Granny's Good Reads 

Sonia Lee is one of our most treasured customers and a voracious reader.

July 2019

 - Tuesday, June 25, 2019
The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths is her 11th Dr Ruth Galloway mystery, and it’s a cracker. It  starts with some letters to DCI Nelson saying ‘go back to the stone circle and rescue the innocent who is buried there’. Then Leif Ericsson, son of Erik from The Crossing Places (first in the Galloway series), turns up, and the body of Margaret Lacey who disappeared 30 years ago is unearthed in the henge in the Saltmarsh where Ruth is digging, causing the North Norfolk police to reopen the cold case. It looks as if the letter writer knew all along where Margaret would be found, but Ruth’s examination of plant residue determines that Margaret’s body had been moved from a previous burial place. The police investigation has to find out where, which might lead them to uncover the perpetrator. At last Michelle’s baby is born, but another tiny baby vanishes while her mother is asleep. Read the book. You will be amply repaid because the twists and turns in the plot will keep your heart in your mouth until the surprising end.  

Trust Alexander McCall Smith to poke gentle fun at the Scandi noir genre by writing The Department of Sensitive Crimes—a Scandi ‘blanc’ detective novel. Ulf (the name means ‘wolf’) Varg is the department’s gentle and kind-hearted head detective. Others in the squad are Anna Bengsdotter, married, though she and Ulf find each other satisfactorily simpatico; Carl Holgersson, a paperwork junkie; Erik Nykvist, a fly-fishing junkie and Blomquist—a loquacious cop foisted on them by the Chief Commissioner. All the local ‘vanilla’ crimes are entrusted to this crack team: a merchant’s minor knee wound, an imaginary boyfriend’s disappearance, and a suspected case of lycanthropy at a spa owned by the Chief’s cousin. As a bonus, you’ll find out exactly what lycanthropy involves. I’ve been a devotee of McCall Smith’s inspired silliness for longer than I can remember and I look forward to the next exciting instalment in the series.

Human Relations and Other Difficulties is a collection of the journalism of Mary-Kay Wilmers, who has just celebrated her 80th birthday. She’s the long-time editor of The London Review of Books and most of her pieces are LRB reviews—though a few, like the one about the menopause, are personal. Some of the pieces are about women, including Jean Rhys, Vita Sackville-West, Ann Fleming (Ian’s widow), Sonia Orwell and Germaine Greer, whom she rather likes. There’s an amusing examination of obituaries in The Times, and an astringent dissection of the way reviewers write about novels. Wilmers is pessimistically convinced that people who read book reviews never buy the books. (I hope she’s wrong about that.) The introduction is by her colleague John Lanchester, and the striking cover design is from the work of the late Peter Campbell, the LRB’s artist. 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that governments don’t like newspapers which criticize them. It’s also true that ‘newspapers have found it difficult to tell the truth about themselves’. Sally Young illustrates these truths in Paper Emperors, a history of the Australian press from 1803 to 1941—that is from the birth of our first newspaper to the downfall of the wartime government of the late Sir Robert Menzies, who attributed this personal catastrophe to the machinations of press barons. Our first newspaper owner was an ex-convict who kept government house onside and became a wealthy banker, while his rivals, who made some adverse comments on the actions of governors Darling and Arthur, ended up in gaol (shades of The Ink Stain, latest in Meg & Tom Keneally’s Monsarrat series ed.). At first newspapers were so heavily taxed that only the wealthy could afford them, but when the tax was removed and papers sold for a penny, they became the main source of public information, which over time gave their owners enormous prestige, wealth and political influence. The newspaper environment being highly competitive, there were ultimately only a small number of press dynasties, such as those of the Murdochs, Fairfaxes, Packers and Symes—still household names today. From the 1920s newspaper proprietors added to their print empires significant chunks of the broadcasting spectrum. Though the pace of transmission of information has speeded up enormously in the present digital age, the surviving barons, like their forebears, remain just as ruthlessly acquisitive. Written in a very accessible style, this book reads almost like a crime novel. The chapter The Real Story of the Birth of News Limited is an eye-opener, and it alone is worth the price of the book. The Appendix sums up the rise and fall or amalgamation of all the proprietors mentioned in the body of the work, bringing the reader usefully up to 2018. An enthralling read. Sonia