Mid-Century Pleasures: Georgette Heyer and Nevil Shute

I enjoy re-reading books occasionally, and sometimes I find books I haven’t read by favorite authors. All of these books were published between 1951 and 1960.

One of my favorite books to re-read is Trustee from the Toolroom, by Nevil Shute. Keith Stewart is an ordinary far country jacketman in Ealing, England, who becomes trustee of his young niece along with his wife, and tries to find a way to get to the South Pacific to recover her inheritance. He is an engineer who makes mechanical models, and writes about them for The Miniature Mechanic, along with answering dozens of letters from readers working on the models. These readers later help him get to Tahiti and back home again, via the Pacific Northwest.

I also read The Far Country, by Nevil Shute, set mainly in Australia. Post World War II conditions in England were still bad, with some rationing still in place until 1954. Jennifer Morton gets an unexpected gift from her late grandmother, and visits her cousin’s ranch in Victoria, Australia, where she meets a Czech doctor working as a lumberjack. Beautiful scenery, appealing characters, and a good look at the differences between life in England and in northeast Australia around 1950. Nevil Shute’s novels are known for their excellent storytelling, with mostly appealing characters, usually ordinary people in extraordinary situations or settings. These aren’t necessarily gentle reads, as he is best known for the post-apocalyptic On the Beach, and the World War II novel, A Town Like Alice.

venetia jacketI listened to two Regency romance novels by Georgette Heyer: Venetia, and The Quiet Gentleman. Her books are known for mild romance and witty dialogue, along with some humor. They are also excellent as audiobooks. Since they’re set in the early 1800s, they don’t feel at all dated. The library has a large collection of both authors’ books, as they are frequently reprinted. If you’re looking for a change of pace for your summer reading, browse and enjoy.


The Widow

widow jacketThe Widow by Fiona Barton

It’s rather a relief for Jean Taylor to be a widow. Maybe the reporters and detectives will leave her alone at last. Jean’s husband Glen was a suspect in the much-publicized disappearance of little Bella Elliott from her front yard. Bella has never been found, although her mother Dawn believes she’s still alive. Glen drove a delivery van, and may have been in Bella’s neighborhood that day. Jean, a hairdresser in London,  always stood by him, even after detectives reveal some of his dark secrets. Dogged PI Bob Sparkes can’t stop looking for leads in Bella’s case, and resourceful reporter Kate Waters manages to get the first interview with Jean. Read this compelling, fast-paced novel of psychological suspense to find out what happened to Bella, if Glen was guilty of her kidnapping, and what Jean knew or suspected and when. But the reader must decide if Jean’s story is reliable, as she has her own secrets. No graphic violence here, just plenty of chills. Readalikes include Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, The Expats by Chris Pavone, and The Last Child by John Hart.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

arthur jacketThe Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

A sweet, whimsical novel about 69-year-old widower Arthur Pepper, who lives near York, England. In the year since his wife Miriam died, he has survived only by clinging to routine, and his children are distant. Clearing out Miriam’s clothes, Arthur finds a charm bracelet, and impulsively calls the phone number on a bejeweled elephant charm. This starts him on a series of adventures to find out more about his wife, and to restart his own life. A real charmer, this is a good readalike for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.


The Summer Before the War

summer before jacketThe Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Beatrice Nash arrives in the southeastern English village of Rye to teach Latin. Her sponsors, Agatha and John Kent, are quite welcoming, and their nephews, poet Daniel and surgeon-in-training Hugh, help her secure the position when a last-minute male candidate appears. Much prejudice against class, race, and gender are evident in 1914 Rye, and Beatrice chafes under her late father’s restrictive trust, especially when asked to explain why she bought new underclothes. When Belgian refugees arrive in town, Beatrice agrees to share her half-cottage with lovely Celeste, a professor’s daughter. The professor lodges with the local celebrity, an American author. The war soon comes to the village, as Hugh, Daniel, and Beatrice’s best student, a half-gypsy boy, go off to enlist. Daniel’s lover has broken up with him, and Hugh hopes to marry his mentor’s daughter after the war. The villagers start up new committees and have a parade to help raise funds for the war effort. The book starts out bright and charming, and gains depth and some darkness along with the war. Some minor characters are a bit clichéd, but I really cared about the main characters. I found this to be a very absorbing read and while not fast paced, it was still hard to put down, as was the author’s first book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the village, including those of Beatrice’s cottage, her classroom full of sweaty young boys, and the professor’s study.

The Murder of Mary Russell

jacketThe Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie King

The title of the 14th book in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series may have fans rather worried. I’m not going to reveal much of the plot, just reassure readers that Laurie King continues to take this series in new and creative directions, including setting part of this book in Australia. Sherlock’s housekeeper Clara Hudson shares center stage here with Mary Russell, and I quite enjoyed getting to know her better. Very suspenseful, with a little humor; a thoroughly satisfying read.



Crooked Heart

crooked heart jacketCrooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Life on the home front in London during World War II is challenging for young Noel Bostock, an orphan. He lives with his elderly godmother Mattie, a former suffragette, on the edge of Hampstead Heath. The park-like setting feels more rural than urban, and Mattie ignores the danger of the Blitz. Eventually Noel is evacuated, first to sort-of-cousins, then all of 25 miles away from London to St. Albans. When she learns that Noel comes with a government stipend, young widow Vee Sedge takes him in. Vee lives with her elderly mother and lazy son Donald, who has a heart murmur, and can’t always be bothered to work his night watchman job that pays their rent. Clever Noel is fascinated when he learns that Vee is a small-time con artist, collecting for fake charities. Noel, who conveniently has a limp, becomes Vee’s partner in crime. None of the characters sound appealing on the surface, but the author soon has the reader rooting for Vee’s and Noel’s next scheme, hoping it will bring in some money. In the end, the well-matched pair have a big idea that is “legally wrong but morally right”. The author is working on a prequel about Mattie, and plans to continue Noel’s story. I’m looking forward to those books, and the American release of her earlier World War II novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half. Sometimes sad, often darkly funny, with clever dialogue; I really enjoyed this novel and spending time with Vee and Noel.


Journey to Munich

munich jacketJourney to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear

In her 12th mystery, Maisie Dobbs is back in fine form after the somewhat disappointing and melancholy A Dangerous Place. Staying with Priscilla’s family in London in 1938, Maisie is approached by the Secret Service for a short assignment in Munich, Germany. An industrialist and inventor, Leon Donat, is to be released from Dachau after two years, but only to a family member. His daughter is ill, and Maisie is asked to impersonate her. Nothing is ever simple and straightforward in Maisie’s world, and she is also asked to look for Elaine Otterburn, a young woman she has cause to dislike. The tension in this book is ever-present, the storyline is detailed, and the writing is compelling. But what fans of Maisie want to know (and after reading the first book, Maisie Dobbs, many mystery and history lovers become fans) is how is Maisie? As she’s thinking of reopening her practice as a private investigator and psychologist, touching base with Sandra and briefly with Billy, and spending more time with friends and family, be assured that Maisie is as good company as we’d like. I just wish the book was longer.