Sunday Poetry – The Coventry Carol

On the day before the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the children massacred by Herod in his search for Jesus, the only carol to listen to is the Coventry Carol, probably the saddest, most moving of all Christmas songs.
This carol was originally part of the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors in the 15th century, one of the Mystery Plays performed in Coventry. The tune is also said to be medieval.

Here is Westminster Cathedral Choir & here is the Dunedin Consort.

Lullay, lulla, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.Thou little tiny Child.
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor Youngling for whom we sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone who visits I Prefer Reading. Thank you for your conversation over the year. Lucky, Phoebe & I hope you all have a peaceful Christmas & receive lots of bookish presents.

I had trouble convincing the girls that posing in front of the Christmas tree was a good idea so these are just a few of my favourite photos of them over the years.

And one of Abby from Christmas 2010.

Silent Nights : Christmas mysteries – ed Martin Edwards

I do like to read Christmas books around this time of year. Yesterday I started my annual reread (or relisten) of A Christmas Carol, read so beautifully by Miriam Margolyes. Thankfully the weather has calmed down a little after a few horrible days around 40C. I had to go to work on Friday but Saturday & Sunday were spent inside with all the blinds down & air conditioning on, drinking iced tea, reading & watching Christmas movies, especially the ones set in very cold places.

One of the books I finished reading over the weekend was Silent Nights, an anthology of Christmas mysteries, mostly from the Golden Age, edited by Martin Edwards. This is one of the wonderful British Library Crime Classics, a very successful series of mystery novels & short stories reprinted by the British Library. Silent Nights is a mixture of well-known & newly resurrected stories. The first story features Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, is an old favourite involving the theft of a famous diamond & a Christmas goose. The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L Sayers is another favourite, more stolen jewellery & a clever plot that tests the skills of Lord Peter Wimsey.

One of the most interesting & atmospheric stories is Waxwork by Ethel Lina White. A waxworks museum has a reputation for being haunted. Two people have tried to brave the ghosts by staying in the museum overnight & been found dead next morning,. Ambitious young reporter Sonia is determined to succeed where others have failed but can she debunk the stories? The tension is heightened as the night wears on & I was almost looking through my fingers at one point. I haven’t read any Edgar Wallace but the story included here, called Stuffing, is beautifully plotted as well as quite funny. Both the good & the bad get their just deserts.

Edmund Crispin is another favourite author. I read all his books one summer many years ago & Gervase Fen, Professor of English Language & Literature at Oxford, is a wonderful character. Reading this story again after so many years that I’d forgotten the solution, I thought that Stephen Fry would be a very good Fen if the books were ever made into a TV series. In The Name on the Window, architect Sir Lucas Welsh is found stabbed in a supposedly haunted pavilion at the home of fellow architect Sir Charles Moberly. Before his death, he had time to write the name of his murderer on the window but all is not as it seems.

This is an excellent anthology of stories. I read one every night over a couple of weeks & I like to read anthologies that way. Reading too many short stories at once can be a little indigestible but one a day is perfect & this collection was just what I needed in the busy & hot days before Christmas.

Sunday Poetry – Past three o’clock

I’ve always loved this carol but was surprised to learn that it’s not medieval as I’d always thought, but 20th century. The Refrain & the tune is at least 17th century, from a time when the waits would go around calling the time through the night. The words were composed by George Ratcliffe Woodward (who also wrote the words for Ding, Dong, Merrily On High) in the 1920s.

If you don’t know it, here are the Cambridge Singers & here are The Stairwell Carollers from Ottawa.

        Past three a clock,
        And a cold frosty morning,
        Past three a clock;
        Good morrow, masters all!

Born is a Baby,
Gentle as may be,
Son of the eternal
Father supernal.

        Refrain.
        Past three a clock,
        And a cold frosty morning,
        Past three a clock;
        Good morrow, masters all!

Seraph quire singeth,
Angel bell ringeth;
Hark how they rime it,
Time it and chime it.

Mid earth rejoices
Hearing such voices
e’ertofore so well
Carolling Nowell.

Hinds o’er the pearly,
Dewy lawn early
Seek the high Stranger
Laid in the manger.

Cheese from the dairy
Bring they for Mary
And, not for money,
Butter and honey.

Light out of star-land
Leadeth from far land
Princes, to meet him,
Worship and greet him.

Myrrh from full coffer,
Incense they offer;
Nor is the golden
Nugget withholden.

Thus they: I pray you,
Up, sirs, nor stay you
Till ye confess him
Likewise and bless him.

Pre-Christmas ramble

My self-imposed book buying ban is continuing (except for a cookbook which doesn’t count). I’ve been very disciplined & haven’t even been tempted. Of course, it does help that I’m still buying books for other people as Christmas & birthday presents so bookish packages do keep arriving. I’m also still doing a lot of rereading (I was withdrawing an old copy of Gaudy Night at work the other day & sat on the floor reading my favourite bits for quite a while so I really need to read it again from the beginning very soon) so it’s just as well I’m not bringing any more books into the house that will actually be staying more than a few weeks.

However, just because I’m not buying books doesn’t mean I can’t be tempted by bookish merchandise. I do love a good bookish coffee mug. You can see my collection of book-related mugs above (click on the photo to make it larger. From left to right – Penguin Room of One’s Own, Folio Society, Librarian, Slightly Foxed, Susan Hill’s Long Barn Books & two more Penguins, Persuasion & Wuthering Heights). You might think I have enough coffee mugs. Well, I thought I did too. These are only the book-related ones, I have a lot more… Then, I saw these. Virago are producing three coffee mugs featuring Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier & Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. I’m sure you don’t need three guesses to decide which one I’ve ordered.

Speaking of Barbara Pym, I was reading one of those roundups of favourite books of the year in the Age on Saturday morning. I’m very sceptical about these articles, especially when authors are asked their favourite reads of the year. (Not as sceptical as I am about the articles asking politicians what they’re going to be reading over the summer although the article in Sunday’s Age wasn’t as overly worthy as some I’ve read. One politician, Richard Di Natale, leader of the Greens, even said he wouldn’t be reading but playing with his children) Most of the books chosen by the literati are serious worthy tomes, usually award winners or published by friends of the writer. In a small literary market like Australia, it doesn’t do to upset someone who will probably be reviewing your next book. Very occasionally someone breaks that mould & this year, it was Helen Garner, one of my favourite writers. “Books that got me through pneumonia by provoking fits of uncontrollable laughter were, first, Barbara Pym’s A Glass of Blessings and Excellent Women, then three Charles Portis novels, Norwood, The Dog of the South, and his 1968 masterpiece, True Grit.” I haven’t read Charles Portis but Pym would definitely cheer me through pneumonia.

Speaking of Helen Garner (I told you this would be a ramble), I’ve recently discovered a new podcast by two of Garner’s most devoted fans. Well, it’s new to me but it’s been running for just over a year. Australians will know Annabel Crabb & Leigh Sales as political journalists (Crabb mostly in print & Sales as the anchor of the 7.30 current affairs program). Annabel Crabb also presents a TV show called Kitchen Cabinet where she visits politicians at home. They cook her dinner & she brings dessert & she interviews them about their life before politics & how they stay sane while they’re in politics. It sounds light & fluffy but often the audience learns a bit more about the politicians when they’re having a conversation rather than delivering a 30 second soundbite. It’s also fascinating to see who can cook & who has obviously never picked up a lettuce before. Annabel Crabb has just published a cookbook, Special Delivery, which has some gorgeous recipes for cakes, puddings & desserts as well as other dishes (that’s the cookbook I’ve just bought. I couldn’t resist the Roasted Strawberry & Ginger Cheesecake recipe). Their podcast is called Chat 10, Looks 3 (a reference to the song Dance 10, Looks 3 from A Chorus Line. I know nothing about musical theatre so I was completely mystified until I listened to the first episode & all was explained). Crabb & Sales talk about books, musical theatre (Leigh Sales’ passion), cooking & whatever else they feel like. I’ve listened to a few episodes now & I’m really enjoying it. They’re intelligent, witty, funny women & they sound as though they’re having a ball recording the podcast.

The photos of the girls under the Christmas tree aren’t great but I spent ages sitting on the floor, throwing their favourite toys under the tree to entice them into camera range so I was determined to share them. Just so that you don’t forget that it’s summer here, this is Lucky enjoying a mild evening last week snoozing in a sunny patch on the back porch.

Lastly, I’m trying out a new feature on Blogger which allows me to highlight a featured post. I thought I’d choose a post from the same time in a previous year. So I’ve begun with my review last year of Anthony Trollope’s collection of Christmas stories, Christmas at Thompson Hall.

