Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Listening to History

I've been listening to some great historical biographies over the last month. Simon Sebag Montefiore's latest book is a history of The Romanovs from 1613-1918. This is a huge subject, telling the story of all the Romanov tsars from Michael, who reluctantly took the throne in the 17th century during the Time of Troubles, to Nicholas II, whose downfall & abdication in 1917 led to the murder of his family at Ekaterinburg the following year. I've read a lot of Russian history & there are some periods I know well - Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, the Decembrist period, Nicholas II - but I knew very little about the 17th century tsars & the Empresses Elizaveta & Catherine I. Montefiore tells his story with gusto & includes as much violence & sex as possible.

The story of the Romanovs is one of excess & violence. Most royal families, at least until the modern period, found themselves at war with each other. There have been many examples of rulers & their heirs not getting along. Power is a precious thing to those who have it & an irresistible attraction to the next in line. The Romanovs were no different. Peter the Great imprisoned his son, Alexis, had him tortured & may have taken part in the torture himself. Catherine the Great wasn't exactly distraught when her husband, Peter III, was murdered, leaving her to rule. Catherine's son, Paul, was murdered as well, although his son, Alexander I, never fully emerged from the guilt he felt about his father's death.

Excess in the form of wealth & extravagant consumption is another theme. From Peter the Great's determination to build his city on the Neva, St Petersburg, to Catherine the Great's refurbishment of palaces in the city & at the village of Tsarskoe Selo, where the Imperial family could live more privately, no expense was spared. Catherine was a great collector, amassing the collection at the Hermitage Palace. The incredible wealth of the Romanovs lasted until the end, with the Fabergé Easter eggs of the last Tsars exemplifying the conspicuous consumption of the aristocracy. This excess was paid for by the labour of millions of serfs & citizens. The divide between the autocratic regime & the vast majority of Russians could only lead to disaster. The assassination of a reforming tsar like Alexander II led to the reactionary reign of his son so that even when moves were made towards modernising Russia, they were often stymied by the inherent problems of ruling such an enormous country & the logistical problems caused by the tyranny of distance.

I enjoyed Simon Sebag Montefiore's telling of the story very much & Simon Russell Beale's narration was excellent. I did wonder if we needed so many quotations from the racy love letters Alexander II wrote to his young mistress (& later, his morganatic wife), Katya Dolgorukaya, or so many descriptions of knoutings & tortures, but the book has been amazingly successful for a serious history (over 50 reservations on our copies at work) so the author knows what sells. It kept me listening for nearly 29 hours & I listened to the last 5 hours over a weekend as the compelling description of the last years of Nicholas & Alexandra was so enthralling.

My interest in the ancient world led to my other history audio, Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra : a life. The last of the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, Cleopatra is almost a mythic figure. I knew the basic outline of her story but this biography filled in a lot of gaps. Cleopatra was an amazingly determined woman. She was co-ruler with her father & then after his death, with her younger brother as co-ruler & husband, according to tradition because a woman wasn't thought to be capable of ruling alone. She was able to consolidate her position & survive the attempted treachery of her brother & his advisers. Several plots by this brother, Ptolemy XII, &, after his death, by another brother  & co-ruler, Ptolemy XIV, led to Cleopatra appealing to Rome's most famous general, Julius Caesar, for assistance. Egypt's enormous resources made it an irresistible prospect for Rome who were keen to have as many client kingdoms ruled by compliant rulers as possible. Cleopatra's personal relationship with Caesar, which led to the birth of their son, Caesarion, caused scandal but neither cared. I hadn't realised that Cleopatra was in Rome, living in one of Caesar's villas, when he was assassinated. She very quickly left Rome for Alexandria, where she proclaimed Caesarion her co-ruler, thereby satisfying tradition & removing the need for her to marry.

