is continuing their lives in satisfactory ways.

Definitely recommended. Not currently in print, but available in Kindle form and sometimes found second-hand in paperback.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

07/07/2018

Henrietta's House (by Elizabeth Goudge)


Having recently read my newly-acquired ‘Sister of the Angels’ by Elizabeth Goudge, I wanted to re-read ‘Henrietta’s House’, which was written later and is related, though not a sequel. It's at least twenty years since I first came across it and read it, and I'd totally forgotten what it was about.

It doesn’t refer to any of the events in the earlier book, but has some of the same characters, though, strangely, they are slightly younger. The main one is ten-year-old Henrietta who lives with her grandparents. We meet her in this book as she is waiting eagerly for her adopted brother Hugh Anthony to return from his first term at boarding school.

Grandfather is a minister, a deeply religious and delightful elderly man, and the family live in the Cathedral Close of the fictional city of Torminster. Hugh Anthony is about to have his tenth birthday, and decides that he would like a picnic, some distance from home, where all his guests (other than Henrietta) are adults. He has had enough of boys at his school.

The main part of the book is about the different journeys that the various party guests take en route to the picnic; most of them don’t arrive at their destination, but have unexpected and varied adventures along the way. Elizabeth Goudge doesn’t exactly write fantasy; it’s more whimsical than that, set very much in the real world but with a decided element of a fairy-tale.

So there are adventures in an underground cave, a bower of leaves for a loving couple, and most of all, an unexpected treat for Henrietta. One could almost assume that the carriages were supposed to go astray; the horses, it seems know better than the people driving.

There’s not a great deal of plot, other than Henrietta making a delightful discovery, something that feels a tad unbalanced since it’s Hugh Anthony’s birthday rather than hers. However he doesn’t seem to mind, and is very pleased with all the food he gets to eat, as well as his exciting adventures.

The book is steeped in cathedral culture and history; this was written in 1945 but set early in the 20th century. There’s a gentle Christian theme throughout, as occurs in most of Goudge’s books, but she doesn’t preach or push her beliefs on her readers.

It’s perhaps too long winded, with extensive description and very little plot to be of much interest to today’s children, other than voracious and eclectic readers of perhaps nine to twelve or thirteen. But for adults hankering after a simpler era, and willing to suspend reality for a while, it’s a pleasant story.

Not currently in print, but sometimes available second-hand.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

05/07/2018

Appointment with Death (by Agatha Christie)

I try to vary the genres of books when I’m reading, and currently am cycling through around ten fiction authors, one of whom is Agatha Christie. We have an extensive collection of her books - over forty of them - some of which belong to one of my sons. I am trying to work my way through the ones I haven’t yet read, and yesterday picked up ‘Appointment with Death’.

The novel is set entirely in the Middle East, featuring a group of holiday-makers. The main character is Sarah King, who has recently qualified as a doctor. However the most significant - and interesting - people are a family of adults, the Boyntons. Mrs Boynton is overweight, clearly not in the best of health, and extremely controlling. It’s never made quite clear what she does to ensure compliance from her daughter and step-family, but they all seem to live entirely under her thumb.

Lennox Boynton, who must be around thirty, is married to Nadine but seems to have lost the will to live - certainly he has no energy to defy his mother, or to move out of the family home. Raymond is next; in his mid-twenties, he makes an unfortunate remark at the start of the book, which comes back to haunt him. He’s quite close to his sister Carol, who is also extremely stressed. Essentially they are captives to their mother’s every whim; she has an almost hypnotic control over them.

Then there’s Ginevra - Jinny - who is in her late teens, and seems to be quite unstable, continually wringing her hands or tearing things to pieces. She is Mrs Boynton’s daughter, but is treated just as badly as her step-siblings.

Agatha Christie was better at plotting than characterisation, but in this, which is a psychological thriller as much as a mystery, she has created some intriguing personalities. There are others involved - a doctor, a society lady, a friend of the Boynton family, and a few more, none of whom stand out particularly. But in the really horrible character of Mrs Boynton, she created someone unpleasantly memorable. It was inevitable, of course, that this vile person would meet her end - it’s even mentioned on the back of the book.

So the first part of the book is a build-up to Mrs Boynton’s demise, where the author cleverly lays a whole host of clues, making it entirely possible that any - or all - of the characters could have committed the deed. The famous detective Hercule Poirot just happens to be nearby and is called in to advise; he interviews each of the important members of the group, and draws up notes. He even produces a list of significant points that might otherwise be overlooked.

Naturally, Poirot solves the crime, with a complex explanation that begins by eliminating everyone else. In most of Agatha Christie’s books, I feel like kicking myself if I haven’t worked out ‘whodunit’ by the last chapter or two. But in this one, I’m not sure I could have worked it out, although I can see that there are hints along the way. I had already worked out some of the solution - which parts of the stories told in the interviews were lies, for instance - but not the perpetrator.

The story is easy enough to read, and there’s no gore or overt violence; Christie was good at having her bodies off-stage, and in this book the method is not one to cause stomachs to churn anyway. But it’s quite a tense story; the control exercised by Mrs Boynton, and the psychological explanations (by an expert) quite chilling at times.

Inevitably there are descriptions or comments that could be constituted racist by today’s understanding, but that kind of thing has to be accepted when reading this era of fiction. I don’t know how accurate the descriptions of places are, but they felt realistic enough to me. Overall I liked the book, and it could make a good starting point for anyone who isn’t familiar with Agatha Christie, or the mid-20th century light crime genre which she popularised.

'Appointment with Death', as with others by this author, is regularly re-printed, and can also be found fairly easily second-hand.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews