Thursday, 26 January 2012

Start 'Em Young!

Just received a book to review. A murder mystery set during the Second World War.  Thing is, it's for kids!*  Now, this is not a bad thing at all - I'm happy to read children's books, as long as they fit the criteria for my website; a crime mystery set in a historical period, anytime before the end of WW2.  I've enjoyed Caroline Lawrence's The Roman Mysteries, for instance.

But searching for other possible titles and series - on Netgalley.Com for example - it's actually hard to find others suitable.  Search "Juvenile Literature" and you get plenty of books to trawl through.  Add "Mystery" to the search engine and nowadays you get multiples of  "Teen Goth/ Vampire/ Supernatural" types.  Precious few real mystery novels!  I dare say I could read through the publishers blurb to uncover crime detection types ... but why should I?

The problem gets worse looking in "live" bookstores - they tend to group titles under "Children's Fiction" or "Juvenile Fiction".  Even searching Children's Books publishers takes quite a sorting system to uncover "proper" crime fiction.

Perhaps, publishers shy away from the concept of children being involved in crime - fictional or not - regardless of reality.  "What if, " do they say "such novels are accused of influencing their delicate little minds?"  Lets face it, the popular media are happy to grasp at links between violent films, computer games, music even table-top role playing games and inappropriately violent or criminal behaviour in our young inheritors.  Are book publishers wary at such a link and their publications?  If so, then surely they should look at their current eagerness to jump on the Teen Vampire Angst fashion which (I suspect) is nearing it's fall in popularity.

But let me return to my initial point - how can I discover other titles for children or teens which can be described as "historical crime fiction"?  They exist now, I'm certain, and they definitely existed before; look to the Nancy Drew mysteries, the Three Investigators series popularised by Alfred Hitchcock.  At a pinch I suppose you could include The Famous Five but I don't think they're quite "the thing" I'm looking for. 

Any ideas, folks?

* The book is The Ducking Stool by Gloria Morgan.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The usual haunt of the HistmystReader

        It is no exaggeration to say I'm an avid reader.  I have over 3000 books, in many subjects by many authors and still can't resist browsing in bookstores and charity shops.  I have favourite bookshops (usually the ones that look like crowded and cluttered storehouse of obsessive collectors).  I find it hard to let any book go - even the occasional lousy ones or the rare duplicate I've acquired.  I can admit to have read each one and many repeatedly.  But where's my favourite place?
        Now, it must be stated that I'm never without a book.  It's odd but I get a mental twitch if I somehow sense I don't have a book with me, either as a good, ol' fashioned paperback or on my Kindle.  I don't often find myself in the situation where I'm reading more than one book at a time, though this has happened; I found myself without book and immediately dived into a Waterstones to fill the void in my psyche, f'rinstance.  So be it on the London Underground, in a dentist's waiting room or just standing outside at a bus stop - I have a book to read.  But there is one location where I am required to have a book and, in fact, is my favourite place to read:

        The pub.

        Finances what they are nowadays, visits to the public house are infrequent.  A sign of the general UK economy - and favouritism on the part of the Government towards the retail sector  over the entertainment industry - is that pubs are dropping out of use in many places in favour of large pub companies (which can get cheap bulk deals), restaurants which make more money on food sales and take-homes from large supermarket chains.  However I feel a certain loyalty towards the humble pub and will spend hard-earned if small sums in these historic example of British history.  They give me a dashed fine place to read my book.

        Given the opportunity - and a small measure of UK currency - there's nothing more I thoroughly enjoy than heading towards one of my regular "locals", grabbing a pint and a discrete seat then immersing myself in my book for a couple of hours.  I am a creature of habit.  In each of my locals (I have several depending on inkling for a particular pint, atmosphere, predicted availability of seating and whim) I have favoured seats and preferred drinks; as an example, I like a Stowford Press cider in The Gladstone but a pint of Abbot Ale in The Old Trip to Jerusalem.  It takes me approximately one hour of reading to drink one pint.
        Levels of noise matter not to me, be it the clamouring of tourists for cups of tea (in a pub, how odd!), the unintelligible (to me) pronouncements of football fans or even music; as an old habitue of the London rock venue The Intrepid Fox, I was often seen sitting at the bar immersed in my latest acquisition, tapping away with my foot.  A seat has, at times, been optional - I like to sit but rather than squeeze in with a party of complete strangers, I'll happily lean an elbow on the bar.  Actually the light is usually better but one has to be careful for spills when putting the paperback down.

        Nope.  I like reading my books in pubs.  I'm noted for it.  Like having a favourite hat, one becomes noticed for it.  " 'Ere look," they say "he's reading another book!"  I really can't help it - my idea of uncomfortable is sitting in a bar without company and just staring off into the distance - usually symbolised by the stain left by a missing promotional poster.  If I'm with friends, a social event if you will, that's different.  I chat, muse and get my round in.  But on my own - or with my understanding and equally bookish wife - my fingers itch to start page turning.