Cleopatra's relationship with the Roman general Marc Antony has become legendary. Stacy Schiff does an excellent job of picking her way through the myths & the hostile propaganda to try to explain the attraction between them. As most of the contemporary or near-contemporary accounts of the period were written by Roman historians, Cleopatra has been attacked & blamed for everything that went wrong. The relationship between Cleopatra & Antony lasted ten years & they had three children together. Cleopatra needed Antony's military assistance & he needed the wealth & resources she could bring in his battles with his rival & co-Tribune, Octavius. The personal dynamic between the two men was complicated by Antony's marriage to Octavius' sister, Octavia, & Octavius' reputation as a sickly man, not a warrior like Antony. Octavius had been adopted by Julius Caesar as his heir but Cleopatra had Caesar's son, a situation that was always a threat to Octavius' power base. The breakdown of the relationship between Octavius & Antony, complicated by Antony's affair with Cleopatra & his divorce from Octavia, led to the battle of Actium, where Octavius was triumphant. In the aftermath, both Antony & Cleopatra committed suicide.

I loved all the detail in this book about Cleopatra's Court & the city of Alexandria. Cleopatra was an incredibly shrewd politician. She used her advantages well. Although she was not thought to be particularly beautiful, she was intelligent & witty, able to enthrall Caesar & Antony. She was also pragmatic in a very cut-throat world. She had her siblings exiled or murdered when they threatened her power; she made her son co-ruler so she didn't need to marry again; she constantly identified with the goddess Isis to enhance her prestige with her own people & put on extravagant public ceremonies - she knew the value of spectacle in politics. She seems to have been the dominant partner in her relationship with Antony, she certainly had the financial clout & she seems to have been the stronger personality. Antony almost fell apart after Actium, he apparently believed that he would be allowed to disappear into exile. Even his suicide was a mess. Cleopatra was determined that she would not become a trophy for Octavius, paraded through Rome as a captive in his Triumph. She meticulously planned her death (it may have been poison rather than the famous asp) & denied Octavius his prize. Her enduring reputation rests on a few images - smuggling herself in to see Caesar wrapped up in a carpet; floating down the Cydnus River to Tarsus to meet Antony, dressed as Aphrodite; dying from the bite of an asp in her own mausoleum. Stacy Schiff has used the available sources brilliantly to create a portrait of a remarkable woman & queen whose career was unique in antiquity & still fascinates today.

I also want to mention a history podcast that I've recently discovered. Dan Snow is a historian & broadcaster & he has a podcast called History Hit. He talks to historians, mostly British, about their latest book or a topic in the news & I'm really enjoying browsing the back catalogue. I've recently listened to Anna Keay on the Duke of Monmouth, Adrian Goldsworthy on his new book, Pax Romana, Marc Morris on 1216, Anna Whitelock on the Tudors & Janina Ramirez on the Anglo-Saxons. Of course, it's all adding to my tbr shelves but everything I see, read or hear seems to do that! You can listen to the podcast at the website or subscribe from wherever you get your podcasts.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Poetry - Robert Louis Stevenson

On Classic FM last week I heard Teddy Tahu Rhodes singing Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel. I love this song cycle from the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson, & this poem, Whither Must I Wander, is my favourite. I find all the poems in the cycle quite melancholy but maybe that's Vaughan Williams' arrangement or the knowledge that RLS died young which makes me feel melancholy. I really should read Claire Harman's biography & see if it's a happier story than I imagine. Certainly his book about traveling in France with a donkey has some light hearted moments (I notice that I've been planning to read a biography of RLS for the last six years...). However, listening to Bryn Terfel sing these beautiful songs is always a pleasure.

Home no more home to me, whither must I wander?
Hunger my driver, I go where I must.
Cold blows the winter wind over hill and heather:
Thick drives the rain and my roof is in the dust.
Loved of wise men was the shade of my roof-tree,
The true word of welcome was spoken in the door–
Dear days of old with the faces in the firelight,
Kind folks of old, you come again no more.