Sunday Poetry – Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day

Another medieval carol with origins in the mystery plays. It’s known as a prophecy Carol as it involves Christ as a baby telling the story of his life to Mary. Sometimes only the first few verses are sung at Christmas with later verses sung during Lent & at Easter.

Here it is, in the version by John Gardner, sung by the choirs of Jesus College, Cambridge. And here’s John Rutter’s version, sung by the Cecilian Carolers

 Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;

        Chorus
        Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
        This have I done for my true love

 Then was I born of a virgin pure
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man’s nature
To call my true love to my dance.

 In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance.

 Then afterwards baptized I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father’s voice heard from above,
To call my true love to my dance.

 Into the desert I was led,
Where I fasted without substance;
The Devil bade me make stones my bread,
To have me break my true love’s dance.

 The Jews on me they made great suit,
And with me made great variance,
Because they loved darkness rather than light,
To call my true love to my dance.

 For thirty pence Judas me sold
His covetousness for to advance:
Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold!
The same is he shall lead the dance.

 Before Pilate the Jews me brought,
Where Barabbas had deliverance;
They scourged me and set me at nought,
Judged me to die to lead the dance.

 Then on the cross hanged I was,
Where a spear my heart did glance;
There issued forth both water and blood,
To call my true love to my dance.

 Then down to hell I took my way
For my true love’s deliverance,
And rose again on the third day,
Up to my true love and the dance.

 Then up to heaven I did ascend,
Where now I dwell in sure substance
On the right hand of God, that man
May come unto the general dance.

Sunday Poetry – The Cherry Tree Carol

I always feature Christmas carols in December as I spend a lot of time listening to them. Yesterday I mixed up my Christmas pudding, ready to steam today, & put up the Christmas tree. I needed to listen to carols about snow & ice as it was 30C outside. This one, The Cherry Tree Carol, isn’t particularly wintry but it is one of the very oldest & I’ve always loved it. It transports Joseph & Mary from the Middle East to an English cherry orchard. The carol may have its origins in the medieval mystery plays but there are many variations in the words & the tune. Here’s a lovely version, sung by the Choir of King’s College.

Joseph was an old man,   
  And an old man was he,   
When he wedded Mary   
  In the land of Galilee.   

Joseph and Mary walk’d           
  Through an orchard good,   
Where was cherries and berries   
  So red as any blood.   

Joseph and Mary walk’d   
  Through an orchard green,           
Where was berries and cherries   
  As thick as might be seen.   

O then bespoke Mary,   
  So meek and so mild,   
‘Pluck me one cherry, Joseph,           
  For I am with child.’   

O then bespoke Joseph   
  With words so unkind,   
‘Let him pluck thee a cherry
  That brought thee with child.’           

O then bespoke the babe   
  Within his mother’s womb,   
‘Bow down then the tallest tree   
  For my mother to have some.’   

Then bow’d down the highest tree           
  Unto his mother’s hand:   
Then she cried, ‘See, Joseph,   
  I have cherries at command!’   

O then bespake Joseph—   
  ‘I have done Mary wrong;           
But cheer up, my dearest,   
  And be not cast down.   

‘O eat your cherries, Mary,   
  O eat your cherries now;   
O eat your cherries, Mary,           
  That grow upon the bough.’   

Then Mary pluck’d a cherry   
  As red as the blood;   
Then Mary went home   
  With her heavy load.           

As Joseph was a-walking,   
  He heard an angel sing:   
‘This night shall be born   
  Our heavenly King.   

‘He neither shall be born           
  In housen nor in hall,   
Nor in the place of Paradise,   
  But in an ox’s stall.   

‘He neither shall be clothéd   
  In purple nor in pall,           
But all in fair linen,   
  As were babies all.   

‘He neither shall be rock’d   
  In silver nor in gold,   
But in a wooden cradle           
  That rocks on the mould.   

He neither shall be christen’d   
  In white wine nor red,   
But with fair spring water   
  With which we were christenéd.           

Then Mary took her young son   
  And set him on her knee;   
‘I pray thee now, dear child,   
  Tell how this world shall be.’—   

‘O I shall be as dead, mother,           
  As the stones in the wall;   
O the stones in the street, mother,   
  Shall mourn for me all.   

‘And upon a Wednesday
  My vow I will make,           
And upon Good Friday   
  My death I will take.   

‘Upon Easter-day, mother,   
  My uprising shall be;   
O the sun and the moon, mother,           
  Shall both rise with me!’   
 

Rambling towards Christmas

I seem to be jumping from one book to the next at the moment, led by serendipity to a story here, a dip into an old favourite there, but not actually finishing very much. This seems to happen to me more and more these days. I could blame age or the internet for my short attention span but really, I just wish I wasn’t interested in so many different subjects, genres & authors. I’m halfway through The English Festivals by Laurence Whistler (brother of Rex, who I wrote about here) just reprinted by Dean Street Press. This is a lovely book about the traditions & customs of the festivals of the English year from Christmas to Candlemas, Plough Sunday & Easter, which is where I’m up to at the moment. I’m just about to start The Octopus by Frank Norris with my 19th century bookgroup which I’ll be reading in weekly instalments for about 6 weeks. It’s the story of a dispute between wheat farmers & the railroad in California in 1880. I haven’t read any Norris so I’m looking forward to that.

I’m listening to Antonia Fraser’s childhood memoir, My History, on audio, read by Penelope Wilton. It’s wonderful. If you would like a taste of it, the lovely blog, Books as Food, has had some excerpts here. It’s not only about Fraser’s childhood, her own history, but about how she came to love history as a subject. It’s sent me off on some reading & browsing trails as well as wanting to reread some of Antonia Fraser’s biographies. She mentions Our Island Story by H E Marshall, which was recently reprinted & which is on the tbr shelves. Reading the chapter about the Princes in the Tower made me wonder if this was the school book that the Amazon loaned to Alan Grant in The Daughter of Time (do I have time to read it again?).

Part of her schooldays were spent at a convent school founded by Mary Ward, a seventeenth century nun who believed passionately in education for girls. Fraser wrote about Mary Ward in her book on seventeenth century women, The Weaker Vessel, which I haven’t read since it was published 30 years ago. I picked it up to read about Mary Ward but I’m much more interested in the seventeenth century than I was back then so I’d love to read the whole book again.

The nuns & the convent school also provided the setting for Fraser’s first detective novel, Quiet as a Nun, published in 1977. Open Library had the same edition that I read all those years ago so I’m reading it for at least the third or fourth time. I loved the Jemima Shore books & this first one, about the mysterious death of a nun in the tower called Blessed Eleanor’s Retreat in the convent grounds, was the best.

Then, I received an email about a conference on the work of Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Among the sessions was a reading group discussion of one of her stories, The Mystery at Fernwood. Braddon is one of my favourite sensation novelists & I had this story in the Delphi collection on my eReader so I dropped everything to read it. Braddon is an early member of the Had I But Known school of mystery writing.
  
If I had but gone with her! It is so difficult to reconcile oneself to the irrevocable decrees of Providence, it is so difficult to bow the head in meek submission to the awful fiat; so difficult not to look back to the careless hours which preceded the falling of the blow, and calculate how it might have been averted.

Isabel is intrigued by the air of mystery at the home of her fiance, Laurence Wendale. There are forebodings of misery & secrets & a mysterious invalid who lives in a separate wing of the house & is never seen. The secret wasn’t so very mysterious but Braddon’s writing is so atmospheric. She uses the weather so well to suggest a sinister atmosphere & heightened emotion. I loved it. However, Laurence’s sister, Lucy, mentions Sir Walter Scott’s Demonology & I’d never heard of it so needed to find out what it was. Then, I checked my Delphi edition of Scott, & there it was, so that’s another book I want to read.

Christmas is coming so I’m starting to think about some suitable reading, listening & watching for the next few weeks. I’ve started reading one story each day from Silent Nights, the Christmas mystery anthology edited by Martin Edwards for the British Library Crime Classics series. The first story is an old favourite, The Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, but most of the stories are completely new to me.

I’m also reading poetry. Last year, someone mentioned Janet Morley’s anthology, Haphazard by Starlight, a poem a day from Advent to Epiphany. I was too late to get hold of it then but I did buy it & also the Lent anthology, The Heart’s Time, which I enjoyed reading. The poems aren’t all religious, or not overtly religious, but I’m enjoying concentrating on one poem a day. I’ve started listening to Christmas carols & I watched Miracle on 34th Street again last weekend. It begins at Thanksgiving so I always seem to watch it at this time of year. The original version only, please. I’m sure I’m not the only one who cries when Kris sings with the little Dutch girl, no matter how many times I see it. I just love 1940s movies, especially set in New York. You’d never have a movie these days where the romantic leads were called Fred & Doris, would you? Such lovely, old-fashioned names. Maureen O’Hara, the last of the main cast members, died recently. She was such a beautiful actress, I remember her in How Green Was My Valley as well.