        It's the aforementioned notability of reading in a pub which initiates the only drawback; discussion.
        More usually when stood at the bar but occasionally when seated at a table, some folk can't help commenting to me ... about reading.  "What are you reading?" is the most common gambit, followed by "Is that a good book?"  It's as if they find reading so unusual that they must draw my attention to it.  You're reading a book in a pub, they seem to imply, that's unusual - explain!
        Now, I was brought up to be polite.  I'm happy to pass a small comment, in a mannerly way, but would prefer to be left to read.  Were I pausing, to buy another drink say, then I consider it fair to exchange a few words in conversation.  But the occupation of reading is quite obvious - even newspapers require a modicum of concentration.  A book might be considered a little more taxing.  And yet, there are some folk who actually want to pursue a conversation with a reader!  In my experience, and pray forgive the generalisation, these usually consist of middle-aged males, entering the pub on their own and seem in need of companionship.
        I could be a tad sympathetic at this point - wanting companionship and going to a public house for fellowship.  However, it's when I am obviously more interested in reading than in continuing a chat and they still insist on talking at me, asking questions which require answer, that it becomes irritating if not downright rude.  I try to persevere; I try to be tolerant.  One barman thought it hilarious that, on one occasion, from the other side of the room he could tell I wasn't interested in the speaker and yet they continued.  It is remarkable that these sad, lonely individuals can be so damn thick-skinned!  They couldn't take a hint if you gift-wrapped it and hit them over the head with an unsubtle statement!  Suffice to say, I have resorted to moving to a different part of the bar and even drank up and moved pub - an action which rankles, believe me.  On one occasion, with no other option, I countered the boor's unwanted pronouncements with scathing opinion, liberally peppered with bad language!  When he berated me, I merely countered with "I didn't want your opinion, I'm not interested in talking to you, you tried to start a conversation with me - if you don't like it, shut up and leave me alone!  I won't be offended!"  I felt quite ashamed yet completely justified.

        This said, I still prefer to sit in a pub and read.  I can loose myself for hours, turning pages until I've finished the novel ... then starting another.  I let the surroundings wash around me, I become part of the furniture.  I am hidden by being in a public place.
        And I read.  And read.  And read.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Here 'tis!  The first post of my brand spanking new blog-thingie!
Pray forgive me if I meander, ramble (without suitable footwear) and just witter along.  I've been reliably told that this is what Blogs are for.

Here's a thought ...

I've just finished reading The King of Thieves by Michael Jecks - an excellent read, by the way - and part of the plot involves the dark days of the medieval British monarchy when King Edward II was under the thrall (?) of Sir Hugh Despenser.

Now, as far as I see it, King Edward was first enamoured (and poorly influenced) by Piers Gaveston.  This angered the barons - possibly from jealousy of his influence over the king - and Gaveston was "removed".  Along comes The Despenser.  Perhaps on "rebound" from his first "boyfriend", Edward takes to Sir Hugh and begins lavishing wealth and power on him.

But The Despenser was of a different mould from Gaveston.  Greedy to the point of insanity - this was commented on by his contemporaries in a fairly venal period - Sir Hugh wasn't some vain, spoiled "toyboy".  He was intelligent, cunning and utterly ruthless!  He blatantly used his favour with the king to expand his personal wealth and power.  He was cruel ... but only as an aside to his rapacity.  As far as he was concerned, he enjoyed exercising his power over others but only as long as it didn't interfere with his profit.
His relationship with King Edward lasted until it forced Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer to act, knowing that it would be a "popular" uprising.

Why did King Edward allow this to happen?

After the first baron's revolt, the king was almost paranoid about his standing in his lands.  He was pressured by the French King and deeply hurt by Sir Roger - his finest general - so why did he allow Sir Hugh so much power?
Near the end, The Despenser had nearly more wealth - and therefore power - than the King himself.  Why did Edward allow a "favourite" so much power, power that might've allowed Sir Hugh to usurp the Crown?
Was it because he was still smarting from when the baron's "took away" his beloved Gaveston?  Did he want to cling to this new boyfriend, just to teach the barons a lesson?  Or did he truly love Despenser and was blind to the man's boundless ambition?

Truly, I don't know.  I suspect it was the former.  Edward II was like a spoiled child, expecting absolute compliance to his whims.  When Gaveston was removed, Edward was a spoiled brat, smarting at the lesson that even a King could only go so far.  He set out to dig his heels in and stick by Sir Hugh, regardless of any cost, in order to shout "I'm the King and I can do what I want!"

Not a good episode in the British history.