Home was home then, my dear, full of kindly faces,
Home was home then, my dear, happy for the child.
Fire and the windows bright glittered on the moorland;
Song, tuneful song, built a palace in the wild.
Now when day dawns on the brow of the moorland,
Lone stands the house, and the chimney-stone is cold.
Lone let it stand, now the friends are all departed,
The kind hearts, the true hearts, that loved the place of old.

Spring shall come, come again, calling up the moorfowl,
Spring shall bring the sun and the rain, bring the bees and flowers;
Red shall the heather bloom over hill and valley,
Soft flow the stream through the even-flowing hours.
Fair the day shine as it shone on my childhood–
Fair shine the day on the house with open door;
Birds come and cry there and twitter in the chimney–
But I go for ever and come again no more.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Leon Roch - Benito Pérez Galdós

Last year, I read a novel by 19th century Spanish novelist Benito Pérez Galdós. Fortunata and Jacinta was one of my favourite books of 2015 so I was pleased when another of his novels was proposed for my 19th century bookgroup. Leon Roch was written much earlier in the author's career & it's very different from Fortunata. One of the members of the bookgroup memorably described it as more like an opera than a novel & I would have to agree. It's dramatic, overwrought & passionate & not always easy to read but I did enjoy it. It features two strong female characters, as the later novel does, & their stories were fascinating.

Our hero, Leon, is a wealthy young man, interested in science & literature. He's also an atheist. He has been in love with a childhood friend, Pepa de Fúcar, daughter of the immensely rich Don Pedro, Marquis de Casa-Fúcar, a self-made man. Leon has fallen suddenly in love with Mária de Tellería, the beautiful daughter of another Marquis, but an impoverished one. His reasons for marriage set out all the problems that will plague him in the future,

Mária's goodness, her sense, her modesty, the submissiveness of her intelligence, her exquisite of life added to the seriousness of her tastes and instincts - all made me feel that she was the wife for me - I will be perfectly frank with you: her family are not at all to my liking. But what does that matter? I can separate from my relations. I only marry my wife and she is delightful ... Her education has been neglected and she is as ignorant as can be; but on the other hand, she is free from all false ideas and frivolous accomplishments, and from those mischievous habits of mind which corrupt the judgement and nature of the girls of our day.

Rumours of Leon's engagement enrage Pepa &, in a fit of pique, she marries Federico Cimarra, a worthless man with nothing to recommend him.

Leon & Mária are very happy at first, although his atheism upsets her as she's a conventionally religious young woman. Her rapacious family - parents & two brothers - are constantly in debt & Leon constantly & good-humouredly bails them out. Mária's other brother, her twin, Luis Gonzaga, is a monk &, when he is dying of consumption, he comes to stay with the Rochs. Luis' influence on his sister is immense as he's considered a saintly young man. He reproaches her for marrying an atheist & then for doing nothing to convert him. Mária becomes more overtly religious, dressing simply & attending Mass several times a day. She becomes estranged from Leon as he resists her emotional blackmail in her attempts to convert him & she resists his egotistical plans to educate her. Both realise painfully that they cannot change the other.

"Nay," cried Mária with the air of a martyr, "abuse and insult me as much as you will, but do not attack my faith; that is blasphemy."
"It is not blasphemy; I only tell you that you, and you alone, have made our marriage tie a chain of bondage. ... When we married you had your beliefs and I had mine, and my respect for every man's conscience is so great that I never thought of trying to eradicate your faith; I gave you complete liberty; I never interfered with your devotions, even when they were so excessive as to mar the happiness of our home. Then there cam a day when you went mad - I can find no other word to describe the terrific exaggeration of your bigotry since, six months ago, here in my garden, your hapless brother died in your arms. Since then you have not been a woman but a monster of bitterness and vexatiousness ..."

