Planning for Spring

I had a weekend of cooking & thinking about my vegie garden now that Spring is almost here. I say almost because we’ve had some pretty cold, windy, wet weather in Melbourne over the last week. Still, the early bulbs are out, the wattle is blossoming everywhere & my roses have started some new growth after their winter prune.

I did some cooking on Sunday. When I make soups or casseroles, I don’t do much measuring, I just throw in the vegetables, spices, herbs, stock etc & hope for the best. Sometimes the result could use some tweaking but this vegetable curry is one of the best I’ve made – &, of course, I’ll never be able to do it again! The sauce is just right & the flavour is just how I like it. There’s some for dinner during the week & some for the freezer.

I’ve been watching Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers on iPlayer & I thought I’d try the cake he made with beetroot. Nigel is my new favourite cook. I love his easy recipes & his garden & especially his beautiful cat who makes several appearances in the second series. I couldn’t take down the recipe while I watched so I looked it up on the internet later & here’s the result. It’s a Chocolate & Beetroot cake &, as I was boiling the beetroot, melting the chocolate, making the coffee, beating the egg whites, I kept thinking, I’m sure there wasn’t this much faffing around when Nigel made it – & not so many bowls used either. And didn’t he just grate the beetroot? When the cake was in the oven & I’d finished the marathon washing up, I had another look at the episode & discovered that I’d made a completely different cake, the only common ingredient was the beetroot! Here’s the one I watched Nigel make & here’s the one I made. The mention of poppy seeds was the confusing element, I think. I tasted the crumbs from the tin after I’d turned out the cake & it tastes delicious. I added some chocolate icing after I took that photo & took it in to work for morning tea.

Inspired by Nigel, I’ve ordered several cookbooks. Nigel’s Tender which I’ve had a look at at work seems to have lots of the recipes from Simple Suppers so I won’t make that mistake again. He also talks a lot about how he started his vegie garden. I’ve also pre ordered his new Kitchen Diaries. I’ve also ordered Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s new book, Three Good Things because Hugh is my other favourite cook with a garden. I love his Veg & Everyday cookbooks & use them often.

I’m also starting to get excited about planning my vegie garden for this spring & summer. My broccoli has been a success & I ate the last of it in a stirfry on Saturday night. I’ve been borrowing books from work & reading my Organic Gardening & Your Vegie Patch magazines to inspire me for the day when

I can make use of the compost I’ve been adding to all year & get the soil ready for planting.I will definitely get the tomatoes in earlier this year & I hope to have more success with lettuce. I can’t wait to plant lots of basil too as I love pesto & I still have one container left in the freezer from last summer’s experiments. As well as ordinary pesto with pinenuts, I tried making it with cashews or walnuts & using different flavoured oils, garlic & lemon. It was all very good & I’m looking forward to more.

It was too cold to do much more than take a photo of the compost bin yesterday afternoon but as soon as I stepped outside, Phoebe appeared from nowhere & decided to investigate the flapping coming from next door’s garden (I think it was a piece of plastic flapping against the fence).

A strong gust of wind made her think twice & she jumped down on to the rubbish bins on her way back to ground level.

Lucky was sensibly sheltering from the wind on the little shelf under the back steps.

Have a good week everyone.

Sunday Poetry – John Donne

The Relic is one of Donne’s most beautiful & tender poems. A picture of true happiness on Earth & through Eternity if the lovers are lucky & are left undisturbed.

When my grave is broke up again
Some second guest to entertain,
—For graves have learn’d that woman-head,
To be to more than one a bed—
And he that digs it, spies
A bracelet of bright hair about the bone,
Will he not let us alone,
And think that there a loving couple lies,
Who thought that this device might be some way
To make their souls at the last busy day
Meet at this grave, and make a little stay?

If this fall in a time, or land,
Where mass-devotion doth command,
Then he that digs us up will bring
Us to the bishop or the king,
To make us relics ; then
Thou shalt be a Mary Magdalen, and I
A something else thereby ;
All women shall adore us, and some men.
And, since at such time miracles are sought,
I would have that age by this paper taught
What miracles we harmless lovers wrought.

First we loved well and faithfully,
Yet knew not what we loved, nor why ;
Difference of sex we never knew,
No more than guardian angels do ;
Coming and going we
Perchance might kiss, but not between those meals ;
Our hands ne’er touch’d the seals,
Which nature, injured by late law, sets free.
These miracles we did ; but now alas !
All measure, and all language, I should pass,
Should I tell what a miracle she was.

The Angel of the Revolution – George Chetwynd Griffith

I don’t read science fiction but I confess to having a soft spot for futuristic fiction. To me, the difference is that science fiction is often full of spaceships, distant planets & weird aliens & I find futuristic fiction more interesting because it’s often rooted in the everyday. John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale & The Hopkins Manuscript by R C Sherriff are my favourite examples.

The Angel of the Revolution is in a similar vein to these novels. Published in 1893 but set in the early 20th century, it’s the story of a young man who invents an airship & of the secret, revolutionary society that he joins in their mission to take over the world. I read Catherine Pope’s review on her blog & was intrigued. Catherine is the publisher of Victorian Secrets & I’m always interested in the books they publish – 19th century novels that have slipped under the radar.

Richard Arnold is an impoverished inventor who has created an airship that he believes could change the world. Unfortunately, he’s down to his last pennies & has no way of getting his invention to his notice of the establishment. He meets Colston (really a Russian called Mazanoff) & is introduced by him to the Brotherhood, an organization of Socialists from all over Europe, working to defeat Capitalism. Also known as the Terrorists, the Inner Circle of this organization is immensely powerful. Their influence is widespread & they can arrange for the murder of their enemies with ease. The Brotherhood are interested in Arnold’s invention & he is invited to join the Inner Circle. Arnold is immediately attracted to one member of the Inner Circle – Natasha, daughter of the mysterious Master of the Brotherhood, Natas. Natasha, the Angel of the title, is beautiful, resourceful & a crack shot.

Arnold’s airship can fly at incredible speed & uses a powerful air rifle-type missile as its armoury. The Brotherhood soon commissions him to build a fleet of airships as Europe descends into war. Russia is seen as the great enemy, a land of tyrants & several of the Inner Circle bear the scars of Russian justice. Arnold & Colston use the airship to rescue Natasha & Radna, another member of the Inner Circle, when they are imprisoned in Russia & about to be sent to Siberia. They also use the airship’s firepower to destroy the Russian fort at Kronstadt. There’s even a King Solomon’s Mines-like interlude where Arnold & the crew head for darkest Africa to locate a missing explorer, Louis Holt. They find him in Aeria, a paradise hitherto unknown to man but the perfect hidden base for the airship fleet as the Brotherhood’s plans mature.

There’s certainly no lack of action in The Angel of the Revolution. Sometimes Griffith feels compelled to give us a few pages of politics, complete with updates on the war so far complete with leading articles from the Times. The narrative drags in places as the relentless details of the war are explained in great detail. Apart from that, the story zips along at a great pace. This edition includes original illustrations & I was amused to see that the airship, Ariel, is indeed an air ship. It’s a three-masted sailing ship, pure white, sailing through the air. Interestingly the aerial navy is organised just like the seagoing navy, British, of course. The fleet has its admirals & captains & a crew member even says “Ay-ay, sir”. The Brotherhood may be Socialists but they believe in hierarchy all the same. The Brotherhood are all-powerful & Arnold overcomes any scruples he may originally have had about his involvement with a violent secret society very quickly. He becomes an ardent member & his love for Natasha is also a great influence.

The Brotherhood watch & wait as Europe descends into total war, only coming in to save Britain from starvation at the price of dominance of the new world order, a “despotism of peace“. The result is a Socialist utopia. All property to be owned by the State, any income not earned by work to be shared out among all people. Inherited income to be taxed prohibitively. Laws would be simplified so there would be no need for rapacious lawyers (Dickens would have approved).

The story is set in the Europe of Griffith’s day & the warfare is also traditional, except for the intervention of the airships which spread terror wherever they go. Griffith was very much ahead of his time in describing the airships, apart from their quaint appearance. Air warfare of the kind he imagined wouldn’t really be possible until the 1930s. His story is a combination of the speculative novel of the future & the suspenseful thriller of his own day.

It’s also a curiously Anglocentric view of the world. Even the Russian members of the Brotherhood think that the British way is best. The women are beautiful cyphers, apart from Natasha, the decorative reasons for the men to fight & defeat their enemies. Far from the motivation of the Brotherhood being the desire for  the creation of a new, better world, all the impetus comes from Natas’s desire for personal revenge against the Russian Tsar for the treatment meted out to himself & his family.

The Angel of the Revolution is a curiosity but a fascinating look at the future from a late 19th century point of view. The Victorian Secrets edition has an informative Introduction, copious notes & other related material including some contemporary reviews. The reviewers’ opinions seems to have ranged from those who thought the book tedious to those who loved it. I fall somewhere between the two extremes but I did enjoy reading it very much.

Song of the Lark – Willa Cather

I read quite a few of Willa Cather’s novels & short stories when I was younger but I hadn’t read her for a very long time. I think I bought this edition of The Song of the Lark because of the beautiful Hammershoi picture on the cover. I love his work, so cool & serene. Then, the book sat on the tbr shelves for nearly 10 years until I decided it was time to read it. I’m glad I finally got around to it. I was reminded of the reasons why I enjoyed Willa Cather’s writing all those years ago.

The Song of the Lark is the story of the growth of an artist. Thea Kronborg is the daughter of a Methodist preacher in Moonstone, Colorado. One of seven children, her life is hard but not unhappy. Thea learns piano from Herr Wunsch, a German immigrant who has fallen on hard times. Thea’s Scandinavian heritage is something she has in common with many of the characters in Cather’s other novels. But The Song of the Lark isn’t a story of farming families living on the land. Thea knows she is destined for great things. Her determination to study music sets her apart from her siblings & her contemporaries.

Of this feeling Thea had never spoken to any human being until that day when she told Harsanyi that “there had always been – something.”  Hitherto she had felt but one obligation toward it – secrecy; to protect it even from herself. She had always believed that by doing all that was required of her by her family, her teachers, her pupils, she kept that part of herself from being caught up in the meshes of common things. She took it for granted that, some day, when she was older, she would know a great deal more about it. It was as if she had an appointment to meet the rest of herself sometime, somewhere. It was moving to meet her & she was moving to meet it.

At first she studies piano but when, with the aid of a small inheritance, she goes to Chicago to study, her teacher, Harsanyi, recognizes that her voice is special & encourages her to study opera. Thea’s determination is formidable. She makes few friends because she is impatient with anyone who doesn’t work as hard as herself. She finds that she’s grown away from her family & the people of Moonstone. One friend of her childhood, Dr Howard Archie, remains steadfast & helps her to move to Chicago. Thea’s bond with Dr Archie was formed in her childhood & he encourages her to strive for more than a life as a piano teacher in small, dusty towns.

Thea also meets Fred Ottenburg, the son of a wealthy brewer, who introduces her to a new circle of society where her talents are noticed & appreciated. The most important thing Fred does for her is not to fall in love with her – although he does – but to send her off to his family’s ranch in Panther Canyon, Arizona, to rest when she’s exhausted with overwork. This is the central experience of Thea’s life. She becomes entranced with the canyon, the remnants of the ancient people who once lived in the caves there. She spends all day walking & resting & thinking about her future.

Not only did the world seem older and richer to Thea now, but she herself seemed older. She had never been alone for so long before, or thought so much. Nothing had ever engrossed her so deeply as the daily contemplation of that line of pale-yellow houses tucked into the wrinkle of the cliff. Moonstone and Chicago had become vague. Here everything was simple and definite, as things had been in childhood. Her mind had been like a ragbag into which she had been frantically thrusting whatever she could grab. And here she must throw this lumber away. The things that were really hers separated themselves from the rest. Her ideas were simplified, became sharper and clearer. She felt united and strong.

Fred joins her in the canyon & Thea realises that she loves him. However, Fred is unable to marry her & Thea’s career leads her to study in Europe & a return, years later, to New York, where she meets Fred & Dr Archie again as she’s on the brink of a brilliant career.

The Song of the Lark was a very personal book for Willa Cather. It’s more autobiographical than many of her other novels. Her childhood was very like Thea’s, although she was to be a writer rather than a musician. She also spent time in Walnut Canyon, Arizona with her brother, Douglass. This was the inspiration for Thea’s trip to Panther Canyon. It’s an early novel, published in 1915 &, in the Preface to the 1932 edition, she describes it as a partial failure because the early parts of the book about Thea’s struggle are more interesting than Thea’s success, “Success is never so interesting as struggle“.

I’d agree that the first half of the book is more absorbing. I loved the picture of the small town life Thea lives with her family, her younger brother, Thor, who she drags around in his wagon, her friendships with Dr Archie, Ray Kennedy, a railroad man, & the Mexican immigrants who live on the edge of the town. Thea’s relationship with her calm, intelligent mother is also fascinating. Thea’s mother sees her daughter’s talent & does everything she can to support her. The section about Panther Canyon is the heart of the book. Thea’s explorations of the canyon, her almost ritual bathing in a pool of clear water, her delight in nature, the space she is able to create to think & plan her future are central to her life. The later sections in New York about Thea’s career are less interesting but I still enjoyed reading about Thea’s life & ambitions & about how she deals with the essential loneliness of an artist. I’m glad I finally got around to reading The Song of the Lark. I read several of her books years ago – O Pioneers!, My Antonia, Lucy Gayheart – but I’ve never read her New Mexico novels & I think I should do something about that.

Sunday Poetry – John Donne

I’m back with the Songs & Sonnets this week. I have so many favourite Donne poems that it seems futile to keep saying that this is a favourite poem, but it is. The Legacy plays on the theme of lovers exchanging their hearts as love tokens so that when death comes, even if it’s only leaving the loved one for a short time, the lover’s own heart is already in the beloved’s keeping.

When last I died, and, dear, I die
As often as from thee I go,
Though it be but an hour ago
—And lovers’ hours be full eternity—
I can remember yet, that I
Something did say, and something did bestow ;
Though I be dead, which sent me, I might be
Mine own executor, and legacy.

I heard me say, “Tell her anon,
That myself,” that is you, not I,
” Did kill me,” and when I felt me die,
I bid me send my heart, when I was gone ;
But I alas ! could there find none ;
When I had ripp’d, and search’d where hearts should lie,
It kill’d me again, that I who still was true
In life, in my last will should cozen you.

Yet I found something like a heart,
But colours it, and corners had ;
It was not good, it was not bad,
It was entire to none, and few had part ;
As good as could be made by art
It seem’d, and therefore for our loss be sad.
I meant to send that heart instead of mine,
But O ! no man could hold it, for ’twas thine.

Julia in Ireland – Ann Bridge

Well, I’ve come to the end of the Julia Probyn series by Ann Bridge. Julia in Ireland is the last book in the series, published in 1973, just a year before the author’s death. I’ve enjoyed the series very much & although there are no more Julia Probyns, Bloomsbury have also reprinted several of Ann Bridge’s standalone novels. Enchanter’s Nightshade has been recommended to me by a friend so that may be my next Ann Bridge.

Julia in Ireland is almost a coda to the series. It’s quite different from the earlier books. There’s none of the espionage & excitement of the rest of the series in this book. It begins, as several of the books begin, at Glentoran, the Highland estate of the Munro family. Julia has been a widow for several years & working for British Intelligence in Morocco. She visits Glentoran accompanied by Gerald O’Brien who wants to marry her. Julia’s son, Philip, is being brought up at Glentoran & Julia, unsure about marrying Gerald, wants the two to meet. Gerald is aware of Julia’s indecision & wants her to visit his home in County Mayo before she gives him an answer.

Julia goes to Ireland & stays with her friends the O’Haras, visiting Gerald at weekends. She becomes involved in stopping an unscrupulous developer from building a casino & hotel on an unspoilt part of the coast.  In the process, she gets to know Gerald & to love the beauty of his home. She also, in typical Julia fashion, has lots of ideas for improving his home with her own furniture & pictures. Julia is still essentially Julia – confident, decisive, clever & determined once she has an idea in her head. There are some very funny scenes. Julia arrives to visit an old lady who has been inveigled into agreeing to sell her land to the developer. As she arrives, £5 notes are blown all over the drive. She gathers them up to find the crafty old lady trying to count the deposit she’s been given for the land. More idyllically, Julia & Gerald spend a golden day salmon fishing that helps her to decide what she really wants to do about his proposal.

The Julia Probyn novels are an appealing mixture of suspense & travel. Julia runs rings around most of the people she encounters, including agents working for several countries. That’s what I love, the fact that in the 50s & 60s, there was a female heroine who was virtually James Bond without any of the silly gadgets & catchphrases. Of course, she does speak several languages & can drive any car ever made but she does it with such charm. Julia is always at least two steps ahead of the goodies & the baddies, organizing everyone around her & yet she’s not annoying, she’s just quietly efficient. She usually sorts out a few personal difficulties for friends & family along the way as well. Her uncertainty & diffidence when it comes to her own emotions is very appealing. It makes her more believable. I’m very glad I had the chance to make her acquaintance.

Ann Bridge was a diplomat’s wife & lived all over the world. She used her husband’s postings as settings for many of her novels & her beautiful descriptions of place & history are testament to the fact that she just soaked it all in. Her books remind me of Mary Stewart’s novels of romantic suspense. Bloomsbury have just started reprinting Jane Aiken Hodge’s novels &, although I mostly remember her historical romances, I’ve downloaded Strangers in Company, which sounds more like a Stewart or Bridge novel. A woman on a Greek holiday encounters danger & suspense. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Sunday Poetry – John Donne

Another beautiful if slightly bad-tempered love poem this week. Addressed not to the loved one but to those – her friends? her parents? – who don’t approve of the relationship. I love the directness of the opening lines, the slightly whiny exasperation of “Alas, alas, who’s injured by my love?” & then the lovely, quiet image, “We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms.” The lovers know that their love will last until death.

For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love;
    Or chide my palsy, or my gout;
    My five gray hairs, or ruin’d fortune flout;
With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve;
        Take you a course, get you a place,
        Observe his Honour, or his Grace;
Or the king’s real, or his stamp’d face
    Contemplate ; what you will, approve,
    So you will let me love.

Alas ! alas ! who’s injured by my love?
    What merchant’s ships have my sighs drown’d?
    Who says my tears have overflow’d his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
        When did the heats which my veins fill
        Add one more to the plaguy bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
    Litigious men, which quarrels move,
    Though she and I do love.

Call’s what you will, we are made such by love;
    Call her one, me another fly,
    We’re tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find th’ eagle and the dove.
        The phoenix riddle hath more wit
        By us ; we two being one, are it;
So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit.
    We die and rise the same, and prove
    Mysterious by this love.

We can die by it, if not live by love,
    And if unfit for tomb or hearse
    Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
        We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms;
        As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
    And by these hymns, all shall approve
    Us canonized for love;

And thus invoke us, “You, whom reverend love
    Made one another’s hermitage;
    You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage;
Who did the whole world’s soul contract, and drove
        Into the glasses of your eyes;
        So made such mirrors, and such spies,
That they did all to you epitomize—
    Countries, towns, courts beg from above
    A pattern of your love

Happy Anniversary Lucky & Phoebe

It’s hard to believe but it’s been a year since Lucky & Phoebe came to live with me. It’s been exciting & nervewracking in equal measure – for me, not them. Lucky’s wandering & Phoebe’s daredevil climbing have given me even more grey hairs than I had a year ago but we’ve all survived intact & in good health & that’s something to be thankful for.

I thought I’d just share some of the many photos I’ve taken of the girls over the year. These are some of my favourites. Here’s Lucky.

And here’s Phoebe.

I’m looking forward to many more happy years together for the three of us.

A Room Full of Bones – Elly Griffiths

Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist. She’s called in to examine the bones of a medieval bishop whose coffin has been discovered during a dig. Bishop Augustine is the ancestor of Lord Danforth Smith, horse trainer & owner of the Smith Museum. When Ruth arrives at the museum for the opening of the coffin, she discovers the museum’s curator, Neil Topham, lying dead on the floor near the coffin.

DCI Harry Nelson is called in to investigate Neil’s death. There are no obvious signs of injury but the window was open & a book with an underlined warning is discovered. Nelson also discovers threatening letters addressed to Neil & Danforth Smith from a group called the Elginists, demanding the return of the bones of Aboriginal ancestors. Lord Smith’s grandfather had been a 19th century adventurer who has brought the remains back from his travels in Australia. The remains, including several skulls, are not on display but kept in a back room. Lord Smith, however, refuses to return them. Have the Elginists stepped up their campaign of repatriation to include murder?

Nelson is also coping with a big drugs investigation. Drugs are being imported from overseas somewhere along the Norfolk coast. His team are running surveillance at night as well as now investigating the possible murder at the museum. Nelson is also dealing with his wife, Michelle’s, discovery that he’s the father of Ruth’s daughter, Kate. Michelle has forbidden him to see either Ruth or Kate. Their few work-related encounters are awkward & Ruth tries to forget Nelson by pursuing a new relationship with Max, a man with no baggage except a boisterous dog called Claudia.

Ruth also has a new neighbour in her remote Saltmarsh neighbourhood. Bob Woonunga is an Aboriginal writer & poet. He’s taking up a teaching post at Ruth’s University & her Druid friend, Cathbad, recommended that he rent the house next door to Ruth. Bob is also pursuing the repatriation of the remains at the Smith Museum. Ruth is unsure about Bob. Kate & Flint, her cat, love him but she’s unsure how far to trust him. When Danforth Smith dies suddenly & then Nelson becomes seriously ill, Ruth is forced to consider Cathbad’s belief that they’ve been cursed by the spirits of the ancestors.

I really enjoy this series & this is an excellent addition to it. Ruth & Nelson are very sympathetic characters & their evolving relationship is always interesting. I also love Ruth’s relationship with Kate, her uncertainties as a mother & her continual juggling of work & motherhood. The writing is in present tense, which I usually dislike, but I get so caught up in the story that it only trips me up now & then. My main niggle with the previous books in the series was that Ruth always ended up in peril of her life & it just struck me as ridiculous that she could get into these situations every time. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen to Ruth in this book although another character, who should know better, does get herself into a sticky situation by ignoring basic common sense. If she had only remembered what Harriet Vane did in a similar situation in Gaudy Night, she would never have ended up in peril of her life. Still, it does result in the solution to one of the mysteries of the plot & the eventual opening of the bishop’s coffin, which contains a surprise or two of its own, provides the rest. The historical & archaeological themes of the books interest me too & Cathbad’s mystical new ageness gives another slant to Ruth’s devotion to scientific standards of truth.

The Malady in Madeira – Ann Bridge

I couldn’t resist going on with the next Julia Probyn novel & I’m about to begin the final book in the series, Julia in Ireland. I’ve just become slightly sidetracked by Elly Griffith’s latest mystery, A Room Full of Bones.
Plot developments (of a personal kind) come thick & fast in the final few Julia books so you may not want to read this review if you’re planning to read the series & want some surprises.

The book begins at Glentoran, the Munro family estate in the Highlands. Julia’s husband, Colonel Philip Jamieson, has been killed in the Middle East while working for British Intelligence. Philip was shot but curiously, Julia hears the cryptic comment that he shouldn’t have been out at all “without his respirator”. Julia’s cousin, Colin Munro, took charge of the mission & blotted his copybook with his superiors by retrieving Philip’s body rather than continuing with the job in hand. Julia is staying at Glentoran with her son, Philip, & close friend, Mrs Hathaway.

Mrs Hathaway is going to Madeira for her health & Julia accompanies her. While there, she becomes involved in a mystery that ties in with the events surrounding her husband’s death. Julia is staying with an old schoolfriend & among their acquaintances are relatives of Colin Munro’s wife, Aglaia. Aglaia knows Julia through the events of The Numbered Account, & she has been sent to Madeira to recuperate after a car accident that led to her losing a baby. On a visit to a high plateau, they notice that the sheep are behaving oddly. They seem dopey & their vision is affected. The local vet can’t explain it & a young boy, the son of one of the servants has similar symptoms. Julia becomes concerned when she discovers that the child had been to the plateau & arranges for him to be seen by another doctor who transfers him to a clinic in Funchal. Julia has also noticed a Russian trawler hovering along the coast & she discovers that a party of men smoking Russian cigarettes have been to the plateau with loads of equipment.

Julia is immediately suspicious as she was involved in the discovery of a Russian plot to lay out listening devices in The Dangerous Islands. She contacts Colin & asks him to come over & investigate. Colin is desperately in need of a success as his bosses were less than impressed by his conduct in the Middle East. Aglaia is also proving to be an encumbrance. She’s very young, very wilful & not very clever. She doesn’t understand that she shouldn’t talk about Colin & his work & their relationship is suffering. She’s also jealous of Julia who has always been involved in Intelligence work in an unofficial way & has a close relationship with Colin.

Colin is surprised to discover that the Russians seem to be testing the same nerve gas on Madeira that they were testing in the Middle East. The climate on Madeira is similar to that of Britain & the plan seems to be that the Russians will use the nerve gas to stupefy the population for long enough to take over government. The sheep are being used as a test case & the Russians have two young Spaniards as accomplices, pretending to be film makers when they’re actually recording the results of the experiment & reporting back to the trawler in the bay.

Julia is her usual, ultra-efficient self, overhearing crucial conversations & dashing to & fro. Colin is reduced to the role of her sidekick, arranging for the London office to send out a boffin to verify their suspicions &, at the same time, trying to sort out his relationship with Aglaia. There are some wonderful minor characters, from Julia’s no-nonsense Nanny Mack, who looks after her small son, to the irascible Doctor who just happens to have an interest in nerve gas & runs a clinic in Funchal where Colin & the boffin from London can hide out while they do their work.

It’s all great fun & exhausting to read with the amount of talking, explaining & running around that Julia does. As always, part of the interest of the book is in the location & we learn a lot about Madeira as well as becoming involved in a classic Cold War adventure. Only one book to go! I’m going to miss Julia when I reach the end of the series.