The Magic Cottage by James Herbert
I’ve only just finished this book, so I was sad to hear of his death. 1980s blockbusters are not my thing, so he passed me by before. It’s sold as a horror but it’s more like a nice chat mixed with a dream-based-on-a-movie. The hero is a session musician and the heroine is a children’s book illustrator. They move into a cottage in the middle-of-nowhere, which used to be owned by a witch, and which is being eyed-up by the local American religious cult. Almost nothing happens. When it does happen it’s like outtakes from ‘Willow‘ or ‘Krull’ or ‘Poltergeist‘ or some other Hollywood fantasy/horror/sci-fi. There’s a cute little squirrel and some horrid bats. I should hate every syllable, but I warmed to it. Its strength is to explore the exact aspirations, hopes, dreams, fears of a moderately successful post-war child as he progresses from playing on bomb sites, to replacing his vinyl collection with CDs. The hero loves Phil Collins, and is good natured about his wife’s butch agent. Mixing details of real life, with details of popular culture is as skilled as anything a literary writer could achieve. It captures a sensibility in time. As a chiller it fails, but as a novel, it’s important.
Ice In The Bedroom by P.G. Wodehouse
I don’t think P.G. has ever written a bad book. The ingredients may wear a little thin on occasion, but his turn of phrase never fails him. He perfectly mixes low-life with sunny suburbia in this tale of romance and stolen diamonds. His England is accessibly American, like Blondie and Dagwood in Dulwich. It’s one of his later works – without Jeeves or Psmith – and you can almost picture the women with beehives and the men with slightly longer hair. Everyman has published this in a lovely small hardback edition with a muted, ugly-beautiful, cover.
I Am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
A murder mystery set in 1950s England solved by 11 year old super-sleuth Flavia de Luce. It’s a mix of Agatha Christie and Noel Streatfeild; it even starts with Flavia dreaming of ice-skating success, much like White Boots. It’s not a kid’s book and not an adult’s, but its hinterland humour works. It clearly loves this world of cosy violence and country houses. The mystery is under-developed. There’s no sense that it has to be solved. There’s no suspense; only a sweetly nostalgic atmosphere. It’s a new series, perfect for holidays (Christmas or Summer).
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers
It’s got bell ringing. Lots and lots and lots of bell ringing. And some pretty descriptions. Mostly of bell ringing. It’s got the nicest, nicest, nicest detective in the world. With the most loyal side-kick in the world since Watson. But better than Watson, because he’s from the lower orders, and does the driving. It’s got a bright young aspiring author who gets some solid advice that real writers need. It’s got a half decent story that occasionally gets a look-in when they take time off from the bell ringing. Sometimes I prayed for death, but I made it to the last chapter. Just.