Pepa's marriage has been as unhappy as could have been predicted from its beginning. Her only joy is her daughter, Ramona, known as Monina. Leon & Pepa meet again for the first time in some years. Leon realises that he has always loved Pepa & her love for him has never wavered. She admits that she married Cimarra in her despair at Leon's engagement to Mária.

"... And bitter pique rankled in my heart and made me resolve that I would give to the least worthy suitor what I had intended for the most worthy. If I could not have the best I would take the worst. Do you remember my throwing out my jewels on the dust-heap? I wanted to do the same with myself. Of what use was I if no one loved me?"

Then, Federico is reported lost at sea on a journey to America. Leon has separated from Mária & moved to a house near Pepa's home at Suertebella, where she lives with her daughter & her father. Pepa & Leon grow closer through their love for her daughter & ugly rumours, mostly spread by Mária's ungrateful family, accuse them of adultery. Mária, encouraged by her false friend, bored, gossipy Pilar de San Salomó, decides to confront Leon with his crimes & collapses. She is taken to Suertebella where her family & her spiritual advisor, Padre Paoletti, alternately accuse Leon & try to comfort Mária, while Leon & Pepa must confront the realities of their relationship & any future they might have.

The operatic part of this novel is in the telling. I can't remember when I last read a novel where characters have conversations that go on for pages & pages at such a pitch of emotion & especially when they're at death's door. Luis Gonzaga takes chapters & chapters to die & all the time he's haranguing Leon or Mária at great length. Mária herself, when she's gravely ill, never stops talking, working herself up to hysteria, encouraged by the priest & her family.

There are some fantastic descriptions & set-pieces. This is Luis Gonzaga, the monk whose zeal cannot be dimmed, even when he's dying,

The lean, angular figure, wrapped in a black gown, with a cord round the slender waist, - bare-headed, feeble and drooping, with eyes always fixed on the ground, with a dull, clammy skin and weak swaying neck that could hardly support the head above it, with broad, yellow, transparent hands like little faggots of thin sticks, too weak for anything but to be folded in prayer - wandered like an ominous shadow through the drawing rooms hung with gaudy papers or tawdry tapestry.

Galdós is funny & satirical about society & about the Church. At a bullfight, the rich find a sudden rainstorm a delightful occurrence while the poor in their open seats have to run for shelter. "After all, the rain is not a serious evil to people who keep a carriage." His opinions of rich women with no real religious feeling, making a great show of their attendance at church & their charity work is scathing & he doesn't hold back in his satire. Mária's family are consummate hypocrites, expecting Leon to rescue them from their creditors while they despise his atheism & believe every scandalous story about his relationship with Pepa. Leon may be our hero but he's shown as just as deluded as Mária; smug in his certainties & dismissive of Mária's feelings. Emotions are always at the highest pitch & drawn out to a much greater length than necessary most of the time. I wondered if Galdos had to fill a certain number of pages for serialization as some scenes are stretched so far that I lost patience. I kept reading for the sharp satire & for the characters of Mária & Pepa, two more of Galdós' strong, feisty women who dominate the story from the beginning.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Joan of Arc - a history - Helen Castor

Everyone knows the story of Joan of Arc. The peasant girl from Domrémy who heard voices as she tended her father's fields. Voices that she believed came from Heaven. These voices told her to go to the Dauphin Charles, fighting a crippling civil war against the English & Burgundians, lead his army, push the enemy out of France & crown him King. We know that Joan did all this but, when the victories stopped, she was captured by the Burgundians, put on trial by the Church as a heretic, handed over to the English & burned at the stake. Fifty years later, in a different political climate, Joan was rehabilitated by the Church & in 1920, she was made a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. I read this story, with illustrations I still remember, in my Children's Encyclopedia over 40 years ago.