I’ll be listening to Miriam Margolyes reading Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, & I’ve borrowed a couple of Christmas mysteries from work, new reprints of 1930s titles – Crime at Christmas by C H B Kitchin & Murder for Christmas by Francis Duncan. Not the most imaginative titles but they have lovely retro covers (I tried to load a photo but it came out upside down) & the more reprints the better!

I have finished reading a book, Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole, which I’ll be reviewing soon. My non-book buying has been going well (I obviously don’t need to buy books when I have so many on my shelves & eReader to dip into) although I do have a little confession to make but that can wait a couple of days. This post is long enough already.

Envious Casca – Georgette Heyer

I like to read Christmas-themed mysteries at Christmas & I planned to read Envious Casca last Christmas. However, I didn’t get to it, I read J Jefferson Farjeon’s Mystery in White instead. I’m not sure what made me pick up Envious Casca last week & make it my lunchtime book, but I did. It’s a well-plotted murder mystery with the requisite nasty victim & cast of plausible suspects & I enjoyed it very much.

Nathaniel Herriard is a rich but miserable man. He lives at Lexham Manor with his brother, Joseph & his wife, Maud. Joseph is an out-of-work actor who loves to talk about his great roles but was really only ever a character actor. Maud is quiet & colourless, her only enthusiasm is her love of reading royal biographies, the more romantic & tragic the life, the more she enjoys it. Joseph has decided to bring the family together for Christmas, against Nathaniel’s wishes as he hates Christmas. Nat & Joseph’s nephew, Stephen & his sister, Paula are invited. Stephen is presumed to be his uncle’s heir but the two have an abrasive relationship. Stephen has just become engaged to pretty, empty-headed Valerie Dean, a young woman that Nat has taken an instant dislike to. Paula is an actress & is desperate to borrow money from her uncle to put on a play written by Willoughby Roydon, a young man who writes serious plays about the sordid underbelly of modern life. Unsurprisingly none of his plays have been produced. Paula is excited about his new play because he’s written a perfect part for herself. Nat’s business partner, Edgar Mottisfont & Mathilda Clare, a cousin of the Herriads, make up the party.

Despite Joseph’s desire to keep the party on an even keel, the cracks soon begin to appear. The guests arrive on Christmas Eve &, almost immediately, Nathaniel is rude to Valerie, who dislikes the house & its atmosphere. Stephen seems to be having second thoughts about his engagement anyway as he’s rude to Valerie & abrasive with his uncle. Paula pushes everyone into hearing Roydon read his play & is then upset when Nathaniel is offended by the content. It seems it won’t be so easy to get the money from Nathaniel & Roydon is upset because Paula had told him she would get the money as her inheritance so why shouldn’t she have it now? Unfortunately she hadn’t taken her uncle’s disposition into account. Nathaniel has a meeting with Edgar Mottisfont which leaves Edgar furious & frightened. Then, Maud’s copy of The Life of the Empress Elizabeth goes missing & Joseph & Mathilda have a hard time keeping the peace.

When the party assemble for dinner on Christmas Eve, they’re all upset or angry to some degree. When Nathaniel doesn’t appear, Joseph & Ford, the valet, go up to his room. The door’s locked &, after calling Stephen to help, they break in, finding Nathaniel dead on the floor. It soon becomes apparent that he’s been stabbed in the back. However, the door & windows were all locked &, apart from a tiny window in the bathroom, there seems no way a murderer could have escaped. The local police are called & then Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard arrives to take over the baffling case.

Envious Casca is a very good mystery, with almost everyone in the house party having a motive. As Inspector Hemingway puts it, “Here I’ve got no fewer than four hot suspects, and three possibles, all without alibis, and most of them with life-size motives, and I’m damned if I see my way to bringing it home to any of them.” The locked room & the absence of a weapon is another twist in the tale. None of the house guests is particularly sympathetic, although I did like Mathilda Clare, a plain (or ugly, as Valerie Dean keeps emphasizing) thirtyish spinster with a dry sense of humour. I got to the solution ahead of the detectives but it was more to do with my knowledge of history than spotting any other clues. I liked Inspector Hemingway, he’s intelligent & clever at choosing the right manner when questioning his suspects, from flirting with Valerie Dean to refusing to take umbrage when the very superior butler Sturry (who tends to speak in Capital Letters) turns his nose up at the police & sees the murder as a personal affront.

