Much of my reading over the last year may have seemed a little random – and that’s because it was. I have a very low book-buying budget, which means that the local library, relatives and friends provided a percentage of last year’s country crime fiction. For 2018, it would be great if there were some kind of unifying principle, a theme – or wait, how about this challenge over at My Reader’s Block? At least six Golden Age (up to 1960) and/or Silver Age (generously up to 1989) books is the minimum requirement. I can manage that, but don’t want to limit myself too stringently to vintage fiction when there are so many new authors to discover as well.
There we go, that’s a plan for 2018 – it’s certainly a great deal more planned than 2017’s reading was. (I would also like to mention that I’m reading non-rural crime fiction as well, but for the purposes of this blog, only the rural variety counts. The above challenge is going to have to stick to that rule.
Merry Christmas, and a happy reading holiday to one and all.
This week’s rural reading is from Normandy, Fred Vargas’ The Ghost Riders of Ordebec. It’s set in the summer, and Commissaire Adamsberg has been summoned from Paris to allay the fears of a woman whose daughter Lina has seen the local version of the Wild Hunt, the Ghost Riders or Furious Army, who travel along a set route, picking up evildoers on their path, and condemning them to ride for eternity. Lina and her three brothers are regarded by the other villagers as “special”, and their unhappy history is slowly revealed. Lina saw in her vision four people seized by the Furious Army, the first one a man named Herbier, who is found dead shortly after Lina’s revelations.
Adamsberg has to contend with the local cop, a man rather too keen on his own Napoleonic antecedents, and the local countess, who takes him under her wing. He has also had to bring along his son, an injured pigeon, and a key witness in a corruption case. His usual team are mostly left behind in Paris, where they continue to act as an eccentric and mildly dysfunctional family, worrying about the cat that sleeps on the photocopier and generally not doing things by the book.
Vargas has a fantastic eye for character, and can sketch an entire person in two or three well-chosen sentences. I enjoyed the parallels between the odd family in Ordebec and Adamsberg’s usual team, showing why Adamsberg was uniquely qualified to gain people’s confidence in this case. Vargas paints her characters with tolerance and affection, and I could cheerfully spend a great deal more time with them.
The seasonal reading continues with Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, first published in 1938, and it’s fascinating to read it in close proximity to last week’s read by Mavis Doriel Hay, published in 1936. Christie back then was the younger generation, her language much more lively than her older competitors, her pacing influenced by that of the theatre, and she could have given a masterclass in the writerly advice to “show, don’t tell”. Here, rather than the detailed listing of relatives, Christie, in a series of short scenes, introduces the members of the Lee family who make up the Christmas guests at Gorston Hall.
In HP’s Christmas, once again a patriarch has gathered his five children round him, in this case four sons and rather than a daughter, the child of his daughter who married a Spaniard and died. He sets his children against each other, talks openly of changing his will, and is then found murdered, in a locked room. It is left to Poirot and Inspector Sugden to pick their way through the alibis and motives, until the final, unguessable, unveiling of the murderer.
This is a lively read and I suspect for me will become part of the pile of comfort reading that will resurface in Christmases to come.