Helen Castor has taken this story & retold it in a fascinating way. Most accounts of Joan's story begin in Domrémy, in Joan's childhood, then take us on that journey to the Dauphin so that we're already convinced of her mission before she arrives at Chinon. In this book, Joan doesn't even appear until a third of the way through. Castor describes the political situation in France in the early 15th century. She begins with the battle of Azincourt (the English Agincourt) in 1415, describes the split between the victorious English & Burgundian faction, who had the support of the mentally afflicted King Charles VI & the Armagnac faction, supporting the heir to the throne, Dauphin Charles. The reader becomes aware of Joan as the Dauphin does, without knowing any of the traditional backstory. Her deeds seem even more amazing in this context. The desperation of the Armagnacs to believe her story, the decision to give her troops & let her try her luck as they were in such desperate straits, the raising of the siege of Orléans & the triumphant journey to Reims Cathedral to see the Dauphin crowned King. This was the high point in Joan's story.

Once the Dauphin was crowned, however, no one seemed to know what to do with Joan. She was single-minded in her desire to drive the English out of France & frustrated that Charles wouldn't give her the troops she wanted to carry out her plan, that plan that she said had been communicated to her by her voices. Eventually, she was captured by the Burgundians as she tried to relieve Compiègne, just outside Paris. Handed over to the Church as a heretic, she was interrogated, put on trial & declared a heretic. Her voices came from the Devil & her determination to wear male clothing was against the teaching of the Church. Joan briefly recanted when she was confronted with the scaffold & sentenced to life imprisonment. However, she soon restated her belief in her voices & returned to her male clothing. The Church then handed her over to the secular authorities for sentencing & she was burnt at the stake on May 30, 1431 at the age of nineteen.

Joan is one of the few medieval women whose life was so completely documented. The transcripts of her trial & then of the rehabilitation are full of eyewitness accounts of her childhood & her career, the kind of detail that is vital to any biographer. Helen Castor does a wonderful job of explaining just how unusual Joan's journey was. For a teenage girl to get as far as she did with such self-belief & determination was extraordinary. Castor doesn't try to explain Joan's voices. There have been theories that she had epilepsy or was mentally ill. There have been theories that she was an illegitimate member of the royal family. It's like the theories about Shakespeare's plays. Some people can't believe that William Shakespeare from Stratford wrote the plays. Some people can't believe that a peasant girl from Domrémy could have accomplished what she did. Joan's story has all the elements of fairytale or myth but, by going back to the sources & writing without the benefit of hindsight, we can see why the Dauphin wanted to believe in Joan. Her initial success had more to do with politics than piety but, no matter the machinations at Court, Joan's own belief never wavered.

The detailed account of her trial shows Joan, a young woman, ill, in prison & alone, interrogated & questioned by large groups of men - Churchmen, lawyers, doctors - & confidently giving her answers as they circled around her story, moving backwards & forwards in time, trying to trip her up on detail, trying to get the admission they needed about the heretical nature of her experiences & beliefs. The outcome of the trial was never in doubt but the lengths that these men went to, either to save her soul for God by her recantation or make her an outcast from the Church if she stuck to her story, was remarkable. This is a fascinating story, so well told. Even if you think you know the story of Joan of Arc, Helen Castor's book is comprehensive, sympathetic & full of telling detail. This is not a book about a saint; it's the story of a young woman who took the medieval world by surprise & achieved more than anyone could have imagined.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sunday Poetry - Thomas Hardy

After last week's melancholy Hardy, this week's poem, The Ruined Maid, is much more spritely. The speaker's view of the advantages of ruin, at least as far as clothes & "polish" go are witty & satirical but I wonder how chirpy 'Melia will be in a few years time? The Persephone Post from a couple of weeks ago featured Augustus Egg's triptych, Past and Present 1, 2, 3, which gives a more traditional, middle-class view of a woman's ruin.

"O 'Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?" —
"O didn't you know I'd been ruined?" said she.

— "You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you've gay bracelets and bright feathers three!" —
"Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined," said she.

