Over the past couple of weeks my mind has been more than usually occupied by family matters and my reading time shrank to almost nothing on some days. But reading has always been my way preferred way of escaping for a few moments or winding down when necessary so I was still looking for things to read, even if not the new adventures and challenging tales that I enjoy most.
The second to last book that Dick Francis co-authored with his son was Even Money. As always it features a bloke who has something to do with horse-racing (in this case he’s a bookmaker) who experiences some unexpected unrest in his life (here it is the appearance of the father he’d thought long dead followed closely by witnessing the man’s murder) which he has to resolve to his peril while dealing with day-to-day life’s tribulations (a wife with severe mental health issues and rough treatment by the ‘big boys’ of his business). I could probably have re-read any of Francis’ 41 earlier books and gotten roughly the same amount of enjoyment and comfort as I received from reading the new one but that’s kinda the point of reading Dick Francis. At least for me. While the details might change the basic formula doesn’t and when you need an engaging if not particularly surprising story which contains enough of a puzzle to keep you interested and characters you are going to enjoy watching overcome their problems (because they undoubtedly will) then Dick Francis is your man. As with most of his books, Even Money is well-written, containing enough detail about a new subject (bookmaking) to keep it interesting, and its characters are engaging. There’s even some humour which might be the influence of Francis’ son and co-author because it’s not been much of a feature of previous novels, and the depiction of someone with mental health problems and the impact this has on loved ones is very credible which shows off the good research, another feature of the Francis novels. Rating 3/5
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
I have never read any of M C Beaton’s Agatha Raisin series before which makes it an unusual choice for comfort reading. However the audio book of Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House is narrated by Penelope Keith who, aside from being a terrific English actress, is someone synonymous with my childhood. There always seemed to be one of her shows on our TV and her voice is one my ears would know anywhere and I thought I might enjoy hearing her again.
The story is almost laughably simple, Agatha Raisin is a middle-aged woman who has left London for a small English village where she has gained the reputation of being an amateur sleuth. Her new next-door neighbour is handsome Paul Chatterton and when they hear that the house of an elderly lady is being haunted the pair decide to investigate. I’ll leave the remaining few surprises up to you to discover should you have a yen to but I wouldn’t hurry. The plot has significant holes and the characters aren’t likable enough that you’d be genuinely interested in the endless boring details of their lives. Agatha Raisin is plain silly, dithering about changing her outfits every time she is due to meet her neighbour and fantasizing about him asking her to marry him despite the fact he is already married and has shown barely a ripple of romantic interest in her. Her crime solving skills are negligible at best and if I met her in the real world I’d have to fight the urge to slap her as she is pretty much everything I despise in a woman all wrapped up in a single package. I don’t actually think it’s much of a recommendation that the book was suitable for paying minimal attention to while sitting in hospital waiting rooms and keeping me awake while driving late at night. However much of my attention was held by the book is due to Penelope Keith’s acting talents and not Beaton’s storytelling ones but even Keith can only do so much with such poor source material. Rating 2/5
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
The last comfort read might seem an odd choice because I am not a huge fan of PD James (I know that’s a heretical thought for a crime fiction buff). Apart from the fact I think her chief protagonist Adam Dalgliesh is an insufferable bore I find James’ books beautifully written but incredibly slow which is usually a turn-off. However slow was just what I was looking for on this occasion and again I chose an audio book, this time narrated superbly by Tammy Ustinov.
An Unsuitable Job for a Woman is the first of two books James has written about a young female private investigator Cordelia Gray, though Dalgliesh does make his presence felt. Cordelia is the business partner of former policeman (and colleague of the aforementioned Dalgliesh) Bernie Pryde and she arrives at work one day to find Bernie has killed himself. Just as she is trying to work out how to keep the business afloat without her senior partner she is approached by a woman acting on behalf of noted scientist Sir Robert Callender who wants Cordelia to investigate his son Mark’s suicide. In accepting the case Cordelia becomes wrapped up in the lives of wealthy Cambridge students who were Mark’s friends in order to unravel the reasons behind Mark’s death. I enjoyed meeting Cordelia who is quite determined to succeed despite not having much experience (and to prove wrong every second person she meets who makes some comment about the job of detecting being unsuitable for a woman). She uses as her guide the lessons that Bernie learned from his former boss Dalgliesh so his influence pops up throughout the book and the man himself makes a brief appearance at the end. The story is quite slow to unfold but in contrast to the Beaton book the details of the lives of the players are more interestingly revealed and the people themselves more believable and engaging. Rating 3.5/5
What about you? Do you have series or authors that you turn to for comfort reading?