According to Jennifer Kloester’s biography of Heyer, she had a very hard time writing the book, which was originally called Christmas Party. It was 1940, her brother-in-law was killed in action in May & she was upset & preoccupied by the news of the war. She had also just published The Spanish Bride & was worried by the opinion of some readers (including her mother) that her regular readers wouldn’t enjoy it as much as her usual, lighter, books. She also felt that the subject matter – another European war, even though it was over a hundred years earlier – was ill-timed. Every time she tried to work on the mystery, she wanted to be writing a light romance instead. I also loved the anecdote in the biography that, after trying various titles for the book, she thought that Envious Casca would be a good title & assumed that everyone would recognize the allusion to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar & not be too annoyed that the number of stab wounds in the murders was different.

Envious Casca is about to be reprinted with the original title, A Christmas Party, in time for Christmas this year. I think there’s also a nod to the very successful British Library Crime Classics in the cover art of the reprint. The BLCC series has a new Christmas book out as well, a collection of short stories, Silent Nights, selected by Martin Edwards. My copy is on its way. There’s also a reprint of an earlier BLCC title, The Santa Klaus Murder, with a new cover (a great improvement on the hideous cover it had when first published a few years ago). I doubt the British Library Crime Classics would be so successful if they hadn’t come up with that gorgeous cover art based on railway posters. All the earlier titles have been reprinted with covers in this style & I’m sure their sales must have improved.

Anglophilebooks.comA copy of Envious Casca is available at Anglophile Books.

Mystery in White : a Christmas Crime Story – J Jefferson Farjeon

Mystery in White is another in the terrific series of Golden Age mysteries that the British Library are reprinting. Appropriately for the time of year, it’s set at Christmas & is a very clever variation on the locked room mystery.

A group of travelers are caught on a snowbound train on Christmas Eve. Lydia Carrington & her brother David are on their way to stay with friends, Jessie Noyes is a chorus girl going to Manchester for a job, elderly Mr Edward Maltby is a psychic researcher investigating a possible sighting of the ghost of Charles I. There’s also a timid clerk, Thomson, who likes to fantasise about rescuing maidens in distress & a bore (later we discover his name is Hopkins) who has a story for every occasion, always with himself as hero.

As the storm worsens & there seems no likelihood of the train moving, the group discuss their options – to stay put or to try to reach another station & take a train from there. Suddenly Mr Maltby takes off after seeing a man running from the train. eventually, the others, except Hopkins, decide to follow him, concerned for his welfare & also hoping to complete their journeys. After losing their way & Jessie twisting her ankle, they stumble upon a house. The door is unlocked, fires are lit, the kettle’s boiling & tea has been set. However, there’s no one home.

Hopkins, who brings news of the murder of a man in the next compartment to theirs on the train & Maltby, who has lost sight of the man he was pursuing, soon join the group. They decide to make the best of it & hope the owners of the house will be understanding when they return. However, the empty house has an uncanny atmosphere & the arrival of a menacing Cockney who says his name is Smith, doesn’t exactly lighten the mood. Jessie seems to be receptive to the strange atmosphere of the house & is frightened by a chair in the dining room & the bed she is put into. David & Mr Maltby try to find some clue to the disappearance of the owners but everything they discover only deepens the mystery.

“Nothing explains anything! If it were a fine day it might be quite natural to run out of a house for a few moments while a kettle’s boiling, but in this weather – can you explain that? Where have they gone? Not to post a letter or to cut a lettuce! Why don’t they come back? I didn’t tell you, the kettle wasn’t boiling in a nice respectable manner, it was boiling over. Oh, and there was a bread-knife on the floor.”

Mystery in White is an atmospheric mystery that is very hard to put down once started. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the house with the snow falling & the menace within is exceptionally well done. I don’t find it at all hard to believe that it’s been a surprise bestseller. The mystery is ingenious, reaching back twenty years into the past & involves several murders & family secrets. The characters are interestingly varied & there are moments of real tension as David & Maltby test their theories about the mystery of the abandoned house.