— "At home in the barton you said thee' and thou,'
And thik oon,' and theäs oon,' and t'other'; but now
Your talking quite fits 'ee for high compa-ny!" —
"Some polish is gained with one's ruin," said she.

— "Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!" —
"We never do work when we're ruined," said she.

— "You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you'd sigh, and you'd sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!" —
"True. One's pretty lively when ruined," said she.

— "I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!" —
"My dear — a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain't ruined," said she.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Literary Ramblings

I'm happy to say that I've recovered my mystery reading mojo lately. I reviewed Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' One Under the other day & I've been reading the latest issue of CADS (Crime and Detective Stories), the magazine devoted to crime & mystery fiction, mostly of the Golden Age. Highlights of the new issue of CADS include an article on Josephine Tey's Miss Pym Disposes by Kate Jackson, an article on J Jefferson Farjeon by Philip L Scowcroft & Liz Gilbey introduces readers to Vera Caspary's novel Laura, the basis for the 1944 movie starring Gene Tierney. I first heard about CADS through Martin Edwards' enthusiastic reports here & here but it was only last year that I got around to contacting Geoff Bradley & ordering a copy. As well as ordering the latest copy, I've been ordering a few back issues each time to make the best possible use of the cost of postage to Australia (if you're ordering one, why not four?) so I've been happily dipping into these back issues over the last week or two.

CADS 60 (May 2011) led me down several reading trails which I'm still following up. The feature article by Curt Evans (aka The Passing Tramp) featured several authors since reprinted by the British Library, including Freeman Wills Crofts. Then, there was an article by Christine R Simpson about Lord Peter Wimsey's sleuthing methods, Paul R Moy writes about Margaret Rutherford v Joan Hickson as Jane Marple & Philip L Scowcroft on Christie's The ABC Murders. I've read The ABC Murders before but downloaded it from my library for a reread. Then, Lyn McConchie reviewed First Hit of the Season by Jane Dentinger. In 2011, this series of mysteries featuring out of work actress Joscelyn O'Roarke, was out of print. However, Open Book Media brought them back as eBooks a couple of years ago & I reviewed the first in the series, Murder on Cue. In my review, I wrote that I would like to read more of the series but, of course, I haven't. However, I bought the first couple of books in the series for the eLibrary at work so I now have First Hit of the Season on my iPad. I've also downloaded a sample of another book, Murder in Volume by D R Meredith, long out of print but now available as an eBook. This one features Megan Clark, an out of work paleontologist working as a librarian. I couldn't resist! I was so interested in the fact that many of the writers mentioned in CADS are now available again through reprints both paper & digital - & this issue is only five years old. More details about ordering CADS can be found here.

More reprints. Arnold Bennett is one of those middlebrow writers who fell out of favour in the later 20th century. Virginia Woolf's essay, Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown, probably didn't help. I've only read one of Bennett's novels, The Old Wives' Tale, but I enjoyed it & I've been wanting to read more. I mentioned a few months ago that Penguin will be reprinting Bennett over the next few months & my copy of The Card has just arrived. Vintage are also reprinting Bennett next year, including Clayhanger & The Grand Babylon Hotel. He's obviously due for a revival.

I don't read a lot of historical fiction but I do love reading novels that were written during the period when they're set eg during the World Wars. Casemate's new list of Classic War Fiction looks very interesting. I read a review somewhere of Mr Britling Sees It Through by H G Wells (I thought it was Simon at Stuck in a Book but I've just searched & it wasn't). Anyway, this is a Home Front novel set during the Great War & I'm keen to read it. The covers look beautiful & I'm just shallow enough to be impressed by that!

This is a fascinating article from the Guardian about the archive of material that Germaine Greer has deposited with the University of Melbourne. What begins as a description of Greer's archive becomes a discussion of the problems of retrieving & conserving material kept in obsolete formats. From floppy disks to old versions of Word, the costs involved in keeping this material will be considerable.

