Tuesday Night Bloggers: Helen’s Month: Comparing Bookshelves

This is the last week for the Tuesday Night Bloggers’ month long commemoration of Helen Szamuely, who was one of the founding members of the blogging meme and who sadly passed away last month. Over the month I have been looking at texts which in some way connect with Helen, either by including her name or an interest she was passionate about, such as Russia. Moira at Clothes in Books has been doing a brilliant job of collecting the posts this month so don’t forget to check out her entry for this week.

Helen was a keen discusser of detective fiction on her blog (Your Freedom and Ours) and also in the Facebook GAD group, so I decided to look at her mystery reading tastes in this final post, seeing whether my own tastes were similar or radically different to hers.

First up let’s take Christie. On the whole I would say we were both singing off the same hymn sheet. Like me Helen enjoyed Tommy and Tuppence Beresford ‘find[ing] them amusing,’ disagreeing with those who ‘find them far too flimsy.’ Though with an ever keen eye Helen deftly explored in one blog post the inconsistencies in the ageing of these two sleuths and their accompanying characters. I probably love Nemesis  (1968) more than Helen did, but then again I think I probably enjoyed this novel a lot more than most readers. Never mind it’s good to be different – or so they tell me.

Another fictional sleuth Helen enjoyed, who is also a favourite with me, is Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen. Then again it’s hard not to love Fen and his maverick behaviour. Though in her review of The Case of the Gilded Fly (1944), I like how Helen brought up Fen’s wife and children and the pity that they are not included more consistently in the series. Helen wrote that ‘she is a delightful character who keeps [Fen] under some sort of control and whose opinion he values highly.’

However my reading tastes do diverge from Helen’s on the matter of Ngaio Marsh. Whilst for me I often enjoy the beginnings of Marsh novels, but find the middles quite tedious and dull, conversely Helen enjoyed the ‘pages of interrogation by Alleyn and his underlings.’ She even felt ‘Marsh to be a far better writer than Allingham.’ I can’t really comment on this because I have read much more work by Marsh than Allingham. We are both agreed though on Marsh’s ‘ability to describe people, places and events in a way that stay with the reader long after the reading of the book.’ This is probably why I like the beginnings of Marsh’s stories. But I think when it comes to Inspector Alleyn himself we are again in disagreement. Whereas Helen believed that Marsh was adept at ‘creat[ing] strong characters who develop through the series,’ I on the other hand, find Alleyn a very static and unengaging sleuth.

Do not fear though there are other places where our reading tastes converge. One of these places is Mavis Doriel Hay, whose three mystery novels have been reprinted by the British Library. Whilst I wouldn’t say The Santa Klaus Murder (1936) is my favourite, as it was with Helen, I would say we both enjoyed Hay’s writing style and found her plots ‘clever.’

We are not just similar in our likes but also in our dislikes, well dislike might be too strong a word. Niggles and qualms would better describe it. For instance we both had qualms about some of the plot mechanics in Death on the Riviera (1952) by John Bude, though still enjoying the setting and humour. Equally when it comes to Asey Mayo in Phoebe Atwood Taylor’s Cape Cod series, we were less than impressed with Mayo himself and his tendency to make long speeches in an indecipherable accent.

It was nice that in the researching of this post, looking through Helen’s blog posts etc., that I came across some books I hadn’t read which actually sounded quite intriguing and interesting. Murder at the Flood (1957) by Mabel Esther Allen was one such novel I am now keen to track down.



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