Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Franchise affair

This novel by Josephine Tey was first published in 1948. Robert Blair is a lawyer in a small English town where he usually attends to wills and conveyancing. One afternoon he receives a phone call asking him to assist a woman who has been visited by police suggesting that she and her mother had kidnapped a fifteen year old girl. The girl is brought to their house, The Franchise, which she had described, and identifies the two women as her captors. The police, however, are not convinced with Betty Kane's story and decide to investigate further.

In the meantime a scandal newspaper publishes the girl's story plus a statement about the supposed inaction of the police. This results in sections of the local public taking actions to persecute the two women, Marion Sharpe and her mother. Robert Blair is determined to prove that Betty Kane's story is a fabrication and most of the novel involves the investigations to prove the innocence of the two accused women.

This is a well written detective story which quickly captured my interest and demanded that I should keep reading. Josephine Tey is particularly interested in depicting characters and in justifying their thoughts and actions. Detective-Inspector Grants appears briefly in the book - he is a major character in a number of other books by Josephine Tey.

The plot of the story is based on events in 1753 when Elizabeth Canning disappeared for a month and then fabricated a story about her disappearance.

Miss Pym disposes

When I began working in public libraries in the 1960s one of the popular authors was Josephine Tey. I did not read any of her works at the time but have had the opportunity to do so this year. Josephine Tey is well known for her detective fiction featuring Inspector Grant but she also wrote stand alone fiction - one tile being Miss Pym disposes published in 1946.

Miss Lucy Pym, a former school teacher who has written a popular book on psychology, is invited to be a guest lecturer at Leys Physical Training College run by a former school friend. After presenting the lecture she intends returning straight to London but is persuaded by the senior students and staff to stay, initially for a few days which extends to a two week holiday. Much of the book is Miss Pym's assessment of the character and personalities of students and staff that she meets as well as observations on the activities at the college as the girls prepare for their final examinations and end of year performance. Josephine Tey (Elizabeth Mackintosh - her real name) once trained at such a college which explains the detail in which the activities are described.

This is a slow moving book as the first 150 pages create the atmosphere of life at the college and allowus get to know its participants. The mystery occurs in the final quarter of the book. Initially there is evidence of cheating during one of the final exams but this is overshadowed when one of the girls has a serious accident when practising in the gym and suspicions arise that it was not an accident. The tension builds in this section with the inevitable twist at the end. The book poses dilemmas faced with the need to make correct decisions that may or may not create subsequent consequences and or impact on other people.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The quarry

Guy is dying from lung cancer and being cared for by his eighteen year old son, Kit, who struggles with social interaction and alteration to his routine. Friends from when Guy attended university twenty-year previously are invited to stay for a three day weekend get together for reminiscing. Much of the time however is spent trying to discover a video-tape made in their student days that none of the participants wishes to see the light of day. Kit also wants to discover the identity of his mother. Much of the novel focuses on the interaction between the characters who spend much of their time drinking, smoking a variety of substances and taking other drugs. Guy's imminent death is a discussion point among the characters along with Guy's anger about his situation. The setting for the book is a house built at the side of a quarry which will absorb the house once Guy dies. Kit consequently is concerned not only about his father's impending death but also about his future when he is on his own. A powerful character study of a group of dysfunctional and often unpleasant characters.

Several days before the publication of this book, Iain Banks died from cancer in June 2013.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Rocks in the belly

This first novel by Jon Bauer was published in 2010 is a book about relationships in a dysfunctional family. The story is told both from the viewpoint of the protagonist as a young boy around eight years of age and as a twenty-eight year old man returning home after a period of living in Canada to look after his dying mother. We never learn the real name of the protagonist but we know that his mother feels the need to offer a foster home to young boys and that his father supports her. This is a story of jealousy and mistrust. We learn of the feelings of the young boy having strangers constantly living in his home and the fear that his mother, in particular, favours these boys with problems above his needs. The father to some extent understands the concerns of the son but over compensates by allowing him to do things that perhaps he shouldn't. The main focus of the story is when thirteen year old Robert comes to stay and the consequent impact of this event on the life of the family. When the son returns home he is a troubled man with anger management problems finding difficulty to relate to other people. It is only when it is too late that he begins to understand his mother. A character driven book, I found myself becoming annoyed with the characters, especially the protagonist, and their failure to perceive how others may view their actions. It is also not clear where the story is set - the author is English and now lives in Australia - however this does not affect the events in the book. All in all this is a study of the destruction of a family when lines of communication and understanding of the needs of other family members appear not to exist with the consequent unfortunate results. A well written but, I thought, a rather bleak book.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dead cat bounce

7 September 2013 (election day) seemed an appropriate time to begin reading Dead Cat Bounce, a novel about the mysterious death of an Australian federal politician only weeks before an election. Peter Cottons' knowledge of the workings of parliament and of Canberra shows in this novel about murder and kidnapping in the national capital. Would the mystery surrounding the death of the politician improve a party's electoral prospects in the long term as well as the short term? Who is behind the murders and kidnappings and how can they be stopped is the concern of Detective Darren Glass and the Australian Federal Police in this novel about crime and political intrigue.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Set in Melbourne in the 1986 this novel traces the experiences of seventeen year old, Tom Button, when he leaves home in a country town to live in he city. His aunt had recently died and he has the use of her small flat in Nicholson Street Fitzroy. The block of flats, Cairo, was built in 1935. Tom is soon befriended by musician, Max Cheever, and his wife Sally and their close circle of artists and poets, all of them much older than he is.

This is a right of passage book where the naive Tom must learn to cope in this alien, exciting Bohemian lifestyle including the danger of being drawn into the schemes of the older group members, including the plan to steal a painting from the art gallery. Tom learns about friendship, love and betrayal as well as how to cope in the 'real' world. The descriptions of living in the city of Melbourne and Fitzroy in the 1980s form a major part of the book.

Cairo flats do exist and there are a number of links online providing information about them.
The Cairo: romance and the minimum flat
Cairo flats
Art deco buildings
Fitzroy history: the Cairo flats on Nicholson Street
Cairo flats model - Melbourne Museum

Theft of the Weeping Woman