Now, a literary confession. After loving The Tale of Genji, I became obsessed with reading another translation. Edward Seidensticker seemed to be a favourite of several readers so, even though I've just finished reading the book, I've bought a copy of the Seidensticker translation. I plan to just reread the Uji chapters (about the last 300pp) as this section forms a complete narrative of its own. I've been dipping in already & the narrative does seem to flow very smoothly & Seidensticker uses proper names rather than titles for the characters which I think will be helpful. Apart from the contents, the Everyman's Library edition is just gorgeous.

Finally, being a bookworm leads to a longer life. It's in the New York Times, so it must be true!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

One Under - Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

I seem to be regaining my interest in detective fiction. I used to read a lot of series but I seem to have cut back to only a few favourites. It would be easier to keep up if I could stop myself becoming interested in new subjects. Ancient history is my latest interest. I read Mary Beard's wonderful account of Roman history, SPQR, earlier this year & I've become fascinated by a period I know very little about. However, I've just finished watching Series 9 of Lewis & that reminded me that I hadn't read the latest book in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' Bill Slider series.

Two deaths, seemingly unconnected. Jim Atherton is called to a death at an Underground station, known as a "one under". It seems to be an uncomplicated suicide. CCTV shows the man jumping in front of the train. There's no one near him, he wasn't pushed, he didn't trip. George Peloponnos was in his late forties, living with his elderly mother, & working for the North Kensington Regeneration Trust. There seemed to be no reason for him to kill himself. On the same day, DI Bill Slider & the rest of his team are at the funeral of another suicide, their colleague, Colin Hollis. The atmosphere of misery at the funeral suits Slider's mood, the guilt he feels at not being able to help Hollis & also the unresolved feelings he has about the loss of the baby his wife, Joanna, was carrying. The baby would have been due around this time.

Slider goes to the scene of another death, on the patch of another station, because the dead girl, Kaylee Adams, lived on a housing estate in Shepherds Bush. Kaylee was found in a ditch by the side of a country road, apparently the victim of a hit & run driver. However, forensic pathologist Freddie Cameron isn't happy with her injuries & doesn't think she was hit by a car. Then there's the absence of Kaylee's bag & phone & why were her knickers on inside out & her shoes found some distance away? Kaylee lived with her younger sister & her mother, who was more concerned with her boyfriends & her next drink than caring for her daughters. When Slider discovers that Kaylee had known another girl, Tyler Vance, who was found drowned, he is determined to find out what happened to her & prevent her death becoming just another statistic.

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles' Bill Slider series are terrific police procedurals. I love the way the reader follows the investigation step by step & makes the discoveries along with the investigating team. This is a long running series (no 19, Old Bones, is published early next year) & Slider's team have become old friends. The painstaking investigation, with flashes of intuition & the odd hunch, draws me in & never lets go. The first death, the suicide of George Peloponnos, seems to be straightforward, but, as a seasoned reader of police procedurals, I knew there had to be a connection. When it was revealed, it was shocking but also incredibly sad. Slider is a decent man, caught between the dictates of his conscience & the struggle to justify a seemingly hopeless investigation when the powers that be control the funding. Even when he is explicitly warned off the investigation, he keeps plugging away, finding other ways to pursue the threads of the story, determined not to give up.

The other aspect of the series that I love is the humour & wit. The chapter headings are often puns & Slider's boss, Porson, can't open his mouth without uttering a malapropism. Slider's personal life is as important as his work. His musician wife, Joanna, still recovering emotionally from the miscarriage but back at work & enjoying it. His father, living next door with his second wife & a willing babysitter for young George, his namesake. There was less emphasis on the personal in this book but I think Harrod-Eagles strikes the right balance. There's even a further instalment of Atherton's fraught love life as he tries to keep up the playboy facade after the departure of Emily, his most serious girlfriend. I read One Under in a weekend & I'm looking forward to the next book in the series. Now that I'm back on the mystery bandwagon, I wonder what will be next?