Author: P.D. James, 1962
Genre: Murder Mystery.
Other Details: Paperback 224 pages.
This was a reading group selection and although I'd certainly known how well respected James was among crime fiction buffs and writers, this was my first experience of her work.
Cover her Face was James' début crime novel and introduced Inspector Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard, who to date has featured in fourteen of her novels. This is a classic locked room murder mystery as Dalgliesh is called in to investigate the death of Sally Jupp, a young, ambitious housemaid at Martingale Manor. He has a houseful of suspects all of whom had reasons to want her out of their lives.
I had loved Agatha Christie's novels when I was younger and James really can be seen as an inheritor of that mantle of the genteel English mystery. The plotting is intricate and I found it a quick and engaging read. Adam Dalgliesh is an interesting character and I wanted to know more about him and see him at work on further cases. Luckily I'll have thirteen more opportunities.
Author: Laurie Graham, 2001.
Genre: Period Fiction. Drama-Comedy.
Other Details: Paperback. 432 pages.
This ensemble novel opens in 1953 and focuses on a group of five young American Air Force wives stationed at an airbase in Norfolk, England. They fill their days with the typical concerns of 1950s homemakers and try not to think about the dangers their husbands face on a daily basis in their fight against the 'godless Commies'. On a rare trip outside the base they encounter the natives (that's us Brits!) and make a friend in Kath Pharaoh, a very down-to-earth Norfolk woman.
The novel spans forty years and charts the changing fortunes of the six women and shifting relationships within the group. The novel's narrator, Peggy Dewey, is a no-nonsense Texan who ensures that the women remain in touch over the years after they return home to the States and disperse. She also serves as a voice of her generation, the same generation as my own mother, who were raising children in the wake of WWII and dealing with the very considerable changes in society and women's roles. Through Kath's letters to Peggy, the reader also learns of the changes in Britain over the years.
Again this was a reading group selection and although this wasn't really my kind of book it was an easy, undemanding read with short chapters that I could dip into throughout the week. It did have a slow start and I found I needed to make some initial notes of the characters' names and relationships to keep them straight. I also liked the way in which the author inserted newspaper headlines in front of some chapters to highlight historical events. It has its moments of tragedy and pathos as well as lighter episodes.